[HJMatMeth] Questions on "history"
- 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 issue:
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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