On Transcription and Oral Transmission in Aseneth: A Study of the Narrative’s Conception

in Journal for the Study of Judaism
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.

Help

 

Have Institutional Access?

Login with your institution. Any other coaching guidance?

Connect

The purpose of this article is to investigate and elucidate the oral aspects of Joseph and Aseneth. This is to suggest that Joseph and Aseneth had an oral tradition that preceded, and likely also proceeded, the written version(s) that is (are) now extant. The text is best understood using oral hermeneutics. By making this argument I do not postulate any one oral or written genre for the text, nor any argument for how it might have been composed. Instead, I seek to demonstrate that Joseph and Aseneth retains strong residual orality. Many of the oral features of the text are salient in its written form, including: the consistent use of paratactic καί; the use of the ‘intonation unit’; the one new idea constraint, which is often accomplished by the form ἦν; the visible and descriptive nature of the narrative; and the redundancy of certain words and phrases. The second half of the article offers some repercussions that an oral existence of the narrative might have on Joseph and Aseneth scholarship. The most pertinent effects relate to the assumption that Joseph and Aseneth is a Jewish Hellenistic romance novel and to the scholarly divide concerning the ‘originality’ of the longer b-family textual recension as opposed to the shorter d-family textual recension.

Sections
References
  • 3

    Cf. Lawrence M. Wills ed.Ancient Jewish Novels: An Anthology (New York: Oxford University Press2002) 6; Wills The Jewish Novel in the Ancient World (London: Cornell University Press 1995) 5; N. V. Braginskaya “Joseph and Aseneth in Greek Literary History: The Case of the ‘First Novel’ ” in The Ancient Novel and Early Christian and Jewish Narrative: Fictional Intersections (ed. Marília P. Futre Pinheiro Judith Perkins and Richard Pervo; Ancient Narrative Supplementum 16; Groningen: Groningen University Library 2012) 79-105 esp. 81.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 6

    As Susan Niditch“Hebrew Bible and Oral Literature: Misconceptions and New Directions,” in The Interface of Orality and Writing; Speaking Seeing Writing in the Shaping of New Genres (ed. Annette Weissenrieder and Robert B. Coote; wunt 260; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2010) 4-18 at 7 notes “oral works and oral-style works are created and re-created even when writing is common.”

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 7

    Egbert J. Bakker“How Oral Is Oral Composition?” in Signs of Orality: The Oral Tradition and Its Influence in the Greek and Roman World (ed. Anne E. Mackay; Mnemosune Supplements 188; Leiden: Brill1999) 29-47esp. 29-33.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 8

    Reproduced from Bakker“How Oral?” 31. There are a number of different models that sociolinguists work from to investigate different oral and written conceptions of discourse. For a helpful overview of these sociolinguistic models see Wulf Oesterreicher “Types of Orality in Text” in Written Voices Spoken Signs: Tradition Performance and the Epic Text (ed. Egbert J. Bakker and Ahuvia Kahane; Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1997) 190-214.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 9

    Bakker“How Oral?” 30.

  • 10

    Wallace L. ChafeDiscourse Consciousness and Time: The Flow and Displacement of Conscious Experience in Speaking and Writing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press1994) 53.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 12

    ChafeDiscourse53-70.

  • 13

    Walter J. OngOrality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (with additional chapters by John Hartley; London; New York: Routledge2012) 38.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 16

    OngOrality37-38.

  • 21

    Joanna DeweyThe Oral Ethos of the Early Church: Speaking Writing and the Gospel of Mark (Biblical Performance Criticism Series 8; Eugene, Or.: Cascade2013) 84.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 22

    On this see DeweyOral Ethos85; Eric Alfred Havelock Preface to Plato (Oxford: Blackwell 1963) 182-83; and Ong Orality 141-43.

  • 23

    ChafeDiscourse108-19. It has also been recognized by Talmy Givón Syntax: A Functional-Typological Introduction (Amsterdam: Benjamins 1984) 258 as the “one chunk per clause principle” who notes that “the majority of sentence/clauses in connected discourse will have only one chunk—be it nominal predicate (verb adjective) or adverbial word/phrase—under the scope of asserted new information.”

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 24

    ChafeDiscourse108.

  • 26

    ChafeDiscourse111.

  • 28

    DeweyOral Ethos83.

  • 29

    Reproduced from Lord“Characteristics” 59-60. Originally cited from Parry Text No. 6840 written down from dictation by Nikola Vujnović July 5-12 1935 in Bijelo Polje. The text has 12311 lines. Published as schs 3-4 lines 1615-19.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 30

    Lord“Characteristics” 57.

  • 31

    Christoph Burchard“The Present State of Research on Joseph and Aseneth,” in Gesammelte Studien zu Joseph und Aseneth (svtp 13; Leiden: Brill 1996) 297-320 at 303.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 32

    Burchard“Present State” 303.

  • 33

    DeweyOral Ethos83.

  • 34

    OngOrality42.

  • 36

    On this phenomenon Susan NiditchA Prelude to Biblical Folklore: Underdogs and Tricksters (Urbana: University of Illinois Press2000) 41 writes “The pace of the tales . . . is rather swift until the problem is made apparent. A great deal of space is then allowed the scene in which the problem is made manifest and solutions suggested and carried out.” This is precisely what we find in Joseph and Aseneth where the bulk of the story is concentrated on Aseneth’s huge mistake her repentance and conversion and her ultimate reunion with Joseph.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 38

    See Angela Standhartinger“Recent Scholarship on Joseph and Aseneth (1988-2013),” CurBR 12 (2014): 353-406esp. 354; Christoph Burchard “Joseph and Aseneth: A New Translation and Introduction” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (ed. James H. Charlesworth; 2 vols.; Garden City n.y.: Doubleday 1985) 2:177-247 esp. 181; Randall D. Chesnutt From Death to Life: Conversion in Joseph and Aseneth (JSPSup 16; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic 1995) 70; Edith McEwan Humphrey Joseph and Aseneth (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic 2000) 31; and Gideon Bohak Joseph and Aseneth and the Jewish Temple in Heliopolis (sblejl 10; Atlanta: Scholars Press 1996).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 40

    Quotation from BohakJoseph and Aseneth87. John M. G. Barclay Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora: From Alexander to Trajan (323 bce-117 ce) (Edinburgh: T&T Clark 1996) 205 also notes on the narrative “Yet the most sympathetic reader of Joseph and Aseneth would have to acknowledge some aesthetic disappointment. . . .” Diminishing the language of Joseph and Aseneth as aesthetically displeasing has become a trope in scholarship. It raises a significant question about the text’s popularity. If it was so “irritating” and “aesthetically disappointing” how did it enjoy such popularity? Unfortunately most scholars have mis-categorized Joseph and Aseneth’s media tradition leading them to miss the fact that while the Greek may not have been florid or effective from a literary perspective the story is effective as an oral event. Recognizing the oral media tradition of Joseph and Aseneth helps explain its popularity despite the fact that its written in such an “irritating” and “aesthetically displeasing” manner.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 41

    BohakJoseph and Aseneth105. Interestingly these are the same kinds of changes that Matthew consistently makes in his redaction of Mark’s gospel. It is probably not insignificant then that Matthew begins with the paratextual marker βίβλος (Matt 1:1) implying something written and Mark begins with the paratextual marker εὐαγγέλιον (Mark 1:1) implying something spoken. If Joseph and Aseneth is in a similar media tradition as Mark’s gospel this may shed light on the authorship and date of the text since Mark can be dated and contextualized more accurately than other texts that Joseph and Aseneth is often compared with can.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 42

    Ross Shepard KraemerWhen Aseneth Met Joseph: A Late Antique Tale of the Biblical Patriarch and His Egyptian Wife Reconsidered (New York: Oxford University Press1998) 305.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 44

    As Alan DundesHoly Writ as Oral Lit: The Bible as Folklore (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield1999) 2 notes “folklore is always in flux always changing. Because of the factors of multiple existence and variation no two versions of an item of folklore will be identical.”

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 45

    NiditchPrelude13. Elsewhere Niditch “Hebrew Bible and Oral Literature” 14 writes “Attention to orality also affects my text-critical approach. I am not interested in finding the best readings or Ur readings or in the reconstruction of an original or earlier form of Judges. Rather I am interested in the variants preserved in the manuscript traditions and the way in which extant manuscript traditions functioned in context.”

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 47

    Christine M. ThomasThe Acts of Peter Gospel Literature and the Ancient Novel: Rewriting the Past (Oxford: Oxford University Press2003) 85.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 48

    KraemerWhen Aseneth305.

  • 53

    René Bloch“Take Your Time: Conversion, Confidence and Tranquility in Joseph and Aseneth,” in Anthropologie und Ethik im Frühjudentum und im Neuen Testament (wunt 322; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2014) 77-96 at 94.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 56

    Standhartinger“Recent Scholarship” 375.

  • 57

    Stefan TilgChariton of Aphrodisias and the Invention of the Greek Love Novel (Oxford: Oxford University Press2010) 87 working on Xenophon explicitly writes that “[Ephesiaca] is too literary a text to regard as a direct outgrowth of oral folklore.” And this seems to be the consensus concerning the novels: they are all too complex long and literarily conceived to be outgrowths of an oral-formulaic tradition.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 60

    WillsJewish Novel27-28. I would augment this claim noting that it is not their literary styles but their media forms that differ.

  • 63

    See Burchard“Joseph and Aseneth: A New Translation,” 183-84, and Burchard, “Joseph und Aseneth,” in Unterweisung in erzählender Form (jshrz 2.4; Gütersloh: Mohn 1983) 577-735.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 67

    HumphreyJoseph and Aseneth31. So also Burchard “Present State” 302 writes “the original JosAs was a Greek work. Translation from Hebrew has been argued in the early days of JosAs research. But the idea seems to have been abandoned and rightly so.”

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 70

    ChesnuttFrom Death to Life70.

Index Card
Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 41 38 3
Full Text Views 174 173 0
PDF Downloads 7 7 0
EPUB Downloads 1 1 0