Re: Watts-Weeden Re: [XTalk] Hermeneutical Skepticism: Unwarranted, (now) arguments from silence?
- Bob Schacht wrote on March 6, 2005:
>>[TJW]Bob, the issue in my lengthy reply to Rikk is finally the primary issue that
>>Rikk, I am going to respond to the issues that you raise here in your
>>But, while you have stated in the past that you do not like long essays, I
>>hope you will read what I present below in a lengthy response to you, a
>>response in which I raise questions that I would like for you to answer
> One of the reasons I find your long posts difficult is that they include
> much extraneous material. I share Rikk's wish that you would focus more
> sharply on the primary issue.
I would like him to address. That issue is that he has stated that my
hermeneutic is a hermeneutic that is "marred by unwarranted and unreasonable
skepticism" and " might just be this that results in few of your colleagues
being persuaded by the rest of your arguments. In other words, sorry to put
it so bluntly, we just don't think you are being fair (cf. Jimmy Dunn's
remarks on your work in Jesus Remembered; I suspect Byrskog would probably
In that statement, Bob, Rikk expanded the discussion beyond the issue of the
historicity of the temptation story, which was then the primary issue, to my
hermeneutic in general and the allusion to my critique of Bailey's theory
via the reference to Jimmy Dunn's dismissal of my critique in his _Jesus
Remembered_. Thus, it was Rikk and not I who changed the focus from my
hermeneutic with respect to the temptation story, two verses in the Gospel
of Mark, to my hermeneutic in general with respect to at least Mark's
Gospel, where I have focused a great deal of my scholarship, to the
generation of the Jesus oral traditon and its transmission. Rikk's
dismissal of my hermeneutic and his claim that but few are persuaded by
arguments because of what Rikk considers to be "unwarranted and unreasonable
skepticism" comes close to be an indictment against my scholarship. His
strong statement suggests to me that he, and he includes others whom he does
not name, begin with a bias against my arguments because they are already
suspect of being generated out of an unreasonable hermeneutical skepticism.
Rather than evaluating a particular argument of mine, then, on its
historical-critical merits, and thus approach the argument from a
value-neutral critical-posture, the argument is engaged with a hermeneutic
of suspicision that presupposes the argument has been likely conceived from
a hermeneutic of skepticism, and consequently the argument is all but
rejected out of hand.
[TJW] I responded to Bob on 2/14, addressing the issue of historicity with
>> > theBob, I quote Rikk's text in full at this point because it is not just Rikk I
>> > following statement: "there is no reference or allusion anywhere in the
>> > canonical Gospels to suggest that Jesus ever revealed that he
>> > personally
>> > had
>> > been tempted either in the desert or anywhere else. Then I want to know
>> > where this information came from. . . . How does Mark know that there
>> > in
>> > the desert Jesus faced temptation?"
>>This, not classic criteria, was the issue. We agree that the nub of the
>>problem is Mark's silence. We disagree on what it signifies.
>>No, Rikk, that is *not* my point at all. See below.
> Are you arguing past each other? You both are interested in different
> questions, and not in addressing the other person's question? Anyway, why
> quote 290 words of Rikk's statements that are not your point at all? why
> not cut directly to the following :
am responding to. It is also those on the XTalk list who may or may not
have followed closely the dispute between the two of us, but may have
wondered if Rikk is right, namely, that my hermeneutic is a hermeneutic of
unwarranted and unreasonable skepticism, and, thus, my arguments should not
be taken as being persuasive. Thus, in responding to Rikk's charge against
my hermeneutic, I do not want to give any appearance to other listers that I
have selectively chosen to respond to certain of Rikk's statements and
snipped others which I did not want to address. I want my response to be
recognized as above board with nothing to hide,a complete openness to
presenting Rikk's position unedited and a willingness to address any
evidence which Rikk wishes to pose against my hermeneutic.
>>Once more, let me explain as clearly as I can the point I was making in my
>>initial response to Bob Schacht's query as to whether the temptation story
>>may be based upon a personal experience Jesus had. Perhaps, it was the way
>>framed the question that led you to think that I was faulting Mark for not
>>following some supposed ancient canon of rhetoric and telling us the
>>of his information. If that is the case, hopefully, I can set the matter
>>straight here. When I raised the issue with Bob Schacht as to where Mark
>>the temptation story, I was not suggesting that Mark should have told us,
>>that Mark's failure to tell us means that the story is not based in
>>historical fact. I was *not* referring to or alluding to any canons or
>>conventions of ancient historiography. What I was asking was a simple,
>>normative historical-critical question, namely: "What was Mark's source
>>the story?" There are three possible answers to that question, as I see
>>(1) Mark created the story de novo, (2) Mark got it from the oral
>>he received, and (3) Mark found it in a written text and appropriated it.
> Good. Now we have a clearer picture of *your* issue.
>> Bailey, and thoseIf Bailey is a red herring, it is Rikk who served it up, as you now
>>(Wright, Dunn, etc) who accept the validity of his theory of informal
>>controlled oral tradition, argues that the oral tradition remained
>>essentially in tact and uncorrupted through all its transmission from
>>disciples who first reported their experience of what Jesus said and did
>>the time Mark gained access to that oral tradition. This thesis, of
>>is what I strongly disagree with because in my examination of the evidence
>>Bailey mounts to support his theory, the evidence actually either refutes
>>his theory or fails to provide the support for his theory which Bailey
> Bailey is a red herring, and this paragraph is a 100-word digression. This
> is the kind of thing that could be left out of your argument without
> affecting its validity whatever. Its a smoke-screen, IMHO. This is
> of course, Bailey's theory of oral tradition *is only one theory*. Poking
> Bailey's model full of holes does NOT poke every argument based on oral
> tradition full of holes.
acknowledge in your 3/6 post-response to Mark's Goodacre's post of 3/6.
Thank you for your apology to me in your post to Mark.
>Bob, I never stated that you claimed that the wilderness incident was 100%
>>Now, if the oral tradition was actually preserved in its authenticity from
>>its beginning and was transmitted faithfully without significant
>>or emendation for the two generations of its recitation to Mark's time,
> This is also a red herring, and represents a gross overstatement of my
> point to which Rikk and you were responding. Please excuse the shouting,
> but I NEVER CLAIMED THAT THE MARKAN ACCOUNT OF THE WILDERNESS INCIDENT WAS
> COMPLETELY 100% HISTORICALLY ACCURATE! All I claimed was that it *might*
> based on an historical incident. That's all. So please don't parody my
> argument by making it into something that it was not. Or is this merely a
> straw man that you are setting up so that you can demolish it?
historically accurate. Where do you find that in any of my references to
your query about the possibility of their being some historical rootage of
the temptation story? In my 3/5 post to Rikk, I refer to your query about
the possible historical basis of the temptation story with the following:
"my initial response to Bob Schacht's query as to whether the temptation
story may be based upon a personal experience Jesus had." I was not
suggesting in that statement nor any other references to your query about a
possible historical kernal laying behind the temptation story as your
position that the story itself was "completely 100% historically corrrect."
In referring to your position as a question as to whether there may be
historicity behind the story, I meant the same as your statement above, that
the story "might be based upon an historical incident." If I have
misstated or misrepresented you or suggested more than you intended, I
apologize. I do not think nor was I implying that you thought the story in
Mark was itself in anyway historical, but, rather, perhaps beneath the story
there may be an allusion to a possible historical incident
>>thenAgain, I do not see this as a digression or a straw man argument. It is Rikk
>>one could argue that what Mark reports -- if we accept Mark as interested
>>and intent on presenting historical truth about Jesus in his Gospel (which
>>do not; see below) -- is by and large the authentic facts about the
>>historical Jesus throughout his narrative. But I do not think that the
>>oral tradition was preserved in its authentic integrity throughout its
>>transmission to the time of Mark. And the insights of Jan Vansina and
>>Kelber, to which I draw attention in my critique of Bailey's theory,
>>Theory of Oral Tradition: a Theory Repudiated by Its Evidence" (now
>>available as an XTalk file), and to which I have referred in my posts to
>>you, lend support to my position.
> This argues against a straw man and is one of those digressions that Rikk
> was asking you to avoid, this paragraph weighing in at 125 words.
who introduced by inference and allusion my Bailey brief.
>And what else do you propose beyond a historical-critical methodology to
>>If, then, the Jesus oral tradition was not preserved in its authenticity,
>>but was modified, emended and shaped to speak to the existential needs of
>>the Jesus movements in the course of at least two generations, then we
>>cannot be sure that what Mark received from the oral tradition actually
>>back to Jesus. So, unless we throw up our hands in resignation over the
>>impossibility of knowing one way or another, we are left, as I seeit, with
>>only one choice, namely, to construct a historical-critical methodology
>>enables one to make reasonable and plausible judgments as to what in the
>>Jesus oral tradition is most likely an authentic representation of the
>>historical Jesus and what is most likely an inauthentic representation of
>>the historical Jesus.
> This last sentence was hard to read, but I finally got it.
> I do not disagree with the Vansina-Kelber characterization about oral
> tradition. And I agree that we need a methodology "that enables one to
> reasonable and plausible judgments as to what in the Jesus oral tradition
> is most likely an authentic representation of the historical Jesus."
> However, I do not agree that "historical-critical methodology" is the only
> way to get there.
extrapolate from the Jesus oral traditrion reason and plausible judgments
about what is and what is not authentic to Jesus?
>>... I submit that contemporaries of Mark whoI think that speculation is often helpful, for it enables one to imagine
>>*read* Mark's Gospel would have recognized that Mark was *not* writing a
>>history or biography. I will provide support for this rhetorical position
>>a future post entitled: "Historical Truth? Wrong Question for Mark."
>>With respect to this post, my point in questioning the historicity of the
>>Markan temptation, as I did in my post to Bob Schacht, was, as you state
>>below, to apply one of the methodological criteria, the criterion of
>>multiple attestation for determining authentic historicity behind the
>>Since there is nothing in the oral tradition prior to Mark, unless one
>>accepts (which I do not) the version of the temptation story in the second
>>redaction of Q (4:1-13) or as found in Mt. 4:1-11 (for those who refute
>>existence of Q),
> I realize the methodological reason for depending on written sources for
> evidence of what was in the oral tradition, but I strongly disagree with
> the assumption that there was nothing in the oral tradition other than
> shows up in Q (or whatever). I think from the other direction, years
> any of those documents were written, at the oral culture out of which a
> little bit was distilled into written documents. Now, I realize that what
> was in that oral tradition, other than what emerged in written form, is
> speculative. But just because it is speculative doesn't mean that nothing
> was there. So what I am pleading for here is for more methodological
> humility, rather than the arrogant-sounding claims that often emerge from
> some scholars.
possibilities not previously entertained. And in those possibilities may
lie the nub of a new paradigmatic approach that leads to grounding in
historical plausibility and reality what previously was reported as
unhistorical. However, to introduce speculation as a way to include what
cannot be with some plausibility verified by historical-critical method
inorder to increase one's data of possible authentic Jesus material, in my
judgment, is analogous to inviting the camel to stick his nose inside of a
tent and then giving the camel the allowance of coming in further and
further into the tent, which was not constructed in the first place for
>I did not say that failure to validate is equivalent to being "false." All
>> there is no multiple attestation for the historicity of the
>>temptation story. Thus, by virtue of the failure of the temptation story
>>pass that specific criterion for historicity, claims for its historicity
>>cannot be validated in that particular instance. And I think the story can
>>be shown to fail to pass convincingly the tests applied to it via other
> "cannot be validated" is not the same as "false." You make that jump all
> too easily IMHO.
I am suggesting is that the failure of a datum to be historically validated
means that it cannot legitimately then be assigned -- if your
historical-critical method is being pursued with a rigourousness that is not
prejudiced toward personal preference -- historical plausibility, to say
nothing of historical verification. There has been much in my faith
beliefs that has been challenged by my left brain commitment to
thorough-going analytical rigor which my right brain must come to terms
with. My right brain may choose to make a leap of faith beyond what the
results of my left brain will logically allow, and, of course, that is what
a leap of faith is all about.
I see historical-critical investigation as a left brain activity, which must
not be tainted, insofar as one can be self-critical, with the faith stance
of the right brain in the exercse of rigourous scholarship. How one wants
to give meaning to the results derived from such left brain activity is a
personal and right brain decision. For example, I do not think, as I have
stated before, that Jesus ever prayed the Gethsemane prayer. There was no
one there to hear the prayer to preserve it in oral tradition for Mark to
appropriate. The prayer is unhistorical, fictionally created by Mark. That
is a left brain decision I have had to come to. However, in what I have
come to understand through the historical data I have been able to gather
about the historical Jesus behind the Gospel protraits, such a prayer is not
at all inconsistent with the struggle Jesus may well have faced as he
considered the fate before him, with only a choice to either renounce his
adversarial stance toward the Temple cult and return to being a carpenter in
Nazareth or remain true to his own integrity and accept the likely
inevitability of his death. But that surmise is a right brain faith
interpretation on my part.
>The larger issue is this. As I said, Rikk challenges my contention that the
>>I note that you also/later invoke the classic criteria of authenticity.
>>enough. But this was not the point I engaged, ...
> I'm just going to skip the rest, rather than trying to engage every point.
> Basically, you just seem to be a whole lot more skeptical that anything of
> value exists in the oral tradition, whereas some of the rest of us
> disagree, and we do not yet have consensus on a methodology for sorting
> things out
> I echo Rikk's plea to stay on point. If you want to present other
> on other issues, fine, but I don't think they should be disguised as a
> "reply" to a different question.
temptation story is unhistorical as an example of my continued use of
unwarranted and unreasonable skepticism in my hermeneutic. But when I ask
Rikk to engage me in a substantive critical examination of my hermeneutic,
whether it be with respect to my critique of Bailey's theory or my "Two
Jesuses" thesis, he tells me that he is interested in doing so, but does not
have time to do so in the moment. But then he never returns to state that
he now has the time and wants to do so. That comes across to me as
avoiding the very heart of the issue for which he indicts me as being
unreasonably skeptical in my hermeneutic of suspicion. Rikk, as I have
come to find, has a habit of avoiding the larger issue and wanting me to
concentrate on the smaller issue, the smaller issue in which he includes by
inference and allusion the larger issue which is never addressed. And when
I pose questions to Rikk on his own hermeneutical presuppositions, he
ignores those questions in his follow-up response to me and insists that I
remain focused on the question he wants me to address.
For example, in his 2/18 XTalk post to me, Rikk posed the following to me:
Hence, may I suggest that
an historically sensitive reading of Mark is one that accepts that he has
told the truth unless it can be shown otherwise?"
Rikk, as a historical-critical scholar, who seeks to maintain objectivity,
do you also permit the same acceptance of the _Qu'ran_, the _Book of Mormon_
or the Hindu _The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna_? Do you also accept as a
presupposition that those writings have told the truth, unless it can be
shown otherwise? And how would you determine that any one of them has not
told the truth? The point I am getting at is this: To what extend do we as
scholars, who have a faith commitment to Christianity, as I do for example,
privilege, even unconsciously, writings about Jesus over other religious
writings for communicating *what is true*?
Or, to shift the focus to the issue to canonicity, may I ask: Do you accept
that the Gospel of Hebrews or the Gospel of Peter or the Gospel of Mary is
telling the truth, unless it can be demonstrated otherwise. Is there not
often a implicit prejudice in New Testament scholarship to privilege the
four canonical Gospels as more likely to present the truth about the
historical Jesus than the non-canonical Gospels, such as the Gospel of the
Hebrews or the Gospel of Peter or the Gospel of Mary, or Gospel of Thomas,
for that matter?
But is that not anachronistically superimposing a hermeneutical
presupposition and judgment back upon the first century Christian writings
from the vantage point of the late second, third and fourth centuries CE, to
say nothing about the prejudice of almost 1800 years of orthodoxy to reject
what is not canonical as *heresy*? Why do we not start with a level playing
field in our inquiry into the historical Jesus and treat all the extant
writings of the 1st and early part of the 2nd century, initially at least,
as possessing equal value for containing historical information about the
I still am awaiting Rikk's response to those questions.