26 December 2010

Histories and Fallacies

Recently enjoyed Carl Trueman's Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faces in the Writing of History. It's a well-written little book that explores how to do history, with reflections on: navigating between naive claims to historical neutrality on the right and cynical denial of any stable historical objectivity on the left (ch. 1); the frameworks we all bring to our study of history and how, though necessary and positive, such grids can give us historiographical blinders (ch. 2); various kinds of historigraphical anachronisms (ch. 3); and fallacies historians can commit (ch. 4).

History is not technically my field (New Testament is) but I am fascinated by and love studying history. Yet this is the first book I've read on how to study and write history. I am helped. I would like to become a more astute history student, and this book (esp. the first and last chapters) opened my eyes to mistakes I have been making in how I view history and draw connections between events. Actually, I think I've committed every historical fallacy listed in ch. 4.

Also, the book is rich in implications for biblical studies students. In some ways it feels like an abbreviated version of Is There a Meaning in This Text? filtered through a historical rather than a literary grid (esp. ch. 1). The final chapter's helpful list of historical fallacies is akin to the flavor and strategy of this book, though directed not to exegesis but historiography. Many of the insights and cautions of Carl's book carry over transparently into biblical studies--which is itself inherently historical. My work on the New Perspective, for instance, could hardly be less historically driven and in need of historiographical sophistication.

The writing is clear and though this is a book that becomes dense at points (the extended interaction with Christopher Hill's Marxism in ch. 2 could have made the point with half the words), a consistent string of interesting examples from history keep the pages turning. And Carl writes with a kind of robust sense of conviction which refuses to footnote every assertion in an effort to anticipate all possible objections--evidence of courage, and refreshing.

Here's one bit that made me smile. After writing, 'Radical postmodern relativists who reduce all history to tropes or aesthetics and who want to debunk the claims of any approach to the past as being "more true" than any other often do so on ethical grounds: the white heterosexual male history must be dethroned because it helps to perpetuate the oppression of the Other, whether the Other is women, blacks, gays, etc.', Carl footnotes:
Interestingly enough, the Other is rarely defined by such postmoderns in terms with which the middle-class intelligentsia would be uncomfortable: members of the Ku Klux Klan, Holocaust deniers, serial killers, and collectors of other people's toenail clippings would all seem to have first-class claims to having been marginalized and written out of the dominant narratives of this world; but none, so far as I know, enjoys the support of a significant postmodern lobby group. (53 n. 16)
On another note, Stacey and I were remarking today how merciful God has been to us. Goodness. Challenges, disappointments--of course. We're not in Isaiah 65 yet. But the lovingkindness of the Lord, in Christ and in a thousand ways flowing from that supreme blessing, is inexplicable to us. It has come home to us afresh this holiday season.

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