Critical honesty is not about pushing the envelope. It's about throwing the envelope away and starting all over again. It's possible to be critically honest and privilege reading Scripture within the methodological bounds of a tradition whose inner vitality has other sources, but it's not possible to do both things at one and the same time. They are two different enterprises.
An example may illustrate.
Jacob Milgrom’s three volume commentary on Leviticus in the Anchor Bible series is a piece of historical-critical scholarship (Leviticus 1-16 [AB 3; New York: Doubleday, 1991]; Leviticus 17-22 [AB 3A: New York: Doubleday, 2000]; Leviticus 23-27 [AB 3B; New York: Doubleday, 2001]). Milgrom is not afraid to parse the meaning of the text in a non-traditional way. “Critical honesty” characterizes his scholarship. Milgrom is respectful of traditional exegesis, but he does not work within its methodological bounds.
One cannot pursue the historical sense of the Tanakh/Old Testament and its resignification by the Sages or the Fathers of Roman antiquity, centuries removed from the composition of its parts, in one and the same swoop. If one ignores the historical sense, one is not being critically honest. On the other hand, if one ignores the resignifications of the text in the history of its reception, in one's own tradition no less, a different aspect of the historicity of the Bible is being set aside.
The important thing is learning how to distinguish between the Bible different historical senses. Admitting that there is a difference. The difficulty of doing so, and the difficulty then of allowing the various senses of scripture to stand in creative tension with one another, should not be underestimated. It is definitely the path less traveled by. What does it mean to read Scripture "in light of all we know"? Ismar Schorsch lifted up the goal of so doing in a Commencement Address at Jewish Theological Seminary in New York on May 18, 2006. Not for nothing he presents himself as a voice crying in the wilderness. Here is the text of that address.
The primary historical sense - I simplify, of course, for the sake of brevity - the sense a particular biblical composition had in the hermeneutical circle defined by the intentions of the one who composed it, those of his or her intended audience and/or readership, and the cultural environment of that moment, is an apple. Historical criticism pursues this sense. The resignifications of the contents of the same biblical composition by e.g. rabbinic Jews and catholic Christians, centuries later, are oranges.
Apples and oranges: it is important not to confuse them.
For an example of a commentary that keeps the senses apart and attempts to value them all, check out Brevard Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary (OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974).
It is in fact possible to build one’s understanding of the historical sense of a passage, and of the sense the same passage acquired in the course of transmission in a specific tradition, into a larger synthesis. Some of us, if brought up (as I was) on the exegesis of Karl Barth and Gerhard von Rad, treasure biblical interpretation that is critically honest but worthy of its object at the same time. Said exegesis is, in the words of Paul Ricoeur, the outcome of a “second naïveté.” The danger - or the inevitable result: the primary and secondary senses the text has had are abolished in favor of a tertiary novum.
An example of exegesis informed by “second naïveté” from the pen of a Jewish scholar is that of Michael Fishbane, Haftarot. The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation [and] Commentary (The JPS Bible Commentary: Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2002). The example given is easy, however. It concerns the Haftarot, not the Torah.
It would take a modern-day Maimonides to construct a halachically valid interpretation of Torah that is critically honest in the sense outlined above, and sensitive to the whole sweep of halachic tradition at the same time. Someday, perhaps, a Maimonides redivivus will show up. I have not yet discerned his or her presence yet.
An excellent book comparing and contrasting approaches taken by Jews and Christians to biblical studies is a collection of essays by Jon D. Levenson, The Hebrew Bible, The Old Testament, and Historical Criticism (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993).
Here is a key graph from Levenson’s essay entitled “Theological Consensus or Historicist Evasion? Jews and Christians in Biblical Studies” (p. 105 in the aforementioned book):
Historical criticism has indeed brought about a new situation in biblical studies. The principal novelty lies in the recovery of the Hebrew Bible as opposed to the Tanakh and the Old Testament affirmed by rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, respectively. Jews and Christians can, in fact, meet as equals in the study of this new/old book, but only because the Hebrew Bible is largely foreign to both traditions and precedes them.
Emphasis mine. Levenson puts things rather strongly, but if one doesn’t, apples and oranges are inevitably confused.
Did I say that “critical honesty” is a must when reading Scripture? I did, but I take it back! It is a must, for those of us who are thoroughly embedded in modernity. We would lack intellectual integrity in our own eyes if we failed to distinguish apples and oranges.
But exegesis worthy of its object is a greater must. What will that look like? It will grapple with the text, "for real" or only as an intellectual exercise, as if the text is a witness to a profound experience of the good, the true, and the beautiful; as if the text's resignification by Jewish and Christian traditions is another witness thereto; finally, as if responsible interpretation of the text today takes place at the intersection of a renewed encounter with the true, the good, and the beautful.