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The Internet and Scholarly Discussion

September 22, 2017

The Internet does not necessarily serve us well when it comes to scholarly discussion of topics.  As an experienced “blogger” attempting to promote scholarly work now, I know this well.

On the one hand, it’s wonderful to post something and then within days (or even hours) to have responses and helpful contributions from other scholars across the world, sometimes from individuals that I otherwise don’t know personally.  It’s also encouraging and affirms a sense of the worth of my efforts when there are readers who ask questions, or ask for further information/explanation, or who ask about contrary views. On the other hand, it’s tiresome and annoying when others clearly out of their depth in knowledge of the subject but who confidently take issue on some matter, act as if they have some superior grasp of things.

The Internet makes it possible for us to express our opinion freely, almost effortlessly.  But that doesn’t mean that we should do so!  Scholarship doesn’t properly consist in half-baked notions based on insufficient (or inaccurate) information.  Scholarly discourse demands good knowledge of the relevant data and prior scholarly work on the data, the ability to analyze the data and make cogent inferences, and a readiness to learn from others.

In the world of scholarship, your opinion gets as much respect and attention as it deserves, based on your having demonstrated your knowledge of the data and ability to analyze and construct cogent inferences and interpretations–“demonstrated” in the judgment of other scholars competent to judge.  Scholarship isn’t a townhall meeting.  It’s a meritocracy in which opinions suffer informed critique, and those views that get accepted are the ones that are seen to be worthwhile by those competent to judge, who have themselves had to develop and demonstrate the “goods.”  In the memorable words of the Bill Murray character in the movie Stripes, “That’s the fact, Jack!”

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  1. Laura Ferris permalink

    Hello Professor Hurtado,

    I just found your site and am very eager to begin reading your work! Thank you for making it public here for lay people such as myself to learn from.
    As for this post, I simply wanted to suggest the site Academia. It is a platform for scholars to share and comment on each other’s research within a huge variety of subjects. You can find it here:
    I stumbled across it and read from it periodically. I mention it only with the hopes you might find it beneficial.
    However, I do think that our technology communication now has seriously cramped the human connection available in real conversation.

    Blessings to you!
    Laura Ferris

  2. Your argument would be more convincing if you could show that patronage played no part in the system you describe as a meritocracy. How many scholars do you know you have had a successful career without the benefit of (initial) patronage? And how many established scholars do you know who have acted as a patron to younger scholars with whom they disagree? If not many, then it might be the case that it is not necessarily ‘pure merit’ that leads to success but ‘merit with a certain element of conformity’?

    • If you mean that at the early stages of one’s academic career it is important to earn endorsements from more senior scholars, e.g., for references for academic posts–of course. But I emphasize, “earn” their endorsements. It’s the quality of your work that will commend it. There is also your ability at teaching, and readiness to work collegially in running a dept. that will count for posts.
      I stand by the term, “meritocracy”.

      • “Scholarship doesn’t properly consist in half-baked notions based on insufficient (or inaccurate) information … In the world of scholarship, your opinion gets as much respect and attention as it deserves.”

        I’m glad to live in a world where this is *sometimes* true – but I have to accept that it is a world where this is not always true. Here is a famous ‘for instance’. BH Streeter developed the Four Source Hypothesis on the back of half-baked notions and woefully inadequate handling of the data. Since 1924, however, his theories have enjoyed exceptionally widespread attention and respect. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more phenomenal endorsement than the International Q Project (IQP) – which represents the work of hundreds of scholars who have burned millions of dollar in pursuit of an entity founded on the faulty logic and false assumptions of, among others, BH Streeter.

        On what basis do I make this claim? I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to demonstrate my “knowledge of the data and ability to analyze and construct cogent inferences and interpretations–“demonstrated” in the judgment of other scholars competent to judge”. That is to say, I have presented my ideas at numerous research seminars (including one graciously chaired by yourself), I have received unsolicited endorsement from those qualified to judge, e.g. Richard Bauckham “your arguments are compelling”, and I have published my ideas in a prestigious peer review journal *New Testament Studies* 62.2 and 62.3 (2016).

        If you are right about the system being a ‘meritocracy’ I should be able to look forward to the imminent disbandment of the IQP. I won’t, however, be holding my breath!

        Links to video presentations of the papers I refer to are available via

      • You’re confusing two things: (1) whether scholarly work involves critical engagement with and from other scholars in a subject as the basis for one’s views getting and airing and some acceptance, and (2) the difficulty scholars have in surrendering a long-held and widely held view. You’re challenging one such view, and so you can’t expect everyone immediately to accept your arguments. Believe, I know the experience. But my point in that original posting was that scholarship involves boning up on the data, formulating analyses and arguments for other scholars to test and challenge, not by bluffing one’s way along in comments (or even postings) on blog sites when one doesn’t have the goods. You’ll just have to keep at your work, Alan, and see what happens.

  3. Donald Jacobs permalink

    Dear Professor Hurtado, all I did was ask who the scholars are that propose the early NT text was wild and chaotic. I thought the request was ordinary and relevant because, while you have good reasons for your view, it would be good to read why others hold the view you are arguing against. Isn’t that normal in transparent scholarship: to cite the names of the authors of those you are critiquing? I guessed you had in mind scholars like Ehrman and Parker but I wasn’t sure and I certainly would like direction on where to read the original arguments themselves.

    • I think you know very well who uses these terms, Donald. Attempting to be coy isn’t your strong suit!

      • Donald Jacobs permalink

        Well if it’s not Ehrman I genuinely don’t have a clue. I can imagine Ehrman using those words. I think Parker (and others) argue the early text was fluid, but is more moderate in his language.

      • I prefer to make my point, Donald, rather than discuss other people.

  4. John Bavington permalink

    Dear Dr Hurtado,

    Speaking as a church leader with merely a BA in theology, I find your blog an invaluable aide to my ministry, and remarkably accessible considering the subject matter.

    What puzzles me is how some “scholars” manage to get work published which lacks the merits you describe… work which is poorly informed and not based on good data. For example, I am thinking of Tom Wrights little book “Who was Jesus?” which effectively dispatches some poor work by Thiering, and Spong, But if the academic world works as you say, how did those people get their work published?

    Any way, keep up the good work!

    John Bavington

    • You don’t have to write good scholarship to get a book published. Indeed, it may impede it getting published! Spong, et alia didn’t go through the scholarly process, but simply wrote a sensationalized book, which means it would sell: The public loves it when bishops say naughty things!

  5. Thank you, I couldn’t agree more. Keep up the good work. I may not always agree, but you always present a solid case for your position and I enjoy the many insights you present. This is what I try to present to my students, you don’t have to agree with the professor but you MUST have a cogent argument for your position.

  6. Amen, Bill! (I mean Larry).

  7. …..[edited for conciseness–LWH]
    I also think that answering questions and criticisms from laypeople, even if they are frustrating and disrespectful at times, is part of the scholars calling. I have seen a growing divide between the pastoral world and the academic world that often results in scholars being overly dismissive of criticism from non-academic sources especially from other faith traditions. This topic is especially poignant for me because I just had a layperson I know suggest I read some of your work. He is routinely critical of academics.and I suspect that he

    • I have no problem with responding to “lay” people or those who aren’t expert in my subject (but may well be in others). My annoyance is with those who act as if they are experts in the field, and aren’t, but simply have their own opinions and assert them in the face of the data, and refuse to learn.

  8. Alan Paul permalink

    Dr Hurtado,

    Your blog is extremely rewarding, otherwise I and many others would not visit in with such frequency. You succeed in ventilating issues of great interest to your readers and provide a forum that is informative, entertaining and thought provoking.

    The matters that are the subject of your blog are difficult and complex. They demand a high degree of detailed specialist knowledge. The evidence is sometimes open to different interpretations and scholarly opinion on most of these issues is seldom unanimous. That of course is one of the reasons why the study of early Christian origins and the early texts is so fascinating.

    I can therefore understand why, having devoted over half a century to the study of these issues, you may find it tiresome to receive dissenting views from people, many of whom lack your academic qualifications and research experience. But this is the battlefield on which you have raised your banner: to your credit, you are facilitating and permitting and open and eclectic discussion.

    If you wanted to confine discussion to a small circle of like-minded scholars, you could choose a different kind of forum. But your readership would decline, and the cause of promoting knowledge of and interest in early Christianity would suffer a corresponding loss.

    It’s up to you to decide how, and in what tone, to respond to dissenting views expressed in the comments section of your blog. I suspect that most readers are used to your style, and either adore it or accept it as part of the entrance ticket to the discussion.

  9. Arvo permalink

    Too many thoughts to get into, but you are right. Too few ask, “How do I know (x)?” Too few are humble enough about their opinions to go back to make certain their holdings are reasonable after suggestions that they might be off. I admire your patience with some of the comments and the authors thereof that pass the muster of moderation; I’d almost like to see those which do not make the cut, but that would tempt me to ridicule my siblings in Christ, which would be contrary to love.

  10. Professor Hurtado
    Thank you for your concise expression of the situation with regard to some interventions on the internet. This is naturally frustrating and annoying for anyone, like you, who bases their statements on thorough research over many years, and on a respect for what the data actually tells us.

    However, I am sure that you are aware that there are many of “us” “out here” in internet land (wherever in the physical world we might be) who do appreciate your blog, which provides us with up-to-date information in a way that is rarely possible in your printed books (which no doubt many of us also appreciate).

    This is not meant to sound fawning, merely a request that you do not “lose heart”, but keep up the good work of your blog.
    With best wishes
    Trevor R Allin
    (presently in the U.K.)

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