In this post, I will discuss two time-honored methods of passing memories, histories, and stories to others. The first is oral history. The second is written history. Both of these are gifts from God, in my opinion.
Do you remember *Roots, the television mini-series from the late 80’s? And the sequel, Roots: the Next Generations? Alex Haley knows the family stories of how Kunta Kinte, his ancestor, was captured in Africa as a young man trying to get wood to make a drum, and was taken to America where he was made a slave. Alex knows all the family stories since Kunta Kinte, but nothing before him. As Alex searches for the specific link between his family and Africa, he sits for hours in the Gambian village of Juffure listening to a tribal historian, or griot. Extremely fatigued and nearly asleep, Alex finally hears the story of a young man who went to cut wood to make a drum and disappeared. This is the story! It matches exactly! Alex rejoices and cries, “Kunta Kinte, I found you!” I absolutely love this part of the story.
Alex, being a writer, has already recorded the family history and now adds the newly-found African link. Until Alex, most, if not all, of the family history had been oral, passed from parent to child, grandparent to grandchild, elder to younger. Wonderful. And the Gambian tales, painstakingly memorized and rehearsed from generation to generation by the griots were detailed and accurate. Marvelous.
Did you know that many old cultures in the world have an oral tradition of a world-wide flood? Intriguing.
My Mom told me many wonderful stories of her youth. One person who really stood out in her childhood was her Uncle Charlie. He lived at a nearby farm and was well-known as a person who drove much too quickly. Yet, this was before automobiles were common. You see, Uncle Charlie raced about on his horse wherever he went. The country road which separated the tobacco fields from the farmhouse was hilly and full of ruts. Mom remembers her Uncle galloping his horse which was pulling an old farm wagon along that road when the wagon wheels hit a bump. Uncle Charlie flew backwards into the wagon bed with only his feet sticking up while the horse continued its dash.
Another day, Uncle Charlie was driving past when he saw his brother’s house on fire. The whole family was out visiting, and no one else was around. The dutiful brother dashed to the house, entered, and looked around to see what he could do. He knew there was no phone in the house to call for help. The neighbors were too far away. The fire was spreading rapidly. There were no garden hoses with water pressure like we have today. There wasn’t even running water in this home, just a pump in the yard. There was no one to fill buckets so he could use them to douse the fire. He quickly realized this fire was too big to fight alone. So, Uncle Charlie decided to save some irreplaceable items. Maybe some photos or heirlooms. He frantically darted around. The fire was everywhere. Panic grew. Hurry! Hurry! He made his decision, and rushed from the house. Uncle Charlie had entered the burning home, and had heroically saved an ordinary feather pillow.
Written language has to be one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind. Next to language itself, this extension of language, this ability to preserve thoughts and facts, is astounding. Through the ages some scribes have carved symbols into stone, others have etched in wet clay, while others have stained animal hides. The discovery of papyrus and then paper rendered the process of writing much easier. As a result, we have the stories, musings, opinions, and histories of people who lived hundreds and even thousands of years ago.
Unfortunately, it has not always been easy to protect ancient documents. The world has lost much through wars, fires, floods, and the slow decay of time. Even so, much has been preserved. Please see http://carm.org/manuscript-evidence for a very interesting comparison of ancient manuscripts.
My favorite written documents are the 66 Books of the Bible. We have man’s early history, which may have been taken from the oral histories of Adam and Methuselah, which may have been passed on by Noah and Abraham along with their stories. Eventually, it was all probably recorded by Moses, much as Alex Haley did with his family tree in Roots. However this happened, it had to have been orchestrated and inspired by God. The Pentateuch, or Books of Moses, are too harmonious and profound to have been designed by man or to have been an accident.
We also have the writings of prophets and the chronicles of kings. We have the honest despair and triumphant praises of a man after God’s own heart, and the proverbs of the wisest man who ever lived. We have the foretelling and fulfilling of pivotal events; the most important of which are the extremely detailed prophecies and promises of the Messiah, who was to come and suffer for the sins of the world.
The New Testament books include the recorded history of God walking on earth as a man, Jesus Christ (the Messiah); profoundly beautiful letters to believers in Jesus; and a recorded Revelation about the return and coronation of Jesus.
There is nothing else like the Bible in the entire world. To fully appreciate that these are actually God’s musings, opinions, and accounts of history, is to be stunned and awed. What a breathtaking treasure!!!
The following verses are 2,000 years old. Just think about that! wow.
“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
“So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:19-20)
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
*Alex Haley was sued for plagiarism by Harold Courlander, the author of The African. Haley admitted the deed and settled with Courlander. The plagiarism did not include facts in Haley’s family tree.