Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Sitz im Leben: an exposé

Brandon Wason has as good an introductory discussion on Sitz im Leben as one could ask for here, including a reference to a recent article by Samuel Byrskog. I'm intrigued by the short quote Wason provides from Byrskog's article. If I read him rightly (which is hard to tell in any case, but especially without the context of the rest of his article), Byrskog advocates a fairly significant shift in the concept Sitz im Leben from its original form-critical function. That is, for the form critics a pericope's Sitz was conceptualized as a generative context which added not just shape but also substance to the Jesus tradition. But I think Byrskog is proposing a less dramatic conceptualization of a pericope's Sitz as a formative context in which social context influences the tradition's expression. Again, if I read Byrskog rightly, this would be a more responsible use of Sitz im Leben in gospels research, though we would still need to remember that factors other than social context—including the tradition's performative history—were also formatively influential in the expression of traditions from and about Jesus.

[In differentiating the formative and generative dynamics of early Christian traditioning processes, I gratefully acknowledge the influence of the discussion in Alan Kirk and Tom Thatcher, "Jesus Tradition as Social Memory," in Memory, Tradition, and Text: Uses of the Past in Early Christianity (Semeia Studies 52; ed. A. Kirk and T. Thatcher; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), 25–42.]

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