Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World

By Judith M. Lieu | Go to book overview


3 History, Memory, and the Invention of Tradition

Without continuity there can be no identity, and it is continuity over time, with all its inherent ambiguities of change and sameness, that offers the greatest challenges and the greatest rewards. Recent experience as well as numerous studies have shown that, although such a continuity, often popularly understood as 'history', may appear most secure as a given, it is notoriously open to challenge and to the needs of revision. The relationship between who we are and the past we tell is a reciprocal one and is rarely static: as John Gillis remarks, 'The core meaning of any individual or group identity, namely a sense of sameness over time and space, is sustained by remembering, and what is remembered is defined by the assumed identity.' 1 Thus, 'remembering' creates a history that provides a coherent continuity out of the discontinuities of all human experience; it not only explains the present but justifies it. Although it is often said that to discover the past is to understand how it created the present, no less important is the question, 'how did the present create the past?' 2 So, frequently, the actual historical facticity of the stories told of the past is not a major preoccupation for those who tell them, but only for the external scholarly observer; more important is how they shape the map on which present and future may also be plotted. 3

For individuals this remembering is often expressed through one's 'story', a self-narrative that gives meaning to the present, although such stories can never be entirely separated from the norms and the expectations of the particular social context:

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