Tsang, Sam. "Are We 'Misreading' Paul?: Oral Phenomena and Their Implication for the Exegesis of Paul's Letters." Oral Tradition 24:1 (2009), 205-225.
Tsang notes that the Pauline letters were presented in a society which had extensive verbal mediation of written messages. This may lead us to different exegetical assumptions in our interpretation of the works (Tsang 2009, 205). This re-evaluation of modes of interpretation has been developed in biblical studies to some extent, particularly in the Uppsala School, and especially by Susan Niditch in Oral World and Written Word (1996). The analysis of oral patterns was very important to her in this work (Tsang 2009, 206). The work of C.W. David (Oral Biblical Criticism, 1999), and J. Harvey (Listening to the Text, 1998), approaches Paul's epistles by applying oral studies and classical rhetorical analysis from the standpoint of a listener (Tsang 2009, 207).
The social context of the recipients of the Pauline letters may well be of greater importance as a starting point than a literary context. According to Tsang, "There are five social and literary factors that demand attention in this kind of oral communication: the role of rhetoric ,the role of memory, the relationship between letter writing and speech, the practice of reading letters publicly, and euphonics" (Tsang 2009, 208).
The rhetorical methods of the Sophists, particularly in their oral pedagogy, would be an important part of the context for Paul's letters (Tsang 2009, 208). Spoken words, including the way they were spoken, were considered of paramount importance. For this reason, rhetorical studies were often considered more important than a study of philosophy (Tsang 2009, 209).
Memory, both in oral and literate cultures, is of great significance. Tsang observes that memory is aided by the style of the composition (Tsang 2009, 210). Some works are more memorable than others, and a study of rhetoric includes learning to make memorable messages. Presentation of letters in a pattern which the recipients could remember would be of great value.
Letters would be written using speech patterns familiar to the audience. This also aids in memory and understanding. Tsang observes that training in memorization was not limited to pre-literate societies but extended through the time of Paul (Tsang 2009, 211). The voice of the author is part of the means of identifying the origin and content of a message.
The Pauline letters, as works intended for public reading, would have expected a great deal of comprehension on the part of the reader. Tsang notes, "The Christian scribes wrote fewer lines to a page with fewer letters to a line and paid stronger attention to breathing marks than in contemporary literature" (Tsang 2009, 212). This suggests a desire that the public reading should be very clear.
Euphonics, or the sound of the words when read, is a very important part of communication for oral reception (Tsang 2009, 213). Tsang particularly notes this as a difficulty in imperial Rome, where there was little uniformity in language use.
Paul's letters contain suggestions that he composed them orally. They also seem to expect to be read aloud in public, such as in 1 Thessalonians 5:27 (Tsang 2009, 215). Public reading is known to be common in contemporary synagogue practice. Paul further tells who he is sending with his letter. This suggests to Tsang that the person who brought the letter was prepared to help with interpretation of its underlying meaning as well. After presentation, it is reasonable to conclude that the letter would be copied for further circulation (Tsang 2009, 216).
Paul's use of repeated sounds, words, and concepts makes his intent to be understood and recognized clear (Tsang 2009, 217). Sound patterns abound in the text of Paul's letters, indicating oral expectations.
Tsang concludes that our interpretation of Paul's letters needs to be sensitive to the oral context of their recipients. This may well have had a strong influence on the way the letters were written and presented (Tsang 2009, 218). Memory was very important, thus the means of guiding a listener through an argument would be critical (Tsang 2009, 219). The rhetorical arrangement must be considered as critically important.