Experiments to Develop Criteria for Determining the Existence of Written Sources, and their Potential Implications for Synoptic Problem

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This article was originally published as:

McIver, R. K., & Carroll, M. (2016). Experiments to develop criteria for determining the existence of written sources, and their potential implications for the synoptic problem. Journal of Biblical Literature, 121(4), 667-687. doi:10.2307/3268576

ISSN: 0021-9231


220401 Christian Studies (incl. Biblical Studies and Church History)


Considerations of oral transmission have long been a staple of Gospel studies. The experimental examination of the characteristics of human memory has likewise been a significant part of the academic discipline of psychology from its inception. Yet, with a few notable exceptions, those working in the field of gospel studies have made little use of the insights that might derive from experimental psychology.

This article reports on three of a series of six experiments designed to explore some of the characteristics whereby material copied from written texts may be distinguished from orally transmitted materials. The experimental design is the result of a collaboration between academics from the two diverse of Gospel studies and experimental psychology. This article will conclude with a consideration of some of the implications for the study of the Synoptic problem that might derive from the results of the experiments.


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