You cannot read what you already know
Fri Jul 25 23:13:50 2008
I did my undergraduate work in history under John Turner at the University of Nebraska. Turner is an excellent scholar specializing in Gnosticism and Early Christianity and was one of the translators of the Nag Hammadi Library. He was also an excellent teacher. I particularly remember him cautioning his students against a version of the “Historian’s Fallacy.” The study of early Christian history relies upon the New Testament gospels, Acts and the Pauline letters as essential source material. Turner said that these are some of the hardest texts to read because everyone comes to them already knowing what they say and what they mean. To set aside everything you know about them and to read the words as if you had never seen them before was extremely difficult and challenging. Most people in our culture have been repeating them since childhood in a context completely different from the one in which they were written.