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[HJMatMeth] Re: Jokes as a model for stability of oral tradition

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  • John Dominic Crossan
    I am quite willing to discuss oral tradition in reconstructing Jesus, Jim, both in abstract theory and in specific example. The abstract theory in the BofC
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 13, 2000
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      I am quite willing to discuss oral tradition in reconstructing Jesus, Jim,
      both in abstract theory and in specific example. The abstract theory in the
      BofC 59-89 (taken actually from experimental psychology and brain research)
      was intended as a warning about the problems of memory and orality. But none
      of that abstract theory is as important as the data that we have about the
      Jesus tradition itself. It is not impossible, a priori, that Jesus, even
      though illiterate, drilled his equally illiterate followers to memorize his
      aphorisms or parables. Neither is it impossible, a priori, that
      alley-scribes from the small towns of Galilee took down deliberately his
      sayings. My proble is that I do not find the evidence for that very
      compelling. Furthermore, and this is much more im-portant, when I look at
      the way a writer like Matthew uses a written text like Mark by changing it
      so that what was gospel for Mark becomes gospel for Matthew, I do presume
      the possibility that similar effects would have gone on even in an oral
      tradition. In other words, I am quite aware that jokes can go on in more or
      less the same structural form across generations, but I do not find any
      similar process operative within the Jesus tradition. In fact, if a
      Jesus-fellow said to another Jesus-fellow "remember what the Lord said,"
      that fellow would probably not be appealing so much to memory as to
      obedience. It would be a case, not just of remembering it, but of doing it.
      That is why I put more emphasis on continuity in life-style and not just on
      retention in good memory (mimetics over mnemonics, as I put it in BofC).

      >From: Jim Crutchfield <jdcrutch@...>
      >To: hjmaterialsmethodolgy@...
      >Subject: [HJMatMeth] Jokes as a model for stability of oral tradition
      >Date: Fri, Feb 11, 2000, 7:22 PM

      > I would like to ask Professor Crossan whether he or others have
      > considered jokes as a possible model for studying the stability of form
      > and content in oral tradition, and, if so, what conclusions he has
      > drawn in that regard.
      > It seems to me that jokes are the closest analogue we have for the
      > sayings of Jesus as passed down through oral tradition. Like the
      > parables, jokes are brief sayings whose specific details may vary, but
      > whose variability is limited by the requirements of the form. While
      > parable rarely have clear punch lines, yet their effectiveness may be
      > said similarly to depend on the preservation of certain necessary
      > elements.
      > Moreover, people tend to object when a joke-teller changes even
      > incidental details of a familiar joke. Even though a new version may be
      > just as funny as the old, somebody among the hearers is quite likely to
      > say, "Well, I heard it like this:" and proceed to tell the traditional,
      > normative version.
      > We know from old joke books that some jokes have been passed down
      > virtually unchanged through several centuries. Although these jokes are
      > written down and republished from time to time, I suspect that these
      > "scribal" versions are not strongly influential in preventing changes in
      > jokes. I think the form itself imposes a certain conservatism, which is
      > reinforced by the natural conservatism of the audience: people like to
      > hear a joke told a certain way.
      > Now certainly Jesus's parables are far more subtle than most jokes, and
      > clearly they have been modified by various retellers to serve new
      > purposes (such as moralising, mystical allegory, etc.); and so the
      > inherent pressure to preserve the basic form & content seem to be less.
      > Yet I can't help thinking that jokes are evidence that an oral tradition
      > might well have preserved the original content of Jesus's sayings rather
      > more reliably than the evidence of traditional poetry and storytelling
      > (analyzed to great effect in _The Birth of Christianity_) has led Prof.
      > Crossan to conclude.
      > --
      > Best wishes,
      > James D. Crutchfield, B.A., J.D., R.S.V.P.
      > New York City
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