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Memory, Tradition, and Text: Uses of the Past in Early Christianity
Alan Kirk, Tom Thatcher
SemeiaSt 52
Publication Date
June 2005


Social and cultural memory theory examines the ways communities and individuals reconstruct and commemorate their pasts in light of shared experiences and current social realities. Drawing on the methods of this emerging field, this volume, edited by Alan Kirk and Tom Thatcher, both introduces memory theory to biblical scholars and restores the category “memory” to a preeminent position in research on Christian origins. In the process, the volume challenges current approaches to research problems in Christian origins, such as the history of the Gospel traditions, the birth of early Christian literature, ritual and ethics, and the historical Jesus. The essays, taken in aggregate, outline a comprehensive research agenda for examining the beginnings of Christianity and its literature and also propose a fundamentally revised model for the phenomenology of early Christian oral tradition, assess the impact of memory theory upon historical Jesus research, establish connections between memory dynamics and the appearance of written Gospels, and assess the relationship of early Christian commemorative activities with the cultural memory of ancient Judaism.

Alan Kirk is Associate Professor of Religion at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Tom Thatcher is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Cincinnati Christian University and the author of the The Riddles of Jesus in John: A Study in Tradition and Folklore (Society of Biblical Literature)

“Kirk’s introduction provides valuable groundwork for understanding ‘memory’ as an analytical category, and these essays illustrate its impact on biblical studies. For example, Horsley comments that many scholars work ‘with a modern (mis-) understanding of memory rooted in the modern western understanding of knowledge’ (p. 63). He demonstrates how social memory studies challenge assumptions/approaches of form criticism and the Jesus Seminar. This is a volume that merits reading.”
— Robert S. Dutch, Journal for the Study of the New Testament


Introduction: Social and Cultural Memory
—Alan Kirk


Jesus Tradition as Social Memory
—Alan Kirk and Tom Thatcher

Social Memory and Christian Origins: Prospects and Obstacles
—Barry Schwartz

Prominent Patterns in the Social Memory of Jesus and Friends
—Richard A. Horsley

Why John Wrote a Gospel: Memory and History in an Early Christian Community
—Tom Thatcher

The Story of “The Woman Who Anointed Jesus” as Social Memory: A Methodological Proposal for the Study of Tradition as Memory
—Holly Hearon

The Locus for Death: Social Memory and the Passion Narratives
—Arthur J. Dewey

Christian Collective Memory and Paul’s Knowledge of Jesus
—Georgia Masters Keightley

Collective Memory and Hebrews 11: Outlining a New Investigative Framework
—Philip F. Esler

Early Jewish Birth Prophecy Stories and Women’s Social Memory
—Antoinette Clark Wire

The Memory of Violence and the Death of Jesus in Q
—Alan Kirk

Reading the Gospel Of Thomas as a Repository of Early Christian Communal Memory
—April D. Deconick


The Works of Memory: Christian Origins as MnemoHistory
—Werner H. Kelber

Christian Origins as Memory-Work
—Barry Schwartz