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Re: [Synoptic-L] McIver and Carroll

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  • Ken Olson
    ... McIver and Marie Carroll: Experiments to Develop Criteria for Determining the Existence of Written Sources, and Their Potential Implications for the
    Message 1 of 4 , Apr 24, 2003
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      On April 17, John Poirier wrote:

      >>Has anyone out there spent any time with the recent article by Robert K.
      McIver and Marie Carroll: "Experiments to Develop Criteria for
      Determining the Existence of Written Sources, and Their Potential
      Implications for the Synoptic Problem," *JBL* 121 (2002) 667-87?

      I gave the article a close rereading last week, and discovered an
      alarming number of blunders, both logical and mechanical. The greatest
      logical blunder is that they attempt a statistical comparison of the
      sequential agreements between Matthew and Luke (explicitly presupposed
      as independent writers, per the Q hypothesis) with the sequential
      agreements between an experimental subject in a memory experiment and
      his/her prepared source.<<

      John,

      I got hold of McIver and Carroll yesterday. I'm glad people are doing
      experiments like this one, but I agree that it has some major flaws. I see
      your point about their treatment of Matthew and Luke (made obvious in their
      chart on p. 681). This may be a great logical blunder, but I think it's far
      from their greatest. It looks to me like they're trying to push an oral
      tradition hypothesis that minimizes the necessity of written sources for the
      synoptics. As you observed:

      >>McIver and Carroll's experiment told them that a sequential agreement of
      16 words or more was a sign of a written source, so they catalogued all
      the places in synoptic gospels where agreements of this length could be
      found, suggesting that all *other* parallel passages display patterns of
      agreement characteristic of the "mechanisms of memory" rather than of
      the use written sources.<<

      It greatly bothers me that they equate "mechanisms of memory" with "oral
      transmission". They seem to want to argue that anything that isn't verbatim
      copying is probably "orally transmitted," apparetnly forgetting that their
      test # 5, in which a written source was read immediately prior to, but not
      during, composition, produces similar results to their "oral transmission"
      experiments.

      They also don't seem to allow much room for authors to shape or even create
      content intentionally. Extensively paraphrasing written sources was the
      norm in the Graeco-Roman world, and at least many classicists would allow
      that authors felt free to create minor details. This isn't something these
      tests were designed to allow for. In fact, in their test of oral
      transmission they offered financial rewards to students who got the wording
      exactly right. That seems to presuppose that the bearers of the material
      were trying to transmit it unchanged from the beginning. It sure isn't
      going to encourage the test subjects to put their own spin on the material.

      I'm also concerned about their definition of "oral transmission." Telling
      someone a story and having them go into another room and try to repeat it
      verbatim into a tape recorder seems a lot more like some forms of dictation
      using written sources than it does like any kind of oral tradition process I
      've ever heard of.

      I think there are a lot of missed opportunities in the study. It would have
      been a lot more useful to me if McIver and Carroll had published the actual
      student writings produced by the experiment than their conclusions. For
      instance, I'd love to see if different student writings based on the same
      original text exhibit the "alternating support" which many Griesbachians
      find to be such a problem for Matthew and Luke's use of Mark.

      Best Wishes,

      Ken



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