Oral tradition has been a live analytical concept in gospels research at least since the form critics but especially since Werner Kelber’s The Oral and the Written Gospel (1983). Recently, numerous high-profile publications in Jesus and gospels research attest the ascendency of memory as an equally live subject in the exploration and explanation of Christian origins. One by-product of this confluence of issues—oral tradition and memory—has been a renewed discussion of form criticism and its legacy. The apparent connection with the form critics’ aims risks misdirecting contemporary exploration of the early Christians’ use of oral and written traditions down potentially blind alleys. This paper offers three specific areas that distinguish—or ought to distinguish—contemporary oral-traditional research from form-critical inquiry. First, contemporary scholarship conceptualizes orality in terms broader than merely the transmission of tradition. Second, contemporary scholarship problematizes the construction of trajectories as explanatory models of Christian origins. Third, contemporary scholarship highlights both the similarities and the differences between oral and written expressions of tradition and explores the interface between the two. As a result, contemporary scholarship would be well-served by fostering an abrupt rupture between the current interest in the oral Jesus tradition (and the constitutive role of memory therein) and the procedures and products of Formgeschichte.
My thanks to the SBL NT section committee for approving my proposal. You can find more information about SECSOR at their website.