Antrhropology and "Historical Jesusizing"
The Personal Weblog of Edward W. Farrell   
Antrhropology and "Historical Jesusizing" Saturday, December 19, 2009
Anthropology may attempt to stand outside of any particular tradition it observes but it cannot stand outside of its own, and so when an anthropologist attempts to give students who refer to a "perfect man" (in reference to Jesus Christ) a dose of "anthropological reality" I think it is fair to ask him to state, just for the record, which anthropology is he talking about. Because modern anthropology, underneath all of its methodological tools and conceptual frameworks, views the creature "man" in a particular way that is distinctly different from the anthropos of Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, or even its Enlightenment predecessors. It may claim that it is a strictly empirical venture without any vested notion of what constitues a man, or that it does not ultimately concern itself with what a man "is," but only with what he "does." And this may even be true from a standpoint of professional ideals. But it is rarely true for any particular anthropologist, although it may not become obvious until their critical apparatus is turned upon their own cultural brothers. And our absurd, dynamic, pluralistic west is fraught with strange brothers: Christians and atheists, nationalists and internationalists, and other unlike pairs that must painfully rub elbows within the same culture. It seems to me that the rub is most often in regard to an argument about the nature of man rather than the existence of God. The religious view sees man as an agent that stands in absolute relation to supernatural agencies or structures to which he must be reconciled through his or their action, and so can be said to have a destiny outside of himself. Conversely, when empiricism (operating through anthropology or any other social study) takes its method of investigation and, by a leap, makes it to also be conclusive evidence (by implication) of a universe without any ultimate cause, it is shown to regard a man not as an agent but as a blank slate, the shape of which is determined genetically and the surface of which is written by socialization. Teleology of any stripe will be alien and repugnant to this view, and this will be doubly true for the major religions, nearly all which convey historically ancient teleological systems whole cloth into the modern world.

It has been persuasively argued that the Judeo-Christian tradition is now virtually extinct and though it still has many vestiges that remain among us they are without any real foundation. This is a major theme of Hannah Arendt's Between Past and Future, for instance. The rash of "historical jesusizing" we witness of late is a good example of one of the last of these vestiges in the process of being forcibly loosened from what remains of its foundation. These efforts are sometimes framed as theological investigations but in fact they distance themselves as far as possible from an association with orthodox tradition and usually operate outside of the biblical framework. Here again we see a hidden metaphysic driving a so-called empirical endeavor, because the objects of study have been chosen not as they are found, but as they are shown to have no taint of the tradition that once bound them together. Jaroslav Pelikan has pointed out some of the absurdities that have resulted from this:

So it came about that during the twentieth century the scholarly study of the New Testament turned to "the history of the Synoptic tradition," to use the title of one of the most influential books on the topic, by Rudolph Bultmann. This title is all the more interesting in light of a later essay, "The New Testament and Mythology," for which Bultmann has acquired the greatest notoriety and which is in many ways an attack on the mainstream of the Christian tradition of how to read the New Testament. Apparently the pre-Gospel tradition (which no longer exists) is a necessary factor in the interpretation of the Gospels, but the post-Gospel tradition of the Church (which exists in thousands of volumes) does not have a similar standing.

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