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Historical Criticism. By Hilberto Ortiz Meléndez. What is Historical Criticism?.

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historical criticism

Historical Criticism

By Hilberto Ortiz Meléndez

what is historical criticism
What is Historical Criticism?
  • Historical criticism or higher criticism is a branch of literary analysis that investigates the origins of a text: as applied in biblical studies it naturally investigates foremost the books of the Bible. In Classical studies, the new higher criticism of the nineteenth century set aside "efforts to fill ancient religion with direct meaning and relevance and devoted itself instead to the critical collection and chronological ordering of the source material," Thus higher criticism, whether biblical, classical, Byzantine or medieval, focuses on the sources of a document to determine who wrote it, when it was written, and where.
  • Literary criticism in the light of historical evidence or based on the context in which a work was written, including facts about the author’s life and the historical and social circumstances of the time. This is in contrast to other types of criticism, such as textual and formal, in which emphasis is placed on examining the text itself while outside influences on the text are disregarded. New Historicism is a particular form of historical criticism.
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Higher criticism is used in contrast with Lower criticism (or textual criticism), the endeavor to determine what a text originally said before it was altered (through error or intent). Once lower critics have done their job and we have a good idea of what the original text looked like, higher critics can then compare this text with the writing of other authors.

  • Higher criticism treats the Bible as a text created by human beings at a particular historical time and for various human motives, in contrast with the treatment of the Bible as the inerrant word of God. Lower criticism is used for attempts to interpret Biblical texts based only on the internal evidence from the texts themselves.
example
Example
  • As an example, consider the treatment of Noah's Ark in various editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica. In the first edition, in 1771, the story of Noah and the Ark is treated as essentially factual, and the following scientific evidence is offered, "...Buteo and Kircher have proved geometrically, that, taking the common cubit as a foot and a half, the ark was abundantly sufficient for all the animals supposed to be lodged in it..., the number of species of animals will be found much less than is generally imagined, not amounting to an hundred species of quadrupeds... ." By the eighth edition, however, the encyclopedia says of the Noah story, "The insuperable difficulties connected with the belief that all other existing species of animals were provided for in the ark are obviated by adopting the suggestion of Bishop Stillingfleet, approved by Matthew Poole...and others, that the Deluge did not extend beyond the region of the earth then inhabited..." By the ninth edition, in 1875, there is no attempt to reconcile the Noah story with scientific fact, and it is presented without comment. In the 1960 edition, in the article Ark, we find the following, "Before the days of "higher criticism" and the rise of the modern scientific views as to the origin of the species, there was much discussion among the learned, and many ingenious and curious theories were advanced, as to the number of animals on the ark...“l