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The Crossley/Hurtado Conversation on Biblical Studies

November 6, 2012

Several weeks ago, I learned from a former PhD student that Professor James Crossley (University of Sheffield) had made me the partner in what he called a “debate” involving the nature of NT Studies/Biblical Studies, holding forth on the matter in a large essay in the online journal, Relegere.  This is an open-access and refereed journal (very commendable!), and his essay, entitled “An Immodest Proposal for Biblical Studies,” can be accessed here.  Crossley cites my blog-postings from September 2011 on the importance of Greek (and at least major languages of NT scholarship) among the competences that we should expect of those who wish to be NT scholars as an impetus for his essay.  My postings (which generated a good deal of comment on this blog-site and others, some of it inexcusably ad hominem) are here, here, here, and here.  

After reading his essay, acting on the view that a debate is always better if both parties know it’s going on, I contacted Crossley, suggesting that it might have been wise to have let me know about it, perhaps even by sending the draft of his essay for comment before publication.  (Indeed, early in my own career I made it a practice that, whenever I engaged somebody’s work in any sustained way, I’d invite him/her to comment on what I wrote before I published it.  But that’s just my own thinking, not Torah.)  Had he done so, I might have been able to prevent what I think are one or two mis-understandings of my own views on what kind of competence we should expect of those who wish to be NT scholars, and a couple of related matters.

Crossley responded cordially, suggesting that I contact the editors of Relegere offering a response.  I did so, and the editors kindly agreed.  My response, entitled “On Diversity, Competence and Coherence in New Testament Studies: A Modest Response to Crossley’s ‘Immodest Proposal’,” has just appeared, and can be accessed here.

In my response, I aim to correct the references to my stance in Crossley’s essay (and the inferences and implications he posits), and I also engage the substantive issues raised in it.  These include what “international” means when it comes to NT studies, whether there is a discipline and if so what is its core, the value of “reception-history” studies, and how Biblical Studies might best contribute to the larger academic life of universities (and thereby also justify its existence).

In addition to thanking the editors of Relegere for granting me the opportunity to publish the response-essay, I’m also grateful to Crossley for agreeing to read the draft version and giving me some feedback (including at least one correction) before it went to publication.

(And, having myself been involved in promoting refereed online journals, I congratulate all those associated with Relegere, which I hope will flourish and help point the way for more such outlets for scholarship in the 21st century.)

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  1. I am a bit surprised that Crossley didn’t grasp what you were trying to say. I read those posts too, and had no problem understanding what you were saying. I never once thought you were saying that these were the only things needed. It only makes sense that we should take advantage of any information that helps us better understand NT studies, no matter what field or area of study it comes from. But you were speaking of some of the essential core skills. After all, the majority of the evidence for NT studies is ancient languages. It seems obvious that any serious NT scholar would want to understand the texts in their original form, along with the culture that produced them. The next step would be to familiarize yourself with the work that has already been done in the field, and this sometimes includes the important older works in French and German etc. It is at this point, when you have a proper background, that other fields of study can be examined in the light of NT studies. It seems to me that any serious NT scholar would need to have this kind of background before they can properly examine other avenues of study related to the NT.

  2. Mike Brugge permalink

    As a layman, I am only a dabbler in Greek, but I always find time spent investigating the Greek to be rewarding. I fail to see how any Christian theologian or philosopher could fail to value the original languages. (My view may be skewed in that I come from a Lutheran denomination that requires Greek and Hebrew of all seminarians. It really helps that all of our pastors have at least a basic acquaintance with the languages. It makes them better exegetes.)

  3. Robert permalink

    Speaking of the unfortunate use of ad homenim, I don’t think it is helpful to your case to draw attention to Crossley having not sent the essay to you before publication. In fact, this should have been the prerogative of the journal editors (or at least to invite you for a response up front). But even so, drawing attention to the etiquette of other participants during scholarly exchange is an irrelevance and distracts from the substance of the actual arguments and perspectives.

    • Robert. Sorry to offend you. But nothing in my posting was intended to offend, and nothing entered any accusation or character defamation (which is what was hurled against me by some bloggers last September). I simply explained that I wouldn’t ever have known of the article “debating” me had it not been drawn to my attention by my former student. I think Crossley grants that it would have been better to have sent it to me. But that was likely just down to an oversight.

  4. I still find it utterly remarkable that insisting on basic language and technical skills should generate so much controversy. It’s even stranger since one’s Greek doesn’t have to be astounding to handle the New Testament properly: it’s not like one is reading Plato or Thucydides. This increasing fragmentation of NT Studies is one of the reasons I decided to orient myself toward Patristics: I love the New Testament and I love exegesis, but as a young scholar NT Studies is utterly baffling.

    • NT Studies is affected by . . . political issues, as one should expect to be the case with texts so signally important in the Christian faith-communities and those cultures particularly affected by Christianity. We’re all political animals, but in different ways and directions. But, yes, you gotta take the heat if you want to work in the kitchen of NT Studies.

  5. pete permalink

    Larry, thanks for this, that is a very helpful treatment.

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