Baker Academic

Monday, November 12, 2012

What has Memory Research to do with Form Criticism?

I just learned of the blog erected by Michael Kok. He asks a question that reflects on my recent summary of the various forms of memory applications in Gospels research. It is a question that I've heard often from New Testament students who are new to critical applications of "memory". Michael asks: some of the research on memory really so different from the insights of the form critics?

He also asks of the relationship with redaction criticism. Here is my answer:

I'm not sure if anything will replace the need for redaction criticism. As long as there is a market for commentaries, there will be the need to point out thematic tendencies and editorial agendas in the Gospels. As far as the similarity between memory studies and form-critical studies, it will be necessary to be more specific. Which brand of memory studies are we talking about?  As I hope my post shows, there are lots of brands.  Moreover, which brand of form criticism are we talking about?  The early critics and Jeremias seem to be doing something slightly different from the later (and more popular) form critics.

Kelber thought that what he was doing was a correction of the overly literary models of the form critics. Dunn claims to be returning to the interests of the "early" form critics, before they lost their way, but with a better "default setting". Chris Keith and Dale Allison claim to have a different starting point. In their case, they are not beginning by isolating and authenticating the traditions in question. I'd be really interested to hear from Rafael what he thinks about how his work relates to the classic form critics.

I, for one, am happy to affirm that a great deal of good work was done under the watch of the form critics. I do, however, think that what I'm doing is a bit different. You can see my critique of Bultmann's fatal flaw in The Historiographical Jesus, pp.35-38. I know that one isn't supposed to toot one's own horn, but I'd like to think that my critique of Bultmann is quite damning. I suppose that time will tell.

Thank you for your interest Michael. I'll be sure to keep your blog on my reading list.



  1. The relationship between memory studies and form criticism is more complex, I think, than a simple "radically new" or "nothing new" stance. From one perspective, memory studies is simply trying to do exactly what form criticism was trying to do; namely, understand the nature of "tradition" and thus the nature of the gospels. From other perspectives, however, memory studies insist on a substantially different methodological means of accomplishing that task; namely, not bifurcating the text, not sustaining a false authentic/inauthentic dichotomy, not viewing typology and interpretive frameworks as detrimental to the work of the historian, etc. Thus, when Dale Allison and I insist that we must start from the interpretations in the Gospels rather than dissecting them, we are not at all continuing a form-critical program (whereas using the criteria of authenticity does). But that of course doesn't mean that memory studies cannot also share some similarities to form criticism and its descendants, and I think you're right, Anthony, in The Historiographical Jesus, to point out that memory studies is one way to continue redaction criticism.

  2. BTW, I didn't mean to imply with the above response that Michael Kok proposed a simple "radically new" or "nothing new" stance, in case I did.

  3. Thanks for this response. My bad for not passing on the link to my original post. I appreciate the discussion and I have tried to do one more follow-up post at Best wishes for your presentations at SBL Chicago.

  4. I think that an important element of both memory studies and form criticism is the need to understand the historical context and potential biases of the author of the passage. Understanding from what context a piece of writing came from would aid in memory research. I think that it is crucial to decipher what things were deemed memorable/important to the author, since this is reflected in what is the focal point of the passage, or what the author is attempting to convey/emphasize.