ACLD: Helen, thank you for sharing some of your sabbatical time with me. I should tell you straightaway that I've assigned your introduction of The Historical Jesus: A Guide for the Perplexed for my "Portraits of Jesus" class. Some of these students might be chiming in below with comments.
HKB: Thanks, Anthony, it’s lovely to talk to you - and I'm very glad to hear you're using my book with your class. It came out of a 3rd-4th year class on the historical Jesus that I've run for over a decade at Edinburgh, so I hope it helps to answer some of the things that students find difficult or just plain bizarre about Jesus scholarship. And I look forward to questions from your students!
ACLD: On the first pages of your book, you make a compelling case that reconstructing history is a necessarily imaginative endeavor. As a historian, do you see this as a problem to be solved, something to be embraced, or something else?
HKB: Definitely something to be embraced. As historians we need to be systematic about the way we do things - we have a few general rules and guides to help us - but we're misleading ourselves if we ever think that what we do can be described as 'scientific'. Especially with ancient history, we're continually having to live with a heavy load of uncertainty in all our findings. Sometimes a reconstruction might look plausible on a piece of paper, but we have to use imagination to ask ourselves what any given scenario might have felt like in real life - how would people have functioned in this way? is it really credible? And imagination is the only way I can think of that helps to neutralise our heavily interpreted primary sources - not to mention our own modern bias. Sometimes historical work seems like a very slippery endeavour - but it’s the complexities of it all that makes it so absorbing!