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Jesus, the Voice, and the Text

Beyond The Oral and the Written Gospels

Tom Thatcher

Publication Year: 2008

Werner Kelber's The Oral and the Written Gospel (1983) introduced biblical scholars to interdisciplinary trends in the study of ancient media culture. The book is now widely recognized as a milestone and it has spurred wide-ranging scholarship. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of its publication, new developments in orality theory, literacy theory, and social approaches to memory call for a programmatic reappraisal of past research and future directions. This volume address these concerns. Kelber himself is interviewed at the beginning of the book and, in a closing essay, he reflects on the significance of the project and charts a course for the future.

Published by: Baylor University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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1. Beyond Texts and Traditions: Werner Kelber’s Media History of Christian Origins

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pp. 1-26

In February of 1983, Werner Kelber released a short book with a long title and the ambitious aim of exposing the media dynamics of early Christianity: The Oral and the Written Gospel: The Hermeneutics of Speaking and Writing in the Synoptic Tradition, Mark, Paul, and Q. Essentially, Oral and Written Gospel (OWG) sought to demonstrate that biblical scholars had overlooked a key element in their conceptions of early Christianity: the impact of communications...

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2. “It’s Not Easy to Take a Fresh Approach”: Reflections on The Oral and the Written Gospel (An Interview with Werner Kelber)

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pp. 27-43

In the conceptual phase of the present volume, I (Tom Thatcher) met with Werner Kelber to discuss Kelber’s current views on key issues in the media culture of early Christianity and also his reactions to various criticisms of his work. A transcript of this conversation follows. The abbreviation...

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3. Oral Performance and Mark: Some Implications of The Oral and the Written Gospel, Twenty-Five Years Later

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pp. 45-70

Werner Kelber’s The Oral and the Written Gospel was a significant breakthrough in biblical studies in general as well as in gospels studies in particular. The book was a major challenge to some of the most fundamental assumptions, approaches, and constructs in the field. Precisely for that reason, few biblical scholars have attempted to...

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4. The Gospel of Mark as Oral Hermeneutic

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pp. 71-87

In 1983, when Werner H. Kelber published his groundbreaking work The Oral and the Written Gospel (OWG), he argued that the Gospel of Mark was a written as a “counterform to, rather than extension of, oral hermeneutics” (Kelber 1983, 185). “Strictly speaking, therefore, the Gospel arises not from orality per se but out of the debris of deconstructed orality” (Kelber 1983, 95). Although Kelber certainly recognized that the written...

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5. Storytelling in Oral and Written Media Contexts of the Ancient Mediterranean World

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pp. 89-110

In his many writings, beginning with The Oral and the Written Gospel (1983), Werner Kelber has challenged students of the Bible to reflect on the media contexts that gave shape to the form and content of these texts and, in turn, on the interplay between these media contexts and the social dynamics that both supported and were supported by them. He further presses us to consider the implications of diverse media contexts for our understanding of the fundamental nature of these texts and, consequently,...

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6. Vice Catalogues as Oral-Mnemonic Cues: A Comparative Study of the Two-Ways Tradition in the Didache and Parallels from the Perspective of Oral Tradition

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pp. 111-133

In their well-researched and important book, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and Its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity (2002), Huub van de Sandt and the late David Flusser conclude that a written Greek source, which they designate the “Greek Two Ways,” lies behind all the various sources of the Two-Ways tradition. This “pristine pre-Didache form” was a Jewish text that was subsequently edited by the addition of the Jesus tradition in 1:3b–2:1 and various elements...

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7. Human Memory and the Sayings of Jesus: Contemporary Experimental Exercises in the Transmission of Jesus Traditions

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pp. 135-179

For years, as a pedagogical exercise in parables as metaphor, I have asked my students to listen to my own parable, the “Parable of the Lottery Ticket.” I use this exemplar in class because its internal references are contemporary, allowing the meaning of the parable to easily emerge as metaphor rather than allegory. I recite the parable exactly the same each time I perform...

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8. The Gospel of Trajan

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pp. 181-196

New Testament scholarship has been recently enhanced through pioneering investigations in social memory. We have begun to see with renewed eyes the necessity of understanding the social cues and defaults of the ancient world. Memory is not a simple action of an individual; rather, it is a social art and habit carved in the words, walls, and woodwork of a world. We have begun to revisit how the ancients tried to...

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9. The Scar of the Cross: The Violence Ratio and the Earliest Christian Memories of Jesus

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pp. 197-214

For well over a century now, form critics, historical Jesus scholars, and, more recently, orality/literacy specialists have been attempting to uncover the earliest Christian memories of Jesus. A key point of debate relates to the formation and role of passion narratives—stories about Jesus’ suffering and death—in early Christian tradition. Many scholars today continue...

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10. Manuscript Tradition as a Tertium Quid: Orality and Memory in Scribal Practices

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pp. 215-234

Scholarship on the gospel tradition frequently approaches its major research problems in terms of the cognitive habits of print culture. This is a point that Werner Kelber has often made in the course of clarifying the distinctiveness of oral vis-

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11. The Oral-Scribal-Memorial Arts of Communication in Early Christianity

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pp. 235-262

There are times when we allow ourselves to be persuaded that the history of humanistic scholarship is one of systematic growth in knowledge and steady advances in intellectual comprehension. In the discipline of biblical studies, the discovery of new manuscripts, the application of hitherto unused methodologies, and the impact of electronically facilitated research tools all seem to promise a measurable increase in information and...


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pp. 263-272

Works Cited

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pp. 273-294


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pp. 295-297

Index of Biblical Books and Other Ancient Works

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pp. 299-301

Index of Authors

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pp. 302-305

Index of Subjects

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pp. 306-317

E-ISBN-13: 9781602582293
E-ISBN-10: 1602582297
Print-ISBN-13: 9781932792607
Print-ISBN-10: 1932792600

Page Count: 310
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: 1

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Bible. N.T. Gospels -- Criticism, interpretation, etc.
  • Oral tradition.
  • Kelber, Werner H. Oral and the written Gospel.
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