Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Demise of the Criteria of Authenticity

Let me state this baldly:  the portion of New Testament scholarship that I hate reading the most is historical Jesus scholarship.  I like most of the scholars themselves, but I came to the conclusion early on (as an undergraduate when I took a class on Jesus and the Gospels at Illinois Wesleyan University--a class I will teach next semester at the same institution) that much of the criteria used pulled themselves apart, cancelled each other out, and most scholars chose criteria based upon what Jesus they wanted to reconstruct (something noted more recently by Dale Allison that our methods bend to our predisposed wills).  I generally have operated with the view that historical Jesus research had run its course and we could focus on other things.  That's probably one reason why I like to stick to Hebrews.  Typically, I pick up a book on the historical Jesus with trepidation; I usually find that I put it down every few pages.  It is just an area of scholarship that does not hold my attention.

Yet I could barely put down the collection of essays edited by Chris Keith and Anthony LeDonne, Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (T&T Clark, 2012).  I would finish one essay and then move immediately to the next (and I have a bit of intellectual attention deficit--I tend to read approximately ten to fifteen books at once, so it is rare for a book to sustain my attention like this)!  Partly, the volume confirms what I suspected but with sustained argument that the methods used by the New Quest and the Third Quest have run their course and should be dismantled to varying degrees (perhaps my reading is bending to my predisposed will?).  Some articles set about deconstructing the criteria of authenticity in general (contributions by Keith and Jens Schröter) and others critiqued, complicated, or outright dismantled individual criteria (Loren Stuckenbruck for "Semitic Influence"; LeDonne for "Coherence"; Dagmar Winter for "Dissimilarity"; Rafael Rodríguez on "Embarrassment"; and Mark Goodacre on "Multiple Attestation").  There are also retrospectives on the significance (or lack thereof) of these methods and the "demise" for the Church (Scot McKnight) and the academy (Dale Allison).  On the other hand, there were elements I did not expect:  with such a dismantling, with such a "demise" there may be room for a bit more study yet, whether LeDonne's own studies of memory refraction (The Historiographical Jesus) or something we haven't quite thought of yet.  It is a book that his vivified a further interest to read more from the contributors:  catch up on Allison's latest book, take a look at Goodacre's Case Against Q and other works.  I have already read LeDonne's books, but it is time to take up Chris Keith's two monographs on Jesus and literacy.  In short, the historical Jesus is dead; long live the historical Jesus.

It is therefore with great pleasure that I note that Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne are organizing a fall conference seemingly based upon this book with a fine selection of panels and speakers.  See the schedule of speakers and the information here.


Anthony Le Donne said...

Thank you kindly Jared,

As you've hinted, Some of us (Dagmar, Loren, Goodacre, myself) leave the door open for refining a few traditional criteria within a more sophisticated framework.

Others have chucked the traditional criteria altogether.

What we all have in common is that the criteria are deeply flawed and some are beyond repair.

My personal take is that a few of these traditional criteria might be put into service toward reconstructing early and widespread memory - not the "actual" past.

Jared Calaway said...

No problem! I am happy to spread good work when I find it.

The diversity of perspective was quite obvious--and then, of course, you and Chris pointed it out even more clearly in the introduction and conclusion respectively.

One thing you all noted throughout was the various criteria's dependence upon the assumptions of form criticism. I found that quite helpful, but I have always thought of them as more aligned with textual criticism, and I don't recall that coming up very much in the book, if at all (e.g., multiple attestation is all over the place in textual criticism; contrary tendency sounds a lot like "most difficult reading" of textual criticism; or think of dissimilarity and Ehrman's "Orthodox Corruption" arguments). Is this discussed much (or elsewhere) when considering the foundational assumptions of the criteria?

Chris Keith said...

Thanks for this favorable review. I hope we'll see you in Dayton and, if not, in Chicago. There are a few discussions of the relationship between text criticism and historical Jesus work and I discuss them in my book, Jesus' Literacy, but they don't, to my knowledge, attribute dependence. Of course, there is a strong similarity between text criticism's tradition search for an "original" reading and form criticism's search for "original" (oral) tradition. (BTW, Jesus' Literacy is the only one of my monographs that deals with historical Jesus work. You might be bored to death with the Pericope Adulterae one!)

Jared Calaway said...

Thanks Chris. Good to know. Considering how expensive your books are, this will have to be a library borrow. Nonetheless, I'll start with literacy.