More on McIver and Oral Transmission

As I indicated in a previous post Robert McIver and Marie Carroll have also had an article on their research printed in JBL. The reference to that one is McIver, Robert K. and Marie Carroll. “Experiments to Develop Criteria for Determining the Existence of Written Sources, and Their Potential Implications for the Synoptic Problem.” Journal of Biblical Literature 121, no. 4 (2002): 667-687, so it’s earlier than the Cognitive Psychology one. It deals more specifically with the biblical material, as you would expect of an article in JBL.

John Poirier has commented on my previous post and has indicated that he has also published a response to McIver and Carroll’s JBL article. The reference for that article is Poirier, John C. “Memory, Written Sources, and the Synoptic Problem: A Response to Robert K. McIver and Marie Carroll.” Journal of Biblical Literature 123, no. 2 (2004): 315-322.

James (not Alistair, as I initially typed) McGrath has also posted on oral transmission and invited conversation over on his Exploring our Matrix blog. I’ve arrived back at work today to a pile of more or less urgent paperwork, so won’t be doing anything about this for a day or three, but it’s definitely interesting.


How they got here

As other people note from time to time on their blogs, sometimes people find this blog using the strangest search strings.  My two favourites in the last two days are:

“mark worthing dental surgeon”


“traffic noise 15th floor”

More Reflections on SBL

Things I didn’t like

1.  SBL Auckland is the first conference I’ve been to where meals are not included in the registration. I found the whole business of working out what I was going to eat where rather tedious and I didn’t really end up getting anything much better than I do at catered conferences.  It also cut down on the networking opportunities because you more or less had to find someone to have a meal with rather than just sitting down at the same table with people and getting to know them.  See my comment about the potential to be very lonely if you didn’t know anyone before you came.  It was also a bit difficult to know how much to budget for meals.

I am sure that I understand why the US meetings don’t cater – the numbers are, I gather, horrific – but I wonder if catering might not be an option for the smaller international conferences.  We certainly manage to do it for international university chaplains conferences which are a similar size to Auckland.  Although Auckland might be unusually small.  The one I went to in Vancouver gave us vouchers for meals that could be presented at the university’s eateries and if we wanted to spend more than the agreed amount at each meal, we had to pay the difference.

2.  Leaving the questions to the end of a program unit.  If five or six people present in a session, it’s very difficult to remember what you wanted to ask the first and second presenters, so they tend not to get questions.  Perhaps this isn’t so bad for established researchers, but for grad students, getting some feedback from the audience is really very helpful.  I was very glad that Harold Ellens decided to do questions at the end of each speaker in the unit I presented in.

3.  Changing the order of speakers without notice (see a previous post)

Things I liked

1.  The huge range of topics available.

2.  The opportunity to catch up with people I hadn’t seen for ages and meet new people

3.  The high level of organisation and the helpfulness of the SBL and Uni of Auckland staff

4.  Beginning with the welcome from the Maori people

On the whole, a great experience.  Pity I am not rich and my school is not rich, so I can’t manage to get to many of them. 😦

Totally Off Topic – for (modern) church historian-types

My daughter is sitting for her NSW Higher School Certificate in a few months and is reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South for one of her English courses. She’s trying to understand the church background to this book set in the UK in the 1800s. She asks:

Do you or any of your Biblioblogger type friends happen to know where I can find data from the 1851 religious census in England? I’ve found lots of stuff about what they did, and breakdowns of the country by regions, but I can’t actually find statistics that tell me useful things, like what percentage of the country were which denomination, despite the fact that the Victorian Web informs me that 14% of the English people were Anglican. I tried following the links that were cited as online resources, and got told where I could buy cheap concert tickets…
I can’t help her. Can anyone else??? I’m sure she’d be happy to share info on cheap concert tickets in return. 🙂

SBL Auckland Friday and some reflections on process

Friday morning I heard Robyn Whittaker, an Australian member of my own denomination who is a doctoral candidate from U Chicago and the daughter of a colleague of mine, present Worship that enacts diving justice: reconsidering the role of worship in the Apocalypse of John. An interesting paper, but so far out of my area of expertise that all I can say is she presented it well.

I then moved to the “Whence and Whither? Methodology and the Future of Biblical Studies Unit” which was running on the theme “Context Matters in Reading the Bible in Aorearoa New Zealand”. Judith McKinlay from the University of Otago gave a brilliant presentation on Living with Clashing Texts. The abstract does not do it justice and unfortunately doesn’t give me the references to the Biblical texts used so that I can give a coherent account of the content, but she presented as a conversation with the characters in the text and talked about the Israelite conquering of Canaan and the removal of land and compared it with the European invasion of and settlement in Aotearoa New Zealand.

We then saw some contemporary artwork by an Aotearoa New Zealand (A/NZ) artist that presents the crucifixion using abstract images and words. An interesting change of pace.

After the break, Beverley Moana Hall-Smith, a Maori-Pakeha from the University of Auckland presented the story of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28 from the perspective of a woman who did not fit well into either of the dominant A/NZ cultures – presenting me with even more to think about from one of my favourite texts. This was followed by Anne Taylor from Monash Uni presenting Election-Year Reflections on the politics of Biblical Texts -she’s a Kiwi and was talking about the A/NZ elections due this year.

Then it was time to attend a lunchtime meeting of the WSRT journal editorial collective (I am helping with the website) and then collect my luggage (including getting my daughter’s camera retrieved from the safe in my erstwhile room) and head for the station and my brother’s place.

On the whole, I found the conference worthwhile and enjoyable, but really missed the formal opportunity afforded by meals provided by the conference organisers to be able to sit down and meet people. I suspect that someone who didn’t know anyone much before they came and wasn’t fairly gregarious could go away not knowing anyone much more. This would be especially true of younger grad students who have a tendency to be overawed by “names”.

One of the real frustrations of the conference was the tendency for program chairs to move papers around when presenters failed to show. People would arrive to hear someone only to find that they’d already presented because someone else hadn’t arrived. This was especially annoying for those who had sat through something they weren’t really interested in rather than leave a session early and then had missed one they really wanted to hear. It would have been good to have had a list in several prominent places each day indicating who hadn’t arrived and what measures had been taken to overcome this. However, I’m not sure how it was ascertained who was there because I was sent my name tag in the mail and didn’t have to actually register, just pick up my (rather nice) satchel.

On the whole though, it was well organised and good fun. I met lots of nice people and learned some interesting things and am very glad that I came.

Update 13/07/08 – I’ve added a couple of commas and changed ANZ to A/NZ to stop Steph and other Kiwis from thinking about a bank.

Two links copied from previous posts:

  • The SBL on-line program at which you can find abstracts of any of the papers I’ve mentioned.  Put the name of the person in the appropriate box and then click on the link.
  • I have put some more photos up on Photobucket but the order is a bit random, and be warned that I do scenery rather than people and did not think to take any photos of Uni of Auckland.  Sorry Jim.

SBL Auckland – Wednesday and Thursday

Wednesday was a short day for presentations – the afternoon was left free for excursions or doing whatever else you wanted. I gather that this is not a usual SBL thing, but is what I’m used to at chaplains’ conferences.

In the morning, I presented my paper, which seemed to have been well received. Majella (ie my doctoral supervisor) was encouraging about both content and presentation, which was nice. The only other paper I heard was the second paper in my unit (actually the third, but the middle presenter was unable to come because his church had moved him between when he submitted and the conference and he couldn’t get away – again a pity because I would have liked to have heard it). Carol Newsom from Emory presented on Eudaimonic and Hedonic Dimensions of Israelite Wisdom Traditions: An Exploration. She talked about the different understandings of human happiness that are presented in Proverbs and Qohelet and her abstract explains things far better than I could do.  The link will take you to the on-line program booklet and you will need to type “Newsom” into the name box then follow the link on the page you are taken to.

In the afternoon, I went on a Maori culture tour which I found somewhat disappointing from the perspective of learning about Maori culture, but the views from the volcano we were taken to were spectacular.  When Photobucket decides to cooperate, I’ll put in a link to the photos I took.

I spent most of Thursday in AGMs.  In the morning, I attended the Australian Association for the Study of Religion AGM, which began with two annual lectures – the Penny Magee lecture and the Charles Strong lecture.  This year’s Penny Magee lecture was presented by Barbara Kameniar from University of Melbourne.  She talked about women’s ordination in Thai Buddhism and was fascinating.  The same link above will take you to her abstract, too.  The Charles Strong lecture was by Marion Maddox from Macquarie University, whose topic was ‘There Isn’t a Racist Bone in My Body’: Race and Religion in the Vocabulary of Fear – same thing with the link. The significance of the title is that John Howard, our former Prime Minister became famous for saying “there isn’t a racist bone in my body” after having been called, on several occasions, for having been the architect of a number of particularly racist policies.

After morning tea, the retiring president of AASR, Kathleen McPhillips from University of Western Sydney, gave the presidential address in which she was less than encouraging about the immediate future for Studies in Religion in Australian universities and we then moved to the usual business of an AGM.

After lunch, I went to hear Scott Charlesworth from University of New England (ie my own university) talking about fluidity in early Christian manuscripts.  Scott is in the process of making minor corrections to his thesis/dissertation and expects to graduate at the October ceremonies.  He has examined papyri at both University of Edinburgh and University of Michigan as well as various facsimiles.  The conclusion he has reached after painstaking examination of large numbers of early MSS is that “although scribes made minor detail changes, the early textual tradition was transmitted accurately en bloc. Therefore, the assumption that high fluidity characterised early transmission is unfounded.”  On the basis of his presentation, I’m not sure that I would be quite as confident as he is that some of the changes that he talks about are minor – I guess I’ll have to have a look at the dissertation once it reaches the university library in a few months.

I then slipped into the Women Scholars of Theology and Religion AGM.  WSTR is an association with a commitment to facilitating networks among women scholars of religion and theology with a view to supporting, encouraging and promoting their work in the Asia/Pacific region and beyond.  It publishes an on-line journal called Sea Changes which has an interesting range of articles by women scholars from Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand and the Asia/Pacific region.  Because the criteria (apart from being scholarly) is that they be from a feminist perspective and from the region of Australasia and the Pacific, the content is eclectic, but worth looking at.

I missed the new book launches in the interests of being packed in time to check out shortly after 8 am the next day.  The books themselves looked interesting, but I needed some time.  I did, however, get to the Reception hosted by the Auckland Uni school of theology, where I was able to catch up with several people I’d not had a chance to talk to much during the conference.  I opted out of the trip to the Irish pub, feeling that 9.45 pm was too late to begin an evening out.

More SBL – memory and oral transmission

As Tim Bulkeley indicated, quite a number of presenters didn’t arrive. One of the major disappointments for me was that Jon Ma Asgeirsson was unwell and unable to get here from Iceland to present Constructing Memory of No(-)Thing and the Need for Societal Ethos, both because the paper looked interesting and because I wanted to put a face to his writings. I do hope he recovers quickly. He did, however, let SBL know that he would not be there.  Some presenters didn’t bother – they just didn’t arrive.

The other (and therefore the only) paper in that session was Robert McIver from Avondale College, the Adventist theological college in New South Wales, and I was very pleased to have heard it.  His topic was Skilled Memory and the Jesus Traditions. I was a bit perplexed when he began because he was presenting research with which I was familiar about the difference between copying and recalling from memory and I then realised that in preparing for my own paper, I had actually read the paper in Applied Cognitive Psychology where he and his colleague, Marie Carroll, had written this research up.  It’s well worth reading (McIver, Robert K. and Marie  Carroll. “Distinguishing Characteristics of Orally Transmitted Material When Compared to Material Transmitted by Literary Means.” Applied Cognitive Psychology 18, no. 9 (2004): 1251-1269), although apparently he has published something similar in JBL, which may be more accessible to biblical scholars.

He was providing evidence that the kinds of differences in wording between gospel accounts could not be the result of copying errors, but could quite easily be the result of oral transmission.  He also suggested that Jesus may well have used some of the techniques employed by rabbis to transmit oral tradition to train his disciples to pass on his teachings.  For me, it was one of the best papers at the conference, in the sense of most useful to my research, but also well presented.

Earlier that day, I head a couple of other papers in the same Program Unit (Mind, Society and Tradition). One was by Risto Uro, entitled Ritual and Cooperation:  Evolutionary Explanations for Early Christian Rituals, which was somewhat outside my area of expertise, but it was good to be able to put a person to the books that he’s written and edited on Thomas.  The second was A Cognitive Perspective on Identity and Behaviour Norms in Ephesians, presented by Rikard Roitto, a PhD student from Sweden.  He explained the structure of Ephesians very credibly in terms of beginning by describing the protoypical Christ-believer (the author of the book), to which the Ephesians should aspire, and then advice about what they needed to do in order to get there.  I liked the concepts he presented and also enjoyed the notion that Christians might be “clients of God” – said at least partly tongue-in-cheek.  The paper after morning tea in that session also sounded interesting, but I had a session booked with my doctoral supervisor, who is now based in New Zealand.

I will try to write more over the next few days, but it appears that I am now the only person awake in the household – I am staying with my brother and his family – which probably means that everyone will be up and enthusiastic quite early tomorrow morning.