Archives of Reception of the Bible

Past blogging in more ways than one.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The problem of secularist rhetoric

Hi Colin (see comment on previous post),

It is in theory not about ‘objectivity’. That is commonly said to be beyond us and no secularist I am aware of wants to appear openly as ‘positivistic’.

DeConick’s beef appears quite specific. Christians privilege the NT Canon as historical sources in a way that is inappropriate in one who is claiming to talk about Christian origins. Fair enough, some are no doubt guilty of this. But others seem quite capable of working with a wide variety of sources and may still end up privileging the canonical sources as a result of their studies. That seems quite different to me. Others might even end up preferring other texts (e.g. Jesus Seminar members are often practicing Christians and yet they love Thomas as a source). But my problem is that the rhetoric appears to exclude these from the discussion as well.

If this was all just about a group going into a huddle, then hell, I agree with you, let them. But it is not. What do we make of DeConick’s claim about the ‘impossibility’ of doing historical criticism as a believer? Surely the claim about the new list – taken in the same vein - is that only the list is doing serious ‘possible’ work. Others cannot even begin to approach their clarity. And it is here that that old chestnut ‘objectivity’ rears its ugly head. Whatever the claim to the contrary, a hint of positivism then emerges that is rather distasteful to me. No doubt we could ignore them because it is not what we are interested in anyway (as you say). But Christianity has a historical core that will always draw our attention. Can we really withdraw totally from that discussion? I don’t think so. And that is why I object to DeConick’s project.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I do not think dividing academia up is a very useful way to go. The philosophical underpinnings of all this are science-based and pretty dodgy. Positivism is long dead and we should stop bowing down to it. We need to take each other seriously in other ways now, and not try to rule each other out on the basis of some increasingly questionable ideology. I can see why DeConick is embarrassed to meet historians who won’t take her seriously. But frankly, I think that is primarily their problem and not hers.



At 6:31 am, Blogger Colin said...


Your point about objectivity is well taken, and I thoroughly agree with you. I've been spending so much time with literary theorists and biblical scholars who depend on literary theory lately that I'm starting to forget the strongly positivist tendencies of much of the guild. I also like your point about a kernel of history in the topics we research. This is something that often gets left behind in more "postmodern" approaches. Hm, didn't I say something in an earlier comment about lazy middle roads...and here I am eating my words. Good response John, cheers.

Colin Toffelmire.


Post a Comment

<< Home