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Imprints, Voiceprints, and Footprints of Memory

Imprints, Voiceprints, and Footprints of Memory: Collected Essays of Werner H. Kelber

Werner H. Kelber
  • Book Info
    Imprints, Voiceprints, and Footprints of Memory
    Book Description:

    Jesus and his followers defined their allegiances and expressed their identities in a communications culture that manifested itself in voice and chirographic practices, in oral-scribal interfaces, and in performative activities rooted in memory. In the sixteen essays gathered in Imprints, Voiceprints, and Footprints of Memory, Werner Kelber explores the verbal arts of early Christian word processing operative in a media world that was separated by two millennia from our contemporary media history. The title articulates the fact that the ancient culture of voiced texts, hand-copying, and remembering is chiefly accessible to us in print format and predominantly assimilated from print perspectives. The oral-scribal-memorial-performative paradigm developed in these essays challenges the reigning historical-critical model in biblical scholarship. Notions of tradition, the fixation on the single original saying, the dominant methodology of form criticism, and the heroic labors of the Quest—stalwart features of the historical, documentary paradigm—are all subject to a critical review. A number of essays reach beyond New Testament texts, ranging from the pre-Socratic Gorgias through medieval manuscript culture on to print’s triumphant apotheosis in Gutenberg’s Vulgate, product of the high tech of the fifteenth century, all the way to conflicting commemorations of Auschwitz—taking tentative steps toward a history of media technologies, culture, and cognition of the Christian tradition in the West.

    eISBN: 978-1-58983-893-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  2. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    David Rhoads

    It is difficult to overestimate the significance of the work of Werner Kelber for biblical studies. His groundbreaking 1983 monograph,The Oral and the Written Gospel, challenged the core foundations of biblical scholarship by offering a paradigm shift of sweeping proportions. Over the last three decades he has affirmed, revised, refined, and expanded his work in conversation with others who work in the same field and who are interacting with his scholarchip. The articles and papers arranged in chronological order in this volume chart that pioneering course. Every essay makes an original contribution, even when Kelber is reviewing the work...

  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xix)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xx-xxii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    The essays collected in this volume and arranged in the chronological order of their composition were published between 1985 and 2011, spanning a period of over a quarter of a century. All the pieces have previously been published, and all have been reworked and edited. To enhance readability, to facilitate cross-referencing, and to improve the coherence of the whole, the sixteen chapters have been subdivided into sense units and numbered across the volume. All essays have been written after the publication of my earlier studyThe Oral and the Written Gospel(1983). They take their starting point from that book...

  6. 1 Apostolic Tradition and the Form of the Gospel (1985)
    (pp. 11-32)

    For some time now, the theme of discipleship in Mark has attracted my attention, for nowhere in the canon does a text generate in readers as much alienation from the disciples as in this Gospel (Kelber 1972; 1974; 1979; 1983). I continue to view it as a puzzle that admits of no simple or general answer. The very oddness of the theme ought to have inspired creative explorations, whereas, in fact, it has often given rise to evasive maneuvers. The elaboration of admittedly positive features of the disciples is, of course, very much to the point. But it has not...

  7. 2 Interpretation of Narrative and Narrative as Interpretation: Hermeneutical Reflections on the Gospels (1987)
    (pp. 33-54)

    The art of telling stories has faithfully accompanied the human race from preliterate to postmodern times. So “natural” appears to be the impulse to narrate that one is hard put to imagine a language or culture devoid of narrative elements. The need to make scraps of life cohere in the imagination and to plot events so as to give them a semblance of coherence and sequentiality may thus reasonably be counted among the human universals. Roland Barthes was of the opinion that narrative “is simply there like life itself … international, transhistorical, transcultural” (1977, 77). Hayden White, to whom we...

  8. 3 Narrative and Disclosure: Mechanisms of Concealing, Revealing, and Reveiling (1988)
    (pp. 55-74)

    Since William Wrede’s classic study on concealment in the Gospels (1901 [1971]), narrative and secrecy are thought to be close allies in the Gospels of Mark and also John.Messiasgeheimniswas the code he had invented to get a significant matter into perspective. To him the term suggested a theological idea that exercised controlling influence on Mark’s narrative, relegating it toDogmengeschichte(1901, 131). Today few will give unqualified assent to the term “messianic secret,” and fewer still subscribe to Wrede’s explanation of its functioning. But the alliance of Mark’s narrative with secrecy is not in doubt, and the debate...

  9. 4 In the Beginning Were the Words: The Apotheosis and Narrative Displacement of the Logos (1990)
    (pp. 75-102)

    The saying (ὁ λόγος) and the parable (ἡ παραβολή) constituted the two formal units of Jesus’ proclamation. Both were initiated orally and functioned as oral operations, and both were meant to function only secondarily as literary compositions and in literary contexts. Together they furnished the informational and interpretational paradigms for remembrance and proclamation of the early Jesus tradition.

    Speaking in sayings, whether they were calledmeshalimor λόγοι,chriaeorsententiae, was a proven way of managing information in antiquity. Teachers, philosophers, prophets, and scientists were accustomed to handling knowledge in aphoristic fashion. In Jewish culture the book of Proverbs...

  10. 5 Jesus and Tradition: Words in Time, Words in Space (1994)
    (pp. 103-132)

    From the perspective of media sensibilities, the academic discipline of biblical scholarship is in no small measure intertwined with typography, the technological invention that mediated both the biblical manuscripts themselves and our interpretations of them. This alliance between print technology and the academic study of the Bible has been a long and close one, although it has largely remained unrecognized by the discipline. For the past five centuries Western history, and particularly the literate elite, has managed verbal communication under the spell of the print medium. The shift from script to print has had a major part in the three...

  11. 6 Language, Memory, and Sense Perception in the Religious and Technological Culture of Antiquity and the Middle Ages (1995)
    (pp. 133-166)

    The two persons in whose honor this lecture is named were North American classicists of eminence who had acquired additional training in the oral traditional epics of the former Yugoslavia, an achievement unequaled among scholars of their time. Long before interdisciplinary studies had come into scholarly and curricular vogue, Milman Parry and Albert Lord had attained a literacy in comparative studies that was both severely academic and daringly imaginative. Almost singlehandedly, they initiated the distinct academic field of oral traditional literature, which concerns itself with the study of compositional, performative, and aesthetic aspects of living oral traditions and of texts...

  12. 7 The Oral and the Written Gospel: Fourteen Years Afterward (1997)
    (pp. 167-186)

    During the past fourteen yearsThe Oral and the Written Gospel(1983, henceforthOWG) has helped to energize a discourse in biblical studies that focuses on the oral-chirographic communications media in early Christianity. The participants include colleagues from a variety of disciplines—orality-literacy studies, literary criticism, media studies, folklore, comparative literature, anthropology, Judaic studies, classics, theology—which gives the discussion a much-needed breadth. Largely inspired by my book and the debate it had generated, the Bible in Ancient and Modern Media group of the Society of Biblical Literature in 1987 publishedSemeia39 under the titleOrality, Aurality, and Biblical...

  13. 8 Memory’s Desire or the Ordeal of Remembering: Judaism and Christianity (2000–2001)
    (pp. 187-216)

    Of all the verses in the New Testament, few have been more deeply implicated in the bloodstained history of Jewish-Christian relations than the Matthean rendition of the people’s response to Pilate and his declaration of his own innocence: “His [Jesus’] blood be on us and on our children” (Matt 27:25). In keeping with a Semitic idiom that the blood of someone who has been wronged will be required from the perpetrators of evil (Lev 20:9; 1 Sam 4:11; Jer 26:15), the people in Matthew’s passion narrative voluntarily accept the consequences of Jesus’ death. This is what the controversial verse Matt...

  14. 9 Geschichte als Kommunikationsgeschichte: Überlegungen zur Medienwissenschaft (2004)
    (pp. 217-236)

    Das in den 60er Jahren des vorigen Jahrhunderts vorwiegend in der angloamerikanischen Kultur- und Humanwissenschaft aufgebrochene Kommunikationsdenken dürfte von der Suggestivkraft der gegenwärtigen Medienerfahrung nicht ganz unbeeinflusst gewesen sein. Bemerkenswerterweise sind die drei in den USA nahezu kanonisch gewordenen Werke, welche medien- und kommunikationsbewusste Kulturgeschichte betreiben, alle um 1960 herum veröffentlicht wurden: Walter J. Ongs monumentales BuchRamus Method, and the Decay of Dialogue(1958), Albert LordsThe Singer of Tales(1960), und Eric HavelocksPreface to Plato(1963). Unter dem Eindruck des zunehmend mit dem Siegeszug der elektronischen Medien verbundenen technologischen Informationschubes, welcher die Transformation der modernen Lese- und...

  15. 10 On the History of the Quest, or: the Reduction of Polyvalency to Single Sense (2004)
    (pp. 237-264)

    Albert Schweitzer’s quotation cited in the epigraph above (1968, 5) has the ring of heroism paired with a sense of resignation. It sums up the author’s view at the turn of the twentieth century that in terms of method the search for the historical Jesus had been a “constant succession of unsuccessful attempts” (6). Notwithstanding his own endeavor at writing a Life of Jesus, he insisted that there was “no direct method of solving the problem in its complexity” (6). To be sure, Schweitzer acknowledged that the history of the nineteenth-century Lives of Jesus research had advanced and refined theoretical...

  16. 11 The Works of Memory: Christian Origins as Mnemohistory (2005)
    (pp. 265-296)

    In the human and social sciences, the modern academic study of memory is generally acknowledged to have been initiated by the sociologist Maurice Halbwachs (1925; 1992). Virtually effaced from scholarly consciousness, he received academic acceptance only decades following his death in Buchenwald. His omnipresence in current memory studies owes much to the work of Jan Assmann, himself the author of a classic work on memory theory. In part dependent on Halbwachs and in part quite separately, memory has recently emerged as a pivotal concept in cultural studies and as a principal topic of research in the humanities and social sciences....

  17. 12 Orality and Biblical Scholarship: Seven Case Studies (2007)
    (pp. 297-332)

    In keeping with developments in the human and social sciences, we have for some time now experienced a recovery and reconsideration of the oral factor in biblical studies. Negatively speaking what is at stake is a challenge to what Foley has called “the textualist bias of our scholarship, with its easy assimilation of all forms of verbal art to the literary-textual model” (1995, 87). This text-centered perspective has involved a sense of textual autonomy, textualization as an end in itself, texts’ localization in intertextual networks, and a dominantly textual hermeneutics—all notions closely allied with the historical and literary paradigm....

  18. 13 Memory and Violence, or: Genealogies of Remembering (In Memory of Edith Wyschogrod) (2009)
    (pp. 333-366)

    Three interrelated features may be said to characterize the work of Edith Wyschogrod. There is first an interdisciplinary drive to rise above institutionally sanctioned boundaries and to retrieve intellectual categories from their disciplinary captivity so as to reconfigure them in novel contexts. It is this desire and the ability to bring widely differing genres, discourses, and traditionally separate intellectual orbits into productive coalitions that has increasingly distinguished her writings. This interfacing of philosophy and theology, psychoanalysis and science, literary criticism and linguistics, architecture and the arts, media studies and above all ethics is carried off with a high degree of...

  19. 14 The Work of Birger Gerhardsson in Perspective (2009)
    (pp. 367-412)

    The status of New Testament studies at the outset of the twenty-first century is impressively different from what it was in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when Gerhardsson wroteMemory and Manuscript(1961; repr. 1998). However, humanistic scholarship, including biblical studies, is ill perceived as steady growth and systematic advances in knowledge in the sense that it would allow us to simply slough off all academic work of the past as irrelevant and dead matter. To say that biblical scholarship does not conduct itself as an upward spiral toward ever-greater enlightenment but rather as a complex interfacing of present...

  20. 15 The History of the Closure of Biblical Texts (2010)
    (pp. 413-440)

    Writing and print, as well as electronic devices, Ong has proposed, are technologies that produce effects in the sensible world outside us but also affect the way our minds work (1992a). Handwriting slowly undermined and partially replaced a predominantly oral lifeworld, print drastically altered all major aspects of Western civilization, and the electronic medium is well on the way to ushering in a transformation of global dimensions. These are external changes, well known and plainly in view, especially at epochal threshold events such as the alphabetic revolution in ancient Greece around 700 b.c.e. (Havelock 1981), or the fifteenth-century shift from...

  21. 16 The Work of Walter J. Ong and Biblical Scholarship (2011)
    (pp. 441-464)

    Although a restlessly interdisciplinary mind, Ong was strictly speaking an expert in the literary and intellectual history of the Renaissance, and not a biblical scholar. To many he was known as one of the world’s experts on comparative media studies or media ecology, as it is called today, but to those who knew him closely he seemed to be in a category all by himself. As far as his intellectual persona is concerned, he managed to assimilate deep introspection with a sometimes astonishing pragmatism, and a limitless curiosity about virtually all aspects of human knowledge with an unfailing commitment to...

  22. Index of Ancient Documents
    (pp. 493-499)
  23. Index of Authors
    (pp. 500-504)
  24. Index of Names and Subjects
    (pp. 505-508)