Joy (cithra) wrote,

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observations on the accretion of scripture

A possible path (in my unhumble opinion) for the solidification of guidelines into sacred writings:

1. A group of people forms for some purpose (worship, sobriety). They practice this purpose with varying success and failure, relying on their intuition and empirical results for guidance.
2. After a period of trial and error, these 'founders' decide to write down some notes about what has worked and what hasn't; guidelines to help future members avoid making the same mistakes or reinventing the wheel. New members add their insights regularly to the notes.
3. A while later, someone organizes the notes into a book, for ease of use/to preserve well-worn originals from further deterioration/to distribute to a broadened population in the process of spawning new/sub-groups. Adding new information/notes becomes more difficult, but not impossible.
4. A while later, when the original members of the group are no longer around for consultation, people begin to rely more and more on the book for guidance when they are uncertain (vs. personal experiences with the book as supplemental info). Reluctance to add new notes to book solidifies into the creation of a definitive edition of the Text.
5. As time passes, the Text begins to take on an aspect of inviolability and sacredness. New notes are usually made on how to interpret the Text instead of additions to the Text proper. The Text is regularly cited as the foundation of the group, as though the purpose of the founders getting together was to produce the Text for posterity, instead of the composition of the Text being a byproduct of the group's original function. Questions are nigh-universally referred to the Text regardless of whether the Text actually specifically addresses the question.
6. Text becomes "closed," any further notes/additions/possible changes and commentary are treated as ancillary. In addition, emphasis begins to be placed on sticking with 'approved' literature in support of group purpose or activity. Some body within the group is established or charged with maintaining purity of the Text and providing the stamp of approval for new literature/analyses/notes. Original authors of the Text begin to be credited with especial 'inspiration' or giftedness of insight compared to current group members.
7. Text begins to be interpreted largely devoid of context. Group members struggling to find meaning in the Text are instructed to fit their lives to the Text's instructions (rather than listening to their intuition or regarding the Text as truly suggestive). Text becomes focus of group; the Text and group membership spoken of as the only way of accomplishing original group purpose - the One True Way/Church/Path/etc.

At step 6 the original notes have essentially become codified into something like scripture, embodying the group's traditions and purpose in a manner not necessarily intended by its originators. Step 7 is well on the way to developing a formalized hierarchy of leadership and the consolidation of power (such as it is) into an oligarchy of some type.
Tags: aa, anthropology, books, politics, words

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