There is a tendency in historical scholarship to call just about anything conservative; certainly no historian wants to be classified as anything else. The same is true in the fields of archaeology and textual scholarship. Yet, all who work in studying the past must admit that their work has a creative side, which suggests that seeming conservative is a way of over-compensating for the inherent nature of story-telling required by their work.
False conservatism leads to problems, however, for the conclusions coming from these disciplines. For example, because most of the existing rabbinical texts were last copied in medieval times and our earliest mentions of these documents are from medieval times, it is largely concluded that these documents were composed in medieval times. For example, Kabbalah is generally believed to arisen in the middle ages, because the earliest texts date from those centuries. Yet, Jewish and Christian Gnosticism existed since at least the first century, and the systems in those movements contain remarkable resemblances to Kabbalah. Is it conservative to ignore the possible connections?
Consider, as another example, Zoroastrianism. Zarathushtra is generally placed by most scholars in the seventh century BCE because this is the latest possible dating for his prophetic mission, however, this late date is quite unlikely, and the most knowledgeable scholars in the field prefer a date range starting more than one thousand years earlier. Yet, the later dating is consistently repeated. Older is often seen as less conservative, even if earlier dating is more reasonable.
Another abuse of the term “conservative” is to apply it to the opinions or practices held in the past. For example, the Latin Mass is more conservative than the modern Mass. Or perhaps, conservative is an older theory or even the current theory, if it is popular. Anything controversial appears to be the opposite of conservative; but what if the controversial idea is true?
Of course, there is the obvious overlap with political “conservativism.” Fundamentalists are often conservative of dress and behavior, and they are usually politically to the right in all cultures; but does this mean that they agree with conservative historical thought?
The idea that Jesus believed himself to be the Son of God is not accepted by most scholars of the New Testament. Outside of a church, it is academically controversial to maintain that Jesus believed himself to be God or even the Son of God, rejecting nearly all of the scholarship of the last century on the origins of Christianity. Is this conservative, really?
Most of the texts of the New Testament, except three of the Gospels, are dated by current scholarship to the early second-century ce, that is, up to fifty years after the traditional authors actually lived. Especially in the case of the Letters of Saint Paul, texts are arbitrarily held to be the work of theoretical pious disciples instead of the named authors. In doing so, scholars distance Saint Paul, the other apostles, and Jesus himself from believing that Jesus Christ was God. Is this conservative? Is it scholarly? Is it true? Let the student beware.