Are They Still Using The Criteria Of Authenticity?

Yesterday I started reading a book that I'm reviewing for a journal, a book that I'm already finding quite interesting.  This new (2013) work by Michael J. Thate is published by Mohr Siebeck in their WUNT series and is titled Remembrance of Things Past?: Albert Schweitzer, the Anxiety of Influence, and the Untidy Jesus of Markan Memory.  What I've read thus far is very well-written and thought-provoking.  I am keen to continue reading the rest of the volume.

Before I get to Thate's thoughts on Chris Keith's work (as well as those who contributed to the anti- or post-criteria work he edited), two things should be mentioned.  First, the end-goal of Thate's work should be noted.  He says that this volume of his attempts "to (re)situate the historische Jesu Frage within the wider discussion of secularization both in terms of its history of interpretation as well as its contemporary constructions" (14).  Further, it is an "experimental critique in the formation and reception of discourses and a theorizing of reception criticism" (14).  The book is divided into two parts and the first of these focuses heavily on Albert Schweitzer's work.  This leads me to the second point, that is, that Thate frames the whole discussion of historical Jesus studies in relation to Schweitzer, whom he (correctly) describes as one if its most influential and strongest voices, perhaps even "the strongest" (20).

In Thate's view, scholars have basically been attempting to break out of Schweiter's mould for centuries.  In separating from him, they might believe that they can make a long-standing name for themselves.  Scholars have longed to "escape his influence" and "'clear imaginative space' for new and exploratory approaches" to ancient Jesus materials.  The attempt to escape, an attempt often made by striving to get out of Schweitzer's straightjacket and free from historical criteria, is something Thate says is actually a "tip-of-the-cap" to "Schweitzer's enduring genius" (20).  That, I think, is a word on target.  

Now, what's really important to note is that this attempt to escape criteria, what Chris Keith and others are attempting to do, is what Thate, drawing on Ward Blanton and Jacques Derrida, describes as "outbidding" (16).  The attempt to escape from criteria is also an attempt to escape from the Quest for the Historical Jesus, which is characterized as unfounded and misguided by some scholars, including Morna Hooker, Scot McKnight, and others says Thate.  But what is outbidding exactly?

Outbidding occurs when an interpreter of a tradition presents themselves, as Blanton (Displacing Christian Origins, 8) notes, "as outdoing the religious communities or traditions in view" so that they might then present "their own thought as a kind of 'purified' or 'originary' version of the religious tradition they criticized."  In short, Thate is arguing that Chris Keith et. al., are outbidding when they attempt to overthrow Schweitzer and offer their own "pure" or "originary" alternatives; they see themselves as "doing Christianity one better" as it were, than their predecessor(s).

Thus, those like Keith, with their outbidding statements "entrench themselves against the history of interpretation as being misguided and operating within the wrong set of rationality" (16).  But, says Thate, what really happens when those who issue calls "to terminate the use of the 'traditional methods employed by Jesus historians' is that without analyzing the doxa of these 'traditional methods'", they simply "change into something more comfortable" (16).  Therefore, Thate contends that when Keith argues "if the historical-Jesus enterprise wishes to step out of its 'methodological quagmire' its only hope is through 'media criticism and memory theory,'" all he is really doing is taking the same old argument, that is, the "criterion" argument, and putting it in new dress.  Or to cite Thate, "Though certainly promising on many counts, the purported 'post-criteria' approach adopted here (i.e. by Keith et. al.) cannot escape the erotics of 'authenticity' or the gaze of the originary.  This is a Quest for the pure genre; the authentic genre; the real genre.  As such, this amounts to little more than the criterion of authenticity in drag" (17).

In the end, according to Thate, "A 'post-criteria' approach" is really a type of re-aestheticizing and re-racializing "of the very criteria which they think they have left behind" (17).  Readers of these anti- or post-criteria works, then, should not turn a blind eye to the processes of outbidding that are taking place and the redressing of old ideas; readers should beware.

Since I just started working through the volume, I still have some ground to cover.  But I look forward to engaging what already seems to be a very learned, informative, and well-written, study.  When I was writing my book Entering the Fray and writing my chapter on the the so-called Quests for the historical Jesus, or the history of historical Jesus research, one of the most enjoyable parts was reading and researching Schweitzer.  So, I'm glad to read up on this influential man once again and Thate's work is already proving an enjoyable entree.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to review this book.

PS:  You can also get the .pdf version of Thate's dissertation HERE.

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