2012-04-19

So What If Bart Ehrman Did Not Read the Books? His Peers Excuse Him

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by Neil Godfrey

Many of us have seen Dr James McGrath’s statements that Bart Ehrman was quite within the bounds of acceptable New Testament scholarly procedure not to read mythicist books that he was reviewing for the public:

It doesn’t strike me as inappropriate that someone who has graduate assistants make use of them, especially speaking as someone who has plowed through significant amounts of mythicist literature and can testify that it is a frustrating waste of time. If Ehrman was able to get assistance that left him with more time to do actual scholarship, good for him! (Blog comment)

McGrath even proudly boasts that he needed only to read the first few pages of Earl Doherty’s 800 page Jesus: Neither God Nor Man in order to write a review of the entire book for public consumption on Amazon.

He has also denounced Thomas L. Thompson’s arguments for mythicism without having read The Messiah Myth. He doesn’t need to since, he says, TLT’s expertise is in the Old Testament, not the New.

Several of Bart Ehrman’s “friends and fans” on his Facebook page (I can’t get my ahead around the idea of biblical scholars having “fans!” — is this another of those “only in America” things?) have also strongly supported the idea of him not having read Doherty’s work, at least.

Tom Verenna, one on his way to joining the ranks of these scholars, has likewise in personal correspondence assured me that he has no need to read Rene Salm’s book about the archaeology of Nazareth in order to “know” the book is supposedly a  hostile rant against mainstream scholarship. It is not.

I’ve always understood it is standard practice among biblical scholars. If a work is not peer-reviewed then it is fair game for attack and the scholar doing the attacking has no obligation to know anything about the work — except that it’s not peer-reviewed and whatever the general conclusions of the arguments are. Ehrman has the same approach and in his Facebook page boasts of treating Price and Carrier with respect — with the clear implication he feels quite justified in treating non-scholars differently. Like McGrath, he will treat a fellow scholar with some respect. McGrath, for example, is quite willing to apologize to Richard Carrier if he is caught out misrepresenting them, but there is no way he will do the same for Earl Doherty.

Besides, Ehrman made it quite clear he had no need to read all of each of the books. His reason for writing Did Jesus Exist? was not to convince or even engage in debate with the mythicists themselves since he said nothing would change their minds. It was, rather, to explain to the public why he believes Jesus did exist contrary to the claims of the mythicists. So there was no need to engage with any of the detailed arguments themselves. Just explain that mainstream scholars interpret things differently.

So what’s the problem? Why is Bart Ehrman so outraged that anyone should think he is conforming to what some of his peers and followers find quite acceptable?

But now that Bart Ehrman has assured us he did read all of the books himself, very carefully, I am hoping he will find the time to explain how he came to get the title of Doherty’s book wrong, how he came to misquote Doherty, how he came to say mythicists claim the “words of the Lord” passages in Paul are interpolations, how he came to say Doherty said the opposite of what he writes about the mystery cults, . . . . . . .

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  • Bob Carlson
    2012-04-19 11:59:56 UTC - 11:59 | Permalink

    I wonder what Richard Carrier may have to say in this regard. He will be posting his review of DJE? tomorrow.

  • vinnyjh57
    2012-04-19 13:03:21 UTC - 13:03 | Permalink

    I still say that if Ehrman had accurately characterized mythicist arguments and had made valid arguments in response, it wouldn’t make any difference whether he read the books for himself or he had some research assistants summarize them for him.

  • 2012-04-19 13:07:20 UTC - 13:07 | Permalink

    It reminds me of restaurant reviewers who visit places where they hate the cuisine and then hand out poor ratings. They’ll even admit they “don’t much care for Indian food,” or Thai food, or whatever, but they feel quite qualified to provide fair evaluations. I especially enjoy the reviews of vegetarian restaurants by people who aren’t vegetarians. They have no frame of reference, but they know they hate “that stuff,” which they’ve never eaten and would never like anyway. “Why does it have to be so spicy?!”

    One of the sites my wife visits every day reviews TV shows, books, popular media, etc. They’ve got one reviewer who hates sitcoms. So naturally, his reviews of many shows are problematic. He misses a lot of nuance because he’s predisposed to hate it — he doesn’t catch any subtext, because he doesn’t understand the medium. Not a week goes by that some commenter on the site asks why this guy is reviewing shows he neither likes nor understands.

  • ROO BOOKAROO
    2012-04-19 14:59:44 UTC - 14:59 | Permalink

    One question from a curious investigative mind:
    Is this “Tom Verenna” the same person described in this site: http://thomasverenna.blogspot.com, which claims he is the person who used to blog under the name Rook Hawkins (note the closeness to “Dawkins”) and who is a college undergraduate?
    Neil Godfrey would find it easy to ascertain the relationship.

    • 2012-04-19 16:38:09 UTC - 16:38 | Permalink

      I think that scurrilous page about Tom is from Tim O’Neill or one of his aliases. I loathe it. I despise it. I have no time for anything said on it.

      I had instant sympathy for Tom when I first saw that attack on him. Unfortunately that sympathy evaporated very quickly when I questioned him over his treatment of Rene Salm’s work. That scurrilous attack on Tom is little short of the same hell he himself has put others through with no justification from my perspective. My differences with Tom are over what I consider are his compromises with the dark side of academia and his carelessness in making gratuitous assumptions about others from poorly considered and insufficient data. I also have difficulty with his apparent inability to imagine himself in another’s place at the receiving end of his wilfully ignorant (he excuses himself for not reading them or only partially reading them) and vicious attacks on those he deems unworthy, usually because they do not publish in peer-review venues.

      He has accused me of continuing to be regularly abusive to McGrath and when I sent him copies of recent posts demonstrating that I was doing all in my power to avoid that on this blog he refused to publish them so my name could be cleared and called my efforts to clear my name “spam”.

      He seemed genuinely disappointed when I declined to promote a book of his before it was even published.

      • youngalexander
        2012-04-19 18:01:15 UTC - 18:01 | Permalink

        Is TV the dred Rook? I have long thort so, but perhaps I am mistook.
        I know that I joined RRS and quietly observed a most authoritarian moderation, which brooked no disagreement with Rook. It was ‘Yes Sir, No Sir, Three Bags Full Sir!’ or you were BANNED!!

  • mP
    2012-04-20 11:26:33 UTC - 11:26 | Permalink

    So let me confirm this assumption of mine, Murdoch and others are not qualified to discuss or make observations even with quotations because they are not professors, but Bart can make comments about myths from material presented to him by mere students ? So why is it that his students can feed him information and he forms an opinion, but others cannot prepare or write books at all ?

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