3 Observations about First-Century Oral Culture and Biblical Studies

If the New Testament was composed in a predominately oral-aural Mediterranean culture of the first century – then why is there an almost obsessive, reliance on print methods not found in the first century? This, and other, questions rise as I dig deeper in my research.

Here are three initial observations in my research:

1. Oral culture was the accepted norm in antiquity, even with printed materials available – there was a preference for the spoken word done in community.

2. Performance (storytelling, speaking, etc.) was a communal event with interaction between audience and storyteller.

3. Seeking to understand oral event and transmission of the gospels in their first century milieu is largely missing in NT scholarship – it is a gap in biblical studies (Rhoads 2010: 164).

Whatever one thinks on the subject, it is worth being aware of as current scholarship (within biblical studies and without – see Ong, Havelock, Lord, etc.) is slowly recognizing the value in understanding and appreciating the oral composition and transmission of the NT, and in my case, of Mark’s Gospel.


See David Rhoads. 2010. Biblical Performance Criticism: Performance as Research. Oral Tradition. 25(1), 157-198.

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