REVIEW OF ORALITY, LITERACY AND COLONIALISM IN ANTIQUITY, EDITED BY
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AbstractIn the wake of postcolonialism, even thinking about ancient times is inflected with the politics of contemporary place. Many of the writers in this volume, specialists in the New Testament or oral traditions, are very concerned about the possibility of their own ethnocentrism. That this book came out of a colloquium on Southern Africa provides the institutional context for such paranoia, as the presence of local traditions just outside the university walls demands a certain sensitivity to the problems of writing about other cultures. Its companion volume, Literacy, Colonialism and Oral Culture in Southern Africa (Draper, 2003), describes oral appropriations of Christian texts that were first brought to the continent as a part of the colonial project. The complex and delicate power relations at work here have turned in this second volume into a straw man that is paradoxically its very theme, the so-called great divide between the oral and literate. To blur it, to find the oral trace in the text or vice versa, is to counter the spectre of ethnocentrism, whether in the superiority of one&apos;s literate sensibility or, in its obverse guise, the romanticisation of oral traditions. After all, one would rarely live in an exclusively oral or literate society, and this is especially the case in the old Mediterranean, where religions made up of a mixture of both competed with and for the Roman Empire.