Monday, December 8, 2008

Memories Mirrored in a Ripling Pond

April Deconick over at Forbidden Gospels is causing some ripples in the blogospheric space-time in her discussions on memory. You can see her postings here and more fully elaborated here. She sees this as the future, at least in part, of biblical studies. In fact, she has promised to send me some references on memory reconstruction for my own work on the persistence and transformation of mythic patterns of, well, let's just say holy/heavenly space-time in ancient Jewish and Christian literature.

She is receiving a response from the blogosphere. The infamously pseudonymous NTWrong has responded quite warmly to her contagious enthusiasm for memory studies, comparing the modernity / antiquity transference difficulty with the "middle range theory" of how artifacts relate to culture in modernity and antiquity, a theory with unsure results, but perhaps with a more robust method than individual idiosyncrasies that tend to dominate the field. "Wrong" gives the slight caveat that it may be soemthing to be outsourced to experts in other discipliens (like cognitive psychology?), or someone with training in both disciplines.

Finally, Mark Goodacre at NTGateway has responded, and rightly so, since part of DeConick's discussion refers to a paper Goodacre gave at this year's SBL, for which April was, in fact, the respondent at SBL. His discussion is based upon the "Wheat and the Tares" in the Gospel of Thomas as being dependent upon the Synoptic Gospels. The issue is that the Thomasine version leaves out the middle part of the parable. He nuances the portrayal of his model presented by DeConick. He, in fact, does not imagine the author of Thomas sitting with the synoptics in front of him. But that he has memorized the synoptics by repeated hearings and then wrote. It seems the difference between DeConick's view of the growth of traditions and parables and Goodacre's is that, at least at this stage of the game (when Thomas is writing), April assumes an oral environment where the sayings of Jesus have been passed down and recited repeatedly, whereas Goodacre assumes a written text that has been recited repeatedly, internalized, and then written into a new form (Thomas itself). He notes, moreover, that the study DeConick cites as a modern model deals with the subsequent memory of a written text.

I am sure DeConick is setting off ripples much farther beyong my reading circles, and I am sure there is still much to be discussed, so, if interested, be sure to watch these various scholars as they enter into debate and refine their concepts in response to research and debate.

UPDATE: April has just responded to both NTWrong and Mark Goodacre here, which provides some more nuances that my simplification just recounted does not take into account--in fact, which demonstrates my earlier characterization of her position to be simply incorrect. Based upon these observations, the point is that there would be absolutely no way to determine whether Thomas depended upon a written or an oral source, but that if dependent upon human memory (rather than having a written source directly in front of him), the result would be the same. Thus, contra Goodacre, one could not actually argue literary dependence, per se, because such a dependence would be irrecoverable (even if true). I will probably stop providing updates, but encourage others to follow the debate as it continues to unfold. I have a feeling that before any substantive advances occur in the discussion, we will have to read April's article on the issue.

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