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Memory, Orality, and the Fourth Gospel: Three Dead-Ends in Historical Jesus Research

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Three recent approaches to historical Jesus studies are assessed in this article. First, the use of memory studies as a means of validating the historical authenticity of Gospel traditions. Secondly, claims that Gospel traditions should be understood as primarily reaching the evangelists orally, and that this process provides greater confidence in the historicity of such traditions. Thirdly, the Fourth Gospel is seen in some quarters as an important source in historical Jesus research based upon new paradigms and radical redefinitions of historicity. Contrary to such claims, here it is argued that for a series of different reasons that none of these methods offers any significant advance in accessing the ‘historical Jesus’, as that term is usually understood. This is not to say that the methods are without value. Rather, it is the over-confident application of such approaches to the ‘historical Jesus question’ that is critiqued. This is especially the case when it is claimed that they provide a key methodological break-through, enabling reclamation of more Gospel traditions as being securely founded in the ministry of the historical Jesus.

Affiliations: 1: School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK,


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