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Beyond the Written Word

Beyond the Written Word
Oral Aspects of Scripture in the History of Religion


  • Date Published: March 1993
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521448208
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About the Authors
  • The concept of 'scripture' as written religious text is re-examined in this close analysis of the traditions of oral use of the sacred writings of religions around the world. Pointing out the central importance of the oral and aural experience of religious texts in the life of religious communities of both Eastern and Western cultures, William Graham asserts the need for a new perspective on how scripture has been appropriated and used by the vast majority of all people who have been religious, most of whom could neither read nor write. Graham first probes the history of literacy, focusing on the prominent role of the written word in modern Western culture and its history in Western civilisation. He then considers the unique case of scripture, examining the problems of communication of texts to illiterate or semi-literate religious communities, the various oral uses of scripture, and affective impact of the spoken holy word vis-á-vis the silently written page.

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Graham's recovery of the oral\aural tradition … is a model of scholarly precision and richly suggestive for other, related investigations … A compelling case for reassessing Christianity's dependence on the written text.' The Christian Century

    'This book presents a lot of material that would have been beyond the ability of ordinary students of the history of religion to assemble, and it raises a subject that has been ignored for a very long time.' The Expository Times

    'Well written for both graduate and undergraduate use.' Religious Studies Review

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    Customer reviews

    30th Oct 2019 by Proios

    It is often overlooked how the key reality of oral culture is in how the body is used as an instrument. Oral traditions treat the human body as an instrument. The central characteristic of body as instrument is literalism. This is more readily seen when put in contrast to the literate tradition. Symbolism is the central characteristic of the literate tradition. The contrast between the literate and oral traditions is exemplified in any historical comparison between the Christian religion and the Islamic religion. The orality of the Islamic is matched by the “people of the book” Christian tradition over literacy. All of which has been made available for study by the Freudian science of psychoanalysis which established that there is not only a consciousness, there is also an unconscious. But there remains an overlooked reality of human consciousness: its paradoxical limitation as a purely symbolic and completely literal faculty. This limitation has been made studiously apparent by psychoanalysis in the contrast of consciousness to the virtually unlimited agency of the unconscious. The paradoxical nature of consciousness is historically and psychologically accentuated in the contrast between the historical traditions of the Islamic and Christian religions. The overlooked psycho-historical manifestations of these comparative religions await further study. Peace be with you, William Proios

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    Product details

    • Date Published: March 1993
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521448208
    • length: 324 pages
    • dimensions: 226 x 150 x 24 mm
    • weight: 0.413kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Of Written and Spoken Words:
    1. Writing and written culture
    2. The print textuality of modern culture
    3. Books, reading and literacy in the premodern west
    Part II. Of Written and Spoken Scripture:
    4. Scripture in Judeo-Christian perspective
    5. Holy writ and holy word
    6. Scripture as spoken word: the Indian paradigm
    Part III. 'An Arabic Reciting': Qur`an as Spoken Book:
    7. Revelation and recitation
    8. Muslim scripture as spoken word
    9. Voicing the Qur`an: questions of meaning
    Part IV. 'The Lively Oracles of God': Bible as Spoken Word:
    10. The spoken word of Christian holy writ
    11. God's word in the desert
    12. Hearing and seeing: the rhetoric of Martin Luther

  • Author

    William Albert Graham, Harvard University, Massachusetts

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