QOTD: Oral Tradition and the Telephone Game

Often times the reliability of the oral tradition of the Gospels is compared to a game a telephone. Michael Bird in his book The Gospel of Our Lord argues against this notion from a quote from Anthony LeDonne

It must be said that this [game] is not a controlled exercise in orality. It is an exercise in variation without stability. The vast majority of human civilizations operated with largely illiterate culutres. Are we to imagine that all these civilizations operated with largely illiterate cultures. Are we to image that all these civilizations were the equivalent of giggling children? That the golden ages of Egypt, Rome, Britain, the Maya, etcetera had no confidence in the stabilitiy of social communication? No. oral cultures have been capable of tremendous competence. The human mind can remember vast amounts of information with great accuracy when it remains active and fluid. The oral culture in which Jesus was reared trained their brightest children to remember libraries of story, law, poetry, song, etcetera.“1

  1. The Historical Jesus: What Can We Know and How Can We Know It by Athony LeDonne, p. 70 ↩︎

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