Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Snap: Robert McIver's "Jesus, Memory, and the Synoptic Gospels"

I checked this one out to see if there was anything relavant to the studies I did on oral tradition in Trusting the New Testament, and found some things of note though not directly related. McIver takes a much closer look than anyone I have seen so far as the details of modern memory studies, such as those Skeptics frequently appeal to by Elizabeth Loftus. I would have liked to have seen McIver do more to relate these studies specifically to the Biblical world, as in some chapters on the subject of modern memory study, there doesn't seem to be any such connection made. Alternatively, I could say that there is no real connection in some cases, given the difference in nature between the two settings.

The second half of the book goes into the practice of memory and oral transmission in the NT world, and here, there is some overlap with my own work in TNT, though not as much detail on most points, and more detail on other points.

Some new and unique observations for my purposes:

One modern memory expert has indicated that memory is best at recalling a "what" and most vague in recalling a "when" -- the time factors involved in a memory. McIver relates this to the vagueness of time markers in the Gospel records, and while I suspect this may have some bearing, it is also related to the fact that ancient people simply had no accurate means to measure and mark time, unless they happened to be wealthy enough to afford certain devices (or, like scholars supported by the state, were given the tools for such marking).


Critics like Nineham assume that the "pericope" Gospel forms point to community development of stories. In reality, they are characteristic of ancient eyewitness recollection and episodic memory.


McIver also suggests that memory error is behind such things as "one or two demoniacs". I would have liked to have seen some consideration for the possibility that such differences are intentional structural forms, designed to assist memory (see link below).


A final appendix in which McIver considers ancient lifespans in order to determine how many potential eyewitnesses to Jesus' ministry would be still be alive at certain dates in particularly useful contribution.


Overall, this is a fairly good resource which is worthy of recommendation.


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I restart USDA work this week, and the Ticker will return Friday.

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