This post will conclude my mini-thread trying to show that modern practices of story telling in the Middle East, during a community ritual called the haflar samar, in which groups of knowledgeable people ensure that stories are never significantly changed, has no bearing on the question of whether ancient stories told about Jesus were preserved accurately over time.
Here I take on a bigger question, as addressed in in my book Jesus Before the Gospels: Does this group context for telling the stories ensure that they are accurate? Actually, modern psychological studies suggest that just the opposite is normally the case. Cognitive psychologists have studied the phenomenon of “group memory” and have reached several very important conclusions that might be surprising. One is that when a group “collectively remembers” something they have all heard or experienced, the “whole” is less than the sum of the “parts.” That is to say, if you have ten individuals who have all experienced an event, and you interview the ten separately, you will learn a good deal about what happened when you piece all the information together. But if you interview them precisely as a group, you will get less information.
That may be counter-intuitive, but it has been demonstrated time and again. Some researchers have wondered if that’s because of what you might call