Monday, June 12, 2006

Exegesis or Authenticity

Mike Bird reviews Brant Pitre work Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of the Exile (WUNT 2.204; Tubingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2005). I'm desperately waiting for my copy to arrive [but will have to wait till AUGUST!]. This looks like a cracking read with lots of LONG insights and LONG arguments.
Bird notes one quibble he has with the work, and it is something I have pondered lately: In discussing the various passages for his thesis, Pitre typically exegetes a passage before discussing its authenticity. That can give the impression that "authenticity" is merely an afterthought to his exegesis, and he doesn't pay as much attention as he should to the redactional activity of the Evangelists.
I note that many historians first work out if a saying is authentic, and then try and exegete the text. But in doing it this way, doesn't one assume what the text means, and then judge its authenticity? How can it not be so? Thus, I am of the view that one must first fully exegete the passage, in both its historical and literary form and then once one has determined its meaning, decide on its authenticity. Otherwise, one is doomed to assume what the text means, judge its authenticity and then possibly neglect a key piece of evidence for one's hypothesis.
Furthermore, the criteria assume one has determined the meaning of a text and thus can judge whether or not a logion or pericope is (a) embarassing; (b) coherent; (c) discontinuous. Only multiple attestation can be used without determining its meaning. And even then, I suspect that exegesis might be used to see whether or not a saying is similar to another source.
I hear what Bird is saying about authenticity being an afterthought, but can we do it any other way? We have to start with what we've got: gospel testimonies that appear to be relaying teachings and events from the life of Jesus of Nazareth. This material may have been redacted/adapted to a situation. But we must first deal with what we have, and then seek to move closer to the historical Jesus.
So how can one not first do exegesis and then judge its authenticity?

1 comment:

Peter M. Head said...

I agree with your basic idea here. I haven't read Pitre, but your logic is sensible to me since you can't judge authenticity without figuring out what things mean. Sometimes it might need a properly integrated investigation of both meaning and authenticity.