Memories17 July 2020
Yesterday I caught the very end of an interview with (I think) David Nolan, the film producer. One sentence made me switch off the programme and think. He said something to the effect that our long-term memory is an interpretation of events that happened long ago, and which has changed over time. The sharpness of events long past has gradually lost its edge, so as to become perhaps less painful, less disruptive, less awkward. (I'm interpreting Nolan myself here!)
Of course, the opposite might also be the case, where distant memories are brought into a sharper focus and perhaps given a framework or a solidity that was never there at the beginning.
So how accurate are our long-term memories, and does it matter if memories are subconsciously tweaked over the years? That surely depends on the event being recalled, and what effect recalling it might have in the present. Certainly memory fades as age advances, and it can be quite disconcerting when it fails.
This all made me wonder about the stories of Jesus in the synoptic gospels. Nothing was written down for decades after Jesus' death. The first to be written, Mark, appeared just after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70CE, and that's about 35 years after the crucifixion. Until then, everything known about Jesus was shared in what is called the oral tradition - stories, doubtless embellished and doubtless different from one story-teller to another. What we've ended up with is best attempts to harmonise all the stories - and there are many that didn't get into the New Testament - and to choose those which present Jesus as each of the writers perceived him.
So when we read those stories, we should resist taking them as historically accurate and rather look at what the writer was exploring and explaining. We have to do our own interpretation in order to see what the stories are really telling us.
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