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Re: [XTalk] Re: Critical realism

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  • Rikki E. Watts
    Antonio, Back into the fray ... a long post since you raise so many issues. Maybe the best thing though is to start with one item and track it through ...
    Message 1 of 14 , May 4, 2000
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      Back into the fray ... a long post since you raise so many issues. Maybe
      the best thing though is to start with one item and track it through ...
      perhaps your comments on SoM (see below)?

      a. you criticize Wright for not being skeptical enough about the sayings of
      Jesus, namely that he doesn't say which ones he thinks were "made up". Of
      course this raises the question of what you mean by "made up": without any
      basis and in direct opposition or without any reference to what Jesus
      believed, without any historical basis but largely in keeping with what they
      thought Jesus would have said if he spoke on this subject (as per Hanson's
      PROPHETIC GOSPEL), with some historical basis but freely restructured and
      rephrased, or with some historical basis and though in their own words still
      in an attempt to be faithful to what Jesus intended (etc., permutations
      could be multiplied)? How would you tell the difference (details please)?

      b. as far as I can tell the answer to your criticism is that Tom seems to
      think that most of the sayings we have are not in their general thrust
      unfaithful to the teaching of the Jesus (hence my remark about his
      skepticism re received scholarship). I should have thought that much would
      have been fairly obvious. This is perhaps where you and Tom are worlds

      c. of course you react to this, citing 'totally dissimilar sayings' which no
      oral tradition on earth could account for (or something like that). Indulge
      me by being specific (you mention the sayings from the cross in
      general)--would you mind giving me one or two of your key examples? Then we
      can talk about details rather than generalities. I suspect as we talk about
      this we'll discover that there are important assumptions that will strongly
      influence the outcome. At least one contributor to this list has suggested
      that Tom does what he does because he can't dream of Jesus being wrong.
      With respect and while I can understand the temptation, I think this is an
      inadequate understanding of what Tom is on about. I don't doubt that Tom
      wants to give Jesus and the early church much more of the benefit of the
      doubt than some. But I also think that Tom is trying to work through the
      implications of Lonergan's critical realism (partly as a response to the
      weaknesses of positivism and perspectivalism) and post-modernism's
      contribution on alerting us to the importance of story. Hence his long
      introductory section in NTPG. But in the end what we are after is that
      reading which makes most sense of the data (historical, cultural, literary,
      etc.). Perhaps I'm more sympathetic to Tom because while doing my doctoral
      work at Cambridge I had already begun to question whether so-called
      apocalyptic language (and isn't this already a late Western label?) was
      intended to be "literal" and whether Mark 13 was really about the end of the
      world at all (partly due to my training on the use of symbols and metaphors
      in Art History but also my work on the role of symbol and metaphor in
      ideology and community self-understanding). I'm not saying Tom's got it
      absolutely right. But I am convinced he's opened some doors (or at least
      popularized the fact that these doors were opening) that are proving very
      helpful in developing new ways of seeing.

      d. you mention John's gospel. It's difficult to know what to do with John
      vis-a-vis the Synoptics, as is evident in the widely divergent views on
      offer. At least one early tradition regarded as a spiritual gospel; what
      might this imply about its genre? But as Mahlon's recent post implied if
      not noted, one of the key problems for John and the Synoptics is
      understanding the relationship between report and interpretation which is
      probably best understood in terms of a continuum rather than a polarity
      (indeed Tom echoing numerous others have simply been questioning whether
      there is such a thing as a non-theological approach to history; naturalism
      already implies a theology even if a negative one).

      e. Yes, theory selection does involve an apparent "circularity" (though
      actually coherence is the technical term): like fitting a part into a jigsaw
      puzzle. Just because the part fits surely doesn't mean that it's suspect.
      Isn't every form of historical investigation open to exactly this kind of
      charge? I think Tom would argue that someone obviously thought all of this
      somehow cohered or they wouldn't have created the story they did. Our task
      is first to seek to understand why they did, and that may mean having to
      give up some old paradigms with which we late moderns have become enamoured.
      I think this is eminently sensible. I guess it comes down to this: one
      either starts with their story first or with our story first. I personally
      think it is better to get a handle on how they understood their story as an
      entirety and only then to compare it to our story to see which one makes
      best sense of human experience. I'm not sure the piecemeal approach has
      worked all that well in the past and hence the shift in methodological
      approaches over the past twenty years or so.

      f. you then comment "Specially since most scholars agree that the OT is
      largely a mythological/theological history in the same way as the gospels is
      mythological theological history." For someone who is so quick to jump on
      sweeping generalizations this is breath-takingly simplistic and you really
      ought to stop it (I assume you haven't been present at the recent SBL
      debates on this nor up to speed on the recent literature?). As long as you
      keep taking refuge in general statements like "most scholars agree" as a
      defense against challenges to what "most scholars agree" we are not going to
      get very far.

      g. you note: "Wouldn´t it be the most natural thing in the world for
      the early Christan scribes like Mark and Matthew to make their own story
      about the Messiah conform as much as possible to the themes that run
      through the OT." Of course they would want to interpret Jesus through that
      grid, especially if they felt that God had "fulfilled" those stories in him.
      But to suggest that this therefore makes them suspect is as silly as
      suggesting that because a scientist attempts to fit his theory into the
      prevailing orthodoxy he must necessarily be fiddling with the data
      (especially since it fits so well, or whatever). It might just fit well
      because it does fit well. What you need to so is show that they have been
      fiddling with or unfaithful to the data. But one needs to make sure that
      one can tell the difference between fiddling with the data and reading it in
      a new light because of a paradigm shift.

      h. On "cloaking Jesus in the mantle of the suffering/dying/vindicated Son of
      Man". Whether other Jews saw a suffering SoM or not is beside the point.
      Why can't Jesus himself have creatively linked Dan 7's story of Israel's
      deliverance from exile with Isaiah 40-55's picture of this happening through
      a suffering servant figure (enigmatic as it is) and come up with a new
      synthesis: a suffering son of man? (The old argument that the one is
      prophetic and the other apocalyptic is anachronistic). Or is it only that
      everybody else but Jesus can be creative? The issue is surely not whether
      others agreed but whether there are textual grounds for Jesus doing so. You
      would need to show that Jesus (assuming for the moment that he was the
      creative genius behind it) was improperly reading the texts. Just a
      thought, given the impact of the Jesus movement or people of the way (or
      whatever), can you give one historical example of such a radically new
      development (comparatively speaking) that was not begun by an individual?
      As far as I can see it is characteristic of movements like this that they
      trace their origins back to significant individuals. I think Dodd is
      correct here. Experience would suggest that this sort of creativity goes
      back to an individual not to a community (just as Qumran traces its origins
      back to the teacher of righteousness).

      i. "I think we can say with a high degree of probability that many clusters
      are totally inauthentic - like the apocalyptic son of Man sayings." Ah yes,
      this is of course the very point as issue. Did Jesus even use the language
      "son of man"? Why don't we pursue this: you tell me why they are totally
      inauthentic and we'll take it from there?

      j. finally, in respect of Allison's supposed defeater to Wright's (and
      Caird's) proposal concerning the metaphorical use of what we moderns call
      apocalyptic language; I refer to his response in JESUS AND THE RESTORATION
      OF ISRAEL. Allison recognizes that Joel or the author of Acts hardly
      expected the moon to become bloody. At the same time others apparently read
      different passages as "literal" (I put this in inverted commas since the
      earliest use of this word meant in keeping with the original author's
      intention). But what is at issue is how Jesus and the authors of the gospels
      understood the language, and Allison has already allowed that they do read
      at least some texts metaphorically. Perhaps especially it concerns how the
      language functions in e.g. Mark 13, which apparently Allison assumes
      describes the end of the world, and this apparently because of 13.24ff. But
      isn't this to beg the question?

      (i) A. accepts that Isa 13.10 and 34.4 is poetry (on p.131) (I'm not sure
      how his citation of Josh 10 has any bearing on Isaiah). However, he argues
      that since there are no contextual markers in Mark 13 to indicate that
      vv.24ff are metaphor they must be "literal". But if something is already
      clearly recognized as a metaphor why do you need markers? Their absence
      here could just as well indicate that this language was well understood as
      metaphorical. He surely isn't suggesting that one cannot use metaphors when
      describing historical events? After all this is exactly what Joel does
      (2.28-32, ET; 3.1ff HB). If Joel 3.1ff's (HB) "sun darkened" is a metaphor
      in the context of a literal description of the fate of Jerusalem, what clear
      and irrefutable evidence does A. offer to show that it cannot be so here
      where the fate of Jerusalem is also the main issue (Mk 13.1ff)? None that I
      can see.
      (ii) true, he does cite examples of some people understanding cosmic
      descriptions literally (just as he does of people who don't). But it is
      worth noting that a number of them are Greco-Roman writers (hardly the best
      indicators of Jewish interpretive tradition), while some of his key
      witnesses are e.g. a Hellenized Alexandrian Jew (on Pseudo-Philo's LAB 11.5)
      who applied allegorical exegetical methods to the bible; I should have
      thought that this is good reason not to follow him (cf. the author of the
      Sibylline oracles). I find it telling that the most literal readers Allison
      can find are largely people whose approach to Israel's scriptures in general
      seems rather at odds with what the gospels' Jesus does. Others are not
      really close parallels at all.
      (iii) Allison then goes on to history of religions parallels etc. But of
      course they are only parallels if they can be shown to be parallels, and
      certainly have no probative weight in requiring Jewish and Christian
      interpreters to read as others had done (good heavens, if anything stands
      out about Christians and Jews in the first century it was precisely that
      they held to views contrary to their neighbours). He himself quotes
      Sullivan "in NEARLY all .." (my emphasis, 138). Exactly! It is the
      exception that proves the rule. It's a nice rhetorical move but actually
      proves nothing.

      At best Allison has shown that some people in the first century world read
      some texts "literally", but this is a long way short of refuting Wright's
      reading of Mark 13. Of course part of the problem here is that Mark 13 is
      commonly held to refer to the end of the world; I do not share that opinion
      since it fails, in my view, to take Mark's context seriously enough (13.1-4)
      and relies on a particular and tendentious reading of 13.24-27.

      all the best


      Dr. R. E. Watts (PhD, Cantab) Phone (604) 224 3245
      Regent College, Fax (604) 224 3097
      5800 University Boulevard
      Vancouver, BC
      CANADA V6T 2E4
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