February 6, 2009
More on Memorizing Greek
While I was at SBL in November I not only got turned on to memorizing, I picked up a number of books. One of them is David M. Carr’s Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Scripture and Literature (Oxford, 2005). In my previous blog I briefly alluded to early written texts being aids to memory. I was thinking of Carr’s book. Here are few salient passages:
Carr speaks of “findings by cognitive psychologists that the human mind generally cannot remember more than fifty lines without written aids for recall.” Well, I take comfort in this! (His footnote cites interesting articles such as I. M. L. Hunter, “Lengthy Verbatim Recall (LVR) and the Myth and Gift of Tape-Recorder Memory.) (Carr, p. 7)
“Early manuscripts were not written for those who lacked prior knowledge of the texts… . They were written in uncial letters and scriptio continua, thus meaning the reader had to separate words as he or she went. Readerly helps were completely lacking.” (Carr, p. 98)
“Writing in ancient Greece was linked from an early point to the tradition of recitation of poetry, serving as a secondary support for readers who already knew the poetry well. Training in writing simply allowed such reader-reciters to use textual helps in memorization, review, and accurate recitation… . Like Pindar reciting the names of victors or Aeschylus remembering a letter, the Greek student eventually had older Greek texts “written on the (tablet) of [their] mind” … much as the gods likewise had texts inscribed on their minds.” (Carr, p. 98)
Finally (for now), think about this in terms of the potential profit of memorizing books of the New Testament in Greek:
“The poetic tradition was, in a sense, a second language for those educated into it. As a result of memorizing a poet like Homer, students not only gained ability in his Ionic Greek, but they also gained a repertoire of themes, phrases, characters and plots that they could incorporate into their oral and written speech.” (p. 102)
There’s more in Carr—much that puts Old Testament texts within their ANE environment. Check it out for yourself.
And for some more chat on memorizing Scripture, see Mike Bird’s parallel blog on Wednesday.