To our inquiry d Helmut Koester

The second significant development beyond Bultmann was that of Bultmann's last doctoral pupil. From the outset of his academic career Koester has emphasized the fact that the Jesus tradition existed in oral streams ('free tradition') well into the second century.124 And the insight has been maintained consistently in his subsequent work until the present, repeatedly cautioning against the assumption of a purely literary and linear development of the tradition. All this time, however, his voice, like Moule's, has been too little heeded on this point, to the discipline's loss, partly, no doubt, because he himself has never given it the prominence which the insight deserved.126 More to the point, he has not developed a model of oral transmission, and has paid too little attention to the dynamic of the oral traditioning process beyond the support it gives to his thesis that other (later) Gospels contain early forms of the tradition.127

Moule, Birth 3.

123. See particularly his recognition that Papias (Eusebius, HE 3.39.15) conceived of Peter retelling the teaching of Jesus ' tas chreias, with reference to the needs" (i.e. as occasion demanded, as need arose)' (Birth 108, 120-21); his observation on 'the more fluid interchange of forms (in worship), such that snatches of prayer and hymnody flow in and out of the texture of pastoral exhortation' (270), also parallels the recognition among folklorists of the fluidity of oral performances (below §8.3f).

124. H. Koester, Synoptische Überlieferung bei den apostolischen Vätern (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1957).

125. See, e.g., H. Koester, 'Written Gospels or Oral Traditions?', JBL 113 (1994) 29397.

One indication is the fact that none of the contributors to his Festschrift (Pearson, ed., Future ofEarly Christianity) pays much attention to this important aspect of his scholarly work.

127. See above §§7.6, 8. The same criticism can be pressed more strongly against Funk's Five Gospels in that the volume has focused too much on the end product of the as-

e. Birger Gerhardsson

The third response to Bultmann deserving of special note has attracted much more attention. It is the protest by Harald Riesenfeld and his pupil Birger Gerhardsson that Bultmann had indeed ignored the most obvious precedents for the transmission of tradition in Palestine.

Riesenfeld noted that the technical terms used for transmission of rabbinic tradition underlie the Greek terms used in the NT for the same process (paralambanein and paradidonai) and deduced that the early Christian traditioning process, like the rabbinic, was a 'rigidly controlled transmission' of words and deeds of Jesus, 'memorized and recited as holy word'. The idea of a community-shaped tradition was too inaccurate. Rather we must think of tradition derived directly from Jesus and transmitted by authorised teachers 'in a far more rigid and fixed form'.128

Gerhardsson developed Riesenfeld's central claim by a careful study of rabbinic tradition transmission, as the nearest parallel for the Palestinian Jesus tradition, and reinforced his teacher's main claim.129 Unlike the form critics, Gerhardsson recognized the need to investigate the actual techniques of oral transmission. The key word, he confirmed, is 'memorization',130 memorization by means of constant repetition, the basic technique of all education then and since (in fact, until relatively recently in the In Rabbinic Judaism the pupil had the duty 'to maintain his teacher's exact words', as the basis for any subsequent comment(ary) of his own.132 Principally on the basis of the importance of 'the word of the Lord' in earliest Christianity, as attested by Luke and suraed process; in its red, pink, grey, and black designations of particular sayings the Jesus Seminar also has shown too little interest in and empathy with the dynamic of the process.

128. H. Riesenfeld, 'The Gospel Tradition and Its Beginning' (1957), The Gospel Tradition (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970) 1-29 (here 16, 26, 24).

129. B. Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript: Oral Tradition and Written Transmission in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity (Lund: Gleerup, 1961), refined in a succession of further publications: Tradition and Transmission in Early Christianity (Lund: Gleerup, 1964); The Origins ofthe Gospel Traditions (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979); The Gospel Tradition (Lund: Gleerup, 1986); the last two are reprinted in The Reliability ofthe Gospel Tradition (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2001); also 'Illuminating the Kingdom: Narrative Meshalim in the Synoptic Gospels', in Wansbrough, ed., Jesus 266-309.

130. E.g., 'The general attitude was that words and items of knowledge must be memorized: tantum scimus, quantum memoria tenemus [we know only as much as we retain in our memory]' (Memory 124).

131. 'Cicero's saying was applied to its fullest extent in Rabbinic Judaism: repetitio est mater studiorum. Knowledge is gained by repetition, passed on by repetition, kept alive by repetition. A Rabbi's life is one continual repetition' (Memory 168).

132. Gerhardsson, Memory 130-36 (here 133); also chs. 9-10.

Paul, Gerhardsson went on to deduce that Jesus 'must have made his disciples learn certain sayings off by heart; if he taught, he must have required his disciples to memorize'; 'his sayings must have been accorded even greater authority and sanctity than that accorded by the Rabbis' disciples to the words of their teachers'. Consequently, when the Evangelists edited their Gospels they were able to work 'on a basis of a fixed, distinct tradition from, and about,

Unfortunately these contributions were widely dismissed, in large part because the appeal to rabbinic precedent was deemed (unfairly) to be

More to the point, unlike the rabbinic tradition, the Gospel tradition does not depict Jesus teaching by repetition. And more important for present purposes, the claims of both Riesenfeld and Gerhardsson seem to envisage a far more rigid and fixed tradition than could readily explain the obvious disparities between the same tradition as used by the Evangelists.136 Of course, there was bound to be at least an element of memorization in Jesus' teaching technique and in the disciples' remembering; the aphorisms characteristic of Jesus' teaching lent themselves to such memorization. Still, the question remains whether Jesus intended to initiate a chain of teaching maintained by the process of memorization. And even when we allow for the evidence marshalled above (particularly §8.1b and d), the process envisaged for the transmission of the Jesus tradition seems to be too controlled and formal to explain the divergencies in the tradition as it has come down to us.137 The possibility of finding the key to the tradition history from Jesus to the Synoptics in the processes of oral transmission had once again eluded scholarly grasp.138

133. Gerhardsson, Memory 328, 332, 335; similarly Origins 19-20, 72-73; Gospel 3942. Riesner also emphasizes the role of learning by heart (Auswendiglernen) in Jesus' teaching (Jesus 365-67, 440-53; also 'Jesus' in Wansbrough, ed., Jesus 203-204). D. L. Balch, 'The Canon: Adaptable and Stable, Oral and Written. Critical Questions for Kelber and Riesner', Forum 7.3/4 (1991) 183-205, criticizes Riesner for assuming 'a print mentality' which was not true of 'passing on tradition of great philosophers' teachings' (196-99).

Cf. J. Neusner's apology for his earlier review in his Foreword to the recent reprint of Memory and Tradition (Reliability of the Gospel Tradition).

135. Kelber, Oral 14. Note also Hengel's criticism referred to below (chapter 14 n. 64).

136. Schröter, Erinnerung29-30. Gerhardsson did not examine the Synoptic tradition itself in Memory, though he went a considerable way towards filling the gap twenty-five years later in his Gospel.

137. Gerhardsson could speak of 'a logos fixed by the college of Apostles', with reference to the tradition of 1 Cor. 15.3ff. (Memory 297). As his later work shows, Gerhardsson hardly needed to be reminded of the differences between accounts of the same material in the Synoptics. But the key point remains that the model of 'memorization' is not well fitted to account for such differences.

138. Byrskog, a pupil of Gerhardsson, has developed a different model to bridge the gap between original events and Gospel accounts — the model of oral history (Story as History, f. Werner Kelber

To Werner Kelber is due the credit for being the first NT scholar to take seriously the distinctive character of oral tradition as illuminated by a sequence of studies from classicists, folklorists, and social anthropologists.139 Characteristics include 'mnemonic patterns, shaped for ready oral recurrence', 'heavily rhythmic, balanced patterns, in repetitions or antitheses, in alliterations and assonances, in epithetic and other formulary expressions, in thematic settings, ... in proverbs'. Typical of oral performances were variations on what nevertheless were recognizable versions of the same story, with some more or less word-for-word repetition in places, both fixed and flexible formulaic elements, and so on.140 Kelber drew attention to similar features which had already been observed in the Jesus tradition: 'the extraordinary degree to which sayings of Jesus have kept faith with heavily patterned speech forms, abounding in alliteration, paronomasia, appositional equivalence, proverbial and aphoristic diction, contrasts and antitheses, synonymous, antithetical, synthetic, and tautologic parallelism and the like', miracle stories 'typecast in a fashion that lends itself to habitual, not verbatim, memorization'.141 And in his description of oral transmission he fully acknowledges his indebtedness to earlier studies. 'Oral thinking consists in formal patterns from the start'; 'formulaic stability'

particularly 46). But the model assumes later historians (like Luke) seeking out and inquiring of those, like Peter, the women at the cross and tomb, and the family of Jesus (65-91), who could remember the original events and exchanges (cf. Luke 1.1-4). Byrskog, in fact, has no real conception of or indeed role for oral transmission as itself the bridging process.

139. The earlier contribution by the Seminar on 'Oral Traditional Literature and the Gospels' passed largely unnoticed, mainly, I suppose, because it functioned in service of the theme for the overall Colloquy on The Relationships among the Gospels (ed. W. O. Walker; San Antonio: Trinity University, 1978) 31-122. L. E. Keck reviews earlier work and summarizes the Seminar's discussion ('Oral Traditional Literature and the Gospels: The Seminar', Relationships 103-22). In contrast, Kelber's book provoked a lively discussion in L. H. Silberman, ed., Orality, Aurality and Biblical Narrative, Semeia 39 (Atlanta: Scholars, 1987), and J. Dewey, ed., Orality and Textuality in Early Christian Literature, Semeia 65 (Atlanta: Scholars, 1995).

140. W. J. Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (1982; London: Routledge, 1988) 33-36, 57-68. The work of A. B. Lord, The Singer of Tales (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1978) has been seminal (here especially ch. 5). Note also R. Finnegan, Oral Poetry: Its Nature, Significance and Social Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1977) ch. 3, especially 73-87; also 90-109. See also A. B. Lord, 'The Gospels as Oral Traditional Literature', in Walker, Relationships 33-91 (here 37-38, 63-64, 87-89); and the overview by D. E. Aune, 'Prolegomena to the Study of Oral Tradition in the Hellenistic World', in Wansbrough, ed., Jesus 59-106 (with bibliography).

141. Kelber, Oral 27; see also 50-51. Of course, Gerhardsson notes similar characteristics in rabbinic oral transmission (Memory 148-56, 163-68).

and 'compositional variability' go hand in hand — 'this mid-state between fixed and free'.142 Oral transmission 'exhibits "an insistent, conservative urge for preservation" of essential information, while it borders on carelessness in its predisposition to abandon features that are not met with social approval'.143 'Variability and stability, conservatism and creativity, evanescence and unpredictability all mark the pattern of oral transmission' — the 'oral principle of "variation within the

The chief thrust of Kelber's book, however, is to build on the distinction between oral and written, between oral performance and literary transmission, which he draws from Walter Ong in particular.145 The distinction is important, not least since it requires modern literary scholars to make a conscious effort to extricate their historical envisaging of the oral transmission of tradition from the mind-set and assumptions of long-term literacy.146 Equally important is the immediacy of an oral communication in contrast to written, the direct and personal engagement of speaker and auditor not possible in writing, what Kelber calls the 'oral synthesis'.147 This is partly what I have in mind when I talk of the 'impact' made by Jesus on his disciples (§§6.5d-f). The contrast can be overplayed: for example, the recognition that in the ancient world documents were written to be heard, that is, read out and listened to rather than read, is commonplace in all these disciplines;148 the fact

142. Kelber, Oral 27-28, the last phrase quoted from B. Peabody, The Winged Word: A Study in the Technique of Ancient Greek Oral Composition as Seen Principally through Hesiod's Works and Days (Albany: State University of New York, 1975) 96.

143. Kelber, Oral 29-30, quoting Lord, Singer of Tales 120. Lord also characterises the change from oral to literary composition as 'the from stability of essential story, which is the goal of oral tradition, to stability of text, of the exact words of the story' (Singer 138).

144. Kelber, Oral 33, 54; quoting E. A. Havelock, Preface to Plato (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1963) 92, 147, 184, passim.

145. See also W. H. Kelber, 'Jesus and Tradition: Words in Time, Words in in Dewey, ed., Oralityand Textuality 139-67. T. M. Derico, Orality and the Synoptic Gospels: An Evaluation of the Oral-Formulaic Theory as Method for Synoptic Tradition Criticism (Cincinnati Bible Seminary MA, 2000) offers an extensive critique of Kelber (ch. 4).

146. Ong begins by noting: 'We — readers of books such as this — are so literate that it is very difficult for us to conceive of an oral universe of communication or thought except as a variation ofa literate universe' (Orality 2, my emphasis). As noted above, the mistake has been common in source and form criticism of the Gospels.

147. Kelber, Oral 19, referring to W. J. Ong, The Presence ofthe Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History (New Haven: Yale University, 1967; paperback Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1981) 111-38.

148. See further P. J. sonat: The New Testament and the Oral Environment of Late Western Antiquity', JBL 109 (1990) 3-27; Downing, 'Word-processing in the Ancient World' 75-89 (with more bibliography); Horsley and Draper, Whoever 132-34, 144-45, in dependence on R. Thomas, Literacy and Orality in Ancient Greece (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1992); Byrskog, Story as History 139-44.

that letters can be a fairly effective substitute for personal absence has become important in recent study of Paul's letters;149 and the encounter with its written version can be as creative as a hearing of the original speech — indeed, in reader-response criticism each reading of a text is like a fresh performance of it. Even so, for anyone who has experienced a (for them) first performance of a great musical work, like Beethoven's Ninth or Verdi's Requiem, the difference between hearing in the electric atmosphere of the live performance and hearing the recorded version played later at home (let alone simply reading the score) is unmistakable.

There are other important observations made by Kelber. He takes up the key observation of Albert Lord in warning against the ideal of 'original form'; 'each oral performance is an irreducibly unique creation'; if Jesus said something more than once there is no 'original'. This is true, although the impact made by each retelling by Jesus on those who heard and retained the teaching should be distinguished from the effect of their own on others. Kelber also rightly notes that oral retelling of Jesus' words will already have begun during Jesus' lifetime; the Bultmannian thesis of a tradition which began to be transmitted only after Easter is highly questionable. Moreover, in Kelber's work, very noticeably, narratives, the retold stories about Jesus, reemerge into promi-

149. Influential here has been R. W. Funk, 'The Apostolic Parousia: Form and Significance', in W. R. Farmer, et al., eds., Christian History and Interpretation, J. Knox FS (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1967) 249-68.

150. The idea has been much taken up, e.g., by N. Lash, 'Performing the Scriptures' in his Theology on the Way toEmmaus (London: SCM, 1986), 37-46, and Frances Young, The Art of Performance: Towards a Theology of Holy Scripture (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1990).

'The reader is absent from the writing of the book, the writer is absent from its reading' (Kelber, Oral 92, quoting P. Ricoeur, Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus ofMeaning [Fort Worth: Texas Christian University, 1976] 35).

152. Lord, Singer: 'In a sense each performance is "an" original, if not "the" original. The truth of the matter is that our concept of "the original", of "the song", simply makes no sense in oral tradition' (100-101).

153. Kelber, Oral 29; also 59, 62; also 'Jesus and Tradition' 148-51, though his argument is too dependent on generalisations from 'oral aesthetics', not closely enough related to the particularities of first-century Palestine J. M. 'Words in Tradition, Words in Text: A Response', in Dewey ed., Orality and Textuality 169-80 [here 170-72]). Finnegan also glosses Lord: is no correct text, no idea that one version is more "authentic" than another: each performance is a unique and original creation with its own validity' (Oral Poetry 65). She credits Lord with bringing this point home most convincingly (79), though by way of critique she points out that memorization also plays a part (79, 86).

154. Kelber, Oral 20-21, citing appositely the demonstration by Schürmann of sayings on kingdom, repentance, judgment, love of enemy, eschatological preparedness, etc., which show no trace of post-Easter influence ('Die vorösterlichen Anfänge der Logientradition'); see again above chapter 6 n. 108.

nence from the marginalisation imposed upon them by the almost exclusive focus of scholarly interest on the sayings of Jesus.155 Not least of importance, given Kelber's developed thesis, is his recognition that Mark (his main focus in the Gospels) retains many of the indices of orality — for example, its 'activist syntax' and colloquial Greek, its use of the storyteller's 'three', and its many redundancies and repetitions; 'Mark may be treating an oral story in order for it to remain functional for the ear more than for the eye'.156 Mark's Gospel may be frozen orality,157 but it is frozen orality.158

Unfortunately, pushes his thesis about Mark marking a major transi tion from oral to written far too hard and seriously diminishes its overall value. The first step in his thesis development is that the written Gospel disrupts the 'oral synthesis'; it 'arises not from orality per se, but out of the debris of deconstructed orality'; it indicates 'alienation from the oral apparatus'; it 'accomplishes the death of living words for the purpose of inaugurating the life of textuality'.159 The transition is overdramatized: it is widely recognized that in a predominantly oral culture, oral versions of a tradition would continue after it had been transcribed and that knowledge of the written version would usually be in an oral medium.160

155. Kelber, Oral 2.

156. Kelber, Oral 65-68. See also Theissen, Miracle Stories 189-95.

158. The oral character of Mark's narrative has since been strongly emphasized by T. P. Haverly, Oral Traditional Literature and the Composition ofMark's Gospel (Edinburgh PhD, 1983); and especially by J. Dewey, 'Oral Methods of Structuring Narrative in Mark', Interpretation 43 (1989) 32-44; also 'The Gospel of Mark as an Oral-Aural Event; Implications for Interpretation', in E. S. Malbon and E. V. McKnight, eds., The New Literary Criticism and the New Testament (JNSTS 109; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1994) 145-63. Note also Lord's earlier evaluation of 'The Gospels as Oral Traditional Literature' (Walker, Relationships 58-84 [particularly 79-80, 82], 90-91). The conclusion of the Symposium on Jesus and the Oral Gospel Tradition (ed. Wansbrough) can cut both ways: 'We have been unable to deduce or derive any marks which distinguish clearly between an oral and a written transmission process. Each can show a similar degree of fixity and variability' (12). Strecker rightly emphasises the continuity in transmission of the tradition from oral to written ('Schriftlichkeit' 164-65). Cf Schröter, Erinnerung 55, 60.

159. Kelber, Oral 91-96, 130-31, 184-85 (quotations from 95, 98, 131). Compare and contrast the more balanced judgment of G. N. Stanton, 'Form Criticism Revisited', in M. Hooker and C. Hickling, eds., What about the New Testament?, C. Evans FS (London: SCM, 1975) 13-27: There is no reason to doubt that it was not the writing of Mark's gospel, but the later slow acceptance of Mark as a fixed and authoritative text which led to the death of oral traditions about Jesus' (20). Kelber subsequently shows himself more dubious regarding what he calls 'the great divide thesis, which pits oral tradition vis-ä-vis gospel text' ('Modalities of Communication, Cognition and Physiology of Perception: Orality, Rhetoric, Scribality', Semeia 65 [1995] 194-215 [here 195]).

160. See, e.g., 0. Andersen, 'Oral Tradition', in Wansbrough, ed., Jesus 17-58 (here 43-53).

At the same time, it is true that only with a written text can we begin to speak of an editing process, such as Bultmann envisaged; prior to that, in repeated oral performances the dynamics are different, more of the order of 'theme and variations' than of Gerhardsson's 'memorization'.161 This is why talk of 'sources', appropriate in considering the origin of a written text, can be inappropriate with oral tradition. It is also why, I may add, even talk of 'oral transmission' can mislead such discussions, since it envisages oral performance as intended primarily to transmit (transfer) rather than, say, to celebrate tradition.162

However, Kelber pushes on to argue that Mark's textualizing of the tradition amounts to an 'indictment of oral process and authorities', an 'emancipation from oral norms', an objection to 'the oral metaphysics of presence'. Thus Mark repudiates the first disciples, Jesus' family, and ongoing prophetic activity as oral authorities to be discredited; the first disciples are 'effectively eliminated as apostolic representatives of the risen Lord'.163 Kelber calls in Paul as apostle of orality and sets him over against Mark's Gospel as written text, with the classic gospel/law antithesis reworked as an antithesis between oral gospel and written law, spirit and (written) letter, 'under the law' as under textuality.164 In all this a different Christology is at stake: the Passion narrative as a literary phenomenon implies a distanciation from an oral Christology; Q, with its 'fundamentally oral disposition' and inclusion of prophetic utterances, maintains the living voice of Jesus, whereas Mark elevates 'the earthly Jesus at the price of silencing the living Lord' by 'relegating all sayings to the former while silencing the voice of the latter'.165

Here is a thesis too quickly gone to seed. To find Paul as apostle of orality lumped with Q is a refreshing change. But Paul himself would almost certainly have been baffled by the thrust of such an argument. As one who vividly recalls his preaching in his letters (e.g. Gal. 3.1) and who both preached the kerygma of the first witnesses (1 Cor. and depended on the

Spirit's inspiration for the effect of his preaching of the crucified Christ (1 Cor.

161. The more serious danger in writing down a tradition, as Lord observed, is 'when the singer believes that they [the written versions] are the way in which the song should be presented' (Singer 79).

162. For this reason I often use the inelegant verbal noun formation 'traditioning' to indicate a process of which 'transmission' per se may be only a part.

163. Kelber, Oral 96-105, 129 (quotations from 98, 99-100, 129).

165. Kelber, Oral 185-99, 199-207 (quotations from 201, 207). In the 'Introduction' to the republication of his Oral (Indiana University, 1996), Kelber concedes some ground to his critics: he forced 'the polarity of orality versus textuality' (xxi); he has become more aware of 'composition in dictation' and 'cultural memory', essentially oral processes (xxii-xxiii). But he still maintains 'Mark's polemic against the disciples ... as an estrangement from the standard-bearers of oral tradition' (xxv).

2.4-5), Paul would certainly not have recognized such distinctions.166 Kelber forgets not only the continuity between oral and first writing (as initially written orality), which he had earlier acknowledged, but he ignores the points made above, that in an age of high illiteracy documents were written to be heard and that a reading can also be likened to a performance. In claiming that, in contrast to Mark's Gospel, 'Q effects a direct address to present hearers',167 he ignores the fact that Q is generally regarded as a written source (above §7.4). He also forgets the living character of tradition, that written as well as oral tradition can effect a re-presentation (making present again) of ancient teaching and events,168 particularly in liturgy, as in Paul's recollection of Jesus' words in regard to the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11.23-26). Regrettably then, once again, the potential significance of recognizing the distinct character of the oral traditioning process in the case of the Jesus tradition has been subverted by another agenda and lost to sight.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Study Aid

Study Aid

This Book Is One Of The Most Valuable Resources In The World When It Comes To Getting A Scholarship And Financial Support For Your Studies.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment