by Jennifer Knust and Tommy Wasserman
Abstract: Sung in Christian liturgies from the earliest period, biblical Odes—a set of songs excerpted from the biblical and apocryphal books—were central to emerging Christian practices and texts, yet their significance as textual witnesses has rarely been studied. Overlooked by text critics and editors, the Odes have largely been omitted from contemporary critical editions of the biblical books, including the very recent twenty-eighth edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece. This analysis suggests, however, that the liturgical setting of the Odes had a double impact: whereas some of the readings possibly reflect liturgical adaptation, public performance could also set limits on how much these texts could change.
Comparison of the biblical Odes as they appear in the great fifth-century majuscule Codex Alexandrinus, both in their place among the Odes and within their appropriate biblical book, demonstrates that these songs are in fact a valuable textual resource, a conclusion that is further confirmed by an examination of the textual and paratextual features of early Odes manuscripts. A more focused study of the Song of Mary offers additional support to the hypothesis: this song remained remarkably fixed even as Odes traditions and collections remained unsettled. As this study shows, interactions between oral and written forms of transmission are complex, and thus no textual witness can be dismissed solely on the basis of its liturgical setting.
The Bible Translation section is proud to join, the academic arm of the American Bible Society, The Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship in presenting two sessions on Performance Criticism and Bible Translation.
The first session, entitled Performance, Translation and Identity, will feature 4 papers on the topic of how performance interacts with identity issues of either local communities or language groups. How does performance contribute or constitute the perception of the self vis á vis the other? Some of the question that the presenters will address are: how does translation become performance and how does translation express the identity of people groups? How does specifically Bible translation affect the identity of people groups when we take into account Performance Criticism? How does actual Bible translation “products” get absorbed in the cultural maelstrom of identity issues in different types of societies, both Western and non Western. Different aspects of performance, translation and identity will be addressed, including sign language and the identity of the deaf community, oral performance and identity both in orally oriented societies, as well as in post-modern digital societies.
The second session entitled, Translating for Performance and Performance for Translation, will address the dialectical interplay between performance and translation, in a more applied manner where 3 presenters, who are Bible scholars and performers, will address translation and performance issues that arise from translating in order to perform or performing in order to translate. The three presenters will each have a 20 minute paper where they will discuss the issues that arise from mentioned themes and will end with an actual 10 minute example of performance. The session will be complemented with a first reaction from a panel of distinguished performance criticism scholars who will afterwards interact with the presenters and the audience on both theoretical and practical aspects of Translating for Performance and Performance for Translation. One of the most pivotal and revealing questions which this session, and actually all Bible translators and performers of the Bible, ultimately would have to face is, without necessarily coming to a resolution is: Is translating not just a form of performance? Or is performance ultimately not just a form of translating?
Networking by Disciplines. The organization of the networking event will be new this year. In previous years we organized around strategies to promote orality disciplines—through SBL seminars, performances, publications, the website, and so on.
By contrast, this year we will network by disciplines and key fields of study such as oral culture/ speech arts; social identity/ collective memory; scribes/ scrolls; orality/ literacy; ancient performances; reading/ memory; classical rhetoric, and more. Our hope is that we can use this format equally well to promote and extend orality studies by gathering in small groups around similar interests. As such, we will seek to have leaders for these different groups who can identify what has been done in each area, what challenges lie ahead, and how we can foster those developments.
We also hope that networking by subject area may bring others to join us who have not yet participated in this event. To that end, we encourage you to invite friends and colleagues to join us around consideration of these subjects. No need to let us know ahead which group you might like to join.
In April 2014, Prof Hurtado presented a paper ‘Oral Fixation and New Testament Studies?’, a paper requested by and for publication in New Testament Studies. Prof Hurtado forcefully challenged Performance Criticism’s ‘fixation’ with orality, and its ‘over-simplifications’ regarding the place and function of orality in the Roman era. Drawing on historical evidence from the period, he illustrated the intricate relationship between texts and orality, but through a series of pertinent suggestions highlighted the significant status that written texts held, convincingly arguing that there is no evidence to support the claims of Performance Critics that texts were subordinated to orality, and that Early Christian Texts were composed to be performed from memory, or that they were composed in performance. Therefore, by using this historical evidence he successfully painted a more realistic picture regarding the place and function of Early Christian Texts in the Roman era. The paper was followed by two postgraduate student responses, Clement Grene and Elizabeth Corsar.
The idea that Rome was an "oral society" is at best overstated. Instead the evidence shows quite clearly that the dominant way in which poetry was read and circulated in the Roman world was in the form of written books. "I am a bit concerned, however, that like Luther's drunken man on horseback, we may be in danger of slipping off the other side, and oddly enough losing sight of the role of books in the hands of individual readers" (187).