Three recent approaches to historical Jesus studies are assessed in this article. First, the use of memory studies as a means of validating the historical authenticity of Gospel traditions. Secondly, claims that Gospel traditions should be understood as primarily reaching the evangelists orally, and that this process provides greater confidence in the historicity of such traditions. Thirdly, the Fourth Gospel is seen in some quarters as an important source in historical Jesus research based upon new paradigms and radical redefinitions of historicity. Contrary to such claims, here it is argued that for a series of different reasons that none of these methods offers any significant advance in accessing the ‘historical Jesus’, as that term is usually understood. This is not to say that the methods are without value. Rather, it is the over-confident application of such approaches to the ‘historical Jesus question’ that is critiqued. This is especially the case when it is claimed that they provide a key methodological break-through, enabling reclamation of more Gospel traditions as being securely founded in the ministry of the historical Jesus.
See B. Schwartz‘Collective Memory and Social Change: The Democratization of George Washington’American Sociology Review56 (1992): 221-36; M. Schudson Watergate in American Memory: How We Remember Forget and Reconstruct the Past (New York: Basic Books 1992).
J. Griffin (ed.)Illiad Book Nine (Oxford: Clarendon Press1995) esp. pp. 32-35. Griffin does not reject the theory of oral composition of the Homeric epics but he does re-envision the mechanisms of oral composition. Although his more nuanced perspectives have begun to predominate in Homeric scholarship they have not had an impact on the field of New Testament studies. Those who advocate orality as the means for understanding the transmission of Gospel traditions remain locked into the Parry–Lord paradigm. See also the earlier preliminary comments of A. Hoekstra Homeric Modifications of Formulaic Prototypes (Amsterdam: North Holland 1965).