The Serenity Prayer as Case Study of Oral Tradition

Stephen C. Carlson has recently posted a link to a blog post by Benjamin Zimmer of Language Log, discussing the evidence for the date and transmission of the famous “serenity prayer“, best known today (via widespread print dissemination) in this form:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to tell the difference.”

This is a great case study of oral transmission, as Stephen points out. It has even made the news. Those who are interested in oral tradition in early Christianity (and in particular those who have been diablogging about it recently) will want to take a look (and hopefully come back here afterward to talk about it!)

Also on the subject of oral tradition, today I started reading an article that Judy Redman recommended. The article is Robert K. McIver and Marie Carroll, “Distinguishing Characteristics of Orally Transmitted Material When Compared to Material Transmitted by Literary Means,” Applied Cognitive Psychology 18, no. 9 (2004) 1251-1269. The article’s research on the different degrees of verbatim agreement at length between different genres (jokes and poems vs. general storytelling) and different modes of transmission (reproduction without access to texts, with access previously but not at the time, and with continuous access to source texts) is important for the study of the Synoptic problem, early Christianity, and many other topics. Most readers of this blog will be able to get access to the article through EBSCO or some other similar database, via their academic or public libraries. I’d welcome discussion of this article too, if any of you are interested! Spread the word (orally or in writing)!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Over at Ancient Hebrew Poetry, I provide a Hebrew version, and the version of a famous Israeli rapper.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00928552876098168839 Three Ninjas

    Meaningless trivia:The article focuses on Reinhold Neibuhr. One of Reinhold’s descendants is my boss, who has the same last name.The article was written by Ben Zimmer, whose brother Carl is almost single handedly responsible for my current obsession with evolution and biology.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02518043696892409099 TC Robinson

    James, thanks for this tidbit.


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