Introducing the Journal of Higher Criticism

Robert M. Price, Editor

    Michel Foucault, the archaeologist of knowledge, spoke of a regnant archive, or body of implicit canonical assumptions that restrict and define the parameters of academic discourse in every era. Some ideas, notions, theories, seem to be ruled out from the start. In our field of biblical criticism, for instance, the shocking notion that no historical Jesus ever existed, once seriously debated by scholars (even by those who strongly rejected it), was only a few years later dismissed, ruled out of court by Rudolf Bultmann as the mad fancy of unstable minds. And this from supposedly the most radical of critics. Radicalism was a sliding scale, as many of Bultmann's views, say, on the number of authentic Pauline epistles, were decidedly more conservative than those of F. C. Baur only a generation before.

    Each scholarly generation seems to feel it must define a basic consensus so that all may have a common game board and set of rules. Certain questions are just not kept open, certain disturbing theories left to collect dust, frozen out by agreed neglect, though it is far from clear that they were ever really refuted. Indeed, one of the most important lessons to be learned by the biblical student from a study of the history of the discipline is that many of the critical dinosaurs consigned to the museum had much more in their favor than any of today's standard textbook summaries would lead their readers to believe. One suspects that these introductory surveys are in some measure intended as apologetics for the consensus positions upheld by their authors. There is no substitute for reading the classics of the field for oneself .

    It seems to some of us that we find ourselves in a period of critical retrenchment, a return to the comforting apologetics of an earlier generation, one more amenable to a certain neo-conservative ecclesiastical ethos. The old theories, once so disturbing to the dogmatic slumber of the faithful, have been consigned to undeserved oblivion. They have fallen off the scholarly agenda not so much from any inherent untenability (indeed, how could one judge their tenability when only caricatures are available for evaluation?) as because of a demographic shift. The sheer volume of conservative biblical students and scholars reflects the demographic triumph of the conservative denominations and their seminaries. New hands are taking control of the biblical studies plausibility structure. And theories seem plausible or implausible insofar as they can flourish in the resulting climate of opinion.

    Of course one may suggest that the same thing had happened in the days of the dominance (such as it ever was) of the radical criticism of the Tübingen School and its heirs. But this seems doubtful. Higher Criticism hardly coasted to its position of ascendance; when did the historical-critical method ever gain any ground except by fighting for every inch in the teeth of determined ecclesiastical opposition? But students entering universities and seminaries where the Higher Criticism held sway, one may argue, were no less captives of a dominant cognitive universe, the victims of mere indoctrination. Perhaps, but then one may suggest that the real tragedy here was that students were trained in the transitory results, but not the abiding methods of that criticism; and it is the latter that are far more important.

    Why has the Higher Criticism gradually slipped from its place of dominance to the point where it is either a toothless tiger or worse yet, covert apologetics wearing the Esau-mask of criticism? Perhaps because many of those trained in it never really felt obliged to grasp either the methods that led to the results or the arguments for particular positions held. When students encountered apologetical arguments against critical positions, apologetics ably refuted generations before by Strauss, Wellhausen, and Baur, they thought they were seeing something new under the sun. And they were in no position to respond adequately. The classics of criticism were long out of print and not easily obtained.

    The present publication, The Journal of Higher Criticism, is a forthright attempt to hark back to that golden era of bold hypotheses and daring reconstructions associated with the great names of Baur and Tübingen — though, of course, not necessarily with the same theories. The Journal welcomes innovative exegeses and critical essays that seek to rethink old issues, ruling no question or answer out of court. We seek to maintain the highest standards of biblical scholarship and welcome submissions cleaving to those standards. Contributors may represent any or no particular personal faith position.

    To define things a bit further, to mark out, so to speak, the corner of the scholarly vineyard in which we seek to labor, The Journal of Higher Criticism seeks studies in historical, source, form, redaction, composition, and history-of-religions criticism. We leave to others the worthy subdisciplines of textual criticism, social science criticism, etymological studies, modern literary theory applied to the Bible, and biblical theology. Our focus is mainly on the Christian Scriptures and related early Christian literature; but Jewish Scriptures, Apocryphal, and Pseudepigraphical studies will receive careful consideration as well. The Journal also welcomes studies of the historical development of biblical criticism and of the work of major figures in that tradition.

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Copyright © Institute for Higher Critical Studies, 1996
Darrell J. Doughty
Institute for Higher Critical Studies
Drew University, Madison, NJ, 07940