Friday, August 24, 2007

How to Do Source Criticism - a Few Basic Rules

1) The main purpose of studying any text is to explain who wrote it. In comparison, everything else is hardly worth bothering with.

2) No text has only one author.

3) It is obvious that texts always originate within a group where the view described by the text is already dominant. Hence texts advocating monogamy, for example, can only originate in monogamous societies. Texts describe people's opinions. They do not change them.

4) Events described in a text only rarely actually happened. More often, they are a well-understood metaphor for a view held by the group (or one of the groups) that wrote the text.

5) No group of writers can produce more than one literary style.

6) If similar events are described twice, it is clearly the same event as put forwards by different authors. For example, in the proto-myth underlying Four Weddings and a Funeral, there can only have been one ceremony, which has been described by a wide variety of different authors. Five redactors, R1, R2, R3, R4 and R5 then compiled their own versions of the story from different limited selections of sources, one of them as an ironic reaction against the proto-myth. These five tales were then deemed sufficiently different by another redactor, RF that they were placed side by side instead of synthesised into a common whole. Hence the confusion.

7) Don't take two much notice of the approaches used by other disciplines; they are clearly ignorant. For example, many modern textbooks in the pseudo-academic discipline of History claim that there were two "World Wars" in the first half of the 20th century with Britain, the USA, France and Russia on one side and Germany, Austria and so on on the other. This is of course patently absurd - a much simpler explanation is clearly that there was only one war. An even more absurd example is the multiplication in the history books of "Gulf Wars" between US President George Bush and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain. How can the same war have happened twice in such a short space of time? And no-one really believes that there are two Presidents called George Bush and George W Bush - it is much more likely that they were originally two descriptions of the same president, and a later redactor got confused.

8) The context of a verse in the present text does not matter. What matters is its context in the text in which it was originally set. The fact that no two scholars can agree precisely on this should not affect your level of confidence in your own views.

9) None of these rules applies to this text.
Except for this one.

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