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Re: [XTalk] Necessity of HJ Quest

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  • Andrew Lloyd
    ... Zeba, Perhaps the problem is that even if HJ studies were like textual criticism (and I think it is and it isn t) what is valid in one case is not thereby
    Message 1 of 82 , Dec 3, 2002
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      --- In crosstalk2@y..., zeba.crook@u... wrote:
      >In all this talk (not a new thing, mind you) HJ criteria, there
      >appears now and again the idea that the very quest for the HJ is
      >invalid, or unnecessary, or any number of things. But how is the HJ
      >quest not like text criticism (the quest for the text of the NT)?


      Perhaps the problem is that even if HJ studies were like textual
      criticism (and I think it is and it isn't) what is valid in one case
      is not thereby valid in another. You would have to give reasons for
      the validity of the various processes in each as an individual case.
      One way that HJ study is NOT like text criticism (although, then
      again, maybe not) is that we are assuming there was an "original"
      text we can get back to in textual criticism. An "original" Jesus
      would be an entirely different thing since its not the "bare matter"
      we are concerned with there so much as what that might be construed
      to mean. The text critic is happy to have all the "jots and tittles"
      in order. However, knowing Jesus said saying A or did deed B still
      leaves us the (inbuilt) leeway to interpret these things in
      accordance with our proclivities. What they mean is as much the
      point as having a chronology of Jesus' life. Our job would not be
      complete without this. Not least for this reason, I would argue that
      a discipline of historical Jesus studies which searches for
      an "original" Jesus (a non-hermeneutic Jesus) is missing the point.
      In textual criticism "original text" is exactly the point. Thus, I
      disagree when you say "I think the two enterprises are perfectly

      >we have multiple portraits of Jesus and different versions of
      >his sayings. If we hope to distill anything resembling the HJ, then
      >the application of criteria is necessary. It is interesting to me
      >that the debate rarely has to do with altering or adjusting the
      >criteria, or introducing new ones, but instead too often with
      >whether the whole quest is invalid.

      >It seems the most some HJ scholars can be charged with is
      >forgetting that they probably will not be able to reconstruct the
      >HJ as he actually was from the evidence available.

      On the wider question of criteria I think that historical Jesus
      scholars operate with some measure of bad faith. Many do indeed
      follow the "original Jesus" paradigm. However, they never tell us
      how they would know when they had the "original" Jesus. What is
      their measure? The criteria that Jack obliquely refers to in his
      responses in this thread I find unconvincing. Anthropological,
      historical and sociological criteria can only produce generic
      results and so their (much vaunted) use is blunted. Jesus was not a
      1st century clone, he was an individual. Its like my describing the
      Americans on this board according to my generic view of Americans.
      That wouldn't be what I wanted if seeking to describe any particular
      one. So, one important context is his specific life and I question
      how close our criteria can get us to that. Indeed, I follow the
      pragmatic assertion that you cannot "method" or "criteria" your way
      to Jesus. Of course, people don't like to take notice of these
      things since it discourages them from what they are wrapped up in.
      However, I nonetheless have some scepticism of the ability of our
      discipline's criteria if we are going to follow an "original Jesus"
      paradigm. In fact, so much is this so that I would rather see
      historical Jesus studies reconfigured along different lines.

      Andrew Lloyd
      Nottingham, England
    • William Arnal
      ... I think you ve rather misunderstood my position, or jumped to a conclusion about it. I m not taking that nasty old lit-crit line that all we have is the
      Message 82 of 82 , Dec 20, 2002
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        James Hannam wrote:

        >think this may be a US/UK thing. Some of what Dr Arnal says sounds
        >disturbingly like the worst excesses of post structuralism which made
        >far more headway on his side of the Atlantic than mine. Over here,

        I think you've rather misunderstood my position, or jumped to a conclusion
        about it. I'm not taking that nasty old lit-crit line that all we have is
        the text and there's nothing behind it. I am not arguing that all writing
        should be viewed as imaginary until proved otherwise. ALL I have been saying
        is that a) the Gospels in particular appear to me to be imaginative products
        (a view generally endorsed by nearly ALL NT scholars, and even endorsed by
        Brian Trafford, against whose views I THOUGHT I was arguing); and b) the
        (subjective) intentionality behind any given writing is massively
        complicated, and one cannot take a simple a priori position that "people
        believe what they write to be literally true" -- such a position obscures
        more than it reveals. I don't how either of these positions is typical of
        "poststructuralist excess." Which poststructuralists or pos6tstructuralisms
        do you have in mind?

        >something from the historians' side. Firstly, the basic facts about
        >Jesus are surprisingly uncontroversial to most historians. They tend
        >to state them without much commentary and move on to something more
        >interesting because there is really not much we can say about HJ. EP
        >Sander's gives a list; we can add some more to that if we follow
        >historical method and don't mind offending a few theologians, but
        >half a page will cover what we can know about Jesus. But what is odd
        >is that theologians do seem keen to deny even these basic facts and
        >often for no particular reason.

        This is an unfair and distorted characterization. It homogenizes disparate
        positions. Historians differ on HJ, and so do theologians. On the basis of
        such a litmus test, I'd be a theologian! The historians that *I* know
        *personally* (and the classicists too) tend to take it for granted that the
        gospels are NOT historically reliable literature, even in their outlines.
        They are as puzzled by a "quest of the historical Jesus" as they would be by
        a "quest of the historical Asclepius."

        I further note that the DENIAL of the historicity of specific episodes in
        the gospels is -- as several posters, including Brian Trafford, have made
        clear -- really just about the ONLY solid decisions that can be made about
        the HJ. In other words, it's almost impossible to demonstrate that Jesus did
        or said anything -- the best we can manage with any secuirty is to say, "he
        certainly didn't do this." And so, really, the difference between me and E.
        P. Sanders on, say, the baptism, is that he's asserting (in shorthand):
        "there are no good reasons to see this episode as Christian embellishment,
        so we'll have to take it as being historical," while I'm saying, "yes, there
        are LOTS of good reasons to see it as embellishment." In other words we're
        talking about the same things in the same way, but disagreeing in our
        specific judgments. The difference between theologians and historians in
        applying this approach is simply this: for the theologian the answer is
        somehow normative (often in complex and indirect ways), and for the
        historian it is not. That's it. So Crossan may find it important,
        rhetorically or theologically or otherwise, if "the Jews" killed Jesus. I
        couldn't care less. It has no bearing on my attitude to Jews in general. Or
        again, it may be important to a liberal theologian to conclude that Paul did
        NOT unequivocally condemn homosexuality, or at least to somehow relativize
        the condemnation that's there; it may be importanbt to a conservative
        theologian to determine that Paul DID condemn it. I'm just interested in
        Paul, how he operated, what he said, how he tried to shape his ekklesiai. No
        skin off my nose either way: he's just some ancient dude talking about his
        views on a matter that I made up MY mind about many years ago, and without
        Paul's input.

        I must confess, however, to being in agreement with much of the gist of the
        latter part of your post, to the effect that the HJ i sless historically
        accessible, and for a variety if reasons less historically interesting, than
        he is generally taken to be.

        William Arnal
        Department of Religious Studies
        University of Regina
        Regina, Saskatchewan S4S 0A2

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