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“Oral Fixation” in NT Studies: Response

October 28, 2014

I’m pleased that my article giving a critique of some of the more extreme representations of “performance criticism,” which appeared a few months ago in the journal New Testament Studies has received an affirming response from Roger Bagnall in an email today, one of the foremost figures in papyrological studies.

My article is available on this blog site under the “Selected Published Essays” tab here.

Scholars really can’t be expected to agree all the time, and he and I have disagreed occasionally on this or that (as reflected in my review of his book, Early Christian Books in Egypt here).   But I also have enormous respect for Bagnall’s work overall, for he has been at the forefront of promoting the study of ancient papyri, e.g., as editor of The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology.

My article drew in part upon his little book, Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011) to emphasize the place of various levels/types of reading, writing and texts in the early Christian period.  His earlier book, Reading Papyri, Writing Ancient History (London: Routledge, 1995), is an excellent introduction to how Egyptian papyri are vital for ancient historical work.

I suspected that he’d basically find my article congenial to his own work, and it’s nice to have that confirmed.

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  1. Dear Professor Hurtado,

    I read your article on “‘Oral fixation’ in NT Studies : Response” (NTS 60, 2014, 321-340) with great interest. By some kind of coincidence, a few days later, I came upon the review article of Werner H. Kelber on Peter Botha’s book Orality and Literacy in Early Christianity (in Biblical Theological Bulletin 44, 2014, 144-155) and was happy to learn more about Botha’s principal ideas concerning “voice and chirographic practices, oral-scribal interfaces, compositional processes and performative activities “, etc. What especially pleased me was the fact that Kelber has reservations (albeit timid ones : “I am less convinced…”, 151a) about the idea that Mark was an “oral composition” and affirms more strongly “that the Gospels are not fully explicable as transcriptions of actual performances » (151a). Reading Kelber’s article, I kept wondering what Larry Hurtado’s reactions would be ! I hope I will have the pleasure of reading these reactions in one of your future blogs.

    Congratulations on the great quality and high level of your interventions in your blogs. For my part, I have writtten on the Historical Jesus, the Synoptic Problem and the Q Source especially (but in French, which is not often read by English-speaking scholars !). I am, at present, working on the inexhaustible question of the origins of Christianity and Judaism (the “parting of the ways”, etc.). But anything you write on any of the NT questions is of great interest to me.

    Congratulations again and best wishes,

    Jean-Paul Michaud
    Emeritus Professor (NT Studies)
    Faculty of Theology
    Saint Paul University, Ottawa, ON, Canada

  2. Brettongarcia permalink

    I read the abstract: sounds useful. Query: do you account for say, any early sermons or public speeches? Which like most public speeches were perhaps partially formal texts, but also performance, and rhetoric.

    Paul comes to mind here; and possibly earlier apostles. In the form that his early debates were later written down in the NT, they seem rather formal and literary. But likely in actual initial delivery, they were more ad hoc creations, playing to the crowd. Paul himself admits that he approached Christians and say the Greek public discussion of Ephesus and so forth, with mere “implausible” words and speeches, at first.

    I’ll be sure to read the article itself to be sure; soon as I can catch it. But perhaps this quick impression is relevant?

    • Uh, Brettongarcia, of course people preached and taught orally. That’s not the point. They also wrote and read . . . a lot in early Christian circles. That’s the point that’s denied in the work I’m trying to correct. Oh, and Paul wrote his own letters, and those accepted as from him weren’t “later written down in the NT”. The NT emerged over a couple of centuries as a collection of texts that had been written, copied, circulated, and read already over that period.

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