Assorted retorts from yahoo boards and elsewhere : Quorans on Conflict between Pope and Bible, Hypothetical Question · Great Bishop of Geneva! : Lita Cosner attacks Catholic doctrine, defending their "Bible alone" heresy
First, is she really considering books yes and oral tradition no as uniquely God's Revelation? It would seem so from this:*
"But out of all the media through which God might have given us His revelation, why did He choose a written medium? Why didn’t He inspire an oral tradition that was passed down from generation to generation? Or some sort of visual medium other than text?"
Now, this comes out pretty much as sola Scriptura. Sure, it is on their belief statement, but usually defending this against Catholic Scripture + Unritten Traditions (from back in the time of the Apostles) is not their chief agenda. As this came up, if you are serious, where is "Scripture alone" in all of Scripture? If you cannot find it there (and you cannot), either this is not serious, or at least, this is not a basic crredal statement, only an optional opinion about how Revelation works. In fact, Lita Cosner did not try to back this up biblically, she gave extra-biblical reasons for her opinion. While I have reasons both in Scripture and in Tradition and Infallible Magisterium of Trent (convoked 470 years ago) for believing firmly with faith, not just opining, that she is wrong, I should however also be able to deal with her human reasons. Which I proceed to do.
"When a message is strictly oral, its transmission is restricted to the movement of the people who carry the message, and it is limited to people within earshot of the person speaking. By contrast, a written document can be copied 100 times and taken around the world."
When a message is oral, even in absence of writing, it can be given to 100 peoples within earshot of the person dictating. These can be asked to repeat it over and over again, until they have it strictly correctly.
A person having learned an oral message by heart is as able to get across the world as a book. And on the other side of the world or of the oecumene of one's time can do as much good or more as or than a strictly unaccompanied book.
Lita Cosner will in the post also claim that Flood stories around the world prove unreliability of oral tradition. If so, they prove that oral tradition was the most basic access people had to the story after the Flood. It would be curious if the tradition from Flood to Babel had been written down in pages or tablets,accessible to everyone having learned to read, but after the confusion of tongues they found they could no longer read them, and then they made no effort of learning what they had previously spoken and read, nor were in any way suspicious of having another tongue than they had had while being still able to read them. Even so, the Flood story as such has reached all corners of the world. Whether it was the oral tradition (presumably a condition shared on Hebrew line up to Abraham) or sth else which was responsible for distortions of the story, I'll return to.
Presumably she might be thinking of modern conditions, in which a man rarely has available on spot 100 men who then have the leasure to go out into all the world - but Christ could 2000 years ago find 72 of them. Also, a man sending 100 books to diverse corners of the world (easy if you are rich enough to pay printing and stamps) would either do so to people already his associates, and therefore the situation would also involve oral tradition about it, or he would accompany the book with some kind of introductory letter, which involves at least one kind of transmission outside the book itself. So, the very setup of preferring a book only over an oral only tradition, as Lita does is flawed in conception. Not taking all factors into account even in the modern situation and imposing a modern "priority of possibilities" on ancient situations, far removed from modern Capitalism with world wide post office collaborations.
Already one thing to consider is this, that when Christianity began, books were generally scrolls - much more cumbrous and more easily detected than an oral message in times of persecution. It is possible to my imagination, though not totally shared by experts, that Christians invented the codex (books where pages are turned one after each other, not rolled around a pin) in order to get around the problem : at least they contributed to make it popular. This is because Bibles were not totally optional, especially in liturgy. There is a part in which the bishop, priest or deacon reads a portion of the Gospels. But as to getting a missionary to start converting, I don't think even Gospel manuscripts were St Paul's priority to bring along on travels, they could come later, with people less conspicuous than he.
So, the spread factor, which according to Lita Cosner is a reason why God preferred a "book only" transmission of His inerrant and infallible word, is actually a reason against this, for God having sometimes preferred oral only (up to Moses at latest) and sometimes oral with written transmission, which we know to have been the form of transmission from Moses to Christ (Exodus 12:26-27).
I am reminded of a former Evangelical, now Atheist, who similarily seems to have had trouble imagining how much freer people were to travel, to take time off to do a thing, if free and not slaves, 2000 years ago.
somewhere else : What a blooper, Dan Barker from Atheist League!
[short link ppt.li/rrxn]
So, Lita's "logistic blooper" may be making more Dan Barkers.
Now, let us consider the other factor, is oral tradition reliable, humanly speaking (obviously God could by Omnipotence have turned the least good means of transmission into an infallibly inerrant one, but both Lita and I agree this is not what He did, and so we discuss whether oral tradition has a standing as comparably reliable to written or not)?
"Studies show that oral tradition, especially in societies with low literacy, is actually quite accurate, but as we can see with the Flood stories around the world, history passed down strictly orally has a tendency to change much faster than written documents."
Really? Lita has proof positive that Moses relied on Noah's and his sons' material writings?
Or that the changes from Hebrew truth all happened after Moses had culled the oral tradition just in time, before it changed? I think not. This part has two components. For one thing, we must examplify that oralo tradition as such is reliable, and next, we must explain her example of why it seems unreliable.
She actually brought up, nearly naming them, Milman Perry. They studied the oral transmission of epics such as that of Kosovo Polje battle by Serbian story singers. Since they recorded lots of performances, they could show that while a long song actually is performed with some variants, the presence or absence of a certain elaboration corresponds to mood, not to presence or absence of it from tradition, so that the tradition can be considered as fairly fixed. What they sing is probably what their predecessors sung in very early memory after Kosovo Polje and what Peisistratos took down from Rhapsodes is therefore probably what the Rhapsodes some earlier century had heard from the mouth of Homer.
But this is "as strange as news from Bree" to quite a few of her readers, and presumably a bit to herself as well, which is why she doesn't take the right conclusion. There are other examples which even she would acknowledge as implying we normally do trust oral tradition as being trustworthy.
I just brought up Lord of the Rings, last paragraph. How do we know Tolkien did not translate an actual historic document from Adunaic while Gospels and Genesis are products of some good novelist? By tradition external to the books, in the case of Tolkien's work not purely oral, but in the case of the earlier one presumably so. Lita could counter that one partial aspect of chapter 1 of Genesis is confirmed by God as factual in Exodus, but this brings up the question about Exodus. We know, and Jesus humanly knew, while growing in wisdom, that Genesis and Exodus are history not fiction, from oral tradition.
A very clear example is that Lita Cosner speaks English. She learned the pronounced language orally. In fact, if someone were to learn English entirely from a lexicon (+ grammar, + books) and ignore IPA and ignore what IPA symbols stand for, which he could learn easistes by oral tradition, he would probably pronounce English after pronunciation rules of his own language, and get English pronunciation wrong. And the pronunciation rules of his own language, these also he learned by oral tradition.
And after speaking our mother tongues, many of us (but not all, as already mentioned) by now learn to write them. Or at least read them. This would be impossible without the oral tradition about what sound or spectrum of different sounds each letter or combination of letters can stand for.
And there is a reason why oral tradition works : learning by heart. Lita can check reciting the Apostolic Creed or the Nicene Creed, or the Lord's Prayer or the Ten Commandments.
The essence of the Christian message, as far as propositional revelation is concerned can be summed up in these three parts. Which can be transmitted orally if books should lack.
Next question is what I do with all more or less garbled non-Hebrew versions of The Flood.
Well, I would say very little has changed due to the insecurities of oral tradition as such. Most changes are for other reasons.
If Norse version of it was transmitted by Odin and he was a Hebrew (which of course takes down one independent witness as not independent, but it was a late one anyway), the positive element that it involved killing off of giants may be due to Odin overemphasising Nephelim (perhaps to fraudulently stamp his son as a great Nephelim killer), and the negative elements of no men before the Flood, no Earth before the Flood etc would be from his deliberate and fraudulent choice of posing as having been, with two of his brothers a Marduk style world creator as per monster killing.
In the Greek case, the real case of whittling down is if Aegyptos and Danaos are supposed to be a generation immediately after Deucalion and Pyrrha, there are way too few generations up to Trojan War, while in the case they aren't supposed to be that, there is a gap, suggesting a loss of tradition. But as to the story itself, every element can be tied down to some Biblical story, not always that of the Flood. Three Gods come to a pious but childless couple, save them from disaster and afterwards they are in a quandry about how to repeople the world ... sounds like three angels visiting Abraham and Sarah, two of them saving Lot and his dughters from Sodom, his daughters imagining they need to repeople the world, with a bit of artistic telescoping. But why is this tied to the Flood? My view is simply this, that Greeks (at least Hercules, whose relation to Iolaos was of a morally dubious kind and ill repute) were beginning to be tolerant of the sin of Sodom, and therefore unwilling to retell the story of Sodom as it was. Hence, taking its elements and transferring them back to the Flood was a deliberate cover up.
In the case of the War of Troy, Homer never mentions Hittites, though they were or recently had been around when the war happened. Why? Insecurity of tradition? Or perhaps a deliberate cover up of the fact they existed, a cover up ordered by the nobility which descended from Hittite such, and who had a gentleman's agreement not to mention the world Empire which failed due to internal war (this is at least how the documentary Dark Lords of Hattusha paints what happened around the fall of that capital).
Some in the case of how gods are described is of course interpretation due to the new and false theologies. Beginnings of Iliad and Odyssey both feature gods, and I think Apollo is described more realistically, insofar as a demon really is called "lord of the flies". While mentioning Odyssey, the most parts of Ulysses' ten years between Troy and getting home could be a cover up on his part. Saying Calypso was a goddess who forced him magically to stay could have been convenient before Penelope. Saying certain crew drowned might in the worst of cases sound better than saying he sold them to Phoenicians or even abandoned them to Phoenicians (or whoever were the maritime trading power in these days). The son of Laërtes is not known for complete truthfulness on all occasions. This means, the dubiously trustworthy content of parts of Odyssey are more due to initial fraud than to faulty transmission.
The Peruvian flood myth features two departures from the real Flood : Andes are "used as an Ark" and the survivors are siblings who go on to people Perú. The one feature is perhaps due to a complete loss of the technology of ships beyond balsa rafts, which would have floundered in a very bad weather. The other feature is probably meant to explain why Incas married sisters.
Sumerian myth, on the other hand is nearly like the Biblical one, except for polytheism and a tinge of Malthusianism in theology, making the god whe sent flood and the god who saved different, and motive of the former selfish, method of the latter devious, and except for making Ark a giant version of Sumerian river coracles, which would not have worked. The latter would be due to technology loss and to not being as candid about coracles as Peruvians about balsa rafts.
A more complex case is Mahabharata and Ramayana.
I have reconstructed that Mahabharata happened pre-Flood, generation after the sons and daughter of Lamech presented in the Bible being that of Kauravas and Pandavas, but Ramayana post-Flood, Rama being the son of Kush of similar name and either Hanuman or Nama being Nimrod while still young and benevolent against his brothers, as Josephus states. But, in Hindu lore we don't have only Hindu gods (not counting Krishna as a total intruder, just considering his deification unwarranted) and pre-Flood presumable Hebrew names expressed in Sanskrit, not only (in generations earlier than Pandavas and Kauravas) a Bharat who seems to combine the two Henoch (the Cainite as Empire builder, the Sethite as assumed into Heaven), but an inversion of the order in which I reconstruct their relation.
Well, I consider it feasible that one was trying to cover up that a Flood had happened recently and intervened between Mahabharata memories and oneselves. And as sufficient generations had passed after Ramayana material, or with very decisive fraud, their timelines were interchanged, and Flood was preponed to before a very remote Ramayana.
So, we have both a book and an oral tradition as fairly reliable per se methods of preserving a message, but we should not neglect that we have other parts than the propositional content of Revelation. Routines and material objects count too.
I suppose Lita Cosner has a daily routine involving : morning prayer, grace before meals, evening prayer, daily Bible reading. I don't think she can point to any definite Bible passage which tells of exactly all parts of this routine and nothing else.
Routine's of the Christian life are an excellent example of what Catholics traditionally consider to have been transmitted orally only : sign of the cross, fasting on wednesdays and fridays, now limited to abstinence from meat on fridays in Latin tradition (but more rigorous in Byzantine, which the Church also includes). And seven sacraments, and the liturgy of the Mass. Add hereto the iconographic traditions, and the relics considered genuine from very early on. This is part of Revelation, yet is not propositional content.
Or not primarily - one can make propositional content about it, once it is challenged of course.
The things which are propositional content, however, are considered as relying on a double or triple transmission to us : Bible text (not 66 books, but 73 btw, other non-Protestant and older than Reformation churches saying perhaps even more, two more books of Maccabees or one more book of Esra ...) and oral tradition and magisterium. Magisterium being infallible in three cases :
- Pope speaking ex cathedra;
- Pope and majority of bishops in vote of a General Council;
- Pope with totality or near totality (with moral equivalent of totality) of bishops, all agreeing on same point.
Obviously, if magisterium should get near a shipwreck, it would contradict not just Bible but also tradition (when it comes to propositional content that would involve magisterium of the past and all writings of all canonised hurch Fathers), and therefore at least some bishops would disagree, and magisterium would be saved from giving the signs of infallibility to what is false. And similarily for other two means : if Bible risks being misunderstood on a point, if tradition risks being forgotten.
God chose a threefold, not a simple means of securing full transmission fidelity of Revelation.
Hans Georg Lundahl
Maison-Alfort / Alfortville