Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Oral traditions

I've enjoyed this class on The Gospels at UW.  The class members mostly do  not speak up but when he breaks the class down into small groups, almost everybody has something to say.  After class I talked with him about the fine line that he has to walk keeping the scholarly discourse going examining things that these young students have been taught possibly in a doctrinaire manner.  I think they might feel disloyal or disrepsectful to their faith if they said anything especially in front of the class.

For example, he covered the Nativity traditions today.  When you look at the two gospels (Matthew and Luke)  that even have have accounts of Jesus' birth, they have two separate narratives that don't match up much at all.  Why would that be?  How can these two narratives be resolved?  Is it necessary.?  This story along with the imagery is strongly represented in popular culture.  Bethlehem, Jesus and Mary, the manger, the babe, the star, the magi, the animals.

When we talked in the small groups, the Mary as Virgin and other parts of the Nativity narrative.  Two of the students said with conviction "Jesus was born from Mary as a virgin birth."  I wondered, is that what made him divine?  The virgin birth thing.  We have readings of other births where the child is sired by gods.  To me, I am more impressed with the scene where John the Baptizer baptizes Jesus and God appears in the form of a Dove and thunders from the heavens that Jesus is his son and he is well pleased.  The students tried to grapple with this.

One thing that strikes me is the strength of the oral tradition.  The early church relied on oral traditions and these accounts, these gospels, are written later.  So these sacred texts somehow gives authority.  Even if they are contradictory and incomplete.  But think of religious observance today?  The oral tradition is still strong, the ritual, the hymns and singing, fellowship, reciting of prayers, sermons.  People still find this very satisfying, more so than just reading from the scriptures,

The whole Nativity scene, people love to act out the scene.  Christmas carols?  Huge!!  People love the imagery.  It doesn't matter a bit that the traditions are not consistently reflected in the scriptures.  People sometimes moan to me "Christmas has lost its meaning, we need to get back to the basics behind this holiday, the birth of Christ!."  And I wonder what they actually mean.

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