2011-07-16

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

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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.

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

  1. I also believe I have called Maurice Casey’s work ‘pseudo-scholarship’.

    I think that was the only person’s work I so labelled.

    In my defense, Casey does claim to have ‘no doubt’ that paralysed people were cured, based on nothing more than reading an old, unprovenanced book – a work which also describes somebody talking to Satan.

    1. I believe I can call on many defences for my similar descriptions. I have wondered if I would be best advised to relabel one or two headings of some of my most thorough posts over the past year or two. I also wonder if Lester Grabbe himself is too accommodating to one side more than the other for the sake of bridging a divide.

      I am reminded how Thomas L. Thompson himself reacted quite viciously to one who questioned him on one of those email group lists, and how a moderator or other intervened to diplomatically quieten him down, conceding that it must be hard for one such as he who has copped so much ugly flack from all quarters over the years. I have never been accused of anti-Semitism (as TLT has, at least not in the biblical studies debates) but I suppose being compared with a Holocaust Denier is close enough.

      It is easy to sink to the level of the H2O trying to drown us out of the debate alogether, I suppose.

      I know myself well enough to state in my post “let’s see what happens” rather than issue an apology of sorts. It would be worse to find myself in the same position as one other scholar who apologizes and then returns to his vomit.

      1. Mind you, it is a bit hard to avoid calling this pseudo-scholarship when we read Maurice Casey explain that the disciples were picking raw grain because they were poor and hungry, while Jesus did not, because he was a craftsman and so not that poor. (Jesus of Nazareth, page 322)

        I wonder how the disciples felt when they saw Jesus was not hungry because he had eaten a meal, while they had to scrabble for food in fields.

        Incidentally on page 110, Casey explains that Mark’s stories are historically plausible. What about the mistakes in them, I hear you ask.

        Casey patiently explains that the mistakes only occur in stories that are historically plausible in all other respects , apart from the mistakes.

        Yes, apart from Julius Caesar wearing a digital watch, reading the Chicago Sun, and saying ‘Yo, bro’, Hollywood films of the Roman period are historically plausible, at least, they are historically plausible in all other respects.

        1. I know. It’s absurd. But the more I think about it all I think it is also important to call a spade a spade (when it really is a spade and not a judgement). So slander and falsehoods and logical fallacies are still slander, falsehoods and logical fallacies.

  2. Thanks to Neil for mentioning the incredibly hostile reactions to Rogerson and Davies’s article (“Was the Siloam Tunnel Built by Hezekiah?”). When reading Grabbe’s reflections on this, one cannot help noticing that the term “history of Israel” could easily be interchanged with “Christian origins.” According to Grabbe: “A lot of people write on the history of ancient Israel: biblical scholars, archaeologists, social scientists. But most such writers are not historians and often do not understand what a proper historical investigation should look like. This has been the bane of the history of Israel: that most of those who write on history are ultimately not interested in history as such. History is only a vehicle for something else — theology or hermeneutics or even modern Middle Eastern politics…” (Proc. Brit. Acad., vol. 143).

    Grabbe goes on by citing John Emerton who believed one should always answer the actual argument and not just dismiss it because of the presumed motive. I really wish this argument had a higher profile. I could give an extreme example. Carl Schneider (1900-1977), a German theologian, wrote some interesting reflections on oriental-Hellenistic syncretism. However, since his name will forever be associated with the “Aryan Jesus Project,” few biblical scholars would even think of mentioning him. Schneider’s ideological blindness has been abused by theologian Annette Merz to argue that philhellenism is simply another form of anti-Semitism. By this, she seeks to reinforce her own thesis, namely, that “all reconstructions of the historical Jesus are dependent on our picture of Judaism at the time of the Second Temple.” Rather than attempting to read the unfortunate circumstances of Schneider’s career into his writings, it would have been more honest for Merz to have pointed her finger at Scheider’s arguments. Unfortunately, several gifted scholars and scientists failed to distance themselves from the Nazi regime. Werner von Braun is another example.

    1. If I have a personal bias — of course I do — it comes out when I feel such a sense of relief to see archaeology and historical studies of Palestine, the Jewish people/religion/culture, Christianity being addressed within the same parameters, questions, assumptions as any other historical studies. We know how nationalism and racism has blighted scholarship. It is disingenuous for an academy dominated by professionals with religious beliefs that have a stake in what they are studying to suggest it can be any different.

    2. Here’s how Niels Peter Lemche handled one of the worst offenders against a similar article:

      In the Biblical Archaeology Review (’The “House of David” and the House of the Deconstructionists’, BARev 20.6 [1994], p. 47) Anson F. Rainey has published an unsolicited attack on Philip Davies (cf. P.R. Davies, ’House of David Built on Sand’, BARev 20.4 [1994]). Rainey’s language is untruthful and approaches the libellous. It is also so filled with misreadings that we need hardly discuss his contribution to any great extent. However, we would ask Rainey to study the literature mentioned here before he again addresses issues of which he is seemingly unaware.

      DOI: 10.1177/030908929401906401

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