Paradigmatic Explanations: Strauss's Dangerous Idea

Louvain Studies 32 (1-2):67-80 (2007)
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David Friedrich Strauss is best known for his mythical interpretation of the Gospel narratives. He opposed both the supernaturalists (who regarded the Gospel stories as reliable) and the rationalists (who offered natural explanations of purportedly supernatural events). His mythical interpretation suggests that many of the stories about Jesus were woven out of pre-existing messianic beliefs and expectations. Picking up this suggestion, I argue that the Gospel writers thought paradigmatically rather than historically. A paradigmatic explanation assimilates the event-to-be- explained to what is thought to be a prototypical instance of divine action. It differs from a historical or scientific explanation insofar as it does not specify the conditions under which it should be applied. It is, therefore, a wonderfully flexible way to understand the present in the light of the past.

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Gregory W. Dawes
University of Otago


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