Bart Ehrman discussing his new book. It's about early Christianity, obviously, but many of the general arguments could be applied equally to the transmission of historical memory in early Islam.http://ehrmanblog.org/my-first-interview-on-jesus-before-the-gospels/
Here is the first interview I have done for Jesus Before the Gospels, for the American Freethought Podcast .... In the interview we talk about what research on memory–how it’s formed, how it’s recalled, how it can change when transmitted from person to person, and how it can be remolded based on historical perspective and current events. Studies of memory, of course, can help us understand the oral traditions of Jesus before the written accounts of the Gospels were produced....https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/logical-take/201604/book-review-bart-ehrman-s-jesus-the-gospels
This made me wonder: had the authors of the biblical Gospels fabricated or embellished any of their stories? How reliable was the oral tradition that preserved the stories about Jesus before they were written down?
Essentially, this is a question of memory. How accurate were peoples’ reports of Jesus’ life? How well did people remember the stories that emerged from those reports? How reliably were they passed on by the individuals and groups that retold them? And ultimately, what does this tell us about the accuracy of the Gospel writers’ memories of Jesus’ life? It is this question that Ehrman tries to answer in Jesus Before the Gospels.
To answer this question, Ehrman not only looks at biblical scholarship, but at what we have learned about memory—both individual and social—and how accurately it preserves the past. The upshot? It’s unlikely the Gospels are very historically accurate. Neither human memory, nor our ability to pass on stories, are that reliable. As the stories of Jesus life were passed on through multiple communities and multiple languages, they were altered, elaborated upon, and new ones were even fabricated.
Now, there are multiple arguments people have given for the reliability of the memory of the people who passed on the stories of Jesus before they were written down. Aren’t they based on eyewitness accounts? And weren’t they passed on in oral (pre-literate) cultures that couldn’t write anything down? Thus wouldn’t they have had to have learned carefully to recount and then pass stories down accurately? Some have even suggested that oral cultures do this still today; couldn’t the communities passing down the stories of Jesus been using the same techniques?
Ehrman addresses such arguments and shows why they don’t hold any water. Let’s look at three major objections to such arguments....
How reliable are the oral traditions that formed the basis of the New Testament writings before they were even written down?
His answer depends on what you mean by “reliable.” If you mean how historically accurate they are in the details of Jesus’s life, death, and teachings, then that answer is probably “not very.” But if you’re asking how useful are they in tracing the early beliefs, needs, and travails of the Christian Church, then they are a mine of information.
Ehrman outlines the problem he explores:
The disciples were lower-class, illiterate peasants who spoke Aramaic, Jesus’ own language. The Gospels, on the other hand, were written by highly educated Greek-speaking Christians forty to sixty-five years later. . . .Ultimately most of the stories they [the Gospel authors] told must have come from oral traditions, as followers of Jesus told and retold stories about him—starting while he was alive and then even more after he was dead. These oral traditions were in circulation year after year, and decade after decade, before they were inherited by the authors of our Gospels.
He then takes on the many problems this timeline raises, bringing to bear the most recent research on both memory and transmission of oral histories.
One problem he tackles is the idea of eyewitness testimony itself. In the last twenty years, much research has been done on the reliability of such testimony, and, quite frankly, the results aren’t good. Even fresh eyewitness testimony is subject to much error, and within only a few weeks, much disinformation and distortion has (often unintentionally) slipped into even the most reliable accounts.
Other problems lie in the transmission of this testimony from one person to another. Christianity in its early years was both oral and evangelistic. The stories weren’t told and retold with an eye to keeping them exact, but to illuminating the teachings and lessons of Jesus Christ. Layered on top of this was a continual renewal of the stories to reflect how they were germane to the events of the times, such as the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the expansion of Christianity outside of Israel into Rome and beyond.
It is in this last layer that the real meat of Ehrman’s analysis of early Christian history comes through most fully. He explores the stories as recorded—their differences, the known history from other sources—and teases out the reasons why those differences appeared. He places it solidly in the context of history and the needs of the early Christian church (and thereby, without directly saying so, debunks the argument that this is holy scripture, untouched by human bias).
pdf of the introduction and first chapter: https://sample-501f6a80dc8e15f1ae5caafdd1232d0f.read.overdrive.com/?p=jesus-before-the