The Problem of Selectivity in Memory Research: A Response to Zeba Crook

in Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus
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Zeba Crook argues that there is an emerging consensus that the Gospels are reliable historical narratives by those to have applied ‘memory’ theories to historical Jesus research. Crook argues that this emerging consensus betrays a selective reading of research done on ‘memory distortion’ in interdisciplinary study. This essay demonstrates that Crook misunderstands and misrepresents social memory theory both in and outside Jesus studies. A better understanding would have properly represented the spectrum from theoretical ‘presentism’ to ‘continuitism’ in memory applications/adaptations.

  • 1)

    Crook this issue pp. 61-62; emphasis mine.

  • 2)

    He relies heavily on R. CarterMapping the Mind (Berkeley: University of California Press1988) esp. p. 167; Eric Hobsbawm ‘Introduction: Inventing Traditions’ in Eric Hobsbawm and Terrence Ranger (eds.) The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1983) pp. 1-14; Elizabeth F. Loftus ‘The Reality of Repressed Memories’ American Psychologist 48 (1993) pp. 518-37 esp. p. 524.

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  • 5)

    Terence MournetOral Tradition and Literary Dependency: Variability and Stability in the Synoptic Tradition and Q (WUNT, 2/195; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck2005).

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  • 6)

    James D.G. DunnJesus Remembered; Christianity in the Making Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans2003) avoids social memory theory altogether. Since it was not his intention to interact with this literature I am not sure that he can be criticized for ‘cherry-picking’. This general omission has been to Dunn’s detriment as I have discussed elsewhere. See however James D.G. Dunn ‘John’s Gospel and the Oral Gospel Tradition’ in Anthony Le Donne and Tom Thatcher (eds.) The Fourth Gospel in First-Century Media Culture (European Studies of Christian Origins; LNTS 426; London: T&T Clark 2011) pp. 157-85.

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  • 8)

    Anthony Le DonneHistorical Jesus: What Can We Know and How Can We Know It? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans2011). This book was written for readers who have no background in academic research. That he ignores my major monograph on the subject is quite odd; I will discuss this more below.

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  • 10)

    J. Schröter‘The Historical Jesus and the Sayings Tradition: Comments on Current Research’Neot. 30.1 (1996) pp. 151-68; Erinnerung an Jesu Worte: Studien zur Rezeption der Logienüberlieferung in Markus Q und Thomas (WMANT 76; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag 1997); ‘Die Frage nach dem historischen Jesus und der Charakter historischer Erkenntnis’ in A. Lindemann (ed.) The Sayings Source Q and the Historical Jesus (Leuven: Leuven University Press 2001) pp. 228-33; ‘Von der Historizität der Evangelien: Ein Beitrag zur gegenwärtigen Diskussion um den historischen Jesus’ in J. Schröter and R. Brucher (eds.) Der historische Jesus: Tendenzen und Perspektiven der gegenwärtigen Forschung (BZNW 114; Berlin: de Gruyter 2002) pp. 163-212. I consider the last of these to mark a decisive shift in the field of historical Jesus research.

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  • 13)

     Cf. Yael ZerubavelRecovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press1995).

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  • 16)

    Anthony Le DonneThe Historiographical Jesus: Memory Typology and the Son of David (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press2009).

  • 18)

    Crook this issue p. 64.

  • 20)

    Barbie Zelizer‘Reading the Past against the Grain: The Shape of Memory Studies’Critical Studies in Mass Media 12 (1995) pp. 214-39; Schwartz ‘Medium’ pp. 225-26; my thanks to Chris Keith for his help in locating this essay.

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  • 21)

     Cf. also Nachman Ben-YehudaThe Masada Myth: Collective Memory and Mythmaking in Israel (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press1995) p. 22.

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  • 22)

    Zelizer‘Reading’ p. 227.

  • 23)

    Pierre Nora‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de mémoire’Representations 26 (1989) pp. 7-25 esp. pp. 8-9.

  • 26)

    Zelizer‘Reading’ p. 227.

  • 28)

     Cf. Schwartz‘What Difference’ pp. 225-26.

  • 29)

    KeithLiteracy p. 58.

  • 32)

     Cf. Richard BauckhamJesus and the Eye Witnesses (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans2006); Markus Bockmuehl Seeing the Word: Refocusing New Testament Study STI (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Academic 2006) pp. 176-77; James D.G. Dunn ‘Social Memory and the Oral Jesus Tradition’ in L.T. Stuckenbruck S.C. Barton and B.G. Wold (eds.) Memory and Remembrance in the Bible and Antiquity (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2007); Robert K. McIver Memory Jesus and the Synoptic Gospels (Atlanta GA: Society of Biblical Literature 2011); Thomas Söding Die Verkündigung Jesu—Ereignis und Erinnerung (Freiburg: Herder 2011); Alan Kirk ‘Memory’ in Werner H. Kelber and Samuel Byrskog (eds.) Jesus in Memory: Traditions in Oral and Scribal Perspectives (Waco TX: Baylor University Press 2009) pp. 155-72.

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  • 33)

     Cf. Dale C. Allison Jr.Constructing Jesus: Memory Imagination and History (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic2010); April DeConick ‘Reading the Gospel of Thomas as a Repository for Early Christian Communal Memory’ in Alan Kirk and Tom Thatcher (eds.) Memory Tradition and Text: Uses of the Past in Early Christianity (Leiden: Brill 2005) pp. 207-220; Richard Horsley ‘Prominent Patterns in the Social Memory of Jesus and Friends’ in ibid. pp. 57-78; Chris Keith ‘Memory and Authenticity: Jesus Tradition and What Really Happened’ Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche 102.2 (2011) pp. 155-77; idem ‘The Fall of the Quest for an Authentic Jesus: Concluding Remarks’ in Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne (eds.) Jesus Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity (London: T&T Clark 2012) pp. 200-205; Michael Moxter ‘Erzählung und Ereignis: Über den Spielraum historischer Repräsentation’ in J. Schröter and R. Brucher (eds.) Der historische Jesus: Tendenzen und Perspektiven der gegenwärtigen Forschung (BZNW 114; Berlin: de Gruyter 2002) pp. 78-87.

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  • 35)

    Keith‘Memory and Authenticity’ pp. 173-77; cf. Le Donne The Historiographical Jesus pp. 81-85; 266-68.

  • 36)

    RodríguezStructuring p. 213.

  • 37)

    John S. Kloppenborg‘Memory, Performance, and the Sayings of Jesus’Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 10 (2012) pp. 97-132; Judith C.S. Redman ‘How Accurate are Eyewitnesses? Bauckham and the Eyewitnesses in Light of Psychological Research’ Journal of Biblical Literature 129 (2010) pp. 177-97.

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  • 38)

    Crook this issue p. 58.

  • 39)

    Crook this issue p. 58 n. 17.

  • 40)

    In addition to Tom ThatcherWhy John Wrote a Gospel: Jesus—Memory—History (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox2006) and Anthony Le Donne and Tom Thatcher The Fourth Gospel in First-Century Media Culture (London: T&T Clark 2011) see also Tom Thatcher The Riddles of Jesus in John: A Study in Tradition and Folklore (SBL Monograph Series; Atlanta GA: Scholars Press 2000); ‘Why John Wrote a Gospel: Memory and Diversity in an Early Christian Community’ in Alan Kirk and Tom Thatcher (eds.) Memory Tradition and Text: Uses of the Past in Early Christianity (Semeia Studies; Atlanta GA: Society of Biblical Literature 2005) pp. 79-98; Jesus the Riddler: The Power of Ambiguity in the Gospels (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox 2006); ‘John’s Memory Theater: The Fourth Gospel and Ancient Mnemo-Rhetoric’ Catholic Biblical Quarterly 69 (2007) pp. 487-507; Greater than Caesar: Christology and Empire in the Gospel of John (Minneapolis: Fortress 2009); ‘Aspects of Historicity in the Fourth Gospel: Phase Two of the John Jesus and History Project’ in Paul Anderson Felix Just and Tom Thatcher (eds.) John Jesus and History Vol. 2: Aspects of Historicity in the Gospel of John (SBL Symposium Series; Atlanta GA: Society of Biblical Literature 2009) pp. 1-8; ‘Cain and Abel in Early Christian Memory: A Case Study in “The Use of the Old Testament in the New”’ Catholic Biblical Quarterly 72 (2010) pp. 732-51; ‘Riddles Repetitions and the Literary Unity of the Johannine Discourses’ in Gilbert Van Belle Michael Labahn and Petrus Maritz Repetitions and Variations in the Fourth Gospel: Style Text Interpretation (BETL 223; Leuven: Peeters 2010) pp. 357-77; ‘John and Judaism: Recent Research and Open Questions’ in Dario Garriba and Annalisa Guida (eds.) Giovanni e il Giudaismo: Luoghi Tempi Protagonisti (Hoi Christianoi 11; Naples: Pozzo di Giacobbe 2010) pp. 13-38; ‘Riddles Wit and Wisdom’ in Tom Holmén and Stanley Porter (eds.) The Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus vol. 4 (Leiden: Brill 2011) pp. 3349-72; ‘Cain the Jew the AntiChrist: Collective Memory and the Johannine Ethic of Loving and Hating’ in Jan van der Watt and Ruben Zimmermann (eds.) Rethinking the Ethics of John: Context and Norms of New Testament Ethics vol. 3 (WUNT 291; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2012) pp. 350-74; Chris Keith and Tom Thatcher ‘The Scar of the Cross: The Violence Ratio and the Earliest Christian Memories of Jesus’ in Tom Thatcher (ed.) Jesus the Voice and the Text: Beyond the Oral and the Written Gospel (Waco TX: Baylor University Press 2008) pp. 197-214.

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  • 44)

    Crook this issue p. 69 n. 61.

  • 45)

    AllisonConstructing Jesus p. 1.

  • 47)

    AllisonConstructing Jesus pp. 442-43.

  • 49)

    Le DonneHistorical Jesus p. 67; this is a point that I make with greater definition in my The Historiographical Jesus.

  • 52)

    Crook this issue p. 63.

  • 54)

    Le DonneThe Historiographical Jesus p. 84.

  • 56)

    Crook this issue p. 69.

  • 60)

    David C. RubinRemembering Our Past: Studies in Autobiographical Memory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1996); idemMemory in Oral Traditions: The Cognitive Psychology of Epic Ballads and Counting-out Rhymes (New York: Oxford University Press 1995).

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  • 61)

    Crook this issue p. 63; emphasis mine.

  • 62)

    Paul RicœurMemory History Forgetting (Chicago: University of Chicago Press2004) p. 221.

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