Re: Criteria

On Wed, 30 Mar 1994, Carl Conrad wrote:
> Wouldn't it be more accurate to say, if one must say something like this, that
> the question of the authentic text (of the gospels) is a theological one, but
> the question of the authenticity of sayings attributed to Jesus in the gospels
> is strictly a historical one?

Wouldn't it be *most* accurate to say that both are historical 
questions?  To say that either is a theological question seems to imply 
that theological issues will play an essential role in decisions made 
with regards to the correct text.  But this is cart-before-horse-putting 
of the grossest order.  Text breeds theology; not vice versa (not 
legitimately, anyway).  There are criteria for historical critical 
judgment of the text.  Whether or not these criteria are adequate is a 
meta-historical question, not a  theological one either.  Across the 
board these issues are those that should be informed by history and 
historiography -- not theology.

I bring this up because I believe it is precisely this confusion that has 
led to some quite questionable critical methods (from an historical 
standpoint).  We often decide beforehand (based on theological 
convictions) what the original text must have been like, what the events 
being reported could or could not have been, and what Jesus must really 
have said.  If we enter our critical investigations with any such 
notions, however implicit or subconscious, they will adversely affect the 
decisions we make, when we assume that such decisions are "strictly" 
matters of scholarship and honest criticism.

I am, of course, not so naive as to think that criticism completely free 
of theological or historiographical bias.  However, it makes a 
significant difference whether or not we are aware of such biases and 
work to account for them in our analyses.  It has been my experience that 
many of the most "sophisticated" critical approaches I have studied have 
been replete with unacknowledged theological convictions and other world 
view attitudes.

"Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana."
--Groucho Marx

Prof. James F. Sennett
Asst. Professor of Philosophy
Palm Beach Atlantic College
PO Box 24708
West Palm Beach, FL  33416-4708