Historical Criticism and Historicity

Historical Criticism and Historicity March 13, 2015

I’m off traveling for a while, and will have intermittent internet access, and time for blogging.

For some photos, see: http://imaginalworlds.smugmug.com/

However, a delayed flight in Frankfurt (with 24 hours without sleep and counting), gives me a chance to opine a bit. 

David Bokovoy continues his rather idiosyncratic discussion of the question of historicity here.  Again, I think he is missing (or obfuscating?) the point.

Historical criticism is literary methodology which is fundamentally NOT about determining the historicity of claims made in texts.  It is about attempting to properly contextualize and understand a text in the date and cultural context in which it was originally written.  (e.g., interpreting the New Testament as a first century Jewish text, rather than, say, a text supporting a progressive agenda for legitimizing homosexuality).  Historical critical methods can be applied to either fiction or history–or any other text for that matter, like an archival document.   I quite agree with David that scholars must understand the New Testament as a first century Jewish text (and not, say, as a Greek Cynic philosophical text ala John Dominic Crossan)  However, determining this does very little to help us understand if the events described in the New Testament are first century Jewish history, or first century Jewish religious fiction.  That requires a wide range of historical methodologies, of which historical criticism is only one. 

This concept has an important implication for the study of the Book of Mormon as well.  The historical critical question of the date and context of the Book of Mormon: ancient Israelite and Mesoamerican, or modern nineteenth century American.  David insists that the Bible be read in its original historical context.  Fair enough.  But he and his supporters then, for some reason, inconsistently claims that they can ignore (= “bracket”) the very question of the original historical context when studying the Book of Mormon as “literature”(= fiction).  One cannot.  What is necessary for the study of the Bible is equally necessary for the study of the Book of Mormon.  In order to read the Book of Mormon in a serious scholarly way, scholars MUST take a historical critical stand—that is, they must make a “judgment” of the original historical context of the Book of Mormon.  In reality, of course, they do.  They simply refuse to make it explicit, discuss it, or examine the implications of their position.  

Once again, I’d like to offer an open invitation to David to respond directly to my questions.  I’ll likewise respond to any questions he’d like to directly pose to me.  I’d be happy to post his answers here.  I’d also be happy to discuss these matters with him in public, or on the internet, rather than to continue talking past each other in dueling blogs.  

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