Wednesday, 27 July 2016
The Excarnation of Tradition
Religion and Cultural Memory (tr. Rodney Livingstone),
Jan Assmann, Stanford University Press, 2006, page 68-70
This is the second of Jan Assmann's Five Stimuli to Canonisation: the excarnation of tradition. Assmann suggests that this follows the first step directly, but is not actually connected with it. He dates it during the Babylonian captivity.u
If we make use here of the concept of "excarnation" ... and apply it to tradition, we shall understand tradition as the lived knowledge that is embodied in living subjects and that is passed on in active association with others, through teaching and, above all, through a non-verbal process of showing and imitating, a form of knowledge that is largely self-evident and that has become unconscious and implicit.
Assmann argues that it takes a break in the oral traition, an absence of showing and imitating, to cause the unconscious and implicit knowledge to be recalled and committed to writing. New texts emerge and existing texts grow inthe normative authority.
Where the contact with living models is broken, people turn to the texts in their search for guidance.
The Babylonian captivity and exile removed the models previously taken for granted. Writing and study become the only way to develop normative behaviour because there was no-one from whom to learn it orally or by living.
That implied "ecarnation" of the tradition, in the sense that a previously implicit body of nowledge was now codified and made explicit.
The book of Deuteronomy, Assmann points out, puts great store on being able to re-incarnate the written knowledge:
The words of Torah shall "not depart from your mouthm but you shall meditate upon them day and night," they shall "be upon your heart," "you shall teach them diligently to your children," and "talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way."