Thursday, March 08, 2007

Facts Interpretation and Science: or Jesus Tomb Redux

I commend to you Clifton's recent post over at This Is Life! regarding some of the possible implications of the Jesus Tomb documentary. As is not uncommon he and I may have similar opinions but we come to them differently and we also express them differently. However, his post reminded me that I was thinking of writing something about facts and interpretations. Clifton references the philosophers of suspicion Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, and incidentally in the midst of my own reflection Nietzsche's famous aphorism "There are no facts only interpretations." has been on my mind.

While I am not a Marxist, Nietzschian or Freudian, I do think these thinkers have provided some important insights as well as provided us with an important hermeneutic (note I did not say the hermeneutic). Sometimes these philosophers are grouped together under the category of the "philosophers of suspicion" or are credited with developing a hermeneutic of suspicion. The suspicion is around claims about truth and objectivity and how these can or do function socially, even the way knowledge and knowledge production and claims to objectivity or absolute truth can serve to oppress. Thus the above aphorism from Nietzsche. Now this does lead to a certain abandonment of objectivity and Truth all together, and can lead what Clifton called "the will to Knowledge".

What might all this have to do with the "Jesus Tomb" documentary. As Clifton points out there is an element of this hermeneutic of suspicion or at least a playing loose with "facts" that to some degree hearkens back to Nietzsche's aphorism, in this documentary and how the archaeological evidence is being handled. There also seems to be a desire that this interpretation of the archaeological evidence in turn open up Christianity to a new interpretation. (though I have to admit the newness of their interpretation is hardly actually new, although many are unaware that it has been around for a long time). However, they have to also deny Nietzsche's aphorism, for they speak the language of facts with regard to the archaeological evidence and their interpretation of that evidence. There is in fact an inconsistent use of the hermeneutic of suspicion, since at best their claim is simply one interpretation among many and any appeal to "facts" is impossible if one embraces this philosophy of suspicion, especially as articulated by Nietzsche.

In the end though this hermeneutic undermines the claims to unseat more traditional interpretation since the argument is dependent on claims of objectivity and the apparent factuality of "hard" archaeological evidence. So when critics of the "Jesus Tomb" documentary point out the ways in which, sensationalism, money, or timing of the showing and announcement of the documentary during Lent and before Easter, are engaging in a hermeneutic of suspicion at least in part, since in some sense they are saying that the presentation is bound up with these things and should cause one to be suspicious of the claims. Now it may also be that the critics of the "Jesus Tomb" are also under suspicion when it comes to a hermeneutics of suspicion since it would be argued from this perspective that their own appeal (if they make such) to objectivity and facts is also already bound up in interpretation and subjectivity.

In this sense the hermeneutic of suspicion actually supports neither side in this issue, rather it either leaves one completely agnostic about the truth here, but with an understanding of the way various subjective factors contribute to the understanding of the "facts" on either side (a sort of epistemic limbo) or one is forced into some decision based on ones commitments. Here one is forced to understand knowledge and truth as relational and intersubjective. This arena seems to me to be very consistent with the Christian claim that Reason (the Logos) and Truth is a person, the Son, second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. " I am the Way the Truth and the Life."