Oral Traditions Convey Information for 10,000 Years

Found this article fascinating…

Or, at least, my story is that I found it so; now that I’ve written that down, the doubting can begin in earnest… ; )


This is amazing and a must read for everyone. @deuteroKJ @jongarvey @AJRoberts @Andrew_Loke


Hahahaha!! Very nice!

1 Like

It doesn’t, of course, tell us that all old stories are true. But it does tell us that we can’t assume they are not, and need to look at why and by whom stories are told and preserved, and so on.

It also reminds us that “history” (in the sense of important events from the past) has always been important. I was struck by that yesterday when reading an article about the excavation of what may be the biblical Sodom, to which someone replied, “Of course, it doesn’t matter whether the story is true or not.”

That kind of abstraction of biblical faith from history continues up to and including Jesus himself - “Christianity is just as true whether or not Jesus existed or rose from the dead.” Not to mention Adam, of course.

But “abstract religion,” presumably about some kind of platonic universal truths rather than the down-and-dirty world, is of interest to a very restricted set of people. The difference between the God who was active through the risen Jesus and the gods who weren’t was of crucial importance to those who responded to the preaching of Paul in Acts.


This is, at least obliquely, a critique upon the direction that the “official” BioLogos attitude was vectoring towards, and why it was the wrong “solution” to the problems related to interpreting the English translations of the biblical stories from their ancient Hebrew versions. Their skepticism was overcoming good literary and linguistic sense.
My two cents.

1 Like


Yes. Events in history have a stubbornness which supposed “universal truths” do not.

Take the arguments over Bible infallibility (not to quibble over definitions here): it’s cool to say that our faith doesn’t depend on the existence of Adam, or Abraham, or David, or the Exodus, etc, etc… but is centred on JESUS.

Then, however, Jesus is a kenotic Jesus who, being human, made an indeterminate number of errors about mustard seeds … but maybe also, as a first century Jew, about marriage and divorce, divine judgement and who knows what else.

And the errors that he avoided were subsequently introduced by apostles writing kenotic Scripture, so that maybe they translated his resurrection from their own religious experiences, made up his teachings to suit their “circles” and, of course, as (almost) white males imposed a patriarchal and cis-normative gloss on the whole text which the divine Jesus (at least prior to his kenotic incarnation) would certainly not have endorsed.

So the Jesus of history cannot be found, even if he mattered, and the Jesus of faith can end up looking uncannily like an American academic schooled in French postmodernism. Just as, in the nineteenth century, he looked astonishly like Kant.


And such rings the death knell on any postmodern exegesis of “christianity,” because those views are completely unsustainable, and cannot support a robust faith.
This gets at a little appreciated aspect of the development of the written gospels and other materials which became the New Testament canon.
As long as there were eyewitnesses alive and able to relate firsthand experiences, the church devoted itself to learning from them directly. As the decades began to wear on, it was only then that the need to preserve the oral stories in written form began to emerge as a priority.
Even though that concern for firsthand integrity caused a hesitancy in assembling authoritative written accounts, the speed with which the written New Testament records were recorded and disseminated throughout the churches was crisp, by historical standards, and so the charges of legendary literary accrual and zeitgeist coloring of the accounts can be largely dismissed.
It is fascinating to note how quickly on the heels of the death of the apostles that the first gnostic misappropriations and literary fabrications appeared.
Everybody wanted in on a good thing, as long as it could be turned into a sterile gnosis, rather than remain a faith that required real world sacrifices and commitment.
My, how much things remain the same in the midst of all the change!


Relatively short term time frame here, but I read pretty recently about the Northwest Coast Indians and their stories of a major earthquake in the Seattle area around 1700 or so. That another major earthquake there in the near term is a strong possibility wasn’t recognized scientifically until recently, and building codes hadn’t provided for adequate protection.


Fascinating article. And I too believe oral stories may be remarkably well preserved over millennia and reflect real events.

Nevertheless, the article prompted as many questions as answers. For example, how do we know that the following explanation wasn’t equally plausible for the origin of such oral traditions:

A tribe finds well-preserved fossil remains of mihirung paringmal. They find them morphologically similar to living birds of their own day, only much larger. Eventually the fossil bones are divided up among the hunters who found them and they become treasured keepsakes passed down from generation to generation. Eventually, some grandfather tells his grandson, “Birds used to be much larger. My father often told me of how his grandfather used to hunt such giant girds. He described to me the dangers and hunting tactics. And just one of those huge birds had enough meat to feed a village like ours for a week. Those were the days!”

Even in recent generations of my own family I’ve been surprised how quickly major details of my great grandfather’s history (for example) got conflated with scrambled retellings of what actually happened to his father when migrating to the western frontier. (I have a cousin who resists my corrections of the stories he has treasured all his life, even when I cited written sources. I don’t blame him. I kind of “popped his balloon” which had been passed down by his late mother ever since he was very young. Neither he nor she were lying. They just got the facts mixed up.)

I’m not denying that some cultures may faithfully preserve historical event-based stories over many centuries. Yet how do we know when they’ve been greatly amended, exaggerated, conflated, padded, simplified, etc.?

Of course, the main point of the article is in the title: those ancient stories could be more fact than fiction—and I certainly agree with that. Yet, they could also be plagued by lots of gradually introduced fiction. How can we determine how much was historical fact?

As I’ve stated in the past, I believe European and Asian stories of fights with enormous flying dragons may have their roots in ancient peoples unearthing dinosaur fossils. Do the gargoyles decorating ancient European cathedrals represent “artists reconstructions” based on protoceratops fossils? Could such dinosaurs explain the stories of griffins in the Gobi desert?

How do we separate myths of heroic deads from what actually happened?

After all, our society knows that dinosaurs didn’t live alongside humans but that doesn’t stop us from producing classic films like One Millions Years B.C. and the The Flintstones cartoon----and the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter garden of Eden exhibit with Dino, Adam’s & Eve’s family pet. Those have become our stories.



A related issue --the ephemerality of older human civilizations, here:


Very interesting. I’m seeing more commentators making comparisons of the fate of Easter Island and our failure to respond effectively to climate change. We would do well to consider the factors which led to the inevitable decline of so many civilizations.

1 Like