An Historical question

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 
> 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