(oral tradition) the chicken(poetry) or the egg(prose)?

Paul Zellmer zellmer at cag.pworld.net.ph
Fri Sep 4 07:38:22 EDT 1998

Andrew C Smith wrote:

> On Fri, 04 Sep 1998 11:25:12 +0800 Paul Zellmer
> <zellmer at cag.pworld.net.ph>
> >So, no, I see it unlikely that prose would be considered "formal
> >sounding" to the
> >Hebrews.  Rather, I see the recorded and preserved history of a
> >culture that moved
> >from a predominantly oral tradition of preserving important records to
> >a written tradition.
> yeah, but......
> Don't we have more evidence to persuade us that much of what is written
> in the Tanakh was soon committed to paper and not passed down by "oral
> tradition"?
> The "oral tradition" hypothesis was popular among some scholars, but I
> thought that it fell into disfavor when evidence for very early writing
> among Hebrews was discovered.
> - Andy Smith


You picked up on one description of the writing, i.e., recorded, and
ignored the second and probably more significant, preserved.  My point is
not that there is any more, or, for that matter, any less of an oral
tradition in the Hebrew language than, say, English or Greek or Latin or
any of other language.  I *do* see a case for better preservation of early
works, that case falling to a large part in the presence of so much of the
Tanakh being poetry.  An early development of the ability to write does not
imply an abundance of writing materials.  Nor does it imply a high literacy
rate.  The ability to write *can* and many times does co-exist with a
strong oral mode of passing on information.

If poetry in the early Hebrew writings are not a mnenomic device, what do
*you* propose as the reason for its wide use?  I personally do not accept
that poetry sounded more "natural" to the Hebrew ear than does prose.  The
variations from established prose rules do not seem accidental or purely
free, IMO.  Note Bryan's recent post on the Psalm and 2 Samuel passages.
Although he did not call it to our attention, most of the verbs in the two
passages *were* in the same form in both.  And, since one of the main
characteristics of Hebrew poetry is parallelism, is it really reasonable to
expect that the "free-est" form of writing, the one chosen because it has
the fewest rules, would be the one that requires the author to come up with
so many synonymous or antonymous (is that a word?) forms?

Anyway, I still am just giving my thoughts.  I don't claim to be any sort
of an expert.

Paul and Dee Zellmer, Jimmy Guingab, Geoffrey Beltran
Ibanag Translation Project
Cabagan, Philippines

zellmer at faith.edu.ph

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