September 25, 2009

Historiography on the Gospels

I know that you know that I barely know what I'm doing. But I keep on doing it, hoping someone will correct me, if I do anything amiss. This post is another chance for some gracious sage to let me know what I'm missing - if they read start to finish.

Overall, in my research and writing/blogging, I am trying to work out a faith-based historiography of the Gospels that accepts the sources at face value but analyzes them critically for reconstructive purposes without making theo-logical assumptions. Someday I hope many people might look back and see that it was not the sources or their nature that made this such a difficult, lonely process. It is, rather, the mindset and the expectations that we have all been saddled with. Perhaps.

At any rate, I think we have MORE to gain from faith-based historical analysis of the scriptures than from 'inspirational' eisegesis. I sincerely believe there are divine, spiritual goals that can be reached by applying historical methods to the rich, dynamic material contained within scripture.

In the early to mid 20th century, Ronald Syme took hundreds of seemingly disconnected threads of classical history and reconstructed a rich tapestry of socio-political urban life in Rome in the days of Augustus. I'm not an expert on those studies by any means, but it is clear that Syme's work enhanced, deepened and hilighted aspects of the Augustan context that were already known, and brought out a few patterns that may have been overlooked. I would like to see us do more of that from a faith-based perspective, with the Gospels.

So what do I think is "hiding" in the Gospels, that can be reconstructed historically? The Father. The "hidden years". The Spiritual Life.

Yes, in many ways these elements have already been filled out, theologically, from various traditions. It's just that all those traditions diverge so frequently. And they are so heavily, preferentially interpretative (and often purely imaginative) that even their proponents won't allow them to be called "historical". That's fine by itself, but I think it has contribued to the overall gnosticism about Christ in the Gospels - and that of course is a travesty which insults the Gospels as Testimony and may even insult the testimony of God, for all I can say.

If we believe in the Gospels, then let's assume their veracity but be non-skeptically, non-theologically critical about how we analyze their historical content.

Every time I try to describe this, I ask again. Where is this being done? Tell me, and I'll go.

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"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton