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Re: [XTalk] Necessity of HJ Quest

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  • Loren Rosson
    ... I too scratch my head when encountering this mentality, whether in an academic or lay environment. The application of criteria for studying historical
    Message 1 of 82 , Dec 3, 2002
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      Zeb 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...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.

      I too scratch my head when encountering this
      mentality, whether in an academic or lay environment.
      The application of criteria for studying historical
      figures is something responsible historians do all the
      time. This is why (contra Brian Tafford) it's hard to
      take seriously the likes of Luke Timothy Johnson --
      though Johnson's attitude can be found outside the
      ranks of so-called conservative Christian scholars.
      Geza Vermes, for instance, is known for "seeing red"
      at the mere thought of criteria, preferring instead to
      "muddle through" the data. But we obviously need
      **some** criteria, lest the quest become an open
      license to massage the textual evidence however we

      >The HJ criteria may be flawed; they may not
      >result in the actual portrait of the HJ...
      >It doesn't mean the entire enterprise is
      >flawed, much less unnecessary.

      Not only that: "objective" criteria may be a mask for
      an aggressively subjective agenda. Then too, criteria
      can be overrated. Crossan leans far too heavily on
      that of multiple attestation; others have used
      dissimilarity as an almost guaranteed map to HJ. I
      suppose there must inevitably be a significant amount
      of "muddling through" the data even while laboring
      under the constraints of criteria. It's not hard to
      think of reasons why some "dissimilar" sayings could
      have cropped up after HJ's death and been preserved,
      despite their dissimilarity. Stranger things in life
      have happened. Multiply attested sayings may point to
      authenticity (especially apropos oral tradition), but
      they may also reflect simply how widespread they were
      at the time(s) set down in writing. This all makes
      things pretty messy...but that's life ain't it? Zeb's
      post is a good reminder that we hardly need to throw
      in the towel on account of the quest's murkiness.

      Now, Andrew Lloyd wrote:

      >On the wider question of criteria I think that
      >historical Jesus scholars operate with some measure
      >of bad faith...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.

      You tar with one hell of a broad brush and thus
      somewhat discredit your statements in advance. What
      you're getting at applies more to the anthropological
      approach than the historical one. Allow me to paint my
      own broad brush in saying that anthropology/sociology
      seeks the generic, while history seeks the unique. For
      instance, members of the anthropologically-focused
      Context Group (Malina, Rohrbaugh, Neyrey, Oakman)
      focus on the common denominators of Mediterranean
      cultures; i.e. they seek the generic, which
      admittedly, when unqualified with other approaches,
      can result in the "clone" portrait you worry about.
      The anthropologist asks what's common about all
      temples in the ancient Mediterranean. The historian
      asks what's unique about the Judean temple in
      first-century Palestine. You need to ask both
      questions, nest-ce pas?

      Loren Rosson III
      Nashua NH

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    • 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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