“Pseudo-scholarship” – such comments do not belong in scholarly writing or debate

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

After discussing fundamentalist approaches to the Bible — whether fundamentalism on the part of Bible believers or fundamentalism on the part of Bible denigrators — Lester Grabbe concludes:

There is no permanent state of purity nor any established chair of righteousness in scholarship. Even if one suspects that a scholarly position or theory is ideologically motivated — whether from biblical fundamentalism or some other ideology — one should evaluate the position on the basis of stated arguments. Trying to second guess motives has become too much of a pastime in the academy. (p. 23 of Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It?, my emphasis)

Is there anyone out there who has a history of imputing anti-Christian vendettas to mythicists reading this? Does the shoe fit?

Lester Grabbe continues:

It has become common in recent years to introduce personal motives into arguments: ‘so and so takes this position because he/she is/thinks/believes this or that’. Unfortunately, we can always find reasons to say that someone takes a scholarly position because of personal or ideological motives . . . . Such statements have no place in scholarly argument. In fact, there is probably not a one of us who has not taken a position on some issue for personal reasons, even if totally unconscious of this motive. . . . I am very sensitive to arguments or positions that seem to arise from a fundamentalist stance with regard to the Bible. Yet, as John Emerton once remarked from the floor in a conference, we should reply to the specific arguments rather than what we think might be behind them. . . . (p. 24)

Grabbe discusses an article attacking another that dated the Siloam inscription to the Maccabaean period. The attacking article was headlined “Pseudo-Scholarship”. Grabbe says that this article made some relevant and serious points, but the heading of “Pseudo-Scholarship”

served to prejudice the readership from the start. The redating of the Siloam inscription may be wrong — and most so far think it is — but it is not “pseudo-scholarship”, and such ad hominem comments do not belong in scholarly writing or debate. (pp. 24-5)

If Lester Grabbe has a point, and he probably does, then I have to confess guilt on this count, too. Let’s see what happens from now on.

Was Socrates man or myth? Applying historical Jesus criteria to Socrates

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Strepsiades and Pheidippides are discussing, S...
A scene including Socrates in Aristophanes’ play The Clouds. Image via Wikipedia

It might be interesting to see how the criteria used for the quest for the historical Jesus might work with another figure of comparable stature in the ancient world. A comparison like this might help us assess their real value as determinants of historicity.

Multiple Attestation

We have the writings of the philosopher Plato. These dramatize the teaching career, trial and death of Socrates in dialogue form. But was Plato writing about a real person or was Socrates only a literary character he chose through whom to express his own philosophical teachings?

We have the writings of Xenophon. Xenophon was known as a historian but his writings about Socrates are not histories. They portray a very different sort of teacher from the one we read about in Plato.

Both Plato and Xenophon are clearly writing as devoted followers of Socrates, and classicists have often remarked that the teachings they attribute to Socrates are really their own and not those of a real Socrates at all. So we are still have one source type represented by both of these authors, and historicity cannot be settled by appealing to their “multiple attestation” alone.

This reminds us of Schweitzer’s complaint about the nature of the evidence for Jesus:

[A]ll the reports about [Jesus] go back to the one source of tradition, early Christianity itself, and there are no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls. Thus the degree of certainty cannot even be raised so high as positive probability. (Schweitzer, Quest, p.402)

But we do have another source that appears to be quite independent of the above pair of Socrates’ disciples. Continue reading “Was Socrates man or myth? Applying historical Jesus criteria to Socrates”