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Tradition or Memory: What is the Bible made of? Reflecting back on the past century or so of debate I think the stakes here could be higher than they appear.
The biggest arguments in e.g. Pentateuchal studies are over what the building blocks of the Torah were, and how and why they were put together. Similarly in the past couple of decades people have started talking about these building blocks as "collective memories."
In an earlier phase these building blocks were called "traditions" and the early all-but-invisible process of composition, "history of traditions." But in both cases it was treated mainly as referential content, abstracted away from human agency, a quick but shaky solution.
When we talk about "transmission" (in Bible) or "the stream of tradition" (in Assyriology) we present people as talking heads, sending and receiving data via relatively transparent media like scrolls or tablets, a view rightly questioned by text criticism and material philology.
Here text criticism and material philology are the flip side of "memory" and "tradition"--not primarily interested in what the texts say, how they spoke to people, or why people would say it that way. They're focused on just tracing variety and change:…
In editing Melissa Ramos' wonderful and eye-opening new book Ritual in Deuteronomy: The Performance of Doom, I came across an old suggestion on what "tradition" would look like if you used linguistic anthropology to theorize it in light of the facts of textual variation.
Looking at the three parallel literary editions of Joshua underlying the MT, LXX, and 4QJoshA, "what is important about the textual variance we hae seen is that it is, in every case, also ritual variance with political significance."
The culture that produced these Deuteronomistic redactions of Joshua defined its unity in the way it returned to and interpreted the textual tradition it received, by the practice of producing its own version of the received tradition...
Drawing on Silverstein and Urban's account of the dialectic between social processes and text-artifacts, "Traditional authorship" can thus be characterized as *the sedimentation of a text by a diachronic subset of a culture.*
The thing it took me over 20 years to get was the meaning locked up in "a diachronic subset"--this is not a "social group" let alone "Sitz im Leben" but the self-selected (as well as socially selected!) group of people who participated in the ongoing laying-down of the text.
Anyhow this is a possible alternative to "scribal culture" and a result of it taking me 20+ years to understand what the hell Michael Silverstein and Greg Urban, and even I, were saying. *“The Natural History of Discourse.” In Natural Histories of Discourse, Chicago, 1996, p. 5.
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References: 1) I first published these arguments in 2004 as "Parallel Literary Editions of Joshua and the Israelite Mythologization of Ritual"…
2) On the absence of any unified cuneiform "stream of tradition" the crucial study is by Eleanor Robson, "Tracing networks of cuneiform scholarship with Oracc, GKAB and Google Earth"…
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