Saturday, January 06, 2007

Transmission models

The synoptic problem is usually solved with literary theories and such source theories might be categorized according to which Gospel is dependent on the others (e.g. Lukan posteriority) or source of the others (e.g. Markan priority) for their literary traditions. But what of categorizing (and incorporating) oral transmission theories? I’m not aware of any comprehensive list of transmission theories and it would appear that there is an increasing number of oral transmission models on offer. I wonder if any or all of them are just as compatible with any literary model? And I wonder why the two are not more often treated together when articulating one’s source theory? The following three are the oral transmission theories usually named (with various labels):

Form-critical model (traditions generated in and for the community who transmitted them).
Rabbi-disciple model (rabbinic-like memorization where Jesus taught his disciples to memorize his teachings).
Informal controlled model of Ken Bailey (control exerted over certain types of traditions by the community but anyone could participate in transmission process).

There are of course various other transmission models (of which I only have a more vague understanding) such as those of Werner Kelber, Vernon Robbins, James Dunn, and Richard Bauckham (and of course the no-oral-transmission model of Michael Goulder). It would be helpful if scholars in future could articulate not only which literary source theory they subscribe to, but also which transmission model they find most attractive and how such a model is to be integrated into their overall source theory. I think that it is much less helpful to compare and discuss literary theories whilst ignoring theories of transmission.

Perhaps one could also appeal to various transmission models according to the type of tradition? Or perhaps each Gospel author should be explained by recourse to a slightly different oral source theory? I get the impression that no one model can yet claim to explain the whole pre-literary process behind all of the Gospels (from every stage of every tradition—i.e. from birth to inclusion in the first written account) and I guess this is one reason why literary models usually dominate the discussion.

Admitting oral source models into one’s source theory does make a difference. Otherwise one can categorize source theories incorrectly and speak, for example, of the ‘Goulder-Goodacre theory’ which are really two very different composition theories since, unlike Goodacre, Goulder supposes that the non-Markan traditions in Mt and Lk do not stem not from any oral sources.

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