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Oral Texts

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Greco-Roman rhetoric was the dominant form of communication in the Hellenistic world. As such, the very act of writing was part of a larger oral composition. Indeed, ancient rhetoric influenced scriptural writers in their composition of the Bible through the use of “oral texts,” meaning ancient society customarily heard texts read aloud. While some suggest the literacy rate in the first century was upwards of 10‒20%, others argue that only 2‒4% percent of ancient Mediterranean people could actually read or write. The majority of people would not have been able to read the Bible nor did the authors intend for people to read their texts privately or silently. Most ancient documents were not texts in the modern sense. They were composed with their aural and oral potential in mind, and they were meant to be orally performed when they arrived at their destinations. Hence, biblical authors designed their writings to act as a script for what would have been an oral, theatrical performance.

As a result, the ancient Christian church adopted Second-Temple synagogal worship practices, which required professionally trained lectors to recite Scripture to the congregation (a practice still in use today). In fact, the earliest extant New Testament manuscripts demonstrate that reading the texts would have been strenuously challenging for the average person who had little study, practice, or training in public recitation because only professional readers could distinguish between words and place emphases in the right places. As such, ancient texts were written more in the style of a political speech than a treatise or tractate today.

Socio-Rhetorical Criticism

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