First, the question (slightly edited):
I just finished reading your Guide on Oral Tradition & the NT and came away with mixed feelings. While I was looking for a more general, less polemic introduction to the field, I think your exposition of the contextual approach was very well thought-out and definitely helped clarify the way I think about media in the ancient world. Also, as the kind of person who can easily get carried away with social theory, I appreciated your reminders that written texts are all we have to work with.And second, my response (again, slightly edited):
However, I came away disappointed because none of your four examples of media criticism at the end of your book seemed to really demonstrate the power or necessity of a media critical approach. Your interpretations were convincing or at least intriguing, but they still relied entirely on textual referents and interconnections. It seemed like your approach was leading you to think "outside the box" and approach these texts in a different way from other scholars, but it was unclear to me how media crit, specifically, led to those conclusions, rather than just casting a wider net of potential textual references. What am I missing?
Thank you for your message. You actually raise the one issue (well, perhaps there are two) with my book that readers have conveyed to me. How does media criticism, as a method, affect textual exegesis and/or historical reconstruction? We can see, at the level of method, how redaction criticism handles texts differently from, say, form criticism. But how does media criticism affect the interpretive or analytical procedure? It really is a great question.
The problem, for me, is that I don't think media criticism is a method, necessarily, as much as it is a shift in perspective. In other word, how I read texts might not be that different from a media-critical perspective, but the assumptions that I bring to the texts will certainly be different. So, for example, my discussion of ekballō ["cast out"] in Mark 1.12 did not try to explain the Markan text with reference to other textual artifacts (i.e., specific passages from Exodus, or even Exodus as a whole) but rather by placing Mark, as a tradent within the Jesus tradition—which itself was situated within Israelite tradition—in a larger cultural and traditional context and examining how he used language to take advantage of communicative potential afforded him by his community's (broadly conceived) experience with the tradition. In other words, I privileged the question of how Mark's text functioned as a vehicle of meaning between the author/performer and his readers/hearers. This is distinct from the question of traditional philological questions about the meaning(s) of words, phrases, syntactical structures, etc. My approach focuses on questions of production, performance, and reception, and tries to see how the text arises from the communicative exchanges between author/performer and readers/hearers. So I'm not so much "casting a wider net of potential textual references" as I am trying to cast a wider net of potential cultural (or traditional) references.
I think issues of text and performance, of tradition and culture are terribly exciting. Perhaps my little book was polemical; I didn't intend it to be, but I also did not hesitate from advocating for a particular vision of the future of media criticism. I admit to thinking that many of the voices in this field are using terms too loosely and/or looking for things that don't exist (e.g., remnants of "orality" in written texts), and I think scholars looking in from outside of media criticism see that and so avoid taking an interest in a field that should interest them. So if I can be a part of setting the media-critical discussion on firmer and more fruitful paths (I'm probably mixing metaphors here) and thereby expand its impact among biblical scholars, I will be thrilled.