Recently I have been evaluating my methodological presuppositions as concerns researching and writing history, especially as this relates to biblical studies. One thing that can be quite frustrating at times is the different approaches used by various scholars in the field. For example, historical Jesus scholars advocated something called the criteria of double dissimilarity for some time. This criteria suggest that historians can’t trace sayings and deeds back to Jesus if (A) they sound anything like the confession/beliefs of the early church (post-Easter?) about Jesus or (B) they sound anything like the Judaism of Jesus’ day.

Of course, there is a serious problem with this criteria. It cuts Jesus off from the people who remembered him and who told stories about his sayings and deeds. Likewise, it de-Judaizes Jesus. Why would Jesus be a person who completely transcends and disconnects with the Judaism of his day?

Thankfully the tide has turned and scholars tend to emphasis the importance of Jesus’ Jewishness. Some have suggested that this is the greatest accomplishment of the s0-called “Third Quest.” I mention this because it is a great example of how useful or hindering our methods can be.

For example, the Beatitudes of Matthew 5.3-12 and Luke 6.20-22 sound a lot like what we find in 4Q525:

[Blessed is the one…] with a pure heart and does not slander with his tongue.

Blessed are those who hold fast to its statutes and do not hold fast to the ways of injustice.

Ble[ssed] are those who rejoice in it, and do not exult in paths of folly.

Blessed are those who seek it with pure hands, and who do not search for it with a deceitful [hea]rt.

Blessed is the man who attains wisdom, and walks in the law of the Most High: establishes his heart in its ways, restrains himself bu its corrections, is continually satisfied with its punishment, does not forsake it in the face of [his] trials, at the time of distress he does not abandon it, does not forget it [in the day of] terror, and in the humility of his soul does not abhor [it]. But he meditates on it continually, and in his trial he reflects [on it, and with al]l his being [he gains understanding] in it, [and he establishes it] before his eyes so not to walk in the ways [of wickedness…. (Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr., and Edward Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation, p. 534)

The author speaks of wisdom, seeking wisdom, and being blessed. This echoes Sirach 14.20-15.1 and it sounds like it is inspired by Psalm 1. These “blessings” are a very Jewish concept. Craig A. Evans notes that, “These parallels tell against the proposal of some members of the Jesus Seminar that Jesus’ teaching is best understood against the backdrop of Graeco-Roman philosophy, especially Cynicism. These parallels from 4Q525 offer important support to the contention that the content and style of Jesus’ teaching are right at home in Jewish wisdom tradition (“Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran Cave 4” in C.A. Evans and P.W. Flint, Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 95).”

If we abide by the older criteria of dissimilarity we may be forced to conclude that it is unlikely that the Beatitudes go back to Jesus because they are so “Jewish,” but now we find their historicity more probable because they are so Jewish!

I have been trying to read books on historiography and historical method to get a feel for how this discipline “works.” Obviously some methods are flawed and others are very useful showing longevity among scholars. What “tools,” or “criteria,” or approaches do you advocate for good historical work? What are some tried and true practices that you would advocate? 

See also, Michael Barber, “The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Beatitudes of Jesus”

See parallel translations of 4Q525 here.