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The General and the Particular in Memory

A Critique of Dale Allison’s Approach to the Historical Jesus

In: Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus
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Dale Allison’s book Constructing Jesus begins by describing how memory often leads us astray. As a basic principle for the quest of the historical Jesus, he claims that the general is remembered better than the particular. This article argues that Allison has misunderstood the results of research on memory in cognitive psychology. There is no reason to think that specific events are remembered less well than generalities. Allison fails to distinguish different types of memory and fails to discuss what sorts of events are remembered well. There is strong evidence that memories of “exceptional” events (characterized by uniqueness, importance, emotionality and frequent rehearsal) are especially well retained. The exorcism stories in the Gospels are briefly discussed as an example.

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