Higher criticism is a branch of literary analysis that attempts to investigate the origins of a text, especially the text of the Bible. Higher criticism in particular focuses on the sources of a document and tries to determine the authorship, date, and place of composition of the text. This term is used in contrast with lower criticism or textual criticism, which is the endeavour to establish the original version of a text.
Higher Criticism and Radical Criticism
Higher criticism originally referred to the work of a group of German Biblical scholars centered in Tübingen, including Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), David Friedrich Strauss (1808-1874), and Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872), who began in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to analyze the historical records of the Middle East from Christian and Old Testament times, in search of independent confirmation of events related in the Bible. They are the intellectual descendants of John Locke, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Gotthold Lessing, Gottlieb Fichte, Georg Hegel, and the French rationalists.
These ideas were taken to England by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and, in particular, by George Eliot's translations of Strauss's Life of Jesus (1846) and Feuerbach's Essence of Christianity (1854). La Vie de Jésus (1863), by a Frenchman, Ernest Renan (1823-1892), continued the same tradition. But three years earlier before the appearance of La Vie de Jésus, liberal Anglican theologians had begun the process of incorporating this historical criticism into Christian doctrine in Essays and Reviews (1860). In Catholicism, L'Evangile et l'Eglise (1902), by Alfred Loisy, against the Essence of Christianity of Adolph von Harnack and less inspired than Renan, gave birth to the modernist crisis (1902-1961).
Some scholars, such as Rudolf Bultmann, have used higher criticism of the Bible to demythologize it. This endeavour is seen as heretical by Orthodox Jews and many traditional Christians. Those scholars, as well as religiously liberal Christians and Jews, typically respond by pointing out that belief in God has nothing to do with belief in whether a certain text, such as the Bible, has more than one author. Furthermore, they point out that it is circular reasoning to use claims within the Bible to "prove" the authenticity of the Bible.
Higher biblical criticism suggests that the current text of the Torah was redacted from a small number of earlier sources; see Documentary hypothesis.
The excesses of radical higher critics in the 19th century caused some moderates to label their endeavor the science of introduction .
Higher Criticism of Other Religious Texts
Both higher and lower forms of criticism are carried out today with the religious writings of many religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.
Modern higher criticism is just beginning to be carried out on the Qur'an. This scholarship questions some traditional claims about its composition and content, contending that the Qur'an incorporates material from both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and that the text of the Qur'an developed both during and after Muhammad's lifetime. For example, Islamic history records that Uthman collected all variants of the Qur'an and destroyed those that he did not approve of. Parts of certain Hadith collections refer to chapters (suras) that are no longer extant in the Qur'an.