Monday, August 13, 2007

Comments on Hoffmann's Statement

I have some comments on the Statement by R. Joseph Hoffmann: Jesus Project v. Jesus Squad, the substance of which I shared with Joseph Hoffmann over the weekend.

What seems clear, having the statement, is that there was no malicious intent on Hoffmann's or anyone else's part in publishing the list of "fellows" on the site. It seems to have been a mistake, and one that has now been put right both by taking down the old list and issuing the statement. That's a great relief to hear. It is disappointing, though, that there is no apology for the mistake. Although the explanation is the fundamental thing, it would have been straightforward to have said something like, "We are sorry for any confusion . . . ."

My major concern about the statement was the way that it talked about bloggers and blogging. It may be that the blogs Hoffmann had in mind were genuinely unhelpful and problematic, but since the only one he mentions by name is Jim West's, it is difficult to know which ones he was concerned about. As a blogger myself, I was not keen on the use of catch-all terms like "blog assault" and "blogmasters". The following sentences, in particular, concerned me:
False report, of course, is the culture in which blogging thrives. But even bloggers have a minimal responsibility to fact and to discovering facts.
These statements are, I think, unfair since most of the bloggers that I know, and who blog in the areas of ancient world / Biblical Studies / Christian origins, are firmly committed to honest reporting and setting the record straight. Indeed, if anything, one of the engines that drives blogging is the desire to keep scholars and scholarship honest, and to hold the media and others to account where they engaging in false reporting.

Similarly, Hoffmann speaks about "the uncontrolled methods of Bible-blog", but I would want to add that one of the strengths of the blogs is that they are uncontrolled. There is no central authority, nor should there ever be one; their glory is in that they are a democratic medium in which scholars and students put their views out into the public where they themselves can be discussed, engaged, confirmed, refuted.

However, it may be that Hoffmann is talking about quite different blogs than the ones I read. And that perspective may be confirmed by the use of the term "Jesus Squad" in the title and body of the piece. I am guessing that that is Hoffmann's own description of those who have, he feels, been unfair to the Jesus Project. But if so, I think it might have been worth clarifying that all bloggers should not be tarred with the same brush. Where there have been concerns raised in the blogs I read, they appeared to me to be honest, legitimate concerns about what appeared to be misleading claims.

I shared the substance of the above with Joseph Hoffmann, who said in response "Your inference is correct; I mean to make a distinction between those who simply want to torpedo the Project and those who are simply seeking clarification." I am still not clear which blogs are being talked about here, except that I can't imagine they are among those that I regularly read.

In comments to my previous post, Chris notes the statement, "I recognize no names, among the bloggers, of anyone who has been invited at any stage to participate in the JP" and wonders about April DeConick and James Tabor, both of whom were listed among the fellows, and both of who have commented on the project.

Update (11.40): Chris Zeichman has some helpful comments on Thoughts on Antiquity headed Hoffmann responds to blogdom on The Jesus Project.

Update (14.10): Doug Chaplin has some interesting comments on Metacatholic, The Jesus Project: On not being responsible.

Update (Tuesday, 12.20): Chris Heard has some helpful comments, also picking up on the "even bloggers . . ." comment, on Higgaion: Jesus Project Update.

7 comments:

Ekaputra Tupamahu said...

R. Joseph Hoffmann’s response, for me, is too emotive and reactive. Perhaps he is afraid that the project will lose its power/influence. Thanks for your comment to his response.

Geoff Hudson said...

Methinks EVERYONE doth protest too loudly. The protests of innocence by bloggers and Hoffmann alike have all the hallmarks of something artificially contrived by apparent opponents. The purpose of the Project appears to be about control, isolation and ridicule of so-called 'fringe' writers. The big question is: who are the sponsors? I don't believe for a minute that the Project will ever be open-minded.

J. B. Hood said...

Mark,

I think this all boils down to a "generation gap" when it comes to the use of the internet to publicize and communicate and discuss. Hoffmann doesn't appear to be web-savvy, i.e., fails to note bloggers associated with the project, which is not an aspersion, simply a fact, since he is part of the "pre-Simpsons generation".

Therefore, he and possibly others associated with him failed to realize the significance of putting "in progress" work on the web without due notice. I don't think they printed hard-copies, since things were tentative. But he and others must learn that, for the "Simpsons generation," the internet is just as concrete as hard copies.

In fact, we've been conditioned to believe that the internet is actually MORE concrete than printed literature, since it can be updated to reflect current conditions, etc. For example, if you were planning out SBL sessions on Nov 15, would you rely on printed material or the web? Do classes in the student handbook at any particular college or university reflect what's actually on offer, or would it be more accurate to rely on what the registrar tells us on the web? If a scholar has a website and blog, then one should probably consult that rather than (only) printed material, if one wants the latest version of a theory, responses to critiques, etc.

Geoff Hudson said...

As concrete as the quicksands of Morecambe Bay - in relation to the bible-blogs.

Eric Rowe said...

Geoff, the matter of sponsorship for the Jesus Project is not a secret. The project exists under the umbrella of the Center for Inquiry, a religious organization that is zealously committed to spreading secularism anti-supernaturalism. See here:
www.centerforinquiry.net

Anonymous said...

I don't know if anyone else has noticed, but the website still seems to contain information that contradicts things Hoffmann is saying. The sole item on the "News" page is this: '6-15-07 The first meeting of the Jesus Project is scheduled for December 7-9, 2007, by invitation. Details to follow.'

Why is this still here if Hoffmann writes that the complete group of fellows may not even be ready by 2008?
Is an event planned for December '07 with an incomplete group?
Why is it so difficult to get consistent, basic information about this endeavor?

Geoff Hudson said...

Eric, my experience, gut-instinct or paranoia tells me that the Jesus Project can only be a 'double-blind'. I'll bet the financial records of its backers are kept well and truly under lock and key.