Just a few days ago I walked out into the scrub pine “woods,” northeast of the airport on Nantucket, to view the wreckage of an airliner. Having refused what was at one point the last open seat on that ill-starred flight, I saw before me an amazing sight. The path of the plane’s three sets of wheels could be traced for a long distance. First, one of the wings had clipped off the top of a fence post, slicing off a “No Trespassing” sign, but leaving the bottom half intact. Then a ridge had tipped the plane, causing wreckage to fly. Straight ahead it cut a path through the low-growing tree tops, and beyond that, twisted metal and burst-open traveling bags were scattered abroad over the ground. In front of me was a large chunk of fuselage—a grisly, fire-gutted death-trap.

Numbered stakes had been driven into the ground and numbered tags had been tied to pieces everywhere. Critical surveyors had mapped the entire scene. Many of the details, of course, would never be known. But what was here was unmistakably clear. One could locate the open space where there had been a perfect three-point landing, and the spot where the first jolt had scattered wreckage; and one could also reconstruct other events of those few dread seconds in which so much had happened.

For 13 years the writer has been driving numbered stakes and hanging numbered tags over the field of the history of gospel criticism. It has been slow work, involving the study of inaccessible books, usually in German or Latin, with only a little help from English books. Source criticism was introduced into England as a fait accompli nearly 30 years after it had received rather final definition on the Continent. It was more admired in England than investigated or understood. To ...

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