A Good Book on Jesus, Memory and the Gospels

Darrell L. Bock's picture

The last book I shall note this year is a study of memory and Jesus. The Book is by Robert McIver. He is Head of the school of ministry at Avondale, College in Cooranbong, Australia. I had the privilege of sharing sabbatical time with him last year in Tübingen when he was working on this book. The book is entitled Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels.

The bulk of the book examines memory experiments over the last several decades and what they teach us about recall. The second half of the book treats the relationship of those studies and what they might suggest about the Jesus tradition.

Among the findings is that memory is not perfect but generally accurate about the gist of the story. Also fascinating is that memory leaks, but once it is set over 3 to 5 years it becomes more fixed. The significance of these two ideas is that (1) events that are recalled by those present will get the core facts right and (2) the drift of years from event to recall is not significant even given the events are recorded several decades later. The variations we see I parallel accounts also fits how such material is remembered and reported orally. There is continuity and flexibility (or continuity and gist, p. 116).

McIver also notes that collective memory is particularly resistant to fabrication, though they can be shaped by present concerns (p. 109). The genre to which these apply include the parables, miracles accounts, passion narratives, and short stories. He goes so far as to say in the end that the Jesus tradition is “carefully controlled oral tradition.” (p. 18)

This book is an interesting read for the variety of experiments and concepts about memory that are presented, as well as how all of this connects to the Jesus tradition.

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