My Work Has Been Serf-Reviewed!

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by Tim Widowfield

Jan Brueghel (I) - St Martin (detail) - WGA3591
St. Martin dividing his cloak in order to clothe a beggar.  — Jan Brueghel (I) – St. Martin (detail) – WGA3591 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few days ago while Neil and I were chatting, the subject of peer reviews came up. One of us (could’ve been me) said that perhaps one of the scholarly elites might do us the favor of reviewing some of our work. However, since we aren’t peers, it would have to be a serf-review, in which a member of the nobility puts on his (or her) wading boots, slogs on down to the bad side of town, and renders his (or her) assessment to us peasants.

Well, it has happened! Stephanie Fisher has already reviewed two of my posts. We are truly honored by her gracious attention. I encourage everyone to read her detailed, erudite remarks carefully. This is the sort of thing I was talking about in my Processed Jesus post — real intellectual discourse, truly honest and reasoned responses from a bright, young, and promising scholar.

Be sure to set aside a reasonable amount of time to read through Steph’s insightful counter-arguments.

It’s hard to argue with her, don’t you think?

Thank you, Steph. You’ve restored my faith in scholarship. Our future is secure! As I said before, “It’s this kind of honest, cordial give-and-take that makes me happy to get up in the morning.”

(Note: Brueghel’s painting of St. Martin hangs in the Lobkowicz Collection.)

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Tim Widowfield

Tim is a retired vagabond who lives with his wife and multiple cats in a 20-year-old motor home. To read more about Tim, see our About page.

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13 thoughts on “My Work Has Been Serf-Reviewed!”

  1. You almost got me to believe she really did it. I have to adjust my sarcasm sensors. What really is astonishing is that those people somehow got to take total control (almost hostage) of “academia” and presecute any academic dissent to such a degree, that the only meaningful opposition has to come from the outside.

  2. I initial read the title of the post as “My work has been SELF-reviewed,” which I found confusing. Serf-reviewed. Awesome. 🙂

    You could have gone with Pee-reviewed, too, given her tone…

  3. Vidar:

    Your “serf” comment points to the major sin or error here, in admant believers and Jesus Historicists: their exaggerated reliance on their own status as “specialists,” as “experts”; to assert that no one else is qualified to ever criticize their views, their findings. What their essentially classist perspective fails to recognize, is that 1) specialists are often too narrow to see the bigger picture. And then too? 2) Often one specialist is contradicted by others. Any given specialist can bully everyone else … until another specialist comes to town.

    But there’s 3) a bigger, related, meaner game at work generally, by which priests and religious scholars and priests, oppress the laity, the serfs. The game here, is narrowness, and logical circularity. Used as a tool of oppression. The rule is, that priests and religionists assert that the only critics of themselves, that they will listen to, are those critics that can throughly quote the only authority that believers acknowledge: the Bible itself. But? Here’s the nasty side of it: since they themselves, are the only knowledgeable masters of the Book? Since they know it best? We are always on their turf: and We must do everythign they say; accepting their readings, their pronouncements.

    The fact is that there are many huge sins in this expert game, or Bible Game. One is, that it is logically circular. It is a vicious circle. Or in logical language, it is “question-begging.” That is? If we think that the Bible is false, then it is wrong to insist that only biblical quotes, count in a criticism of the Bible. Those who assert such things, are begging the question. If the Bible itself is in question, then insisting that only biblical quotes can be used in argumentation … begs the question at hand. Which is: is the Bible accurate after all?

    In fact, there is logical circularity, here. And worse? In real life, it is employed, in the service of a nasty classist trick . There is a classist trick begin played here, some are beginning to see. What is it? In effec – as some have recently commented – priests and others assert that the only valid comments that can be made about the Bible, for or agaisnt it, are by those who know thoroughly about it. But this game is fixed: it is primarily our priests and believers that know the book. The game, they assert, can only be played on their own rules, their own turf. And since they are the specialists? All opponents fail. So long as the game rules are defined as “bible quotes only,” we are playing by their rules, on their turf. the game is fixed. Even “criticism” is limited, circumscribed.

    So there’s a nasty game being played here by many biblical Specialists. Their insisting that we play by their rules, on their turf, commits many sins. Logically, it is not only circular, it is not only Begging the Question. But iin actual practical effect, it amounts to a very oppressive acts as well. In the past, our clerical bosses, were the only ones who believed the book enough, to study it in great detail. So? As long as we played by their rules, they were always Master.

    But today? 1) The rules are being exposed, and transcended. 2) Since the time of Bruno Bauer and others, there has been a shift: even some experts … are now turning aginast the source. They know the Bible; they play by their rules for a while. But? Some of us know the Bible well enough, to show that it self deconstructs, it cancels itself out, even on its own terms.

    Then too? 3) Many are noting the game is fixed, and circular. So that many of us would not object too much if after all, many people stopped playing by these very limited and hobbling rules. If many simply said this, to the believers: “Outside your Book, Science and everyday experience of the common people, say there are no miracles. And therefore? Outside your book, they are saying that you, and your book, are false.” Many now feel we don’t have to quote the Book back to you, to prove the book is false. We can go around the book, entirely. We can change the rules. Change the turf. As the New Atheists do.

    To be sure, Vidar? You yourself seem for the moment to be doing a useful job, playing the game on their turf; by their rules. And I work at that, myself. Though finally? At times too, I like to get outside this limited “Language game” as Wittgenstein would call it. To recall what other voices, completely outside the Bible, say.

    This can be useful: just to remind “believers” just how little of the Bible even they themselves actually believe in. It is usefult o remind believers just how many of them know, themselves, that biblical promises of physical “miracles,” for example, seem false. So that half the Bible immediately falls, by the wayside. Even for those who claim to believe.

    Anyway Vidar? Thanks for you help. I’d advocate in any case, continuing to play both games: 1) quoting the Bible against itself; but then also 2) taking the external, bigger perspective too at times.

    Thanks for your work to date, in any case!

    1. Indeed. As the cliche goes (paraphrasing):

      If you ask a cosmologist for evidence of the big bang, they’ll show you, among many things, evidences such as the rate of expansion of the universe or background radiation etc, etc.

      If you ask an anthropologist for evidence of evolution, they might show you things like the fossil record, skeletal remains, or allele frequency, etc., etc.

      If you ask a Roman historian for evidence that Julius Caesar existed, they will show you things such as coins minted IN HIS OWN LIFETIME with his profile on it, statues of him carved in his own lifetime, his own books he wrote on the Gallic Wars, writings by contemporaries who mentioned him, etc., etc.

      If you ask a biblical historian for evidence that Jesus Christ existed, they will show you their Ph.D.

      1. “If you ask a biblical historian for evidence that Jesus Christ existed, they will show you their Ph.D.”

        Such a great line, and so apt when applied to the modern debate between historicists and mythicists.
        Vridar could even consider using it as a motto under the title name.

        There are a few more good ones, of more general applicability.
        One of my all-time favorites has always been:
        “There is nothing so easy as by sheer volubility to deceive a common crowd or an uneducated congregation.” St. Jerome (Epistle to Nepotian, Lii, 8.)

  4. No Anna, your statement is seriously misleading.

    If you ask a number of our top biblical historians for evidence that Jesus (without the Christ title) existed, they will show you the present Guild’s viable historical solution to the Jesus Puzzzle. I will offeer pertenant extracts from their works should there be the interest.

    1. And what is that solution? Nothing but assumption. They assume Jesus existed historically. When pressed, their argument boils down to “Why would anyone make it up?” Some of the stories were embarrassing to the church, they say. The church would not have made up the idea of a saviour who was abandoned by his disciples and crucified as a criminal, they say. Therefore, the argument goes, and on and on. It is all assumption.

  5. First off, a word on mythicism, then follows “that solution” – all said fully aware that from the atheist stance NT Studies can hardly be considered a legitimate discipline.
    A fundamental statement over against the legitimacy of mythicism: from Earl Doherty’s Neither God Nor Man, “The advent of the Internet has introduced an unprecedented “lay” element of scholarship in the field . . . has meant that the study of Christians origins is undergoing a quantum leap in the hands of a much wider consistency than traditional academia.” As nonsensical as saying: “The advent of a recent phenomenon has introduced an unprecedented “lay” element of scholarship in the field . . . has meant that the study of origins of the Universe is undergoing a quantum leap in the hands of a much wider consistency than traditional academia of Quantum Relativity Physics.”
    A viable historical solution to the “Jesus Puzzle” has taken place within the Guild of NT studies, the only discipline capable, not only of identifying our primary Scriptural source of apostolic witness to Jesus, but of appropriately interpreting this source as well. However, “few are they who find it” even among well-known NT scholars. Finding it, this historical solution, is “a task to which specialized knowledge in the areas of philology, form and redaction criticism, literary criticism, history of religions, and New Testament theology necessarily applies.” (Hans Dieter Betz). “Over the last two centuries, there gradually emerged a new access to Jesus, made available through objective historical research.” (James M. Robinson). Under the force of present historical methods and knowledge this new access was brought to a highly creditable understanding during the 1980’s. Schubert Ogden: “We now know not only that none of the Old Testament writings is prophetic witness to (Jesus), but also that none of the writings of the New Testament is apostolic witness to Jesus as the early church itself understood apostolicity. The sufficient evidence for this point in the case of the New Testament writings is that all of them have been shown to depend on sources, written or oral, earlier than themselves, and hence not to be the original and originating witness that the early church mistook them to be in judging them to be apostolic. [“The sufficient evidence” without the agonizing detail of what the writings of the NT does contain, which now supplies the grist for the blogosphere mythicists’ mill] – – the witness of the apostles is still rightly taken to be the real ‘Christian’ (Jesus tradition) norm, even if we today have to locate this norm, not In the writings of the New Testament but in the earliest stratum of (Scriptural) witness accessible to us, given our own methods of historical analysis and reconstruction. Betz identifies this earliest stratum to be the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-7:27). “This source presents us with an early form – deriving from (the Jerusalem Jesus Movement, to date it around 50 CE) — which had direct links to the teaching the historical Jesus and thus constituted an alternative to Gentile Christianity (hence to orthodox Christianity) as known above all from the letters of Paul and the Gospels, as well as the later writings of the New Testament. [All are written in the context of imaging the Christ of faith, not the man Jesus]. If the Sermon on the Mount represents a response to the teaching of Jesus critical of that of (Pauline) Gentile Christianity, then it serves unmistakably to underline the well-known fact of how little we know of Jesus and his teaching. The reasons for our lack of knowledge are of a hermeneutical sort and cannot be overcome by an excess of good will (apologetics). The Gentile Christian authors of the Gospels transmitted to us only that part of the teaching of Jesus that they themselves understood, they handed on only that which they were able to translate into the thought categories of Gentile Christianity, and which they judged to be worthy of transmission. (More to the point they included no more than they thought sufficient to lend historical credence to their Pauline Christ of faith myth). – – from these texts his original teaching can neither be reconstructed nor abstracted in its entirety.” This calls for a new reconstruction of post-execution Jesus traditions. Ed Jones Dialogue -Vridar is such an attempt.

    1. Ed, as I have attempted to clarify before, from an atheist perspective NT studies are just as valid as any other field of inquiry into any area of knowledge and cultural heritage.

      You have repeated your message now many times. But you are not addressing the points raised against it. Just repeating your own statement while faiing to acknowledge the alternative perspectives is not going to persuade anyone.

      You don’t seem to grasp the simple fact that virtually all historical Jesus scholarship begins with the assumption — merely the assumption — that there was a historical Jesus to begin with. Everything follows from that assumption. Even the most brilliant minds can fail if they work from faulty or unsupportable assumptions.

      1. Neil, Apostolic witness to Jesus has from its beginning been a given from ithe beginning of the Guild of NT studies, however mistaken its early judgment of its NT sources The question of “the real Jesus” did not even exist until the Enlightenment. With Reimarus’ challengr: The Christ of faith is not the Jesus of history – “Search the Scroptures and see if Christianity is not based on a historical mistake”. This began the Quest for the historical Jesus. Robinson: “Over the last two centuries, there qradually emerged a new access to Jesus (an alternative to the writingss of the NT, all written in the context of the Christ of faith, not the man Jesus.), made available through objective historical research.” This has reached a viable conclusion during the l980s. Mythicism is primarily basded on the writings of the NT.

        1. Ed, I understand the difference between the Christ of faith and the Jesus of history and I also know something of the history of the scholarship (since the Enlightenment) as you outline it. I have no argument with any of that, or the way the historical methods and understandings have changed over the years, and I understand the conclusions reached during the 1980s.

          But none of that changes my point. The quest for “the historical Jesus” — by any means or through whatever sources (even by sole reliance upon the Sermon on the Mount) — rests on an unexamined and untested assumption. That assumption is that there is a historical Jesus to discover in the first place. Beginning with that assumption, scholars seek to learn what this Jesus was like or what he said. But if there was no historical Jesus at all then all their efforts — even based on the Sermon on the Mount — are misguided.

          How do we know there was a historical Jesus behind the sayings in the Sermon on the Mount. Betz assumes there was. He begins with that assumption. But what if there wasn’t? How can we know?

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