Richard Bauckham, Jens Schröter, and Paul Ricoeur on Memory and its Errors

Earlier this month I had the good fortune that my family vacation to Norway and England happened to coincide with the first day of the 2016 “Memory and the Reception of Jesus in Early Christianity” conference at St. Mary’s University in London. I thoroughly enjoyed the papers and even more so the opportunity to meet several people in person whom I had previously only ‘met’ virtually, i.e. in the scholarly blogosphere and facebooksphere.

While it would be unwise to put my memory to the test by attempting to summarize all the papers, I would like to flag up one issue that I found quite interesting, namely the fact that from their papers alone one could be left with the impression that there is a great chasm between Richard Bauckham and Jens Schröter with regard to the question of the functioning of memory and its propensity to error. To some extent, this is not surprising, since there are considerable differences between the two scholars on this point. Still, my memory of what Schröter had said in chapter 4 of From Jesus to the New Testament leads me to believe that the two scholars are perhaps a bit closer than what one might gather from their presentations. Therefore, I thought it would be worthwhile to provide an excerpt from this chapter.

Before doing so, however, let me add a few sentences on the papers themselves for those who were not at the conference.  In his paper on “The Psychology of Eyewitness Memory,” Richard Bauckham was concerned to distinguish between different types of memory and show that memory could be very reliable under certain conditions. By contrast, in his key note address “Memory, Theories of History, and the Reception of Jesus,” Jens Schröter was concerned to distinguish between appeals to individual memory as a way of getting back to Jesus and his own appeal to memory as a hermeneutical category that helps us to conceptualize the relationship between the past and the present and what we are doing when we represent the past in the present (regrettably, I think I’ve done a rather poor job clarifying the precise nature of this distinction, but hopefully I have been able to convey the basic point that Schröter wants to distinguish his own “memory approach” from a “memory approach” that appeals to individual memory as a way back to (the impact of) Jesus; for a much clearer treatment of this distinction between two different types of “memory approaches,” see Christine Jacobi‘s 2015 book Jesusüberlieferung bei Paulus? Analogien zwischen den echten Paulusbriefen und den synoptischen Evangelien, pp. 9-20; cf. here; for more on Schröter’s own perspective on historiography and memory, see here) . Within this context, Schröter was concerned to stress the fallibility of memory as a way of showing the problems with appealing to individual memory as a way of establishing a connection between Jesus and the Gospels (for example, along the lines of Richard Bauckham), since he was concerned to sideline this “memory approach,” with the goal of convincing his hearers to take up instead his own “memory approach,” which then he developed in the second part of his paper. For me, it was especially noteworthy that Schröter explicitly appealed to Johannes Fried when he was stressing the fallibility of memory in response to Bauckham’s line of argumentation, since in chapter 4 of From Jesus to the New Testament, Schröter had criticized Fried in a manner that suggests to me that Schröter’s understanding of the functioning of memory and its errors might be a bit closer to Bauckham than one might assume on the basis of their  papers at the St. Mary’s conference. With this in mind, let me now turn then to the key quotation, which is developed in relation to Paul Ricoeur and Johannes Fried. As usual, I will alternate between the English and the German.

II. Key Quotation (FJNT 58-59; VJNT 65-66):

Ricoeur then describes the work of the memory, which is related to the representation of the past and thus to history writing, in three steps: the documentary phase, the phase of explanation and understanding, and finally the phase of representation, thus the presentation in the historical narrative. Here, it is important to him that while “the historical representation is indeed a present picture of an absent thing,” the past things actually happened and “no one can make it that they did not happen.”

Die auf die Repräsentation der Vergangenheit, also die Geschichtsschreibung bezogene Arbeit des Gedächtnisses beschreibt Ricoeur sodann in drei Schritten: die dokumentarische Phase, die Phase des Erklärens und Verstehens sowie schließlich diejenige der Repräsentation, also der Darstellung in der historischen Erzählung. Dabei ist ihm wichtig, dass zwar “die geschichtliche Repräsentation ein gegenwärtiges Bild einer abwesenden Sache” ist, dass die vergangenen Dinge aber tatsächlich geschehen sind und “keiner machen kann, daß sie nicht gewesen sind”.

For a phenomenology of memory, it follows from this that Ricoeur warns against “approaching the memory from its deficiencies, indeed from its dysfunctions.” Ricoeur sees the validity of such a position in the fact that it pays attention to the problem of forgetting and the “deletion of traces.”

Für eine Phänomenologie des Gedächnis folgt daraus, dass Ricoeur davor warnt, “sich dem Gedächnis von seinen Insuffizienzen, ja seinen Fehlfunktionen her zu nähern.” Das Recht einer solcher Position sieht Ricoeur darin, dass sie auf das Problem des Vergessens und der “Auslöschung von Spuren” aufmerksam macht.

These problems, however, cannot be reduced to neurophysiological findings. Rather, it must first be considered that forgetting is a constitutive form of recollection, thus “before the abuse, there was the use, namely the necessarily selective character of the narrative.”

Allerdings lasse sich diese Problematik nicht auf einen neurophysiologischen Befund verkürzen. Vielmehr sei zunächst zu bedenken, dass Vergessen eine konstitutive Form der Erinnerung sei, also “vor dem Mißbrauch, nämlich der notwendig selektive Charakter der Erzählung” stehe.

In this Ricoeur’s approach differs fundamentally from that of Fried, who presented the memory as an entity that is deficient per se and ultimately applied the neurological findings in an arguably insufficiently differentiated manner to the epistemological and [66] science-of-history direction of questioning.

Damit ist Ricoeurs Zugang grundlegend von demjenigen Frieds unterschieden, der das Gedächtnis als eine per se fehlerhaft Instanz dargestellt und den neurologischen Befund letztlich wohl zu undifferenziert auf die epistemologische und geschichtswissenschaftliche Fragestellung übertragen hatte.

For Ricoeur, by contrast, forgetting does not simply represent a dysfunction of the memory that is to be corrected. Rather, forgetting, which is therein related to forgiving, can also have a salutary function for the appropriation of the past.

Für Ricoeur stellt sich das Vergessen dagegen nicht einfach als eine zu korrigierende Fehlfunktion des Gedächtnis dar. Vielmehr kann dem Vergessen, das darin dem Vergeben verwandt ist, auch eine für die Aneignung der Vergangenheit heilsame Funktion zukommen.

However, it may not be, as Ricoeur explicitly stresses, a “commanded forgetting.” Rather, a “salutary identity crisis” as a constituent part of the work of the memory is essential for the reappropriation of the past.

Allerdings darf es sich hierbei, wie Ricoeur ausdrücklich betont, nicht um ein “befohlenes Vergessen” handeln. Vielmehr sei für die Wiederaneignung der Vergangenheit eine “heilsame Identitätskrise” also Bestandteil der Errinnerungsarbeit erforderlich.

The strength of Ricoeur’s conception consists in the retention of the distinction between fiction and past reality. As much as he himself emphasizes the interweaving of the two spheres, he nevertheless always stresses their own respective modes of reference.

Die Stärke von Ricoeurs Entwurf besteht im Festhalten der Unterscheidung von Fiktion und vergangener Wirklichkeit. So sehr er selbst die Überschneidung beider Bereiche herausstellt, betont er jedoch stets ihren je eigenen Referenzmodus.

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Bibliographies of Neutestamentler/innen in the German Language Sphere

For the most up-to-date version of BNGLS, see here.

As a new feature for this blog, I have spent the last two weeks compiling Bibliographies of Neutestamentler/innen in the German Language Sphere (BNGLS). This task has greatly expanded my own understanding of what is going on in the German-speaking world, and I hope it will also prove beneficial for others who are seeking to engage with the ‘German’ tradition. A distinctive feature of this new resource is that I have provided a separate bibliography of the English publications of each German-language-sphere scholar as well as a link to their full bibliographies, webpages, pages etc. For the bibliographies themselves see the BNGLS tab of my blog or click here.

Christine Jacobi on Social Memory and Jesus Tradition in Paul

Like many readers of The Jesus Blog, I have enjoyed seeing its circle of contributors expand from Anthony Le Donne and Chris Keith to include James Crossley and now Christine Jacobi, Brant Pitre, and Rafael Rodríguez.

As a way of celebrating this recent expansion and especially the addition of a Neutestamentlerin from Germany, today’s post will look at Christine Jacobi‘s 2015 book Jesusüberlieferung bei Paulus? Analogien zwischen den echten Paulusbriefen und den synoptischen Evangelien. In order to give the reader a better sense of the book, I have chosen to translate four short excerpts rather than commenting on a single key quotation.

Like Benjamin White’s important monograph (cf. esp. pp. 49-54 and 70-107), Christine Jacobi‘s book is one of the first full-scale studies to apply social memory theories to Pauline Studies. Hence, I have taken the first excerpt from the section of her book (pp. 9-20) entitled “Eine neue Hermeneutik zum Vergangeneitsbezug der synoptischen Evangelien: Allgemeine Aspekte des Erinnerungszugangs“. This first excerpt is meant to give the reader a sense of where Jacobi stands in relation to various “memory approaches”. The next three excerpts, in turn, are taken from her conclusion. They are intended to give the reader a sense of the direction in which Jacobi takes her argument. As indicated by the the question mark in her title, part of her argument involves a questioning of the appropriateness of speaking of “Jesus tradition in Paul”. I will alternate between English translation and German original.

Translation 1 (wmc): Jens Schröter already drew attention to the complex and indissoluble connection between past and present in the Gospels in 1997 in his habilitation Errinerung an Jesu Worte, in which he specified anew the relation between Jesus traditions and the texts that process them. … A Jesus research following on from Schröter takes interest in the different post-Easter pictures of Jesus or the ways of his making-present and representation. It describes the texts as interpretations or “remembrances” of the pre-Easter activity of Jesus. Corresponding conceptions therefore do not necessarily speak of “Jesus tradition” but more openly of “Vergangenheit” and “past” or of “commemorative products” and “memory”. That the Gospels take up older traditions and the task of the exegete cannot exhaust itself in a description of the world of the text is taken into account. However, one does not search for the oldest tradition but the texts as wholes are understood as witnesses of memory, which process themes and motifs from the tradition in various ways and according to the needs of the respective present. The past activity of Jesus molds, together with other influences such as the Scripture, the first Christians’ coordinates of understanding and schemata of perception and contributes to early Christian self-understanding. And, conversely, Jesus’s person and activity are interpreted, in turn, by such patterns of understanding. “Erinnerung” or “(social) memory” are terms used for this nexus, with which a series of current studies in Jesus- and Synoptic scholarship is working.

Quotation 1 (Page 11-12): Auf die komplexe und unauflösbare Verbindung von Vergangenheit und Gegenwart in den Evangelien machte bereits 1997 Jens Schröter in seiner Habilitationsschrift Errinnerung an Jesu Worte aufmerksam, in welcher er das Verhältnis von Jesusüberlieferungen zu den sie verarbeitenden Texten neu bestimmte. … Eine an Schröter anschließende Jesusforschung interessiert sich für die verschiedenen nachösterlichen Bilder Jesu bzw. die Weisen seiner Vergegenwärtigung und Repräsentation. Sie beschreibt die Texte als Deutungen bzw. “Erinnerungen” an das vorörsterliche Wirken Jesu. In entsprechenden Entwürfen ist daher gar nicht mehr unbedingt von “Jesustradition” die Rede, sondern offener von “Vergangenheit” oder “past” bzw. von “commemorative products” and “memory”. Dass die Evangelien ältere Überlieferungen aufnehmen und die Aufgabe des Exegeten sich nicht in einer Beschreibung der Textwelt erschöpfen kann, wird dabei berücksichtigt. Es wird jedoch nicht nach den ältesten Überlieferung gefahndet, sondern die Texte als Ganze werden als Erinnerungszeugnisse verstanden, die Themen und Motive aus der Überlieferung auf vielfältige Weise und je nach den Bedürfnissen der eigenen Gegenwart bearbeiten. Das vergangene Wirken Jesus modelliert zusammen mit anderen Einflüssen wie beispielsweise die Schrift die Verstehungskoordinaten und Wahrnehmungsschemata der ersten Christen und trägt zum frühchristlichen Selbstverständnis bei. Und umgekehrt werden Person und Auftreten Jesu wiederum durch solche Interpretationsmuster gedeutet. “Erinnerung” oder “(social) memory” sind die für diesen Zusammenhang verwendeten Termini, mit denen eine Reihe aktueller Beiträge der Jesus- und Synoptikerforschung arbeitet.

Translation 2 (wmc): Finally, from the findings on the reception of so-called Jesus tradition in Paul one must draw conclusions for the picture of Jesus that is painted in the letters of Paul. Negatively one can say that Jesus as an originator of tradition and teacher is not relevant for Paul. But what is his significance with a view to the so-called Jesus tradition in Paul?

Quotation 2 (page 392): Aus den Ergebnissen zur Rezeption sogenannter Jesusüberlieferung bei Paulus sind schließlich Konsequenzen für das Bild von Jesus zu ziehen, das in den Paulusbriefen gezeichnet wird. In negativer Hinsicht kann festgestellt werden, dass Jesus als Traditionsurheber und als Lehrer für Paulus nicht relevant ist. Welche Bedeutung aber kommt ihm mit Blick auf die sogenannte Jesustradition bei Paulus zu?

Translation 3: When Paul describes a new view of reality with expressions such as “in the Kyrios” or “in Christ”, this shows that he does not distinguish between the Kyrios as the Risen and Exalted One, on the one hand, and Jesus as the originator of traditions, on the other hand. The reason for this is again that the event of salvation and the new reality of faith are thought of as connected with the Lord Jesus Christ in the closest way. The Kyrios forms the center of all expressions of faith. In this way the authority of the Kyrios can encompass both Pauline argumentation as well as already circulating traditions taken up by Paul and traditions that go back to the earthy Jesus himself. Therefore, all the admonition of the apostle ultimately takes place in the sphere of validity of faith in Christ, which forms the framework for his own remarks on the Christian self-understanding. The sphere of interpretation in which Paul places topoi, motifs, and contents of tradition, levels out their respectively specific backgrounds.

Quotation 3 (page 393): Wenn Paulus mit Wendungen wie “im Kyrios” oder “in Christus” eine neue Wirklichkeitssicht beschreibt, so zeigt sich darin, dass er nicht zwischen dem Kyrios als dem Auferweckten und Erhörten einerseits und Jesus als Urheber von Traditionen anderseits unterscheidet. Der Grund dafür liegt wiederum darin, dass das Heilsgeschehen und die neue Glaubenswirklichkeit insgesamt mit dem Herrn Jesus Christus auf engste Weise verbunden gedacht werden. Der Kyrios bildet das Zentrum aller Glaubensäußerungen. Auf diese Weise kann die Autorität des Kyrios sowohl paulinische Argumentationen als auch bereits zirkulierende, von Paulus aufgegriffene Überlieferungen und auf den irdischen Jesus selbst zurückgehende Traditionen umfassen. Deshalb erfolgt letzlich alles Ermahnen des Apostels im Geltungsbereich des Christusglaubens, der den Bezugsrahmen für seine eigenen Ausführungen über das christliche Selbstverständnis und den Stand der Adressaten bildet. Der mit “in Christus/im Kyrios” markierte Deutungsraum, in den Paulus Topoi, Motive und Überlieferungsinhalte stellt, nivelliert deren je spezifische Herkunft.

Translation 4 (wmc): From a reception-oriented perspective 1 Cor 7.10-11 and 9.14 in particular can rather be understood as special forms of the much more frequent reference to the Kyrios through the ἐν-κυρίῳ-/ἐν-χριστῷ-expressions. For although in 1 Cor 7.10-11 and 9.14-15 Paul designates the content of the statements as words/sayings of the Lord, he relativizes their content from a christological perspective. Paul sees himself legitimated by the Lord for this work of mediation between the words of the Lord and the world of faith opened up “in Christ” (cf. 1 Cor 7.25, 40; 9.15-18). For the Kyrios as foundation of faith possesses for Paul more weight than the Kyrios as originator of tradition. With this the Pauline perspective on the action of God toward and through Christ becomes apparent, which alongside various other spheres of tradition integrates also the words of the Lord traditions into a common paradigm.

Quotation 4 (page 394): Aus einer rezeptionsorientiertenten Perspektive lassen sich insbesondere 1 Kor 7,10f. und 9,14 eher als Sonderformen der wesentlich häufigeren Bezugnahme auf den Kyrios durch die ἐν-κυρίῳ-/ἐν-χριστῷ-Wendungen verstehen. Denn obwohl Paulus in 1 Kor 7,10f. und 9,14 Aussagegehalte als Herrenworte kennzeichnet, relativiert er ihre Inhalte von einer christologischen Perspektive her. Zu dieser Vermittlungsarbeit zwischen den Herrenworten und der “in Christus” eröffneten Glaubenswelt sieht Paulus sich selbst vom Kyrios legitimiert (vgl. 1 Kor 7,25.40; 9,15-18). Denn für Paulus besitzt der Kyrios als Glaubensfundament mehr Gewicht als der Kyrios als Traditionsurheber. Damit zeichnet sich die paulinische Perspektive auf das Handeln Gottes an und durch Jesus Christus als derjenige Horizont ab, der neben verschiedenen anderen Traditionsbereichen auch die Herrenwortüberlieferungen in ein gemeinsames Paradigma integriert.

Substantive Analysis: In a previous post, I suggested that a comparison between the treatment of the sayings tradition in the work of Francis Watson and Jens Schröter would make a great research project, especially if it also drew upon the multiple exchanges between James Dunn and Jens Schröter on this topic. Having dipped into Jacobi’s fine monograph, I now think that her voice should definitely be added to this discussion, especially since she has already developed it at much greater depth in relation to a wider range of voices.

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! I hope to be able to write at least one Monday blog post each month. Best, Wayne