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[HJMatMeth] Re: Questions on "history"

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  • John Dominic Crossan
    There are a lot of words in there, David, big and important words, which appear with quotation marks around them, but I am not always sure we mean the same
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 12, 2000
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      There are a lot of words in there, David, big and important words, which
      appear with quotation marks around them, but I am not always sure we mean
      the same things by them. But, as best I understand your question, this is
      how I¹ve tried to answer it. First, I have spent only a minimum amount of
      time explaining it in theory and much more time trying to do it in practice.
      On the level of theory, I distinguish between narcissism, which projects its
      own face entirely onto the subject it studies, and positivism (or
      historicism) which imagines it can see the subject totally uncontaminated by
      its own viewing presence. In between those extremes I have sought for
      interactivism which attempts to make as fair and equitable a dialogue
      between past and present as humanly possible. The ethic of that process does
      not mean that you can ever get out of your own personal or social skin. But
      that you try to make the dialogue between viewed and viewer as interactive
      as possible. The only ethical way that I know to do this is to be as self
      conscious and self critical as you can about your method (how you do it) and
      methodology (why you do it that way and not some other). That is why I spend
      so much time on methodology and why I took almost an entire year to lay out
      as fully as I could the entire units of the Jesus tradition. For example, I
      have insisted that there is a line from Materials (how one sees the gospels)
      to Methods (how one reconstructs based on those presuppositions) into
      Results (the conclusions you get). Finally, I would insist that the merits
      of any method/ology is comparative. It is serenely simple to demolish, in
      fact even to ridicule, (and I am not suggesting that you are doing that)
      another person¹s method/ology. The real question, however, is whether any
      given methodology is the best one around for here and now, for this time and
      place. It is in the light of that statement that I am quite happy to defend
      my methodology. It is not because I think it is perfect or permanent, but
      because I think it is better than the other ones around at the moment.

      >From: "thevoidboy@..." <thevoidboy@...>
      >To: "hjmaterialsmethodolgy@..." <hjmaterialsmethodolgy@...>
      >Subject: [HJMatMeth] Questions on "history"
      >Date: Thu, Feb 10, 2000, 1:54 PM

      > Dominic -
      > Thank you so much for agreeing to participate in this exciting forum. I
      > have read you work over the years with great interest, being introduced to
      > you almost 12 years ago at the 2nd Jesus Seminar held in Redlands, CA while
      > I was only a new graduate student in biblical studies, having just read
      > your book "in parables". It was an exciting time, hearing you speak and
      > watching the early dynamics of the Jesus Seminar unfold before my eyes.
      > I have a question that, I'll admit, is a little hard to formulate, so I
      > anticipate a misunderstanding right from the start and acknowledge that is
      > will be due to my own inability to state it clearly.
      > Question: how does one reconcile the disciplinary apologetic of history as
      > quasi-scientific, positivist pursuit of 'truth' with the disciplinary
      > history of the discipline as an ethical pursuit?
      > Let me back up: since its foundations and until 1810-1812 with Georg
      > Nieburh's publication of a critical history of Rome, history had been
      > interested less in the critical discovery of the 'truth' of events, their
      > sequence, their causes and their outcomes per se, and more interested in
      > focusing upon, for example, 'the lives of famous men'. That is, its focus
      > was upon providing models and anti-models of ethical behavior for others to
      > follow (or avoid), even when its genre was not biographical.
      > Only recently, particularly in the late 19th century with respect to our
      > field of biblical studies, has history endeavored to become (under the
      > influence and powerful forces of the physical sciences on particularly
      > german, then later american research university campuses)a discipline
      > dedicated sole to 'objective' research.
      > Setting aside the issue of genre composition that constrains history anyway
      > (why to we recount history as drama: with setting, characters, plot,
      > storyline, etc.?) as something that brings with it necessarily 'ethical'
      > issues, I am fascinated by how the rhetoric of the discipline's discourse
      > and practice continues to employ its pre-disciplinary habit of 'ethics',
      > while presenting an apologetic (almost ideologically) of 'pure scientific'
      > pursuit of 'facts'.
      > Take the Jesus Seminar: At the end of the day, having completed work on
      > both the acts and sayings of Jesus, Bob Funk, tryingto keep things moving
      > along, has asked the group to ponder whether the message and life of Jesus
      > has anything significant to speak to humankind today. And this question
      > coming from a Jeffersonian modernist dedicated to an ideology of scientifism
      > (which, by definition, rules out questions of importance from its inquiry
      > as so much 'irrational' and 'irrelevant' questions on values -- and, as we
      > know, science is 'value-less').
      > You yourself, in what I read as move of self-defense, suggested that you
      > would accept the accusation that Jesus studies means necessarily "looking
      > down a deep well and finding your own reflection". This admission, while
      > rhetorically an attempt to deflect criticism, speaks to the heart of the
      > As biblical historians, we are not really interested at all in the
      > pseudo-objectivist pursuit of 'truth' and the quasi-scientific pursuit of
      > 'knowledge', but are, indeed, dealing with questions of ethics. And yet,
      > we stake our claims to 'authenticity' (or, what is a 'compromise' position
      > - 'honesty') and 'truth' upon the rigorous application of our method which
      > is supposed to assure against the influence of values (particularly dogma,
      > canon law, etc.).
      > In other words, we say we are pursuing the 'truth' (which is itself a value
      > in need of serious pondering), but are engaged in the ethical pursuit of
      > determining whose Jesus is the 'right' Jesus - a power struggle of
      > determining which 'Jesus' is the one against whom all others are judged.
      > Can one reconcile these conflicting claims without undermining the
      > authenticity of either?
      > -David Hester Amador, PhD
      > Santa Rosa, California
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