Monday, March 2, 2009

White v. Ehrman

Nick Norelli, diligent gatekeeper of the biblioblog world, directed me to this post in which James White virulently criticizes Bart Ehrman's Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them). Several statements were particularly striking to me:

[T]he real issue is, does this book finally signal the end of Ehrman's "I'm not a theologian, I'm just a high-brow scholar so I cannot be held accountable for all the theological pronouncements I make" excuse making? Will those in the "academy" finally see his real intentions, and start to recognize his bias?

I agree with Nick on this point, who rightly suggests (in the title of his post) that the unassuming academicians who blithely accept all of Ehrman's conclusions as objective gospel are a nonexistent category. Or, as Mike Aubrey stated in his comment on Nick's post, "I think the academy is quite well aware that there isn’t such thing as an unbiased scholar period." All of us--believers and nonbelievers, scholars, clergy, and congregants alike--possess inherent biases which affect each and every critical question we approach.

He [Ehrman] has moved far beyond the realm of his narrow expertise in his last three most popular books, all of which are designed to do one thing: destroy Christian faith.

While I haven't read Ehrman's latest book (his publishing prowess far outstrips my meager free time), I have read a large amount of his work, including text-critical monographs and articles not normally read by the general public. Sometimes I agree with him and sometimes I don't. But I admire the way in which he digests and analyzes the extant evidence, and I certainly don't think that his principal goal is to destroy the Christian faith. Personally, I suspect his chief aim is financial and popular success; as one of my undergraduate professors once observed, "A lot of scholars hate Ehrman, but it's mostly because he's making money hand over fist." This argument is supported by the fact that many of his books are strikingly similar to one another in both style and content, and are designed to appeal to a more popular market that will support higher sales and prestige. But this doesn't make them salvos against the Christian faith, merely alternative readings of the available evidence. Ehrman may occasionally play upon the emotions of his readers in order to make the New Tork Times bestseller list, but his critics are almost always guilty of the same crime.

I might note that the quote above would be just as applicable to the Islamic view of the fire as well. Just don't ask Bart about that. As he begins his rounds on NPR, do you think someone will ask him, "So, you are saying Allah in the Qur'an is a never-dying eternal divine Nazi?" Yeah, probably not.

This seems to be a deliberately provocative comment designed to inflame the passions of the reader rather than contribute to a sober, rational refutation of the ideas and contents of the book in question. Ehrman is not, has never been, and has never claimed to be an Islamic scholar. Any caution or outright refusal to apply his conclusions to a field of study in which he has no specialized knowledge should be viewed as academic restraint--an academic restraint which many scholars, commentators, and critics should practice more often.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said!