Kelber, Werner H. "The Case of the Gospels: Memory's Desire and the Limits of Historical Criticism." Oral Tradition 17/1 (2002): 55-86.
Kelber notes that studies of memory processing have been a subject of renewed interest in recent years (Kelber 2002, 55). Kelber briefly discusses a 1966 survey by Frances Yates, as well as a 1990 work by Mary Carruthers and a 1992 study by Janet Coleman. In essence, their conclusions say people in oral cultures have a relatively concrete and tactile way of preserving memories accurately (Kelber 2002, 56). Further, social memory may be a conbination of social identity and selected reconstructions of memory, creating a particular group identity. The selective process may well result in traditions which are created from elements in the past but which do not describe an actual past situation (Kelber 2002, 57). Kelber applies this concept to the Gospel accounts to suggest it may explain differences among the various narratives.
Because orality is carried on in the context of a speaker and an audience, there is considerable pressure on the speaker to conform to the expectations of the audience. This is not necessarily the case in scribality, which may feel free tor e-shape ideas an audience would hold (Kelber 2002, 57). Kelber sees this as especially likely to happen "in times of radical change and disaster, when prevailing paradigms have lost all persuasive powers" (Kelber 2002, 58). This suggests to Kelber that the New Testament documents did not necessarily derive entirely from other, pre-existing documents and concepts, but may have some elemtns of creative reconstruction of memories. The sudies of orality which suggest this process have not had a great influence on New Testament scholarshiop (Kelber 2002, 59).
The work of Birger Gerhardsson (Memory and Manuscript, 1961) takes memorization in both Christian and Jewish tradition from 70 AD through the fifth century to be relatively mechanical, based on repetition (Kelber 2002, 59). This led to a strongly static tradition. Interpretation was not typically incorporated into accounts. Kelber notes, however, that rabbinic tradition often contains glosses and alternative accounts, which suggest flexibility in transmission (Kelber 2002, 60). Kelber goes on to consider the differences between "cold" and "hot" memory - that memorized and that reconstructed. A survey of the sayings of Jesus in the gospels could well help us understand how the memorial process occurred (Kelber 2002, 62). While Bultmann examined elements of oral tradition in The History of the Synoptic Tradition (1921), research has not progressed significantly beyond his arguments (Kelber 2002, 63). Kelber briefly reviews the analytical method used by Bultmann, the n describes his weaknesses in detail.
Kelber views biblical scholarship to have endured a decline in the last 250 years primarily related to a departure from its emphasis on the nature of narrative (Kelber 2002, 67). This has resulted in an inability of scholars to focus on the intrinsic logic of and interaction between various documents. The assumption of the interpreter about what must make sense ultimately is allowed to govern the interpretation (Kelber 2002, 69).
One of the challenges Kelber finds in the field of biblical studies is related to textuality, or, more specifically, the limits of tupography (Kelber 2002, 70). The standardization of print may lead to a focus on one literal meaning of a text, devoid of nuance, color, or emphasis. Kelber illustrates his meaning by describing the Two-Source Hypothesis, which assumes the sympotics depended on two different documents (Kelber 2002, 71). Kelber further raises the question of the validity of Gospel parallels, which harmonize the gospel accounts (Kelber 2002, 72).
Since the 1960s, Kelber finds that scholarship has begun to discover separate "literary identities" for the four gospels (Kelber 2002, 74). The authors have an intent, and it is not solely the preservation of tradition. The narrative owrld of the particular evangelist defines the character, events, and purposes (Kelber 2002, 75). Kelber goes on to describe the way eschatology is dealt with in the different gospels.
Kelber notes that the inclusion of different elements in the gospels is deliberate, as is the exclusion of some elements. Though the reason is not always clear, there is certainly a reason (Kelber 2002, 77). Kelber considers this to be indicative of the "cultural nature" of each writer, not an inadequacy in transmitting memories (Kelber 2002, 79). The collections of details can be seen as focused on the present need, rather than being predominantly focused on recording events of the past. Some details are selected for memory and some for forgetting (Kelber 2002, 80).