Monday, June 9, 2014
Hurtado on Oral Fixation in New Testament Studies—Chris Keith
Readers of the Jesus Blog who are interested in orality, textuality, scribality, etc., as it relates to the Gospels will want to make sure to read Larry Hurtado's article in the new issue of New Testament Studies: "Oral Fixation and New Testament Studies? 'Orality', 'Performance' and Reading Texts in Early Christianity." I saw an early version of the article and have been waiting for it to land. Hurtado's main targets are advocates of so-called "performance criticism" in New Testament studies, who argue that, basically, when early Christians "read" texts they, in reality, performed them from memory. That is, they did not actually read manuscripts. David Rhoads is probably the most vocal leader of this group of scholars, whom I know well as the current co-Chair of the Bible in Ancient and Modern Media session, where many of them are active. These are good scholars, but I've for some time not been convinced of this claim that all or most reading of texts in early Christianity was actually oral performance. (My presentation at the 2014 Evil in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity conference, and essay in the forthcoming published proceedings, was/is a critical engagement with Richard Horsley's work on this point.) Hurtado's arguments are, to my mind, convincing. I'll add further that I recently served as the "faculty opponent" for Dan Nässelqvist's PhD defense at at the University of Lund, where he was supervised by Samuel Byrskog. Dan's (successful) PhD includes probably the most thorough study on the role of the lector in the first two centuries of early Christianity to date. Like Hurtado, he argues thoroughly that when early Christians "read" texts, they actually did read manuscripts, not perform them orally.