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  • RHS
    re Eutychus in Acts 20. I am not sure that the presence of many candles is proof that people needed them for reading and note-taking. However, it is a good
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 4, 2001
      re Eutychus in Acts 20. I am not sure that the presence of many candles
      is proof that people needed them for reading and note-taking. However,
      it is a good point.

      re: Listening and remembering. I seem to recall that Socrates did not
      write anything down. His words were recorded by Plato and probably other
      students. I also recall that 'Homer' did not write his two poems down.
      They were committed to writing several generations later from oral
      memories. The early Greek dramas were not written down. The writers
      worked with actors who memorised their parts and passed them down to
      other actors. They were written down much later. I don't think this is
      anything like modern examples of people who worked very hard to commit
      passages to memory. The early Methodists knew all the Wesley hymns by
      heart. Most of the believers were not very literate, which was why the
      Wesleys wrote hymns about the essentials of the faith. I was simply
      making the point that the whole communication context of the ancient
      world was fundamentally different from ours, and that we must be careful
      lest we unconsciously read back our world context when trying to get at
      the process of the writing of the gospels.

      re: Intention of FG. I have commented before on John 20:30-31. The NRSV
      does acknowledge that the verb for 'believe' is present subjunctive in
      some important mss and not aorist subjunctive. It is the presence or
      absence of the sigma that makes the difference. Which form did the
      author/s of the FG use? The verb for 'have life' is present continuous.
      This is rarely brought out in English translations.
      The difference is quite crucial. If the present form was used, then the
      aim of the FG was not evangelistic but aimed perhaps at halting the
      slide of believers back into paganism. 'But these have been written down
      (perfect tense) so that you people may continue to believe that Jesus is
      the Christ, the son of God, and in order that, as you continue to
      believe, you may continue to have life in his name.'
      In my opinion the force of the present continuous for 'have life' gives
      much more force to the present form for 'believe'. However, scholars
      will want to argue about that. Our translations generally are weak by
      not emphasising the continuous force of the present, future and
      imperfect tenses.
      What it does mean, though, is that we cannot be all that certain about
      the intention of the FG based on this one verse. My own view is that the
      FG as a whole reads better as a recall to basic faith rather than as a
      call to first-time faith.

      re: Where the FG was read aloud. I deliberately did not use the word
      'church' to describe the contexts in which the early gospels were read
      aloud. I did not mean to imply any forms of liturgical worship either.
      Most gatherings of believers occurred in households, anyway. There were
      few, if any, public buildings suitable for believers to go to, let alone
      worship in. It would be quite a while before any Christian documents
      were available anyway. Oral memories from early missionaries and
      visitors from other communities would have been the basis of most of the
      information available to them. I am also not sure how available the LXX
      scrolls would have been for them. Would the synagogue leaders be happy
      to pass on copies to people they saw as competitors, and who were
      Gentiles with ritually unclean hands? What believers heard formed the
      basis of many years of their faith.

      Was the FG designed for world-wide, or even country-wide distribution?
      How much did each community of believers know about other communities of
      believers in other parts of the Empire? Certainly Paul was kept well
      informed about congregations he founded. Certainly people travelled a
      great deal, even if slowly by today's standards. The only evidence we
      have about this comes from much later. It is not easy to come to any
      firm conclusions. I tend to take a more conservative approach because of
      the limited knowledge we have of some of these basic processes of
      communication in the ancient world.

      I have to have a wry smile at scientific tests done on twentieth century
      brains to establish how memory works! Even birds have shown the ability
      to change the way they 'remember' based on changing dangers in their
      environment. Indigenous trackers can 'see' things and react
      instinctively to their local signs in ways that differ from their
      fellows in other countries where the environment throws up different
      survival needs. Human brains develop. We are seeing rapid changes in how
      people learn because of the involvement of computers early in their
      learning process. Let's find a first century human frozen in an iceberg
      before dying from another cause. Let us bring that person back to life
      and then test that brain. I wonder what differences and what
      similarities we might find!

      I guess I want to give more credibility to oral memories in an oral
      society than so many scholars from a visual society seem prepared to
      grant. Different gospel accounts of what Jesus said can be understood
      just as easily as that Jesus did not always use the same words every
      time he told a parable. From some commentators you would think that
      Jesus told the parable of the Sower and The Seed only once. Yet Mark
      uses the imperfect when he introduces this parable. 'He used to teach
      them many things in parables, and in his teaching he used to say...'
      Clearly, this was not the only time Jesus told this parable. After all,
      he did travel all around Galilee. I bet he told this parable in every
      town he went through. So each of the gospel writers may have had
      different oral sources rather than having a written version of Mark
      before them.

      Archaeologists and cultural anthropologists keep on turning up new
      information about the way the ancient world worked. I hope we are all
      adaptable enough to modify deeply held views in the light of new
      Ross Saunders from DownUnder.
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