1. Cape Town
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    09 Jun '14 16:50
    This was posted by sonship in another thread and I thought it was worthy of its own thread.
    And in a culture where word of mouth tradition was highly prized, it is easy for us to under appreciate how well people committed things to memory. Oral transmition with accuracy was highly prized.

    I often hear this claimed with regards to early Christian Tradition, but it jibes with what I know about the large variation in the various early Christian Traditions.
    There must have been a reason why there were various sects early on, and why books got burned etc

    Does anyone have any actual statistics for how good people in illiterate societies typically were at passing down accounts of events, speeches etc.
    Does anyone have any such information with regards to the Jews at this time?
    I do not wan't links to people specifically trying to argue for the accuracy of the Bible, but more neutral sources.
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    09 Jun '14 18:061 edit
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    This was posted by sonship in another thread and I thought it was worthy of its own thread.
    And in a culture where word of mouth tradition was highly prized, it is easy for us to under appreciate how well people committed things to memory. Oral transmition with accuracy was highly prized.

    I often hear this claimed with regards to early C ...[text shortened]... to people specifically trying to argue for the accuracy of the Bible, but more neutral sources.
    I found a study that concludes that "increases in mandatory schooling lead to improvements in performance on memory tests many decades after school completion." This would tend to go against the idea that illiteracy improves memory accuracy (although it didn't test specifically for illiteracy vs. literacy).

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18477752
  3. Standard membervivify
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    09 Jun '14 18:27
    I've talked to Catholics about this issue, and the response usually includes that God makes sure "his words" are preserved. Not much can be said after that.
  4. Cape Town
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    09 Jun '14 18:39
    Originally posted by vivify
    I've talked to Catholics about this issue, and the response usually includes that God makes sure "his words" are preserved. Not much can be said after that.
    I am fine with that argument, as I am perfectly fine with the claim that it was inspired by God. But it is not the argument I am interested in. I just want to know whether there is any reason to believe societies with low literacy rates were any good at passing on tradition orally, whether they were any better than modern societies at this, and possibly whether societies with no writing whatsoever were any good.
    My own understanding and experience is that oral histories are not particularly accurate and written histories don't always fare much better. Where there has been requirement to preserve knowledge it tends to be encoded into very specific customs. An example I recall is the way a Japanese sword is made. Rather than having the specific times recorded for each procedure, they perform certain rituals which take the required amount of time. And this is a society that did have writing.
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    09 Jun '14 18:401 edit
    I've found more studies, and all the ones I've looked at conclude that literate people have better memories than illiterate people.

    See:
    Literacy Versus Formal Schooling: Influence on Working Memory
    http://acn.oxfordjournals.org/content/26/7/575.full.pdf+html

    This paper has citations of several other papers related to the topic, a few of which I briefly looked at. It concludes that "illiterate groups performed more poorly than the literate groups on all measures except the 'Spatial Span' forward condition and 'Remembering a New Route.' Our results suggest that differences in working memory performance among literate and illiterate individuals can be attributed to literacy per se. Formal schooling, however, appears to enhance working memory skills.
  6. Standard memberDeepThought
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    09 Jun '14 19:05
    Originally posted by PatNovak
    I've found more studies, and all the ones I've looked at conclude that literate people have better memories than illiterate people.

    See:
    Literacy Versus Formal Schooling: Influence on Working Memory
    http://acn.oxfordjournals.org/content/26/7/575.full.pdf+html

    This paper has citations of several other papers related to the topic, a few of which I bri ...[text shortened]... ributed to literacy per se. Formal schooling, however, appears to enhance working memory skills.
    I think that there may be a problem with what you are saying: illiterate in the modern world means badly educated and probably involves neglect (which does affect mental agility). In the ancient world, in cultures without writing, that isn't necessarily the case. It is just that their education wouldn't have involved writing. So the various stories that, for example, the Germanic Pagans had before they acquired writing may have been passed on from generation to generation with a fairly high degree of precision. But details that to us seem important, would have been less important to them, so things like numbers move towards numerologically significant figures and so forth.

    According to a Wikipedia article I read a while ago the Old Testament was first written down around 500BC and has changed since then, with copying and re-copying and a little editing from those with a political agenda, so I don't really think a written account is necessarily a more precise account of the original story.

    Do any of the studies you have found compare modern peoples who do not have writing, such as Amazonian tribes, with literate peoples?
  7. Territories Unknown
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    09 Jun '14 19:13
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    This was posted by sonship in another thread and I thought it was worthy of its own thread.
    And in a culture where word of mouth tradition was highly prized, it is easy for us to under appreciate how well people committed things to memory. Oral transmition with accuracy was highly prized.

    I often hear this claimed with regards to early C ...[text shortened]... to people specifically trying to argue for the accuracy of the Bible, but more neutral sources.
    Whatever "neutral sources" you might find, what must be considered are the overall results: the Bible's accuracy has been routinely verified with virtually every literary find.
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    09 Jun '14 19:30
    Originally posted by DeepThought
    I think that there may be a problem with what you are saying: illiterate in the modern world means badly educated and probably involves neglect (which does affect mental agility). In the ancient world, in cultures without writing, that isn't necessarily the case. It is just that their education wouldn't have involved writing. So the various stories th ...[text shortened]... compare modern peoples who do not have writing, such as Amazonian tribes, with literate peoples?
    I agree it isn't a perfect comparison. The study mentioned above (Literacy Versus Formal Schooling: Influence on Working Memory) seemed to be specifically trying to figure out how much memory was directly related to literacy, as opposed to schooling. There was one study that tested elderly people in Brazil (Performance of illiterate and literate nondemented elderly subjects in two tests of long-term memory http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15327741). I think this was in part to try to find a population with a high built-in illiteracy rate.

    I actually thought the OP was interesting because I really didn't have a guess as to which group would have better memories.

    I think it might be tough to test illiterate vs. literate societies, because there would be so many factors other than literacy influencing the results.
  9. Cape Town
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    09 Jun '14 19:33
    Originally posted by FreakyKBH
    Whatever "neutral sources" you might find, what must be considered are the overall results: the Bible's accuracy has been routinely verified with virtually every literary find.
    The 'overall results' you refer to are totally irrelevant as you seem to have missed the point entirely. I am not asking discussing whether written versions of the Bible were accurately copied. I am not even discussing whether the Bible is accurate or not. I am discussing the claim that oral tradition was likely to have been accurately passed down because the society was not literate, and also to get a general feel for how accurate such oral traditions typically are.
  10. Territories Unknown
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    09 Jun '14 19:57
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    The 'overall results' you refer to are totally irrelevant as you seem to have missed the point entirely. I am not asking discussing whether written versions of the Bible were accurately copied. I am not even discussing whether the Bible is accurate or not. I am discussing the claim that oral tradition was likely to have been accurately passed down because ...[text shortened]... ot literate, and also to get a general feel for how accurate such oral traditions typically are.
    Prior to the Bible being written down, how do you imagine it was passed through the generations if not orally?
    Kinda the point, right?
    If it wasn't passed on accurately while oral, it doesn't really matter how accurate the written word was, right?

    Or were you speaking strictly from a generic, sociological standpoint with no bearing on spiritual matters?
    On a spirituality forum.

    🙄
  11. Standard memberDeepThought
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    09 Jun '14 20:00
    Originally posted by PatNovak
    I agree it isn't a perfect comparison. The study mentioned above (Literacy Versus Formal Schooling: Influence on Working Memory) seemed to be specifically trying to figure out how much memory was directly related to literacy, as opposed to schooling. There was one study that tested elderly people in Brazil (Performance of illiterate and literate nondemented ...[text shortened]... e societies, because there would be so many factors other than literacy influencing the results.
    I looked at the two studies you referenced. The additional caution I'd make is that they have very small group sizes. On the other hand the write ups are good, and they seem to have followed the protocols for these things - the various tests they used seem to me to avoid any obvious bias in the test methods in favour of the literate groups.

    The purpose of the Brazilian study was to identify a cognition test which was unaffected by the level of literacy of a patient when assessing them for dementia. Which is a very good idea.

    I certainly agree with you that it would be difficult to find viable groups from non-literate societies. I think it is worth noting that the illiterate groups tended to do well on route finding problems, although it's unclear what conclusions one can draw from that.
  12. Cape Town
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    09 Jun '14 20:10
    Originally posted by FreakyKBH
    Prior to the Bible being written down, how do you imagine it was passed through the generations if not orally?
    The Bible is a collection of books. Which books are you referring to?
    I personally believe many of the books, or at least much of their content originated as written documents. I suspect even you would not dispute that much of Paul's letters were so ie you believe he wrote them himself rather than the tradition of what he wrote being passed down orally.

    If it wasn't passed on accurately while oral, it doesn't really matter how accurate the written word was, right?
    We can't confirm how accurately it was passed on orally by looking at older written documents can we? Your post clearly stated that discovery of earlier written documents confirmed the accuracy of later written documents. Clearly this only confirms (if true) the accuracy of copying written documents and tells us nothing whatsoever of oral transfer.

    Or were you speaking strictly from a generic, sociological standpoint with no bearing on spiritual matters?
    I was mostly interested in the generic, sociological standpoint. It is a claim I have heard made before and I wondered if there was any truth to it.

    On a spirituality forum.
    If you want it taken to science, you may alert the moderators and see if they concur. Or you may simply ignore it.
  13. SubscriberProper Knob
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    09 Jun '14 20:32
    Originally posted by FreakyKBH
    Whatever "neutral sources" you might find, what must be considered are the overall results: the Bible's accuracy has been routinely verified with virtually every literary find.
    Virtually being the operative word, the Census of Quirinius does throw a spanner in the works.
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    09 Jun '14 21:23
    Originally posted by Proper Knob
    Virtually being the operative word, the Census of Quirinius does throw a spanner in the works.
    Hardly! this has been explained to you before with reference!
  15. Standard memberDeepThought
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    09 Jun '14 21:38
    Originally posted by robbie carrobie
    Hardly! this has been explained to you before with reference!
    But not to me. I've just spent ten minutes reading the Wikipedia article on the Census. Proper Knob is right. The Gospel of St. Luke cannot be historically accurate.

    I don't think it is particularly relevant to this thread though, since everyone involved had writing by then. At the time the first surviving Gospel, Mark's, was written down there were still people around who could claim to be eye-witnesses. So the New Testament does not count as an oral tradition, since it did not have to be passed down generations without writing. The bits of the bible we are interested in are those parts of the Old Testament which pre-date its writing in 500 B.C..
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