Baker Academic

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

James Crossley Joins the Criteria of Authenticity Skeptics—Chris Keith

I'm back from vacation in the US and finally catching up on some things.  In case you missed it, Prof James Crossley (I found this hilarious picture of him on Jim West's blog) has a new blog called "Harnessing Chaos."  He also has a new historical Jesus book coming out, Jesus and the Chaos of History, and I can't wait to read it.  I just finished his Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism and will have some further thoughts on it shortly. All I can say at this point is that I learned a lot from it and that Crossley is doing some of the most interesting work in the field right now, some of which, really, no one else is doing.  In Neoliberalism, Crossley already had some mildly critical remarks about the criteria of authenticity (110-114).  As I understand it, he has positioned Jesus and the Chaos of History as "post-criteria" historical Jesus study and is strongly joining those of us who are skeptical of the usage of criteria of authenticity in historical Jesus studies.  He took a step in this direction on his blog recently in a post called "The 'Criteria of Authenticity' and (Not) Writing about the Historical Jesus."  Readers of this blog will likely be interested in this post as well as Crossley's forthcoming book.  We'll definitely see if we can do a giveaway here on the blog.  Here's a snippet from the blog post, and I draw specific attention to Crossley's conclusion that what we're left with sans criteria is simply where we have, in reality, always been:  interpreting the material and putting forth hypotheses.  I have argued similarly in some of my work, stressing that abandoning the criteria does not mean embracing some uncritical perspective but rather returning to the messiness of historical work.  Some historical Jesus scholars don't like this and view it as too unrefined or unscientific.  But, with Crossley, I too think Rafael Rodriguez (link below) has shown that the criteria approach only added further layers to that general process; it never allowed the discussion to escape it.  Here are Crossley's concluding comments from his blog post:

So what can we say in (what is hopefully) a post-criteria world? To some degree, we are simply left with an old fashioned view of historical interpretation: interpretation of the material (and, as Rafael Rodriguez has stressed, we are doing nothing but relentlessly interpreting even when using the criteria), guesswork about contexts and the combining of arguments to make an argument of collective weight. But an argument for what? Certainly not proof of what Jesus said or did. Jesus may or may not have said word-for-word what some of the Gospel passages claim but we have no idea if this is in fact the case. All we can do is make a general case for the kinds of themes present in the early Palestinian tradition.
I think this is actually a good thing. It gets us away from the obsession with, and impossibility of, trying to extract Jesus the Great Man from the swirling mix of traditions. It also allows a range of material (which might simultaneously be contradictory) which may, for all we know, have come from Jesus, may have come from his earliest interpreters, may have come from fictional haggadic traditions, and may have been associated with people other than Jesus. We might then be able to make some general cases for the ways in which people (not just this elusive and supposedly overwhelmingly influential Great Man) engaged with the social changes in 20s and 30s Palestine.
And we haven’t yet mentioned the negative: showing traditions that really do not come from 20s and 30s Palestine…

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