Friday, October 22, 2004

anthropological support for the reliability of oral traditions in preliterate and ancient peoples

Historical reliability of Biblical texts and other ancient literature is often called into question because they are based on earlier oral traditions. As modern people we do not trust anything that is not written down.

In fact, there is anthropological support for the reliability of oral tradition.

This is a chapter from a book by anthropologist Edmund Snow Carpenter in which he provides some amazing examples of non-literate memory ability and in which he tries to figure out why modern people have lost the natural ability to memorize. He discusses his theory about the connection between bodily sensation and the ability to memorize. Part of his argument is that loss of memory is an unfortunate by-product of literacy.

Therefore, in light of such anthropological evidence, one should not be quick to accept ‘modern literate’ skepticism of the reliability of ancient oral traditions that the Bible and other ancient literature are based on.

Just because stories about the life of Jesus were not written down right away but possibly decades after they happened does not necessarily mean the earlier oral tradition is historically unreliable or inaccurate.

Also, simply because ancient Jewish stories were not written down in the form of the Biblical texts until Moses or until the Davidic dynasty, does not mean that they were inaccurate.

Unfortunately, as modern people, not only do we not trust anything that is not written down, even if it is written down, we still do not trust it.