Nicholas A. Elder, The Media Matrix of Early Jewish and Christian Literature (Marquette University, 2018)
The Gospel of Mark and Joseph and Aseneth are very different narratives. The former, influenced by the Greco-Roman biographies, details the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of a wandering Galilean. The latter is a Hellenistic Jewish narrative influenced by Jewish novellas and Greek romances. It expands the laconic account of Joseph’s marriage to Aseneth (Genesis 41) into a full-blown love story that promotes the romantic, theological, and ethical incentives of spurning idols and worshipping the Jewish God. Joseph and Aseneth has a feel-good, romantic ending: despite the insidious machinations of the story’s antagonist, Pharaoh’s son, the hero and heroine live happily ever after in marital bliss with Joseph ruling over Egypt for half a century. Mark’s ending, in contrast, is stark. The protagonist, abandoned by his followers, is tortured and dies. He is raised, but his devotees fail to tell anyone about it. Joseph and Aseneth features a female main character, while Mark’s male protagonist is accompanied by a band of mostly male disciples. In short, it appears Mark and Joseph and Aseneth differ as to theology, ideology, content, and, most importantly, genre.
Yet the two narratives also exhibit several remarkable affinities. .
In my dissertation, “The Media Matrix of Early Jewish and Christian Literature,” I argue for the similarities between these heretofore un-compared traditions, and venture an explanation. While there are several possible reasons for the parallels, such as bilingual influence, the education (or lack thereof) of the texts’ authors, or broader literary habits in this context, I argue that the best explanation is that each narrative was initially composed via dictation. They are what I call “textualized oral narratives.”
I approach this thesis with two methods. The first, modern sociolinguistic research, is concerned with the differences between how humans write stories and tell stories orally. With the advent of the tape recorder, linguists could more easily compare directly spoken narrative and written narrative, as in the classic collection of studies, The Pear Stories, published in 1980. A group of linguists commissioned a film that contained no dialogue. They then showed this film to speakers of different languages. After they recorded people narrating the content of the film, they asked them to write down the same content. Comparing the oral and written versions of these narratives and others, sociolinguists organized elements characteristic of oral and written narratives respectively.
In Chapter Two, I employ this sociolinguistic research to establish three linguistic criteria by which to compare Mark and Joseph and Aseneth and argue that they were composed by dictation. The first criterion I establish is concerned with parataxis and simplicity of clauses. Spoken narrative favors connecting words, sentences, and entire episodes with “and” rather than with more complex syntax. The second addresses the repetition that is natural of spoken narrative but not of written narrative. And the third details how speakers employ verbal voice and mood in characteristic ways.
To demonstrate the utility of these criteria I apply them to two personal narratives from the non-literary papyri that we can confidently claim were composed by dictation. These are BGU I.27 and P. Oxy 903. The former is a letter written from a man named Irenaeus to his brother Apollinarius. It briefly details Irenaeus’s travels and present circumstances. The latter is an affidavit by an unnamed wife lodging complaints against her unnamed husband. Both texts are a type that was frequently dictated in antiquity, and internal features in each suggest this is how they were composed.
My second approach to the composition of Mark and Joseph and Aseneth is through ancient media culture and orality theory. I establish two further metalinguistic criteria for evaluating where a given narrative falls on a spectrum of oral to literate. The first of these metalinguistic criteria is concerned with how multiform a tradition is, and the second with intertextuality. In short, oral narratives and folklore tend to exist in a variety of forms and versions, and orally composed texts do not often recall past traditions (textual or otherwise) verbatim, but instead use key words or themes to do so.
With respect to ancient media culture, I situate Mark and Joseph and Aseneth in proximity to the category of hypomnēmata, which I translate as “oral memoirs.” I look to ancient testimony about what made a text an oral memoir and show that this category is one of media. Oral memoirs were liminal things—existing at the borderland between orality and textuality. Significantly, there is a good deal of early historical testimony that claims Mark was composed via dictation and that the narrative was an oral memoir.
In Chapters Three and Four I apply my proposed criteria to Joseph and Aseneth and Mark. Chapter Three argues that Mark and Joseph and Aseneth are similar on three linguistic counts. First, both are paratactically structured and employ the simple connective kai (“and”) at similar rates and in similar ways. Second, they both possess repetitive structures at the levels of words, phrases, ideas, and literary units. While addressing their repetitive structures, I also argue that Joseph and Aseneth possesses several intercalations, a device well studied in Markan interpretation. And third, I show that the narratives employ verbs in similar ways. Specifically, both rely heavily on indicative verbs that are imperfective in aspect.
Chapter Four addresses two metalinguistic correspondences between the texts. First, I argue that they are similarly multiform. Joseph and Aseneth’s multiformity is disclosed in its textual transmission. Most now consider the “original text” of the pseudepigraphon a red herring precisely because it existed as a fixed-yet-fluid tradition. I suggest that this is a result of its existence as an oral tradition before and after its textualization. Mark’s multiformity is attested by its multiple endings and frequency of micro-level textual variants. Second, Mark and Joseph and Aseneth recall antecedent textual traditions similarly. The former is often imprecise and echoic in its recall of Septuagintal traditions. The latter never explicitly cites a Septuagintal text, and there are only two references to writings in the pseudepigraphon. Instead, Joseph and Aseneth recalls texts and traditions from the Septuagint with memorable words, phrases, and scenes. In short, both narratives employ a mnemonic mode of recall characteristic of oral literature.
Finally, in Chapter Five I examine how later authors and editors emended received narratives. Matthew and Luke’s redaction of Mark resembles the way that some later manuscript traditions of Joseph and Aseneth redacts their predecessors, namely by altering features characteristic of oral narrative. That is, these editors attempt to render their predecessors’ style into high literature rather than Koine vernacular.
Taken together, the application of my five criteria to Joseph and Aseneth and Mark and the afterlives of these texts makes the case that there are remarkable similarities between the two narratives, explained by composition via dictation. My research contributes to a growing body of scholarship that takes as axiomatic the claim that understanding the media context of antiquity is an essential task for interpretation. It also opens further avenues for considering how narratives were composed and received in Second Temple Judaism, as well as the relationship between composition and reception. To best understand a text, we ought to consider how it was composed, what kind of text is was, and what sort of reading event it will have made for.
 While I consider Joseph and Aseneth to have first been a Jewish tradition, this is not uncontested. Joseph and Aseneth scholarship has never reached a consensus as to whether the narrative is Jewish or Christian. The case that the narrative was a Christian text has most recently been made by Rivḳa Nir (Joseph and Aseneth: A Christian Book, Hebrew Bible Monographs 42 [Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2012]). Textually, Joseph and Aseneth is a well-attested pseudepigraphon, existing in ninety-one known manuscripts across seven different languages. These manuscripts have been categorized into four groups: a, b, c, d. Debate over which of these groups best represents the eldest tradition of Joseph and Aseneth has centered on groups b and d. Marc Philonenko published the first critical edition of Joseph and Aseneth in 1968 on the basis of the shorter texts in the d group ( Joseph et Aséneth: Introduction, Texte Critique, Traduction, et Notes, StPB 13 [Leiden: Brill, 1968]). The most recent English translation of Philonenko’s reconstruction is David Cook’s “Joseph and Aseneth” in The Apocryphal Old Testament, ed. H. F. D. Sparks (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 473–503. Christoph Burchard has been the strongest proponent of the longer text, and he published his long-awaited critical edition on the basis of the b text group in 2003 (Joseph und Aseneth, PVTG 5 [Leiden: Brill, 2003]). Before the critical edition became available, Burchard translated his preliminary text into English in“Joseph and Aseneth: A New Translation and Introduction,”in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. James H. Charlesworth, vol. 2 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985), and more recently Patricia Ahearne-Kroll has also translated the narrative into English from Burchard’s preferred witnesses (“Joseph and Aseneth,”in Outside the Bible: Ancient Jewish Writings Related to Scripture, ed. Louis H. Feldman, James L. Kugel, and Lawrence H. Schiffman, vol. 3 [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2013], 2525–89).
 “Textualized oral narrative” is a category that I establish in Chapter Two on the basis of modes of composition in antiquity and modern media theory. It refers to narratives that existed as oral traditions that were subsequently transferred into the textual medium via dictation. I do not consider this category exclusive to Mark and Joseph and Aseneth. There are several other narratives from early Judaism and Christianity that might exemplify it as well, including Ruth, Jonah, Judith, 1 Enoch, Tobit, and several of the Apocryphal Acts. I chose to limit my textual sample to the Gospel of Mark and Joseph and Aseneth in order to explore their semblances in greater depth, building on my article “On Transcription and Oral Transmission in Aseneth: A Study of the Narrative’s Conception,” JSJ 47 (2016): 119–42.
 Wallace L. Chafe, ed., The Pear Stories: Cognitive, Cultural, and Linguistic Aspects of Narrative Production, Advances in Discourse Processes 3 (Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1980).
 The Pear Stories established the modus operandi for comparing oral and written narrative that would be followed by later sociolinguists. The following are representative examples of this approach that I reference frequently: Wallace L. Chafe, Discourse, Consciousness, and Time: The Flow and Displacement of Conscious Experience in Speaking and Writing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994); idem, “Linguistic Differences Produced by Differences between Speaking and Writing” in Literacy, Language, and Learning: The Nature and Consequences of Reading and Writing,ed. David R. Olson, Nancy Torrance, and Angela Hildyard (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 105–23; Wallace L. Chafe and Jane Danielwicz, “Properties of Spoken and Written Language,” in Comprehending Oral and Written Language, ed. Rosalind Horowitz and S. Jay Samuels (San Diego: Academic Press, 1987), 83–113; Deborah Tannen, “Oral and Literate Strategies in Spoken and Written Narratives,” Language 58 (1982):1–21; Karen Beaman ,“Coordination and Subordination Revisited: Syntactic Complexity in Spoken and Written Narrative” in Coherence in Spoken and Written Discourse, ed. Deborah Tannen, Advances in Discourse Processes 12 (Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1984), 45–80.
 I make this case largely on the basis of three primary texts: Galen, libr. propr., 8–15, 23; Quintilian, Inst., 1.0.7–8; Lucian, Hist. cons., 16.
 Clement apud Eusebius, HE 2.15.1–2; 6.14.6–7; Eusebius, HE 2.16; Papias apud Eusebius, HE 3.39.15; Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.1.1; the Markan prologue of Hippolytus; Clement’s adumbrationes on 1 Pet 5:13; Origen, De vir. 8; Jerome, Comm. on Matt., Pref.; Tertullian, Adv. Marc. 4.1.1, 2.1–2, 3.4, 5.3–4.
 E.g. Ross S. Kraemer, When Aseneth Met Joseph: A Late Antique Tale of the Biblical Patriarch and His Egyptian Wife, Reconsidered (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 305; Tim Whitmarsh, “Joseph et Aséneth: Erotisme et Religion,” in Les hommes et les dieux dans l’ancien roman: Actes du colloque des Tours, 22–24 octobre 2009, ed. Cécile Bost-Pouderon and Bernard Pouderon (Lyon: Maison de l’Orient et dela Méditerranée – Jean Pouilloux, 2012), 239; Patricia Ahearne-Kroll, “Joseph and Aseneth and Jewish Identity in Greco-Roman Egypt” (PhD diss., University of Chicago, 2005), 71; Angela Standhartinger, “Recent Scholarship on Joseph and Aseneth (1988- 2013),” CurBR 12 (2014): 362–63; Jill Hicks-Keeton, “Rewritten Gentiles: Conversion to Israel’s ‘Living God’ and Jewish Identity in Antiquity” (PhD diss., Duke University, 2014), 110–11.
 For an excellent introduction to the field of biblical media criticism and its essential concepts, see Dictionary of the Bible and Ancient Media, ed. Tom Thatcher, Chris Keith, Raymond F. Person Jr., Elsie R. Stern, and Judith Odor (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017).
Nicholas A. Elder is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Theology at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. He has published on the Gospel of Mark, Joseph and Aseneth, biblical media criticism, and other topics in Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Journal of Biblical Literature, Journal for the Study of Judaism, and Currents in Biblical Research. His dissertation will be published in revised form as The Media Matrix of Early Jewish and Christian Narrative in Bloomsbury T&T Clark’s Library of New Testament Studies.