Wednesday, June 8, 2011

More from Hoskyns & Davey on Historical Criticism

Stephen Neill commented that Hoskyns and Davey's The Riddle of the New Testament (3rd ed.; London: Faber & Faber, 1947) "has great and abiding value" because "[i]t puts in clear form almost all the problems which have to be dealt with in the interpretation of the New Testament" (219). Judge for yourself:

On the assured results of historical criticism: "The progress of critical historical investigation of the New Testament cannot be compared to a gradual mounting the steps of a ladder. One generation does not achieve a number of results which pass into the text-books, so that the next generation is enabled to mount a few steps higher. Rather, as each advance is made, the problem as a whole begins to look different; and the 'assured results' of the previous generation require constant reconsideration when seen in a new perspective. This does not, of course, mean that the modern critic stands aloof from the older criticism. He is completely dependent upon the work of his predecessors. But, where they supposed that they had reached definite and final conclusions, he sees new problems; and the older conclusions appear in their new context almost irrelevant, and, at times, trivial" (11-12).

History and Christian theology: "The historian of primitive Christianity is a mere hewer of wood and drawer of water; it is his function to act as the slave of the theologian or of the philosopher, as the slave also of the simple believer or of the equally simple unbeliever...The historian has therefore to make clear and accessible the material which has shown such remarkable ability to galvanize thought and faith and unbelief. The historian, then, is neither an apologist for the Christian religion nor an apostle of irreligion; still less is he an interpreter of the New Testament in terms of modern thought" (171).

History and faith: "The whole spiritual and moral power of the primitive church rested ultimately, not upon a mystical experience, but upon its belief that what Jesus had asserted to have been the purpose of his life and death was in very truth the purpose of God. Further than this the historian dare not and cannot go. On the basis of a purely critical examination of the New Testament documents he can reconstruct a clear historical figure, which is an intelligible figure; and he can, as a result of this reconstruction, show that the emergence of the primitive church is also intelligible" (177).


Jeromey said...

Hmmm...With some of the older "history of religions" school (e.g., Weiss's /History of Primitive Christianity/) and newer approaches to Christian origins (e.g., L.T. Johnson, J.D.G. Dunn, Alan Segal, L. Hurtado), I'm inclined that "mystical experience" had a greater role to play in founding Christian origins than Hoskyns and Davey here imply.

I certainly have trouble imagining that for the socially ragtag bunch we suppose comprised the earliest followers of Christ (esp. Pauline Christianity) "The whole spiritual and moral power of the primitive church" rested on apathetic subscription to pre-formed (and empiricist?) Jesus-doctrines.

(Or maybe I'm not reading H&D fairly...)

d. miller said...

Good call, Jeromey. I imagine H&D are responding to Schweitzer or others of the history of religions school of their own day.

Would you be more comfortable with a formulation that didn't set conceptual belief and experience over against each other? The experience embodies the belief?

Jeromey said...

I don't know to what extent experience embodies belief and to what it enables/funds belief. I expect it's a messy mix, neither fully Kantian or postliberal.

As an aside: I think you're probably right that H&D are responding to perceived history of religions ideas of mysticism (including Schweitzer). In these cases, I'm always on guard to defend Schweitzer, who distinguished his eschatological "being-in-Christ" mysticism from the hellensistic mysteries his predecessors and peers identified with "mysticism".

(Whether we agree with Schweitzer or not, we should acknowledge he didn't want to be lumped in with what the others were saying about "mysticism". Perhaps he ought to have chosen a different word...:))

d. miller said...

Helpful. I'm pretty sure D&H would not want to divorce experience from doctrine. Their claim is that everything in the NT points toward a connection between Jesus' claims about himself and his purpose, and his death.