How Much History is there in that Bible?
One of the questions that faces modern Christians (we may be postmodern, but we're still modern) is how much history is found in the biblical accounts. Some texts, like Jonah's encounter with the fish are clearly non-historical. It's clearly parabolic. Noah's ark and the Great Flood -- non-historical. But what about the Jesus story? Is it essentially historical fiction -- non-historical stories built around a personage that may or may not be historical? I think the vast majority of biblical scholars would affirm the historicity of Jesus' existence, even his crucifixion. Where we get into deeper water is when we come to the so-called miraculous. Did Jesus, for instance, walk on water? Or, turn water into wine? On those 2, I'm fine with seeing them as metaphor. But, what about the resurrection? Well, there, I'm less eager to go the metaphorical route, in large part because I'm not sure how we explain the continuance of the community. But I've argued that elsewhere.
The 64,000 dollar question relates to the discernment of what is history and what is metaphor. Since the posting that raised the question is Bruce Epperly's reflections on healing/curing, I think it's appropriate to note that Marcus Borg, while pushing the metaphorical a great deal, is willing to allow for healings -- but he would want to push toward a logical explanation.
For example, I think that Jesus really did perform paranormal healings and that they cannot simply be explained in psychosomatic terms. I am even willing to consider that spectacular phenomena such as levitation perhaps happen. But do virgin births, multiplying loaves and fish, and changing water into wine every happen anywhere? If I became persuaded that they do, then I would entertain the possibility that the stories about Jesus reporting such events also contain history remembered. But what I cannot do as a historian is to say that Jesus could do such things even though nobody else has ever been able to. Thus I regard these as purely metaphorical narratives. (Reading the Bible for the First Time, p. 47)
As you can see, Borg, who is fairly liberal, allows for some history in the Jesus story, but is skeptical of events that have no parallels in human life. In this, he follows David Hume, who raised significant questions about miracles -- what Borg calls the "spectacular."
I have a degree of historical skepticism, but perhaps my tolerance for the spectacular is greater than is Marcus Borg's, and Borg's is broader than his friend Dom Crossan, but much less than his friend N.T. Wright. Where do I fit? Probably somewhere between Wright and Borg.
So, my question -- on what criteria do we determine something to be beyond the historical pale?