November 4, 2017

Historical Inferences (Case Study JB1117)

In this brief blogpost (about an early French Canadian), Jonathan Bernier illustrates precisely how arguing for a hypothesis about the past is different from arguing about the contents of a text. From there, he succinctly explains:
what constitutes a historical hypothesis is not ultimately our observational apprehension of the data but rather our inferential apprehension of the relationships between the data. That is to say, history is not exegesis: it is not the interpretation of documents followed by pronouncements about whether their claims are true.
Oh, how these words sing to my soul!

Jonathan goes on to point out that proposing a single scenario is not enough until we compare that scenario against other possibilities, asking "does this hypothesis explain a greater scope of relevant data than does any competitor?" These are critical distinctions which separate savvy historians from "historical critics" who mainly cast judgment on the "reliability" of textual content.

Literary criticism, exegesis, and bold suggestions are a popular package among NT scholars, but that package is not a viable substitute for proper historiographical work. If you need help understanding and recognizing this critical distinction, there are not many resources I'd recommend more highly than Docteur Bernier's published books and online blogposts.

Happy reading...

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