March 23, 2020

History, Text, and Prepositions

For a long time, although things have begun changing recently, the field of NT scholarship demonstrated an inability to differentiate between the narrative text and the historical past. I'm currently writing a thesis chapter about this (narrativity vs historicity and narratology vs historiography) so tonight's blog post is just a quick note.

History is neither behind the text, through the text, within the text, or on its surface. History is above the text. You can work your way through all the rabbit-log proximal relations and the proper phrase to use is neither on, in, through, behind, or within. History takes place "above" or "on top of" the text.

If we splice and decimate the text, transforming bits here and there, that critical judgment has been undertaken on top of the text. If we declare the text to be history, adding nothing and subtracting nothing, that non-alteration amounts to our critical judgment and it has been undertaken on top of the text. If we make the text our workshop or plaything, whatever we produce is on the basis of, literally working on top of, what it has already presented.

History is not what we read. History is what we write. That is, if we are scholars, then history is what we construct, not merely what we can see or discover. What we take from the text is a reading. What we put onto the text might be writing or reading. But if we are doing history, we are working above the text. If we are doing history, we must construct more than merely the text. We must produce our own hypothetical vision of sequential events to represent a phase or episodes of human activity.

History is not a judgment on the text. History is a vision of the past. Examining the text can inform your view of the past. Examining the text cannot alone define the past. Equating the text with the past was traditionally called positivism, the chief sin of which is not blind trust. The chief sin of positivism is a lack of imaginative, investigative, and/or extrapolating wherewithal. For example, even if you do trust the text, you should still realize that a representation of reality does not describe fully all that its presentation implies. (Cf. John 21:25)

Judging the text to be or not be the past is a far poorer and a far flatter endeavor than using the text while conducting an inquiry, and then constructing your own model.

History is not found anywhere. It is constructed. On top of the text.


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