higher criticism, name given to a type of biblical criticism distinguished from textual or lower criticism. It seeks to interpret text of the Bible free from confessional and dogmatic theology. Higher criticism sought to apply the Bible to the same principles of science and historical method applied to secular works. It was largely dependent upon the study of internal evidence, although available data from linguistics and archaeology were also incorporated. The primary questions concerned the determination of the authenticity and likely chronological order of different sources of a text, as well as the identity and authorial intent of the writers. Higher criticism began most notably with the French scholar Jean Astruc's work (mid-18th cent.) on the sources of the Pentateuch. It was continued by German scholars such as Johann Salomo Semler (1725–91), Johann Gottfried Eichhorn (1752–1827), Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792–1860), and Julius Wellhausen (1844–1918). Not only did these scholars dispute one another's findings, they were bitterly attacked by others, who felt their criticisms discredited Christianity. Higher criticism has been increasingly abandoned for other methodologies, such as narrative criticism and canonical criticism, and the term itself has largely fallen into disuse.
See E. Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method (1975); J. Rogerson, Old Testament Criticism in the Nineteenth Century (1985); H. G. Reventlow, The Authority of the Bible and the Rise of the Modern World (1985).