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Re: Must you be a realist to be a "proper" historical Jesus scholar?

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  • mwgrondin
    ... I keep hoping that you ll either start defining this extremely- diffuse and abstract problematic of reality thingy, or get away from it and start
    Message 1 of 18 , Dec 1, 2002
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      --- Andrew Lloyd wrote:
      > I would say that the problematic [of reality], as I see it,
      > resists the distinctions you attempt to impose upon it.

      I keep hoping that you'll either start defining this extremely-
      diffuse and abstract "problematic of reality" thingy, or get away
      from it and start addressing some of the specific methodological
      problems that you've subsumed under it. Frankly, I think you've
      thrown a whole bunch of fruit into one basket and called 'em all
      apples. Is it, then, "the problematic" that resists distinctions,
      or the proponent of the problematic?

      > I approach my subject
      > from many angles, (not limited to but including) historical,
      > literary, autobiographical and philosophical ones.

      But what is "my subject" exactly? Seems like a whole grab-bag of
      disparate issues.

      > ... I am alarmed, and more than alarmed, that you continue to
      > suggest that such issues, being "philosophical", are "irrelevant".

      The problem here is that within "such issues" you include a wide
      variety of different topics, all apparently tied together in your
      mind with the phrase "the problematic of reality". Some of the
      issues you mention are clearly relevant to historical Jesus studies,
      others don't seem to me to be specifically relevant. Take for
      example the philosophical question "What is a person?" I don't
      consider that to be specifically relevant to Jesus studies. It's a
      question for philosophers, not for historians.

      > Many standard treatments of the historical Jesus today DO
      > include (brief) work you would label "philosophical" (and
      > thus irrelevant).

      The phrase I would prefer now is 'not specifically relevant'. And
      since the textual passages to which you refer are widely varied, I
      can't agree with you that I would label them all "philosophical".
      In the previous note, I responded to several specific items; I did
      label some of them as "philosophical"; others, not. If you disagree
      about my assessment of any of those specific items, perhaps we
      should use that as a starting-point.

      > NT Wright's "Christian Origins and the Question of God" series
      > has a whole volume devoted to background stuff, of which
      > approximately 110 pages is broadly philosophical in context ...

      Well, my short response is that Wright needs it, since he's trying
      to overthrow the Enlightenment.

      > ... why are you denying, or ignoring, that historical Jesus
      > studies is a matter of the student AND the studied, a reality
      > of which WE are a part?

      I didn't think I was denying that. But if historical Jesus studies
      differ significantly from any other field of study, i.e., if your
      concerns are _specifically relevant_ to Jesus studies, then we ought
      to be able to say wherein the difference lies. I think there is a
      difference, and that the difference lies in the fact that many/most
      Western writers and readers have a strong predisposition to believe
      that the prima facie "evidence" of the canon is, in very great part,
      true and factual. It won't do, I think, to remove oneself to the
      level of the abstract and treat this issue as if it were some kind
      of deep philosophical problem. It's rather the concrete existential
      problem of readers/students being predisposed to believe something
      fundamentally at odds with what the writer is conveying. It's as if,
      for example, I were reading a biography of John Brown, and I was
      already convinced that he was something of a saint, only to find the
      author telling me that he was not. Cognitive dissonance.

      > Your own remarks I would
      > submit as ample reason why any decent length treatment of the
      > historical Jesus should include at least 10% of its content as
      > remarks addressing "philosophical" issues regarding reality,
      > ontology, history and epistemology, etc. As I have noted, most
      > booklength treatments already at least include passing remarks.

      Some of these were in response to radical philosophical challenges
      which the author might have better ignored. One needn't engage with
      solipcists at every turn, for example. If I'm going to do a
      biography of a person, I don't think it's necessary to discuss the
      ontological status of persons; I can just assume that X is as much
      (or as little) a person as anyone else bearing the title. Then, if
      you're gonna pick bones with me, you have to do so with everybody
      else who's ever written about persons.

      > ... your proposal ("we don't need to do philosophy of history to
      > read history as history") is true but disturbing – for it amounts
      > to praising the virtues of uninformed reading of history as
      > history (and, by analogy, uninformed reading of reality as reality
      > and just plain uninformed bandying about of the word "reality").

      No such thing. What my position "amounts to" is the common-sense
      truism that a communicator has to be able to take _something_ for
      granted. Now we may disagree about where that line of demarcation
      should be in historical Jesus studies, but I don't think you can
      argue that the necessity of the line is "disturbing", or that
      it "amounts to praising the virtues of uninformed reading". In fact,
      it's precisely the uninformed reader (at one end of the spectrum)
      to whom everything needs to be explained, and the abstract-bound
      intellectual (at the other end of the spectrum) to whom everything
      needs to be defended.

      > If by 'historical Jesus', you mean what I think is usually meant,
      > namely, the person _behind_ the character described in the Xian
      > canon, then I believe that there was such a person, and he would
      > of course have been real. If by 'historical Jesus', however, you
      > mean either or both of the two different characters named 'Jesus'
      > presented respectively in the synoptics and GJohn, I think you're
      > right to say that both of them are mixtures of reality and
      > imagination - how much of each being up for grabs.
      > And here are more reasons why the kind of discussion I'm seeking
      > to foster is highly relevant – so much question begging! To agree
      > that Jesus existed is not to exegete, or explain, your use of the
      > term "real" here. Indeed, I would like to know what "real" means
      > here. The word seems superfluous in this context as far as I can
      > tell.

      You're right; it is.

      > At any rate, to require to know what "real" means in this
      > context is to implicitly require a discussion of "reality"
      > prior to saying that "Jesus was real".

      Suppose I say that he was as real as you and me. Does that help?
      If not, then I think you're asking the historian to do philosophy.

      > And what of all these distinctions,
      > these "person(s) behind the canon" and the "two[?] different
      > characters named Jesus"? In terms of "characters" surely there
      > are as many Jesuses as books about him.

      Depends on how fine-grained you want to be. If the slightest
      difference amounts to a different Jesus, then OK, but I was
      focusing on large-scale differences.

      > It is my premise that, to be bold and generalising, we don't know
      > (or have not yet clearly and openly enunciated) what, or who, we
      > are talking about. It is a discussion we need to have.

      Why is it not satisfactory to you that we're talking about a 1st-
      century Galilean sage, healer, and wonder-worker who was crucified
      by the Romans, and who served as the basis of the Christian myth?

      Mike Grondin
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