At 10:40 AM 10/09/1999 -0700, Jon Peter wrote:
>...You haven�t really addressed my exegesis per se, nor have you responded to
>the more basic problem of a methodology for dealing with NT esotericism
>allusions, and how this bears on history and exegesis. ...
The problem is the lack of a critical apparatus for dealing with esoteric
allusions. Too many mights and maybes and how about this and how about
that, without any real methods of testing. For this list, it is important
that an hypothesis be falsifiable. If it is not, then, like any faith-based
hypothesis, the topic is best taken elsewhere.
>Early Jewish exegetes certainly recognized and dealt with the concept of
>scripture containing hidden levels. Why don�t gentile scholars? I fantasize
>that its because gentile exegetes arrived long ago with ecclesiastical and
>unJudaic assumptions about the Gospels, and these assumptions seem to be
>professionally and academically entrenched even still.
Yes, this is a fantasy. To quote from Lewis Reich sometime back:
>Traditional Jewish sources talk about four progressively deeper
>levels of exegesis of a text: pshat, drash, remez, and sode (plain
>meaning, inquiry, hint and secret). (Note that the "house" of Hillel
>was a "Beit midrash" - literally a "House of Inquiry" and that term is
>still used today to describe the large hall in a traditional Yeshiva
>where studying takes place, usually in small groups.)
>Pshat has to do with ascertaining the plain literal meaning of the
>text, not always a straightforward task. Drash generally involves
>asking questions about apparent difficulties in the plain meaning of
>the text, and the midrash that results is (in the context most
>relevant to our situation) usually an effort to resolve that
>difficulty by telling a story that provides both an answer and a
>faith-strengthening lesson. (We are talking here of "midrash
>aggadah" - lit. the midrash of stories, which is what is usually
>referred to when the word midrash is used alone. The method is also
>applied to deduce halakhic rulings from the text according to rules
>of exegesis, and this effort is referred to as "midrash halakhah",
>"inquiry of halakhah".) (Remez, or hint, involves veiled allusions
>such as numerical values ("gematria") and abbreviations
>("notarikon"). Sode, secret or mystery, involves esoteric
This list is prepared to deal with Pshat and Drash, but not with Remez or
Sode, which seem to be your areas of interest. Remez & Sode, since they
deal with interpretation, have to do with meaning attached to a statement,
not with the historicity of the statement. The methodology for dealing with
those is different (with an exception noted below), and is best taken
Let me attempt to dig a little deeper. There is a grey area where we can go
a little further, and that area is best exemplified in Steve Davies' book,
Jesus the Healer, which I recommend. Using the methods of historical
criticism, we may be able to evaluate the historicity of such statements as:
Matt 16:16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the
However, we cannot, by the methods of historical criticism, evaluate
whether or not what Peter said is true, that is, that Jesus is the Messiah,
etc. The first question is one that can be investigated by conventional
historical methods, the same as any statement by anyone; but the second is
a faith statement that is unprovable (or at least, not falsifiable) by the
methods of historical criticism. What we might be able to do, in the area
between these two questions, is to evaluate the extent to which the
contemporaries of Jesus believed it to be true, which would depend on their
having made statements to that effect, or that they did things, observed
and reported by other people, that unambiguously indicated that they
believed it to be true. But we still would not be able to evaluate the
truth value of the statement.
Turning to Davies' book, in his chapter on the Gospel of John, Davies
argues that, rather than dismiss out of hand the long quotes attributed to
Jesus as later theological speculation inserted into the mouth of Jesus by
the author(s) of the gospel, we can evaluate those speeches or statements
like any other statement. That is, the question becomes not "is the
statement true?" but "Did he say it, and if so, under what circumstances?"
as well as, "What did he mean by what he said, if indeed he said it?" In
other words, we separate the truth value of the saying from the issue of
whether or not the statement was made.
Similar distinctions are needed with regard to the issue of secrecy
regarding the Eucharist. Now I suspect that, in the period during the first
centuries of this era, when Christians were being killed for their beliefs
or even simply for just being Christians, some secrecy about some things at
certain times in some places seems reasonable. But my suspicions do not
constitute evidence, and plausibility is an inadequate argument.
So, suppose that X said, "Christians practice secret rituals."
Historically, we can evaluate the likelihood that X actually said that, but
even if we are able to demonstrate that X actually did say that, it would
still have no bearing on the truth value of the statement. I may be
mistaken, but I think the value of such statements is roughly equivalent to
hearsay evidence in a court of law: it may lend credibility to an
allegation, but is not sufficient to prove the allegation or establish its
In fact, methodologically, isn't it impossible to say that X was a secret?
Because if in fact X was a secret, how would we know anything about it? If
we knew anything about it then, by definition, it would not be a secret.
I took the time to spell out at length some of these distinctions because I
wish to preserve for inquiry some questions of the type that Steve Davies
addressed in his book, which are amenable to historical criticism. But
esoteric speculations, like faith statements, require other methods and are
not a suitable subject for this list. It is a property of scholarly
discussion to make distinctions where laymen (and women) typically do not
make distinctions. These distinctions are not arbitrary, but are intended
to facilitate objective inquiry.
I hope this helps to answer your question about methodology.
Robert M. Schacht
Northern Arizona University