Some of the key words of Sunday service for me are in the phrase, `do this in remembrance of me.' Just what is being asked of us at this point? This is a question to which there are many possible answers, but the word `remembrance' is certainly second to none in this. Where do we get what it is we are called upon to remember? Does this come just from the text? From the tradition passed down? From other places and sources?
According to the text, `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.' This idea is applied in the collection of essays compiled by Kirk and Thatcher to the early biblical text. This is a collection of essays by leading scholars in the field of biblical studies, and assumes at least passing familiarity with various scholarly issues and methods of biblical study. As a product of the Society of Biblical Literature, it provides great material for opening conversations in this relatively new area.
Because this is a developing field, Alan Kirk provides an overview in the first chapter of the key ideas and some applications of memory theories. This provides groundwork for the later essays, which deal more specifically with texts, figures, contexts and developments that yield new insights when seen through the lens of social and cultural memory theories. According to Kirk, `the nineteenth-century quests for the historical Jesus reconstructed the category "tradition" in such a way as to marginalize memory.'
Obviously, this is not a process that will reveal all in all - according to Holly Hearon, one of the contributors (an essay on the story of the woman who anointed Jesus, a pericope that appears in all four canonical gospels), `no method has yet provided the key for uncovering all we would like to know about the pre-Gospel period', yet `social memory theory calls attention to weaknesses inherent in some of our efforts.' Given that there was no live-to-camera, CNN-type reporting of events during the early Christian period (and even if there had been, such events get reinterpreted nonetheless), the role of memory in its different aspects becomes an important consideration in determining not only what we know, but how and why we know it.
The essays in this book will certainly be of interest to scholars, graduate students and seminarians, but should also be welcomed by the interested and educated laypersons who want a deeper understanding of the world of early Christianity.