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7-10-2015, 03:57

Between the Past and the Present: Autopsy as Orality

In the previous chapter we travelled back to the history before the story, trying to ascertain that the gospel tradition has roots within the experiences of living people and contains indication of a visual means to relate to the past. We did that quite simply by identifying the persons who are likely, according to the texts, to have served as eyewitnesses and informants. It is time to problemize further, to diversify and become more nuanced. We shall now start our journey back to the present, taking into account the various factors involved.

As soon as an observation is verbalized, it leaves in part the domain of past history and relates to the present time of the eyewitness. It still has a retrospective dimension making it into oral history, but it now uses the language and the thoughts of the present currencies of orality. Granted there were people “out there” who did see certain things which they communicated, one needs to distinguish between dijferent ways of practising autopsy depending on how the ancient person related to what happened. We spoke in the previous chapter of direct and indirect autopsy. The former is the kind of autopsy where one can see for oneself, one is one’s own informant, producing one’s own oral history; in the latter case, the historian has to rely on the oral accounts of other eyewitnesses, that is, on oral history as oral testimony or oral tradition. Direct autopsy involves a close connection between the event and its verbalization as oral history; indirect autopsy means that intermediary procedures enter into the process, adding other forms of receiving information to the phenomenon of autopsy.

Is it possible to concretize these different ways of verbalizing the observation? We shall in this chapter leave the eyewitnesses for a moment, discussing instead the media of research and communication that were available to the ancient people, and how they interacted. What is the rela-

Tionship between autopsy and orality? How are we to estimate the literary - not only oral - verbalization of past events? What is the relationship between an oral source and a written source? Questions such as these become important.