Professor James McGrath is a parallelomaniac. Every time he sees an argument for a parallel that he does not like or from which the author draws an uncomfortable conclusion he claims that the parallel is actually a parallel to Samuel Sandmel’s notion of “parallelomania”.
Samuel Sandmel introduced the term “parallelomania” into English-speaking New Testament studies and explained it as that “extravagance” where one took excerpts out of context from some source and applied them willy-nilly to a text under study. It could also include one making much ado about real parallels if they were also quite meaningless (e.g. We would not be surprised if two different Jewish texts spoke about God and Moses, so we cannot assume one is copying from the other in such a case.)
I spelled all this out in my recent post explaining the difference between legitimate parallels and parallelomania. The same post links to the original 1962 article by Samuel Sandmel.
How do we know a parallel is potentially legitimate and not “parallelomania”? Sandmel was very clear. Detailed study is the most essential criterion of a genuinely plausible parallel; the actual words used, the syntactical structures, the contexts, the larger argument structure, the literary culture in which the act of copying is alleged to have occurred, etc. Sandmel even wrote that he encouraged such studies that helped us identify genuine cases of literary borrowing.
What he warned against was taking excerpts (words and phrases) out of their contexts and fortuitously applying them to the target text. I have been showing (in some comments here but especially in discussions on the EarlyWritings forum) that this is the flawed methodology that in many cases makes D.M. Murdock’s (astrotheology’s) arguments invalid.
Here is a classic example of how parallelomania works. It comes from James McGrath:
If we take the opening sentence of chapter 7 of Brodie’s book, we find that the phrases he uses occur in close proximity to one another in earlier texts. On p.271 of Alarm Management for Process Control by Douglas H. Rothenberg, the words “dear reader” and “long chapter” occur in the same sentence! And on p.108 of Parasites of the Colder Climates edited by Hannah Akuffo, Inger Ljungström, Ewert Linder, and Mats Wahlgren, we find that “microscope” and “second revolution” occur within the same paragraph. Then, on p.72 of the book Academic Callings by Janice Newson and Claire Polster, in close proximity to a reference to “messianic power,” the author uses almost the same phrase Brodie does, “at least one small part of it.” Surely this indicates that Brodie was masterfully illustrating the method he attributes to the Gospel authors by doing the same himself, does it not?
I likewise showed how the same random method of taking excerpts out of context can be applied to make a parallel with anything. I was addressing some advocates of astrotheology so I applied ancient astrological terms to the opening sentence of Maurice Casey’s latest book:
McGrath talks a lot about “honesty” and “dishonesty” when engaging with mythicism, generally implying mythicists are less than fully honest. (Like Maurice Casey he often suggests mythicists are mythicists because of some moral or psychological defect.) So it is curious that McGrath has used the opening sentence of chapter 7 of Brodie’s book to lampoon Brodie’s argument with his own clear illustration of genuine parallelomania.
Chapter 7 of Brodie’s book is in fact twenty-four pages of detailed argument about specific words, syntactical structures, thematic contexts, larger literary structures and repeated patterns, plot similarities and identical use of metaphors, to argue that six verses in Luke (Luke 9:57-62) were inspired by the author’s knowledge of 1 Kings 19.
For McGrath to reduce all of that minutely detailed and intricate argument to an analogy with his silly comparison of taking a few phrases from various books and relating them to Brodie’s first sentence leaves one wondering if he really bothered to read that chapter beyond the first sentence or if he lacked the willingness or ability to comprehend what he read if he did read the entire chapter.
What McGrath is doing is resorting to puerile parallelomania himself by refusing to address the detail of the arguments and blithely sweeping all he does not like into another so-called parallel with Sandmel’s “parallelomania”. To my mind, that makes McGrath a parallelomaniac whenever he sees any argument at all by a mythicist for literary borrowing.
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