In the second debate between Craig A. Evans and Bart D. Ehrman (see “Ehrman-Evans 2012 debates”) Evans was asked about the miraculous as relates to doing history. The question was framed in such as way as to discover whether or not Evans is consistent when he reads claims about miracles in ancient literature. In other words, does he accept Christian claims while denying others? If so, why?
Well, Evans does give miracles a fair hearing even in literature not related to Judaism/Christianity. He noted that one of his presuppositions is theism. Although he is a Christian theist he does not deny the possibility of miraculous actions in history. Of course, Ehrman’s agnosticism makes him very skeptical to such reports if not completely closed to them.
I feel the same way. If I read an account where something “miraculous” took place I don’t know that I automatically agree that the interpretation of the event demands divine intervention (or the intervention of unseen forces like spirits, angels, or demons), but I am not closed to the possibility. I did come into Christianity through Pentecostalism!
That said, I wonder if we should leave room in our historiography for complete affirmation or denial of miraculous events. In other words, do I believe Jesus healed a blind man and raised some dead people? Yes. Do I think we can verify this historically? I’m not sure.
Remember, there are people present in some narratives where Jesus does the miraculous and they attribute it the work of Beelzebub. The event happens, some see a miracle of God, some see a work of Satan. I think historiography allows us to admit this before we make the next step where we say what we subjectively think about the event.
What can we verify? We can suggest that there is a strong probability that followers of Jesus saw him do things that they could not explain that they attributed to the work of God. This is an interpretation of the events though. At best, we know Jesus did enough to cause people to see him as a miracle worker. I don’t know if doing history allows one to makes claims that God did this or that.
Does this mean one cannot strongly believe that God did do this or that? Of course not! When we do history and construct histories we cannot do it without our presuppositions and worldviews bleeding into our historiography. Eventually all history moves from the data to interpretations of the data to a narrative constructed around that interpretation.
If someone is not a Christian they will likely say (data) people believed that Jesus healed a blind man, but (interpretation) there is likely some natural explanation or mythology developed based on crowd hype, therefore (narrative) we have a Jesus who was a perceived miracle worker though we “know” no one can do those things.
On the other hand a Christian see the data but (interpretation) it was a work of God like the Evangelists interpreted it to be and therefore (narrative) Jesus’ miracles prove A,B, and C about him.
At the end of the day history is not a science. It isn’t just an art either, but it may come closer to the latter than the former. Eventually our “histories” are interpretations of the data. We “know” things to some extent (I appreciate the insights of critical realists), but we use a subjective lens.