Ñāṇa wrote:The methodologies of textual criticism, post-modern deconstruction, as well as archaeological and epigraphical finds, etc., are not able to demonstrate what the historical Buddha actually taught, or what the early Buddhist communities actually believed in the early centuries after his parinibbāna.
What I have been suggesting is that these tools are limited, and they are quite unnecessary for the practice of Buddhism.
This is true of scholastic materials generally, the Theravada corpus notwithstanding. Historical-textual criticism offers a valuable perspective, even corrective at times, but a broad reading of the tradition can become historical at the expense of practice. Satipatthana offers a broadside approach to the Dhamma, but it is possible to pick and choose among various approaches, which are helpful or unhelpful to various sorts of people.
I do care about accurately representing the Theravāda Tipiṭaka. Tradition and lineage are important for the continuity of the dhammavinaya. In fact, there is no dhammavinaya without a living lineage to transmit it from generation to generation.
You are attempting to transmit a frozen edifice, rather than recognizing that due to the stratification we mentioned earlier, we can see a progressive evolution within Theravada. Historical-textual criticism is here to stay (one may say it was always present, it is simply that better tools are being developed), and should become part of the living tradition.
Histories are helpful, but as various efforts at dating the life of the Buddha have shown, they are in conflict and the correct dates are probably nowhere correctly recorded (roughly 480-400 BCE, give or take a decade, at last estimate). Again, this could become part of the living tradition, which enables us to recognize that the scholastic materials we have are not historical texts in our understanding, but another type of literature which can be useful as such without compromising your ideal of skepticism.
This is a move the Catholic Church has made, and I think Theravada can bend that much at least. (One move the Church has always made, and which the Buddha seems to have wanted to prevent the Sangha from making, has been to claim dogmatic authority. This role was given to the Dhamma at a time preceding the scholastic period, so it is important to know what range of texts might be encompassed here. We know right away, however, that no scholastic texts are included.)
if you want to avoid all kinds of novel interpretations it is most helpful to refer to the Niddesa, Paṭisambhidāmagga, Vibhaṅga, etc.
But those are novel interpretations themselves; traditional, but once upon a time quite novel enough, and there are other texts to which these respond, and texts which responded to them, and so it went, and so it goes.
Living tradition; that's really how there can be a discussion about a path to buddhahood at all - it became
possible to talk about as the tradition developed, in the same way that Mahayana concepts became possible to talk about.