Yesterday Chris Keith treated me to breakfast at Taste of Belgium in Cincinnati. Wonderful frites with a horseradish aioli sauce. But fries served with an omelette? Has the world gone insane? Chris and I (as we tend to do) talked about the past, present, and future prospects of social memory theory in Jesus research. It occurred to me on the drive home that scholars with native fluency in New Testament studies continue to misappropriate the findings of social memory. Either they emphasize the creativity and instability of memory or they emphasize the regular reliability and stability of memory. Both are surface-level observations that fail to see the undergirding hermeneutical reset.
The key question is still "where is history?" If history is "back there in the past" and human memory is creative and and unstable, memory cannot provide access to history. Alternatively, if history is "back there in the past" and human memory is reliable and stable, memory can and does provide access to history. Both conclusions miss the point: history is not "back there." History relates to what is "back there" insomuch as it continues the mnemonic frames and interpretive perceptions of the past. But "history" (like everything under the epistemological umbrella) is something we encounter now. In my reading of him, Ruben Zimmermann (happy birthday!) gets this point. History (and on this point I depart from Maurice Halbwachs) is not something that precedes or undergirds memory.
In order for historians to utilize the findings of Social Memory we don't simply need a new method or new tools or new rules for the road. What we need is a hermeneutical reset whereby the human relationship to epistemology is reconsidered from the ground up.