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The Higher Criticism

August 15th, 2009

The Higher Critical Method – A Study of Inherent Logical Fallacy

For nearly two-hundred years, since Eichhorn coined the term, higher critical methods have been the accepted means for determination of the authenticity of ancient documents. These techniques as performed by academia today constitute the ONLY procedures for evaluating such documents which are based upon scientific principles. Notwithstanding the pedigree of the work, or ancient testimony to the contrary, the true nature of all ancient literature may be determined ONLY through adherence to this modern approach. So we are told.

But is the higher criticism, as currently practiced, truly the unbiased application of the scientific method to the field of historical literature?  Based upon the examples of higher critical analyses that I have studied, and I have by no means read them all, I have observed a curious systematic acceptance of the sophistic notion that science has somehow disproven the supernatural – that phenomena either unexamined or unproven by modern science have somehow been disproved by the lack of formal treatment. This premise, coupled with the modern prejudice that the ancients were a rather naïve and superstitious lot, incapable of discriminating truth from fable and certainly incapable of teaching anything to a modern man of science, has been invoked to discredit an entire corpus of literature – specifically that literature which claims to be a record of the intervention of the Divine in the affairs of men. “Oh, give me a break,” some might say, “all that buildup to defend a dying faith against the encroachment of science? When will you religious nuts stop being threatened by progress?”

But I submit for your consideration the defense that science does not hold a monopoly on truth. Indeed, the long and chequered annals of science include many embarrassing incidents of entrenched hostility towards new theories by adherents of previous doctrines; and conversely, the acceptance of rather dubious conclusions based upon the prestige of their proponents[a]. Even well supported theories come and go with the passage of time. The Newtonian mechanics that you learned in school were already known to be incomplete, having been augmented by Einstein’s Relativity, long before you were taught Newton.

So to say that something is the ‘accepted’ scientific theory of the day is really no endorsement at all. True science can be built only upon hard data by sound logical arguments. Many things science has yet to measure, so the requisite evidence needed for development of a theory has not even been gathered. As a physicist, one of the ‘hard’ scientists, I am well aware that each of my working theories rests upon data and underlying assumptions. This being said, I may only apply a theory to a problem INSOFAR as that problem does not violate one of the theory’s underlying premises.

In contrast, I have noticed a propensity among ‘soft’ scientists engaged in studies of higher criticism to believe that a consensus of authoritative opinion somehow renders a belief scientific. And that, once being scientific, alternative theories must bow to the established ‘science’. A scientist by vocation, this approach is particularly objectionable to me. Who ever made a scientific Discovery by accepting the consensus? Every branch of ‘hard’ science seeks out evidence of inexplicable phenomena, for therein lies the hope of Discovery – the evidence for a new theory! ONLY the ‘higher criticism’ represses the evidence of something new; in favor of their ‘established’ beliefs. When you think of it like that, maybe ‘higher criticism’ is a religion, rather than a science?

This sort of reasoning appears to pervade all of the schools of higher criticism. As an example, consider the case of the Gospel of Luke, an integral book within the canon of Christian literature. Early testimony uniformly attributed its authorship to the Greek physician Luke, a companion of that Apostle Paul who wrote much of the New Testament[1]. Part of a two volume set which includes the Acts of the Apostles; Luke’s Gospel provides a history of the life and earthly ministry of Christ which the author claims to have been based upon the most diligent and carefully scrutinized testimony of actual eyewitnesses, probably including Jesus’ disciples and family[2]. As the first book of the set, Luke was written prior to the Acts of the Apostles, which appears from strong internal evidence to have been written during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, circa 62-63 AD[3]. Luke’s Gospel then, was most likely written during Paul’s two year imprisonment at Caesarea Maritime, around 58-60 AD. This would have been Luke’s best opportunity to interview the Judean witnesses he claimed to have utilized, and is consistent with period testimony, literature, and history.

But proponents of higher criticism tell us that such was not the case. Luke was written later – much later indeed – than traditionally supposed. They base this insight upon ‘historical anachronisms’, inconsistencies between references contained within the text of Luke’s gospel and known historical events. Illustrative of such disagreement is the prophecy given by Jesus as he went to be crucified. According to Luke, Jesus of Nazareth stopped during the procession for long enough to tell a crowd of wailing women to weep not for Him, but rather to lament the calamities that were to befall Jerusalem and her citizens. During this brief exchange, Jesus outlines in some graphic detail the destruction of Jerusalem as accomplished by Titus in AD 70. “Aha!” say the higher critics, “Luke knew of the fall of Jerusalem. Therefore Luke must have been written AFTER 70 AD.” “But,” you protest, “Surely the text indicates that Jesus was FORETELLING a subsequent destruction – a catastrophe which had not yet occurred?” “Absurd,” they cry with smug vehemence, “You can not expect a scientist to believe in prophecy!” And therein lies the rub. Prophecy is not scientific. Or so they say.

A true scientist would, of course, evaluate the theory of prophecy by examining the potential value of this and other accounts as evidence. Fortunately, the Christians of Jerusalem in Luke’s time did believe this was a prophetic utterance. Forewarned by Jesus’ words, they fled Jerusalem three years before the siege of Titus; accepting safe asylum under Agrippa II in the town of Pella in the Decapolis[4].

Yet the underlying premise that claims of prophecy discredit a written account has been uniformly applied to the entire corpus of Judeo-Christian Holy Writ with similar results. Thus the Isaiah who lived in the time of Hezekiah, King of Judah, could not be the same Isaiah who knew of (prophesied) the Babylonian conquest a hundred years later. And that second Isaiah is excluded from identification with the Isaiah who knew of (prophesied) the return of the captives to Jerusalem in 537 BC – even to the naming of the Persian prince who gave the edict, Cyrus. According to higher critical analysis, the book attributed to the prophet Isaiah since before the inception of the Greek Septuagint (3rd century BC) must actually have been a compilation of different works by different authors, written over a period of several hundred years. Consequently new, ‘scientific’ nomenclature has been developed, and the book known as Isaiah within the Hebrew and Christian canons, the book always written on a single scroll in ancient times[b] is now broken into fragments and designated I Isaiah, II Isaiah, III Isaiah, and sometimes IV Isaiah by our dedicated scholars. All based upon this secular bias which precludes any supernatural event a priori as scientifically impossible, and seeks always an explanation for the miraculous in terms of theories currently endorsed by a plurality of modern scientists.

Using these analytical criteria, higher critical methods will assign a date of composition later than the last historical event foretold for every work which records a prophecy. Unfulfilled prophecies are treated as religious ‘wishful thinking’ and ignored for determination of chronology. Likewise any record of miraculous[c] or supernatural events other than prophecy must be relegated to the status of legend or myth. In these cases the written work must be assigned to a time after the majority of witnesses are dead and gone, when it is possible to embellish or interpolate the natural and easily explicable event with claims of the Divine power, [sic].

Now this method of analysis is absolutely sound as long as one premise remains true:

Underlying Premise for Higher Criticism:

Nothing can exist other than the natural world as understood by man.

Since the higher criticism requires that all ancient claims must be reinterpreted within the limits of accepted modern scientific theory, reality will only coincide with higher critical solutions when ancient descriptions are explicable by principles understood by the interpreter. If there is a God, or angels, or devils or any supernatural, spiritual, or otherwise undiscovered power displayed in the universe, and the analyst is unwilling to entertain the possibility of forces beyond his ken, then the method breaks down due to dependence on a false premise. As we all know, a deductive argument which contains one hundred true statements and one false premise is proves nothing – the whole argument is rendered invalid.

An interesting corollary to this underlying requirement is the practical reality that interpretations are not limited by current, state-of-the-art scientific theory; but rather by the interpreter’s level of understanding for these theories. Thus, an ancient account which somehow recorded a relativistic observation, although this is an unlikely example, would be deemed myth, legend, interpolation, etc, unless the historian/textual critic was well versed in the Theory of Relativity, and consequently able to explain the phenomena in this manner.

Illustrative of this bias is the following excerpt from Pliny the elder:

CHAP. 31. (31.)–MANY SUNS.

And again, many suns have been seen at the same time; not above or below the real sun, but in an oblique direction, never near nor opposite to the earth, nor in the night, but either in the east or in the west. They are said to have been seen once at noon in the Bosphorus[d], and to have continued from morning until sunset. Our ancestors have frequently seen three suns at the same time, as was the case in the consulship of Sp. Postumius and L. Mucius, of L. Marcius and M. Portius, that of M. Antony and Dolabella, and that of M. Lepidus and L. Plancus. And we have ourselves seen one during the reign of the late Emperor Claudius, when he was consul along with Corn. Orfitus. We have no account transmitted to us of more than three having been seen at the same time. – Gaius Plinius Secundus (23 – 79 AD), The Natural History[e], Book II

Gaius Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Elder) was a military commander, statesman, friend of the Flavian Emperors, and one of the most well read men of his time. Pliny completed the Natural History, a scientific encyclopedia, in 37 Books around 77 AD. Two years later (August 24, 79 AD), as commander of the Roman fleet based at Misenum, he died of asphyxiation while conducting rescue operations for those threatened by the eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii.

By the standards of first century Rome, Pliny was a well-educated man. And yet we see the mindless drivel that he was willing to accept, as a man of science. Now how many modern observers are willing to believe in ‘many suns’ in the sky at the same time? Obviously Pliny’s reports of three suns in the sky at the same time must be disputed, n’est-ce pas? Consider carefully the cupidity of this ancient scientist, before you hit the -read more- button. Try to understand before you move onward the reasons for his error.

Please follow the following link to the Wikipedia article on Sun Dogs:

Wikipedia – Sun Dogs

Oops! Not quite cricket, I know. But necessary for us to evaluate our own biases.

So it turns out that the problem was ours, not the esteemed Pliny’s. And this is the same presumption that we encounter whenever someone confuses their personal beliefs concerning the supernatural with scientific treatment of the supernatural.  While it may not be ‘cool’ in scientific circles to acknowledge the possibility of God, our acceptance is not requisite for His existence. True science has no preconceived opinion concerning the reality of God. True science must rather recognize evidence of God’s intervention in the affairs of man in the form of testimony by witnesses; but how to evaluate that testimony when the phenomena cannot, by their nature, be repeated in a laboratory?

This concept should really be developed as a new form of textual criticism – an approach that evaluates the reliability of historic documents based upon contemporaneous attestation and examination of motives for the authors and witnesses; and then uses the reliable accounts as a means to examine the intervention of the Divine in the affairs of men. This approach would provide the scientific avenue for evaluating the nature of God, a field of study which has been for too long considered to be outside the scope of science. Rather than throwing out all accounts which claim to have experienced the supernatural, science would discover the infinite based upon the mark left by God upon the pages of history. Into this category of science would fall How to Live Forever.

[a] As an example of both cases, consider the resistance offered Thomas Young for his theory that light exhibited wave behaviour. He was largely opposed by adherents of Newton’s conclusion that light was particles. But where was the proof of Newton’s particle theory to begin with? Likewise, having read Aristotle’s Physics I am not convinced that he actually said that heavier objects fall faster then lighter objects. But once this interpretation was attributed to his work, his prestige carried the argument until the time of Newton.

[b] Numerous examples of this are found in the Qumran caves.

[c] For our purposes, any occurrence inexplicable by currently accepted scientific theories.

[d] The Istanbul Strait – the strait which separates the European from the Asian portions of modern Turkey.

[e] The Natural History. Pliny the Elder. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A. London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. 1855.

[1] Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., III, i, 1; x, 1; Clement of Alexandria, Catena on Luke, (fragmentary, but the mere fact of his writing a Catena on the gospel by this name); Muratorian Fragment; Justin Martyr, Apology, LXVI (compare “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body” to Luke 22:19); Dialogue With Trypho, CIII, (For in the memoirs which I say were drawn up by His apostles and those who followed them, [it is recorded] that His sweat fell down like drops of blood while He was praying, and saying, ‘If it be possible, let this cup pass:’,  compare Luke 22:42-44, Luke was not an apostle, but rather one ‘who followed them’); Tatian, Diatessaron; Origen, in Eusebius, Eccl. Hist, VI, xxv, 6; Tertullian, Against Marcion, IV, ii & v; Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke; Jerome, Lives, VII

[2] Gospel of Luke 1:1-4

[3] F.F.Bruce, The Acts of The Apostles, Wm. B. Eerdmans, pp 1-10

[4] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book III, v, 2-3; Epiphanius, Panarion, 29.7, (Translated by Frank Williams); Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume 1, Apostolic Christianity, Chapter VI, Section 39, Page 402; Emil Schürer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Christ, First Division, Volume II, § 20.3, p 230; Second Division, Volume I, § 23.1, Pella, pp 113-115

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