Article Note: "The Generative Force of Memory" (Werner Kelber)

I am knee-deep in memory studies again as I push forward with the analysis of the memory experiments I conducted a year ago with four groups of students. I just finished reading a brief but hefty article recently published by Werner Kelber in Biblical Theology Bulletin 36 (2006) 15-22. As usual, his discussions coincide with my own work and progressive thinking about the transmission of the Jesus traditions among the early Christians. It is an honor in so many ways that I am his successor at Rice, not the least being that we think alike on many issues. He was a pioneer that has opened so many windows for us to now peer through.

These are some highlights from this article:
It is deplorable that biblical studies has remained in the dark about the study of memory and the study of orality-scribality, especially when these are highly developed fields of study that have become completely integrated in other disciplines including history, anthropology, medieval studies, literary criticism, sociology, ethnic studies, philosophy, and so forth.

Memory in the gospel tradition is not cold memory, or passive memorizing. Rather it represents a (re)constructive remembering, with two purposes - to maintain the past but to make sense of the present. This is the function of social memory [what I call communal memory in my own publications like Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas] and explains the living traditioning within early Christianity.

The scribal evidence points away from the theory that there was an original text that became variant. The variability means that it is impossible to differentiate between primary and secondary recordings of a text. We must become comfortable with the polyphonic nature of the traditions and the fact that the recovery of a single original saying of Jesus is probably impossible.
So here you can see a number of items we have been discussing on this blog in the last couple of months come together in Kelber's article. This is a great summary of where our field is right now, or at least what some of the main ideas are that are fermenting in many of our publications and teaching. I have to say that I think we are witnessing the beginning of a revolution that, if pushed forward successfully, will completely overhaul our field both in terms of approach and content.