October 23, 2010

History and Biblical Scholarship

Posted in history, religion, scripture at 3:48 pm by Jerry

In one respect, history is at a serious disadvantage with respect to the hard sciences. When a chemist or physicist makes a hypothesis, we can perform repeated experiments to prove whether the hypothesis is false (or falsifiable, for that matter). Historical events occur once and are lost to the past. We have no direct access to the past, only the recollections of others. So even in the best of cases, we can only establish high probability. You would think that being stuck with late, contradictory, anonymous and pseudonymous sources would make Bible scholars more cautious. You’d be wrong.

Biblical scholarship is the only sub-field of history in which I’ve heard actual scholars use the term “innocence of the text” and accuse others of being “too skeptical.” It’s the only sub-field in which scholars feel obliged to publicly state that they don’t discount supernatural events, as if not believing in miracles and magic would be grounds for dismissal. (I know of no Homeric scholars who feel compelled to say they’re not sure whether Athena appeared on the field of battle at Troy.)

NT scholars are an even rarer breed. They take literary relationships and turn them into historical relationships. They transform plausible scenarios into hard facts. They create source documents out of thin air. They imagine an oral tradition that goes on for 40 years, but still contains factual information. They ostracize dissenters and then ask why they don’t get published in respected journals. Ask yourself, why did Earl Doherty have to self-publish a monumental work like Jesus: Neither God nor Man? Why did Thomas L. Thompson have to leave the U.S. and find a teaching position in Copenhagen? Why is it that Robert M. Price, a man with two earned PhDs, can’t find a position in any American university?

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2 Comments »

  1. Tim Widowfield said,

    Man, that’s well put! 😉

  2. Jerry said,

    What can I say, Tim, you did a fantastic job! You made so many good points in just a few paragraphs. It would’ve been a shame if I didn’t quote your comment.


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