Professor James Crossley on his blog last month justly critiqued various criteria biblical scholars traditionally apply in their efforts to extract some form of historical Jesus from the gospels and finally concluded:
So what can we say in (what is hopefully) a post-criteria world? To some degree, we are simply left with an old fashioned view of historical interpretation:
- interpretation of the material . . . ,
- guesswork about contexts
- and the combining of arguments to make an argument of collective weight.
But an argument for what? Certainly not proof of what Jesus said or did. Jesus may or may not have said word-for-word what some of the Gospel passages claim but we have no idea if this is in fact the case.
All we can do is make a general case for the kinds of themes present in the early Palestinian tradition. (My formatting)
This is not the way one does history. I am even reminded of the popular evangelical line of delivering a message that is hoped to bring audiences to despair, to thinking they have no hope, that they are helpless — all with the aim of motivating them to turn to the messenger for The Answer of hope and salvation. That just comes to mind but I would never suggest Crossley is deploying a similar rhetoric to entice readers to his own view of the way history should be done.
Let’s analyse these words.
“Interpretation of the material”.
That goes without saying no matter what one is studying. Of course historical inquiry is interpretation of the material. One can never avoid interpretation of some kind. Even understanding a claim to be an ”uninterpreted plain fact” is an act of interpretation. I would expect most senior high school students of history and beyond to understand that history is about the interpretation of evidence, data, “facts”.
“Guesswork about contexts”. read more