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Re: [XTalk] A new look at methodology?

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  • Bob Schacht
    ... I agree, that we must be cautious about anything resembling anachronism. But we do have some tools here. We do have some contemporary or near-contemporary
    Message 1 of 3 , Jul 2, 2004
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      At 11:29 PM 7/1/2004 -0400, Stephen C. Carlson wrote:

      >That's pretty thought-provoking, Bob, but I think that the fundamental
      >difference between the kind of anthropology I am understanding you to
      >be describing and the historical-critical study of early Christianity is
      >that there is no first-century Christian group in which any one of us
      >can become a "participant observer" in. There are only twenty-first
      >century Christian groups. Some of them may more closely approximate
      >various aspects of early Christian groups than others in some respects,
      >but all of them are at some remove from the social reality of the early
      >Christian experience(s).

      I agree, that we must be cautious about anything resembling anachronism.
      But we do have some tools here. We do have some contemporary or
      near-contemporary documents that describe, to some extent, what these first
      century Christians were thinking.

      >Yes, of course, there are some commonalities between current Christian
      >groups and those of the past, but there are also some differences, too.
      >The whole question of the historical-critical enterprise is sorting out
      >those differences and similarities.


      > There is always a risk, no matter
      >who we are of assuming that what is true for us, particularly in
      >ontologically subjective things like social arrangements, is also true
      >for people in the past in the same way. No one is really immune, whether
      >they are religious (e.g. Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, etc.) or unreligious.
      >I suspect that atheist scholars less apt to understand religious motivations
      >of people and concentrate more on political, social, and economic factors,
      >while religious scholars are more in danger of reading their own personal
      >religious experiences into those of the past.

      That, surely, is the normal tendency.

      > Since no single one of us
      >is fully able to bracket out our preconceptions and prejudices (though
      >some, I'm sure, are better than others), scholarship can only benefit
      >from a diverse mix of people from various backgrounds and perspectives,
      >each describing their part of the elephant as best they can.

      Agreed. To put that old fable to more use, we can see (as you imply) that
      they can only get a good picture of the elephant by *accepting* each
      other's testimony as having some value, rather than by calling each other
      names, and telling each other how wrong they are.

      > Don't get
      >me wrong--I'm not saying that everyone is equally situated with respect
      >to the object of study, but in order to satisfy me that your or mine
      >experience or non-experience with Christianity or any other faith is
      >sufficiently commensurate with that of the early Christians, you would
      >pretty much have to do a historical critical analysis and we're back
      >to where we started from. I don't know we can short cut that process.

      Well, I didn't mean to suggest that we could "do" participant observation
      in the First Century. I was simply pointing out that participant
      observation involves an intermediate level of engagement between extreme
      detachment and total commitment. The way we do this with respect to the
      historical Jesus is to be able to enter into the world of the text as much
      as possible.

      To do so, we need a methodology and a way of discussion that does not
      banish the world of the Spirit from consideration. It is something of
      importance to Paul and virtually all others, so we can't really enter into
      their world without learning to understand how *they* understood it. The
      best we have been able to do so far is to accept testimony that "J. was
      reported to receive the Holy Spirit", without requiring that every scholar
      believe that the holy spirit exists. We need to be able to do more. For
      example, we might be able to triangulate by starting with what the
      contemporary writers are reporting, and what anthropologists and others are
      reporting about various kinds of spirit possession in various
      circumstances. What makes this different from anachronism is that the
      ancient sources provide a check on the modern sources. We also ought to be
      able to use ancient sources, e.g. on Dionysian rites, etc.

      Second, we need to pay more attention to *relationships*. Again, we don't
      need to rely on modern sources to do this. Of course, we have to try to
      differentiate between historical relationships, and relationships that are
      merely narrative devices created by the authors. But I don't think that
      enough attention has been paid to this subject. Again, we need to do this
      by trying to enter into the world of the texts. Some notes:
      * All sources agree that Jesus had companions (disciples). It even
      appears that he called them into relationship ("Follow me"-- e.g., Mark
      1:17, 2:14, 8:34, 10:21). He just didn't wander around on his own.
      * Paul usually traveled with companions. Like Jesus, his companions
      were friends, not random clumps of strangers.
      * Although they were not necessarily traveling companions, women were
      often included in gatherings by both Jesus (e.g. several Marys, Martha,
      Samaritan woman, Syro-Phoenician woman) and Paul (e.g., Priscilla, Aquila,
      Phoebe). They were important parts of their ministries. Karen King proposes
      that Mary Magdalene was a disciple; Paul described Phoebe as diakonos of
      the church at Cenchreae.
      * We have the tradition in Luke, at least, that Jesus' companions were
      sent out to spread the good news not as solitary evangelicals, but in pairs.
      * Jesus seems to have promoted distinctive relational attitudes and
      behaviors such as forgiveness, and love. In fact, love (agape) was to be
      virtually the trademark of his followers (John 13:35), who were expected to
      love not only friends, but enemies (Matt 5:44//Luke)-- which even the Jesus
      Seminar recognized as probably historical.
      I think focusing on these relational attitudes helps us to enter into the
      world of these texts.

      Robert M. Schacht, Ph.D.
      Northern Arizona University
      Flagstaff, AZ

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