Ben C. Smith wrote: ↑
Sat Nov 24, 2018 8:53 am
One logical error that I see interpreters of the "no oral tradition" camp falling into time after time (mainly on this forum, but occasionally in the scholarly literature, as well) is the following:
- Many/most of the gospel stories about Jesus are based upon scriptural precedents (the feeding of the five thousand, for example, being based upon a similar feeding by Elijah).
- Therefore the story of the feeding of the five thousand is a literary creation accomplished without the use of oral tradition.
Or some similar variant of this fallacy in two steps. Yet it is obvious that people can develop such stories orally (in their preaching, for example) as well as in a more literary fashion (pen to parchment, one line at a time, some well-worn scriptural scroll immediately to hand). This leads me to believe that what is actually meant by the term "oral tradition," for many, is a tradition which goes back to an historical Jesus. It is not the original orality of the stories that is at stake, but rather the historicity of the man about whom the stories were being told. Or, at least, to rule out an oral origin for such stories is a bare assumption (in agreement with what Irish1975 seems to assert).
I’m not sure I follow. I wasn’t putting forward a bare assumption that stories come from pens rather than mouths. Do you see Brodie committing the “logical fallacy,” or are you just maintaining that the biblical authors got their material (somehow, to some extent) from storytellers and preachers and the culture of orality that was ubiqitous in the world down to the 18th century? Brodie is quite comfortable with all of that and discusses it at length in chapter 12. Once again, the real issue is "how to deduce from a piece of writing that it is based on oral transmission" (p. 116).
It is true that the theory of oral tradition, at least for this discussion, is all about the historical Jesus quests (hence Brodie’s title). It might be helpful to review one of the main ideas of NT form criticism
pioneered in the 1920s by Dibelius and Bultmann and others. It seems to me this is what Brodie is really going after. The idea was to interpret the (mainly synoptic) Gospels by sifting stories and sayings into three types:
1) stories or sayings that can justifiably be attributed to the "earthly" life experience of Jesus (sitz im leben Jesu)
2) stories or sayings that reflect the experiences and theology of the original Jesus-worshipping communities (sitz in leben der kirche)
3) stories or sayings that reflect the agenda of the Gospel author(s) and/or editors (sitz im Evangelium)
This model uses the theory oral tradition in order to connect a postulated historical Jesus to our Gospel texts. The second type of “church” material is the oral tradition that is the only possible medium through which the historical Jesus is known to modern readers.
The model itself is neutral about the HJ, and what conclusions can be drawn. Bultmann himself didn't put stock in the historical Jesus, attributing a great deal of synoptic material to early Christian experience, which he thought had no concern for history. Many of the original form critics attributed almost nothing to the Gospel writers, regarding them as essentially passive collectors of oral tradition. Later, students of Bultmann used the model for the second or third waves of the historical Jesus quest, trying above all to find the first type of content. In order to do so, they needed to develop a confident understanding of type 2 material that balanced spontaneous theological thinking of the community against reliably remembered stories going back to Jesus. Today, there seems to be a movement to focus on type 3 material (Trobisch, for example).
A weakness of the model that is apparent to us in the 21st century is that we are more aware of how little we know about the “early church,” the earliest “Christians,” and the movements that gave birth to the NT. Acts of the Apostles
is tendentious 2nd century harmonization of Paul and the Judaic Christians (“the twelve”) centered in Jerusalem around Peter, James, and John. The HJ quests are stalled if not defunct. We will always have a better chance of achieving knowledge about the NT as a finished, enduring product than about the world that generated it, hence the promise of literary and canonical theories by the likes of Brodie and Trobisch.