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Re: Miracle and History [was Value-free scholarship?]

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  • Eric Eve
    ... deeds in ... Jesus). ... part for the ... I thought asking what happened was actually covered in the second (and possibly the first) possibility I
    Message 1 of 3 , Feb 23, 2003
      I wrote:
      > If we ask 'Did Jesus perform
      > miracles?' Does that mean (1) did Jesus perform acts that people
      > at the time took to be miracles? or (2) Did Jesus perform some of the
      deeds in
      > the Gospels that have come to be labelled 'miracle-stories'? or (3)
      > Did Jesus perform what we should judge to be miracles? (The same would
      > apply, mutatis mutandis, to any other figure one cared to susbstitute for
      > Questions (1) and (2) are in principle historical questions, whereas
      > question (3) is a theological question (which may, of course, depend on
      part for the
      > answers given to the first two).

      Andrew Lloyd replied:

      > I'm sorry but IMHO this is simply wrong. The third question is, in
      > fact, no more "theological" than the first two. (Indeed, the third
      > is very historical if asking what happened and accounting for it is
      > still considered historical study.)

      I thought 'asking what happened' was actually covered in the second (and
      possibly the first) possibility I listed.

      > Apart from the fact that your
      > approach to the categorisation of these questions is one which is
      > counting out the action of divine entities a priori (or some such
      > configuration which accounts for the actuality of "miracles"),

      My problem with this is that for divine entities to enter into causal
      explanations of historical phenomena in any straightforward sense they would
      have to be entities within the world. I was under the impression that this
      was not the normal assumption of any modern historian of whatever persuasion
      (in the sense that for divine beings to enter into a straightforward causal
      relationship they would have to be part of the furniture of the universe in
      the same sense as natural phenomena, which would be a denial of their

      > this
      > categorisation fails to appreciate that the beliefs of the people at
      > the time or the labelling by literary critics of stories as "miracle
      > stories" both involve the scholar's interaction with theological
      > ideas to the extent that they are, in some respects, theologically
      > involved questions themselves.

      I'm not sure I entirely see what you're getting at here. Of course the
      individual who is both historian and theologian may ask more than one type
      of question, but the point is that my type 3 question involved making the
      judgement "God was [or was not] behing this event in some significant
      manner" and this *is* a theological judgment in the way that my first two
      types of question would not involve. Of course a historian might have
      theological views on the religious or literary judgments of other people
      presupposed in the first two types of question, but I don't see how that
      affects by basic point.

      > That by the categorisation you
      > provide you seek to avoid having to make theological commitments
      > you, presumably, wish to avoid is both understandable yet also
      > somewhat deceptive. In my judgment it would be better to simply say
      > you do not wish to give ground to theological interpretations of a
      > certain persuasion than to carry on as if "theology" was something
      > only certain scholars need take account of within the historical
      > Jesus debate.

      On the contrary I'm trying to set out terms on which discussion of the
      issues can remain open to all (read, roughly, all modern western) scholars,
      regardless of their personal faith/non-faith stance, to that we can debate
      what are widely regarded to be historical questions without getting
      hopelessly at cross-purposes. Nothing I have said is intended to rule out
      theological interpretation of miracles, but merely to suggest that such
      interpretation is not in itself historical. To state the distinction I make
      differently: any historian could in principle give an affirmative answer to
      my first two questions; only a believer can give an affirmative answer to
      the third. It simply *is* a different kind of question.

      I confess I'm slightly at a loss to understand what alternative you are
      proposing. If your point is simply that as human beings no historian comes
      at my first two questions from standpoints of utterly neutral objectivity
      then this is obviously so, but I don't see that it affects the logical point
      that I'm making about the distinction between different questions. Again, if
      your point is that different HJ scholars come to such questions with vastly
      different working hypotheses (or preconceptions) of what should fit into
      their picture of the historical Jesus, that is manifestly so, and it will no
      doubt affect the way evidence is weighed - but I still don't see how that
      undermines my distinction. Are you suggesting that there should be a special
      subdiscipline of Christian historiography that operates on the basis that
      God does intervene in the world? My immediate problems with that are (1) how
      could such a subdiscipline continue a meaningful dialogue with other
      historians and (2) what kind of critical controls would it use to assess the
      data? Or are you in effect proposing the abandonment of history altogether
      in favour of telling our own stories about Jesus? I hope that doesn't sound
      sarcastic (it isn't meant to), I'm just genuinely curious what it is you
      think historians should be doing, and what kind of historical methodology
      could successfully cope with the actions of a transcendent Being.

      In any case, thanks for engaging in this discussion.

      Best wishes,

      Dr Eric Eve
      Harris Manchester College
      Mansfield Road, Oxford, OX1 3TD
      Tel: 01865 281473
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