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Memory and Manuscript with Tradition and Transmission in Early Christianity (Biblical Resource) Perfect Paperback – May 1, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)

From the Back Cover

Here in one volume are two of Birger Gerhardsson's much-debated works on the transmission of tradition in Rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity. In Memory and Manuscript (1961), Gerhardsson explores the way in which Jewish rabbis during the first Christian centuries preserved and passed on their sacred tradition, and he shows how early Christianity is better understood in light of how that tradition developed in Rabbinic Judaism. In Tradition and Transmission in Early Christianity (1964), Gerhardsson further clarifies the discussion and answers criticism of his earlier book. This Biblical Resource Series combined edition corrects and expands Gerhardsson's original works and includes a new preface by the author and a lengthy new foreword by Jacob Neusner that summarizes these works' importance and subsequent influence.
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Product Details

  • Series: Biblical Resource
  • Perfect Paperback: 472 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; Revised edition (May 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802843662
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802843661
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,380,955 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Perfect Paperback
Academia is ruled by fads. This handsomely presented republication (with new material) of one of the most important and least known books relating to the history of early Judaism and of very early Christianity was savagely attacked by one of the leading Biblical scholars of the 1950's and 1960's and a group of his associates and students. One of those students--the prolific Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner--now repents from his unfair attack and adds his own lengthy preface to a book he, in effect, helped to suppress three decades ago. The Scandinavian author, Birger Gerharddson, offered a detailed and very scholarly argument in favor of the "stability" of the process by which trained scribes and religious teachers in the first century C.E. were concerned with the accurate preservation and transmission of important religious traditions in both early rabbinic Judaism and, by analogy, in early Christianity. Since it is a foundational belief of much of contemporary "New Testament scholarship" that the canonical gospels are NOT the product of a conscious process of careful preservation and transmission, this book and its author have been largely ignored for a third of a century. Ignored, but not refuted. This is a densely argued book, drawing heavily on early Mishnaic sources (quoted in the Hebrew), and is not for casual students. For serious students of the origins of the gospels and for those exploring the historical background to the development of early Christianity, this is one of the most important studies to have been written in the past half century.
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This book was first issued in 1961 and then, again, with corrections, in 1964. However, it languished and did not receive optimal scholarly attention. Dr. Gerhardsson believes it was due to the “simplistic” review received at the pen of the late Morton Smith of Columbia University (pp. xiii-xiv). Afterwards, other scholars followed suit, including Morton Smith’s own student, the prolifically published Jacob Neusner. But, now, the years have passed and, at the suggestion of Dr. Neusner himself, the book was reissued as part of The Biblical Resource Series collection by Wm. B. Eerdmans and Dove Booksellers in Michigan. This publication was translated from the original Swedish albeit with a few minor oddities appearing throughout the work that will seem unusual to the English (American?) eye; but these are not overly intrusive to the use of this publication.

Smith was never afraid to confront anyone. I once attended an SBL/ASOR conference where Dr. Smith made a swashbuckling assault on the towering William Foxwell Albright, then dean of American Near Eastern Studies and Archaeology. Understand, it was all verbal and it had Smith’s wealth of knowledge behind it. Albright stood at the podium with quiet dignity and aplomb and waited until Morton Smith sat down. Then, with the greatest respect for Dr. Smith, but with surgical precision, dismembered Smith’s arguments one by one.
The years have passed and Dr. Neusner now gets his chance to make amends. He writes a 21 page preface to the new publication and explains his change of heart about Smith’s critique of Gerhardsson’s work. That, alone, is a valuable contribution. Gerhardsson has also provided a very convenient list of the reviews of his work on pp. xxiii-xxiv.
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This book by Gerhardsson is interesting concerning the time from the oral delivery of the Gospel message being written. For those interested in an understanding of the development of biblical manuscripts this book is a plus. It is written on a high scale and presents information that many are not aware of. This book is what I call class room material - so when you purchase this book be ready for a learning experience. It will challenge you and you will know that after reading and study you will be a better student for doing so. I recommend this book.
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Format: Perfect Paperback
I wholeheartedly agree with my fellow reviewer Cato and his praise for this book. I only wanted to add that it's my opinion that the importance of this book will not be fully realized for many years, as this study - along with the work being done re ancient Hebraic literary structures (especially as it pertains to meaning) - will combine to unlock the secrets of the earliest Christianity. Birger's incredible work is a must for those who are interested in seminal Christianity. I recommend this book without reservation.
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Format: Perfect Paperback
To think that this book was mostly ignored - at least when it was first published as Gerhardsson's doctoral thesis in 1961.

Yet today it may be one of the most quoted books by other biblical scholars. And no wonder. Gerhardsson struck a mortal blow to Bultmann and the form critics and their emphasis on literary form and the written word.

Most Second Temple Jews believed their oral tradition - the oral Torah - to be the equal of scripture, and as binding. Both Philo and Josephus attest to this belief.

To ensure that the truths they believed in were taught to children, Jews developed a school system. "Simeon ben Shetah...arranged for children to attend a bet sefer" (p 58)...toward the end of the Amoraic period, school attendance was, to judge from the evidence, quite general, although not compulsory, among the Jews" (p 59). It appears the sole subject taught was the "reading of the sacred Scriptures" (p 61). The bet sefer were primary schools and "are known to scholars as mishnah schools" (p 91).

Even so, theirs was more an oral than a written culture. And all the ancient schools apparently taught by rote, by unending memorization. Boys in Athens memorized vast portions of Homer. In Judaea, the lowest educational level for the youngest boys emphasized this sort of memorization. Various mnemonic techniques were utilized.

It was common for students to take notes "intended to facilitate learning and continued memorization; practice and future repetition" (p 161). These notebooks served as reminders. (Some scholars today argue that the reason the Christians began to use the codex form was because it resembled these notebooks.)

People read aloud.
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