Tag Archives: Historical Method

Historical Jesus scholarly quotes on historical methodology

Even fabricated material may provide a true sense of the gist of what Jesus was about, however inauthentic it may be as far as the specific details are concerned.

(From a scholarly review of a chapter of a book discussing historical methodology)

In a discussion of a Wikipedia article on Historical Method:

Is there anything in the method outlined there (or better yet in the books cited if readers know them well or have time to consult them) that is not in keeping with the practices of historians working on the historical figure of Jesus? Or is there any point at which this survey and summary (or the method set forth in the sources the article cites) is at odds with what most historians do?

I ask because mythicists regularly claim that what scholars investigating the historical Jesus do is different from what mainstream historical study does.

In those books cited in that Wikipedia article, and that are appealed to in order demonstrate that biblical historians use the same methods as nonbiblical historians, appear gems like the following:

The author of a historical source may be God, as well as man. Hence the distinction between divine and human sources.

The procedure of critics who reject the possibility of miracles is manifestly unscientific.

I know of course that most mainstream biblical historians do not openly admit to the supernatural when dealing with historical inquiry, but the fact that an associate professor of religion is blithely confident enough to make such a claim about books he obviously has never read and only thinks he understands demonstrates just how out of touch some biblical scholars are with the historiography outside their own ivory tower. This was a key point in Scot McKnight’s chapter on historiography in his Death of Jesus, and which I discuss in relation to key names in nonbiblical historiography that he sees as relevant for biblical scholars. The scholar who refuses to address this is the one who responded with the ignorant remark about sources for methodology on the Wikipedia article.

(I know I know. Someone said this is like shooting fish in a barrel with a shotgun. Let’s move on.)

Oh, just one more. . . .

I’ve tried being reasonable and respectful

(comment 11491)

Agreed, he is very trying

Brodie (almost) versus McGrath on historical methodology in NT studies

Missed it by that much

Missed it by that much

Thomas L. Brodie has a chapter (“Towards Tracing the Gospels’ Literary Indebtedness to the Epistles” in Mimesis and Intertextuality) discussing the possibility of the Gospel authors using the NT epistles among their sources, but what I found of most interest was his discussion on methodology and criteria. The difference between Brodie’s discussion of historical methodology and that espoused by James McGrath comes close to being starkly different as day is from night. But it is not clear that Brodie is fully aware of what I think are the implications of what he writes. read more »

Applying Sound Historical Methodology to “James the Brother of the Lord”

It is easy for both historicists and mythicists to to descend to shallow proof-texting when arguing over the significance of Paul’s reference to James, the brother of the Lord, as evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

I am not attempting here in this post to cover all the arguments. I only want to address the necessity for a broad approach to the question and to rescue it from the tendency to reduce it to a simplistic positive/negative point.

Galatians 1:19

I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.

Renowned conservative historian, Sir Geoffrey Elton, warns against deploying such simplistic methods as citing a single piece of evidence to make a case. In this instance, the case is about evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

Historical research does not consist, as beginners in particular often suppose, in the pursuit of some particular evidence that will answer a particular question (G.R. Elton, The Practice of History, p.88)

If that’s what historical research is not, Elton goes on to explain what it is:

it consists of an exhaustive, and exhausting, review of everything that may conceivably be germane to a given investigation. Properly observed, this principle provides a manifest and efficient safeguard against the dangers of personal selection of evidence. (p.88)

Amen! The dangers of personal selection of evidence in historical Jesus research are spotlighted by each reconstructed “historical Jesus” being in some recognizable image of its author.

Jesus historicists are particularly guilty of falling into the trap of “beginners” that Elton warns against when responding to mythicist arguments. Of course they know better when engaging in professional work among their peers. They generally avoid taking mythicist arguments seriously, and this is why they respond like amateurs. read more »