Monday, February 23, 2009

Greenlee Review: Keith Elliott Responds to Reactions

J K Elliott has asked me to post his response to the reactions to his review of Harold Greenlee's book (see here and here):

J K Elliott writes:
I have been following the various reactions to my review in RBL of Harold Greenlee's book: they have been a pleasant accompaniment to my pre-prandial manzanilla (very dry) each evening, although I have been suspicious of those who conceal their po-faced comments behind a mask of anonymity.

I was sorry my friend Tommy Wasserman had to censor some contributions. It would have been nostalgic for me to read such rantings as I recalled the vindictive and vitriolic vituperation (if I may be permitted to use such alliterations in this context) that used to assail me from the erstwhile Dean Burgon Society many years ago when a Dr Jay Green (Senior!) used to conduct slanging matches against any fellow-Christians who disagreed with him.

I thank another old friend, Peter Head, for pointing out typos in my RBL piece. The English version should be REB (= Revised English Bible) as in the previous line. Ephraem: yes. My apologies for the slip-up re Mk 1:1. Dr Greenlee did indeed deal with that. It is as well Feb 25 approaches: I can apply more ashes, if not sackcloth.

Those who know my reviews from NovT and JTS will be aware that I tend to write positive, supportive reviews. It gave me no pleasure to have to write a negative review of Greenlee's book. He graciously contributed an article to the Kilpatrick Festschrift that I edited many years ago and I was a contributor to his own Festschrift more recently. It is a pity we have never met at, say, a meeting of SBL. But his book was disappointing: I maintain that by selecting so many innocuous v.ll. and by avoiding troublesome readings like 1 Cor 15:51, or Jesus' sayings on divorce and others I listed he gives the newcomers he is aiming his book at a false sense of security.

Yes, I bridled at the pious sentiments - quite uncalled for in what otherwise is a scholarly book. Whether that tells readers more about me than him, I know not, but I am not used to hearing such parti pris views in, say, SBL text-critical seminars, in SNTS papers nor in meetings with respected text-critics in say Muenster, or in Italy, Spain, France, or N. America. Academic books and discourse do not need fundamentalist Bible-belt platitudes - sorry!!


Professor Emeritus) J Keith Elliott
Dept. of Theology
University of Leeds

7 Comments:

Ryan said...

Dear Keith Elliot,

Thank you for taking the time to respond to the comments. I can really respect you stepping up to do that.

I think I would still have two concerns though.

The easy one first, while I can agree that religious references to the Holy Spirt, etc., would be out of place in an academic work or in SBL text-critical seminars or SNTS papers, I don't think that Greenlee intended this little book to fit any of those categories. In the preface he write that he was concerned with the "average Christian" and explicitly targets a mass audience saying he hopes it will "bring illumination to many people." That, and the fact that it is soft cover, only a hundred pages long, has no footnotes, barely any end notes, and is published by Hendrickson and sold for less than $10, all lead me to conclude that this was meant to be a mass market book for religious lay people. Given that, I think the explicit religious references are very much at home (and I say this as someone who as already posted my disagreement with his theology at those points).

Second, I have already posted that I agree with the substance of your critique: I do agree that "by selecting so many innocuous v.ll. and by avoiding troublesome readings like 1 Cor 15:51, or Jesus' sayings on divorce and others I listed he gives the newcomers he is aiming his book at a false sense of security." However, in my opinion your tone was still needlessly hostile. I can appreciate that you may have received much worse from the DG society, and indeed I am often shocked by the kind of language used in old journals (I am reminded of a stinger of a line by Housman who said of someone "nature, not content with granting him the inability to think, also gave him the ability to go on at great length"!) but I think for the most part we have moved beyond that, and I think that's a good thing.

Forget even the manners side of it, how about simply a pragmatic perspective? If Greenlee's soothing platitudes are targeted at religious newcomers, is it safe to assume that your counter-argument is targeted at the same, hoping to prevent them from getting that false sense of security? If that is the case though, then I have to wonder how effectively your review will accomplish that. I don't think we have any of those newcomers here on this blog, but I do think that much of the reaction here can be used to reasonably imply that the tone of your review will likely alienate many of the people you're trying to reach.


Just my thoughts, offered in a spirit of gratitude for all that I have learned from your other works.

Bryan said...

"but I am not used to hearing such parti pris views in, say, SBL text-critical seminars, in SNTS papers nor in meetings with respected text-critics in say Muenster, or in Italy, Spain, France, or N. America. Academic books and discourse do not need fundamentalist Bible-belt platitudes - sorry!!"

That's because the academy is atheistic, as per my original point. You would never hear any sort of traditional Christian interpretation of the data at SBL (unless you speak to the Profs privately). God is absent from methodological and interpretive practices because Evangelical Modernists still believe that there is common ground upon which all can agree. In reality, there is only a submission to the naturalistic worldview.

This was what spawned my original critique of this scholastic confusion between data and the idea that one can be absent of a worldview when interpreting it. One can dislike the worldview with which another seeks to present the data, but acting like it's unscholarly is itself a non-critical (and therefore non-academic) platitude toward the naturalistic community.

You're certainly a brilliant scholar, Dr. Elliot, but this complete ignorance of the way presupps work in the evaluation of evidence among those in the academy, such as yourself, to be honest, causes those in the know to distrust your work. I'm sure you would admit that you have biases (like Ehrman will when called on it), but the problem is that you then turn around and act like you don't (while chastising others for having them). I guess what I am saying is that the academic community needs to take the log out. I realize that Ehrman's atheistic platitudes are welcome in the academy whereas Greenlee's "fundamentalist" (I take it that's a derogatory term designating anyone holding to the traditional orthodox view of your Christian forebears) is not, but to act like one has a place in critical scholarship whereas the other does not is to be extremely uncritical of one's own methodology itself.

It's almost like scholarship within the academy today excludes other worldviews, not via logical argumentation (for that would lead to a tolerance for them), but instead by way of ad hominem fallacies.

He who has ears to hear...

The White Man said...

"He who has ears to hear..."

Well, Bryan, if you are looking for your message to fall on anything but deaf years, you've picked a good place to air it.

Although we aren't expected to contribute to the blog itself, many of us laymen appreciate the opportunity to offer our comments to the ensuing discussions.

This was set up as a blog with open comments, not a forum, and I respect the reasons for keeping it so. There are, after all, other outlets for TC expression, but this one has earned and will, Lord willing, keep its place as an outlet for scholar and layman alike.

Just the fact that you are able to interact with Dr. Elliot in such a public manner is truly a marvel of modern technology.

And as long as anonymity is an option, it keeps down the possibility of ad hom arguments. The pompous scholar can never be quite sure whether he is addressing a rube at an internet cafe, or his colleague down the hall. It's no wonder it makes him nervous!

maurice a robinson said...

A small correction: Dr Elliott referenced "the erstwhile Dean Burgon Society many years ago when a Dr Jay Green (Senior!) used to conduct slanging matches against any fellow-Christians who disagreed with him."

While there is no question about Green's (assuredly not a "Dr) "slanging matches", these appeared in his Christian Literature World review newspaper, and not within the Burgon Society (of which Green was not a member, nor would have been allowed as such, given Green's favoring a modernized English rendering of the KJV). If yet alive, Green today would be elderly and in such poor health so as no longer to have the time or ability to perpetuate his vitriolic criticisms.

On the other hand, the "Dean Burgon Society" (which Burgon would neither have joined on his own initiative nor be allowed to join from their standpoint) does continue to promote their "slanging" to as few as apparently care to listen.

Circles such as these are where the "fundamentalist focus" properly lies -- not amid those diligent and respected evangelical text-critics such as Greenlee. I suggest once more that the negative comments have been misplaced in this regard.

Hodge said...

White Man,

I'm not sure I understand anything you've said here. I confess, I must be ignorant of the distinction between a forum and a blog. So I may need to be enlightened as of it. I also must confess that I'm not sure if your comment is aimed at anything in particular that I've said. If presupps aren't relevant to this very issue, I'm not sure what is.

Perhaps I've missed your meaning. The statement at the end "he who has ears" was meant to be a conclusion of a couple days of discussion on this issue. It would seem that although Dr. Elliot has followed discussions on his review, that either he did not follow this one, or he is so steeped within his academic tradition that he is incapable of understanding why he feels the way he does about Greenlee's theological take on TC.

Either way, I really hope my 10 years of formal education in Biblical Studies and countless hours otherwise allows me to be a little more than a rube at an internet Cafe.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Elliot,

You stated, "It gave me no pleasure to have to write a negative review of Greenlee's book."

There is a big difference, however, between a "negative" review and, to use your word, a "vituperative" review. For me, your review of Greenlee's book exemplifies the latter.

In other words, the facts could have been presented without the biting sarcasm and rhetoric, and the review could have been better received. Is there really a place in academia for such a tone? What is the purpose of such harsh language, not only toward Greenlee but toward "fundamentalist" Christians? To shame? Doesn't such rhetoric only serve to drive people further into their ideological corners rather than to change anyone's way of thinking?

I recognize and respect your many scholarly contributions, but it seems like this review could have been much more tempered.

Anonymous said...

The only problem I had with Dr. Elliot's reply is that he brings nothing new to light. We are all aware we all share different presuppositions, so it was rather unbecoming of Dr. Elliot to give the impression that his take on TC somehow transcended his presupposition to a position of objectivity. Dr. Elliot's points are well-taken if, and only if, you first accept his presuppositions about fundamental issues related to TC.

Mitch L