Monday, Dec 02, 2019. When we talk about history, we talk about facts. We also talk about interpretation of the facts. History is not just a sequence of events. It is a whole collection of events, many of them chaotic and diverse, contradictory.
When you see comprehensive writing about historical periods, they are to a good extend interpretation. The historian searches to understand what happened. Then, he brings the events into what he perceives as historical line or comprehensive interpretation.
History is interpreted history …
All history is interpreted history. What does that mean? It means that history needs to be perceived and told. It needs to be put into the form of a story for us. Humans cannot grasp history, if it is not in the form of something we can tell. That is how our mind functions. Our emotions are part of this story as well. Our own personal history is part of our perception.
But all history is also events. There are hard facts. Some person lived. Some war took place. History is not fiction, it is a collection of events, which need a concept and a mind to be put into a line or story.
The same is true with the events which are the basis of Christian faith. Jesus lived. The gospels tell his story. They do this in different perspectives. There are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John telling his story. But there are als the apostles, telling a lot about Jesus in their letters - which are written only a few years after the death and resurrection, which took place about 30 AD. The early letters of the apostle Paul, for example, are dated into the years 55-57 AD, slightly before the first gospels emerged in about 65 AD.
History is based on Facts …
So we have two main tasks to do when we deal with history. First, we need to investigate the facts. We need to understand what we know about the facts. We need a critical attitude here, we need to question the sources, we need to be very careful about why and what people write about events. That is true for Roman history, for Greek history, for biblical history.
Second, we need to understand the conception of the story. We need to understand that we are ourselves constructing stories. That is just the way we deal with history. It is the way our mind is functioning. So we read the stories others wrote about events. And when we put them into a framework and grasp them ourselves, we construct our own stories about it.
You could come to the conclusion that there is no truth, if all is just story. But that is not true either. The stories tell the truth - in their particular understanding. They are our track, our road, our medium. We are bound to language. We are bound to stories. Even single sentences about some event start to be building block of a story. Some subject, some verb, some object. That is how our language works, that is how our mind works, that is the way we construct our history, our truth.
When your mother and father talk to you, help you, provide food, housing, love - then all of this is taking place. If you talk about it, perceive it, give it an interpretation, it is still the truth of the facts which are there. When Jesus lived and preached, it is a fact. When people remember his words, some days, weeks, month or years later, talking about it, telling the stories again and again, then their historical interpretation starts. It is there even from the beginning, since different people hear their own version of his words, just by the process of listening.
Jesus death, and his resurrection - they are the facts behind the stories. You can question them, talk about them, put them into your own interpretation. They remain facts, as long as nothing is claimed which did not take place. (Roland Potthast)
This is part of the trilogy project “Faith of a Scientist”.