More on TV and the Jesus Tradition

The conversation about Doctor Who and the Jesus tradition is spreading. Judy Redman, and Mark Goodacre are both involved on their respective blogs.

The idea is to find a scenario in which people get to hear/see something once, as they might on TV, and then check recall in various scenarios: if they don’t discuss the episode, if they do discuss it and whether they do so frequently or infrequently, if they pass the information on to someone who missed the episode, etc.

The aim is to find as similar a scenario to that envisaged in the case of early Christianity, in which words were spoken by Jesus and remembered and passed on orally before being written down. That’s why it would be crucial to stipulate that those participating n the experiment not DVR or download the episode and re-watch it.

Such an experiment might tell us important things about memory. That we need to look to TV for something comparable to Jesus in terms of the devotion of people in our time and their interest in remembering and interpreting what was said, is also perhaps worth reflecting on!

In the mean time, I’d be interested to hear from Lost fans who have only seen episodes once. If at some point you go back and watch an episode again, please leave comment here about the accuracy of your recall!

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  • stephen

    James, I would think one problem with this study is that we can't replicate the ability of people to remember events and spoken words like they did 2000 years ago, before the advent of memory crutches like mass produced books and Google. I have heard it said that 10 year old boys memorized the Torah back in Jesus' day. I think our ability to remember accurately has greatly atrophied since then.

  • James F. McGrath

    Stephen, there are both grandiose and pessimistic claims made about oral cultures and the ability to remember. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. But at any rate, the case you mention is different from the case of the early transmission of sayings of Jesus and stories about him. The Torah is a text, and through repeated reading and hearing, it is possible to "inscribe" the text into one's memory. But without textual assistance, it is not at all clear that the composers of stories could maintain verbatim accuracy, much less that their hearers could reproduce long stories verbatim without the use of writing. And that is the point of the experiment this post envisages.