Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels


Before they were written in the Gospels, the teachings and deeds of Jesus were preserved in human memory—with all its frailties and strengths—for perhaps as long as 30 to 60 years. Much can happen to traditions preserved in memories for so long, and this groundbreaking work addresses the impact that the qualities of human memory would have had on the traditions of the historical Jesus found in the Synoptic Gospels. It uses the insights gained from over a century of psychological experimentation to investigate the qualities and potential reliability of individual and collective memories underlying the various elements that make up the Gospel traditions.

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Robert K. McIver is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies and Head of School of Ministry and Theology at Avondale College of Higher Education in Cooranbong, Australia. He is the editor of Avondale Academic Press and the author of a number of academic articles and several books, including The Four Faces of Jesus (Pacific Press).
List of Tables List of Figures Preface Introduction Part 1: Personal and Collective Memory 1. Eyewitness Memory - Issues Surrounding the Use of Eyewitness Testimony in Gospel Studies - The Characteristics of Eyewitness Testimony - Eyewitness Case Study 1: A Foiled Gun Shop Robbery in Burnaby, Vancouver - Eyewitness Case Study 2: John Dean’s Testimony 2. Transience and the Reliability of Long-Term Human Memory - Seven Frailties of Human Memory - Long-Term Human Memory and the Gospels - Forgetting Curves - Rates of Memory Loss During the First Five Years - Rates of Loss for Memories up to Fift y Years Old - Conclusion: Memory Stable aft er the First Five Years 3. Personal Event Memories - Flashbulb Memories Perhaps Exempt from Transience - The Reliability of Flashbulb Memories up to Th ree Years Later - Flashbulb Memories as Personal Event Memories - The Reliability of Personal Event Memories up to Fift y Years Later - Conclusions 4. Suggestibility and Bias - Suggestibility and False Memories - Hindsight and Other Memory Biases - Memories as Reconstructions from Various Memory Subsystems 5. Collective Memory - Elusive Nature and Explanatory Power of Collective Memory - Experimental Evidence for Collective Memory - The Influence of the Present on Collective Memory - Collective Memory in Oral Societies - Collective Memory Eight Decades after Halbwachs Part 2: Jesus Traditions as Memory 6. Collective Memory as an Explanation of Gospel Origins - Collective Memory and Gospel Studies - Confabulation and formgeschichtliche Explanations of Gospel Origins - Confabulations in Collective Memories - Jesus as Teacher, and the Disciples as Preservers of the Jesus Traditions - Kenneth Bailey’s Description of Formal, Controlled Oral Traditions - Collective Memory in James D. G. Dunn’s Jesus Remembered - Conclusions 7. Eyewitness Memory and the Gospel Traditions - Characteristics of Written Texts Derived from Eyewitness Traditions - The Pericope Form and Eyewitness Traditions in the Gospels - From Eyewitness Memory to Written Gospels - The Apophthegmata (or Chreiai) as a Case Study of Potential - Eyewitness Material 8. Memory Frailties and the Gospel Traditions - Transience and the Gospel Traditions - Personal Event Memories, the Gospel Traditions, and Transience - Source Documents and the Frailty of Transience - Suggestibility and the Gospel Traditions - Suggestibility and the Possibility of Nonauthentic Jesus Tradition - Bias and the Gospel Traditions - Conclusions 9. Collective Memory, Jesus as Teacher, and the Jesus Traditions - Jesus as a Teacher - Collective Memories of Jesus’ Teachings and the Jesus Traditions - Gospel Traditions of Jesus’ Teaching: Parables - Gospel Traditions of Jesus’ Teaching: Aphorisms - Jesus as the Origin of the Teachings Traditions 10. Conclusions: Memory, Jesus, and the Gospels - Appendix A. The Potential Pool of Eyewitnesses at the Time the Gospels Were Written - First-Century Life Expectancy - The Potential Pool of Eyewitnesses to the Life and Ministry of Jesus Works Cited Index of Ancient Texts and Authors Index of Modern Authors Subject Index