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Higher Criticism

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Higher criticism, also known as historical criticism, is a branch of literary analysis that attempts to investigate the origins of a text, especially the text of the Bible. Higher criticism, in particular, focuses on the sources of a document and tries to determine the authorship, date and place of composition of the text. This term is used in contrast with lower criticism, known as textual criticism, which is the endeavour to establish the original version of a text.

Higher Criticism and Radical Criticism
Higher criticism originally referred to the work of German Biblical scholars. After the path-breaking work on the New Testament by Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768 – 1834), the next generation which included scholars such as David Friedrich Strauss (1808 – 1874) and Ludwig Feuerbach (1804 – 1872) in the mid-nineteenth century analyzed the historical records of the Middle East from Christian and Old Testament times in search of independent confirmation of events related in the Bible. These latter scholars built on the tradition of Enlightenment and Rationalist thinkers such as John Locke, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Gotthold Lessing, Gottlieb Fichte, Georg Hegel and the French rationalists.

These ideas were imported to England by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and, in particular, by George Eliot's translations of Strauss's Life of Jesus (1846) and Feuerbach's Essence of Christianity (1854). La Vie de Jésus (1863), the seminal work by a Frenchman, Ernest Renan (1823 – 1892), continued in the same tradition. However, three years earlier before the appearance of La Vie de Jésus, liberal Anglican theologians had begun the process of incorporating this historical criticism into Christian doctrine in Essays and Reviews (1860). In Catholicism, L'Evangile et l'Eglise (1902), the magnum opus by Alfred Loisy against the Essence of Christianity of Adolf von Harnack and La Vie de Jesus than Renan, gave birth to the modernist crisis (1902 – 1961). Some scholars, such as Rudolf Bultmann, have used higher criticism of the Bible to "demythologize" it.

Radical Criticism, around the late 1800s, typically tried to show that none of the Pauline epistles are authentic; that Paul is nothing but a controverted authorial token. This group of scholars often postulated the ahistoricity of Jesus and the apostles.

Reception of Higher Criticism by Religious Adherents
The questions of higher criticism are widely recognized by Orthodox Jews and many traditional Christians as legitimate questions, yet they often find the answers given by the radical higher critics unsatisfactory or even heretical. In particular, religious conservatives object to the rationalistic and naturalistic presuppositions of a large number of practitioners of higher criticism that lead to conclusions that conservative religionists find unacceptable. Nonetheless, conservative Bible scholars practice their own form of higher criticism within their supernaturalist and confessional frameworks. In contrast, other biblical scholars believe that the evidence uncovered by higher criticism undermines such confessional frameworks. In addition, religiously liberal Christians and religiously liberal Jews typically maintain that belief in God has nothing to do with the authorship of the Pentateuch.

Higher Criticism of Other Religious Texts
Both higher and lower forms of criticism are carried out today with the religious writings of many religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

Modern higher criticism is just beginning for the Qur'an. This scholarship questions some traditional claims about its composition and content, contending that the Qur'an incorporates material from both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament and that the text of the Qur'an developed both during and after Muhammad's lifetime. For example, Islamic history records that Uthman collected all variants of the Qur'an and destroyed those that he did not approve of.

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