Why a Synchronic Jesus should be a Topic of Historical Criticism

Anthony Le Donne has written an article which you might find interesting,

The first interpreters of Jesus were not the evangelists, but his very first perceivers: his family, his adversaries, his followers, and his uncommitted audiences. These first contemporaries of Jesus set mnemonic patterns in motion that guided how later interpreters would bend these memories.

Last week a pastor friend of mine repeated a phrase that I have heard often among seminary trained folk: “The historical critical method is passé.” For the preacher and the spiritual educator, issues of date, source, historicity, et cetera are simply not as useful as the virtues of more synchronic approaches. Couple this with the growing number of scholars who have become disinterested in the questions and findings of diachronic approaches, and one might be tempted to affirm my friend’s assessment. Yet, resist though we may the tendencies of previous generations, we forget their advances at our peril.

via The Bible and Interpretation. (My review of his book here)

Jim West, in response to this article, says,

Maybe it’s just my ingrained bultmannianism with its dash of strauss-ianity that makes me 99% skeptical of all such attempts, but I’m just not convinced that the Quest is worth the effort…

Really? Not worth the effort? Then what is the point of historical criticism? In my opinion, while the more liberal strands of historical criticism are aberrant, I am intrigued by Le Donne’s methods regarding the use of social memory. I think it is well worth the attempt, of course, it depends upon the goal too I reckon.

Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

14 thoughts on “Why a Synchronic Jesus should be a Topic of Historical Criticism

  1. historical criticism is ok with me. the effort i think is wasted is the effort expended in the quest for the jesus which simply cannot be reconstructed from any sources we have.

    1. I can see that point, and have seen it expressed in much the same manner in several recent books. I find the study of the historical Jesus interesting, however.

  2. the quest for your Jesus perhaps Jim? 😉 Historical criticism cannot of course prove or disprove the reality of the resurrection or divinity of Jesus. But it can be helpful in other ways. I think La Donne’s work suffers from a lack of realism and his idea that historians aren’t actually interested in the past is silly. However you’re right Joel, social memory is interesting. I like April DeConick for this.

        1. Comparing HC to NT is like comparing Jim West to Todd Bentley. Sure, it’s funny and all, and really makes you think, but….

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