- At 04:14 PM 12/3/01 -0800, Horace Jeffery Hodges wrote:
>A note of skepticism about some of the claims beingJeffrey,
>made concerning memory in antiquity.
>There have been a lot of modern studies of memory by
>modern psychologists and neurologists, and from what I
>have read of their work, I would be very surprised if
>it were common for people to remember every word
>spoken in a lengthy discourse upon a single occasion.
>Why do I say this? Because it has been shown that most
>of us have rather limited short-term memories -- I
>recall (or hope that I do) reading that our short-term
>memories can hold only 5 to 8 items of information at
>a time. So, for an individual to remember everything,
>he or she would have to transfer everything said by
>the speaker into his or her long-term memory at a
>rather rapid rate.
>Now, I realize that people in antiquity had techniques
>for remembering, and I guess that they had rhetorical
>devices for speaking in a way to make their words
>memorable, but I still find unlikely that people could
>commonly recall every word spoken in a long discourse
>upon a single occasion.
>Has anybody tested this assumption in contemporary
>oral cultures? I would be interested in knowing if my
>skepticism is misdirected.
I'd suggest you read Part II (Chapters 3-6) on Memory and Orality in
Crossan's The Birth of Christianity as a good starting place. He will
confirm many of your worst fears. The chapters are written as a deliberate
counterpoint to those who place great faith in the precision of oral memory.
Robert M. Schacht, Ph.D.
Northern Arizona University
- Bob Schacht wrote:
> Jeffrey,Actually, "Jeffery".
> I'd suggest you read Part II (Chapters 3-6) onThanks for the reference. I really should take a look
> Memory and Orality in Crossan's The Birth of
> Christianity as a good starting place. He will
> confirm many of your worst fears. The chapters are
> written as a deliberate counterpoint to those who
> place great faith in the precision of oral memory.
However, I want to clarify something since I seem to
have been misunderstood by Joe Gagne. I have great
respect for the power of memory in oral culture -- and
even for its power in contemporary culture, for we
(post)moderns have far better long-term memories than
If we can get things into our long-term memories, we
can do a pretty good job of recalling them. I think
that the good memory power of oral cultures is
primarily long-term memory. If people who are trained
to focus upon remembering are repeatedly presented
with oral materials, then I think that they will
eventually come to remember it very well -- even to
its minute details.
But -- to iterate -- concerning some claims that have
been made about memory in oral culture:
"I would be very surprised if it were common for
people to remember every word spoken in a lengthy
discourse upon a single occasion."
I hope that I have now been better understood.
Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges
Hanshin University (Korean Theological University)
447-791 Kyunggido Osan-City
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- Jeffrey Staley writes:
>Another note of skepticism about some of the claims being made concerningmemory in antiquity.
Studies have also shown that "remembering" in primary oral cultures is not
"word for word"--even when those people doing the "remembering think it is.
When tape recordings are made of different performances, the "recitations"
are rarely, if ever, exactly the same. I'm not sure if this was Lord's
analysis, or some more recent study. Tom Thatcher may help us here.
- To List:
John Dominic Crossan, The birth of Christianity : discovering
what happened in the years immediately after the execution of
Jesus (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), Part II
(Chapters 3-6) on Memory and Orality; James D. G. Dunn,
Jesus in Oral Memory: The Initial Stages of the Jesus Tradition;
W. H. Kelber, The Oral and the Written Gospel (Philadelphia:
Fortress, 1983); W. J. Ong, Orality and Literacy: The
Technologizing of the Word (1982; London: Routledge, 1988); A.
B. Lord, `The Gospels as Oral Traditional Literature', in W. O.
Walker, ed., The Relationships Among the Gospels (San
Antonio: Trinity University, 1978); etc, are not well informed on
writing practices in the first century.
As part of the discussion of the historical Jesus: concerning
what he actually said or did, the methods used to record them
become paramount. Ill informed opinions of the skeptics and
cynics that rely exclusively on memory, oral culture and tradition,
or mnemonic techniques for the transmission of Jesus' words
and deeds find plenty of room to question the veracity of the
It has been erroneously assumed by several academic schools
over the past few centuries that the Evangelists wrote from
memory, a fact that cannot be substantiated and necessitates
closing ones eyes to the historical realities of the currency of
shorthand, an art that was already well over three hundred years
in development and pervasive usage throughout the
Notarii or tabellio (AGORAIOS and AGORONOMOS and
SEMEIOGRAFOS or TAKUGRAFOS) were short-hand secretaries
who could take dictation. Suetonius, Ennius, says that Quintus
Ennius (239-169 BC) introduced notae, probably since he is
regarded by the Romans as the father of Roman literature.
However, cursive hand script for speed was used in Athens in
B.C. 284, a century before Ennius' Aetolian campaign. So,
shorthand was in wide usage throughout the Hellenistic world
well before the Evangelists wrote their respective Gospels.
Furthermore, Marcus Tullius Tiro, Cicero's amanuensis was one
of many notarii noted to have contributed to the development of
the art of stenography. He is credited with the invention of many
shorthand symbols including the ampersand "&" sometimes
called the "notae Tironianae" or "Tironian sign" a shorthand
symbol of "et per se" in Latin where the "et" is emblemed in
cursive script. This symbol substitution of words was found to
be more efficacious than the older "arte brachygraphie".
Brachygraphy was merely the omission of certain letters
(examples employ ligatures, and in Christian scribes in nomina
sacra) or the replacement of certain vowels or consonants by
strokes which allowed for quicker writing and the text to fit into
columns more conveniently. After Tiro we find shorthand or
tachygraphy taught in Rome in various schools. Seneca claims
to have complied or catalogued five thousand tachygraphic
symbols. Suetonius, Vespasian, says that Vespasian could
write shorthand with such dexterity and speed that he competed
with scribes for sport. Actuarii was another name given to the
notarii, short-hand clerks who recorded speeches in the senate,
or who kept private accounts. To distinguish public from private
records by notaries the Greeks used the phrase "EN AGUIA" as
seen in P. Oxy, 722.12. Later, the title notarii became exclusive
to the private secretaries of the emperor, and the title
"exceptores" became that for short-hand clerks. "Librarii ab
epistolis", sometimes called "ad manu", "a manu", and
"amanuensis" were secretaries who took dictation for letters.
The Berlin papyrus 8507 is a shorthand document of a
senatorial speech during the reign of Claudius A.D. 41-54 which
shows how widespread this art was by that date.
Some early written accounts and speeches may have been
recorded by apostles who acted as actuarii for the group. It is
plausible that some Jewish disciples of Jesus had acted this
way based on the Roman model of actuarii and notarii. These
would have been stenographic transcriptions of two types of
discourse: (1) acromatics (AKRAMAI), that is, private lectures
given in "veiled language" only to his chosen disciples in the
manner of Aristotle. For example, John 16,25 "I have spoken to
you in veiled language" is part of a long acromatical discourse,
which itself appears to be the "ipsissimum verbum Christum"
recorded by a (St. John) scribal actuarii; (2) public preaching in
the form of parables. In this regard the notion of the Gospels
containing the "ipsissimum verbum Christum" is once again
Cordially in Christ,