Ritual, Memory and Writing in Early Christianity
The article examines ways in which the views of biblical scholars as to the transmission of early Christian traditions, especially the Jesus traditions, have been revolutionized by so-called orality/literacy studies since Werner Kelber’s seminal The Oral and the Written Gospel (1983). In the 2000s, an important turn in the study of orality and literacy in early Christianity took place with the discovery of memory. This has given rise to a focus on theories of collective memory and more recently on the cognitive aspects of individual memory, producing fresh new insights into the close intertwining of orality and literacy in ancient literary activity. The last part of the article brings up the role of ritual in the transmission of early Christian traditions, an aspect that has received less attention in the discussion. For purposes of further analysis, three perspectives on the role of ritual in the study of orality and textuality in early Christianity are highlighted and elaborated. The first underscores the need for a fresh analysis of the numerous liturgical passages in the New Testament identified by the generation of form critics. The second focuses on oral-aural (‘liturgical’) aspects of early Christian literature as part of the larger phenomenon of Greco-Roman literary culture, in which literacy was defined by public performance and recitation to a degree that differs substantially from the modern use of printed books. The last perspective highlights the important question of ritual’s capacity to function as an instrument of religious teaching and doctrinal consolidation.
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