July 3, 2016

Bauckham's Elephant

If you have access, or the next time SagePub gives you a free month, you should look up a 2013 article by Richard Bauckham in Theology 116(6), 427-434: "Are we still missing the elephant? C. S. Lewis's 'Fernseed and Elephants' half a century on". The title refers to a 1959 critique of New Testament scholarship in which Dr. Lewis complained of his Biblical Studies colleagues, "These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can't see an elephant ten yards way in broad daylight."

As Bauckham notes several times, some of Lewis' critiques have held up better than others, but I love that the Literature prof did self-identify as an "educated outsider" on these matters, and I appreciate Bauckham's observation that it has become much harder to be as well informed these days. Indeed, it's virtually impossible to keep up, even for the professionals. For these and other reasons, it's interesting to read Lewis' piece and compare Bauckham's meta-critique. As I said, catch it when you can. It's tremendous and a quick read to boot.

My purpose today is primarily to quote the following gems from Bauckham's closing paragraphs in this "Elephant" article. Enjoy.

Historical speculation is not necessarily a bad thing. It can stimulate enquiry. The reason it has so often led Gospels scholars astray is that they are not in the habit of distinguishing their more probable conclusions from their more speculative flights of fancy. 
Amen and amen. Christendom, also, is in dire need to learn about disciplining our imaginations. Incidentally, this reminds me of Jonathan Bernier's blog post on Einstein & Lonergan the other day. The upshot there: Proper historical thinking is a learned skill one must develop.

Before we quit, here is one more gem from Bauckham:
Gospels scholars need to learn historical method, not within the claustrophobic confines of the dominant tradition of Gospels scholarship but amid the broad horizons of ordinary historical scholarship.

Please note that Bauckham said "need to" on that last point. I have not gone so far. But I will certainly agree that IFF any Jesus scholar would attempt to become a historian, it does indeed seem necessary they should seek to learn about "doing history" primarily by reading the works of historians who have nothing to do with Jesus scholarship. Indeed, those who have already done so, have done so. To believe otherwise, at this point, does seem like a fairly large elephant to continue overlooking.

Anon...

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