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Higher Criticism

The older term for what today is more generally known as “literary criticism.” Though used earlier by students of the classics, it seems to have been first applied to biblical literature by J.G. Eichhorn* in the preface to the second edition of his Old Testament Introduction (1787). Higher criticism is so designated to distinguish it from “lower” or textual criticism. The image is that of a building: the first task in the study of any ancient document is to determine the true text insofar as that is possible; discussion of such matters as literary form, date, authorship, and purpose is “higher” in that it builds on the foundation of textual (lower) criticism. Although higher criticism is an essentially positive term, it is sometimes used by conservative Christians in a pejorative sense.