2013-06-27

McGrath’s Review of Brodie’s Memoir: Incompetent or Dishonest?

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by Neil Godfrey

While preparing the next step of my posts on Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery, a Google search brought to my attention a review of this same work by James McGrath back in February this year. It also recently came to my attention that McGrath is to present a paper [Link //drjimsthinkingshop.com/2013/06/academic-freedom-and-biblical-scholarship/ and blog is no longer active… Neil, 23rd Sept, 2015] on academic freedom and that he has chosen to use Brodie’s experiences as he describes them in this Memoir as a case study.

So I read McGrath’s review of Brodie’s book, expecting to find a much more professional treatment of a scholarly peer than he had ever bestowed upon the amateur Earl Doherty. In “reviewing” Doherty McGrath explicitly defended his refusal to explain Doherty’s arguments because he did not want to lend any respectability to mythicism. When I asked McGrath why he sometimes claimed Doherty wrote the very opposite of what he did write, or accused him of not addressing themes and arguments that he clearly did address and at length, I received in return either no reply or an insult.

I did not expect to find the same treatment of Thomas Brodie. But that’s exactly what I found. One difference is that McGrath couches much of his language in tones of condescension whereas he was belligerently abusive towards Doherty.

I will write a complete response to McGrath’s entire review in a future post. However, for now I am incensed enough at his outright incompetence (or is it plain old intellectual dishonesty?) and failure to write a straight and truthful account of Brodie’s Memoir that I will address just one of his remarks.

McGrath writes in his second paragraph:

Brodie indicates that . . . his inability to find a publisher very early on was a result of things like poor grammar, lack of footnotes, refusal to accept criticisms of and feedback on his claims and interpretations, and attempting to find a Christian publisher for what he wrote on the subject (pp.32,35,40,42).

I am singling out this section because it directly relates to a section I was preparing to write up in my next blog post so registers most strongly in me at this moment. What McGrath has written here is not at all what I recalled from my reading of Brodie so I checked the page references. (Like Joel Watts, it seems McGrath assumes that it does not matter if he leaves bogus citations; that if he doesn’t follow up such things then no-one else will bother, either.)

Page 32 makes no reference whatever to a publisher or any attempt by Brodie to have anything published with the exception to say that a work of his was published in 1992. Rather, this page refers to Brodie’s studies for a Diploma. The only rejection Brodie describes there is that of the person who had “generously offered to oversee his work” as a student. Brodie’s supervisor rejected his thesis that “Matthew” had used Deuteronomy as one of his sources for his Gospel. The supervisor said Brodie’s case lacked method and logic and that if he wanted to understand Matthew’ sources he needed to take account of Q as a source.

In the same paragraph Brodie mentions two other scholars who did encourage him to continue exploring his thesis of the Matthew-Deuteronomy link. One of these, Langlamet, a professor of the Old Testament, told Brodie that his idea made sense, that he himself had once considered it but never developed it.

Page 35 does refer to Brodie’s first attempt to find a publisher. But the stated reason for the rejection is exactly the reason McGrath — as is clear from his many statements to the effect — does not want to you to believe!

I quote the paragraph (with my own emphasis):

In Spring of 1975 I produced a manuscript and immediately showed it to a British publisher, and then to a second, but their responses indicated that it was not at all what publishers wanted. What ruled it out above all else was its conclusion that Jesus had not existed. As the first publisher said, ‘It’s not just that we won’t take it. Nobody will take it.’ The second publisher said no Christian publishing house would take it.

That’s it. Yet McGrath cited this page in support of a false claim that Brodie complained the only reasons his works were not accepted for publication were matters like poor grammar and lack of footnotes!

And this is the “scholar” who is to deliver a paper relating to mythicism and academic freedom at a conference! A “scholar” who writes outright falsehoods about the reasons a mythicist argument is refused publication!

Page 40 is where Brodie for the first time speaks of his failure to learn to use footnotes correctly until later in his student years. It has nothing to do with publisher rejection. An assignment of his was held up in class with the teacher declaring that “something is missing in this paper” — footnotes and bibliography. He had been advised by an idealistic teacher earlier to focus primarily on theology so such technicalities had not been instilled into him. So he had to make a late start in learning to get footnotes and bibliographies right:

As a result, my efforts at writing articles for scholarly journals were tortuous.

Brodie nowhere says that his manuscripts were rejected by publishers because they lacked footnotes or such.

That is entirely from McGrath’s fabricating imagination.

The closest Brodie comes to any such suggestion is on this page 40 where he tells us he sent a manuscript first to Raymond Brown for feedback before submitting it to a publisher. Brown’s reply, he tells us, was that he needed to “tighten the grammar” and that the article “had a chance”.

Page 42, Brodie tells us that one of his manuscripts was sent to Geza Vermes for feedback. The only specific feedback Brodie says he got from Vermes was that his comments about Pharisees were thought to be inaccurate.

Later on the same page he writes:

As I continued to work in Boynton Beach, I began to wonder about my location. Having a strange theory is bad enough, but when you are unknown and you send in a bit of the theory from an address that says a beach in Florida, then perhaps someone has had too much sun. Besides, even on paper I was not qualified. A Licence (‘Licentiate in Sacred Scripture’) was an accepted teaching qualification in Europe, but in the United States you generally required a doctorate. . . . I had once done all the necessary courses for a doctorate, everything except the writing of the dissertation.

Look again at what McGrath said supposedly on the basis of those four pages:

Brodie indicates that . . . his inability to find a publisher very early on was a result of things like poor grammar, lack of footnotes, refusal to accept criticisms of and feedback on his claims and interpretations, and attempting to find a Christian publisher for what he wrote on the subject (pp.32,35,40,42).

I suggest that James McGrath is culpably incompetent or careless when faced with any work by a mythicist. He cannot read or register what he reads but brings to every page a hostile intent.

A hostile intent is the only kind explanation I can find for why he make totally false claims about what he reads by either Brodie or Doherty. It is not correct to call him an outright liar. And it is insulting to say he is lazy (making no effort to truly understand what he reads) or has substandard reading comprehension.

The rest of McGrath’s review is riddled with more of the same. This is all I have time to address tonight.

15 Comments

  • proudfootz
    2013-06-27 22:25:06 UTC - 22:25 | Permalink

    It doesn’t reflect well on the trustworthiness of reactionary claims from mainstream academicians when they are caught in such clumsy and self-serving lies. I can only suppose he doesn’t think the truth of the matter is as important as ‘winning’ the debate.

  • 2013-06-28 01:38:38 UTC - 01:38 | Permalink

    Hey Neil, maybe if you put your nose to the grindstone and earn diplomas in Religious studies, Divinity, and Theology, you will be able to better appreciate the academic rigor of a bona fide mainstream historian like Dr James F. McGrath. 😀

    • mcduff
      2013-06-28 04:42:16 UTC - 04:42 | Permalink

      Hey Roger, how does anything you have written above make any difference to the validity or otherwise of what Neil has pointed out about the credibility of McGrath’s assertions?

    • 2013-06-28 05:48:47 UTC - 05:48 | Permalink

      I see.

      So degrees in religious studies , divinity and theology make you an academic historian?

    • 2013-06-28 07:02:48 UTC - 07:02 | Permalink

      Roger, will a degree in Divinity or Theology blind my mind to the clear black and white words in Brodie’s and Doherty’s books and enable me to write, without qualms of conscience, lies or other forms of outright falsehoods about what Brodie and Doherty do write?

      • Gingerbaker
        2013-06-30 18:38:14 UTC - 18:38 | Permalink

        Good Lord. Does no one here recognize sarcasm when they see it anymore?

        My point being that McGrath, though he loves to tout himself as an actual historian, has virtually no training in the field because his degrees are all divinity-oriented. And Neil has repeatedly exposed McGrath’s lack of true academic rigor. Jeesh. And Steven Carr – you of all people!

        • Tim Widowfield
          2013-06-30 19:31:05 UTC - 19:31 | Permalink

          It’s that sinister smiley face! Why is he smiling at me? Why?!

  • 2013-06-28 01:40:46 UTC - 01:40 | Permalink

    It’s unfortunate that if you Google the title — “Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery” — the second highest hit is McGrath’s review with his “smug-shot” on the left.

    If you want to buy Brodie’s book (as I just did today) don’t click the image on McGrath’s blog. No need to credit him with a click-through referral. Instead, go to Amazon directly or search for it on http://www.bookfinder.com.

    http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Quest-Historical-Jesus-Discovery/dp/190753458X

  • 2013-06-28 08:02:11 UTC - 08:02 | Permalink

    I should have made the point in my post that McGrath’s review is a perfect example of how academic censorship works, in particular in New Testament studies. As Chomsky explains, censorship in western liberal democracies is through socialization and education — in order to be given access to certain positions in academia or the mainstream media, for example, one must learn to think a certain way, embrace a certain worldview. To challenge this is to relegate oneself to a “lunatic fringe”. But it’s not only Chomsky who says that. It’s also what I learned in my post-grad educational studies.

    McGrath’s review is a classic illustration of New Testament censorship at work. He shuts the gates on Brodie’s thoughts — and the invitation to tell his readers to read the work for themselves is all part of the disingenuous way this censorship works. He has already told the world how “sound scholars” read and understand Brodie. So you can be sure that if you do read it, and you want to get along in the academy, you had better come away with a view in synch with McGrath’s.

    It will be a truly Orwellian scene when McGrath stands at the conference and reads his paper on academic freedom and mythicism.

  • 2013-06-28 01:10:16 UTC - 01:10 | Permalink

    I’ve seen this behavior before, mainly in politics. But it also happens with Ayn Rand Objectionism and other cult-like behavior. It seems McGrath is going down a death spiral of political one-sidedness:

    The diametric opposite of this advice, which sends the halo effect supercritical, is when it feels wrong to argue against any positive claim about the Great Idea. Politics is the mind-killer. Arguments are soldiers. Once you know which side you’re on, you must support all favorable claims, and argue against all unfavorable claims. Otherwise it’s like giving aid and comfort to the enemy, or stabbing your friends in the back. [my emphasis]

    If…

    …you feel that contradicting someone else who makes a flawed nice claim in favor of evolution, would be giving aid and comfort to the creationists; [especially relevant, since McGrath likens mythicism to creationism]

    …you feel like you get spiritual credit for each nice thing you say about God, and arguing about it would interfere with your relationship with God;

    …you have the distinct sense that the other people in the room will dislike you for “not supporting our troops” if you argue against the latest war;

    …saying anything against Communism gets you stoned to death shot;

    …then the affective death spiral has gone supercritical. It is now a Super Happy Death Spiral.

    He probably doesn’t even realize it. Things like this happen when you identify too strongly with a position and are easily offended due to the identification. The swiftest path towards irrationality — especially for smart people — is to identify strongly with a group. Which leads to selective skepticism and the cognitive bias of the sophistication effect.

    • 2013-06-28 01:49:18 UTC - 01:49 | Permalink

      J. Quinton: “He probably doesn’t even realize it.”

      I’m pretty sure he doesn’t. To his credit, he seems to publish all reasonable comments without editing them. Sure, he often ignores questions he doesn’t like, or accuses people of insanity or inanity — but he doesn’t flush all opposing viewpoints to the bit bucket. (I still get queasy when I see Hurtado editing people’s comments.)

      But, as you pointed out, I think it’s because McGrath really doesn’t know he has blindspots.

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