Creating a New “Great Divide”

The Exoticization of Ancient Culture in Some Recent Applications of Orality Studies to the Bible

by Paul S. Evans

JBL 136.4 (Winter 2017), pp. 749-764

Abstract: One of the main contributions of orality studies in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible studies has been to reject the thesis of the “great divide,” which posited a gulf between oral and written cultures of the ancient world. While critique of the thesis is to be welcomed, some of the criticisms have set up an artificial great divide of their own. This new divide exoticizes ancient culture by exaggerating the differences between modern and ancient cultures. I caution against this trend and show that this exoticizing of ancient culture can be seen in the perceived function of ancient and modern texts and the perceived differences between the mind-set of ancient literates and modern literates. I suggest that a balanced approach needs to take into account the complexity of both orality and literacy in reconstructing the function of scribes and their texts in ancient Israelite circles.

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