Jesus at the Crossroads of Inference and Imagination

The Relevance of R.G. Collingwood’s Philosophy of History for Current Methodological Discussions in Historical Jesus Research

In: Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus
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  • 1 McMaster University, Canada

A significant re-evaluation of the historiographical methods and approaches used in historical Jesus research has been underway in recent years. Some scholars have begun to look to social memory theory for a way forward. Although social memory theory provides some valuable insights, a solid methodological foundation is still lacking. The intention of this article is to advance the discussion by drawing attention to R.G. Collingwood’s contributions to the philosophy of history and historiography in The Idea of History (1946). In particular, I will discuss his historiographical principles of inference, evidence, question and answer, historical imagination, along with his critique of ‘scissors-and-paste’. These principles have the potential to form the foundation of a theoretically grounded historiographical practice in Jesus research.

  • 3

     E.g. Morna Hooker, ‘On Using the Wrong Tool’, Theology 75 (1972), pp. 570–81; D.G.A. Calvert, ‘An Examination of the Criteria for Distinguishing the Authentic Words of Jesus’, New Testament Studies 18 (1972), pp. 209–218.

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  • 4

     E.g., Anthony Le Donne, The Historiographical Jesus: Memory, Typology, and the Son of David (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2005); Rafael Rodríguez, Structuring Early Christian Memory: Jesus in Tradition, Performance, and Text (lnts, 407; London and New York: T&T Clark International, 2010); Dale C. Allison, Jr., Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010); Chris Keith, Jesus’ Literacy: Scribal Culture and the Teacher from Galilee (lnts, 413; London and New York: T&T Clark, 2011); Chris Keith, Jesus Against the Scribal Elite (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014); Jens Schröter, From Jesus to the New Testament: Early Christian Theology and the Origin of the New Testament Canon (trans. Wayne Coppins; Waco: Baylor, 2013).

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  • 5

    Keith, Jesus’ Literacy, pp. 61–70; cf. Keith, Scribal Elite, pp. 69–84.

  • 6

     See, e.g., Keith, Jesus’ Literacy, pp. 54–55; Alan Kirk, ‘Social and Cultural Memory’, in Alan Kirk and Tom Thatcher (eds.), Memory, Tradition, and Text: Uses of the Past in Early Christianity (Semeia, 52; Atlanta:Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), pp. 20–21; Le Donne, Historiographical Jesus, p. 42; Allison, Constructing Jesus, p. 4.

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  • 7

     Cf. Keith, Jesus’ Literacy, p. 61.

  • 8

    Keith, Scribal Elite, p. 81.

  • 11

     See van der Dussen, History as a Science, p. ix. See also Hayden White’s favourable treatment of Collingwood in Hayden White, Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1978), pp. 59–62.

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  • 13

    Compare E.H. Carr, What is History? (ed. R.W. Davies; London: Penguin Books, 2nd edn, 1987), pp. 10–12, 26–29; G.E. Elton, The Practice of History (Oxford: Blackwell, 2nd edn, 2001 [1967]), esp. pp. 52–60; Richard J. Evans, In Defense of History (London: Granta, new edn, 2001 [1997]), esp. pp. 224–53.

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  • 14

     E.g., Collingwood, Idea of History, pp. 244–45, 274–75.

  • 15

     See Stein Helgeby, Action as History: The Historical Thought of R. G. Collingwood (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2004), pp. 159–60.

  • 16

    van der Dussen, History as a Science, p. ix; Helgeby, Action as History, pp. 159–60. See also Marnie Hughes-Warrington, Fifty Key Thinkers on History (Oxon: Routledge, 2nd edn, 2008), pp. 42–43.

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  • 17

    Van der Dussen, History as a Science, p. ix.

  • 19

    Rudolf Bultmann, History and Eschatology: The Presence of Eternity (New York: Harper, 1957), pp. 122–47. On Collingwood and the ‘New Quest’, see Paul Merkley, ‘New Quests for Old: One Historian’s Observations on a Bad Bargain’, Canadian Journal of Theology 16.3 (1970), pp. 203–218; Van A. Harvey, The Historian and the Believer: The Morality of Historical Knowledge and Christian Belief (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996 [1966]), e.g. p. 170; John MacQuarrie, The Scope of Demythologizing: Bultmann and his Critics (London: scm Press, 1960), pp. 8–86; James M. Robinson, A New Quest of the Historical Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1983 [1959]), pp. 71–72, 155.

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  • 21

    Meyer, Critical Realism and the New Testament, p. 148.

  • 22

     See Collingwood, Idea of History, pp. 282–302.

  • 24

     For example, Peter Johnson, Collingwood’s The Idea of History: A Reader’s Guide (Continuum Reader’s Guides; London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), p. 54; van der Dussen, History as a Science, p. 263; Alan Donagan, ‘The Verification of Historical Theses’, Philosophical Quarterly 6 (1956), p. 207; Hopkins, ‘Bultmann on Collingwood’s Philosophy of History’.

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  • 25

    Donagan, ‘Historical Theses’, p. 207.

  • 26

     E.g., Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), pp. 263–64.

  • 27

    Johnson, Collingwood’s The Idea of History, p. 54.

  • 28

    Lonergan, Method in Theology, pp. 175–234.

  • 29

    Lonergan, Method in Theology, p. 206, emphasis my own.

  • 31

    Bultmann, History and Eschatology, pp. 130–31.

  • 33

    Hopkins, ‘Bultmann on Collingwood’s Philosophy of History’, pp. 227–33; Merkley, ‘New Quests for Old’; Meyer, Critical Realism and the New Testament, pp. 148–50; van der Dussen, History as a Science, pp. 82–83.

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  • 34

    Meyer, Critical Realism and the New Testament, p. 150.

  • 36

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 275.

  • 37

    Collingwood, Idea of History, pp. 256–57. For application, see pp. 266–82.

  • 38

    Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 483–87. Similarly, see C. Stephen Evans, The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith: The Incarnational Narrative as History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 192.

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  • 39

     See especially Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, p. 486.

  • 40

    Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, p. 485.

  • 41

    Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, p. 485.

  • 43

     See Collingwood, Idea of History, pp. 274–76.

  • 44

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 259.

  • 45

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 138.

  • 47

    Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, p. 485.

  • 48

    Van der Dussen, History as a Science, p. 271.

  • 49

    Van der Dussen, History as a Science, p. 271.

  • 50

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 138.

  • 52

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 138.

  • 53

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 257.

  • 54

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 259.

  • 56

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 261.

  • 57

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 275.

  • 59

    In agreement with Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 252.

  • 61

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 251.

  • 62

     See also Sheppard, The Craft of History, pp. 70–71.

  • 63

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 252.

  • 64

    In agreement with Johnson, Collingwood’s The Idea of History, p. 45.

  • 65

     See Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 237.

  • 66

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 238.

  • 67

    In agreement with Johnson, Collingwood’s The Idea of History, p. 45.

  • 68

    Collingwood, Idea of History, pp. 366–67; cf. 252–53; 486–88.

  • 69

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 246.

  • 70

     See, e.g., Sheppard, The Craft of History, pp. 15–16. On interpretation as the formal task of history, see Collingwood, Idea of History, pp. 368–70.

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  • 71

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 281.

  • 72

     See Johnson, Collingwood’s The Idea of History, p. 71.

  • 73

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 247.

  • 74

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 281.

  • 75

     See Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 386.

  • 77

     See van der Dussen, History as a Science, pp. 268–71.

  • 82

     See Collingwood, Idea of History, pp. 249–52.

  • 86

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 278; Lonergan, Method in Theology, p. 187; Johnson, Collingwood’s The Idea of History, p. 82.

  • 88

    Louis O. Mink, Mind, History, and Dialect: The Philosophy of R.G. Collingwood (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1969), p. 131; van der Dussen, History as a Science, pp. 274–75. Mink rightly observes that it is not actually a theory of logic. Rather, it is a hermeneutics which supplements but does not replace formal logic.

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  • 92

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 240.

  • 93

    Collingwood, Idea of History, pp. 231–49.

  • 94

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 241.

  • 95

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 241.

  • 100

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 256; R.G. Collingwood, The Principles of History and Other Writings in Philosophy of History (ed. W.H. Dray and Jan van der Dussen; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 150.

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  • 101

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 282.

  • 102

    Collingwood, Idea of History, pp. 242–43.

  • 103

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 245.

  • 104

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 244.

  • 105

    Collingwood, Idea of History, p. 245.

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