J.P. Meier ‘A Marginal Jew’1
Meier seeks to ‘provide a reasonable sketch of the historical Jesus’2 By ‘historical Jesus’ Meier means the Jesus who appears after serious application of the historical-critical method. This ‘Jesus’ is not a Jesus reconstructed from the an uncritical use of all four gospels, for these ‘Gospels [synoptic gospels] are suffused with the Easter Faith of the early Church and were written forty to seventy years after the events narrated.’3 Meier sets out to find authentic Jesus tradition from within the synoptic, an authentic tradition is obtainable by using ’criteria of authenticity’.
‘the function of the criteria is to pass from the merely possible to the really probable, to inspect various probabilities, and to decide which candidate is most probable. Ordinarily, the criteria cannot hope to do more.’ 4
As this quote shows the method aims for probability and not objectivity. Objectivity is aimed for but never achieved. Meier appears to distance himself from the extreme form of an enlightenment historiography which simply tried to show things as they were for ‘there is no Switzerland of the mind in the world of Jesus research‘5. However he presses towards the goal of objectivity by admitting ‘one’s own standpoint, to try and exclude its influence’6,… ‘knowing one’s sources, having clear criteria for making historical judgements about them, learning from other questers past and present, and inviting the criticism of one’s peers.’7
Meier offers five primary criteria and five secondary criteria. Secondary criteria ‘may at times provide post-factum confirmation of decisions we have already reached on the basis of the five primary criteria’.8
|J.P. Meier Criteria for Authenticity|
|Primary Criteria||Secondary Criteria|
|Discontinuity:||Traces of Aramaic|
|Multiple Attestation||Palestinian Environment|
|Coherence||Vividness of Narration|
|Embarrassment(Movement Against the Redactional Tendency)||Tendencies of the developing synoptic Tradition|
|Rejection and Execution||Historical Presumption|
Little weight is given, by Meier, contra Crossan, to the non-canonical gospel or agraphra. .
‘The four canonical Gospels turn out to be the only large documents containing significant blocks of material relevant to a quest for the historical Jesus’1 ‘Contrary to some scholars, I do not think that the rabbinic material, the agraphra, the apocryphal gospels, and the Nag Hammandi codices (in particular the Gospel of Thomas) offer us reliable new information or authentic sayings that are independent of the NT’2
Classical Foundationalist Epistemology and Historical Jesus Research
Meier adopts a ‘bottoms up’ inductive method. Once the criteria are applied, and authentic data is revealed an ‘overarching interpretation of Jesus and his work emerge gradually and naturally out of the convergence of the data judged historical.’3. This displays a classical foundationalist epistemology which does not take seriously the influence of his own subjectivity, for an ‘overarching interpretation of Jesus appears naturally.’4
Meiers epistemology resembles that of, foundationalist assumptions of Locke who ‘thinks we must make whatever facts we do know our evidential base for determing the probability of our other beliefs. Some of our beliefs may rest on other beliefs [For Meier read ‘interpretation of Jesus ‘], but the total structure of belief must rest on facts that known with certainty [for Meier read ‘authentic Jesus tradition based on use of criteria‘] if our epistemological house is to be in order.”5
The Routledge Encyclodeia of Philosophy offers the following description of Foundationalism.
Foundationalism: The process of giving reasons could be such that not every reason is supported by another reason because there are basic reasons which have no need of further reasons supporting them.6
Craig Evans The Historical Christ and Jesus of Faith states that ‘foundationalism requires at least three things’7
A) We must have a body of highly certain facts that is sufficient to be the foundation of our beliefs.
B) We must be able properly to determine what evidential support these facts lend to our other beliefs
C) We must also have the ability to regulate our beliefs so as to conform to the evidence.
Being aware of a classical foundationalist methodology we may mirror the above points with the methodological procedure of Meier.
A) Criteria reveal the highly probable facts. The revealed authentic tradition serve as a foundation of our belief
B) Authentic tradition reveals ‘naturally’ the life of Jesus, the Interpretation of Jesus, This evidence is built upon using the criteria of coherence.
C) Bias and subjectivity needs to be excluded from the interpretation, so that the evidence simply speaks.
This can be represented diagrammatically. See diagram 1 Meier and Foundationalism
It is not the scope of this essay not the expertise of the author, to offer a lengthy critique of a foundationalist epistemology, however I do want to suggest that there are alternatives to the foundationalist position such as the critical realism of Ben Myer and N.T. Wright (discussed later), and that of ‘coherentism’.
In contrast to foundationalism, coherentism claims that every belief derives its justification from inferential relationships to other . All coherentists hold that, like the poles of a tepee, beliefs are mutually reinforcing. Some coherentists, however, assign a special justificatory role to those propositions that are more difficult to dislodge from the web of belief . The set of these special propositions overlaps the set of basic propositions specified by foundationalism.8
Coherentism, at least in my understanding, highlights the interdependence of beliefs. These beliefs are coherent within themselves but this does not necessarily make them true. Thus a coherentist understanding of Meier would recognise his method but would stress that the resultant picture is on the basis of method, and not on the truthfulness of his foundation stones. This web of interdependence is quickly discovered when we notice.
1) The reliance on Markan priority which in itself based on non-provable
2) The gospels are not eye witness testimony.
3) The criteria of authenticity, such as multiple attestation, are dependant on above
4) The reconstructed Jesus is dependant on the above
5) The criteria of coherence is used enlarge the bedrock of tradition and to further enlarge the reconstruction of Jesus.
Higligithing the interdependence of Meier’s methodology, could be seen as conherentism. Meier’s methodology and resultant picture (P1) are coherent within itself. Coherence within itself is not the same as objectectity as another scholar could produce another portrait of Jesus (P2) using another coherent, but unprovable, methodology.9 The question then becomes ‘What makes P1 more acceptable than 22?’ with the question of objectivity becoming more marginalised.
It is important though, says Evans who rejects a ‘coherentist’ epistemology10 to highlight its ability to lead one away from ontology and reality. A persons beliefs, including that of beliefs in the ‘historical Jesus’ ‘depend on some relation to the external world, and not simply the coherence of my own beliefs’11
Critical Realism, which will be discussed later, provides an alternative to a classical foundationalist epistemology and coherentism, as it takes ontology and subjectivity seriously.
Footnotes: Although they are slighty out of sink with the text. you should be able to figure it out
1 MJ Vol 1 139
2 MJ Vol 1 140
3 Mentor page 14 Check this
4 Joel Willits Presuppositions and Procedures 80-82
5 Evans Historical Jesus and the Christ of Faith 209 although Meier is more an heir of Descartes, Leibniz and Spinoza who see the role or reason as dominant, whereas as Locke assumes an empirical method.
6 KLEIN, PETER D. (1998). Knowledge, concept of. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge. Retrieved March 07, 2008, from http://www.rep.routledge.com/article/P031SECT4 .
7 ibid 210
9 I.e. Matthean Priority, Use of Non-Canonical Gospels, Use of different criteria
10 Evans The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith 224
11 Evans The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith 224
1 This criticism of historical Jesus research as being classical foundationalism is based on Joel Wittus Presuppositions and Procedures
2 Companion page 9
3 Meier Marginal Jew Vol 1 168
4 Meier Marginal Jew Vol 168-169
5 ibid. 5, Distances himself from the scientific historiography of Von Ranke who famously said that in his work he “wants to show only what really happened (wie es eigentlich gewesen).”
6 ibid. 5
7 Vol 1 page 5
8 MJ Vol 1 168