Jacob Neusner’s otherwise entertaining report on the Dead Sea Scrolls fiasco (Cultural Revolutions, April 1992) is marred by the aside that “Christianity, like every other great religion, rests not on historical facts but supernatural revelation. . . . “
This ugly little pronunciamento (made just in time for Lent) is about what one would expect of an academic scholar of religion these days. For such and their ilk religion is only a human creation, and gods, angels, demons, and Satan, even God himself, are at best quaint ideas. Accordingly, the supernatural does not overturn the laws of time and space in the form of miracles, for example. All it does, if it exists at all, is impact the human psyche.
It would be nice for a change to see an academic of the stature of Dr. Neusner take seriously the documentary evidence of St. Paul or St. John, both of whom were at pains to make the contrary point, and especially that the historicity of this mattered, and mattered absolutely. But I suppose this would be asking too much of a profession devoted to the homogenization of religion.
—John S. Meyer
Roving eyes should have stumbled over Jacob Neusner’s second, pivotal paragraph in his April 1992 editorial. The rub between my orthodoxy and his liberal heresy sparked this revision: “Christianity [is not] like every other great religion, [it] rests on historical fact [and] supernatural revelation. . . . Christianity was [proven] on the first Easter, when [Jesus Christ] arose from the grave [fulfilling Jewish prophecy and changing the course of humanity].” A fragment from a cave is further evidence that supernatural faith is based upon historical fact.
—Mark S. Zuelke
Fox River Grove, IL
Dr. Neusner Replies:
The sentence to which both correspondents appear to take exception simply restates what I take to be standard Christian doctrine. As to Mr. Zuelke’s statement, I honestly don’t know what he’s talking about. Mr. Meyer and I probably do not differ, since I propose to deny not historical facticity but the relevance of historical inquiry. All religions that appeal to revelation take for granted the historicity of the stories told in revelation. That has no bearing on this matter. The point I wished to make is that the premise of religious faith in no way opens the door for ordinary historical study to stand in judgment upon extraordinary theological conviction. It is time, after the long, black dominion of historicism, to free theology, including creed, from the norms of history. My statement means to dismiss historical criticism as monumentally irrelevant to the truths of theology, for reasons very much like those Mr. Meyer expresses.