Preview of Oct 5, Week 3

Our first two weeks were oriented around an introduction to Modern Bible Scholarship.  I know it was a whirlwind but that’s more or less the nature of the beast.  Thanks for keeping up!  We won’t return to our discussion of the Gospel of Mark; if you’d like to know which points I would have raised, just flip through the slides we didn’t get to.

We now turn to the narrative of the course.  To be certain that everyone understands the outline of that narrative, we’ll look at the Ideas (Basic) Timeline.  Please be sure to read the text which appears below the timeline as you move your cursor over each of the horizontal bars.  (If you’re not using Chrome as your browser, do yourself a favor and install it now!)

We then turn to Ong and Frankfort, which I consider challenging indeed!  Rather than continue with the presentation/discussion style we’ve had during the first two weeks, I’d like to try an alternative — which will work only with your full participation.  You, the study group members, will set the agenda for the discussion at the outset.  I’ll ask for suggestions for issues and topics to be discussed and we’ll formulate a list.  Then we’ll discuss the items on the list.

If you possibly can, please read Book One of the Iliad so we can refer to it during our discussion.  I can anticipate that we won’t have time to make it the focus of our discussion until our fourth week but it’s assigned because it provides more accessible examples for the assertions of Frankfort which he illustrates with less familiar Babylonian and Egyptian examples.

2 thoughts on “Preview of Oct 5, Week 3

  1. Perhaps I could have reached a Eureka moment if I had read Frankfort before Ong – or began with Frankfort’s Chapter 8. It helped me understand some of the oral-based thinking of Egyptians and Mesopotamians. They seem to represent two different models of collective controls over thought that the Hebrew bible replaced with an emphasis on human agency. Or at least, that’s some of what I came away with.

    I assume that scholarship has progressed beyond the work of Ong and Frankfort. For example, The Biblical Archeology Review just celebrated its 35th anniversary, and from I dimly understand, we now have a much better fix on the spread of literacy among the peoples of the region.

    Question: Didn’t written history begin quite early (as though someone was taking notes for Genesis)? Didn’t the Kings and Chronicles (that were sometimes genealogies) begin fairly early (but not all that early)?

    From what I have heard, there were also scribes or priests-of-the-families who could record these histories (or fictionalized histories) to honor leaders and also to explain why power centers continued to change.

    Who were these early note-takers and genealogists? Perhaps in-house priests (and, later, rabbis) were men who combined religious, political and economic power. And the stories they recorded as history served their own self-interests. The scribes could rationalize their own often unfortunate change in status and power.

    Frankfort identified a basic difference between the religion of the Jews and the religions of Egyptians and Mesopotamians (I don’t know about the Zoroastrians). The Jews assigned a central historical role to the independent man (and woman) rather than to pharaohs and other inherited leaders.

    I can see this in theory, but does it really help us understand the early history of Christianity?

    I am certainly not an expert on western philosophy, but my general understanding is that it wasn’t until Descartes and the birth of Western Enlightenment that we began to recognize the central role of individuals as actors independent of larger historical forces.

    Frankfort and others spin wonderful tales about the distinction between oral and written communications, as well as basic distinctions between individual and collective responsibility. Our future course sessions will no doubt produce more Eureka moments.

    For now, cogito ergo sum.

  2. In the Ancient Near East, history effectively started in the 800s BCE. We have surviving independent written sources to confirm most of what the Hebrew Bible records from that time forward. But no confirmation of earlier events such as the exodus, conquest of Canaan, David and Solomon (of course, *someone* built the first temple!).

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