Sean Freyne was one of those Jesus scholars from the previous generation who somehow never quite stole the limelight in the fashion of a Crossan or Wright but was an original thinker whose research is always illuminating. Somewhat like Gerd Theissen, he was wedding historical criticism and sociological analyses well before most. I've recently been revisiting some of his work as I prepare a paper on the portrayal of Jesus as a Galilean in the Gospel of John for SBL. I found a place where he was, once more, way ahead of the field in general.
In my opinion, one of the more important emphases in more recent historical Jesus research, associated with the so-called "memory approach" and other approaches, concerns the "pressure of the past." Without launching into an article here on the blog, what I mean by this is simply that scholars take seriously the fact that the tradents responsible for the Gospels were not making things up in a truly wholesale manner but were strategically emphasizing, de-emphasizing, crafting, re-crafting, etc., a past that preceded them. They were not, in other words, working with a blank slate; they were working with prior interpretations of Jesus, joining a hermeneutical trajectory that came before them and would proceed beyond them. Rather than focusing upon how early Christians rewrote the past in a unidirectional manner, then, scholars should be asking how the past impacted them as well as how their present impacted their reception of that past.
Neither I nor colleauges such as Rafael Rodriguez or Anthony Le Donne or others who emphasize these points in publications think (to my knowledge) that we came up with them on our own. We got them from people like Alan Kirk and Jens Schroeter, who made similar points in earlier publications. And one does not have to search hard to find scholars like Barry Schwartz, Jeffrey Olick, Yael Zerubavel, and Hans-Georg Gadamer, all of whom make these points in their own way.
Already back in the Neirynck Festschrift in 1992, however, Freyne was making this point. Before I had a driver's license, before "memory" made an impact in Jesus studies, and even before Schroeter's Erinnerung an Jesu Worte, Freyne said this about the "common intertext" of the remembered past of Jesus that all the Gospel authors shared:
"All the canonical gospels share a common intertext, the actual career of Jesus as this was remembered and narrated in various circles."
"It should never be forgotten that John wrote a gospel, not a revelatory discourse, and this means that the common intertext of Jesus' earthly career was important for his purposes."
(Both from "Locality and Doctrin: John and Mark Revisited," in his collection of essays, Galilee and Gospel, WUNT 125, pp. 288, 292 respectively.)
I think that viewing the received interpretations of Jesus' career as an "intertext" with which the Gospel authors engaged is a helpful way to think about the pressure of the past. And importantly, this is not directly a historical point; it's a hermeneutical one. Jesus was already interpreted long before the Gospel authors decided to cast their portrayals of him. If we seek to understand the multitude of forces that influenced their portrayals, the interpretations they received, that "common intertext,"
must play a key role in the discussion.