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Monday, 23 May 2016
A Flexible Past?

Memory and Identity in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity,
Tom Thatcher ed., SBL, 2014, page 57

The next author in 'Memory and Identity', edited by Tom Thatcher, is Tim Langille - a visiting lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh. He alerts us to the flexibility in collective memories:

As communities continue to shape and reshape their collective memories, new events and information are constantly combined and integrated with previous knowledge to form flexible mental schemas.

He is suggesting, rather like the Collingwood quote in the last post, that collective memory is updated by new - occuring in the present - events. I could accept new information or perspective on past events, but new events affecting the past is more troublesome. But Langille continues:

Representation of trauma and construction of collective identity are facilitated by these flexible preexisting schemas. Memories of events run bck and forth in time, from past to present snd vice-versa, as more recent events and figures are associated with earlier ones. The shattering and disruptive experiences of trauma are processed and represented through already-existing mnemonic and narrative structures.

Ok, so new events are processed through the filter and framework of the past. I can go with that. But how about an example?

For instance, the analogy between the exodus from Egypt and the return from the Babylonian exile established in Jeremiah (16:14-15 = 23:7-8), Isaiah (48:20; 51:9-11; 52:4) and Ezra-Nehemiah was appropriated by later mnemonic communities, such as those that produced the Damascus Document and Pesher Habakkuk from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

So the Qumran Essenes saw themselves in the same way as the survivors from the destruction of Jerusalem who returned from the Babylonian exile, and as the Israelites called out of Egypt? Their exclusivist identity was formed by modelling the exclusivity of these past groups? Langille argues:

... revisiting and reshaping these collectve sites of memory contritributes to the creation of boundaries between the elect and the traitors or the pure and the impure.

Do we have the same thing, then, going on between evangelicals and 'others', between the reformers and the established church, between charismatics and cessatioanalists? How much of our identity today is constructed by modelling the past? Does that matter or do we benefit from those foundations in historical events?

Posted By Jonathan, 8:00am Comment Comments: 0