Individual or collective memory is all the rage in gospel studies, but is debate over how much memory is retentive versus reconstructive to suit present needs similar to form critical debates over how much of the tradition goes back to Jesus versus how much reflects the Sitz im Leben (situation in life) of post-Easter congregations (compare the skeptical Bultmann, the moderate Dibelius or the conservative Taylor)? Second, while open to differences based on different oral or written traditions (e.g., perhaps Matt/Luke didn’t just take the Lord’s prayer from “Q” but cited the form most prevalent in their communities; cf. the relationship of Didache 8 to Matthew), I am not sure we can just bypass the literary relationship of the Synoptics and that Matt/Luke sometimes deliberately redact Mark (and Q?) as “Mark” likely did his/her sources. However, I appreciate the nuanced approach of Dale Allison’s Constructing Jesus as he notes both the limitations of memory (1. it is reconstructive, 2. it is post-event , 3. it projects present circumstances/biases, 4. it becomes less distinct as past recedes, 5. it is sequential, 6. it forms meaningful patterns to advance agendas, 7. groups rehearse memories hold dear, 8. the recording of it is shaped by narrative conventions, 9. vivid subjective compelling memory may be no more accurate) (pp 2-10) and its ability to capture the gist or general outline (pp. 10-14). That is, I accept the redaction/literary critics emphasis on the evangelists as creative theologians yet also think if multiple early texts or hypothetical sources (Q, M, L, Mk 2:1-3:6, signs source?) widely remember Jesus as wisdom teacher, apocalytic seer, halakhic debater, or exalted self-understanding then it may be reliable.
Lets focus on Allison’s contribution on the Passion Narrative (ch 5: Death and Memory). First, he agrees with Goodacre’s critique of Crossan (388-91). Second, he tests how much of the passion we can reconstruct just from Paul such as 1) the crucifixion, 2) Jesus’ shed blood and “marks” (stigmata) (i.e., flogging, nails rather than ropes), 3) condemned by the rulers of this age, 4) Jesus as messianic figure (Christ, descent from David), 5) & 6) rejected by Judaeans (1 Thess 2:14-16), 7) on the “night” he was handed over (paradidōmi – some try to read a stronger sense of betrayed), 8) willingly surrendered his life, 9) words of last supper institution, and 10) burial (392-403). He lists out in a chart (pg. 404) the parallels between Paul and the passion narrative underlying Mark/John (he accepts John knew Mark yet still sees it largely independent) and the best evidence that Paul knows a Passion Narrative is 1 Cor 11:23-25 put in a narrative context (405). Allison butresses his case with several more correlations from Paul’s letters including 1) Jesus’ humble character, 2) Psalm 69 as prooftext (Rom 15:3 [cf. Rom 11:9-10]; Matt 27:34 [gall added to Mk 15:23]; Mk 15:36 par; Mk 15:32/Mt 27:44; John 2:17; 15:25; 19:28-29; Acts 1:20), 3) Rom 15 and gospels have Jesus’ recite Psalms as fulfilled in his person, 4) rare verb “to crucifiy with” (sustauroō) and the two crucified with Jesus, 5) 1 Cor 5:7 Christ as paschal lamb, 6) Col 2:13-14 “nailing it [the record against us] to the cross and the notice on the cross, 7) (para)didōmi in Paul and Mark as the subject may be God, Jesus or perhaps Jesus’ betrayer, and 8) knowledge of Gethsemane tradition (cf. Lk 22:29-46; Jn 12:27; 13:21; 18:11; Heb 5:7-11) (Paul’s thrice prayer for his thorn in the flesh given to torment him to be removed, Christians to “cry” Abba [Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6], “in prayer continue, watching” [Col 4:2], Christ not pleasing himself and imitatio Christi) (406-421). Last, he adds that Paul spent time in Jerusalem, some scholars date a passion narrative to the 30s/40s (e.g., R. Pesch) and Paul does not directly contradict Mark’s account (422-23).
Again, whether John was completely independent of Mark, familiar with Mark yet chose to utilize his own sources (e.g., the very different versions of the trial before the high priest) or completely dependent on Mark and made big redactional changes is a major issue for the existence of a pre-Markan Passion Narrative. But the biggest part of Allison’s case rests on that Paul exhibits familiarity with some sort of narrative account of the Passion that also underlies Mark/John, so what are the strengths and weaknesses of the parallels Allison adduces? Ken Schenck also reviews this section of the book (here, here, here, here, here, here, here) and finds Paul’s familiarity with the basic contours of the passion story from oral tradition persuasive but is less impressed with Allison’s correlations that demand this to be a written account (he considers one “jumping the shark” :) ). What do you think?