I am thinking about ending my book with a kind of Paean to Memory.   I expect that some people will find it a bit  controversial or even off-putting.  Or maybe not!   Here is what a draft of the kind of thing I’m thinking about saying.  Let me know what you think.  (It’s longer than my typical post.)


Like most authors, I get a lot of email from people who have read my books.   I find one of the comments I repeatedly receive somewhat puzzling and even disheartening.   To explain it, I need to provide a bit of background.

When I discuss historical understandings of the New Testament and of the historical Jesus, I frequently refer to the problems of our sources.  The Gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death by people who were not eyewitnesses and had probably never laid eyes on an eyewitness.  They are filled with discrepancies and contradictions.  They represent different perspectives on what Jesus said and did.  For that reason, to know what actually happened in the life of Jesus we have to apply rigorous historical criteria to these sources to establish what he really said and did.

I present these views because at heart I am a historian, interested in seeing what we can know about the past.    I have presented some such views here, in this book.   But my focus in the book has been on memory, including, of course, “distorted” memories of Jesus’ life, but also memories that I think are closely related to history, for example, some of the “gist” memories found throughout the Gospels.   Memory is not only faulty: at times, probably most of the time, it’s pretty good.   So too with the memories of Jesus.  We can know a good deal about Jesus’ historical life based on what our sources say.

Moreover, I have tried to emphasize that the study of memory is not at all limited to what comes to be distorted over time.  It is possible to engage in memory-history (what Jan Assmann calls mnemohistory) to see how recollections of Jesus can help us understand the people who were remembering him in one way or the other, why Mark, or John, or Thomas recalled Jesus the way he did.

The comment that I sometimes get from readers that I find puzzling or disheartening is…

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