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781Re: Schonfield, sales, and scholarship

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  • Mahlon H. Smith
    Jul 3, 1998
      Mike Grondin wrote:

      > Why Schoenfield never fared as well within the academic community as
      > Pagels and Crossan, e.g., may very well have to do with his adopting a
      > "stand-offish" attitude - I don't know, but Tom seems to suggest as
      > much. I can't really understand this attitude myself, but perhaps it had
      > something to do with his background or circumstances, or with the
      > response that his 1966 work met with.
      >

      Mike, Tom, et al:

      I am not intimate enough with HJS & his detractors to give a definitive
      explanation of his shunning by NT scholars. But my own neo-Orthodox
      education in the 60s & experience for the past dozen+ years in the JS
      enables me to make an educated guess.

      First of all, HJS's work had the character of a public expose. And
      conservative scholars have a distinct distaste for having their privates
      printed on the cover of the Daily News where they can be oggled by every
      commuter. Thus, the knee-jerk reaction of academics in the case of both
      HJS & the JS was to cover their bare bottoms. If HJS's theses had been
      published in a form that was unattractive to average readers, with
      learned comments on traditional sources & other scholars' theses, I am
      pretty certain it would have had its advocates in academic circles, just
      as Crossan does. Crossan could get away with publishing his
      *Revolutionary Biography* because he first published his massive
      scholarly *HJ: Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant* which few
      non-scholars would have the patience to wade through. Crossan learned
      from HJS's case.

      Second, orthodox forces controlled more academic castles in the 60s than
      they do today. So, there was always an ample supply of sharpshooters to
      pick off anyone who attempted a siege or lead a defection. And several
      of them were skilled popularizers themselves. No sooner had SGF Brandon
      published his massive scholarly argument for Jesus the Zealot than Oscar
      Cullmann undercut him with a lucid common-sense popular tract that made
      such a hypothesis sound ridiculous. So, many like me read Cullmann first
      & never bothered reading Brandon, at least not until his book was long
      out of print. Morton Smith's Jesus the Magician met a similar fate. JAT
      Robinson escaped only because he abandoned his *Honest to God* campaign
      to become spokesman for the Anglican right. But his championship of
      radical theses in that direction (e.g., The Priority of John) eventually
      discredited him with moderate scholars.

      Had Bob Funk published his *Honest to Jesus* before convening a seminar
      of academic colleagues to debate the issues in public, I bet he would
      have been effectively marginalized by the likes of LT Johnson, B
      Witherington, & NT Wright: all skilled in non-academic public debate.
      Funk's decision to serve as interpreter of the JS until our research was
      complete was a brilliant tactical ploy in the battle of the media. The
      spectacle of a group of scholars doing what scholars are supposed to do
      & reaching a relative "consensus" (gotta qualify that word again) on
      conclusions that are not part of the "tradition" familiar to people in
      the pews, has enabled the JS to withstand the slings & arrows &
      outrageous barbs of individual elitists. For an individual radical can
      easily be dismissed as a kook; but polls are always an effective tool
      for influencing public opinion. And so far the JS critics have not been
      very adept in organizing their own.

      In the 50s & 60s the cracks in the (neo)orthodox fortress of infallible
      biblical truth were already quite evident to anyone within academia (as
      I was). The castle almost crumbled when the 1964 Drew Colloquium (which
      I helped host during my senior year as a seminarian) spawned the Death
      of God theology. But it weathered that storm when the Death of God
      theologians decided to all go their separate ways. The strategic mistake
      of critical scholars like HS, Morton Smith & SGF Brandon is that they
      preferred to play the role of David single-handedly challenging the
      Philistines, than to pool their resources in a common project that
      respected their different viewpoints. The latter strategy is largely
      responsible for the JS's longevity. Funk was wise enough to realize that
      it's relatively easy to swat one gad-fly; it's a lot harder to eliminate
      a swarm of hornets.

      Shalom!

      Mahlon

      --

      *********************

      Mahlon H. Smith,
      Associate Professor
      Department of Religion
      Rutgers University
      New Brunswick NJ

      http://religion.rutgers.edu/mhsmith.html
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