What do I think of Eric Eve’s book published by SPCK publishers? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
First off, my thanks goes out to Dr. Eve and the people at SPCK for publishing for being willing to place in my hands a copy of this book for review purposes. I have read Ehrman’s book and I saw a number of people I respect speaking about how they’d rather read Eric Eve on oral tradition. Trusting their judgment, I reached out and got a favorable reply.
Eve’s book really deals with a number of misconceptions we can have and this largely because of the way that we live in a text society instead of an oral one. (Although we might have even bypassed text to an extent now as we often more rely on videos.) Often, we take our modern ideas and we put them on to the ancient society and this is just an anachronism. One example Eve gives is one that we don’t think of.
We can often picture the writer of a Gospel or Paul sitting at a desk writing and having piles of scrolls all around and sifting through the material. This is false. People did not sit at writing desks and write out their materials. If they had a scroll, it would likely be just one and the rest of the time they would be working with memory. As I read this, I wondered if this could have something to do also with why many times sources were not explicitly cited as they were today. If all you have is room for one scroll and the rest is memory, you might expect people to catch allusions more than anything else.
Eve also provides good corrective on memory. To be sure, we can make a mistake of thinking oral tradition is infallible, but within a certain time frame, it is indeed quite reliable. In fact, if it wasn’t, we would really have to throw out much of ancient history. Many of the writings of Plutarch date to far after the time of the people that he wrote about.
Speaking of Plutarch, there’s plenty on him and how he did his work and what he wrote about. This is also in conjunction with the discussion of the genre of the Gospels. Readers of mine will know that Mike Licona is himself preparing to release a book on this very topic so I’m eager to see if Licona will interact with any of the material from Eve.
To get back to memory, Eve shows that memory was stressed in the ancient world. It wasn’t just the memorizing of stuff, such as we might expect for a trivia game of sorts. It was also being able to work with the information in one’s own mind. Perhaps you could quote a text backwards for instance. This showed real mastery of the material and would accrue one greater honor in the world.
There’s also a section on the Synoptic Problem. I am one who is more open to Mark Goodacre’s thesis on Q and I’m quite skeptical of it. (In fact, I was really surprised to hear in my recent interview with Richard Bauckham that he’s now skeptical of Q as well.) It still is something I have never really sat down and looked at myself, but I’ve just been suspicious of Q. Eve provides food for thought.
Sometimes I wish Eve was more conservative than he is, but for the most part, this is something that will provide good insights. It is a worthy edition to the library of any student of the New Testament. It is also something I wish more skeptics of the Christian faith would understand who critique a document from an oral-dominated society from the perspective of a textual one.