2009-12-23

Taking Eddy and Boyd seriously (1)

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by Neil Godfrey

A popular book cited by lay readers and scholars alike as presenting “a case for the historical reliability of the synoptic Jesus tradition” is The Jesus Legend by Eddy and Boyd. Richard Bauckham calls it “one of the most important books on methodological issues in the study of Jesus and the Gospels to have appeared for a long time.” Craig A. Evans says it “is the best book in its class. Eddy and Boyd demonstrate mastery of the disciplines essential for critical assessment of the Gospels and competent investigation of the historical Jesus.” Paul Eddy is cited as a professor of biblical and theological studies at Bethel University and Gregory Boyd, PhD, is a senior pastor.

These praises of this book are, simply, staggering to someone who has actually taken the time to read it with a view to better understanding the conservative or establishment side of the discussions about the historicity of Jesus. The book is, in fact, a hodge podge of misrepresentations, obfuscation of contrary arguments, dishonest footnoting, misleading assertions, . . . Well. Let’s take just two pages that I was consulting recently to dig into the arguments surrounding a passage in Thessalonians. . . .

Take their discussion The Case for 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 as a Later Interpolation (pp.211-214).

I only read as far as the second page (212) and found:

  • one instance of plagiarism
  • a footnote reference turning out to be supporting a view inconsistent, even opposite, what E&B used it for
  • oversimplifications and misrepresentation of opposing arguments
  • a failure to even mention let alone address published arguments contradicting their assertions — even though they cited the relevant authors and works for other reasons
  • a tendency to simply cite other authors as having the arguments readers need without actually explaining to readers a summary of what those arguments are

Eddy and Boyd’s methodology

Before discussing these, one introductory note is appropriate. E&B are open about their methodological approach to their arguments. They argue that it is quite legitimate to accept a “low probability” (“super-natural”) argument in instances where “an event . . . defies plausible naturalistic explanation.” (p.90)  That conjunction of “plausible” and “naturalistic” is interesting. One surely must wonder what ‘naturalistic’ explanation could possibly be ‘implausible’ compared with resorting to what is by definition the least probable of all explanations, a miracle. This assumption that miracles should be accepted as explanations for the claims of the New Testament literature has its impact throughout the remainder of their book. E&B explain:

This open approach to critical historiography will form a part of the methodological backdrop for the remainder of this book.

In stating this from the outset, E&B explain why they have been so inconsistent and less than fully intellectually honest in their arguments. They have made up their minds that the narratives of the Gospels and Acts, and the self-witness of the New Testament letters, are all basically “true”. One wonders then why they would really bother with gathering, therefore, “scholarly naturalistic” arguments to support their case. This must surely wear down their patience. From the outset they reject enlightenment methodologies of naturalistic reasoning and scientific approaches. So the rest becomes merely a matter of gathering any “naturalistic-reasoned” argument from any source, and even arguments that simply look good enough from a distance, and sticking them together in a book to appear to be a reasoned rebuttal of arguments against the historicity of Jesus. The alternative explanation for this shoddy and misleading book is less flattering.

Plagiarism

On page 212 E&B write:

However, as I. Broer has effectively argued, the evidence from early Christian writings (e.g. 1 Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp) suggests that the relatively widespread knowledge of the Pauline letters would naturally have served to hamper the easy acceptance and/or creation of interpolations.29

The even footnote this passage to:

29. I. Broer, “Der ganze Zorn ist schon über sie gekommen’: Bemerkungen zur Interpolationshypothese und zur Interpretation von I Thess. 2. 14-16,” in The Thessalonian Correspondence, ed. R. F. Collins (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1990), 142-45.

A reader would naturally think E&B here are pointing to I. Broer’s argument as something they have themselves read and with which they agree. They are clearly conveying the impression that they know Broer’s argument well enough to be able to describe and reference it in this way.

But their pants drop to their ankles when one happens to read an article by Jon A. Weatherly, The Authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: Additional Evidence, in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 42 (1991) 79-98. There, on page 79, one reads:

I. Broer has argued persuasively that the evidence from 1 Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp indicates that knowledge of the Pauline Epistles in the post-apostolic church was sufficient to rule out the acceptance of large numbers of interpolations (‘ “Der ganze Zorn ist schon über sie gekommen’: Bemerkungen zur Interpolationshypothese und zur Interpretation von I Thess. 2. 14-16,” in R. F. Collins (ed.), The Thessalonian Correspondence, [BETL, 87; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1990], pp. 142-45.

What’s the bet E&B have never read I. Broer at all and that all they know of Broer is Weatherly’s 1991 claim?

I wouldn’t really care if so many people weren’t relying on E&B as some sort of authority, but they clearly are.

False footnote

It seems that E&B realize that lots of footnotes make a book look impressively well researched and authoritative. It also seems that they expect few readers to actually bother to check those footnotes to see that they are indeed really doing the job claimed for them. Again on page 212 E&B write:

. . . these verses seem stylistically uncharacteristic of Paul, but it is not clear that they are so to an extent that would warrant the conclusion that they are not Paul’s own words.30

Then the supporting footnote:

30. Schmidt’s linguistic arguments have been convincingly answered by J. Weatherly, “The Authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: Additional Evidence”, JSNT, 42 (1991): 79-98; and J. W. Simpson, “The Problems Posed by 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 and a Solution.” Horizons in Biblical Theology 12 (1990): 52-54.

Now I read E&B here as affirming that the linguistic arguments for 1 Thess. 2:13-16 being an interpolation are not strong, and that all one has to do to confirm this is to turn to the cited articles by Weatherly and Simpson. So that’s what I did. I read Weatherly’s article first, and then Simpson’s. It turns out that while both authors do attempt to find reasons to think that the passage is not an interpolation, the two scholars directly contradict each other.

Simpson even summarizes many of arguments also advanced by Weatherly and shows them, often on linguistic grounds, to be either false or without substance. Specifically, Simpson trounces the following arguments found in Weatherly:

  • the linguistic arguments that the passage is not necessarily expressing hostility against the Jews;
  • that the passage can be reconciled conceptually with Romans 11;
  • that the words in the passage do not really say judgment has come with finality upon the Jews;
  • that the Greek does not really say that the Jews have completed all the sins required for an inevitable final judgment;
  • that the lack of textual witness for an interpolation carries much weight.

Yet somehow E&B have managed to claim that BOTH scholars have refuted the linguistic arguments!

Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx

This reminds me of Groucho Marx: “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”

As for E&B’s claim that these two authors have “convincingly answered” the stylistic argument, here is what Simpson himself writes (p.43) in his article:

An argument against interpolation must meet the arguments for interpolation head-on; we cannot begin an argument against interpolation simply by noting lack of textual evidence,nor can we make the common assumption that the burden of proof faces the argument for interpolation. The virtue of the interpolation view, as it has been developed by Pearson and Schmidt, is, as we shall see, that it seeks to solve the broadest range of problems, that is, that it draws out in a valuable way the evidence which any view of 1 Thess 2:15f. must take into account.

Again Simpson writes (p.50):

Many form-critical solutions are plausible, both with and without 2:13-16, and all are to some degree problematic.

Simpson concludes (p. 62):

This is not to say that any of these arguments do not point to real problems in regard to 1 Thess 2:13-16, only that the interpolation view is not their best solution.

Simpson fully acknowledges the strength of many of the arguments for interpolation. He does not claim to have nailed the coffin on them. He does attempt to argue, against Pearson, for a plausible explanation for Paul expressing, over time, sharply contradictory words about Jews and their ultimate fate. His arguments against Schmidt are often technical and subtle. They are hardly mark a finality to the discussion as E&B suggest, and as unwary readers would too easily assume from E&B’s statements.

Ditto for Weatherly. Weatherly concluded his article (p.98) thus:

1 Thess. 2.13-16 remains a difficult passage for interpreters of Paul. That the apostle who wrote with such compassion and hope of his Jewish compatriots in Romans 9-11 could write so bitterly of some of them in 1 Thessalonians 2 is problematic, though hardly unprecedented. But another look at the data shows that the evidence for its inauthenticity is, at best, equivocal.

So these authors contradict each other in some key linguistic arguments. Each admits that any explanation, even their own, is not without difficulties. Yet E&B cite them both as having “convincingly answered” — as if they have put to rest — the linguistic arguments against inauthenticity of the Thessalonians passage.

Suppressing the contrary arguments

I opened in my “Plagiarism” section with E&B discussing the significance of a lack of textual evidence for an interpolation. E&B clearly consider the lack of manuscript evidence a major argument. They begin their argument with:

It is no minor problem for a textual theory when there is no textual evidence to support it. Yet this is the case here. Every ancient copy of 1 Thessalonians we have contains verses 13-16. The claim that this passage is an interpolation often rides on the coattails of a wider claim regarding a variety of Pauline interpolations, again generally without manuscript evidence. 28

Again one looks down to check the footnote:

28. See, e.g., Walker, Interpolations . . .

It happens that I have seen Walker, Interpolations, and some time ago wrote a summary of Walker’s discussion of a Literary Culture of Interpolations in which he shows why the lack of manuscript evidence is a virtual non-starter. Walker lists many classical and Christian texts that scholars can see, without any need for manuscript evidence, do contain interpolations.

I summarize here the evidence for the “culture of interpolations” that Walker argues must surely outweigh the paucity of manuscript evidence. They are more fully set out in post linked above.

  1. Homer’s Iliad
  2. Homer’s Odyssey
  3. Orpheus
  4. Musaeus
  5. Hippocrates
  6. Aristophanes
  7. Euripides
  8. Thucydides.
  9. Letters of Plato
  10. Letters of Aristotle
  11. Letters of Epicurus
  12. Letters of Seneca
  13. The Testimonium Flavianum or at least part thereof;
  14. The Sibylline Oracles,
  15. The Synagogal Prayers and such literature
  16. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs,
  17. The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah
  18. 4 Ezra.
  19. The LXX
  20. Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, claimed “heretics” had both added to and deleted from his letters.
  21. Irenaeus feared his writings would be interpolated.
  22. “Many Greek patristic writings” according to Rufinius
  23. Letters of Paul and gospel of Luke according to Marcion
  24. Pentateuch and gospels were likely built up layer by layer
  25. Epistles of Ignatius
  26. The adulterous woman episode in gospel of John
  27. The longer ending of Mark
  28. Perhaps final chapter of John
  29. The Western text of the Gospels and Acts
  30. And even the Western “non-interpolations”

E&B cite Walker as a support for their own claim that there is indeed a lack of manuscript evidence, but their integrity is open to question when they fail to address the fact that Walker himself argues that the manuscript evidence is clearly often not critical at all!

It is also slightly amusing to see E&B failing to address this argument over manuscript evidence and interpolations when one of their cited authors even argues against them:

An argument against interpolation must meet the arguments for interpolation head-on; we cannot begin an argument against interpolation simply by noting lack of textual evidence, . . .  (Simpson p.43)

— which is exactly how E&B do begin their argument against interpolations!

To continue in a future post. . . .

  • 2009-12-24 04:15:55 UTC - 04:15 | Permalink

    How many times have you seen this happen?

    (1) A legitimate scholar makes an argument supporting a traditional orthodox Christian view while including all appropriate reservations and qualifications.

    (2) An apologist lifts the argument but drops all the reservation.

    (3) Another apologist applauds the first apologist’s conclusion.

    (4) A pastor asserts the argument as a fact established by scholars.

    (5) The layperson accepts that only the most radical of skeptics could have any doubt about the argument’s conclusions.

    Yet somehow, we are supposed to believe that first century Christians would have been meticulously careful never to add to or exaggerate any of the stories they heard about Jesus when passing them along.

  • rey
    2009-12-24 07:59:15 UTC - 07:59 | Permalink

    “What’s the bet E&B have never read I. Broer at all and that all they know of Broer is Weatherly’s 1991 claim?”

    That’s the way it works in this field. Footnotes merely travel along from book to book and the latest authors have never read the original behind the footnote.

    A good quote on this, is from Robert Eisler in the Preface to The Enigma of the Fourth Gospel, which I have actually read (well most of it, I did skim a bit): “Under this sun, where the battle is not to the strong
    neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of under-
    standing, where the memory of the dead is soon forgotten,
    neither have they any more a reward, the time comes all too
    soon when nothing is left of a scholar’s life-work, even if
    he has been a martyr of his quest for the Truth, but a footnote,
    at best a footnote trailed along from book to book.”

    All the scholarly books end up going out of print. Then in order to get your hands on it you have to buy a used one at a 100% hike up. So what happens is nobody reads the actual book anymore (until it finally goes out of copyright and google puts it in full view status on google books) and all that is left is a constantly regurgitated and plagiarized footnote copied from book to book.

    If congress would make copyright expire 5 years after a book goes out of print (what’s the point of copyright when you aren’t even selling the book anymore?) that would go some distance to solving the problem as the book could be made available through avenues like archive.org and google books. Still, however, there will always be lazy academics, but at least the ordinary many could double-check the footnotes.

    • rey
      2009-12-24 07:59:47 UTC - 07:59 | Permalink

      But instead of doing this (something meaningful) they want to ram death-panel-healthcare down our throats.

  • 2009-12-24 19:13:51 UTC - 19:13 | Permalink

    I’d be careful with the word “plagiarism.” Lazy, unscholarly, misleading, yes. Definitely a paraphrase, but I don’t think that can be called plagiarism (unless I’m wrong about the definition).

    Trying to save you from lawsuits here. 😉

  • 2009-12-24 19:18:58 UTC - 19:18 | Permalink

    And to follow that, er, yeah, I seem to be wrong about the definition. You could be right!

    • rey
      2009-12-25 09:53:08 UTC - 09:53 | Permalink

      As concerns footnotes, it would be plagiarism because they literally stold the footnote and only changed the reference to it in the text.

  • 2009-12-26 15:13:05 UTC - 15:13 | Permalink

    When you read a clear assertion that so and so has argued “effectively” for a point of view that supports your own argument, you think that the author is presenting a stronger case than he could otherwise. It is disillusioning — one loses a measure of respect for the author/s — when one subsequently reads the very same statement elsewhere and it suddenly becomes clear that the original statement was nothing more than a copy of someone else’s words. If a student does that in an assignment, a teacher (as I once was) would take the opportunity to teach or remind about plagiarism.

    Yes, I do not share E&B’s approach to history or faith or epistemology, but I still respect them for their academic standing. So reading that they are capable of “strengthening” their argument in such a sloppy and dishonest manner causes me to lose considerable respect for even their scholarly integrity. It invites me to be on the lookout for more such sham, and to remain suspicious in cases where I cannot check out their sources.

  • 2009-12-30 06:00:53 UTC - 06:00 | Permalink

    What I find interesting about the relationship between the Christian Bible and historicity is that it is a one way relationship. The Christian Bible can not provide proof of the historicity of anything in it. In can only demonstrate that some things in it are proven not to be historical.

    The basic problem the Christian Bible faces in trying to demonstrate historicity is time, something that even Jesus could not conquer. After 2,000 years the Christian Bible may be evidence of some probable history, but not certain history. On the other hand, the many CONTRADICTIONS in the Christian Bible guarantee us that there is non-history there. No need for faith to be certain of that.

    I dare say that anything in the CB that E & B say is reliable history would have no better credentials than excerpts from the CB that we know are not history because of contradiction within the CB.

    This is an Irony that I think the author of “Mark” would really appreciate. The CB is only capable of telling us what did NOT happen rather than what did.

    Joseph

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