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This page last updated 13 July 2014  

Letters to AO

EVERY WEEK WE PUBLISH a selection of letters we receive in response to something you've read at Anglicans Online. Stop by and have a look at what other AO readers are thinking.

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Letters from the week of 7 June to 13 July 2014

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Communication in Antiquity

Your confident assertion that the oral tradition is "notoriously unreliable" needs to be challenged. No less a scholar than Kenneth Bailey believes that when thoughts and ideas are important to a community their accurate transmission is virtually guaranteed. Thoughts and ideas that lie at the periphery of a community's identity may be changed in the transmission. In any case, oral transmission was practiced in communities without the distractions and noises of today's world and stories were told in such a way that ideas could be easily remembered.

Fr. Carlton Kelley
St. Paul's Episcopal
Dowagiac, Michigan, USA
7 July 2014


You write of the unreliability of oral tradition. I would direct your attention to the scholarly evidence to the contrary, e.g., this essay by the great NT scholar Kenneth Bailey:

Far from being unreliable, illiterate communities rely on the transmission of their history through controlled oral tradition. That would definitely include Palestine of the first century.

Pierre Whalon
Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe
Paris, France
7 July 2014

(Editor: We find it interesting that there were no comments further than the second paragraph. We hope readers continued beyond that point. That said, perhaps 'oral communication' more accurately conveys the point intended. Tacitus, the Roman historian, for example, used rumors to cast aspersions when he wanted to disavow responsibility for that information. The frequency with which communities in the ancient Mediterranean inscribed or reported on papyrus imperial decrees, laws, and benefactions of the ruling elite also speaks to the desire for a more fixed medium. While the articles cited above discuss the preservation of information important to a community or society, this is by no means all information expressed verbally. In modernity we have all experienced messages and anecdotes retold less reliably when passed orally, rather than by articles, letters, or email. )



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Earlier letters

We launched our 'Letters to AO' section on 11 May 2003. All published letters are in our archives.


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