Sunday, December 30, 2007

Principles of Historical Criticism, Part II

[Part five in the Scripture and History series]

This time, we begin to look at what Greg Herrick calls "A Better Approach". Herrick examines several "Criteria of Authenticity" that have been used by critics such as the Jesus Seminar to examine the sayings and deeds of Jesus. Before examining the criteria he makes some general points:

  1. The criteria are not about "proof" - "intent of the criteria is to judge the probability of the authenticity of a certain saying or deed"

  2. "the criteria are to be used together and from a perspective that maintains that the accounts are trustworthy until the contrary has been reasonably demonstrated.". This tends to be supported by:
    • the presence of eyewitnesses;
    • the existence of a church center in Jerusalem to oversee the guarding and disseminating of the traditions;
    • the generally high view the church had for its traditions
    • the faithfulness of the church in transmitting some of Jesus' more difficult sayings
    • the problems of the early church as seen in the epistles are not specifically found in the Gospels
The criteria are [the block quotes are Herrick's comments/adjustments/etc of the criteria]:
  • The Criterion of Dissimilarity: affirms that a saying or deed may be regarded as authentic if it cannot be shown to go back to similar phenomena in ancient Judaism or the church
    This criterion has some strength in that it can validate a tradition, but it cannot invalidate a saying necessarily. That is, if a saying cannot be located in Judaism or the early church then it is reasonable to conclude that it goes back to the creative mind of Jesus. However, Jesus was a man who lived in the Jewish culture and therefore, it is unfair to rule as inauthentic a saying simply because it can be found in Judaism . . . This criterion is helpful for determining what is unique to Jesus not what is characteristic of him.
  • The Criterion of Multiple Attestation: any motif may be regarded as authentic if the words upon which it rests are found in all, or most, of the sources which stand behind the synoptic Gospels
    This particular criterion presupposes a solution to the synoptic problem and to the degree that that is tentative, so is this dictum . . . Also, there is nothing that necessitates a tradition being inauthentic simply because it is found in only one source. Other principles such as internal improbability and contradiction with other traditions must take greater precedent in determining this.
  • The The Criterion of Semitisms: any presence of Aramaic linguistic phenomena argues for the primitiveness of the tradition and the more primitive a tradition is the more likely that it actually came from Jesus himself.
    The principle assumes, at least at some level, that the early Christians did not write or speak Aramaic and did not add such activity to the gospel traditions. But isn't this the whole reason for the "criteria"—to determine which sayings and deeds are really of Jesus? . . . The principle has therefore limited usefulness, but when combined with other criteria may help to determine the actual words of Jesus. This criterion must also take into account: 1) the influence of the LXX upon the writers of the New Testament; 2) that there remains some question as to whether the Greek of the Gospels can be accurately translated back into Aramaic; and 3) the probability that Jesus himself spoke Greek on occasion
  • The Criterion of Divergent Traditions: suggests that when a particular tradition differs somewhat from what appears to be the author's general perspective it may be regarded as authentic
    This criterion does help to establish difficult sayings such as Mark 13:32, the theology of which does not seem to agree with Mark 1:1, wherein Mark seems to portray a fairly high Christology. But, the principle may require of us knowledge of the early church which we do not really possess and can tend to individualize the NT writers too much. As regards this last point, we must exercise caution before we set about to say that two traditions are in contradiction. Our knowledge of the situation in the early church may really not be adequate to the task.
  • The Criterion of Primitive Eschatology: If a particular saying evinces a primitive/imminent eschatological outlook, it may be regarded as authentic
    . . . there seems to be no a priori reason to reject the fact that Jesus shifted his eschatological focus during his ministry, especially in the light of the growing rejection of his person by the Jews. Perhaps this is the case in Matthew.
  • The Criterion of Palestinian Environment: affirms that if a saying or deed appears to have a Hellenistic origin, it cannot be from Jesus, but is a later creation of the church. On the other hand, any saying or deed, be it religious, political, social or otherwise, must reflect Palestinian provenance to be considered authentic.
    Some have argued against the authenticity of Mark 10:11-12 on this basis, since a wife divorcing her husband is unheard of in Judaism. Yet, as Stein points out, there is a realistic Sitz im Leben in Jesus' ministry for just such a saying, namely, the case of Herod and Herodias. This criterion might play a greater role in the case of customs, religious practices, social phenomena, etc. in the Gospels that are explicitly or implicitly communicating something about Jewish life. We can then compare that with other data we have about such things.
  • The Criterion of Coherence: There is a lot of material from the earliest strata of Gospel tradition which cannot be verified as authentic using the criterion of dissimilarity, but as it coheres (i.e. substantially agrees with) with material deemed authentic by the criterion of dissimilarity, it may be regarded as authentic.
    Insofar as this criterion rests upon the conclusions of the principle of dissimilarity it inherently acquires the strengths and weaknesses of it. It also has the methodological problem of determining what coheres with what, and why.
  • The Criterion of Cause-Effect or Correlation: affirms a sound principle of historiography, namely, that causes postulated to account for the established effects one sees in one's sources must in fact be adequate to account for those effects.

  • The Criterion of the Tendency of the Developing Tradition: seeks to discern what the evangelist as theologian/redactor has added or deleted from the tradition as he received it. This, of course, is in an attempt to "get back" to the original words or deeds of Jesus by understanding the "laws" of transmission of the tradition
    When I use this criterion in the paper and suggest that a particular tradition meets this, I mean that the tradition in question has not been altered by the later church in the light of its theological interests and that the "laws" operative in this case are ones of memorization due to the essential nature of the material.
  • The Criterion of Embarrassment: brings to light sayings or actions that are in the traditions, but at the same time constitute a possible embarrassment to the church. The baptism of Jesus and Peter's denial of Christ would fall into such a category.
In the next post, I will outline Herrick's use of the above criteria to examine the historical veracity of the Resurrection accounts.

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly