Blogging through The Lost World of Scripture: Part 2, Proposition 5

Moving into part two, the discussion now turns the means of communication in the New Testament era. Brent Sandy takes the wheel and begins with proposition five—much of the literature of the Greco-Roman world retained elements of a hearing-dominant culture.

I appreciate the assertive tone that Sandy takes from the outset, e.g., “Divine truth is inextricably interwoven within human culture, which means the categories of thinking, the expressions, the imagery, the motifs are drawn from the cultures in which God’s truth became incarnate. It couldn’t be any other way: it was necessary for God to speak in ways humans could understand, and he specifically chose the Greco-Roman-Jewish world of the first century for revealing the New Testament. Paul called it the fullness of times” (78; emphasis mine).

Sandy also notes a potential misunderstanding at the outset—given the immense literary production of the ancient Greeks and Romans, shouldn’t we see them as text-dominant cultures? Yes, but not initially. Sandy argues that textuality in the sense of written literature did not emerge in the Greek world until around 700 bce. Prior to this, Sandy argues, there is little evidence of written documents in Greece (79). Then, seemingly out of nowhere, some of the most prolific and influential works of the Greek world exploded onto the scene in written form—Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Hesiod’s Works and Days and Theogony. Sandy explains that it’s only relatively recent scholarship that has begun to shed light on how such important literary works came from a non-textual culture so suddenly, noting their origins as oral literature.

The question of orality in Greco-Roman literature is perhaps a little more dodgy because of the prevalence a text-oriented literature produced; however, Sandy provides a suitable overview of the role of orality in the culture such that one may understand how it continued to be prominent, though eventually giving way to text dominance.

Αυτω η δοξα

Propositions 123, 4

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