Here I continue thinking about memory in relation to Jesus by dealing with an obvious objection to the idea that Jesus’ followers, and those who heard the stories about him, were prone to misremember what they saw and heard — these were SPECTACULAR events.  Aren’t spectacular events and stories far more likely to be remembered accurately than the everyday stuff we forget all the time?  Here’s how I discuss the issue in my book Jesus Before the Gospels (HarperOne, 2016).


One of the scary things about memory is not not simply that we forget things over time or don’t quite remember things correctly.  Sometimes we actually have “distorted memories,” that is, recollections – often quite vivid – of things that did not happen.  One of the fairly recent discoveries in the field is that distorted memories can be implanted in people’s minds, for example, by hearing distorted information about a past event and then remembering it as part of the event.  That can happen even with respect to events of one’s own personal history.   Psychologists have long known this is true of children: adults can be made to think that as a child they were once lost in a shopping mall, or that they accidentally but disastrously overturned a punch bowl at a wedding.   Now it is known that distorted memories can be inadvertently planted or created in adults as well, as Daniel Schacter and others have strongly argued. [1]   In addition, as leading expert Elizabeth Loftus has forcefully stated “once activated, the manufactured memories are indistinguishable from factual memories.”[2]

Many people will agree that this sort of thing happens on occasion, but as a rule we are reluctant to think it happens a lot, or at least (for most of us!) that it happens a lot to us in particular.  We especially tend to think that our most vivid memories – precisely because they are vivid – are the most reliable.   That turns out

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