Monday, October 13, 2008

Martin Hengel and Historical Criticism

Contrast the perspective of Troeltsch and Lüdemann with these excerpts from Larry Hurtado's tribute to Martin Hengel in The Expository Times:
[P]art of his aim has been to combine, quite deliberately and self-consciously, a profound theological concern with thorough and critical historical inquiry. For example, in the preface to Son of God (Eng. trans. 1976, vii), he indicated that in a time ‘when historical positivism and hermeneutical interest largely go their own ways in New Testament scholarship, it is vitally important to reunite historical research and the theological search for truth’.

In a still more vexed tone, in the preface to Paul Between Damascus and Antioch (1997, ix), Hengel decried in the current scholarly scene ‘a radical form of criticism which in the end must be said to be uncritical, because it wants neither really to understand the sources nor to interpret them, but basically destroys them in order to make room for its own fantastic constructions’.
So much for Lüdemann. Hurtado continues:
But, in the preface to his Acts and the History of Earliest Christianity 1979, vii), Hengel also rejected the misguided stance of those forms of Christian piety that exhibit what he called ‘the primitive ostracism of historical – and that always means critical – methods, without which neither historical nor theological understanding of the New Testament is possible’. In short, Hengel’s bold vision involved an unfettered and thoroughly critical historical approach that draws its motivation and energy from a passion for the Christian Gospel. That is, the sort of Christian faith-stance that Hengel sought to occupy is confident enough in the essential truth of the Gospel to allow the results of historical investigation to be determined by rigorous application of principles of thoroughness and critical analysis.
Hurtado concludes with the following evaluation:
First, Hengel has set a high standard of thoroughness of research that continues to instruct and inspire. Second, his frank acknowledgement of his Christian stance and theological concerns is commendable, both in its honesty and in his demonstration that (contrary to the anxieties of some) such a commitment can actually inspire dedicated and critical historical analysis that wins the praise of scholars of various faith-stances. Third, over against both anti-critical conservatism of a creedalistic or fundamentalist nature, and over against the now-fashionable disdain of the validity of critical historical investigation in some so-called ‘post-modernist’ circles, and also over against the tendency by some other NT scholars to play off critical historical study and hermeneutical concerns, Hengel’s body of work stands as a monumental refutation and inspiration.
Bibliography: Hurtado, Larry W. "Martin Hengel's Impact on English-Speaking Scholarship." Expository Times 120, no. 2 (2008): 70-6. (Click here [before Oct 31, 2008] to view the entire article along with the full content of every SAGE journal.)

1 comment:

Nick Meyer said...

Hengel's one of my very favs.