Beyond the Written Word: Oral Aspects of Scripture in the History of Religion

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The concept of 'scripture' as written religious text is re-examined in this close analysis of the traditions of oral use of the sacred writings of religions around the world. Pointing out the central importance of the oral and aural experience of religious texts in the life of religious communities of both Eastern and Western cultures, William Graham asserts the need for a new perspective on how scripture has been appropriated and used by the vast majority of all people who have been religious, most of whom could neither read nor write. Graham first probes the history of literacy, focusing on the prominent role of the written word in modern Western culture and its history in Western civilisation. He then considers the unique case of scripture, examining the problems of communication of texts to illiterate or semi-literate religious communities, the various oral uses of scripture, and affective impact of the spoken holy word vis-a-vis the silently written page.