That mighty oak of Eighteenth Century biblical criticism, Johann Gottfried Eichhorn, had to put up with a lot of polemic from the conservative reactionists of his day. Eichhorn knew that he was probably going to get unfairly snorted at by the great unwashed masses:
“… party spirit will perhaps for a couple of decades snort at the Higher Criticism, instead of rewarding it with the thanks which are really due to it…”
Oh, the callous ingratitude! And if there was snorting, you can bet your bottom dollar there would’ve been a fair bit of unkindly gaffawing as well. But what I find interesting, all snorting and gaffawing aside, is that Eichhorn’s “Higher Criticism” is itself strongly religious in motivation. This wasn’t a case of some battle between Wissenschaft and faith. The division was more subtle than that. Rather than being motivated by opposition to faith, Eichhorn imagined his method was buttressing it. In fact, he proudly emphasises that his Higher Criticism has uncovered the religiosity of the biblical compilers in a deeper and more profound way:
“…For first, the credibility of the book [i.e. the Bible] obviously gains by it. Did ever a historical inquirer go more religiously to work with his sources than the arranger of these? He is so certain of the genuineness and truth of his documents that he gives them as they are…”
And so the Higher Criticism not only reveals the deep religiosity of the texts like no previous reading had allowed, but demonstrates their historical veracity like no earlier methodology had ever shown before. As a result of historical-criticism’s multiple divisions of the scriptures into so many sources, the student of Israelite history could now corroborate the truth of the Bible with newly discovered independent witnesses (i.e. other parts of the Bible):
“…The gain which history, interpretation, and criticism derive from this discovery is exceptionally great. The historian is no longer obliged to rely on one reporter in the history of the most distant past; and in the duplicated narratives of the same event he is not obliged to force into harmony the unessential dfferences in accessory circumstances by artificial devices. He sees in such divergences the marks of independent origin, and finds in their agreement in the main important mutual confirmation.”
(Johann Gottfried Eichhorn, Introduction to the Old Testament (1780), II.295 §424)
From the start, or at least for Eichhorn, the historical-critical method was in no way opposed to belief. Instead, the Higher Criticism was seen as providing a new basis on which to believe the Bible after the grounds for belief had shifted to the empirical and rational. He had found a light shining through the fog.