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“Net-iquette” Reminders

December 11, 2013

Since people new to this blog site are subscribing every week and others are jumping in now and then to comment, it’s well for me to remind everyone about the policies in force, the “net-iquette” to observe.  (The site policy is stated under the “About me and this site” tab on the home page.)

Names:  In polite conversation, people introduce themselves; they don’t hide behind masks or use phony monikers.  So, on this site, I remind everyone, let’s observe normal social conventions.  You know my name, so use yours.  Sign your comments.

Decorum:  Direct challenge (e.g., you’ve mis-read X, or haven’t noted Y, or misunderstand Z) is fair comment.  That’s what scholars do all the time.  It’s fair also to characterize someone’s position as crazy, ignorant, bizarre, tendentious, etc.  But let’s avoid name-calling.  And in particular let’s avoid accusations that comprise defamation.  I’ve simply trashed a few comments of that kind recently, e.g., some arising over the “Jesus’ wife” fragment.

Bear in mind that things you put on the internet/web are “published”, and so liable to the laws of defamation.  There’ve been some recent cases in the UK where people have been sued and/or prosecuted for Twitter comments and comments on blog sites.  If I were to allow such a defamatory comment I could be liable as well.  So, keep it within the law.  Indeed, let’s try to do better than what the law requires.

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  1. Thank you for the response, this has actually helped me get a better understanding of your position. However, for me, this raises even more serious questions about the philosophy of historical study. I wish you would do a post on the subject.

  2. Dr. Hurtado, Thanks for reiterating the wealth of materials that you provide under the “Selected Essays, etc.” tab. Your scholarship as well as your leadership in making these resources available is much appreciated. May this holiday season find you healthy and surrounded by those who love you.

  3. JASON
    One of the more popular tactics seems to be the asking of specious questions with no real desire for an honest answer, but done in some bizarre desire to sow seeds of doubt…I guess. Its all too obvious, so I don’t know who they think they’re fooling.

    Jason makes a good point.

    People who are asked questions about the origins of Christianity are not going to be fooled into having doubts about their answers.

    • OK. Guys. Let’s drop the schoolboy sparring. The posting was about the policies for comments on this site. Steven, your attempt to be clever mis-fires (again), but it’s not illegal!

  4. Ross Macdonald permalink

    Am I to understand, based on the last sentence of this ‘net-iquette’ post, that you are placing a “hedge around the law”?

  5. Rod permalink

    Hi Professor Hurtado! In your response to Donald’s comment you said, ” I’ve not invoked anything supernatural as explanatory of the eruption of Jesus-devotion. That would be a theological judgement, and I’m engaged in historical work.” I am interested to know how you are able to make historical claims about Christ and NT origins while disengaging from yours findings theologically. Personally, I find it hard to avoid making “theological judgments” when I study the NT but you may know of a better way. Thank you for your thoughts.

    • Rod: The key thing is to keep your question(s) clear. The question determines the method and the evidence. So, e.g., if your question is a historical one, then the only relevant things are valid historical data and methods. If your question is a theological one, then other things apply.
      As for the possible ramifications of historical inquiry for one’s religious (or non/anti-religious) orientation, that too is essentially a theological judgment, and best kept out of the picture when doing the historical inquiry. This is part of what makes historical work (and historical-critical work in NT/Christian origins) a discipline (i.e., involving developing a discipline of one’s scholarly processes). It’s in fact necessary for anyone, regardless of what kind of faith, non-faith, anti-faith (or whatever) stance they hold personally. But fundamentalists (both kinds, the anti-critical faith-affirmers and the polemical faith-deniers too) share a fallacious assumption: That Christian faith is incompatible with genuine historical-critical inquiry. The anti-faith fundamentalist therefore cites historical-critical findings as if proof of the invalidity of faith, and the faith-affirming fundamentalist tries to avoid historical-critical inquiry (or tries to water it down) for the same reason.
      I hold it as a principle that historical-critical inquiry is the way to approach historical questions, and that religious faith must be able to affirm this inquiry and not fear it. I may have more to say in a future blog-posting.

      • But can the line become blurred? For instance, you often mention early Jesus devotion and how it may have emerged. So this is something that is very important to you, and you deal with it on a historical level. Asking question such as why would some Jews abandon their long held beliefs concerning monotheism. What if this has nothing to do with historical study? What if it is all about theology? As I’m sure you know, and I have even seen you touch on it a few times, the most obvious explanation to this situation is that God commanded it to be this way. However, I would like to go into a little more detail of how he commanded it. The simple answer is that God, through the holy spirit revealed the information about Jesus’ new role, among other things, to those that became believers. . . . .
        (Howard: I’ve pared down your lengthy comment, preserving your key statement, but deleting the rest. LWH)

      • Howard: The historian can note that people reported experiences which they took to be God, the Holy spirit, the risen/exalted Jesus, etc. Their reports and their experiences are historical phenomena. But whether their interpretation of their experiences was valid, i.e., was it really God, the Spirit, etc., or was it . . . their imagination, or hallucination, or whatever. Any such judgement, ANY, is a theological/philosophical stance.
        So, in historical terms, experiences which early believers took to be revelations of God formed (in my view) a crucial impetus for the eruption of Jesus-devotion, and for the “mutation” in Jewish monotheistic practice that it comprised. (They didn’t see themselves as abandoning their ancestral faith or God, but obeying the new revelations of this God.) That’s a historical statement. Whether it was God or the Spirit, that’s a theological judgment.

  6. Donald Jacobs permalink

    Professor Hurtado asked another reader under an earlier post what the work of Bauckham, Kruger and himself really had in common, noting that the subject areas of their research were really quite different. I gave a genuine attempt to explain what might be perceived as a common theme: historical revisionism in a conservative direction. Have they not all promoted major revisions (or paradigm shifts) in their areas of study? Are not those revisions in a recognisably conservative direction? I am still at a loss as to why pointing out the obvious should be so objectionable.

    And I am still not sure if the initial post was aimed at me or at others. I have always used my name and tried to be courteous.

    As to the demographics of biblical studies, I believe that Hector Avalos described how conservative scholars have supplanted liberals in recent decades in his book “The End of Biblical Studies”, and perhaps elsewhere too. I could try to find if interested.

    Is there a problem with a scholar also being an apologist in your view? Would one undermine the other? Since you venture out of the academy in your book “At the Origins of Christian Worship” to the extent that you suggest that your research has implications for contemporary worship, can you really then object to connections being noticed in the opposite direction?

    I think it is simply not credible to claim that whether worship of Jesus was early and spontaneous or later and gradually adapted from gentile practice is completely irrelevant to matters of Christian faith. I am open to finding out how it could be otherwise.

    • Donald: Two brief responses for now. (1) Your summary of the history of NT scholarship is skewed and ill-informed. See my own commissioned article on 20th century NT studies published in the journal Religion (the pre-pub version available on this site under the “Selected Essays, etc.” tab. (2) Your last paragraph is a splendid example of the fallacious premise that I’ve described in the Introduction to my book, Lord Jesus Christ. You presume that if the worship of Jesus was early it must be valid (theologically) and if late invalid. I see no reason that either is the case. It could be explosively early (as I and now an increasing number of scholars hold), and still be a crazy mania, and it could have developed across time and still be thought a valid revelation of God.
      My arguments for a particular view of the historical circumstances and expressions of “Jesus-devotion” are historical ones, invoking nothing but publicly available historical data and appealing to nothing more than historical method and judgments. No special pleading. No surreptitious agenda. That I am a Christian, and can also write as a Christian on other matters, is irrelevant, and invoking this as an excuse to avoid the historical arguments that I offer is itself a kind of special pleading. I hope this clarifies the matters for you.

  7. Donald Jacobs permalink

    Did my comment about you, Bauckham and Kruger being “conservative” scholars fall under this category? I am afraid I don’t understand that. I was a bit baffled as to why my comment should be labelled a “conspiracy theory”, since it seems to me straightforwardly true. The positions adopted by such scholars appear conservative, almost verging on apologetic. Haven’t you conceptualised your own work as apologetic? I always thought that was the clear implication, same with Bauckham. He’s not interested in proving the gospel narratives reach right back to the events themselves out of mere historical curiosity, but because it enhances the empirical claims of the faith he follows. And I presume the same is true when you gather evidence to prove that Jesus was worshipped by the very earliest Christians. This is in no way to denigrate the tremendous expertise, industry and ingenuity involved in the scholarship of conservative scholars. I enjoy reading it immensely. But it’s just a fact that different sorts of people are attracted to biblical and religious studies today than say a hundred years ago. Back then, when most people were still religious, or at least had a religious background, biblical studies was still a mainstream occupation, and there was a healthy mixture of liberal and conservative perspectives. Nowadays biblical studies reflects a smaller segment if society (the diminishing number of those who are religious or were religious and have lost faith) and it shows. It explains the conservative revisionism in lots of areas, not just in research on the sources for the gospels, the formation of the canon, and the date and origin of Christ devotion.

    You asked what part the “supernatural” plays in the explanatory framework of conservative scholars. Well isn’t it right there in your own work? Liberal scholars a hundred years ago explained the worship of Jesus as a gradual historical process as Christianity developed away from its Jewish roots. You have argued for pushing the worship of Jesus right back as far as possible so as to exclude gentile influence as a convincing explanation. And in a calculated pincer movement you’ve also argued that nothing in Jewish practice prepares for the worship of a figure like Jesus alongside God. So the result you present is the sudden worship of Jesus by his earliest followers. What can possibly explain this dramatic mutation in religious practice is the rhetorical question you leave dangling in the air. A supernatural event such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the not so thinly veiled answer I would venture to suggest. In case we miss the point you also cite Rodney Stark to that effect, a secular scholar who seems to enjoy championing Christianity at various junctures, perhaps proving the point that one does not even need to be a believer in order to support the prevailing conservative discourse in biblical studies.

    • Donald: Let me try to help you out of your misunderstandings (of which there are several). First, no, I have not set out as an apologist. I’ve candidly indicated that I’m a Christian, but have indicated that I don’t see that the historical matters that I’ve investigated are decisive for faith or against it. In particular, I’ve engaged questions of method and intention quite explicitly in the Introduction to my book, Lord Jesus Christ (esp. 5-11). So, I find your assumption puzzling indeed, and inappropriate. In fact, it sounds a bit like a strategem to disregard the historical analysis that I’ve provided. For emphasis: The validity or invalidity of Christian faith does not rest upon the historical case that I’ve made for the origins of Jesus-devotion. So, why not simply engage my evidence and argument, and drop the ad hominem?
      Second, your speculations about the demographics of biblical studies are completely wrong (“bass-ackwards” we’d say where I come from). There are now a much more diverse body of scholars engaged in biblical studies, from a much more diverse range of personal stances, e.g., Jewish NT scholars, atheist and “agnostic” NT scholars, “liberal” NT scholars (among whom I’m probably placed by some people, which will be ironic for you no doubt!), and others. There is no emerging control of the field by any cabal. Do take a breath!
      Third, I’ve not invoked anything supernatural as explanatory of the eruption of Jesus-devotion. That would be a theological judgement, and I’m engaged in historical work. Instead, I’ve made comparisons with the emergence of other new religious movements, noting that typically they arise from powerful/revelatory experiences of influential individuals, and have noted that this seems the case in Christian origins too. I’ve argued that older “evolutionary” representations of the emergence of “high” Jesus-devotion (e.g., a progressive “paganization” as more and more pagans/gentiles joined the movement) or even Bousset’s early-high theory (the early move to Damascus and Antioch and a supposed influx of pagans then/there as causitive) are both dubious, and I’ve given the evidence and reasoning for saying so. None of it invokes God, or “supernatural” stuff. So, again, I ask you to engage matters and desist from facile claims used to sidestep the force of what I show.

      • Jason Vonderau permalink

        It seems scholars spend more time correcting comments like Donald’s than actually discussing the subject of their blogs/journals. I follow a number of other scholarly blogs and journals that specialize in NT and Christian origins, and they all seem to attract a number hyper cynics who spend inordinate amounts of time poo-pooing anything that could tangentially be construed, in any way, a positive for Christianity, regardless of how critical or liberal the historical study/argument is.

        I’ve even seen some of the same posters on this blog across a number of other blogs and forums. For example, Steven Carr’s name pops up all the time, and he seems to have an almost religious zeal in attempting to undermine (with no real arguments) anything that might even hint at supporting a relatively traditional or conservative view, regardless of the scholarly consensus or the strength of the scholarship on the subject. One of the more popular tactics seems to be the asking of specious questions with no real desire for an honest answer, but done in some bizarre desire to sow seeds of doubt…I guess. Its all too obvious, so I don’t know who they think they’re fooling.

        It seems nothing short of a complete mythologizing of the historical Jesus, other Biblical persons, and maybe the entirety of the early church will satisfy these types of folks, and little of it seems motivated by a real curiosity in the subject matter, but instead fueled by some sort of personal agenda. For those of us who are interested in the investigation of the origins of the Bible, Christianity, and the early church no matter where that investigation will lead us (either towards or away from a traditional or conservative view), its annoying to see time and time again. I’m surprised more scholars don’t turn off the comments section of their blogs altogether, or do like others (Ehrman for instance), and make them pay to view. Maybe that’s why so few NT scholars take the time to do public blog in the first place, which makes blogs like yours, Dr. Hurtado, that much more valuable. Thanks for making all of this accessible to non-experts like myself.

      • Well, it’s a bit more feasible for me as I’m “Emeritus” (formally retired) and so able to schedule my own activities without having to meet other demands (classes, committees, etc.). But, yes, it is a good bit tiresome when you launch something in good faith, simply trying to open windows on scholarly work for a wider public, and you get a few people who essentially have their minds made up (on one side of this or that issue or another) and simply want either to sound off or try to impress with their self-imagined cleverness (which typically doesn’t quite come off well). Not naming anyone . . . just saying.

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