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

In: Journal for the Study of Judaism
Nicholas A. Elder Marquette University, Department of Theology, Marquette Hall 1217 W. Wisconsin Ave. Milwaukee, wi 53233 U.S.A.

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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.

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