I thought I would take a few posts to talk about what I’m working on these days – for the past month or so, with another month or so to go. As many of you know, I spent almost the entire summer doing nothing but reading books and articles about “memory” and related topics (such as the telling of stories in oral cultures) from a variety of perspectives: cognitive psychology, neurology (very low level!), anthropology (oral cultures and how they pass along their traditions), sociology (communal memory), folklore (urban legends, rumors, gossip), and so on. All of this was in preparation for my next trade book dealing with what we can say about the oral traditions of Jesus as they were passed along in the years before the Gospels were written. I am still leaving open the possibility of writing a scholarly monograph on a similar topic.
But I have had to take a break from all that. And with huge reluctance. There are dozens and dozens of books and articles that I’m still desperate to read – these are big fields. But I had to stop for the time being, and really I had no choice. The reason: I was *supposed* to be spending the summer producing the sixth edition of my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. My editor (who happens also to be one of my closest friends) wanted it to be done by now; and near the end of the summer I had to tell him that, well, I hadn’t been working on it, but had been reading on memory instead. He was not amused. But he was completely understanding, and gave me a new deadline. I have about six weeks to pull it off.
So I thought I would devote some posts to what this is all about.
First, some words about the textbook and how it came about that I wrote it in the first place. Let me say at the outset that if I had not done so, none of you would have ever heard of me. That may have been just as well, but it’s probably the case. Here’s why:
In the early 1990s…
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