Friday, March 10, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- SWLT zero

Now we’re up to the zeroth rule of SWLT, which has a similar function to the zeroth law of thermodynamics.

There are two systems of communication, one recorded on some medium other than the human brain, and the other recorded only in the human brain. The first I am calling “written” for convenience and the second I’m calling “oral.”
Written communications can survive for some time without human intervention.
Oral communications come to an end when humans stop relaying them by word of mouth.
Written material tends to be organized by subject matter or some other linear feature with the exception of written communications that replace speech, such as personal letters or diaries and journals, and the speech put into the mouths of characters in fiction or history.
Oral communications tend to be associatively organized, but there’s no rule for how oral communications perceive information to be associated. It depends on culture and subculture and the purpose of the communication, and also on factors inherent in the communicators.
Written communications preserve symbols of the language in which they are expressed. When the meaning of those symbols is forgotten, the written material becomes incomprehensible without a lot of work to figure out what the symbols mean.
Oral communications are comprehensible at the time they are made, to those who understand the language. They alter during transmission due to changes made by the transmitters, for reasons such as the frailty of human memory. At each step in transmission, the material becomes a little different from the previous step and may wind up completely different from the original expression. The contents are preserved best when all parties are part of the same culture or subculture, all attentive to and interested in the material, all speak the same language and all have good memories.
Transfers of material happen between these two forms of communication, but it works better in one direction than the other, from oral to written. There are written communications which it is impossible to transmit orally beyond one or two hops. After that the details drop out rapidly until nothing is left.
Transfer is harder from written to oral due to the nature of written material, which has a format and usually a content diametrically opposed to what transmits well orally.  I’ll have much more to say about this in the last part of the blog.
A Danish professor and his mentor studied this transfer phenomenon.  I will explain their work in detail in the last part of the blog instead of here, so as not to interrupt the points I need you to understand about translations and commentaries. Besides, only in the fourth part of the blog will I discuss the alternatives to understanding the work of Axel Olrik.
The attested oral origin of a major Jewish classic had consequences both for its structure and content and I’m going to have to spend a couple of weeks on that because unless you already know about this, I will have to explain some details.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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