Scribes-writing for performance

I have challenged myself to think about what the most significant idea was that came from my reading in 2016.

My answer is the notion in David M. Carr’s Writing on the Tablet of the Heart that ancient scribes wrote to facilitate the oral performance of material.  You will see this covered if you look at my posts for April 2016.

He compared the work of scribes to written music.  It wasn’t meant to be read privately or read from the manuscript as a kind of reverse dictation.  Rather, the scribes wrote to provide a base and give cues to someone who would creatively perform the piece for an audience.

This is very thought-provoking in regard to the Bible.  One thing I agree with him on is that writing was likely used in Israel earlier than some scholars credit.  Some of this was just administrative and clerical.  But priests also were scribes.  And they  used writing to convey longer codes and  stories with religious meaning. However, it would not help us to think of this writing in modern terms.  Readers did not use these works the way we use books today.

So the original idea of the Documentary Hypothesis of the Pentateuch does not fit with the way writing was used.  It could not have been a cut-and-paste job.  Yet we still have to account for the very powerful set of facts that underlie the Documentary Hypothesis.

Back in the mid-90s Carr published Fractures in Genesis as a contribution to understanding the Pentateuch.  He talked about a first temple period Proto-Genesis consisting of non-Priestly and Priestly traditions, which was reworked into our Genesis after the exile under Persian sponsorship.

I do not know if he still holds to that.  Carr has written a new book about the composition of the Hebrew scriptures, The Formation of the Hebrew Bible: A New Reconstruction.  I haven’t read it and won’t until the price comes down.  But according to reviews I have read, he offers a very constructive new approach.  See here.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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