Baker Academic

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Difference between Ancient and Modern Remembering - Le Donne

Journalist Joshua Foer gives a short lecture on his
journey into the arena of memory competition
The interest in memory studies among Gospel scholars is still in its infancy.  I continue to see the common mistake of folks using memory as a synonym for "tradition" and/or assuming that "eye-witnesses" provide a firm foundation for discussions of accuracy. We still lack clear descriptions of the relationships between communicative, cultural, collective, and autobiographical memory.  Finally, we betray our novice understanding of memory studies by assuming that modern vehicles for memory (what we call mnemotechniques) are analogous to ancient vehicles for memory.

This lecture (about 20 minutes) is a great introduction to the differences between ancient and modern remembering. Lucky for us, the human mind is still capable of duplicating what the ancients employed with regularity.  If you are even marginally interested in memory studies, watch this.  Do yourself a favor and don't turn it off after the first 45 seconds. It gets better.


  1. I read Moonwalking with Einstein. Fascinating book. Will look forward to watching this TED talk.

  2. Anthony, thanks for this post. I'll do the vid soon when I roll by some free wi-fi. Two questions on your general remarks:

    1. Isn't "tradition" (the oral transmission of Gospel material) a *form* of social or collective memory? What's the crucial distinction here?

    2. I agree that eyewitnesses are rarely perfect, and thus hardly proof of accuracy, but do you agree or disagree that first hand memory is generally more accurate than second or third hand information?

    3. Same question as 2, but I want to say, "first hand journalism" instead of memory. Just for hypothetical grins.

    1. Thanks for asking Bill,

      See my reply to this on the post called "cultural memory and secondhand interpretation".


  3. This is one of the better TED talks I've seen, which certainly says much about it. It also provides an important introduction for thinking about the performance of texts (I'm thinking especially within Markan studies), as these performances were, in all likelihood, memorized in some capacity.