Still on Writing

One topic that I have raised on this blog more than once is writing and the Hebrew Bible.  Why was the Hebrew Bible written down, when the Israelites could have passed along its contents by word of mouth?  I think that one reason was standardization: Oral tradition was fluid and could produce multiple versions of stories, and so writing can give traditions a greater degree of stability.  Perhaps authorities preferred standardization—especially when they were doing the standardizing and defining the tradition!

On page 500 of his Jewish Publication Society commentary on Deuteronomy, Jeffrey Tigay lists some uses for the “written text of Scripture”: “preservation, copying and verification, memorization, and…reading to others, as in Mesopotamia, early Greece, and Arabia.”

According to the Book of Deuteronomy, the Torah was to be read to the Israelites every seven years.  There are parallels to this that Tigay identifies.  Some Hittite treaties required “that the treaty be read to the vassal periodically (such as three times a year) to ensure that the vassal is aware of his obligations” (page 500).  Homeric epics were recited in public every fourth year in ancient Athens “to inspire the people to emulate the nobility of the Homeric heroes” (page 500).  Hammurabi of Babylon says that Marduk commanded him to teach justice to the people.

Why was the Torah written?  Perhaps one reason was that it was considered a treaty and a law-code, and both were written down in the ancient Near East.  Writing down the treaty or the law gives them a degree of solidity and permanence.  And the treaty or the law was to be taught to the people so they’d be aware of their obligations.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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