Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Latest Biblioblog Top 50

The latest Biblioblog Top 50 is out and it is not good news for my NT Blog, which is nowhere to be seen, though the NT Gateway blog still clocks in at a very respectable 12. So let's see what we can do to move my NT Blog up into the mix for next month. There is plenty of good news, though, including the reappearance of Paleojudaica at Number 32, though I am still amazed by what the punters view ahead of Jim Davila's blog. I am also pleased to see the blog of Helen Ingram, my former PhD student, The Omega Course, gaining an honorable mention:
But then we found Helen Ingram’s smoking new blog, delightfully named The Omega Course, which discusses Jesus and Magic - that is, when she’s not playing Metallica’s ‘Nothing Else Matters’ on a church organ.

Who is behind the Dilettante Hobby Horse Blog?

In recent days there has been some speculation about the identity of the author of the new Dilettante Hobby Horse blog. As soon as it became clear that it was not by the artist formerly known as N. T. Wrong, attention turned to Jim West. Could he be the author of this new blog? Those who are inclined to think so cite several pieces of circumstantial evidence that appear to point to Jim. Some of them are pretty obvious, the repeated use of the term "dilettante", one of Jim's favourites, the repeated references to Jim ("if you are Jim West . . ."; Extra Hudson) as well as contributions from Jim (Another one for you) and regular comments (comments, comments, comments).

But of course all that that tells us is that Jim is an enthusiastic supporter of the new blog. It does not make him its author. Attention has naturally turned, therefore, to the blog's style. Does it sound like Jim? Certainly it features a striking number of his favourite language, "idiocy", "crackpot", "lunacy", "pearls", alongside the use of sarcasm and neologisms constructed around names. "Hudsonianism" and "hobby horsistians" in the new blog are analogous to famous Westisms such as "Wrightianity", "Wrightianist", "bibliobloggists", "Bentley-ism" and "Bentley-ism-anity".

It is difficult to be convinced by such speculation. The Dilettante Hobby Horse Blog cannot be Jim's work because his position on anonymous blogs is clear and often repeated, e.g. On blogging anonymously, where he comments that "Blogging anonymously is akin to citing Wikipedia, so far as I’m concerned". Or here:
An alias is a means by which a person hides him or herself, in a delightfully cowardly way, behind the mantle of anonymity. Anonymity, such persons believe, allows them to make the most outrageous and unsubstantiated claims without fear of having to give an account of themselves.

Like unprovenanced artifacts, however, unattributable comments have neither value nor worth and cannot be taken seriously by anyone. They are the academic equivalent of ‘www.juicycampus.com’ - a site devoted to slander and stupidity.
(Learning about the intelligence of readers via comments)
Moreover, Jim himself has denied being the author of the new blog (Finally, there's a place for all the dilettantes to assemble). So we have an interesting new biblioblogging mystery. Why does the author of the Dilettante Hobby Horse Blog model his language and style on Jim's? Jim: I think you have a fan!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Beg the Question alert

Beg the QuestionFrom Mark Allen Powell, Jesus as a Figure in History (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox, 1998), 78:

"The group's [i.e. Jesus Seminar] ideological slant, then, may have been unintentional, but it is also undeniable. The Jesus Seminar is not representative of the guild of New Testament historical scholarship today. Rather, it is representative of one voice within that guild, a voice that actually espouses a minority position on some key issues. Nevertheless, this voice is a chorus. The charge "They all think alike!" is not completely accurate but, in any case, begs the question "Why do they think alike?" The harmony of so many usually independent voices is precisely what demands that attention be given to this chorus of scholars."

(HT: Nathan Eubank)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Dilettante Hobby Horse Biblioblog

The artist formerly known as N T Wrong has another new blog (see also The Biblioblog Top 50) and it resurrects one of the great innovations at the old NT Wrong blog, the dilettante hobby horse section, now given a whole blog to itself. If TAFKANT Wrong (for short) continues at this rate, we we will soon no longer be lamenting his demise:

The Dilettante Hobby Horse Biblioblog

Meanwhile a Facebook group called Come back NT Wrong continues on his trail.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Paleojudaica: Now We are Six!

Congratulations to Paleojudaica, today celebrating its sixth anniversary, becoming somewhat "paleo" itself. In the blog world, that is positively ancient.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Beg the Question alert

Beg the QuestionFrom Dale Allison, "The Historians Jesus and the Church", Beverly Roberts Gaventa and Richard B. Hays, Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 79-95 (81):

"None of what has been said gives us good reason to attribute Mark 9.43-48 to someone other than Jesus, and my own strong inclination has always been that the verses go back to him. But if I am candid, I am not really sure what arguments or criteria I might muster to persuade others who are inclined to a different opinion or even no opinion at all. I can say that the language is vivid and shocking. My mind's eye beholds a bloody stump and an empty eye socket when it encounters these words, from which it follows that if Jesus did say something like Mark 9.43-48, it would stick in the memory. But this begs the question: Did he really say something like it?"

Incidentally, the article is fantastic, and I would like to blog about it in due course, but I thought I would note this incorrect usage of "beg the question" since the topic has been raised today.

Pet Peeves redux

A couple of years ago, several biblioblogs shared their pet peeves, including this one. By coincidence, two of them have re-emerged on the blogs today. First, Jim West shares his loathing of the plural "Revelations" for the Book of Revelation. As I mentioned before, I have an almost irrational degree of annoyance about this. Then on Higgaion, Chris Heard notes a fine new website, Beg the Question: Get it Right. I just happened to read an incorrect usage of "beg the question" yesterday, so I will blog that separately. And from now on, each time I see one in Biblical scholarship, I am going to mention it here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Ethics and the Practicalities of Blogging in the wake of the Raphael Golb affair

The fall-out from the Arrest of Raphael Golb is still making the news and it is being covered well by Jim Davila on Paleojudaica and Jim West, both of whom comment on Norman Golb's remarkable defence in Ha'aretz:
“Raphael, my son, is very devoted to my research. He realized years ago that there was an effort to close the door on my opinions. And so he started debating bloggers who were against me, using aliases. That’s the custom these days with blogs, as I understand it,” Norman Golb said.
Since I am not an expert on the scrolls, I generally avoid blogging on the topic, but the fall-out from this affair now touches on the ethics and practicalities of blogging and blog-commenting. (For full and detailed coverage, see Bob Cargill's constantly updated Who is Charles Gadda? web page).

When academics unfamiliar with the blogosphere comment on this world, they often -- unsurprisingly -- have a skewed picture. As Jim West and Jim Davila comment, Golb's view quoted above is seriously mistaken. There is no such accepted convention about the use of aliases and anyone who uses them in the way allegedly adopted by Raphael Golb is engaging in unacademic, uncivil and completely unacceptable behaviour. For those of us familiar with academic blogging, this goes without saying, but for others it may be less clear, and it is therefore worth underlining.

There is a practical problem here with the issue of blog-commenting, not least because Raphael Golb is alleged to have used multiple aliases in commenting on blogs, including my own (under the names Charles Gadda, Suzanne Shapiro and on one occasion as Anonymous, concerning the disgraceful slur on Schiffman, which I deleted). I have had commenting available on this blog almost from the beginning and on the whole the benefits outweigh the problems. Nevertheless, recent events highlight the problems quite starkly. I insist on people adding their names in comments, but what this affair shows is just how easy it is to adopt an alias and post something. In the light of this, it is easy to see why some do not allow comments and why others moderate them very heavily. I am certainly going to be much more careful in future.

The story continues in today's Chronicle of Higher Education, only available, unfortunately, to subscribers and subscribing institutions. The whole article is the best piece yet on the debacle, clear, detailed and well-narrated, and it appears now that Norman Golb admits that his son is indeed Charles Gadda (and so by implication these other aliases too):
Norman Golb told The Chronicle that he was "aghast and horrified at these charges. My son's only interest has been to follow my work, and—since he is a blogger and I am not a blogger—to engage in debate with other bloggers." The elder Mr. Golb added, "He used a pseudonym because that's what he preferred to do."

When a Chronicle reporter asked if that pseudonym was Charles Gadda, the older Mr. Golb replied, "Yeah, that's right."
The sad thing about the case is that engaging in debate is just what did not happen. Essentially, the multiple aliases were used to promote and not to debate. And it is difficult to engage in proper debate with a series of apparently different identities that all emanate from the one person.

The Chronicle article goes on to talk briefly about how scholars should be involved on the web. "Mr. Schiffman believes that descending into the fray on Web forums is a fool's errand," the article says, but Jodi Magness was also interviewed:
"We have a responsibility to disseminate our information to the wider public," she said. "The fact of the matter is that many people now get their information from the Internet, so we do have a responsibility to make what we find out known."

But while the Web allows scholars to engage the public directly, Ms. Magness said it is "not a suitable venue for the dissemination of unvetted scholarly interpretations."
I strongly agree with what Jodi says about our responsibility to disseminate our scholarship, and I agree too, in the spirit of the second quotation here, that we need to keep thinking about how best we do this. Where the blogs are concerned, the very informality and immediacy of the medium provide the opportunity to try out fresh ideas or to engage creatively with published material. Those of us actively involved in the blog world need to make sure that the abuse of the medium is not allowed to provide a reason for avoiding intelligent use of the medium.

A coda. The article has a further remarkable quotation from Norman Golb to the following effect:
At the same time, the elder Mr. Golb said he thinks "there should be tighter rules in general for bloggers so that everyone would have to have his own identification—bona fide identification."
This reminds me of Tony Blair's response to the "Cash for Coronets" scandal in the dying days of his premiership, with the suggestion that new rules were required to help the parties to avoid corruption. Legislating the bloggers is not only an absurd idea from a logistical point of view, it is also entirely the wrong reaction to the abuse of the bloggers' and blog-commenters' relative freedom. We don't need new rules. We need ethical behaviour.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Douglas Campbell Interview

Mike Bird has a fascinating interview with my colleague here at Duke, Douglas Campbell, concerning his forthcoming Eerdmans book, The Deliverance of God (rather unfortunately and repeatedly reduced to "DOG"). It's over on the Euangelion blog. You may need to read it backwards if following that link since the most recent instalment comes first.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Gender analyzing my blogs

Over on Crypto-theology, Matthew Malcolm turns out to be only 41% male, and I thought I would run my blogs through the GenderAnalyzer too. There is actually a surprisingly clear pattern:

NT Gateway blog: "strong indicators" that it is "written by a man", 92%

My NT blog: "we think" that it is "written by a man", 67%

The Resident Alien: "we guess" that it is "written by a man, but it is quite gender neutral", 50%.

So it seems clear that the more my own personality is found, the less male and the more female I become.

Monday, March 09, 2009

John Fenton's Advice to Canons

Over on Notes from Underground, Steve Hayes reproduces John Fenton's Advice to Canons. It is hilarious and touching in equal measure, and wonderfully capture what he was like.

Does the British New Testament Society have members?

Nijay K. Gupta asks, "Does the British New Testament Society have members?" I must admit to being a bit out of the loop these days, having missed the last three conferences because of my move to the US, but it is an interesting question. I think the tendency in the past has been to prefer the terminology of British New Testament Conference and to regard the "society" aspect as informally constituted. There are no membership fees, no list of members, and votes go to all those who attend a given conference.

Having said that, I recall Jimmy Dunn's speech at the pseudo-25th anniversary, BNTC 2004 (my report), in which he noted that the society provided a fine example of the "routinization of charisma", beginning informally and dynamically, and increasingly becoming like a formal society, with its own president, secretary, treasurer, committee and website (even if the website is currently on hiatus). Perhaps the next step in that process is for people to think of themselves as members.

Additional note: while I was secretary, the society also had its own logo, which my wife Viola designed (see above). It has since been dropped on the website, though it's perhaps worth nothing that we decided to make the logo refer to the "conference" rather than the "society".

Update (11.23): Lloyd Pietersen's comments are worth bringing up to the main post:
Two comments. First, you'll be pleased to know that the logo still remains on our letterhead. So any letters I send out contains your original logo. Second, BNTS is formally consituted as a Society and is a registered Scottish charity. It still does not have a formal membership but the committee does refer to the following criteria for admission to the annual conference:

(1) Teach New Testament (or a cognate discipline) at a recognized HEI
(2) Hold a doctorate in the area of New Testament
(3) Currently engaged in a programme of study that leads to a doctoral degree in New Testament
(4) Have previously been in attendence at the Society's annual conference
(5) By special permission of the committee for a time limited period

Biblical Studies Carnival XXXIX

It's spring break at Duke this week, which means that the students get a well-deserved break somewhere nice like Myrtle Beach or Fort Lauderdale, and I get to catch up on emails. I'll probably be blogging more than usual, including this catch-up post about the latest Biblical Studies Carnival, an excellent and thorough job from a new blog to me, Dr. Platypus by Darrell Pursifal:

Biblical Studies Carnival XXXIX

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Biblioblog Top 50

I am way behind on mentioning the February Biblioblog Top 50, put together by the artist formerly known as N T Wrong. As usual, it's an interesting read. I am amazed that the NT Gateway blog remained right up there in the top 3 given the general upheaval last month, and the bifurcating of the old blog to create that one and this one. It will, perhaps, be a long time before this blog will grace the Top 50, but who knows what the "Biblical Floccinaucinihilipilification Society" has in store? The one baffling factor remains the absence of Paleojudaica from the list, all the more strange given some of those that are present there.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

New URLs for my homepage and other academic materials

About three weeks ago, I announced that I had moved my home page and my own academic web materials to new locations at Duke. I did not imagine for a moment that I would need to move them again so quickly, but on Monday this week, the Duke servers suffered a major meltdown of some sort and at the end of the week, many Duke pages are still down. In well over a decade of having homepage and academic materials online, they have never experienced a crash like that. Back when they were on the University of Birmingham servers, they would occasionally be down for an hour or two, but rarely anything more. And while they were on the NTGateway.com servers, they were never down, year in, year out. So I have decided to move them again, to a new and, I hope, permanent destination (in so far as anything is permanent on the net, of course). I have followed the lead of others and have bought my own domain name connected with my actual name, markgoodacre.org. (Even if I had wanted markgoodacre.com, I could not have got it, on account of my namesakes's fine kitchen business). So the new URLs for my materials are as follows:

My homepage

The Case Against Q Website

The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze

The Aseneth Home Page

This one is now long in the tooth, but I keep it available for posterity / nostalgia, and because I devoted hours and hours of my time to it back in the day:

All-in-One Biblical Resources Search

See also:


Xtalk: Historical Jesus and Christian Origins

Duke PhD vs. ThD

Over on Church Leadership Conversations, Duke ThD student Andy Rowell has some interesting and detailed reflections on the similarities and differences between Duke's ThD (Divinity School) and PhD (Graduate Program in Religion) programs. The comments thread is worth reading too for further reflections from people on the ground.

Burton H. Throckmorton, Jr.

I was sorry to read of the death of Burton H. Throckmorton on Bibbiablog (see obituary on that site). Throckmorton is one of those rare scholars, like Liddell and Scott, or Hatch and Redpath, or Rahlfs, whose book became so widely used that his name became the name of that book.

John Fenton: Independent Obituary

Regular readers will know that I have been blogging everything I can find on the death of my beloved former tutor Canon John Fenton, adding also my own reflections. Now one of the great British New Testament scholars of the twentieth century adds his own fascinating obituary, a little later than all the others, in The Independent, with thanks to Frank Cranmer for alerting me to it:

The Reverend Canon John Fenton: Gregarious priest, teacher and scholar of the New Testament
Dennis Nineham

The obituary contains many delightful reflections that will strike a chord with anyone who knew Canon Fenton, and the following is an enjoyable characterization:
He is hard to describe because he was a sui generis, an unusual combination of opposites: a free spirit with his feet firmly on the ground; a speculative theologian who had something very earthy about him; a thoughtful man with bold ideas who advanced them with great diffidence; affable and outgoing but with a strong interior life; a deeply devout man who knew how to enjoy himself and help others to do the same.
I must admit that it is interesting to me to hear the reflections from churchmen about Canon Fenton's theology and devotion. I was somewhat impervious to the theological musings myself, except in so far as they nurtured my own scepticism.

Nineham's piece is not a eulogy but is a proper, warts-and-all obituary, with observations like the following:
He was a thoroughly good teacher and a striking and memorable preacher who always held his congregation's full attention, though a tendency to dwell at length on human shortcoming, very much including that of his hearers, occasionally caused some dismay.
I find that a little surprising, but perhaps I didn't have enough experience of Canon Fenton's sermons. He was well loved as our college catechist, as far as I can recall (Memories of John Fenton). I think "thoroughly good teacher" is a serious understatement too. He is one of the best teachers I have ever had, with a rare and remarkable understanding of the importance of encouragement. There are other remarks in the obituary which are a little unfortunate and which I will not quote here, but overall it is a worthy tribute to a great man.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Arrest of Raphael Golb

This has to be one of the most remarkable stories to break in our area in recent times, and there are plenty to choose from. Jim Davila reports on the "strange and sad" story over on Paleojudaica, with a follow-up this morning, the Golb Arrest, as Raphael Golb, son of the Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Norman Golb, is arrested "for creating multiple aliases to engage in a campaign of impersonation and harassment relating to the Dead Sea Scrolls and scholars of opposing viewpoints" (News Release). Jim West is on top of the story over on his blog, The Arrest of Raphael Golb, with regular updates.

The arrest came hot on the heels of Robert Cargill's "Who is Charles Gadda" website. Its URL http://www.who-is-charles-gadda.com now redirects to the news release about the arrest of Golb, but Cargill's fascinating site can still be read over in his sandbox at Wikipedia, Who is Charles Gadda?, and he continues to update the page with all the latest information.

One of the aliases mentioned by Robert Cargill is "Robert Dworkin", and I now recall that this person corresponded with me on several occasions in 2007, to the same effect as that mentioned by Cargill. He wrote to me at my old blog address with links to material written by or defending Norman Golb. I replied briefly to each message but did not blog any of it because it is outside my area of expertise, and I prefer to rely on those like Jim Davila who understand the issues.

The alias "Charles Gadda" has also commented on my blog; similarly Suzanne Shapiro (after the previous comment). I notice too that I have received an email from another of the aliases on Bob Cargill's list, Sam Edelstein. After finding that I have had connections with all these aliases, I have stopped looking, but there are bound to be more. It is remarkable to think that I have been receiving multiple emails and comments over the last couple of years from different aliases of the same person. But I suppose that this also shows how ineffective the campaign was since I didn't blog on this on a single occasion.

However this story continues to pan out, now Norman Golb really does have some publicity for his theory of the origin of the scrolls.

The End of Yahoo! Briefcase: a Cautionary Tale?

There is a school of thought that says that the best way to back up your documents is to find a secure internet site. The theory is that you can access your documents from anywhere in the world as long as you have a web browser. There is no need for multiple flash drives or CDs, or other things that moth and rust, or the twenty-first century equivalent, might destroy. I must admit to having had some sympathy with this school of thought. Material that I have had available up on the web somewhere secure has often been a great help to me. Such documents withstand computer crashes, data losses, accidents and disasters happening on the laptop, the PC or wherever. But this March brings a cautionary tale.

I was looking for an old article I had written this week and couldn't find it in any of the standard places I look for my old stuff. So I turned to Yahoo! Briefcase which I used to use a good deal back in the day. It was part of the "my yahoo" suite which I used to enjoy before it turned out that Google did all the same things but much better. The following message greeted me there:
Briefcase will be closing on March 30, 2009.
You must download or delete your files before this date.
For more information, please see Help.
This was the first that I had heard that my 30MB of data was about to vanish. If I had not happened to pop back to the site, all this would have gone for good without my getting the chance to save it. So here is the moral of the story: don't assume that your online back-ups are safe for ever. One day even Google may no longer be with us.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Duke web problem update

The latest from Duke's OIT:
Certain web pages continue to be unavailable, as well as Streaming Media services (audio and video content in Windows media, Quicktime, Flash and Real formats).

We are waiting for a replacement array to arrive, at which time it will be installed and tested. We are not able to give an estimated time to fully restored services at this point.
I am planning to move all of my homepage and academic materials currently based at Duke this afternoon.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Problems with my web materials hosted at Duke

Since the beginning of the week, Duke has been having major problems with its web servers. Many of its pages are offline, including our departmental website. Most of my own academic web materials, my homepage, the Case Against Q website, the Way Through the Maze site, the Aseneth pages, all these are currently offline. I have to express some frustration at this scenario. When I moved these sorts of materials to the old NTGateway.com site back in 1999, it was largely because of frustration with the University of Birmingham web servers. I imagined that Duke's web servers would be stronger, but apparently not. At present, there are no reassurances about when a stable service will return, e.g. the Office of Information Technology is saying, "At this point, we are unable to estimate when services will be fully restored and fully stable." I am therefore planning on moving my own pages as soon as possible. Updates here as soon as they are available.