Autor: Grant Lovejoy
When I talk about orally passing Bible stories from one person to another, someone frequently asks me, “Won’t people garble the mesage in the process, like in the ‘gossip’ party game?”
That game, sometimes called the “telephone game,” involves multiple people sitting in a circle. The first player whispers a sentence into the ear of the player seated to the right. That player whispers what he thinks he heard into the ear of the next person on the right, and so forth around the circle. The last person then says aloud the sentence that he or she heard and the first person tells what the original sentence was. The result is often comical because the message got so badly garbled in its trip around the circle.
If this were the model of oral transmission we used in Bible storying, I’d be among the first to panic. It’s a terrible model. In fact, whoever devised the game wanted to create maximum misunderstanding. Just consider the rules. Each player must whisper the sentence so that only the player immediately on the right can hear it. He can whisper it only once. The listener cannot repeat the message back to the sender for confirmation. No subsequent player can ask the first player to say it again.
I’ve also known some sneaky gossip game players who deliberately started the game with ambiguous statements. Others have slurred their speech when whispering into the next player’s ear. They have gone out of their way to make sure that the saying got scrambled. After all, what’s the fun if the message goes safely around the circle and comes out intact?
In passing biblical stories from person to person orally, we use a process that is completely different. For example, we try to pass the stories from one person to a group. We tell the stories aloud so that everyone can hear the same story at the same time. We use ample discussion to make sure people have understood it correctly. We take turns telling the story in pairs or threesomes, where people can correct each other. Then we practice it in the larger group, often telling it multiple times. After each telling, we ask, “Was anything left out? Was anything added to the story? Was anything changed?” The group points out any mistakes so they can be corrected in subsequent tellings We try to end each meeting with an accurate telling, so people go away with it foremost in their memories. In this way we create a pattern of oral transmission that includes group correction of any individual’s telling. The story belongs to God and his people.
Some groups also dramatize the story or put it into a song and sing it, reinforcing it in everyone’s memory. Where possible, we also prepare audio recordings of an accurate retelling and circulate them, too, as a memory refresher. Finally, of course, the written version in Scripture is the ultimate plumb line for evaluating a told story.
Though we rejoice that biblical stories can flow through a community as rapidly as gossip often does, the gossip game is definitely not our model of oral transmission.