Friday, April 7, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Only if it's Oral

The final issue in oral communications has to do with its transmission person to person.
It’s easy to demonstrate from the Internet. Why did those little emojis come into being that you can attach to tweets and blogs and emails and that kind of thing?
Because there are things that don’t come through in writing.
Have you ever noticed how many blazing arguments consume Twitter or Facebook until at some point one person writes “I WAS BEING SARCASTIC.”
There are things that text cannot transmit. They require a performance. It can be as simple as the tone of a voice over the phone. It can be silent, as in a facial expression or other body language. It can be as complicated and stylized as Kabuki or a European opera or an anime.
You cannot perform on paper without special words describing an expression, a tone of voice. That is one of the things that makes writing characteristically lengthy: the need to describe. Such things are absent or minimalized in oral communications, something that will come up again, in the last part of this blog.
When you read Torah and Talmud, you are reading records of oral communication. It’s associational and allusive, and it avoids description because it didn’t need to describe things. The people who were communicating the information had each other’s performance to go by, a performance shaped by the culture they lived in.
A characteristic feature of oral transmission of Torah today is the chant, coded as marks called trop. Torah chant is complicated and not easily learned; immersion is better than isolated lessons, the same as for learning to speak a language. Using chant with Torah and Mishnah is noted in Talmud; one rabbi even says you really aren’t doing it right if you don’t chant it.
Talmud has its own characteristic chant. You can hear it in recordings of the Daf Yomi daily Talmud lesson by R. Dovid Grossman of LA, posted at Harvard.
This performance issue also exists for Quran and the Vedas of Hinduism, for both of which there is a characteristic chant. (There are at least 6 styles of Quran chant; there are 5 styles of Torah chant.) Reading the Iliad results in a kind of chant – although the Greek of the Iliad was a tonal language so that, automatically, it presented a performance and not just a text. Some Classics scholars believe the Iliad originated orally, and having read my archaeological posts, you may agree.
If Torah did not originate in oral transmission, then the chanting has to be ascribed to unique behavior compared to other cultures with oral traditions that are chanted; it requires a mountain of evidence about why Jews would behave in a unique way.
So the final clue, that Torah and Talmud are oral transmissions, has developed and survived into modern times, and that is the performance styles of trop and Talmudic chant.
One more little tweak and I’m ready to move on and discuss fallacies I’ve come across in academic papers about language.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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