A Gutenberg Bible is a bit of both.

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10 Responses to A Gutenberg Bible is a bit of both.

  1. Bret says:

    Only slightly inside of oral tradition would be “centuries of scribes making copies.” If Bart Erhman is to be believed and I think he is.

  2. TheBob says:

    And where would a blog fall on this graph?


  3. Mike says:

    With the same axes I would draw a bell curve and lael it “oral tradition”.

    When a story is new, there is little reverence for it, so tellers are more likely to “improve” the tale as they re-tell it. But over time, the story becomes more and more revered and tellers become more focused on making a faithful retelling. Eventually to the point where the tale falls behind the language, and it’s meaning becomes more and more ambiguous.

    Thus spaketh the Lord of Nice.

  4. Hodge says:

    Hmm, too uncomplicated to ring true. Semantic drift and context can quite easily change the meaning of a printed word (Historians figured this out before the poststructuralists did). It’s difficult, of course, to prove that an oral tradition has or has not changed to any specific degree. On the other hand, we can easily prove vast differeneces of interpretation of a single static text.

    Meanwhile, there’s at least one example of an ancient king being skeptical about the value of writing because it would weaken the memories of his historians. All the work I’ve seen on the adoption of written language points to its value to accountants and businesspeople, rather than historians and poets. On the other hand, I’ve seen memonic devices argued convincingly as the root of poetry, which becomes purely a stylistic concern once one adds writing to a culture.

    As for the accuracy of oral traditions, I’m fond of pointing to the discovery that Egil, a Viking Poet who was reputed to be able to deflect axe blows to his head, actually probably was able to do so due to a rare medical condition confirmed by digging up his remains:


    Of course, if Egil hadn’t been able to write down his poems, we’d probably never have known this.

    Er, the short version: I don’t really like this site as much when it simply rehashes common sense assumptions as I do when it is clever and insightful.

    (But I don’t really expect cleverness or insight on demand every morning on demand while coffee brews, either).

  5. Dahve says:

    @Bret Actually, “Centuries of scribes copying copies” would form an isosceles triangle with the other two points, because, whereas there ARE examples of documents being altering during transcription, there wouldn’t be nearly as many as in oral tradition. Also, there is the ‘x’ axis to consider, and as, no matter how many monks you have, you’re not going to be able to out-copy even a dozen or so printing presses, the monks would be on the opposite end of the graph.

  6. AJ says:

    You could add “rumour” to a place few times told and much changed… :)

  7. Henryk W.dk says:

    @AJ: There is even a beautiful short story on that subject by H.C. Andersen, a great Dane (pun not intended, or was it?):


    Never mind the Danish of the menu; the text itself is in English. The site itself is pretty authoritative – it’s a university center of research on H.C.A.

    @Hodge: As long as a card by Jessica can raise such interesting comments as yours and many other, it works for me.

    And, BTW, Egil actually probably didn’t. As much as your link is really cool, the sagas as we know them were written down up to 200 years after the fact. Until then, it was probably mostly oral. Those guys probably still used runes, and that’s one hell of a slow process.


  8. ISammael says:

    Concerning the title: careful not to confuse fact with opinion, and I’ll do the same.

  9. Nik Obidin says:

    I honestly just don’t like the printing press version because of it’s naughty type-face:


  10. Mim says:

    Actually, I can think of a decent number of oral traditions that kept the story the same far longer than the printing press– the obvious example is the mishnah, which was kept in oral form for hundreds of years effectively without change… each rabbinical academy had one scholar whose job was to be the book, to keep it all in memory, and to pass it on to the academy and to his successor… some scholars suggest that it survived in oral form for about two hundred years after the final redaction and organization before it was finally written, and it wouldn’t have been written unless the rabbis of the age had become seriously worried that the knowledge would die out without being written.

    There are still many people who commit large portions of mishnah and talmud to memory, even though it no longer needs to be passed down orally.