We had this rather cryptic remark from Chuck Jones:
Chuck: Your remarks do help me get a bigger picture of your approach to the
scholarship of others.
And there was David Inglis's recent query about what one does with earlier
and now perhaps obsolete (eg, pre-P75) scholarship. The topic thus seems to
be current. Perhaps I might add a word to what I earlier said in reply.
If previous scholarship (meaning, research results) were consistent and
cumulative, as is certainly the expectation in the other sciences, then one
would simply read previous scholarship, especially its upper layers, to see
where the field was at, and then go forward from that point in one's own
work. In an organized world, one would not even need to read the
scholarship, it would be cumulated in pocket size, so that if we wanted the
atomic weight of germanium, we would simply turn to that page of the CRI
handbook. Very nice.
But it can sometimes happen that the expectation is not valid.
Take classical Chinese scholarship, which, for the millennium ending only
recently, was dominated by the state examinations. The state examinations
specified which commentaries on the classical texts were approved, and those
in search of a career therefore concentrated intensely on those approved
commentaries. The idea of looking independently at the evidence - at the
classical texts themselves - either did not arise, or was quickly suppressed
for practical reasons. During that period, as far as I have been able to
discover, the number of what we over here would call critical scholars, the
ones who considered the matter independently, and whose work survives in
print, number perhaps a couple of dozen. Critical scholars in the modern age
will thus attend closely to the couple dozen, and at most skim the rest for
the useful tidbit here or there.
This amounts to a differential approach to previous scholarship, one in
which one's own judgement plays a larger role than it otherwise might. How
does one nourish one's judgement? I should think: by doing some of the work
oneself, the better to recognize a good effort, or a sound inference, when
one meets it in the work of someone else. William James once said that the
mark of an educated person was a capacity for judgement. I warmly concur.
What with experience of one's own, in contact with the material, and also
with experience of other people, one arrives at whatever level of decision
finesse one is going to have. Part of that experience is discovering which
past authors seem to be consistently in the right direction, or anyway in a
promising direction. Some authors are spotty - Vincent Taylor's book on Mark
is to me one of the enduring monuments of Markan research, but his
exploration of Streeter's Proto-Luke idea leaves me somewhat worse than
cold. Mitton's Ephesians I find consistently careful and convincing; I can
detect none of the same qualities in his James. Others are more consistently
interesting. David Inglis began with the question of Michael Goulder, and I
will end the same way.
I find Michael to be consistently interesting. Not always right (I think I
am not alone in the wish that Michael had never heard of lectionaries), but
always interesting, and (an additional blessing) always fun to read. For me,
he is someone worth getting used to, one of the people in the past century
whose works I find it useful to read in toto - I think I have nearly all of
them, including his volumes on the Psalms.
But even there, judgement comes into play, and I don't mean simply
predisposition. In Michael's Luke Paradigm, which looks to me like being his
monument, there are times when he exposes the absurdity of Luke mixing
Matthew with something of his own, something that doesn't work very well.
He, and I with him, conclude that this is a clear case of Mt > Lk. Then
there are other passages where the best that Michael can say is that the
Luke version is very Lukan. But this would be likely to obtain for both an
original Luke story and for one Luke adapts from Matthew. It is at these
points - and they too are intensely valuable, though in a different way -
that a careful reader may think of considering a different directional
possibility. I aspire to being that careful reader.
Potentially, my Relocated Passages in Luke paper, years ago at SBL, showed
the way in which Michael's work on Luke may in time be undermined. This was
not lost on the audience of that time, and they asked, in effect, what about
Goulder? My answer was more or less this: In my opinion, Goulder's Luke is
going to be one of the permanently valuable works of the past century. Not
unchanged, not in all details, but as one foundation of a new view of the
whole Gospel tradition.
I would still stick by that, and the moreso as my alternative picture of
Mt/Lk seems to be developing self-consistently. To me, in the end, it
matters little whether a given contribution was perfect; what matters is
whether it moved things forward.
The same question, it seems to me, is going to be asked of each of us. In a
scholarly sense, in the sense of the world of interest being better observed
and more adequately reported, did we leave it better than we found it? Or
were we just along for the ride?
I think the deep core of methodology is not only the how, but the why. The
deep point of methodology is not to be just along for the ride.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst