Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mellon Seminar Reflection 1: What are T/traditions?

One of the goals of my Mellon Seminar this year is to develop further conceptual language to talk about T/traditions and how we critically understand them and their transmission. There has been a move in scholarship away from the discussion of T/tradition(s) in favor of the language of communities of discourse and discursive fields. These are defined by the conversations or communications among those of various identities. There are many reasons for this move, one being the distaste to speak about things "traditional," the association of the "traditional" with the normative (and therefore "orthodox"), and the (incorrect) view that traditions develop in a linear sense (which they don't).

I am not ready to give up the concept of the T/tradition. In fact, I find it necessary to maintain in order to do justice to historical memory. There are Traditions with a capital "T" that become normative and then norm. There are traditions with a little "t" that are not necessarily normative, or the property of the dominant communities that are norming. These traditions are often forgotten or lost or so marginalized that they become invisible to our histories. Yet they were there. Along the way, people began selecting some of these traditions as 'worthy' to remember while others not so much, even up to the modern day. These particular traditions become known as legitimate "sources" to reconstruct our past, while the others are ignored or framed as unimportant.

We can see this with the field of Christian Origins. The 'orthodox' traditions are understood to be the normative and their traces (the four NT gospels, certain letters of Paul, etc) are perceived to be legitimate sources for our reconstruction of early Christian history, while the rest of early Christian literature is relegated to 'interesting in its own right, but of no significant value to the study of early Christianity'. In fact, the normative materials are given a 'historical' pedigree that is not granted any other early Christian text.

Clearly this needs to be rethought in a major way. What if we choose to examine the traces of the traditions that have been ignored and delegitimized? What if they became sources for our understanding of the early history of Christianity and Christian thought? This is one of my BIG questions as a scholar. Being attuned to it means that I have opened myself up to see things differently.

So I think that T/tradition(s) are important to study, and that we need to maintain the word because it gets at the very problem of historical reconstructions, normation, and our process of selecting certain traces of Tradition to be our historical sources, while not recognizing traces of other traditions as worthy of such status.


bwhawk said...

A lot of interesting ideas here--with plenty of implications for further work on it. For those interested in the background: are there specific studies to which you could point that exemplify and/or make explicit what you characterize as the "move in scholarship away from the discussion of T/tradition(s) in favor of the language of communities of discourse and discursive fields"?

Ed Jones said...

B. Hawk,
I offer an answer to your question paraphrasing the last part: " - - in favor of the language of communities of discourse and discrusive fields defining an alternative to Gentile Christianity as known above all in the letters of Paul and the Gospels as well as the later writings of the New Testament (which is Tradition not apostolic witness to Jesus)? I suggest the studies: Essays on the Sermon on the Mount by Hans Dieter Betz and two online articles Faith and Freedom (the last half) by Schubert Ogden and The Real Jesus of the Sayings Gospel Q by James M. Robinson.
Ed Jones

Pastor Bob said...

Are you doing any thinking about the passing of traditions back to the dominant group? I put it this way because parts of non canonical gospels show up in stained glass windows, sermons, etc after the non dominant and often oppressed groups have gone underground or out of existence.

I've found this to be very curious. Massive fight in the past but incorporating the enemy's work in art, sermons and some theology a couple centuries later.

I suspect this may be included in the "non linear" part.