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Old 03-16-2001, 11:42 PM   #1
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Post Question on Historical-Critical Scholarship

What are the standards and methods of "historical-critical scholarship?"
 
Old 03-17-2001, 05:59 AM   #2
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Bob K:
What are the standards and methods of "historical-critical scholarship?"</font>
Different scholars use and emphasize standards and methods to varying degrees. Some standards used by "Jesus" scholars are things like multiple attestation, dissimilarity, embarrassment, etc.

Multiple attestation is when a saying or event occurs in more than one source. The different sources are Mark, Q, L, M, John, etc. If something occurs in more than one independent source, then it is more likely to be historical because it goes back to an even earlier source. For example, almost all scholars believe Jesus referred to himself as the "Son of Man" because it appears in almost all sources (Q, John, Mark, etc.).

Dissimilarity is when something attributed to Jesus is considerably un-similar to the beliefs of the earliest Christians. It is more likely to be historical because the Christians would not have invented it. For example, scholars think Jesus taught in parables because there is no evidence that the early Christians did such a thing.

The criterion of embarrassment relates to something Jesus said or did which would have been embarrassing to the early Christians. In other words, they would not have made up this information so its most likely historical. An example of this is the gospels' mention of the fact that Jesus' family did not follow him during his lifetime (John 7:5, etc.).

There are other criteria used, but these are a few examples.

Peace,

Polycarp
 
Old 03-18-2001, 06:19 AM   #3
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Polycarp:

Thank you for your reply.

I find some of the standards for historical-critical scholarship confusing.

Multiple attestation in corroborating sources outside of a work would be impressive; but such inside a work would suggest the possibility that several writers were making the same mistake, particularly quoting from the same erroneous source, and that THAT possibility would have to be addressed.

Dissimilarities proving a fact is illogical.

Your words: "For example, scholars think Jesus taught in parables because there is no evidence that the early Christians did such a thing."

If early Christians did not teach in parables, how does that fact prove that Jesus taught in parables?

It would seem logical that followers/students would do/teach as the teacher did/taught. Thus, if J taught in parables, why not early Christians?

Embarrassment seems logical but also raises the possibility that an astute individual who understood the possibility that critical readers of a work might regard an "embarrassment" as a sign of authenticity might insert a fictional "embarrassment" to bolster a fiction. Such a writer would, of course, have no integrity. I have heard Xn apologist arguments that the fictions of the Bible were inserted not to mislead people but to encourage them to believe, as if, in spite of the fact that he was lying, the writer was serving the best interests of those readers who believed they were reading truth and chose to believe, and in the sense of serving the best interests of his readers, the integrity of the writer was intact, and, perhaps, even more likely/authentic--because of the so-called positive effect upon the readers who believed.

Can we seriously accept this kind of logic?
 
Old 03-18-2001, 01:52 PM   #4
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Bob K:
I find some of the standards for historical-critical scholarship confusing.

Multiple attestation in corroborating sources outside of a work would be impressive; but such inside a work would suggest the possibility that several writers were making the same mistake, particularly quoting from the same erroneous source, and that THAT possibility would have to be addressed.
</font>
I think the first question we have to confront when dealing with any ancient history is to ask whether or not the sources we are using (i.e. the gospels) were written with the intention of recording accurate history. If we assume something is false prior to investigation, then it doesn’t matter what evidence is given to support the claim of truthfulness.

Just to clarify a couple of the criteria… Multiple attestation refers to an event or saying appearing in more than one source, NOT more than one time in the same source. The different sources are ones that are independent (Q, L, M, John, Mark) so it would eliminate the possibility of one author copying another. For example “M” does not refer to “the gospel of Matthew” – rather it refers to material that is unique to Matthew because it does not appear in Mark or Q which are the two recognized sources that Matthew used. So if something appears in both M and John, then it means the information goes back to an even earlier source.


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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Dissimilarities proving a fact is illogical.

Your words: "For example, scholars think Jesus taught in parables because there is no evidence that the early Christians did such a thing."

If early Christians did not teach in parables, how does that fact prove that Jesus taught in parables?

It would seem logical that followers/students would do/teach as the teacher did/taught. Thus, if J taught in parables, why not early Christians?
</font>
I agree with you on this one to a certain extent. But the thing to keep in mind is that we don't ONLY count things that are dis-similar. Its just one part of the argument to consider something as historical. You're absolutely right that this criterion is weak IF its the major (or only) one we use. We would end up saying that Jesus' followers MUST be totally different than Jesus. It seems a little absurd to argue for such a thing. This is why scholars like John Dominic Crossan end up with a Jesus that is so unbelievable. Its partly because he places such a huge emphasis on "dis-similarity".

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Embarrassment seems logical but also raises the possibility that an astute individual who understood the possibility that critical readers of a work might regard an "embarrassment" as a sign of authenticity might insert a fictional "embarrassment" to bolster a fiction. Such a writer would, of course, have no integrity.
Quote:
</font>
This gets back to the fact that we can't assume everyone who wrote history was intentionally trying to deceive people. The early Christians who were writing the gospels and spreading their message sincerely believed in what they wrote and taught. What would their ulterior motivation have been? There was nothing to gain politically, economically, or elsewise by fabricating sayings or deeds of Jesus that would have been embarrassing to Christians.

You've basically given the gospels no chance because if what they write is not embarrassing then you say they were just making Jesus out to be a hero; if they write something that is embarrassing, then you claim that you knew they'd do it in order to "authenticate" their message. It's a no win situation when you've made up your mind ahead of time that the information is false.

Peace,

Polycarp

 
Old 03-18-2001, 04:46 PM   #5
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">
You've basically given the gospels no chance because if what they write is not embarrassing then you say they were just making Jesus out to be a hero; if they write something that is embarrassing, then you claim that you knew they'd do it in order to "authenticate" their message. It's a no win situation when you've made up your mind ahead of time that the information is false.
</font>
I think that the theists put the skeptic in the same situation.

Embarrassment - if the text refers to an incident that is not embarrassing, we're asked to take it as accurate because it is fairly plausible and non-controversial. But if the text contains an embarrassment, then that somehow proves the truth of the text and again, the skeptic is asked to accept it.

Dissimiliarity - as Bob K points out, is likewise of questionable use. If the text refers to an event that would be harmonious with the historical and social backdrop of ancient Palestine, then the skeptic is asked to accept it for precisely those reasons. On the other hand, if the event in question is dissimilar to what was expected, then the skeptic is told that "it couldn't possibly be made up, so it has to be true."

It seems that no matter what the evidence, the theist manages to create a "win" out of it.
 
Old 03-18-2001, 06:34 PM   #6
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Omnedon1:
It seems that no matter what the evidence, the theist manages to create a "win" out of it.</font>
Perhaps you could list the criteria we SHOULD be using when doing historical investigation. The items I've listed are not unique to studying Christianity. Some of them are used when studying any sort of ancient history.

Its easy to criticize the rules when you don't like the outcome, so please tell us which "rules" you think we should use.

Peace,

Polycarp

 
Old 03-18-2001, 08:27 PM   #7
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I see no reason to trust ancient religious documents unless they are backed up by archeology or clear non-religious confirmation.

I see no reason to believe that the early Christians and the writers of the Gospels even thought that they were reporting facts. Christianity is or was a mystery religion. The early Christians did not have a modern view of scientific fact - they believed in a "higher" Platonic reality.

The idea that the Bible should be interpreted literally, and believed in as if it were a newspaper report, is a very modern idea that would have been alien to the original Christians.

But then I shouldn't speak for Christians.
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Old 03-18-2001, 09:59 PM   #8
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">
Perhaps you could list the criteria we SHOULD be using when doing historical investigation.
</font>
The Scientific Method would be a good start.

Another useful approach be to treat all texts as value-neutral. By that I mean, their truth status is unknown until such time as they can be corroborated by several independent lines of evidence from different disciplines.


Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">
The items I've listed are not unique to studying Christianity.
</font>
I'm aware of that. I've read text. crit. work with regards to attempted reconstruction of original Norse sagas, and extracting the later christianizations.

However, when we study other historical documents, the approach is different. When we encounter an area that is "murky", we simply shrug our shoulders and say that there is insufficient evidence either way. We put the issue on a shelf, and we don't let it bother us. Time goes by, and perhaps new evidence or new methodology comes to light which can resolve the accuracy of the passage.

But with christianity, the perfectly reasonable answer that a given point may be unknown, or even permanently unknow-able, is generally unacceptable to theists.

In addition, we routinely reject tales of miracles and magic in other historical texts, no matter how solid the textual criticism or the archaeological evidence is. Yet for some reason, theists want that approach suspended for their particular holy book.


Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">
Some of them are used when studying any sort of ancient history.
</font>
I note you were careful to say some of them.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">
Its easy to criticize the rules when you don't like the outcome, so please tell us which "rules" you think we should use.
</font>
"Don't like the outcome"? You make this sound like I am rejecting the rules merely because of personal distaste. Far from it.

Any set of rules that always arrives at the same conclusion is fundamentally useless for deriving any truth. Whether or not someone else can suggest better rules is totally besides the point.

Your rebuttal amounts to "These are our rules. If you don't have any better ones, then our rules stand."

Besides being rather whiny, the problem with that attitude is that it doesn't address the defects in your rules. That's like saying, "the closest that we can measure the value of pi to is 3.00. If you can't do any better, then tough." Well, that may indeed be the closest measurement you can make, but if what you're trying to do is measure a circle, then your best effort here is still insufficient to the task at hand.



[This message has been edited by Omnedon1 (edited March 18, 2001).]
 
Old 03-19-2001, 04:49 AM   #9
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Omnedon1:
The Scientific Method would be a good start.
Another useful approach be to treat all texts as value-neutral. By that I mean, their truth status is unknown until such time as they can be corroborated by several independent lines of evidence from different disciplines.
</font>
I agree with you on independent lines of evidence from different disciplines and that we should be value-neutral, but your idea about the scientific method is just plain wrong. By definition, the scientific method deals with what is repeatable. History is not repeatable. You’re asking for the impossible.

However, let me call your bluff right off the bat. It seems as though you are not practicing what you preach. You call for value-neutrality, yet you seem to reject the possibility of miracles before any investigation takes place. That’s hardly an act of being “value-neutral”. Each miracle claim should be evaluated on its own merits. I’m open to miracles in other areas besides Christianity. Just give me an example of some that have better supporting evidence than those of the resurrection of Jesus. You act as though ALL Christians start out with the belief that Christianity is true and therefore everything in the Bible MUST be true. You can argue against the straw man, but that isn’t what I’m claiming.


Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">"Don't like the outcome"? You make this sound like I am rejecting the rules merely because of personal distaste. Far from it.

Any set of rules that always arrives at the same conclusion is fundamentally useless for deriving any truth. Whether or not someone else can suggest better rules is totally besides the point.

Your rebuttal amounts to "These are our rules. If you don't have any better ones, then our rules stand."
</font>
I've told you why I think your rules stink. The scientific method can NOT be applied to history. This leaves you with your only other critera of "value-neutrality" upon which we agree. I've already demonstrated how you do not even practice this criterion. It looks like you need to keep working on the rules needed for historical study unless you have some other ideas that you haven't shared. "Value Neutrality" alone isn't going to tell us anything.


Peace,

Polycarp
 
Old 03-19-2001, 04:56 AM   #10
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Toto:
I see no reason to trust ancient religious documents unless they are backed up by archeology or clear non-religious confirmation.
Quote:
</font>
Which ancient document does not make any religious claims? Toto's gonna be throwing away almost all of our history. Poor Toto...

In other words, you only think people who believe exactly as you do tell the truth. Sounds rather biased to me... As a matter of fact, it sounds like the exact same thing as what Christians are accused of doing.

Toto thinks that only the writings of atheists should be considered when reconstructing history. Anybody else agree ?

Peace,

Polycarp

 
 

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