I have to ask this question, simply because of something I was reading, and I want to make sure that I am not alone in this observation: have you ever been reading something written by someone, who is supposedly educated in a certain field, and they’re writing something related to that field, and you suddenly realize that he, or she, seems to be making it up as they go along, just plodding a thought out with no real interest in where the thought can lead them or the people reading their work? (Kinda like that question, right?) The reason I ask, as I said, I was reading a book—I’ll reserve naming it because I don’t want to get bombarded by people who have, and I’m not finished reading it yet, so I reserve the right to alter my opinion—but I came across a statement that caused me to pause and think about what the author meant by the statement, so I guess that is what the theme of this post will be about is “the intent of an author when he makes a statement”.
As I said, I will resist naming the book, or the author, but rather look at the substance of the comment so to structure a general argument about context and where it can take a reader. I found the remark to be a disparagement about another author, who is long dead and unable to defend himself or what he meant by phrasing his statements in a certain way, which makes him an easy target for such a claim. Not being one to speak ill of the dead, except those whose reputations made them an anathema, I really wish that I was in a position to take the author to task on this matter to press him by what he meant when he phrased his statement in such a derogatory manner, even though it is phrased as a back-handed compliment, he did not note himself in any way, that I have yet to find, to explain or define what he meant by using the term in question.
Now, I must interject that I can say what the type of book this is that I set out to describe: a mildly sensational piece that “calls into question what Christians believe about the origins of their faith.” As, I believe, it was Aristotle who said to the nature of, “the unexamined life isn’t worth living”, to which I must agree, that as a believer in Christ, I have a responsibility to look closely at my faith and make sure that I am understanding and practicing it correctly, not so much as something I do but as part of my identity and the substance of my being and informer of my thoughts. I will agree that there is a lot about my faith that I simply do not know, but am learning. This is not to say that the author in question wasn’t presenting some valid information, a great deal of which I was already familiar with, but some things were still a bit cloudy, so I thank him for helping clear up those up, but my gratitude only goes so far and halts in the face at what appears to be an ad hominem, or just short of it so as not to be called for it by his peers.
This particular author wants to appear to be giving the historical background a critical eye, informing the reader of the historical and cultural background of the region of ancient Judea to properly frame the context of “questionable passages” as to “whether or not a statement might have been made by the historical Jesus or not.” Making such a statement to even a mildly informed reader, such as myself, is an automatic tip off, because what the author is saying is, “I am going to paint your Jesus in such a way that he could have never have said what he is portrayed to have said.” The particular passage he calls into question seems to have no parallel in any of the other four accounts, so it seems open to the challenge and thus fair game. But in making his challenge, by focusing on one particular passage, I immediately note what the fault, the falsifying element to his argument is, that being that he has failed to place the passage in its context in the life of Jesus. If the passage is place in its proper context, which can be done by the process called harmonization, a technique that critics absolutely cannot stand, because when it is applied, their argument basically falls apart. By applying the process of harmonization, by contextualizing when and where and the statement was made, then the validity of the criticism can be assessed. In this particular instance, the author of the book wanted to place the statement early in Jesus’ career to say that he would never say anything like that, the problem was, in harmonization, he had actually made a similar statement sometime earlier, and had nearly been killed for it.
Anyway, I will continue to slog my way through this particular volume, hopefully exposing more of the author’s outlandishly fallacious suppositions and come back later with a complete expose’ using the principles of good reading. But before I go, allow me to impress upon my readers a point that I always stress: context is everything, remember that.