Shuck and Jive

Saturday, February 23, 2008

History or Theology?

In conversations regarding Christian origins issues of history and theology continue to surface.

A new book by Gerd Ludemann, Eyes That See Not: The Pope Looks At Jesus is a critique Pope Benedict's book on Jesus.

This is from the Jesus Seminar site regarding Ludemann's book:

"The Pope asked for this," says Arthur J. Dewey of Xavier University. "Taking up the papal invitation (of Pope Benedict XVI) to respond critically to his book Jesus of Nazareth, Gerd Lüdemann offers a meticulous and devastating critique."

"The historian," writes Lüdemann, "is obliged to present objective evidence for his or her assertions. The rules of the game do not permit one to rely on uncorroborated testimony or claims of authority." The chronicler who fails to challenge eyewitness testimony and to submit documentary sources to critical examination, Lüdemann points out, is not an historian. The so-called historical method used by the Pope, continues Lüdemann, "has the sole aim of proving the reliability of the gospels.” In fact, he concludes, the Pope “never examines their historical trustworthiness."

“Lüdemann’s brilliant, readable book dismantles the Pope’s argument and will open readers’ eyes to see who Jesus really was.” —James M. Robinson, author of The Gospel of Jesus

“Highly recommended for anyone interested in issues of who Jesus was, and why the academic portrayal of him differs from the doctrinal.” —April DeConick, author of The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says


  1. If the point is finding out the truth of the matter, why talk about the rules of a game? If I wrote my memoirs they would contain lots of undocumented and even undocumentable assertions. They wouldn't comply with the rules of the historical game. They'd be none the worse for all that. People could judge their veracity by whether they seemed persuasive and whether I seemed trustworthy.

  2. Well, Thomas, "...finding out the truth"
    is for philosophers, not followers of Theology.

    Stay on groovin' safari,

  3. God is the ens realissimum. Putting that in the vernacular, your religion is what you think is real. That's what you believe in, and that's what a normally rational person lives by. So truth has everything to do with it.

  4. I haven't read this book, so I can't comment specifically. But, I think it's common knowledge that the gospels were not written to be a complete biography, history of the life of Christ in a modern-day sense.

    And, the writers all had a different audience in mind, and the various gospels reflect that.

    But, still, I don't think this means that the gospel writers cared nothing for truth or historical accuracy, either.

    Look at the introduction to Luke-Acts for example. I've read that the style and structure of this material is very similar to that used by the Greek historian, Thucydides.

  5. Welcome Thomas and Tor!

    I think what Ludemann is saying is that if you are committed to historical study or the scientific enterprise, you can't suddenly say, "Insert miracle here."

    You can do that, of course, but then you do not have science or history.

  6. I haven't read the book yet. "Historical study" and "the scientific enterprise" sound though like they're oriented toward truth, so that the rational search for truth, in this case regarding what happened in the past, would be their ultimate standard. I don't see what the "rules of the game" have to do with that. It seemed an odd point to go off on, which is why I commented.

    Of course the Pope might have said something like "in this discussion I will limit myself to arguments present-day academic historians habitually treat as dispositive in dealing with historical topics in general." In that case someone might treat the issue, perhaps a little cynically, as a matter of the rules of the game. I've gone on too much already, though, so I'll drop out now.