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Friday, November 23, 2007

Response to a response

Doug Chaplain made a reponse to the previous post. He acknowledges the problem of responding to a paper not seen so let's keep up the oddity by responding back.

Doug says:
I would suggest that if we are talking about doing history, then first of all we need to note that “the miraculous” and “the supernatural” are anachronistic concepts with which we read the stories. They are not the ways in which the eyewitnesses and / or story-tellers narrated the powerful deeds they are talking about. Things attributed directly to acts of God or his messengers, human and angelic, occupy a spectrum that ranges from things we would now explain by other scientific or naturalistic narratives, through to things that we are unable to explain and therefore classify as (possibly fictive) miracles. It is, broadly speaking, we who distinguish the nature of the events, whereas they distinguished the degree of power or divine immediacy.

Yes, of course, and, as noted, there are ancient axceptions. But, those aside, this point is not a major point in terms of 'doing history'. If we are going to write a history of Christian origins and if we include the miraculous then we have to be pretty open that this odd in terms of conventional history, irrespective of 'anachronism' (that only makes the obvious point that the object of study aint 'us'). In terms of historical explanation, it matters little how 'they' read what we call the miraculous or supernatural. 'We' simply have to make the distinction (in terms of historical reconstruction). NOTE: I make no historical judgment here (or in the Bauckham paper).

Doug said:
Let us assume, for a moment, that continuing research into mind-body relationships allow us a better understanding of psychosomatic illness, which might well include such things as skin complaints (leprosy) and back problems (the paralytic). It is also conceivable that other acts of healing might find similar explanations. Our response then would be to move these events from one potential category to another, and what was hitherto thought of as miraculous becomes seen as naturalistic, and therefore “historical” within the post-Enlightenment frame of reference.

I made such a distinction in the Bauckham paper too.

And this...
Now I am not, generally, a fan of seeking naturalistic explanations for miracles. Too many of them seem to belong to taming the difficult and making scripture palatable for a particular philosophy. But it does seem to me that this example illustrates that there is not just a problem with the nature of the material, but also with our (alien) categorisation of it.

Yes and no. Healings and exorcisms do not have to be categorised as miraculous.

And again...
Good history, it seems to me, deals with what people narrate about what they saw, then with how they conceptualised its signification, and only then with how we appraise it. It does seem to me to be difficult, historically speaking, not to attribute the power of healing, for example, to Jesus.

I agree, just like other healers from Jewish, Hellenistic and countless other contexts. But the real question is: did people see the nature miracles?

(Before you say so, I know I haven’t touched on the different and more difficult question of the nature miracles.)

And therein lies the problem.

It does, however, seem to me that historians, precisely as historians,need to recognise that within the culture of the past, we need to see the common acceptance of acts of spiritual power as part and parcel of people’s lives, not as supernatural disruptions of ordinary existence.

I don't know of anyone who denies this as a general idea so is this a significant point?

Anyway, what I should stress again is that my paper was primarily directed at scholarly rhetoric and not whether this or that really happened. All I wanted to find out was whether Bauckham believed that there were eyewitness to miracles and that if this was the case it should be acknowledged that we would have to revolutionise the discipline of history. I was also curious whether Bauckham believed eyewitnesses could invent stories because of the implications this would have for understanding the gospel tradition. I barely offered a single criticism, hence the idea of a thought experiment: what if...Bauckham is right?


Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Some real dramatic events occuring within the culture were recorded and turned into supernatural or miraculous events by later editors. Other miraculous events, particularly those related to journeys to Gentile areas, were, like the journeys themselves, simply fabricated by the same editors in a later attempt to link the prophet to a mission to Gentiles.

For the real dramatic events occuring within the culture, the blind stayed blind, the lame stayed lame and the sick stayed sick, and some died.
Such folk were locked out of the temple cult, unclean, and most probably unable to afford a sacrifice for sins. And then there were poor priests who were starved almost to death because their food was being stolen from the threshing floors by high priests, for some reason. I suggest that the real dramatic events that happened within the culture were that these folk were enabled to praise God as a result of following the prophet's 'philosophy'. Many of the priests rejected the temple cult. This was revolution. The prophet's followers came to regard themselves as cleansed although excluded from the temple cult. Even though their bodies were not healed, their spirits were regarded as cleansed and able to rise to the presence of God, leaving their sick impure bodies behind. Today this would not be seen as too much comfort. But then it was a victory, and a kick up the backsides of the priests who supported the temple.

November 23, 2007

Anonymous steph said...

If Bauckham is right, then this could demonstrate that eyewitnesses reported events in Jesus' life, like healings and exorcisms, and could also demonstrate that they were capable of engaging in haggadic style invention as reflected in other literature of the times.

November 24, 2007


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