I was thinking the other day of ways to explain why the criteria of authenticity in historical Jesus studies simply do not work. I have a good intuitive sense of why they do not work, I also have a good theoretical articulation. What I was looking for was some sort of metaphor that could demonstrate why they are just kinda absurd.
And along came Plato.
More specifically, the allegory of the cave. For those residing in an actual cave for the last 2400 years, the allegory of the cave is a classic discussion of epistemological issues located at the top of Book Seven of Plato's Republic. It describes a hypothetical situation of a group of humans who have only seen shadows in a cave their whole lives and then suddenly are exposed into the real world. Such humans would have previously assumed that shadows were the real, and indeed when exposed to the real they would naturally think what they now saw to be less real than the shadows.
Now, the point of the allegory of the cave is not that some of the shadows are real objects whilst others are not. The problem is that in fact none of them are objects but rather the consequences of objects. Likewise is the case with the statements in the gospels. None of them are objects, in the sense of being historical events, but rather the consequences of events. Therefore setting out to decide which statements in the gospels are true and which are false is precisely equivalent to setting out to decide which shadows are objects and which are not. Thus we can see that the criteria did not fail because they did not measure up to the task for which they were formulated but because more fundamentally that task did not measure up to intelligence or reason.
This brings us to Lonergan's altogether heuristic distinction between data and facts. Facts are objects known through judgment operating upon intelligence operating upon attending, and such judgment is precisely that a given statement of fact adequately apprehends the real. In the realm of historiography facts are statements that adequately apprehend past reality. Put less abstractly, they are known events. By way of contrast, data are not that which is known to be true but rather that which is experienced. Now, of course, there is a relationship between data and fact, just as there is a relationship between shadow and object. Wherever I see a shadow I can reasonable suppose that there is an object nearby. Likewise where I see data I can suppose that there are facts to be found. The relationship between data and fact is typically less direct however than even the relationship between shadow and object. It is not unusual to have an one-to-one relationship between shadow and object: the sun striking my body produces a single shadow, such they in common parlance we refer to this as "my shadow." Things are less often the case in historical investigation. A single historical event will often result in numerous data, all of which when considered today can potentially lead to the intelligent and reasonable apprehension of that event. This is particularly the case with historical Jesus studies, where our basic sources remain the data found in four distinct accounts of Jesus' life. All this tells us though is that the effort to convert data into facts is even more absurd than the effort to convert shadows into objects, thus obviating all the more the criteria.