The Latest on the So-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” and the Benefits of Scholars Blogging

So-called Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Appears to be a forgery, in which the forger accidentally copied a typo from an online PDF translation of the Gospel of Thomas.

Jeremy Hsu at FoxNews has published an article entitled, “Did Jesus have a wife? Scholar calls parchment ‘forgery’“, that highlights the benefit of university professors, trained graduate students, and professional scholars using online resources like blogs and Facebook to share their research and findings regarding archaeological claims to craft together viable theories based in evidence.

This account was impressive:

The smoking gun
All the grammatical anomalies in the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife suggest the writer was not a native speaker or even an academic expert in Coptic — the ancient, dead language of early Christians living in Egypt. Instead, Bernhard says that the pattern of errors and suspiciously similar line breaks suggests an amateur might have forged the “patchwork” text using individual words and phrases taken from Michael Grondin’s Interlinear Coptic-English Translation of the Gospel of Thomas. [Most European Languages Unlikely to Survive Online]

“There’s this general pattern in that everywhere the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife could diverge from gospel of Thomas, it doesn’t, and in places where it does [diverge], it appears it’s following Mike’s Interlinear,” Bernhard told TechNewsDaily.

One the most suspicious grammatical errors in the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife appeared to be a direct copy of a typo in the PDF file version of the Interlinear translation — a connection that Grondin himself made when he was examining his translation. He shared that knowledge with Mark Goodacre, an associate professor of New Testament at Duke University, who had been writing up a blog post independently about the possibility of the “Jesus’ Wife fragment” being a forgery.

Goodacre and Bernhard eventually got in touch and agreed to coordinate the online publishing of their respective blog post and paper. Goodacre credits Bernhard with first making the connection between the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and the online version of the Gospel of Thomas.

“I would have already put money on this thing being problematic, given the links between the fragment and the Coptic Gospel of Thomas,” Goodacre explained. “But the link with the online Interlinear version of the Gospel of Thomas really makes, for me, the case of authenticity a very difficult one.”

It is amazing how the internet is evolving with scholarship, and how scholars are beginning to harness the power of social media to share preliminary research. Of course, these results must still be subject to academic peer review, but because social media allows many more scholars to provide initial feedback (either making additional contributions by highlighting potentially overlooked evidence, or by encouraging the discard of poorer arguments through scholarly criticism and refutation), the arguments are usually much stronger by the time they reach the publisher’s desk. This is a good thing.

Check out the article. And read the summaries of the scholarly consensus, which appear to be leaning toward declaring the unprovenanced document, acquried from an anonymous antiquities dealer, as some sort of forgery. Of course there are some amateurs and pseudoscientists and pretend scholars who, for reasons of their own financial gain, attention, or conspiracy mongering, really really want this to be authentic. But those scholars who use scholarship to share evidence and debate claims and craft together a working theory based in fact are trending toward forgery.

And kudos to my colleague, Mark Goodacre!!

More:
http://www.ntweblog.blogspot.com/2012/10/jesus-wife-fragment-further-evidence-of.html
http://www.ntweblog.blogspot.com/2012/10/divorcing-mrs-jesus-leo-depuydts-report.html
http://www.ntweblog.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-gospel-of-jesus-wife-latest.html
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/10/jesus-wife-an-egyptologists-perspective.html

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on being wrong as a scholar

I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I’m promoting it to a post of its own because I believe it’s important.

It is important for scholars to admit when they are wrong.

Whether it is a mistake in their data collection, or a misreading of the data in their analysis, or a conclusion that is later refuted by stronger evidence or more recent discoveries, or a claim regarding evidence that is better explained by another scholar’s theory – it is important for scholars to concede when they come to believe the evidence has led to some other conclusion.

This can serve as a quick lesson to students both in the sciences and in the humanities, but I’m especially thinking about students in religious studies. The beauty of science and the scientific method is that scholars are free to admit they were wrong when better evidence and arguments come along. In fact, we are encouraged to do so. Rather than dig in our heels and argue until our dying breath for interpretations that have long been disproved by new evidence, critical scholars celebrate peer-review and the discussion of ideas among learned individuals, who offer new proposals and bring knowledge and familiarity with evidence from their respective specialized fields to the discussion.

Through the scientific process, a consensus is often reached that is based upon a consideration of all of the latest evidence, and not just the claims of those who made them first or the loudest, or worse yet, who bypassed the scholarly process altogether to take their sensational claim directly to the public for the purposes of selling a popular book.

This is difficult to do for the proud, or for those who have invested much time and money in arguing for one interpretation. But when new data comes along, a scholar must be willing to set aside what he or she previously held to be true and interpret the data according to the new evidence.

Now, I fully acknowledge that this is particularly difficult for those in religious studies, especially for those who hold to a personal religious belief. However, it is essential that critical scholars be objective enough to follow the evidence where it leads, and if that evidence leads to a conflict with one’s personal faith claims, the scholar must have the courage to amend his or her personal beliefs, that is, if one wants to remain a critical scholar.

The field of religious studies is full of apologists who claim to operate within the critical method of science, but who are quick to abandon a critical method when it conflicts with their personal religious beliefs. These individuals are constantly seeking ways to explain away evidence that contradicts their claims, or to attempt to reconcile what they believe with the facts and evidence before them, however twisted that outcome might be. A true scholar must have the humility and the courage to admit that new evidence has caused the scholar to rethink his or her position, concede that the old interpretation was wrong, and move forward in the pursuit of truth.

As a scholar, I am humbled, and yet pleased when I can admit when an interpretation I previously held was wrong, because it means I am still learning from my colleagues and peers, who have taken the time to engage me in academic debate.

in defense of the digital humanities, open courseware, and online publishing

This is one of the best cases I’ve seen for the Digital Humanities, open courseware, and online publishing. It demonstrates the need for universities, and especially tenure-granting committees to consider digital media as equally worthy of consideration during tenure reviews as scholarly articles printed on paper in peer-review journals and monographs published by traditional academic publishers. This transition should be hastened by the present scampering of traditional print publishers to establish digital publishing presences online (as I’ve mentioned here). It is also a clever demonstration of the legitimacy that advances in online education, improvements in Wikipedia contributor rules, blogging, Google scholar projects, harnessing social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, course management systems like Moodle, and new forms of 3D and hypermedia publishing have brought not only to the Digital Humanities, but to scholarship in general. Give it a view and leave comments below.

HT: Amanda Waldo

dr. ed wright responds to my peer-review article on bible and interpretation: a word on professional conduct in the academy

Dr. Ed Wright, Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Arizona and President of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem has responded to my article entitled, “How and Why Academic Peer-Review is About to Change,” on the Bible and Interpretation website. Dr. Wright’s article is entitled, “The Case for the Peer-Review Process: A Rejoinder to ‘How and Why Academic Peer-Review is About to Change’.”

Dr. Wright is a friend and colleague, and I respect his opinion and the solid points he makes in his response. I’d also like to point out that this is how scholarly debate is supposed to take place. When a scholar produces research or a publication for consumption by the academy and/or the public, the scholar should expect and even invite professional criticism. It is the only way to expose holes in a theory or an academic argument, and this process makes the theory stronger. By pointing out problems with a theory, members of the academy contribute to a global discussion and together collaborate to find an interpretation or theory that best explains all of the data. Political candidates do the same thing during debates: they stand up and critique their opponent’s points of view, and, if done properly and professionally, they shake hands when it’s over and go have a beer together. That’s how it works.

Scholars should never personally smear or attempt to harm the professional development of anyone with whom they disagree. Rather, scholars (and students, and the public at large for that matter) should always argue each case on the merits of the argument. This is precisely what Dr. Wright has done here, and it is precisely what Dr. Jodi Magness and I did last year in the pages of NEA and the SBL session that reviewed my book. We stood up, exchanged points of view, pointed out flaws in each other’s theories, and then walked to the next session, where we advocated side-by-side on the same side of a different issue. Scholars should never respond to a professional, public critique of their work with personal attacks. Rather, scholars should respond on the merits of the argument in public (including peer-review journals, blogs, professional conferences, etc.), let others contribute responses, or not respond. Attacking someone personally will only bring much-deserved shame upon the attacking scholar.

This is how it’s supposed to work. Scholars should make their arguments in their own name and stand behind their claims. They should submit to the peer-review process to be critiqued by an assembly of their peers. This ensures the quality of the academic work and improves the collaborative understanding of a particular subject. Rather than attacking a scholar personally with an anonymous campaign of letters designed to impugn the credibility of a scholar who may hold a differing point of view, scholars should offer alternatives and allow the public (i.e., the academy if a scholarly issue, or the greater public if a popular issue) to determine which arguments seem best.

This is what Dr. Wright and Dr. Magness have done. It is what Larry Schiffman and John Collins and Eibert Tigchelaar and David Stacey and the late Hanan Eshel and Eric Cline and Yuval Peleg and many others have done. We all disagree with each other on any number of topics. And we may very well agree on any number of other issues as well. The point is that we humbly submit our contributions to the academy and the greater public for consideration, we make our critiques professionally, and we stand behind and are accountable for the manner in which we conduct ourselves. The academy has, with very few exceptions, always set the example for professional conduct in the exchange of ideas. The academy is the model to which the public and politicians ought to look as the ultimate example of civil disagreement. And this is what Dr. Wright and so many others have done. I hope to follow their example and always offer commentary and scholarly opinions in a professional, transparent (and occasionally humorous) manner.

Thanx again to Dr. Wright for responding. I’m sure the topic will come up when I see him at the ASOR annual meeting this year in Atlanta, hopefully over a beer (that he buys ;-)

bc

new article on the future of peer-review at bible and interpretation

Bible and Interpretation has published my latest essay entitled, “How and Why Academic Peer-Review is About to Change.” The article looks at how new technologies like blogs, wikis, and Google Docs can improve the peer-review process by allowing for increased review, an improved editing process, and a shorter time to press. Check it out.

the single greatest argument against junk science i have ever seen

intelligent_aliensthis is absolutely the best argument against ‘intelligent design,’ ancient aliens, and all other forms of junk science, pseudoscience, and sensationalism i’ve seen. in this short clip, the narrator provides a satirical argument eviscerating the popular tendency of junk scientists to bypass critical method, peer-review, and all forms of scientific evidence to make an otherwise unfounded claim. the portion of the video that compares claims of alien involvement in the development of humanity’s various technologies to the present ‘intelligent design’ movement, which uses the court system and claims of academic freedom to advance non-scientific theories under threats of violation of the equal protection clause.

why produce evidence when you can claim that your ‘belief’ is free speech, and that it should be considered just as ‘possible’ as theories that have veritable support of actual scientific data?

you see, doing science is hard work. conducting original research, writing technical papers with lots of footnotes and publishing them in reputable journals where they’ll be critically examined by other highly trained scientists isn’t exactly easy. even if you are lucky enough to make it through the peer-review process unscathed, you still have to present your work at professional conferences, where the world’s experts will pick apart your assumptions and methods to find anything that you might have overlooked in your research. why would anybody voluntarily subject themselves to this madness? i can understand doing it to get some honest feedback, but if your mind is already made up, what’s the point of exposing yourself to criticism?

this is where i believe the intelligent alien intervention institute can learn a thing or two from the discovery institute, the driving force behind the ‘intelligent design’ movement. the ‘intelligent design’ movement has discovered how to effectively bypass the protocols traditionally used to weed out junk science. just think how useful such a loophole could be.

absolutely classic!

circular reasoning, public appeal, demonizing science and scientists, the use of the court system, the assistance of politicians and fundraising, and claims of freedom of expression are all tactics used by amateurs, hacks, pseudoscientists, and sensationalists to advance their claims when they possess no data to support them.

this video makes this point succinctly and in a most entertaining fashion. with thanx to michael heiser for the tip and creator gordon j. glover, give it a look.

thought for the day: on the scholarly process

when making a claim, the fact that you are not a professional scholar does not exempt you from the responsibilities of sound reason, good judgment, requirements of evidence, peer-review, and cross-examination that make up the scholarly process.

robert r. cargill

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