September 20, 2009

Historical Positivity & Damascus

Jona Lendering just blogged about the Positivist Fallacy, which occurs when scholars forget that "there are many historical facts for which we have no evidence." Or as I like to put it, we should at least try to reconstruct what happened in-between the recorded events, based on what facts we do have. Jona's explanation might possibly be encapsulated by these helpful lines:
When we have a great number of sources, that does not mean that an event was significant. Nor does a small number of sources mean that nothing happened.
I hope Professor Lendering will forgive and correct me if I miscategorize, but I think this also applies to an occasional assumption rife within Biblical Studies: two similar references do not necessarily refer to the same event. An example I will continue to raise is Paul's escape(s?) from Damascus.

Biblical scholars tend to assume that the escape of Acts 9:25 was the same as the one Paul mentions in 2nd Corinthians 11:32, but Galatians 1:17 tells us that Paul left Damascus to go into Arabia and returned again to Damascus. I submit that the typical view is actually an extreme instance of the Positivist Fallacy, because it abdicates responsibility for analyzing events in favor of a purely textual efficiency (which also happens to be problematic, but that is a separate issue).

Discussions of this supposed "problem" typically fail to reconstruct a timeline of events at all or make much attempt to determine at which departure Paul made his supposedly singular escape through the wall? Was "it" at his first or his second Damascene departure? If the second, why did he leave the first time? And if the first, why did he escape into Arabia when Aretas' ethnarch was out to get him as well?

It seems much more likely the Jews were out to get Paul shortly after his conversion and the Arabian official was after him for something he did in Arabia. Reaching this conclusion, however, involves reconstructing facts indirectly referenced by Galatians. Quoth the Professor, once more:
What scholars did wrong, is that they forgot that there are many historical facts for which we have no evidence. Instead they focused on the facts for which positive evidence exists (hence the name "Positive Fallacy").
Since secondary historiography must involve reconstruction and probability, I begin to wonder if the traditional struggles of faith-based Biblical Historians all result partly from the religious-political need to be certain, or Positive, about what we say from the scriptures.

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