Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Bible as Folklore

A while ago I went on a book buying-spree and one of them was a short book titled 'Holy Writ as Oral Lit: The Bible as Folklore' by Alan Dundes. This book was quite an eye-opener in terms of understanding the Bible and all its confusions and contradictions. Dundes' main point was to explain what constitutes folklore, which is that folklore generally will have multiple versions of the same story often with variations in names, sequence, wording and/or numbers. He then proceeds to go through dozens and dozens of passages within the bible where the story is told several times with both major and minor differences in each copy. Dundes posits that the huge number of these duplicate and variant texts within the bible and parallels outside the bible are evidence that it was written out of a previously established oral-tradition.

I had heard the oral tradition argument from Christian apologists as a reason why the Gospels were composed so long after Jesus' lived, but in the Christian version of the argument they always try and say that the Hebrew people were very meticulous in their oral tradition, and that it was transmitted extremely accurately. This book quote thoroughly makes that argument to look rather stupid, as the sheer number of contradictory and variant texts is quite overwhelming and Alan does a great job of presenting them.

The book is only 118 pages long and if you have any interest in understanding the cultural and literary background of the bible, you should read it.

Here it is on Amazon.

Here it is on Fishpond for my Kiwi readers (though it is unavailiable at the moment).


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  2. Completely off topic follows.

    Was reading this today

    Jews challenging Christians. I found it a good read.

  3. That's a very interesting find Ryan. It's not really off topic at all, since textual variation is the focus of the book this post was about.

  4. Yeah I guess it isn't. I just stumbled upon it whilst researching for editing. My church want Isaiah 61:1 on screen for a video we're doing and I was curious as to why Luke 4 was slightly different.

    Found this also.

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