It has long been a premise of Old Testament scholarship that behind much of the biblical material lies an oral literature. Many of the major attempts to reconstruct Israel’s “pre-history” has relied upon the assumption that behind the patriarchal narratives lies material which was originally oral, and transmitted by word of mouth over an extended period of time. It is hardly surprising that Old Testament scholars have turned to the findings of folklore studies in order to understand the nature of oral literature—its composition and transmission.
It has been a century since the pioneers of such an interdisciplinary approach began their work. Since that time, neither biblical nor folklore scholarship has stood still. Many of the conclusions previously arrived at by folklorists have now been either abandoned or considerably modified. It is, therefore, imperative that biblical scholars should not only be aware of contemporary folklore research, but also—in the light of its findings—revise their own theories concerning the possibility of recovering a presumed original oral form of the biblical text.
Old Testament and Folklore Study explores not only the use of folklore studies by biblical scholars of the past, but also the implications of contemporary folklore research for present day theories of the composition and transmission of the patriarchal narratives.
Patricia G. Kirkpatrick is Associate Professor in the Biblical Studies Department of McGill University. She is an expert on oral narrative composition and transmission, folklore, and ancient historiography.