Sunday, 12 October 2014

On Using the Right Tools

I've come to realize that a big part of the problems that have long plagued historical Jesus studies is a failure to recognize that different questions require different methods. Lonergan's notion of functional specialties can help us think through this difficulty. Each functional specialty has a distinct object, and consequent to that object a particular set of data to consult and a particular set of methods to employ. The first four functional specialties are research, interpretation, history, and dialectic. The object of one specialty becomes the data for the next. Thus in biblical studies research investigates via text critical method manuscripts, fragments, etc., to discover the texts that interpretation will investigates via exegetical method to discover the meanings that history will investigates via historical method to discover the events that dialectic will investigates via dialectic method to discover the conflicts upon which the fifth functional specialty, foundations, will take a stand. This can be summarized in the fully table:

Research
Interpretation
History
Dialectic
Data
demanding attention
Manuscripts
Text
Meaning
Event
Object
to be intelligently understood
Text
Meaning
Event
Conflict
Nature of Warrants
to provide reasonable judgment
Text Critical
Exegetical
Historiographical
Dialectical

Of course this is a heuristic. In truth it's messier than that. Nonetheless, such a schema helps us better construe what methods to use to work with which data to investigate which objects. This in turn helps us see why things break down when data, object, and method significantly mismatch.

Let us consider an example. We will often read in the HJ literature that such and such a passage is redactional and thus could not "go back to the historical Jesus." The difficulty is that redaction critical judgments belong really to the level of interpretation, and then only if one goes about establishing what the respective evangelist means to communicate by both utilizing an identifiable source and making a demonstrable change to said source. The data for history is not text but rather meanings inferred from texts, and absent such prior inferential work there is a mismatch between data (text) and method (exegetical) on the one hand and object (event) on the other. As such redaction critical work can contribute to the work of history by defining the content of the data (meaning) with which the historian works but it is not a historiographical method in and of itself. Using redaction criticism to directly answer historical questions is like using a hammer to put in a screw.

But of course I'm not talking about redaction criticism per se. I'm talking about the match between data, object, and method--any data, any object, any method. We've gotten, I think, into the habit of letting method drive our work. I discover a new and innovative method and I'm looking to try it out. So I bring it to bear upon the questions that most interest me. But if the method cannot elucidate that question, cannot discover the object for which it seeks, then I am doomed to failure from the off.

Oh, and, yes, the title of this post is an intentional allusion to Morna Hooker's still-fantastic article, "On Using the Wrong Tools."

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