At this link you can access the front matter and look inside the volume. DeGruyter have kindly provided a review copy. More soon.
Category Archives: de gruyter
Coming out tomorrow. I had the joy of reading it at dissertation stage. It really is a deeply thought provoking work.
Throughout history, the study of sacred texts has focused almost exclusively on the content and meaning of these writings. Such a focus obscures the fact that sacred texts are always embodied in particular material forms—from ancient scrolls to contemporary electronic devices. Using the digital turn as a starting point, this volume highlights material dimensions of the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
The essays in this collection investigate how material aspects have shaped the production and use of these texts within and between the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, from antiquity to the present day. Contributors also reflect on the implications of transitions between varied material forms and media cultures.
Taken together, the essays suggests that materiality is significant for the academic study of sacred texts, as well as for reflection on developments within and between these religious traditions. This volume offers insightful analysis on key issues related to the materiality of sacred texts in the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, while also highlighting the significance of transitions between various material forms, including the current shift to digital culture.
This new book will be of interest to many people.
The book sheds light on various chapters in the long history of Protestant-Jewish relations, from the Reformation to the present. Going beyond questions of antisemitism and religious animosity, it aims to disentangle some of the intricate perceptions, interpretations, and emotions that have characterized contacts between Protestantism and Judaism, and between Jews and Protestants.
While some papers in the book address Luther’s antisemitism and the NS-Zeit, most papers broaden the scope of the investigation: Protestant-Jewish theological encounters shaped not only antisemitism but also the Jewish Reform movement and Protestant philosemitic post-Holocaust theology; interactions between Jews and Protestants took place not only in the German lands but also in the wider Protestant universe; theology was crucial for the articulation of attitudes toward Jews, but music and philosophy were additional spheres of creativity that enabled the process of thinking through the relations between Judaism and Protestantism.
By bringing together various contributions on these and other aspects, the book opens up directions for future research on this intricate topic, which bears both historical significance and evident relevance to our own time.
DeGruyter have sent a review copy. Be sure to visit the publisher’s link above and scroll to the contents. The essays contained in this work were delivered first at a conference in Jerusalem in 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. The essayists hale from universities in Europe and Israel, and America and their papers cover a wide range of topics, from the impact of the Reformation on early modern German Jews to the legacy of anti-semitism in Bach’s cantatas, to Jewish and Gentile interpretations of Luther’s anti-Jewish writings.
The aim of the conference, and the volume, is to deepen Jewish-Christian understanding. In particular, Jewish-Lutheran understanding.
The most important contribution to the collection is that of Kyle Jantzen, “Nazi Racism, American Anti-Semitism, and Christian Duty”. Not because it is the most profound or the best written (though it is profound and it is well written), but because it is incredibly relevant to the situation in America right now.
The rise of the alt-right and the surge of neo-nazi groups in this country right now has stunning and depressing parallels to the situation in this country in 1938. And though we should have learned the lessons of 1938, it is obvious that we have not. Nor does it seem that we are likely too.
Those who refuse to learn the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them. This volume is a helpful reminder of the entire history of Jewish and Christian interaction since the Reformation. A history that we are repeating. And not in a better way.
This new volume will be of interest to many-
The authors develop a new viewpoint on the ancient history of Israel and Judah by examining social and economic conditions, contemporary inscriptions, and archeological and iconographic sources as a basis for biblical exegesis and theology. In this way, the authors uncover the backdrop for the great biblical narrative, created as a collective memory since Persian period in Jerusalem, Babylonia, and the sanctuary on Mount Gerizim.
Ernst Axel Knauf, University of Bern, Switzerland and Hermann Michael Niemann, University of Rostock, Germany.
With thanks to Emanuel Pfoh for the heads up.
De Gruyter über den Onlinezugang:
“Wir von De Gruyter und unsere Verlagspartner bieten Institutionen einen kostenfreien Online-Zugang zu Tausenden von Büchern an, die sich in gedruckter Form in den Bibliotheken von Hochschulen und Universitäten befinden.
In herausfordernden Zeiten möchten wir damit einen Beitrag für die Aufrechterhaltung von Forschung, Lehre und Studien leisten.”
Kostenfreier Zugang gilt nur bis zum 30. Juni 2020.
Ed. by Gertz, Jan Christian / Körting, Corinna / Witte, Markus, Das Buch Ezechiel: Komposition, Redaktion und Rezeption.
The Front Matter, TOC, and other helpful indicators of the volume’s aims are available here.
The editors begin
Das Ezechielbuch erfreut sich seit einiger Zeit wieder einer zunehmenden Beachtung in der Forschungsdiskussion. Das hat unterschiedliche, gleichwohl miteinander zusammenhängende Gründe. Mit seiner charakteristischen Textgeschichte ist das Ezechielbuch nicht zuletzt für die Verhältnisbestimmung von protomasoretischer Tradition und der hebräischen Vorlage der LXX von Bedeutung.
Dabei zeigt sich immer deutlicher, wie sehr die Rekonstruktion der Textgeschichte sowohl redaktionsgeschichtliche als auch rezeptionsgeschichtliche Fragestellungen anregt, aufgreift und weiterführt. Für die Literaturgeschichte des Alten Testaments kommt dem Ezechielbuch schon wegen seiner wechselseitigen Beziehungen zur Priesterschrift und zu solchen Texten, die in jüngerer Zeit vornehmlich der Holiness School zugerechnet werden, sowie seiner theologischen Konzeption eine herausgehobene Stellung zu. Darüber hinaus haben jüngere Arbeiten zur Kosmologie des Alten Testaments die enge Verbindung des Ezechielbuches zu kosmologischen Entwürfen Mesopotamiens erneut ins Zentrum gestellt.
Daneben tritt die Verbindung in den griechischen Raum stärker ins Bewusstsein. Beide Einsichten sind wiederum für das Bild der israelitisch-jüdischen Religionsund Theologiegeschichte von Bedeutung.
And further. They then briefly summarize the contents of each paper, and so since that’s done and freely available I will here offer my observations on the volume.
Part of the value of the present work is the range of topics discussed. The subtitle is actualized and papers concerning such things as the text of Ezekiel discovered at Qumran, literary and exegetical examinations of the volume, and Ezekiel among the early Christians are just a few of the topics broached. All of the papers are in German (with English abstracts) save Casey Strine’s, the lone English contribution (though it has a German abstract for those who wish it).
The most outstanding of the contributions are those of Fabry (on Ezekiel in Qumran and Masada), Nihan (on Ezekiel 8), Bühner (on Ezekiel and ‘P’), Strine (on anthropology), and Karrer (on Ezekiel and the first Christians). Each essay in the volume features footnotes and a thorough bibliography. The Western font is pleasant whilst the Hebrew font is decent if a bit small for complete comfort, and the pages are neither thin nor thick, but like the last bowl of porridge that Goldilocks tried, they are just right. Subject and Author indices are also included.
There are no pictures though, so some Seminary students will find it lacks the entertainment value that they’ve come to treasure in these troubled times of ours.
Most especially, though, will those students and scholars of the book of Ezekiel be benefited by reading the tome.
The editors of this work have done a great job both of assembling first rate scholars to deliver these papers in Eisenach at a colloquium on Ezekiel in 2018 (May of that year to be precise). And they have done a wonderful job of editing them into a coherent, well organized, important, and eminently quotable volume. Or, as they state it themselves, after laying the groundwork for the collection:
Diese vielfältigen Aspekte der Forschung zum Ezechielbuch zu bündeln und zugleich paradigmatisch voranzubringen war das Ziel der Tagung „Das Buch Ezechiel – Komposition, Redaktion und Rezeption“ der Fachgruppe Altes Testament in der Wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft für Theologie e.V., die im Mai 2018 in Eisenach stattfand. Für die vorliegende Publikation wurden die Referate mit Blick auf die offene und intensive Diskussion während der Tagung überarbeitet.
You probably weren’t at Eisenach when the colloquy took place. And you probably aren’t there now. But you can make a ‘virtual’ stop at the gathering and ‘sit in on’ the papers that interest you by picking up a copy of this volume.
It will be an excellent use of your quarantine time. And it’s a sight better than binge watching Tiger Joe on Netflix for 13 hours.
Hugo Greßmann (1877-1927) hat als einer der führenden Vertreter der Religionsgeschichtlichen Schule die religionsgeschichtliche Methode zur Geltung gebracht. Die biographisch-wissenschaftsgeschichtliche Studie stellt Greßmanns religionsgeschichtliches Programm dar, ordnet es in den wissenschaftshistorischen Kontext ein und zeigt seine Bedeutung für die weitere Wissenschaftsgeschichte auf.
Das Abendmahl im johanneischen Kreis: Eine exegetisch-hermeneutische Studie zur Mahltheologie des Johannesevangeliums
The full table of contents, and the foreword, are available at the link above. A perusal of them both will fully inform potential readers about the volume here under review in terms of its aims and interests.
Die vorliegende Studie ist eine überarbeitete Fassung meiner im WS 2010/11 von der Evangelisch-Theologischen Fakultät Münster angenommenen Dissertation: „Das Abendmahl im johanneischen Kreis. Exegetisch-hermeneutische Überlegungen zu einer Mahltheologie des Johannesevangeliums“. Für die Drucklegung wurden einige Passagen deutlich gestrafft, dazu zahlreiche Versehen, Redundanzen sowie unpräzise Formulierungen getilgt oder verbessert. In den Jahren 2010 – 2016 erschienene Publikationen zur Fragestellung werden in einem Anhang besprochen. Fünfzehn Jahre hat es gedauert bis meine Ausgangsfrage nach einer johanneischen Abendmahlstheologie mit dieser Publikation ihren Abschluss findet.
Interestingly, this revised dissertation was a decade in the making. Normally, dissertations have a fairly rapid turn-around rate but this exceptional volume breaks that mold as it breaks interpretive and exegetical molds from start to finish.
To begin with, our author investigates the Supper in the Johannine community. 101 pages later, he turns to the questions of composition and redaction. 178 pages after he begins that discussion he turns to a new question: the exegetical one. He looks thoroughly into John 2:1-12, 6:1-59, 12:1-8, 13:1- 17:26, 19:23-37, and John 21. This is, of course, the bulk of the book, extending from page 279 to page 508. The work concludes with a theological investigation of the Supper in John, an ‘afterword’, and a full bibliography. The last pages are occupied by indices.
So much for the contents. Now to the substance. Bienert skillfully explores the issue and comes to some important conclusions by means of hard exegetical work and not on the basis of speculations or suppositions. Every argument is firmly grounded in the data and there is no stone left unturned in the quest for the historical Supper and its theological intentions in the Gospel of John.
I won’t spoil the ending and divulge the conclusions which B. reaches. I will allow you the pleasure of that discovery for yourselves. Nor will I summarize the development of the argument, since the incredibly thorough table of contents does that itself. Fully.
I will tell you, though, that in spite of all the work put in and all the extraordinary effort expended, Bienert humbly concludes
Der Überblick lässt vermuten, dass das Rätsel um den Umgang des Johannesevangeliums mit dem Herrenmahl auch noch im 21 Jahrhundert die neutestamentliche Exegese und die frühe Kirchengeschichte beschäftigen wird. Dieses Buch möchte seinen eigenen Beitrag dazu leisten.
It is more than merely a contribution to the status quaestionis, but is itself an immensely helpful and important benchmark and milestone in the investigation of the question. I recommend it to those who are interested in the Johannine literature, those interested in the Supper, and those interested in excellent methodology.
In these pandemic times it’s a pleasure and a joy to escape back into that hard work of biblical scholarship. I assure you, should you pick this book up, you will be glad to think other things too.
Luke/Acts and the End of History investigates how understandings of history in diverse texts of the Graeco-Roman period illuminate Lukan eschatology. In addition to Luke/Acts, it considers ten comparison texts as detailed case studies throughout the monograph: Polybius’s Histories, Diodorus Siculus’s Library of History, Virgil’s Aeneid, Valerius Maximus’s Memorable Doings and Sayings, Tacitus’s Histories, 2 Maccabees, the Qumran War Scroll, Josephus’s Jewish War, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch.
The study makes a contribution both in its method and in the questions it asks. By placing Luke/Acts alongside a broad range of texts from Luke’s wider cultural setting, it overcomes two methodological shortfalls frequently evident in recent research: limiting comparisons of key themes to texts of similar genre, and separating non-Jewish from Jewish parallels. Further, by posing fresh questions designed to reveal writers’ underlying conceptions of history—such as beliefs about the shape and end of history or divine and human agency in history—this monograph challenges the enduring tendency to underestimate the centrality of eschatology for Luke’s account.
Influential post-war scholarship reflected powerful concerns about “salvation history” arising from its particular historical setting, and criticised Luke for focusing on history instead of eschatology due to the parousia’s delay. Though some elements of this thesis have been challenged, Luke continues to be associated with concerns about the delayed parousia, affecting contemporary interpretation. By contrast, this study suggests that viewing Luke/Acts within a broader range of texts from Luke’s literary context highlights his underlying teleological conception of history.
It demonstrates not only that Luke retains a sense of eschatological urgency seen in other New Testament texts, but a structuring of history more akin to the literature of late Second Temple Judaism than the non-Jewish Graeco-Roman historiographies with which Luke/Acts is more commonly compared. The results clarify not only Lukan eschatology, but related concerns or effects of his eschatology, such as Luke’s politics and approach to suffering. This monograph thereby offers an important corrective to readings of Luke/Acts based on established exegetical habits, and will help to inform interpretation for scholars and students of Luke/Acts as well as classicists and theologians interested in these key questions.
This volume is a much needed and much appreciated corrective to the long held but inadequate views of Conzelmann.
Those who have spent any time in the study of Luke/ Acts have come across Hans Conzelmann. His work casts a massive shadow across the field and he is as impossible to avoid as Bultmann is for the Synoptics and the Theology of the New Testament and as von Rad is for Old Testament theology. Indeed, persons ignoring Conzelmann simply cannot be taken seriously as scholars of Luke / Acts.
Accordingly, it is only proper for Crabbe to deal with him. But she doesn’t just deal with him, she corrects him, and that is a massive achievement.
The contents of the book are available for viewing here, along with various snippets freely offered for downloading.
Many books have been written on the topic of history in the Lukan material. This volume is unique in its presentation of extrabiblical contemporaneous material as necessary for a proper understanding of the Lukan purpose.
The first two chapters are the typical ‘status questionis’ of the doctoral dissertation (which this is, revised), and the methodology to be utilized is fully and carefully detailed. Chapter three examines ‘history’ as that word needs to be understood in order to follow the development of the dissertation. Chapter four focuses on the notion of historical determinism whilst chapter five advances theories concerning human freedom and responsibility within history.
Chapter six is the genuine heart of the study, discussing, as it does, the present and the end of history. Virgil is brought in as example and so are Luke/ Acts.
Chapter seven draws some conclusions and readers may want to consider beginning here to get a sense of where the book is headed before they commence reading at the first chapter. That, by the way, is always a fairly good procedure when one reads revised dissertations: begin at the conclusion to see where the author wants to end up and then read the work to see if he or she actually accomplishes what they set out to do. Many times they do not. In this case, however, Crabbe does exactly what she meant to do.
The book ends with a series of 5 appendices which are simply charts illustrating the occurrences of Greek words related to ‘time’ across the New Testament. There’s then a full bibliography, an index of ancient sources, an index of modern authors, and finally an index of subjects.
The great thing about this book is its heavy dependence on primary sources. In an era when most scholars seem to be satisfied with collecting secondary sources and banging on endlessly only about how original sources have fared in ‘reception history’, this work delves into the works that matter instead of the works that matter to those disinterested in reading ancient texts.
Crabbe has done excellent work. She deserves our appreciation. And, I think, were Hans Conzelmann still with us, he would appreciate Crabbe’s work very much indeed.
If you are a Lukan scholar, this book is must reading. If you aren’t, you will still enjoy this volume for its clarity, cogency, and helpfulness.
Pre-order your copy and request that your institutional library do the same. It’s a fantastic book. Learned, well researched, and eminently readable. The best book on Paul that I’ve read since Chris Tilling’s.
Paulus ist vor allem als theologischer Denker bekannt. Nun behaupten gewichtige Stimmen aus dem englischsprachigen Raum, die Exegese seiner Briefe habe sich bisher viel zu sehr auf abstrakte Konzepte und Argumentationsfiguren konzentriert. Vielmehr sei die Erkenntnis von fundamentaler Bedeutung, dass die Texte durch und durch von Geschichten geprägt seien. Gemeint sind nicht explizite Erzählungen, sondern narrative Strukturen, die im Subtext oder in der Weltanschauung des Autors verortet werden. Heiligs Studie unterzieht diesen „narrative approach“ einer kritischen Prüfung: Kann im Fall von Briefen sinnvoll von Narrativen gesprochen werden? Ist die Priorisierung impliziter Erzählungen sinnvoll? Mit welchem methodischen Werkzeug könnte man die bisher angeblich übersehenen Erzählungen identifizieren? Heilig beantwortet diese und weitere grundsätzliche Fragen unter Bezugnahme auf die erzähltheoretische und textlinguistische Forschung und zeigt in der Analyse konkreter Texte auf, wie Paulus tatsächlich als „Erzähler“ auftritt. Dabei demonstriert er, wie eine initiale Konzentration auf explizite Erzählungen tatsächlich auf einen Weg zu einer neuen, narratologisch fundierten Betrachtungsweise der Schriften des Apostels führen kann.
Jewish-Christian relations have a long history and did not start at the end of World War II. The Encyclopedia of Jewish-Christian Relations (EJCR) documents, critically analyses, and reflects on decisive aspects, themes, and periods in this regard. The encounters and relations were not always and exclusively hostile, although Christian disrespect and contempt of Jews overshadowed them to a vast and dominating extent. It is also the case that anti-Christian teachings have appeared through Jewish history, whether in response to persecution, in formal disputation, or in philosophical responses.
However, the view of Jews and Christians as implacable opponents battling for their version of truth, of Jews living as insular pariahs within a hostile world, the tale of persecution by the mighty of the weak, or what Salo Baron critiqued as the “lachrymose conception of Jewish history”, has given way in recent years to a much more nuanced understanding of areas of congruence, of cultural, economic, and social interchange. For a long time these interchanges between Jews and Christians were those of highly unequal participants, where an imbalance in terms of political and academic power had a decisive impact on the exchange in that the Jewish participants were denied recognition on equal par at theological as well as at institutional level. Nevertheless, encounters and critical interactions did occur and a legacy of Jewish-Christian relations has been built.
The EJCR is thus a project which continues the tradition of interreligious relations within Judaism and Christianity by developing a comprehensive and fundamental scholarly/academic work which documents the current state of research and serves as the standard reference work for further research projects in the area of Jewish-Christian relations. It aims at setting the firm basis for any work in Jewish-Christian relations in the future built on the irrevocable presupposition of mutual respect at eye level. As such the EJCR serves also as a contribution to establish Jewish-Christian relations as an area of research and studies in its own right.
We are happy that you have found your way to this database and hope the EJCR articles will provide you with sustained scientifically based support for your research and discourses, for dialogue initiatives and the ecclesial and theological permeation of these relationships.
Visit the webpage of the project and scroll to the bottom for sample articles and more info. A-J Levine is the Editor in Chief so it will surely be spectacular.
Professor Tarald Rasmussen has written both on medieval and modern theologians, but his primary interest has remained the reformation and 16th century church history. In stead of a traditional «Festschrift» honouring the different fields of research he has contributed to, this will be a focused anthology treating a specific theme related to Rasmussen’s research profile.
One of Professor Rasmussen’s most recent publications, a little popularized book in Norwegian titled «What is Protestantism?», reveals a central aspect research interest, namely the Weberian interest for Protestantism’s cultural significance. Despite difficulties, he finds the concept useful as a Weberian «Idealtypus» enabling research on a phenomenon combining theological, historical and sociological dimensions. Thus he employs the Protestantism as an integrative concept to trace the makeup of today’s secular societies.
This profiled approach is a point of departure for this anthology discussing important aspects of historiography in reformation history: Continuity and breaks surrounding the reformation, contemporary significance of reformation history research, traces of the reformation in today’s society.
The book relates to current discussions on Protestantism and is relevant to everyone who want to keep up to date with the latest research in the field.
Visitors to this link will find access to the table of contents and other front matter which will help them in deciding whether or not this is a volume they wish to read. I think those interested in the Reformation will be drawn to the work.
As the table of contents is available above I won’t be repeating it here. Instead, I will make a few observations about the book, which I found very interesting and informative, and I will point out a few problems with the book.
First, the observations: the essays in this collection are a fitting celebration of the scholar herein honored. Rasmussen is certainly the most accomplished of Reformation scholars from Scandinavia, and the work at hand centers its attention primarily on the outworking of the Reformation in those lands. Particularly engaging, for me, were the essays by Leppin (who is a wonderful scholar), Jürgensen, and Kaufmann.
Jürgensen’s intriguing contribution featured a number of excellent photographs which properly illustrated his chief thesis, which is that art is the one place Protestants felt comfortable in retaining their Roman Catholic affinity for images and idols. The cult of the Saints is alive and well in Protestantism, in other words, in artistic depictions – even if the cult was denounced in sermons and tractates.
And Kaufmann’s essay is simply superb. His assertion that
The German ‘Protestant community’ itself has a chequered history of division and hatred. The Lutheran and Reformed (Calvinist) parties required considerable time and effort to overcome doctrinal differences and reach a frosty unity based on perception of the common Catholic enemy.
is right on the mark. And his demonstration of that truth in his contribution is thorough and intelligent. He is, accordingly, also right to point out that
The Peace of Augsburg may therefore have established political and legal peace, but it did nothing to prevent – indeed promoted – the establishment of a bitter confessional split in the German nation which provided the framework for the development of an unparalleled level of inter-confessional rancor and uninhibited polemic.
And now, second, a few problems with the book. The primary issue readers will have with the book is that there are a number of places where it is obvious that it has not been carefully examined by a native English speaker. For instance,
on page 1 – ‘bin’ stands where the word should be ‘been’.
on page 4 – ‘Luther’s Catholic Intention and the Raise of Protest’ should be ‘Luther’s Catholic Intention and the Rise of Protest’.
on page 7 – ‘Making Luther Protesting’ should be ‘Making Luther Protestant’.
on page 11 – “Wider Hans Worst” should be ‘Wieder Hans Wurst’.
And finally (because I don’t want to list every grammatical error but simply illustrate their fairly common appearance), on page 11 the closing paragraph as a whole is oddly constructed (from an English point of view):
Was Luther ever a Prostestant? Again: No, never. How could he? Luther wanted to be a Catholic, and he felt being a Catholic. Sure, not a Roman Catholic, but he was neither a Lutheran nor a Protestant. He was just: a Christian.
The wonderfully informative and engaging essays of this collection deserved a second go through linguistically. The reading experience of this book is less pleasurable than it could be, and should be, simply because the various grammatical errors are jarring. Reading the work is like driving down a lovely highway where the scenery out the windows of the car is simply enthralling and being jarred from the experience by a giant pothole that nearly shakes one from one’s seat.
I sincerely hope that should a second edition appear, it will be combed through by an English editor before it is printed.
Free in Open Access from De Gruyter: “Sceptical Paths: Enquiry and Doubt from Antiquity to the Present”
Download it here.
Sceptical Paths offers a fresh look at key junctions in the history of scepticism. Throughout this collection, key figures are reinterpreted, key arguments are reassessed, lesser-known figures are reintroduced, accepted distinctions are challenged, and new ideas are explored.
The historiography of scepticism is usually based on a distinction between ancient and modern. The former is understood as a way of life which focuses on enquiry, whereas the latter is taken to be an epistemological approach which focuses on doubt. The studies in Sceptical Paths not only deepen the understanding of these approaches, but also show how ancient sceptical ideas find their way into modern thought, and modern sceptical ideas are anticipated in ancient thought. Within this state of affairs, the presence of sceptical arguments within Medieval philosophy is reflected in full force, not only enriching the historical narrative, but also introducing another layer to the sceptical discourse, namely its employment within theological settings.
The various studies in this book exhibit the rich variety of expression in which scepticism manifests itself within various context and set against various philosophical and religious doctrines, schools, and approaches.
Ehud Ben Zvi has been at the forefront of exploring how the study of social memory contributes to our understanding of the intellectual worldof the literati of the early Second Temple period and their textual repertoire. Many of his studies on the matter and several new relevant works are here collected together providing a very useful resource for furthering research and teaching in this area.The essays included here address, inter alia, prophets as sites of memory, kings as sites memory, Jerusalem as a site of memory, a mnemonic system shaped by two interacting ‘national’ histories, matters of identity and othering as framed and explored via memories, mnemonic metanarratives making sense of the past and serving various didactic purposes and their problems, memories of past and futures events shared by the literati, issues of gender constructions and memory, memories understood by the group as ‘counterfactual’ and their importance, and, in multiple ways, how and why shared memories served as a (safe) playground for exploring multiple, central ideological issues within the group and of generative grammars governing systemic preferences and dis-preferences for particular memories.
A review copy arrived some time back. I’ve worked through its contents and wish to make the following observations on the book. But before I do, please note the Table of Contents (the contents tab on the left of the page).
There are 31 essays in this volume and all but six of them have appeared previously. There is a fairly wide range of texts examined and most of the essays are interesting. But three of them are VERY interesting:
- Reading Chronicles and Reshaping the Memory of Manasseh
- When Yhwh Tests People: General Considerations and Particular Observations Regarding the Books of Chronicles and Job
- Social Sciences Models and Mnemonic/ Imagined Worlds: Exploring Their Interrelations in Ancient Israel
The work in hand extends to over 700 pages and every page has one central point: memory. Or to be more precise, ‘Site of Memory’. And what is that exactly?
‘Site of Memory’ is used here to refer to any socially constructed space, place, event, figure, text or the like- whether it is manifested ‘materially’ or only in the mind of members of a social group- whose presence in the relevant cultural milieu evokes or was meant to evoke core images or aspects of images of the past held by the particular social group who lives in that cultural milieu.
If that seems an ambitious project, it’s because it is. How, after all, are we supposed to glean what memories various texts provoke in modern readers, much less those who lived thousands of years ago?
To state the problem another way, how are we supposed to know what the person on the other end of a phone call is saying when we only hear what the person near us is saying? How are we to know what ancient readers hear when ancient texts speak when all we have is the text doing the speaking and not the ancient doing the hearing?
There is no doubt that we are well equipped to infer certain facts when we hear just half of a ‘call’:
‘No, I can’t make it to dinner tomorrow, how about we make it Saturday?’
‘Ok then, Saturday works. See you at 7.’
It’s fair to infer that the person on the other end of the line has declined dinner on some day of the week and that he or she has agreed to both a time and a day. But that’s all we know. We don’t know the details of the restaurant or anything about the other person at all.
And that, it seems to me, is the problem with memory studies on the whole. Texts surely do intend to provoke something in the readers. Jeremiah’s ‘remember Shiloh’ certainly is a very fine example of that provocation to remembrance of a particular textual event. The problem we run into though is that we may well understand Jeremiah’s meaning but we are lost in terms of his audience’s understanding of that sermon.
Ben Zvi realizes all of that, I think, which is why he writes
Of course, written texts or collections of texts are not themselves memories. They may, inter alia, encode, communicate, shape, reshape, recall memories, but they are not memories. Only people can have memories.
Indeed! And we are at a loss precisely because we have no people to question concerning how texts provoked or affected memories in their minds or in the minds of anyone else.
In short, then, the entire ‘memory’ project is a pipe dream. It bears the resemblance of scientific enquiry because it uses social-scientific terminology and is very popular in various corners of biblical studies. There are memory sessions and sections at academic conferences. All of which serves to legitimize what is, as far as I can objectively tell, a pursuing of imaginary readings.
That doesn’t mean that there are interesting things to be found in the present volume or in the whole ‘social memory’ quest. There certainly are. But what are we to do with the delights we pluck off the tree of social memory studies once we have them in hand? If we bite into them with any force at all they evaporate into the ether because they are ephemeral and imaginary.
There is plenty of ‘fruit’ to be plucked from the social memory tree here planted and tended by Ben Zvi. Unfortunately, there’s nothing nutritious in that fruit because it consists of air. It is wispy and attractive and tempting like cotton candy. But like cotton candy there’s nothing to it except a bit of a sugar high headache and sticky fingers that have to be washed off before you can get back in the car of scholarship to make your way back home to the study of substantial matters.
It is impossible to ‘get inside’ someone’s head and the simple truth of the matter is, we have no idea how memories arise or affect individuals or societies. Not in any meaningful, practical way.
I wish things were otherwise. I wish the hopeful and helpful promises made by the memory theorists actually delivered what they hoped they would deliver. But they don’t.
The tool doesn’t work.