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Differences Between Oral and Written Cultures

Chapter  5 of my book Jesus Before the Gospels (tentatively titled) is called “False Memories and the Life of Jesus” (tentatively titled).   The first part of the chapter deals with a very common misconception about oral traditions in oral cultures – a misconception I hear all the time from lots of people, including my students who get upset when I discuss how traditions about Jesus appear to have been altered in the process of retelling in the years before the Gospels were written.  The misconception is that in oral cultures, people had better memories than those of us who live in written cultures, and that they went out of the way to make sure that they preserved their cherished traditions – including their sacred traditions – with great accuracy, since there was no other way to preserve them in a world without writing. You may well have heard that yourself.  You may well have believed it.  It’s widely believed.  But it appears to be wrong. My hunch is that this is one of those modern [...]

2020-05-10T06:34:33-04:00April 16th, 2015|Book Discussions, Memory Studies|

Can A Made-Up Story Be A False Memory?

It has become clear to me, in seeing a number of responses to my posts on memory, that I’m not quite  explaining myself clearly enough to get my point across to everyone.  So, well, what else is new? When I have mentioned “false memories” in the Gospels – that is, recollections of Jesus that are not true to what really happened – some readers have pointed out that these may not be memories at all, but they may simply be what the Gospel writers made up for their own reasons.  In that case Jesus isn’t being “remembered” in these ways.  Someone’s just making up stuff. In response to that view, let me make two points, the second one of which is the the most relevant and important.   The first, though, is that in most cases I don’t think there is any way to know whether a non-historical tradition in the Gospels is something that the Gospel writer inherited from others before him or invented himself.   Take Luke’s story of how Jesus came to be born [...]

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