Historiographical Methods and Biblical Christology (II): General Principles

[Continued from Part I]

Father Kereszty (hereafter “Father Roch,” since that what most students in the Christology class call him), outlines his general historiographical method for analyzing the historical Jesus as follows.:”(Source: Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology.:”(New York: Society of St. Paul, 2002.)”:

Father Roch observes that “The presupposition that a good historian is able to grasp and present the purely objective data of history without mixing with them any interpretation has turned out to be an illusion. What historians often present as objective facts are in reality the result of a long process of research in which the subjective perception, selection, description, and organization of the objective data by the historian play an essential role…The so called ‘historical facts,’ then, are always a combination of what actually happened and of the historian’s interpretation.” This does not necessarily render a given historical account false or distorted, but it does render all of them limited approximations.:”(Ibid., 15, emphasis his.)”:

Citing Paul Ricoeur’s statement that “The object of human history is the human subject itself,”:”(Ricoeur, “Objectivity and Subjectivity in History,”: History and Truth [Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1965], pg. 40.)”:, Father Roch proposes that human words and actions are “sign[s] of the human person who is inaccesible in himself” and thus require interpretation. And “True interpretation requires and attitude of being tuned in to a certain person of the past, of being ‘congenial’ to him; one must be or become a ‘kindred spirit who can decipher the meaning, the motives, and goals of this person’s activity from the ‘raw data’ of his history.”:”(Kereszty, 16, emphasis his.)”:

Interestingly, historical reconstructions cannot proceed properly on a uniformitarian principle. Persons are free agents, and their free acts leave unique imprints on the world that cannot be reduced to general categories or analogous occurrences. “The task of the historian, then, is not only to find general patterns that approximate an individual act or utterance, but also to try to understand them in their reference to that unique person who performed the act and spoke the words.”:”(Ibid., 16-17, emphasis his.)”:

However, free acts are not the whole story, either. Father Roch had previously defined “purely objective data” as “historical circumstances and events which are either completely inexpressive of human subjectivity (for instance, an earthquake or flood) or any circumstance or event which has not yet been grasped on the level of subjectivity (for instance, a marriage considered as an entry in a marriage register.”:”(Ibid, 16, fn. 25.)”: In order to find the object of history, which is the human subject, the historian must consider “the whole web of intertwining and conflicting causes, pesonal and impersonal forces which have, in various ways, contributed to the historical event in question.”:”(Ibid., 18, emphasis his.)”:

Last, “The attempt to understand a whole event in all its causes, effects, and implications, in its relationship to the whole of human history, inescapably posits the question of meaning.” Here subjectivity is writ large, for different historians often conceive of entirely different questions to ask of the data, and sometimes the “reasonable” questions which one asks of the data are simply “nonsense” to another. Father Roch’s example here is the French Revolution. Some historians approach the data asking whether the Revolution was a positive or negative step in human history. But this very question reveals a bias–the bias of assuming there is such a thing as “progress in history.” Another historian, say, a nihilistic one, might entirely reject the question and instead posit that the Revolution was just one more indicator of the fundamentally absurdity of the human condition.:”(Ibid., 18.)”:

This brings the historian to the limits of his discipline and forces him to enter the domain of the philosophy and / or theology of history.

[Continued in Part III)

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