ancient historians' methods and Bk of Revelation

Discuss the world of the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, and Egyptians.
Post Reply
Posts: 745
Joined: Fri Oct 25, 2013 6:15 pm

ancient historians' methods and Bk of Revelation

Post by ficino » Mon Feb 23, 2015 4:51 am

Here's a review of a collection of papers on ancient orality and literacy, of which the descriptions of two papers caught my eye.

One paper describes how historians in ancient Greece would travel around and give readings from their works. Their sources are said often to have included eyewitness accounts. I notice the diff between what we find in the gospels, where sources are not identified, and lots of descriptions of people's thoughts are offered by an omniscient narrator.

The other paper talks about the style of Revelation as close to that of oral poetry. It was written to be read aloud to audiences. The author tries to draw conclusions about genre; I'm not sure how much the author goes into Hebrew apocalyptic, in Greek or not, as a model for the author of Rev.

Title of the volume under review: Between Orality and Literacy: Communication and Adaptation in Antiquity. Mnemosyne supplements. Monographs on Greek and Latin Language and Literature, 367. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2014. At 134 Euros I think, if I look at it, it will be from a library.

Here's the description of the paper on historians:

In “Look and Listen: History Performed and Inscribed”, Rachel Zelnick-Abramovitz concentrates on the oral side of ancient Greek historiography. She takes her point of departure in the honorary decrees with which Hellenistic poleis often celebrated local historians, and develops her theme to comprise more or less the whole of antiquity. She describes how historians, just like rhapsodes and other performers, used to travel around the Greek world in order to perform suitable passages of their works. Such a combination of oral and written was particularly striking for local history, often gathered from oral sources such as eye-witnesses or compiled from other compositions, then written down on papyrus, next performed to audiences, and finally perhaps again recorded in writing, this time on stone.

And of the paper on Revelation:

With her choice of The Book of Revelation for analysis, Lourdes García Uren᷉a has selected a work particularly well suited for the context, since St. John is explicit about the fact that the text was written and meant to be read aloud to an audience. Nevertheless, García Uren᷉a argues that the style of the book is close to the style of oral poetry. Referring to Egbert Bakker and Wallace Chaffe she sets out to describe the characteristics of this style, offering a careful and precise analysis. She first gives a general definition of her term ‘formula’ and next describes four different types, followed by discussions of additive structures and narrator’s comments. Behind this is, of course, Parry and Lord’s oral-formulaic theory; however, while in their work the formulaic style was explained by the poet’s demands, García Uren᷉a understands this author’s oral style as necessitated by the needs of the listeners. Considering how often scholars have to guess about the status of a text as having been composed either orally or in writing, it is refreshing for once to concentrate on a work which describes its status in so many words. Even so, it might be argued that St. John is just a scribe, taking down God’s spoken words from dictation, an aspect García Uren᷉a does not touch upon.

Post Reply