Kelber, Werner. "The History of the Closure of Biblical Texts." Oral Tradition 25:1 (2010), 115-140.
Kelber acknowledges Ong's view that technology used in communication effectively changes us (Kelber 2010, 115). His question, in this paper, is how the biblical texts actually moved from oral beginnings, through manuscript, and eventually "to their trimphant apotheosis in print culture" (Kelber 2010, 116).
The journey begins in a primarily oral context, but one where literate people might have a manuscript available for reference. The goal of study would be recitation and internalization of the message (Kelber 2010, 117). These features of study, however, are rarely the focus of scholarly research.
Kelber considers this style of study, aimed at internalizing the message, to suggest a different view of ancient scholarship than that of tediolus, painstaking copying of texts letter by letter (Kelber 2010, 118). The textual-critical views were reinforced with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and attempts to verify an authoritative reading (Kelber 2010, 119). However, Kelber sees a world of manuscripts which are pluriform, showing adherence to a message but not always specific wording.
Kelber asserts that pluriform literary traditions were widely acceptable in the period around the start of the Christ era (Kelber 2010,120). Sadly, he does not give examples which would broaden the scope of our understanding. It would be very interesting to analyze what level of manuscript divergence would be considered acceptably similar to be counted as an accurate reading, and whether that could differ in various genres.
Another challenge to the idea that there is one authoritative version of a teaching is easily illustrated by the simple fact that Jesus went to various places and spoke to different people. If he delivered some teaching in one place, then the same teaching in another place, butworded differently, we are at a loss when we attempt to identify "the correct wording." Kelber expects that a written tradition could also face similar issues, especially a tradition which attempts to harmonize various events (Kelber 2010, 121). Further, Kelber considers that some level of fluidity of wording, but not of content, would have been considered appropriate, especially for important texts (Kelber 2010, 122). This effect is likely related to the frequency with which the topic and its ideas would be stated.
Kelber considers that the development of the codex could have been very critical in the change he observes in the way the biblical message was treated. The codex foreshadowed typographic norms, with relatively standard page formats (Kelber 2010, 123). The actual gathering of the works into one volume was rare, but eventually there were volumes which implied canonicity based on the texts which were selected and bound together (Kelber 2010, 124).
Origen's work with the Hexapla shows the pluriform nature of the biblical texts represented in it, though the work was later seen as a tool to harmonize the distinct text traditions (Kelber 2010, 125-126). Attempts to harmonize the Gospels, likewise, as early as Eusebius, also demonstrate variability in the expression of ideas (Kelber 2010, 126). However, the collections of various works into one bound volume, with some books being produced with the same content on the same page in each copy, very likely contributed to the idea of a single authoritative manuscript document (Kelber 2010, 127).
Kelber observes, however, that the oral readings, such as those from a lectionary, as well as the readings and preaching in church, which has its own context, would erode an idea of an authoritative text. Thus he says that the idea of Sola scriptura would not be practical prior to the advent of the printed book (Kelber 2010, 127). The Bible had an authority which was inherent in orality. It was as the Middle Ages progressed that the idea of definitive textuality developed, particularly leading to the Scholasticism which analyzed specific wordng in such detail (Kelber 2010, 128).
Kelber also observes that the production of texts prior to mass printing was different than we might imagine. Rather than one person looking at a text and making a copy, generally one person would read aloud while others transcribed (Kelber 2010, 129). The chapter and verse divisions were a relatively late development as well. When we step behind the technological advances we arrive in a world where the work of hermeneutics was aking to an exercise in spiritual discernment.
Around the start of the 14th century, with William of Ockham, the idea of an authoritative text with a definitive meaning took hold (Kelber 2010, 130). This concept of a textual economy, followed by the development of the movable type printing press, brought about a commitment to a written document which would retain one definitive and authoritative ud erstanding (Kelber 2010, 131). Kelber observes that even though the Protestant Reformers treated the Bible as an authoritative text with a particular meaning, they also hold to the oral dynamic which recognized the power of the spoken word (Kelber 2010, 131).
The growth of print, particularly in the vernacular languages, spurred growth in lteracy as well as specific preservation of older texts in a fixed form. Kelber sees this changing the nature of national identity, language, culture, and scholarship (Kelber 2010, 134).