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The Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible A richly illustrated account of the story of the Bible written by leading scholars.

Textuality and Orality

In the African context ordinary African interpreters work with a remembered as well as a read Bible. As Itumeleng Mosala reminds us, ordinary Africans, particularly in the African Independent churches, ‘have an oral knowlege of the Bible’. ‘Most of their information about the Bible comes from socialization in the churches themselves as they listen to prayers and sermons.’ This reality, however, does not imply the absence of the Bible as text, for although the Bible as text is not central to the ‘reading’ practices of most ordinary Africans, it does have a presence. Even those who are illiterate have considerable exposure to biblical texts being read. Reflecting on the Kenyan context Ndungu notes that ‘even the illiterate members [of the Akurinu African Independent Church] take pains to master some verses which they readily quote when they give their testimonies’. These same members often carry copies of the Bible so that ‘if need arises they can always request a literate member to read for them’. The remembered Bible and the read Bible reside side by side.

In a recent article, ‘Confessional Western Text-Centred Biblical Interpretation and an Oral or Residual-Oral Context’, Jonathan Draper cautions us not to minimize the complexity of the relationships between literacy and orality. That literacy and the Bible often went hand in hand in the missionary/colonial encounter is common knowledge, and is a much emphasized point in all accounts of transactions between the Africa and the Bible. Draper's research, however, probes more deeply and raises difficult questions. How do textually oriented readers and orally oriented ‘readers’ work together with the Bible? When we ‘read’ the Bible are we dealing with the same thing? What are the prevailing interpretative practices in these respective communities? What implications does textual biblical and theological training have pedagogically for preparing people to minister in predominantly oral communities? Is the path away from orality towards textuality inevitable, and how should we implicate ourselves in this process?

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