Living Scripture

A comment was made some time ago by my father on his biblioblog about the spoken word’s intrinsic power. I agree with him on the fact that the Bible was formed in primarily auditory societies, and as such we often miss out on many things when silently interpreting scripture. For one, we miss out on the characterization and tone that is carried out in the verbalized words; for another, I truly feel that one engages more strongly when speaking or hearing scripture, and thus is able to derive more meaning from it.

These thoughts were all conjured up again when my Small Group leader showed us video about a man who has memorized a huge number of New Testament books. The video consisted of a long, uninterrupted recitation from Hebrews. The only word I can apply to it is “wow!”

The power of this video is breathtaking. This is the kind of thing that our culture often overlooks, because we are so text-based. On a blog, a writer has a certain tone, but for the most part it is accepted that there will be a denial of that tone for intellectual purposes. The words mean what they say, since it is too easy to have multiple interpretations if tone is applied. But in so doing, the true character of the words is lost, something that I think this video does quite well in recapturing. I truly feel the force of the words in Hebrews when I consider them in this light!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephen
    Oct 10, 2007 @ 15:48:59

    Excellent! I’m glad you made the connection between the video and my post on the philosopher Paul Ricoeur. I think I’ll post the video on my blog in a day or two — I hope you don’t mind.

    A little while ago, I read a description of how oral tradition is preserved in a village in some non-western part of the world. Essentially it’s a matter of dramatic performances — presumably much like this man’s dramatic recitation of Hebrews 9-10.

    The individual performers (which varied from one recitation to the next) didn’t recite the narrative word for word, but they did retain the basic gist of the story. The flexibility allowed the tradition to be polished with repeated tellings, for maximum impact. Thus there was a combination of fidelity to the tradition but flexibility in the dramatic telling of the narrative.

    We don’t know whether oral tradition worked that way in ancient Hebrew society, but it’s a reasonable conjecture. Some scholars have imagined a much more formal, rote memorization, but most scholars think the very formal model is unlikely.

    The Hebrew Bible largely consists of stories and poetry (not only in the Psalms, but also much of the prophetic literature). Both are well suited to a dramatic recitation. And indeed, even a didactic passage (like that one from Hebrews) takes on added power when it is acted out. The word lives!


  2. nebcanuck
    Oct 10, 2007 @ 18:53:00

    I have no problem with you posting it! 🙂

    As for the auditory memory thing, it’s a topic that we have confronted in Medieval English this year. What’s interesting is just how well they can actually remember it — word for word and everything! Obviously certain uncritical words are going to be altered, but looking at a poem like Beowulf, it’s incredible to see just how rich and complex the language is, even though it was initially a poem that was passed down by oral tradition. I find it hard to implement narrative devices even when I have the words in front of my face; to convey them auditorially must take tremendous memory.


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