On critiquing scholarship…

For the past couple years now, I’ve generally held back on criticizing other published works of others (with a few small exceptions). This has mainly because of pushback that I’ve gotten from people like Rod Decker on the question, who has pointed out a couple of times that perhaps my lack of experience with the publishing of articles and books (and for that matter, my lack of a doctorate–Dr. Decker has pointed that one out to me, too) makes me slightly more negative in my criticism than I should be. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve probably gone too far on a couple of occasions in the past.

That’s fair. I’ve mostly accepted it, while also feeling as if much of what has been published about Koine and New Testament Greek under the name “modern linguistics” wouldn’t past peer-review in were it published in the field of linguistics rather than biblical studies. But I’ve refrained from articulating 99% those criticism here. And lately, I’ve been focused on actually producing substantive and useful discussions on this blog. That’s been one of my goals in surveying how old grammars deal with tense and aspect on their own terms and my work on enclitic pronouns as well. And it’s why I haven’t written much commenting or reviewing recent publications on tense and aspect in Greek for quite some time. I’d rather be known for positive contributions. I’m trying…really.

With all that in mind, I finally got around to reading Porter’s contribution to D. A. Carson’s festschrift: Understanding the times. He really, really goes after Con Campbell. And I mean really go after him.* It’s nearly as bad as the “uncharitable rant” against Kurt and Barabara Aland in Biblical Greek language and lexicography.

Is this standard I’m supposed to live up to in my non-Ph.D. state?

*And that’s actually really strange. Campbell is one of the few published scholars who has expressed significant agreement with Porter’s tenseless view of the Greek verbal system. Surely he would want to coordinate with his allies rather than tear them down–a few of the criticism Porter makes involve issues where Campbell was attempting to justify the tenseless view as theoretically plausible. A very odd state of affairs, indeed.

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7 thoughts on “On critiquing scholarship…”

  1. This is a very risky business, unfortunately — much as is all life, I guess. You don’t gain credibility, it would seem, unless you’ve got an advanced degree or unless you’ve already published a successful peer-reviewed book. My experience is that (a) all too frequently people with advanced degrees exploit their “authority” to say foolish things without sufficient evidence or convincing demonstration, and (b) all too often people without academic credentials can argue propositions convincingly and with ample evidence but get ignored anyway. For my part, I’d rather have see the evidence and convincing argument for a proposition than a proposition bolstered only by a signature listing a degree. Even having a degree, I prefer not to indicate it, lest some might believe my credentials rather than what I have demonstrated. I’ve also sat on doctoral committees that have granted a degree on the basis what seemed to me questionable evidence of sound scholarship. I hate to sound the cynical note, but academia, the church, and human institutions generally are too commonly, even if not always, tainted by politics and cronyism.

  2. I generally try not to be too negative in my criticism of others. I take the approach of a “glass half full” and the posture of someone standing on the shoulders of giants. Nevertheless, if there is something material that is wrong, one should not ignore it either.

    I suppose that Ph.D. students have a bit of a “rap” about being too negative because they haven’t really seen how their own publications can be criticized, often unfairly or in surprising ways, and so have not quite mastered the tone of a good critical but not unnecessarily nasty critique. Some scholars, of course, never grow out of this stage, but many realize that excessive negativity hurts more than it helps.

    As for Porter’s review of Campbell’s view on the perfect, I didn’t think there was that much daylight between their views to begin with, so I’m surprised at the negativity. I think questioning the competence of a close ally on Verbal Aspect risks making the entire tenseless school look bad to outsiders.

    1. I generally try not to be too negative in my criticism of others. I take the approach of a “glass half full” and the posture of someone standing on the shoulders of giants. Nevertheless, if there is something material that is wrong, one should not ignore it either.

      I try to do the same. The problem is that so see so many things wrong in the material that I come off as negative when I don’t ignore it.

      1. Sometimes it has to be done. One influential example is E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism. The success of his critique depends on a lot of negative criticism.

  3. The academic world couldn’t exist without criticism. It’s essential, and if you’re not doing it (at least privately) then you’re doing it wrong.

    But there are many targets of criticism:
    Critiquing a person should never happen, except perhaps if they have engaged in fraud. Though that’s what your title says the body of the post explains that what you’re really referring to is…
    Critiquing a particular work. Reviews and responses, both formally published and informally published on blogs are part of academia. No one needs to be published to do this, but you do need to understand the topic material thoroughly. But experience doesn’t hurt, and it would help you know what tone to take too.
    Critiquing a whole theory, model or framework.
    Critiquing a whole field.

    If you’re right that Biblical languages field isn’t up to scratch linguistically then it definitely needs to be critiqued, and I’d love to read an article by you taking that on. I wonder if critiquing a whole field might in some ways actually be easier: you would need a broad knowledge, but not as deep a knowledge as to critique a single paper. Specific examples could be used without engaging in discussion with the whole paper they’re from. But for the criticism to work, you would need to be right that the problem is endemic to the whole field, and choose appropriately representative examples to make your case. Secondly, by going after such a large group of people, you’ll avoid them being made to feel like victims. They may be convinced by your argument, or not, but they won’t feel personally offended.

    So go for it!

  4. I’ve considered writing such a broad coverage critique. I have the pieces scattered through a few dozen documents on my computer. But if I were to do that, I think I’d want to do it as an article rather than a blog post. And then the question becomes what journal would want to publish such an article…

    btw, I’ve also updated the title to more accurately reflect that I’m not talking about critiquing people, but scholarship. Thanks for pointing that one out.

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