I’ve been reading Dale Allison’s Constructing Jesus (Baker 2010). He makes some statements about memory that strike me as plainly false. Gross overstatements. For instance:
“Remembering is not like reading a book but rather like writing a book. If there are blanks, we fill them in. If the plot is thin, we fill it out. As we constantly revise our memoirs…” (2).
That’s catchy, but is it true? For instance, there are people I remember, whose names escape me. I remember the person, but not the name. I don’t subconsciously assign a name to them.
Likewise, I frequently remember the day something happened even though I don’t remember the year. My memory doesn’t subconsciously assign a calendar date to the event.
Put another way, I can remember where something happened even if I don’t remember when it happened. I remember where I was. Sometimes I could give you the time of day (morning, afternoon, evening). But I couldn’t give you the month or the year.
I have lots of partial memories. Memories with gaps. And I’m aware of the gaps. My memory doesn’t fill in the blanks. That’s despite the fact that I’d like to fill in the blanks.
“Although time’s passage may add perspective, memories are not evergreen; they become less and less distinct as the past recedes” (5).
“As our recollections become increasingly tattered and faded…” (11).
i) But is that true? One of the things that young people find tiresome about old folks is that old folks like to repeat the same childhood vignettes. We say to ourselves, “Oh dear! Not that again! How many times have I heard that story before!”
These memories have a stereotypical quality to them. That’s what makes it monotonous to hear them–time and again. Always the same story. The same dialogue. The same details.
ii) In addition, it’s sometimes possible to check our memories. For instance, I recently ran across some “historic” photos of my hometown, taken around the time I was a kid.
Much of it was the way I remembered it. I’d forgotten a few things. But I misremembered very little.
Likewise, I recently got a copy of my junior high yearbook (1974-75) from a time I attended. It was all very familiar.
There were some students I remembered from high school, but I forgot that we also attended the same junior high. However, even that’s a case of forgetting rather than misremembering. I didn’t misremember a student from junior high.
“Groups do not rehearse competing memories that fail to shore up what they hold dear. Approved remembrance lives on; unapproved remembrance expires” (7).
i) That’s largely true. However, that stands in contrast to the Bible. The Bible is notorious for recording embarrassing details that reflect badly on the community of faith.
i) Finally, the Bible is quite aware of the fact that memory is a fragile thing. That’s one reason we have a Bible. One reason prophets are commanded to record their revelations for posterity.
That’s one reason the Holy Spirit inspired the disciples–to refresh their faded memory of what was said and done (Jn 14:26).