[corpus-paul]: rules of evidence

Eric Zuesse cettel at shoreham.net
Fri Aug 30 22:32:56 EDT 2002

Re: Dieter Mitternacht's:

>> In science, only the data (here, the primary
>> sources) are evidence (some of much higher quality than others), but no
>> scholar's interpretation is evidence for anything.

>I am puzzled.

I can understand, Dieter. Scholars are unfortunately not taught the
difference between data and theories/interpretations, or between evidence
and cases, or between facts and opinions--these are three different ways of
referring to the very same epistemological polarity, and it is the most
important distinction within the epistemology we commonly refer to by the
name of "science." Because this vital epistemological distinction is not
taught to scholars, it is, for example, considered acceptable in scholarship
to cite, as "evidence," in support of Galatians 2:11-21 being a conflict
about table-fellowship or about the obligatoriness of adhering to the kosher
laws, a highly regarded scholar's opinion saying that this is so. Therefore,
one routinely finds that a scholar supports his interpretation of a given
text by citing a huge number of other scholars whose opinions he respects.
The underlying assumption in doing so, is that a consensus, at least of
"good" scholars, holds authority. Of course, almost everyone who plays this
epistemological shell-game recognizes that virtually any interpretation of
any classical text can be "defended" in this way, because it is virtually
always the case that respected scholars can be cited supporting a wide range
of different opinions as to the meaning of any given line of text, and so
there is typically a large menu of options for any given scholar to select
from in choosing his "documentation," regardless of how false his
interpretation might happen actually to be. Furthermore, scholars are
naturally inclined to respect those of their colleagues who happen to agree
with their own interpretations, and so the identification of precisely who
constitutes a "respected" scholar is anything but an objective fact. The end
result of all of this is that practically any interpretation of any
classical text can be "documented" in this way--and that it routinely is.
Scholarship is therefore composed epistemologically of evidentiary houses of

Supporting opinions by opinions is consequently obviously unscientific, but
scholars have customarily done it forever, and bad habits in a profession
are hard to break, particularly if there is no one from outside who is
pointing out that the custom is and always has been a violation of basic
scientific rules.

In sum, then, my own reconstruction of the historical origin of Christianity
adheres to scientific rules, not to scholarly ones, as follows:

1) My interpretation of any given line of text is never supported by citing
a scholar's interpretation of that line, but is always supported only by the
body of evidence.

2) The body of evidence consists of the source documents from which the
given historical events are being reconstructed.

3) The source documents concerning any given point in the historical
reconstruction are the documents that the scholarly consensus evaluates to
be the closest to the given historical event. For a simple example, the
person of Peter: (a) Galatians is generally considered to contain authentic
first-person witness references to Peter, whereas (b) Acts is generally
considered not to do so, and (c) both 1 and 2 Peter are generally considered
to be forgeries in Peter's name and produced later even than Acts. (d) The
Gospels of Matthew and John presenting accounts of Peter as Jesus's favorite
disciple are generally considered to be, if anything, perhaps as far removed
from first-person testimony as are the forged letters in Peter's name.
Consequently, amongst these mentioned sources, the best evidence for
formulating hypotheses about Peter would be (a) Galatians. However, to the
extent that a hypothesis that I am constructing on Peter must be based upon
lower-ranked evidence (and I try to formulate all hypotheses upon best
evidence if possible), I'll consult the highest-ranked document that refers
to that particular matter. Furthermore, for confirmation of a hypothesis, I
will always rely first upon the highest-ranked available document, and then
work my way down; but I do not restrict myself to only best evidence for
confirmation--only for hypothesis.

4) Inasmuch as I recognize that, despite the nearly two centuries of efforts
by scholars to authenticate and date NT documents, there remain, even today,
many interpretive (especially religious) prejudices still affecting
scholars' performance of this basic forensic function, I do occasionally
take exception to scholars' consensuses in this area. For example, after the
Holocaust against the Jews, scholars came increasingly to doubt the
authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, so that today it might even be a
consensus position to say that that passage is bogus, an interpolation, not
by Paul. I reject that "politically correct" (or, perhaps, "religiously
correct") view, and whenever I reject a scholarly consensus regarding
authentication and dating, I not only make note of that fact, but I present
the reasons behind my position.

5) Applying the fundamental legal/forensic skepticism regarding the
honesty-of-intent of any witness, I systematically include in every point of
my hypothetical reconstruction a consideration of not only its truthfulness,
but also its honesty-of-intent. Never is there any mere assumption that a
given statement--from no matter how high-ranked a source--is either truthful
or even honest.

6) The epistemologically naive positivistic view of science, that science
avoids theories/interpretations/opinions, and consists solely of
data/evidence/facts, is repudiated as false epistemology/meta-science. My
objective is scientific theories/interpretations/opinions, rather than
religious ones. I aim for theories/interpretations/opinions that are based
upon the systematic skepticism of science, rather than on the unquestioning
faith of religion.

7) The epistemologically naive postmodernist view of science, that science
is "just another form of religion," instead of its being the exact opposite
of religion, is likewise repudiated. Religion is not a subject-area; neither
is science; both are polar opposite epistemologies that can be (and are)
applied to any subject area.

Thank you for the superb question. I hope that what I have said here
relieves your puzzlement at least somewhat.

Eric Zuesse
cettel at shoireham.net

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