April 29, 2010

More on the Lack of Basic/Public Facts for the Historical Jesus

Posted in culture, history, religion, scripture at 9:21 am by Jerry

Historians of nonbiblical topics start with public facts. HJ historians start with NO public facts at all. They attempt to create these basic facts with tools that were designed to discover something else.

HJ scholars start with a cultural figure, and a set of documents that our cultural heritage has exalted to authoritative status. No-one knows who wrote them, or when, or for whom. They can speculate, with educated guesses, but no more. Cultural heritage — nothing else — has informed us that they are indeed some sort of attempt, however unreliable, to record some sort of historical event about an historical person.

Contrast the tools used by nonbiblical historians. The Magna Carta, the Ems telegram, Caesar’s and Cicero’s writings, epigraphy. We can have varying levels of knowledge or reasonable beliefs about these documents, but they all constitute public facts. Their nature is verifiable and the facts to which they testify are indisputable basics of historical enquiry. It is from such documents — from the public facts they are evidence for — that we can begin to ask more complex questions about other events that were related to these.

But HJ historians start with nothing but the cultural authority of a set of documents, and proceed to apply tools meant to uncover secondary facts to discover primary basic public facts. They can’t. The tools are not designed for that work, and are designed to uncover only “facts” that will always be debatable or subject to revision.

In other words, HJ historians are walking on air. They have no basic and public facts with which to start any truly historical enquiry.

They have only faith in the assumptions of a certain cultural heritage.

Historians do not have to “think they can prove” that there was a battle of Hastings and it happened in 1066, or “think they can establish that” Captain Cook sighted the east coast of Australia in 1770. As to the reasons for William invading England, or the complex immediate and other reasons Cook was sent on his mission in the first place, are all matters of historical enquiry. They know they can. The evidence is public and indisputable. It is the known basic facts that prompt the historical enquiry in the first place.

Historical enquiry begins with basic and public known and indisputable facts that will never go away. It then attempts to build on these facts with historical tools.

HJ enquiry begins with no facts, but attempts to create its basic facts with tools that are designed to yield questionable and debatable results. And worse, it applies these tools to a document that has no more verification as a historical source than conventional wisdom.

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