History and New Testament Studies: Are They Doing the Same Thing?
I have recently been reading Beth M. Sheppard’s The Craft of History and the Study of the New Testament (Resources for Biblical Study 60; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012), and have found it to be a useful and insightful resource. The book is intended for students and I think Sheppard has successfully pitched the book at that level. We all know that the discipline known as “New Testament studies” is a strange beast, and while its task is often historically-driven (or, at the very least, historically-oriented), not all research in the field expresses a concern for history, nor are all of its historical claims rooted in an approach that would be recognized by professional historians. I often think (and have even queried some of my colleagues who teach in our History department): “What would a professionally trained historian think about our ‘historical’ approaches?” So, do NT scholars use the same methods and tools as the critical historian? This is a key question guding the book. Sheppard compares and contrasts the two disciplines while defining key terms, discussing theoretical and philosophical underpinnings, exploring obstacles to writing history, and providing examples of how the two disciplines proceed. This book is a welcome resource that raises questions we (and our students) need to consider.