Orality, Literacy, Apostasy and Restoration

December 4, 2007 | 40 comments
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In the historiography of communication, orality refers to reliance on the spoken word as well as to the corresponding institutions and habits of mind, while literacy means not just the ability to read, but also the mental habits and social institutions that attend the use of writing, or more specifically the use of an alphabetic writing system, or the particular cognitive framework that has developed along with the alphabetic systems of Western Europe. The Mormon concept of a historical apostasy can be described in terms of orality and literacy. In fact, Brian Stock, an eminent historian of medieval literature, has already (if unintentionally) done just that:

When Christianity made its appearance, it did so in a world that assumed a large degree of literacy as the norm. Yet its spokesmen maintained that they were in direct dialogue with God. The Gospels are filled with metaphors that extol the Word. These expressions were deliberately contrasted with one extreme of the literate mentality in the hellenistic world, Judaism….Some centuries later, when Christianity was introduced into the largely oral Germanic culture north of the Mediterranean, a different chapter of this symbolic drama was enacted. For this oral faith had now become a scriptural religion. Not only were the gospels texts. Christianity took over the legal framework of Rome, which it transformed into canon law. In the task of converting the Germanic peoples, the authority of scripture was its chief weapon. Literacy mean legitimacy….By an irony of history, Christianity fulfilled its mission in the West by means of a grammatical, and later a theological, literalism that differed in function, but not in form, from the concern for the law that was its original complaint against Judaism. Obviously Jewish legalism and Christian literalism were not the same. But the gulf that separated them was small compared to the one that divides a literate community from a genuinely oral one. (Listening for the Text [1990], p. 3.)

For Mormons, this account of Christianity’s adoption of literacy contains the essential elements we want to see in a Great Apostasy: an original immediacy of divine experience that contrasts both with preceding Judaism and later Christendom, and the specter of a medieval church that triumphs only by incorporating elements of Classical civilization against which it had once rebelled. The scholarly language of orality and literacy is well attuned to existing Mormon rhetoric about the Apostasy. Consider how Spencer W. Kimball described the significance of Joseph Smith’s First Vision (emphasis added):

The heavens which had been closed in large measure for many centuries were now opened. The voices that had been still and subdued and unheard through many centuries now began to speak. The revelation that had been well-nigh obliterated and reasoned out of existence was again available.

Or in other words: orality was the prisoner of rational literacy until Joseph Smith set it free.

The scholarly categories of orality and literacy have acquired a considerable body of theoretical elaboration and investigation of likely pitfalls. Overly polarized and schematic accounts of orality and literacy are known to be problematic, as development from the first attempts at writing to the current day has not been a simple or uniform evolutionary process. Orality and literacy represent two (ideologically burdened) poles in a complex system, but the complexity of historical developments and the simultaneous occurrence of orality and literacy in a given society do not negate their categorical significance. A simplistic account of the Apostasy in terms of literacy might say that the early Christian church was guided via dialog with God before it fell into a literate and literalist reliance on written documents rather than inspiration, but that Joseph Smith restored the pristine orality of the original church. A more careful view would recognize that Joseph Smith perceived contradictions between New Testament descriptions of early Christian orality and the literate practices of the churches he knew; Joseph Smith’s prophetic career reshuffled the boundaries and shifted the balances between orality and literacy in ways that go to the essence of Mormonism.

Thinking about apostasy in terms of orality and literacy helps us to see connections between the pre-history, the founding events, and the present state of Mormonism. Like the early medieval preacher whose eyes saw a Latin text but whose mouth spoke vernacular words to an unlearned audience, Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon was an oral process, in contrast with the entirely literate exercises in grammar and rhetoric that comprise translation in the modern sense. Joseph Smith’s own accounts as well as later discussion of the First Vision contrast the immediacy of listening/speaking–“Hear him!”–with the learned, literate discourse of creeds; the declaration that all existing creeds were abominations is attributed to that event. How could the Nicene Creed be considered an abomination? Not by its content, perhaps, but by its existence; Mormonism has an antipathy towards written definitions of God that are placed above the experience of God, or beyond the reach of (prophetic) oral correction. Altering scripture, whether a few words of introduction or numerous passages in the Bible, is not a dilemma for Mormonism; it is rather the whole point. The multiple angelic visitations upon which Mormon claims to authority rest are also instances of direct, immediate, face-to-face and hands-to-head experience of personal presence. Still today, office and authority are conferred in speech and not in writing. We disdain any notion of authority–let alone qualification or certification–that would replace oral with literate transmission. An unprofessional clergy is not only symptomatic, but constitutive of Mormonism.

The boundaries between oral and literate in contemporary Mormonism are complex. Mormon prayers and public statements of belief are often formulaic, but never read or recited. A rote prayer would be considered not just inappropriate in a Mormon framework, but not a prayer at all. While the recording and indexing of genealogical data is the ultimate in learned literate practice, the eventual use of the information in the most central and sacred rituals of Mormonism consist of the oral transmission of knowledge for which a purely written form could never be equivalent. Do Mormons believe every word in the Bible? What a strange question. We do not believe what we read: we believe what we hear. Reading scripture is beneficial, but hearing the still small voice is essential. What makes Mormon doctrine so difficult to pin down is that as soon as it is written, it is by definition less authoritative than what a prophet might say. It is not (or not just) that words can have a different meaning in a Mormon context, but that the function and relative value of spoken and written expression are different.

The point is not to say that only Mormons are oral and everyone else is literate–which would be just as stupid as it sounds–but that orality and literacy serve different religious functions in the context of Mormonism than they do in other religions. Figuring out just what those differences and functions are is one of the keys to figuring out who we are and how we think.

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40 Responses to Orality, Literacy, Apostasy and Restoration

  1. Stephen M (Ethesis) on December 4, 2007 at 9:13 am

    Hate to thread jack, but I did want to leave my condolences for Julie.

    ////////////////

    BTW, I’ve thought a lot about oral tradition and reducing oral forms to writing vs. what a written (textbook) tradition would look like.

  2. Adam Greenwood on December 4, 2007 at 9:18 am

    What a window this opens. Obvious when you think about it.

    What this makes curious, however, is the notion in the Doctrine and Covenants that record-keeping is a sacred activity.

  3. David Clark on December 4, 2007 at 10:26 am

    Sorry, this analysis just seems dead wrong. Early Christianity did did not assume a literary culture. At best 10% of the Roman world was literate. Paul’s letters were written down but designed to be read. Gospels were written and copied wherever they could be found, and much of early Christian church services was probably dedicated to someone reading aloud. You have both in operation all of the time from the very beginning.

    Also, the early Christian church and even the middle ages were not literalistic when they read the scriptures. They had four modes of interpreting the Bible: literal, allegorical, tropological (moral), and mystagogical. Literal was considered the lowest form of interpretation. For the most part literal biblical interpretations became the norm during the reformation. Sola scriptura in the hands of literate but uneducated people demanded a literal reading if any sort of unity was to be maintained in protestant churches (which largely failed and we now have many varieties of protestantism).

    Authority in the church is a combination of oral and written transmission. You enter the temple with a written recommend. You are called on a mission with a letter. If no written proof has been found that you are baptized, you get baptized again. Seems that both go hand in hand.

    Mormon prayers are formulaic in many liturgical settings. And prophets do read statements of belief, like they did with the proclamation on the family.

    Finally, I think the recent change to the Book of Mormon introduction disproves your point. Here we are giving priority to the text because what is being ignored is the fact that for most of the history of the Mormon Church all members, including Joseph Smith and other prophets read the Book of Mormon as being the history of the American Indians (hemispherical model). The recent changes jettison this tradition in favor of being able to maintain the text as a historical document, which seems to me at least to be giving priority to the text and not the words of past prophets.

    I agree that literality and orality are complex in Mormon (and any other modern culture for that matter). However the concepts are so overlapping and amorphous as to be not worth much, at least for analysis.

  4. BHodges on December 4, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    Finally, I think the recent change to the Book of Mormon introduction disproves your point. Here we are giving priority to the text because what is being ignored is the fact that for most of the history of the Mormon Church all members, including Joseph Smith and other prophets read the Book of Mormon as being the history of the American Indians (hemispherical model).

    —————————–

    Joseph swung towards the LGT the more time passed.

  5. Ardis Parshall on December 4, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    David, there are great differences between some of your examples and Jonathan’s post, I believe — your paragraph on authority, for instance. Those are all cases of using the written language for efficiency, but they aren’t literacy in Jonathan’s sense: nobody needs to study the text of a temple recommend to discern its meaning; it is either properly filled out, or it isn’t. It isn’t important to study the text of a mission call beyond first reading, except perhaps to confirm the name of the mission and the date to report. Telephone calls from appropriate people could have accomplished all the same purposes as the written recommend or mission call.

    And while fixed prayers do have an important role in Mormon worship, those rituals are few and narrow — even the most rigid performance of all is interrupted for an unscripted, oral, heartfelt prayer circle. Finally, the Proclamation on the Family gained its status through its oral presentation in a (women’s) conference setting — had it been merely an Ensign article, or a letter circulated to wards by the First Presidency, I think it would not have gained half the currency it now has. Jonathan is right about orality there — it was the setting of its presentation, the shared listening, that gave it its punch. And frankly, you make far too much of the extremely minor change in the Book of Mormon introduction — there is no jettisoning of doctrine, no radical reinterpretation. The vast majority of church members can remain utterly oblivious to that change, and their doctrine and understanding will be as current and orthodox as yours or mine.

  6. John H. Jenkins on December 4, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    Slight digression here: why is the use of an alphabetic writing system necessary for “literacy”? Where does that leave East and South Asia? I’d be hard-pressed to think of a culture where writing was more central to social structure than pre-modern China.

  7. David Clark on December 4, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    Ardis,

    When you write something down and then read it you are not dealing with orality. My main point about Jonathan’s post is that I don’t think it has a point, literality and orality are so imprecise as to be meaningless. Also, I dispute his characterization of early Christanity, which was why my examples were different.

    In any case, forget I mentioned the Book of Mormon changes. The bloggernaccle is for all intents and purposes marching lock step on this one (an extremely minor change is the party line here). I disagree with that characterization, but given the audience it was pretty foolish of me to use it as an example.

  8. Ardis Parshall on December 4, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    Sometimes uniformity of opinion means that everybody’s right!

  9. David Clark on December 4, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    Sometimes uniformity of opinion means that everybody’s right!

    And sometimes it means there is group think or coercion!

    But seriously, I apologize for the inadvertent thread jack on the Book of Mormon change, the rest of my points still apply. Carry on.

  10. Adam Greenwood on December 4, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    You seriously think Ardis P. was coerced into thinking that the change to the intro. doesn’t matter much? Or that its the “group’s” thought and not the product of her own independent thinking? Criminy.

    Its OK for lots of people to disagree with you without them being brainwashed robots. Maybe you’re just wrong.

  11. Jacob M on December 4, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    Come on Adam, don’t you hear “The Twighlight Zone” theme when you visit this sight?

  12. Adam Greenwood on December 4, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    I’ve trained myself not to.

  13. Ardis Parshall on December 4, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    Must … report … to … mothership … for … refueling …

  14. David Clark on December 4, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    I assumed that Ardis was being sarcastic, because the fact that everyone thinks something doesn’t make it true (it doesn’t make it false either). So I assumed that a little sarcasm of my own would be funny. Guess it was lost on everyone. Anyway, carry on.

  15. Jacob M on December 4, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    It was funny, David Clark, to make fun of. (He He He!)

    It was you saying “The bloggernaccle is for all intents and purposes marching lock step on this one (an extremely minor change is the party line here).” which was not funny. This seems to suggest that the joke you made later wasn’t really a joke. But I am analyzing this way too much.

    I get your other points, though, and appreciate your willingness to share.

  16. Ong on December 4, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    Very interesting post, Jonathon! Of course now Derrida and Walter Ong shall be arguing in my brain for the rest of the day. Which could be useful as well as distracting. Deck the halls with esoterica, lalalalala, lalala! (I’m not being snotty–trying to balance mundane housekeeping with higher thought isn’t a skill I’ve yet mastered.)

    I actually locate Lehi and Nephi’s vision of the Tree of Life as a marker of an orally residual culture–an architecturally composed memory which facilitates thematic recall via spatial organization rather than sheer text. Oddly or conveniently enough, I see most LDS sermons in a similar light: we introduce a spatial controlling metaphor and explicate from there. We aren’t an orally residual culture, but we still carry some markers of one. Privileging what we hear (as you–cough cough–write) and what we hear which can be composed visually as well as ideologically is one of them, perhaps.

  17. Janet on December 4, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    What the huh? That was me, Janet, not Walter Ong speaking from the dead. I have no idea how that happened, though in grad school Ong–whose memory had started to slip in his last few years–never could wrap his head around the idea that I was a Mormon. So now he’s hassling me from the great beyond. Snort.

  18. Jonathan Green on December 4, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    John Jenkins: The caveats in the definition of literacy are meant to acknowledge that the complex of literacy often invoked in earlier decades was not actually an inevitable consequence of writing, but rather a particular set of thought patterns and values that developed in European civilization. Perhaps what we think of as Western literate thought depends on the use of an alphabet of consonants and vowels. More likely is that Western patterns of thought and use of writing developed in close relationship with each other, but cause and effect are difficult to determine. What one finds in pre-modern China, or in any other place and time, is not an instance of universal Literacy, but a particular and local development. What literacy meant in pre-modern Asia is not necessarily the same thing that Stock is talking about, although there may be many similarities.

  19. Jonathan Green on December 4, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    Janet, I am glad to know that my post did not actually result in Walter Ong rolling over in his grave. Please pay him my respects.

    Your examples of Lehi’s vision and sacrament meeting talks are quite interesting. That the bulk of the meeting consists of members of the congregation standing up front and talking has got to figure into the analysis somewhere, but I’m not quite sure where or how. Your take is better than anything I came up with.

  20. Jonathan Green on December 4, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    David Clark, I think your difficulty is that you are assuming a simple dichotomy between orality and literacy and then discovering that such a stark bipolarity is impossible. You are of course correct about the latter point, which is one point I tried to make.

    Think of orality and literacy as occupying opposite ends of a spectrum, with some practices clearly at one end (diagramming a sentence), some at the other (telling family stories), and a lot in between. At the extremes, it’s relatively simple to identify orality and literacy. In the middle, it gets interesting to figure out how they interact. You state that there was always a mixture of orality and literacy, and for the time frame we’re talking about this is undoubtedly true. But there are most certainly differences across time with respect to particular practices. You suggest that the presence of writing excludes orality, but using writing to record or transmit an oral event is both literate and oral to a varying degree.

    About ordinances and record-keeping: Imagine two new members. One of them was baptized correctly, but no one filled out a baptismal certificate. The other was never baptized, but is in the possession of a correctly filled-out certificate. I think most Mormons would consider the first to have been truly baptized (but a victim of bureaucracy), while the second is a fraud. Or consider the cautionary tale of the engaged couple who fornicate, but whose bishop has already hung their temple recommends on his office door. Although the paperwork is in order, one point of the story is that they are not truly worthy without oral confession in the presence of their bishop.

    Your other objections can mostly be regarded as interesting examples of the complexity of orality and literacy in Mormonism, which is another point I was trying to make. Apart from that, you’re quite certain that Brian Stock’s understanding of the earliest Christian congregations is mistaken. Why is that? I don’t remember anything he wrote being terribly at odds with other descriptions of literacy in the Roman world.

  21. David Clark on December 4, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    For clarity this is what I took to be your thesis:

    The Mormon concept of a historical apostasy can be described in terms of orality and literacy.

    I then assumed that the thesis was expanded by the quote form Brian Stock, specifically this section

    These expressions were deliberately contrasted with one extreme of the literate mentality in the hellenistic world, Judaism….Some centuries later, when Christianity was introduced into the largely oral Germanic culture north of the Mediterranean, a different chapter of this symbolic drama was enacted. For this oral faith had now become a scriptural religion.

    The thesis seems to be that literacy and orality are capable of being described using the concepts of orality and literacy and that the defining feature of the apostacy, according to this description, is that there was a shift from orality to a literary emphasis in liturgy, expression, and thought.

    My point is that such a shift is not observed. From the beginning Christians were a mix of orality and literacy which may have shifted slightly over time, but that slight shift does not have the descriptive power to characterize apostacy.

    I really don’t know what Brian Stock’s understanding of the earliest Christian congregations is so I can’t comment on it. There was a mixture of literary and oral elements. You can divide earliest Christianity into two segments. The first segment was when Christians were largely Jewish so the literary emphasis among these Christians was, most likely, largely Torah. The second wave, when most Christians began to be gentiles was when most of the New Testament was written. While the emphasis in oral/literary dimensions of Christianity probably shifted slightly depending where/when you were, I don’t think that the shift is large enough to account for much of the apostacy.

    I also think you overstate the emphasis on orality in Mormon culture, at least in light of the document the church released document entitled “Approaching Mormon Doctrine,” from which I quote, “This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith.” This is pretty literary in my opinion. While I grant that the spirit is important for understanding and faith strengthening, the doctrine is what remains normative for LDS, not what the spirit says. In any event, saying something like the “the spririt spoke to me” is metaphorical in my experience, the influence of the spirit is neither oral nor literary, at least for me.

  22. David Clark on December 4, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    Very sorry about the last post.

    The thesis seems to be that literacy and orality are capable of being described using the concepts of orality and literacy

    Should have been

    The thesis seems to be that the apostacy is capable of being described using the concepts of orality and literacy

  23. Jonathan Green on December 4, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    David Clark: “My point is that such a shift is not observed. From the beginning Christians were a mix of orality and literacy which may have shifted slightly over time…”

    Me: Uh, no. Just the process of writing and eventually canonizing the Gospels implies a huge shift towards literacy. The later one looks, the more fundamental changes one can find. From the Sermon on the Mount to canon law is a long, long way. (When you say that such a shift is not observed, could you perhaps explain who you mean as the observer, or how the observation took place?)

    David Clark: “This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith.” This is pretty literary in my opinion.

    Me: Uh, no. You’re confusing official statements with Mormon culture, for one thing. Any account of doctrine will, by definition, be highly literate; my point is that formalized doctrine doesn’t have the same weight with us as it does elsewhere. Even in the realm of the official statement, a letter read out over the pulpit is, again, involved in both oral and literate communication.

    David Clark:”In any event, saying something like the “the spririt spoke to me” is metaphorical in my experience…”

    Me: I don’t question your experience. The use of verbal metaphors does tell us something important about the relative values of oral and literate communication, however.

    It’s entirely possible that I’m overstating the case for Mormon orality, although my point is not quite that simple. You are free to continue pushing back against it.

  24. Bob on December 4, 2007 at 10:48 pm

    ” Figuring out just what those differences and functions are is one of the keys to figuring out who we are and how we think.” Not to me. I like my Religious ideas simple: Love, Kindness, Honesty,
    Faith/Doubt. I do not think “scholarship” a requirement for true Christan living, thinking, or understanding. Jesus spoke plainly, God did not submit a paper to Harvard to Restore lost understanding.

  25. David Clark on December 5, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    From the Sermon on the Mount to canon law is a long, long way. (When you say that such a shift is not observed, could you perhaps explain who you mean as the observer, or how the observation took place?)

    Sure. The Sermon on the Mount is not a good example of orality, in fact in may have been the worst one you could have picked in the gospels. This source for the sermon for this document most likely comes from another written document, now lost, called “Q” (short for quella). Matthew embeds his version of the sermon in a narrative structure which he copied from the gospel of Mark. Since Matthew is most likely responding to Jewish/Christian scuffles of the time he gives the sermon a particular flavor, and the flavoring is rooted in Torah. He has Jesus on the mount (unlike Luke who presents it differently) to show Jesus as the new Moses giving laws on a new Mount Sinai/Horeb. The sermon is also framed as a commentary on Torah of sorts, i.e. Jesus is expanding, elucidating, and explaining the law in Torah. The bottom line is that this passage has everything to do with law and uses at least three literary, not oral, sources. There is no shift you can point, drawn out over however long you like, that shows the shift which would account for apostacy.

    Uh, no. You’re confusing official statements with Mormon culture Uh, no I’m not. In fact, I don’t think there is such a thing as Mormon culture, at least not yet. To the extent that there is a Mormon culture it is primarily green-jello eating Utah corridor culture and secondarily American culture. In other words the closest thing we can call culture isn’t much of a culture and it was largely ripped off from surrounding cultures. We simply have not been around long enough to produce a Mormon culture, like Catholics and Jews have. Also, my prediction is that this weak thing called Mormon culture is going to have to change or be severely curtailed if we want to continue to make progress spreading the church outside the U.S. Local congregations need to be able to customize music, liturgy, and social structures to more closely match local needs and experiences. I hope that in the future there is not a Mormon culture but many Mormon cultures which serve the needs of each local community.

  26. Ardis Parshall on December 5, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    threadjack: I’ve never understood why the culture of the Mormon corridor (or “Utah corridor,” as it is reduced here), arising from local needs and experiences, is characterized as a rip-off of the surrounding culture and therefore to be sneered at, while the culture of non-Mormon corridor communities, arising from local needs and experiences, is somehow NOT ripped off from the surrounding cultures, and therefore to be venerated. And anyone who reduces Utah culture to “green-jello eating” is not to be trusted to recognize or define culture anywhere. /threadjack

  27. Adam Greenwood on December 5, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    threadjack: ditto what AEP says /threadjack

  28. Bob on December 5, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    #25: ‘I don’t think there is such a thing as Mormon culture”. Maybe we could get Jeff Foxworthy (“then you must be a Redneck”) help on this. Give him some time, and I think he can outline a “Mormon Culture” for us.

  29. David Clark on December 5, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    Ardis & Adam,

    And anyone who reduces Utah culture to “green-jello eating” is not to be trusted to recognize or define culture anywhere.

    Why don’t you communicate this with your fellow permablogger who calls Utah (or part of it) the “Jell-o Belt”.

    Perhaps I can’t say things like this because I’m not part of the T&S club. Maybe I can apply for a membership card! Does it come with a free snow cone and Shrek toy?

  30. Adam Greenwood on December 5, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    Yes, it does! And a dictionary to look up “reduces.”

  31. Ardis Parshall on December 5, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    Context counts for much, my friend. Can you really not tell the difference between the trivialization of a culture when the *focus* of the argument was culture, and a tribal jest?

    Nevertheless, I will send you a snow cone after the next snow fall (perhaps this weekend). The only snow on the ground at the moment tends to be yellow.

  32. Ardis Parshall on December 5, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    Adam, we MUST stop meeting this way. Seeing “Ardis & Adam” in print that way might give readers the idea that we liked each other.

  33. David Clark on December 5, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    Ardis,

    You can keep that snow white by using the toilet, even I know that. And no, there was no substantive difference, other than the fact that Adam and you both have your T&S Mouseketeer ears and I don’t.

  34. David Clark on December 5, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    Adam,

    Yes, it does! And a dictionary to look up “reduces.” Good! After I get mine I’ll give it to Ardis since it was she who used the word, not I.

  35. Adam Greenwood on December 5, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    She used it correctly. You applied it to Julie Smith, incorrectly. I won’t waste time arguing about it with you anymore.

  36. David Clark on December 5, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    Adam,

    Good, can you bring me my mouseketeer ears next time you are in Frisco? You can keep the snow cone, it would probably melt anyway.

  37. Jonathan Green on December 5, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    David Clark: Do you really think the original source for the Sermon on the Mount was a written document? If one rejects any connection between a historical Jesus and the Gospels, that might be a reasonable position to take, but I’m not sure that’s what you’re intending.

    If you reject the notion of a Mormon culture altogether, then I can see why you’re skeptical of a distinctly Mormon version of literacy. However, the argument about the existence of the culture is prior to any discussion of Mormon habits of literacy, and if you’ve already determined that the culture does not exist, then you probably won’t have much to say about the notion of a distinctly Mormon literacy except to deny that such a thing exists. Which you’ve done.

  38. David Clark on December 5, 2007 at 6:46 pm

    Do you really think the original source for the Sermon on the Mount was a written document? If one rejects any connection between a historical Jesus and the Gospels, that might be a reasonable position to take, but I’m not sure that’s what you’re intending.

    Yes, I am saying that the original source for the _Matthew’s_ version of Sermon on the Mount was a document, namely “Q.” What I am saying has nothing to do with any project to recover the historical Jesus, so your inference is not valid. The historical Jesus project is about getting at what the man Jesus most likely said and did. I am not doing that. The analysis I gave for the sources of the Sermon on the Mount are based on textual and source/literary criticism. The only way you can avoid this is to support a solution to the Synoptic problem which puts Matthew first and ignores the existence of “Q.” Once you do that you end up twisting and contorting yourself to explain why Mark and Luke are what they are.

    If you reject the notion of a Mormon culture altogether, then I can see why you’re skeptical of a distinctly Mormon version of literacy. So are you arguing that apostacy is the absence of this “distinctly Mormon version of literacy”? It seems weird to say that Mormons have a distinct blend of literariness and orality and that is what constitutes non-apostacy. Again I am assuming that this has something to do with your explaining apostacy in terms of the literary/oral distinction (if it doesn’t then why do you bring it up?). What happens when/if Mormons shift their “distinct version of literacy” to something else, is that apostacy?

  39. Jonathan Green on December 6, 2007 at 9:48 am

    David Clark: Just to confirm–you’re saying that the Sermon on the Mount began with the Q document, not with any kind of oral tradition among early Christians, or with some rabble-rousing Galilean carpenter standing on a hillock and speaking to a bunch of people. Is that a correct summary of your belief? What I meant by my original reference to the Sermon on the Mount was a sermon, rather than a particular written account of it. The history of Matthew 5-7 is of course entirely textual, if you define the point of origin as its textual inception. Of course, that point is also trivial, and entirely irrelevant to my argument.

    Also, if you look back up to my original post, which you seem to have read too quickly the first time, you’ll find this line: “A simplistic account of the Apostasy in terms of literacy might say…” “Simplistic” is the signal that what follows is not actually what I am proposing. There still remains the problem of explaining why a modern Mormon prophet and one of the most influential scholars alive describe the Apostasy and innovations in Christian literacy in such similar terms.

    But it’s very difficult to have a conversation on orality and literacy when you totally reject those categories. You’re not the first to notice a certain imprecision about them–see Joyce Coleman, for example, although I don’t think adopting her suggested terminology of exo- and endophoricity would be useful here–but your position that orality and literacy are inconsequential does not convince me.

  40. David Clark on December 6, 2007 at 10:47 am

    We seem to be talking past each other so I’ll just try clear up some possible misconceptions and summarize what I was trying to do.

    First of all I don’t reject the notions of orality and literacy, I just don’t think they help in trying to define or describe the apostacy.

    I thought I was clear on the fact that it was _Matthew’s_ account of the Sermon on the Mount that begins with Q. I make no claims about where the author of Q got his information, and neither does any scholar. However if you are writing something down and quoting some other written work (Q), and framing it in the narrative of another written work (Mark), and juxtaposing it with another written work (Torah) it seems that you are fully literary at that point. Yes, it was most likely oral at one point, but what we have is pretty far removed from that point. But of course you conveniently say all this is irrelevant to your argument.

    By the way, your favorite way of dismissing what my positions is to say that it is either irrelevant or inconsequential.

    In any case you seem to be a literary type guy and I am sure that you are well qualified in your chosen field. My overarching point was to say that I think there are facts that are outside of what I perceived to be your specialty that might have some bearing on your argument, specifically research in earliest Christianity. But, like I said, you seem to see this as irrelevant or inconsequential, so I’ll leave you in peace.

WELCOME

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