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More Oral than We Knew:
The Oral Nature of the Gospels

Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Werner H Kelber
The Oral Gospel and the Written Gospel:
The Hermeneutics of Speaking and Writing in the Synoptic Tradition, Mark, Paul, and Q

(Bloomington and Indianapolis:  Indiana University Press, 1997. 254p.)

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The sub-title gives a good concept of the theme of the book:  The Hermeneutics of Speaking and Writing in the Synoptic Tradition, Mark, Paul and Q.  The writer analyzes the gospels and looks at early gospel forms in the teachings of Jesus and Paul, finding the forms we find in oral societies today.

Kelber explores how the teachings of Jesus, presented orally to mostly a common people, would take form and have effect in an oral society, and be handed down as community treasures.  He contrasts oral forms and their modes of transmission with written forms and their modes of transmissions.

He presents some keen insights on the differences in the Gospel form of literature, first developed by Mark as a written form, and the standard Greek letter form used by Paul, who emphasizes the theme that the gospel came in the spoken word, hearers are saved by response to the spoken word, presented in the power of the Spirit.

The teachings of Jesus in the gospels, the sayings in the various gospels and the variety of forms they take in the different gospels are signs that match the patterns now documented in oral societies.  Other studies in recent years have indicated the primary role of orality in the records of the both the Old and the New Testaments.

This study is critical and precise in its analysis and deftly covers the comments and views on textuality of all the major contributors of the modern period of text and form studies.  He points out the errors in assumptions by early and later textual and form critics, beginning with Bultmann, in assuming literacy to be the context and the worldview of the records.  He explains primary and secondary orality.

The study of Orality has become a whole academic discipline.  Courses on orality are now offered in various departments in North American universities.  Orality has become a whole sub-discipline of mission strategy.

For reference to these concepts you might like to view my own studies in article and PowerPoint form on orality.

For more on Orality see:
[text]The Early Gospel
[menu]The Orality and Literacy section of the Website
[reviews]Worldview in the Disciplines
[menu]Worldview and Orality

See also:
[TXT]The Languages Jesus Used

On the Internet:
See this book with my review on Amazon.com.
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See my reading lists
Many other books have review notes with the reading list entry

OBJ

Reading notes first written 25 October 2005
Expanded 5 November 2007
Finalized and posted on Orville Jenkins Thoughts and Resources 13 December 2007
Last edited 24 September 2008
Reviewed on Amazon 4 February 2009

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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