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By C. Stephen Evans
Can the New Jesus Save Us?, Part 2
HOW OBJECTIVE ARE HISTORICAL BIBLICAL SCHOLARS?
Some of the more orthodox biblical scholars recognize the above point. Catholics such as John Meier, for example, stress that faith convictions are not limited to the conclusions of historical scholarship. However, the way Meier makes this point highlights another pervasive, yet dubious, assumption on the part of many New Testament scholars. This is the idea that historical scholars, in contrast to members of religious communities rooted in faith, are committed to an ideal of objectivity. This is nicely symbolized by Meier's idea of the "unpapal conclave" and expressed in E. P. Sanders's portrayal of the biblical scholar who roots his conclusions in "evidence on which everyone can agree."
A dilemma arises at this point for someone like Meier who wishes to separate the conclusions of historical inquiry from the convictions of faith. Are the convictions of faith reliable or not? If they are, why should not the historian who is interested in truth employ them? If they are not, then why should the believer who cares about truth rely on faith?
The way out of this dilemma lies in questioning the dubious picture of the completely objective historian that lies behind it. The critical historian is not, after all, a person devoid of faith. Historical critics understand that their scholarly activity came into being at a particular time and place and therefore presupposes a cultural framework. Jon Levenson, a scholar of the Hebrew Bible who is himself a historical critic, has argued that even while recognizing this cultural framework, the members of this community, like every other, have tended to absolutize their cultural assumptions, their "faith." In practice, this has often meant that, among historical critics, the assumptions of the Enlightenment provide the lens for looking at the world.
It would be arrogant and foolish for the layperson to ignore or dismiss the work of the historical scholar. However, it is by no means too much ...