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Of Ancient Texts and Hypertexts

by Stephen Hebert on Wednesday - 1 August 2007

in Biblical Studies

I have been inspired to think about this topic by those who have come before me. Most notably, Loren Rosson thought about this a while back in a pair of posts called “Back to Oral Culture.”

As I’ve been blogging over the last few months, I’ve come to notice that the world of the web is indeed a world not defined by literacy. As a web designer I know that people who come to my sites are not “literate” people. I don’t mean this in a pejorative sense. Rather, people do not take the time to read a web site in the same way that they do a book. They do not work through it sequentially. Rather they scan for content. Sometimes, they don’t even do that…they just search for it. I know all of this not from my careful study of Google Analytics and other web phenomena/theory—I know this because I’m guilty.

Who examines a page carefully, word-for-word?

If I put myself into the audience of a Pauline house church, and I listen to the reading of a fresh letter that has just arrived, do I examine it word-for-word? No. First of all, it might not be likely that I can read. Second, I’m listening to the letter read aloud. This gives me pause. Why is it that I study this corpus in such a different way than its original audience did?

We scan web pages with the eyes. Perhaps we should scan ancient texts with the ears.

I am guilty of sitting down in a corner of a library and reading aloud in Greek, Hebrew, or Latin. This was primarily to build my pronunciation skills (which, by the way, are so useful outside of class). Perhaps I was missing something. Perhaps there is something mystical and enchanting that I was missing as I recited Genesis 22 for Prof. Hackett (who was, is, and shall remain one of my “faves”). Honestly, as I did it, I could not get my mind off of the fact that it was silly. What practical purpose would reciting the akedah serve? I felt like a high school student in Calculus: when am I gonna need integrals and derivatives? Not in line at McDonald’s…

As I’m going through the Epistles of John in a very thorough manner, chunk-by-chunk, word-for-word, I wonder if it might be better for me to read the words aloud. Let them wrap around me. What does the scansion tell me? Where does the stress fall naturally? Perhaps rhythm is more important than word order.

So, a few questions to you:

  • Do you employ oral and aural techniques in your study of a text? If so, how?
  • Do you think that reading and listening can serve any practical function as we delve deeper into these texts? Or, am I just ruminating on a bunch of rubbish?
  • How do you think hypertexts relate to ancient texts in terms of orality and literacy? (Rosson’s post and the links he provide might be helpful for your thoughts on this topic…)

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