Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Archaeology and Lonergan

I was just reading Charlesworth's introduction to Jesus and Archaeology, that wonderful, delightful, huge, if now a bit dated 2006 work on, well, Jesus and archaeology. I came across this passage on p. 24:
New Testament scholars are not usually devoted to archaeology and are sometimes wary and even hostile to the field (if not the discipline). Why? There are probably two reasons. The foremost reason is the absurd claims made about the significance and alleged superiority of archaeology over biblical studies. The distrust seems to be because archaeologies methodologies are too foreign to New Testament specialists and too removed from theology; that is, New Testament scholars are in languages..., textual studies, exegesis of the biblical text, biblical and church history, and theology. Only later, almost always after formal training, do some New Testament specialists learn about the methods and purposes of archaeology.
As I read this I found myself, whilst agreeing with Charlesworth, noting that it is not actually reflective of my own formation. I took an undergraduate in anthropology, wherein I took several courses in archaeology. In fact I came into my undergraduate degree planning on being an archaeologist, until I realized that I was in fact interested in ancient history (which, to my young mind, was synonymous with archaeology). When I started graduate school I was really more comfortable talking about archaeological than exegetical method and theory. That's changed of course, as I did not pursue graduate studies in archaeology but rather biblical studies. Still, I was fortunate enough to have a Doktorvater who put a premium on archaeological evidence, especially as it relates to the ancient synagogue.

So I'm not an archaeologist but I have spent a lot of time thinking about archaeology. And now I'm thinking about it again, with specific relationship to Lonergan and the New Testament. The first point to be made is that part of the brilliance of the Lonerganian framework is that it works with archaeology as well as biblical studies. Be attentive, be intelligent, be reasonable: this is the task of the archaeologist as well as the biblical scholar. Indeed, for Lonergan the distinction between biblical studies and archaeology would heuristic rather than ontic, a product of functional specialization. That is to say, archaeology is not biblical studies but the two relate in a dynamic and mutually enriching fashion.

We tend to focus upon what archaeology can contribute to biblical studies, and of course it has much to contribute, but it occurs to me that biblical studies has much to contribute to archaeology. This is very clear to me, having studied North American archaeology before ever looking seriously at the archaeology of the Holy Land. When you deal with peoples who left no written records your capacity to determine their cultural practices and values, including religion, is greatly diminished. Comparably "biblical archaeology" has an embarrassment of riches; first studying within a discipline that genuinely suffers from a lack of data I have never quite understood the notion held by many biblical scholars that we suffer from such a lack. When I turned from a focus on the First Nations peoples of North America to Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity I was in fact overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of the data. The archaeology of the Holy Land would be greatly impoverished without the biblical and cognate literature, which is to say without literature of any kind. Consider: how would we ever know that a synagogue is a thing to look for in the archaeological remains if we had not texts attesting to their existence?

I have tended to focus my attention in thinking about Lonergan to thinking about how his thought can help coordinate various approaches to text and history. I increasingly realize that I must also consider how it can help integrate archaeological discoveries into our historiography. Sigh. Just when you think you have it figured out you realize that you don't.

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