Saturday, October 22, 2005

I want to give a big public thanks to Alastair for sending me a copy of Walter Ong's Orality and Literacy, which I just finished. Ong has a tremendous range of knowledge of classical studies, anthropology and literary theory, among other things. The book explores the differences between oral and written communication. This is putting the matter much too simply though. Ong demonstrates how very deeply the technology of writing (and, later, print) affects human thinking. Thus for people who are primarily oral people (say, in a culture without writing), thoughts are organized very much differently from writing cultures.

Ong mentions here and there some of the implications of his studies on biblical and theological studies. This becomes very complex. For one thing, the ancient Hebrews were one of the first, if not the very first, peoples to use an alphabet for writing, and were among the few to write down sacred truths or sayings of history. On the other hand, though, the world in which the Old Testament was written was primarily an oral world. Somewhat less so for the New Testament, but orality, demonstrably, still played a big part in communication.

Would be very interesting to study this book in a church small group. Someday I'm going to find that small group that reads interesting stuff like this together :)

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