Monday, November 07, 2016

Cultural memory

Mnemohistory or cultural memory is a discipline that has recently emerged. Cultural memory studies not what actually happened ·- as far as the critical tools of history can ascertain - but instead focuses on the afterlife of events, some of which may be purely legendary or mythical. A sometimes volatile mixture of folklore, legend, and speculation, these narratives tend to shift shape over time.
Cultural memory often comes into play in the stories of nations, as with theFrench with their ideas of the ancient Gauls (latterly symbolized by the comic character Asterix). It is also common in religion, as for example the stories of the Deluge and the Tower of Babel, which combine some historical reminiscences with other motifs that are clearly fictional.
So it is with the purported tomb of Jesus, recently opened and examined beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, where the pedigree goes back only to the early fourth century CE. There are in fact six tombs in the bedrock beneath this church, so there can be no certainty the the one now honored is the right one. Or the tomb of Jesus may have lain in some other part of Jerusalem.
The identification is thus part of mnemohistory (allied to reception theory) and not reflective of any sort of verifiable historical truth. I thought of this issue today when I visited the Met Museum exhibition on Jerusalem, which covers the cultural memory of the city during the years 1000-1400 CE.


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