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[Synoptic-L] Crossan on Q skepticism

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  • John C. Poirier
    I was bewildered, as were others, by Crossan s remark last year in the New York Review of Books concerning E. P. Sanders s non-use of gospel source
    Message 1 of 15 , Jan 5, 2005
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      I was bewildered, as were others, by Crossan’s remark last year in the New York Review of Books concerning E. P. Sanders’s non-use of gospel “source criticism”.  The remark, of course, would immediately sound strange to anyone familiar with Sanders’s books and articles devoted to gospel source criticism.  Sanders himself was taken aback by the remark, and offered, as an explanation, that it was an “inside joke”.

       

      Reading through Crossan’s (very long) The Birth of Christianity, I think I may have hit upon how such a defective idea could have made its way into Crossan’s head: Crossan quotes at length a couple of rather scary passages from N. T. Wright, in which Wright dismisses source and redaction criticism in favor of supposing that alternative versions of Jesus’ sayings should be traced back orally to different occasions in Jesus’ preaching career (!).  (According to Wright, “Anyone who suggests that this is not so must, I think, either be holding on doggedly to the picture of the early church which I criticized in the first volume, or be in thrall to a highly dogmatic view of scripture, or simply have no historical imagination for what an itinerant ministry, within a peasant culture, would look like” [Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 170].)  Crossan rightly rejects that scheme, but in so doing, he seems to equate the rejection of Q with the sort of fundamentalistic scheme that Wright proposes (see Birth of Christianity, p. 104).  Crossan’s response to Wright seems to cast a long shadow over his book, and is perhaps the reason for Crossan’s strange view that historical Jesus research has been by and large conducted without any thought of methodology.

       

      Could it be that Crossan’s mind has been fooled, on the surface level, into equating rejection of Q with rejection of source criticism itself, and that this is the result of his reading of Wright?  Does Crossan equate Sanders’s Q skepticism with Wright’s dismissal of source criticism?

       

      What other reasons might there be for Crossan’s surprising claim about Sanders?

       

       

      John C. Poirier

      Middletown, Ohio

       

       

    • Mark Goodacre
      Jack, Thanks for that. I too was intrigued by that most odd comment from Crossan (and I think Reed too? I haven t checked it up again). I wondered whether
      Message 2 of 15 , Jan 5, 2005
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        Jack,

        Thanks for that. I too was intrigued by that most odd comment from
        Crossan (and I think Reed too? I haven't checked it up again). I
        wondered whether some kind of alignment between Sanders and Wright
        might be the explanation, especially as -- in other contexts -- Wright
        does align himself with Sanders. Perhaps Crossan and Reed, somewhat
        lazily, failed to check to see whether Sanders himself had written
        anything on source criticism.

        But I think my explanation would be that to my knowledge, Crossan
        shows knowledge only of Jesus and Judaism among Sanders's work on the
        historical Jesus (brief mention in The Historical Jesus). He does not
        appear to have read Sanders and Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels,
        which would have established the point pretty clearly. I would say
        that there is widespread ignorance in the guild still about Sanders's
        Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition, and that the ignorance is
        particularly problematic in the publications of the Jesus Seminar,
        some of which still work with a pre-Sanders view. So it is not
        surprising that Crossan is unaware of Tendencies, and not remotely
        surprising that he is ignorant about Sanders's articles on the
        Synoptic Problem.

        I have been surprised in other contexts about the ignorance of the
        Studying the Synoptic Gospels book, e.g. Mark Allan Powell's The Jesus
        Debate, striking in that it devotes a whole chapter to Sanders.

        Markk


        On Wed, 5 Jan 2005 08:28:00 -0500, John C. Poirier <poirier@...> wrote:
        >
        >
        >
        > I was bewildered, as were others, by Crossan's remark last year in the New
        > York Review of Books concerning E. P. Sanders's non-use of gospel "source
        > criticism". The remark, of course, would immediately sound strange to
        > anyone familiar with Sanders's books and articles devoted to gospel source
        > criticism. Sanders himself was taken aback by the remark, and offered, as
        > an explanation, that it was an "inside joke".
        >
        >
        >
        > Reading through Crossan's (very long) The Birth of Christianity, I think I
        > may have hit upon how such a defective idea could have made its way into
        > Crossan's head: Crossan quotes at length a couple of rather scary passages
        > from N. T. Wright, in which Wright dismisses source and redaction criticism
        > in favor of supposing that alternative versions of Jesus' sayings should be
        > traced back orally to different occasions in Jesus' preaching career (!).
        > (According to Wright, "Anyone who suggests that this is not so must, I
        > think, either be holding on doggedly to the picture of the early church
        > which I criticized in the first volume, or be in thrall to a highly dogmatic
        > view of scripture, or simply have no historical imagination for what an
        > itinerant ministry, within a peasant culture, would look like" [Jesus and
        > the Victory of God, p. 170].) Crossan rightly rejects that scheme, but in
        > so doing, he seems to equate the rejection of Q with the sort of
        > fundamentalistic scheme that Wright proposes (see Birth of Christianity, p.
        > 104). Crossan's response to Wright seems to cast a long shadow over his
        > book, and is perhaps the reason for Crossan's strange view that historical
        > Jesus research has been by and large conducted without any thought of
        > methodology.
        >
        >
        >
        > Could it be that Crossan's mind has been fooled, on the surface level, into
        > equating rejection of Q with rejection of source criticism itself, and that
        > this is the result of his reading of Wright? Does Crossan equate Sanders's
        > Q skepticism with Wright's dismissal of source criticism?
        >
        >
        >
        > What other reasons might there be for Crossan's surprising claim about
        > Sanders?
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >
        > John C. Poirier
        >
        > Middletown, Ohio
        >
        >
        >
        >


        --
        Dr Mark Goodacre mailto:M.S.Goodacre@...
        Dept of Theology and Religion
        University of Birmingham
        Elmfield House, Selly Oak tel.+44 121 414 7512
        Birmingham B29 6LQ UK fax: +44 121 415 8376

        http://www.theology.bham.ac.uk/goodacre
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      • John C. Poirier
        ... You may be right, Mark. I suppose Crossan might not even be aware of Sanders s works on source criticism (but hopefully Sanders s rejoinder would have
        Message 3 of 15 , Jan 5, 2005
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          Mark Goodacre wrote:

          > . . . Perhaps Crossan and Reed, somewhat
          > lazily, failed to check to see whether Sanders himself had written
          > anything on source criticism.

          You may be right, Mark. I suppose Crossan might not even be aware of
          Sanders's works on source criticism (but hopefully Sanders's rejoinder would
          have given him a clue). It's a shame that such high profile works as
          Crossan's longer books can be so much in the dark about source criticism.

          > But I think my explanation would be that to my knowledge, Crossan
          > shows knowledge only of Jesus and Judaism among Sanders's work on the
          > historical Jesus (brief mention in The Historical Jesus). He does not
          > appear to have read Sanders and Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels,
          > which would have established the point pretty clearly. I would say
          > that there is widespread ignorance in the guild still about Sanders's
          > Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition, and that the ignorance is
          > particularly problematic in the publications of the Jesus Seminar,
          > some of which still work with a pre-Sanders view. So it is not
          > surprising that Crossan is unaware of Tendencies, and not remotely
          > surprising that he is ignorant about Sanders's articles on the
          > Synoptic Problem.

          Several years ago, at an SBL meeting, I suggested to the folks at Sigler
          Press that they republish The Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition. They
          immediately jumped at the idea, and asked if I could get them a copy of the
          book. But since (they said) the book would be destroyed in the process, I
          didn't want to give them my copy, since it was rather difficult to find. (I
          know: if Sigler republished it, I could buy as many copies as I wanted, but
          I was still loathe to give up my C.U.P. copy.)

          The obvious question, of course, is that if Crossan et al are ignorant about
          these works, then *what* are they reading about source criticism? Are they
          reading *anything at all*? Did they, or will they, read your *Case Against
          Q*? The answer, I'm afraid, is "no": the only contact they have had with a
          more rigorous approach to source criticism is likely to be the relevant
          chapters from Kloppenborg's *Excavating Q*. (No wonder they continue to
          hold on to the Lachmann fallacy, some fifty years after Butler.) I think
          the situation is really serious, especially in North America, where the
          pilings on of the Q scholars are quickly turned into dagwood sandwiches.

          Crossan takes John Meier to task for failing to "enter[] into detailed
          debate with the . . . quarter-century of scholarship that runs, for example,
          from Robinson (1971) to Kloppenborg (1990) and extends into both the Society
          of Biblical Literature's Q Seminar and the International Q Project" before
          offering an opinion as to the fragility of ideas like Q strata, a Q
          community, etc. But how can Crossan fault Meier for failing to deal with Q
          scholarship at a deeper level before offering a view on Q, while he
          (Crossan) offers set opinions on source criticism without even attempting to
          engage the scholarship dealing with that? Crossan even represents himself
          as *doing* source criticism, but he apparently thinks that that consists
          solely of stating and following one's source-critical presuppositions.

          > I have been surprised in other contexts about the ignorance of the
          > Studying the Synoptic Gospels book, e.g. Mark Allan Powell's The Jesus
          > Debate, striking in that it devotes a whole chapter to Sanders.

          Perhaps the best solution would be for Sanders to write a new book about the
          historical Jesus, in which he lays out his views on the synoptic problem in
          an opening chapter. But this is not likely to happen. A second best
          solution, perhaps, would be for someone (anyone) to organize a collection of
          essays dealing with the question of the historical Jesus in a
          source-critical perspective. If the book contained enough emphasis on the
          former, then Crossan and company would be forced to read it.


          John C. Poirier
          Middletown, Ohio



          Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
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        • Stephen C. Carlson
          ... If someone has a copy of Crossan & Reed s response to Sanders, I d be curious to read them. The few quotes posted on the NT Gateway Weblog are
          Message 4 of 15 , Jan 5, 2005
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            At 09:52 AM 1/5/2005 -0500, John C. Poirier wrote:
            >Mark Goodacre wrote:
            >> . . . Perhaps Crossan and Reed, somewhat
            >> lazily, failed to check to see whether Sanders himself had written
            >> anything on source criticism.

            If someone has a copy of Crossan & Reed's response to Sanders,
            I'd be curious to read them. The few quotes posted on the NT
            Gateway Weblog are over-the-top but would make a lot more sense
            if actually directed against Wright.


            >You may be right, Mark. I suppose Crossan might not even be aware of
            >Sanders's works on source criticism (but hopefully Sanders's rejoinder would
            >have given him a clue). It's a shame that such high profile works as
            >Crossan's longer books can be so much in the dark about source criticism.

            Well, source criticism in the synoptics is a back-water, and I've
            given up expecting even otherwise impressive scholars to know more
            than what can be found undergraduate introductions (including some
            of who have written such introductions).

            Nevertheless, given the avowed centrality of the results of source
            criticism in Crossan's method, it just boggles the mind that Sanders
            could be so neglected.

            >Several years ago, at an SBL meeting, I suggested to the folks at Sigler
            >Press that they republish The Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition. They
            >immediately jumped at the idea, and asked if I could get them a copy of the
            >book. But since (they said) the book would be destroyed in the process, I
            >didn't want to give them my copy, since it was rather difficult to find. (I
            >know: if Sigler republished it, I could buy as many copies as I wanted, but
            >I was still loathe to give up my C.U.P. copy.)

            I know what you mean, it took me about four years for me to track down
            a copy. But .... I saw a paperback reprint of TENDENCIES at the last
            SBL. I think it was by Wipf & Stock.

            If I had to guess why Sanders' source critical has made less of an
            impact than its merit would suggest, I might brainstorm two reasons:

            1. The conclusions reached in TENDENCIES were largely negative, with
            relatively few positive results.

            2. Sanders shifted his attention to other fields (HJ, Paul) and did
            not follow up his source critical work terribly much. Granted, his
            contributions to HJ and Paul are of huge importance, so it's hard to
            fault the man.

            Stephen Carlson
            --
            Stephen C. Carlson mailto:scarlson@...
            Weblog: http://www.mindspring.com/~scarlson/hypotyposeis/blogger.html
            "Poetry speaks of aspirations, and songs chant the words." Shujing 2.35


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          • Peter Head
            ... John, I need a bit of help here. I don t know what a dagwood sandwich is. I wonder if you think it is a bad thing, too easily swallowed, that people think
            Message 5 of 15 , Jan 7, 2005
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              At 02:52 PM 1/5/05, John C. Poirier wrote:
              > I think
              >the situation is really serious, especially in North America, where the
              >pilings on of the Q scholars are quickly turned into dagwood sandwiches.

              John,

              I need a bit of help here. I don't know what a dagwood sandwich is. I
              wonder if you think it is a bad thing, too easily swallowed, that people
              think is good but is really bad for them. Or whether some more information
              about North American dietary conventions might help.

              Peter



              Peter M. Head, PhD
              Sir Kirby Laing Senior Lecturer in New Testament
              Tyndale House
              36 Selwyn Gardens Phone: (UK) 01223
              566607
              Cambridge, CB3 9BA Fax: (UK) 01223 566608
              http://www.tyndale.cam.ac.uk/Tyndale/staff/Head/Staff.htm


              Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
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            • John C. Poirier
              ... Sorry about that. A dagwood sandwich is simply an extremely tall sandwich. In the comic strip Blondie , Dagwood Bumstead built sandwiches that looked to
              Message 6 of 15 , Jan 7, 2005
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                Peter Head wrote:

                > . . . I don't know what a dagwood sandwich is. I wonder if you think it
                > is a bad thing, too easily swallowed, that people think is good but is
                > really bad for them. Or whether some more information about North
                > American dietary conventions might help.

                Sorry about that.

                A dagwood sandwich is simply an extremely tall sandwich. In the comic strip
                "Blondie", Dagwood Bumstead built sandwiches that looked to be more than a
                foot tall, with thirty or more ingredients, and the term "dagwood" came to
                stand for a very tall sandwich (although I think that's better known to my
                parents' generation than to mine).

                In itself, a dagwood sandwich is not a bad thing, but applying it as a
                metaphor to the way certain North American scholars reconstruct history,
                it's not meant to be flattering.


                John C. Poirier
                Middletown, Ohio




                Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
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              • Jeffrey B. Gibson
                ... A dagwood is an extremely tall, multi-layered sandwich. It s named after Dagwood Bumstead, the husband of the title character in the comic strip
                Message 7 of 15 , Jan 7, 2005
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                  Peter Head wrote:

                  > At 02:52 PM 1/5/05, John C. Poirier wrote:
                  > > I think
                  > >the situation is really serious, especially in North America, where the
                  > >pilings on of the Q scholars are quickly turned into dagwood sandwiches.
                  >
                  > John,
                  >
                  > I need a bit of help here. I don't know what a dagwood sandwich is. I
                  > wonder if you think it is a bad thing, too easily swallowed, that people
                  > think is good but is really bad for them. Or whether some more information
                  > about North American dietary conventions might help.

                  A "dagwood" is an extremely tall, multi-layered sandwich. It's named
                  after
                  Dagwood Bumstead, the husband of the title character in the comic strip
                  "Blondie"
                  (by Chick Young, I think), who loves to construct (and devour) these
                  monstrosities.

                  Yours,

                  Jeffrey
                  --

                  Jeffrey B. Gibson, D.Phil. (Oxon.)

                  1500 W. Pratt Blvd. #1
                  Chicago, IL 60626

                  jgibson000@...

                  Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
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                • Tim Reynolds
                  ... Sorry, everybody. s Leeaann, Did you get Brooks the Picasso book? Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l List Owner:
                  Message 8 of 15 , Jan 7, 2005
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                    on 7/1/05 9:39 AM, Jeffrey B. Gibson at jgibson000@... wrote:

                    >
                    >
                    > Peter Head wrote:
                    >
                    >> At 02:52 PM 1/5/05, John C. Poirier wrote:
                    >>> I think
                    >>> the situation is really serious, especially in North America, where the
                    >>> pilings on of the Q scholars are quickly turned into dagwood sandwiches.
                    >>
                    >> John,
                    >>
                    >> I need a bit of help here. I don't know what a dagwood sandwich is. I
                    >> wonder if you think it is a bad thing, too easily swallowed, that people
                    >> think is good but is really bad for them. Or whether some more information
                    >> about North American dietary conventions might help.
                    >
                    > A "dagwood" is an extremely tall, multi-layered sandwich. It's named
                    > after
                    > Dagwood Bumstead, the husband of the title character in the comic strip
                    > "Blondie"
                    > (by Chick Young, I think), who loves to construct (and devour) these
                    > monstrosities.
                    >
                    > Yours,
                    >
                    > Jeffrey
                    > --
                    >
                    > Jeffrey B. Gibson, D.Phil. (Oxon.)
                    >
                    > 1500 W. Pratt Blvd. #1
                    > Chicago, IL 60626
                    >
                    > jgibson000@...
                    >
                    > Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
                    > List Owner: Synoptic-L-Owner@...


                    Sorry, everybody.

                    s


                    Leeaann, Did you get Brooks the Picasso book?



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                  • John C. Poirier
                    Having now read the entire exchange between Sanders and Crossan/Reed (after finding it on microfilm last night), I d like to follow up on my earlier comments.
                    Message 9 of 15 , Jan 11, 2005
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                      Having now read the entire exchange between Sanders and Crossan/Reed (after finding it on microfilm last night), I'd like to follow up on my earlier comments.

                       

                      Mark Goodacre wrote:

                      > But I think my explanation would be that to my knowledge, Crossan

                      > shows knowledge only of Jesus and Judaism among Sanders's work on the

                      > historical Jesus (brief mention in The Historical Jesus).

                       

                      Yes! The exchange makes it very clear that Crossan and Reed did not read Sanders's 1993 Theology Today article on "Jesus in Historical Context", as most of Sanders's response to Crossan and Reed's book duplicates what he wrote in that earlier article.  Crossan and Reed could have avoided a lot of basic mistakes if they had read the earlier article, which touches very directly on just about all the historical errors that they make in their 2002 book.

                       

                      Earlier, I wrote:

                       

                      > I was bewildered, as were others, by Crossan's remark last year in the New

                      > York Review of Books concerning E. P. Sanders's non-use of gospel "source

                      > criticism".  The remark, of course, would immediately sound strange to

                      > anyone familiar with Sanders's books and articles devoted to gospel source

                      > criticism.  Sanders himself was taken aback by the remark, and offered, as

                      > an explanation, that it was an "inside joke".

                       

                      I can now quote Sanders's response to Crossan/Reed’s remark:

                       

                      Final irony.  My "refusal to use source-analysis" may be an insider's joke.  I have written extensively about the sources of the gospels, but I reject Crossan's opinion that the Gospel of Thomas is very ancient and that the layers of a hypothetical (and, in my view, fictional) document, Q, can be reconstructed.  These dubious hypotheses lie at the heart of his "source-analysis."  I am joined by most scholars in the first rejection and by a good number in the second.

                       

                      I also wrote:

                       

                      > Could it be that Crossan's mind has been fooled, on the surface level,

                      > into equating rejection of Q with rejection of source criticism itself,

                      > and that this is the result of his reading of Wright?  Does Crossan

                      > equate Sanders's Q skepticism with Wright's dismissal of source criticism?

                       

                      I could still ultimately be right about this, but nothing in the Sanders-Crossan exchange suggests any connection with Wright.

                       

                       

                      John C. Poirier

                      Middletown , Ohio

                       

                    • John C. Poirier
                      This post is not about the synoptic problem, but I hope it will be acceptable. I need some advice. As many of you know, I haven t yet completed my Ph.D.,
                      Message 10 of 15 , Jan 15, 2005
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                        This post is not about the synoptic problem, but I hope it will be acceptable.

                         

                        I need some advice.  As many of you know, I haven’t yet completed my Ph.D., although I’ve been in my program for 12 years now.  My experiences writing my dissertation have been an absolute nightmare.  My advisor is the world’s worst when it comes to working with students.  I’ve had all kinds of problems with him all along, but the latest is that it has been nine months since I sent him my completed dissertation, and he has yet to get back to me about it.  He won’t even answer my emails.  I keep complaining about this to my dean, and he keeps telling me he’ll push my advisor.

                         

                        Does this kind of stuff go on a lot in higher academia?  Do other advisors take nine months to read their students’ work?  How much of this am I supposed to take?  Is it right for me to continue paying money towards an advisor’s salary when he can’t even read a dissertation in nine months’ time?

                         

                        What should I do?  Seeing that it’s so hard to find a decent teaching job even *with* the Ph.D. in hand, is it worthwhile for me to continue this nightmare?

                         

                        Feel free to respond offline.

                         

                         

                        John C. Poirier

                        Middletown, Ohio

                         

                      • Jim West
                        ... That s both ridiculous and unacceptable. I would contact not the Dean but the President, and I would find the email address of every Trustee I could find
                        Message 11 of 15 , Jan 15, 2005
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                          John C Poirier wrote:

                          Does this kind of stuff go on a lot in higher academia?  Do other advisors take nine months to read their students’ work?  How much of this am I supposed to take?  Is it right for me to continue paying money towards an advisor’s salary when he can’t even read a dissertation in nine months’ time?

                          That's both ridiculous and unacceptable.  I would contact not the Dean but the President, and I would find the email address of every Trustee I could find and raise cain.  I would call the local paper too.  And the tv station- and explain to them my situation.  Also, if your local news has one of those "consumer help" segments, contact them. 

                           

                          What should I do?  Seeing that it’s so hard to find a decent teaching job even *with* the Ph.D. in hand, is it worthwhile for me to continue this nightmare?

                          The PhD isn't just about getting a job, its about personal accomplishment.  Don't let a bad advisor rob you of something you have clearly worked very hard for.  Raise hell.

                          Best,

                          Jim


                          -- 
                          Jim West, ThD
                          http://web.infoave.net/~jwest
                          http://biblical-studies.blogspot.com
                          
                          
                        • Horace Jeffery Hodges
                          John, you haven t yet reached the length of time it took me to finish my Ph.D., but that was my own choice. Your advisor s (in)actions are unacceptable. The
                          Message 12 of 15 , Jan 15, 2005
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                            John, you haven't yet reached the length of time it
                            took me to finish my Ph.D., but that was my own
                            choice.

                            Your advisor's (in)actions are unacceptable. The Dean,
                            too, seems to be doing little to help you. You
                            shouldn't have to be paying for this in money, time,
                            and career.

                            Perhaps somebody on this listserve knows your advisor
                            and could apply some pressure. Some of Jim's
                            suggestions might be worth following, e.g., contacting
                            somebody higher up than the Dean. Or possibly other
                            scholars in the department?

                            Jeffery Hodges

                            =====
                            University Degrees:

                            Ph.D., History, U.C. Berkeley
                            (Doctoral Thesis: "Food as Synecdoche in John's Gospel and Gnostic Texts")
                            M.A., History of Science, U.C. Berkeley
                            B.A., English Language and Literature, Baylor University

                            Email Address:

                            jefferyhodges@...

                            Office Address:

                            Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges
                            Department of English Language and Literature
                            Korea University
                            136-701 Anam-dong, Seongbuk-gu
                            Seoul
                            South Korea

                            Home Address:

                            Dr. Sun-Ae Hwang and Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges
                            Seo-Dong 125-2
                            Shin-Dong-A, Apt. 102-709
                            447-710 Kyunggido, Osan-City
                            South Korea

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                          • Thomas R. W. Longstaff
                            Although it s probably unnecessary let me add one comment. I agree with Jeffrey that your advisor s action (or really inaction) is unacceptable. So, too, the
                            Message 13 of 15 , Jan 15, 2005
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                              Although it's probably unnecessary let me add one comment.

                              I agree with Jeffrey that your advisor's action (or really inaction) is
                              unacceptable. So, too, the course that your dean seems to be following seems
                              irresponsibly negligent at best. I don't think that I would recommend, at
                              this point, writing to trustees, the news media, etc. although at some point
                              communication with trustees may be in order. I would suggest that you
                              arrange a personal appointment with the president to talk about the
                              treatment that you have received, and are receiving, from your advisor and
                              the dean. He/she may be able to set things in motion and should do so. If
                              that fails, you should contact the chair of the board of trustees rather
                              than individual trustees. Having been both a department chair and chair of
                              the board of trustees of a graduate school I am convinced that this is the
                              best way to go and the one most likely to gain you the assistance that you
                              need. You want to get results, not to build hostilities insofar as that is
                              possible.

                              I hope that the responses from list members provide you some support and
                              guidance as you attempt to deal with an unacceptable situation. While these
                              comments are not "on topic" for the list, I trust that professional support
                              for one another will not be considered inappropriate.

                              Thomas R. W. Longstaff, Ph.D., Biblical Languages and Literature, Columbia
                              University (where I was fortunate to have a superbly helpful committee
                              composed of J. Louis Martyn, Reginald H. Fuller and Raymond E. Brown).



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                            • E Bruce Brooks
                              To: John Poirier Cc: Synoptic-L On: Advisor Problems From: Bruce [I wasn t going to reply, other than a note of encouragement to John privately, but as I was
                              Message 14 of 15 , Jan 15, 2005
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                                To: John Poirier
                                Cc: Synoptic-L
                                On: Advisor Problems
                                From: Bruce

                                [I wasn't going to reply, other than a note of encouragement to John
                                privately, but as I was writing that note, I see words of advice popping up
                                on my screen via Syn-L. Since my experience of academe (which I admit does
                                not include schools of theology) leads me to believe that acting on that
                                advice might well be detrimental to John's present hopes, I venture to reply
                                at large also, hoping to lure further voices in the same vein, and so
                                balance things out. The reply is nevertheless addressed to John, and is
                                meant for him].

                                You ask, and I think it is the central question, "Does this kind of stuff go
                                on a lot in higher academia? The simple answer is, Yes, and a lot worse. The
                                complicated answer goes on to say, And there is not a thing you can do about
                                it except go elsewhere, quietly. A professor is worth more to a school than
                                any student (for one thing, they have more money invested in him). To
                                contend formally with a professor is, in effect, to contend formally with
                                the school (the school will automatically feel involved with the professor;
                                students are The Other). And the rule in school administration is that
                                schools are always right, and they will invariably close ranks against even
                                the most objectively justified complaint about one of "their" professors.
                                That can quickly lead to formal litigation. You can publicize the complaint.
                                One MA student in my experience did just that, with a very similar problem.
                                She gathered signatures. She wasn't expelled, but also, the problem wasn't
                                corrected. The general result of pursuing a formal challenge within the
                                institution will be (1) you will never get a degree from that school, and,
                                quite possibly, (2) no other school will accept you as a transfer student,
                                meaning, you will never get a degree, period. The extreme case in my
                                experience was a professor who stole his PhD student's research and
                                published it as his own. The facts were obvious, but the result was that the
                                student quietly [key word here] left that institution, and resumed his
                                degree work elsewhere. He finally got his degree, and is now teaching - in
                                another country. There were no repercussions for the professor, who
                                continued a high-profile position as an institute leader, and continued to
                                employ the prettiest secretaries in the whole building, and to be courted by
                                everybody in the program, including his own senior colleagues.

                                Clarification: You best know your own institution. But my perception is
                                that, despite some recent attempts to put education on a consumer basis,
                                with implied warranty and all the rest of it, the general presumption of
                                institutions is still that you are not paying for instruction (and teachers
                                are not paid, at least not by the hour, for giving instruction). You are
                                paying for the personal prestige and career enhancement that a degree from
                                that school will eventually provide. You can try to make a consumer case, in
                                the courts, and the lawyers will take your money, but you won't win, and if
                                you should win, your only award will be money, not reinstatement, let alone
                                degree (the court can't award degrees, and almost no court will venture to
                                reverse an academic decision as such). By putting things on that basis, the
                                ultimate form of confrontation, you will only dig yourself a deeper hole in
                                which to lose. Let me add that I entirely share the indignation that
                                permeates previous responses. I could probably top any examples that the
                                previous respondents have to offer. There are cases known to me personally,
                                right now, where a tenured professor has violated every expectation of his
                                employment, and every decency of his implied obligation to students
                                (including refusal to return student papers, or to finalize degree
                                proceedings that stretch over years). The institution, and even the
                                professor's colleagues, are simply not interested; nay, they are
                                enthusiastic. If you make trouble as the victim of such a situation, you
                                will be branded a "trouble-maker" and excluded from the school's, and very
                                possibly the profession's, good graces.

                                The same guideline applies, in my view, to outside litigation and also
                                taking things "higher up" within the institution. It might conceivably be
                                different if you had a relative on the Board of Trustees, or were a close
                                friend with a major donor. But the scenario at best is one of winning a
                                confrontation, and academe does not like confrontation, and, by and large,
                                it systematically penalizes those who (in their view) provoke confrontation.

                                It should be different, I totally agree. In some places it *is* different.
                                Between my writing this paragraph and the previous one, another Syn-L
                                respondent has provided an example. But the general pattern, from all
                                evidence available to me, is as I describe it, and it seems your institution
                                is running true to form. If so, I think you are stuck. It's beyond the power
                                of any individual to reform an institution, let alone the "culture of
                                scholarship" in which those institutions exist. Not only is there no
                                structure for bringing such instances to a proper (morally defensible)
                                ending, either intramurally or otherwise, but such imperfect structures as
                                exist, for determining professorial nonfeasance or even scholarly
                                misconduct, are vanishing from the scene. The trend, as far as I am aware of
                                it (and I read the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is what the
                                administrators also read) is in the direction of worse, rather than better.

                                So follow previous advice if it appeals to you, but only if you have
                                sufficient income, from non-academic sources, to fund that battle and to pay
                                for your life also. Indefinitely. NB: Lawyers cost about $300 per hour,
                                minimum, and the minimum may not be good enough, for a difficult trial case,
                                and you may at some point need competent legal advice, even in an intramural
                                case (the other side will certainly have some).

                                ADVICE

                                After all that, I should now offer some positive advice. This is it, with
                                all modesty, and with the usual "no warranty" disclaimers, but in good faith
                                and in helpful spirit. (1) Don't do anything to call attention to yourself.
                                Within that admittedly hard limit, (2) Quietly see if there is another
                                person in the department (or whatever) who could take over the job of thesis
                                advisor. If so, very gingerly and privately and with use of all the
                                subjunctive and conditional and implicational resources of the language, see
                                if that person would be willing to do so. Perhaps only a shifting of roles
                                on the thesis committee would be involved. In any case, don't make your
                                complaints part of the inquiry to the alternative advisor. It won't help,
                                for reasons listed above; it will polarize things in the wrong direction.
                                Also, if the present advisor routinely delays or denies feedback and other
                                student guidance, his colleague will know it, and may already be shouldering
                                the burden it creates (I know one guy who is doing his own work, plus the
                                work of two no-show tenured colleagues; he gets very tired by the end of the
                                week). If not, (3) see if there is another institutional program in the area
                                that would take your project on. That is, explore the possibilities of both
                                long-range and short-range shifting of your work. Transfers at the graduate
                                level are difficult, whether within a department or between institutions,
                                but they do happen, they are perhaps even a little more common now than 50
                                years ago, and that option is a lot more peaceful to the soul than the
                                demands of litigation (which, even if you have providently kept a full
                                "paper trail" of your own work and your advisor's nonfeasance, are much
                                greater than you may imagine; copying, filing, annotating, midnight oil,
                                general psychic wear and tear). With those alternative possibilities known
                                (never, repeat never, enter the office of a superior without being prepared
                                to lose everything in the ensuing conversation), (4) talk to your advisor.
                                Ask if there is some problem (eg, a problem of doctrine, or a problem of
                                sources, or simply a problem of personality) with your work. Nonfeasance is
                                one way a professor may take to tell you so. If such a problem emerges, see
                                what can be done to solve it. Utter subordination is the right mode in which
                                to put these questions. The solution may be to adopt conclusions, or
                                methods, or style, more in keeping with those of the advisor. Some thesis
                                advisors (and I would think, especially so in the NT field) see themselves
                                not as research facilitators, but as orthodoxy enforcers. Your solution in
                                that case is to embrace orthodoxy, whatever that may mean in your particular
                                situation.

                                Whether you are comfortable doing that is up to you. A word of personal
                                experience: I have often been told, at various stages along the way, and by
                                persons entirely sympathetic with my aspirations, Oh, just do what they
                                want, you can say what you think later. Often. But I have never been told,
                                OK, now you have paid your dues (that is the idiom), you are officially one
                                of us, so tell us what you think. Never. Students may imagine that they are
                                being trained to think. Would it were true. Once in a while, it is indeed
                                true. More typically, they are being trained to accept, and devotedly
                                promulgate, what their teachers think. The students of one modern China
                                expert now populate Chinese and history departments across the continent.
                                They are recognizable by their almost comical predictability. They all know
                                the same answers to the same question. It is that situation that many
                                trainers of graduate students are looking to achieve.

                                I was once crossing Harvard Yard with a very senior colleague in the French
                                Department, who had shifted his field entirely from the one he had long ago
                                been hired for. He grinned at me and said, I have tenure; I can do whatever
                                I want. That, I may say, is an extremely unusual use of tenure (or
                                equivalent protection). The usual use of tenure is to do nothing, except
                                cash the checks (this was before the days of direct deposit). Nonfeasance
                                (and hopefully your case is nothing worse) proliferates accordingly.

                                I know, principle might dictate something less abject and conciliatory. I
                                have principles too. The thing with following principle, though, is that one
                                wakes up one morning and realizes that one is not working for a career in
                                the field (as was originally the idea) but for immortality in the form of an
                                article in the New Yorker, profiling one's struggles and empathizing with
                                one's failures. It's fame of a sort, but be sure that it is worth it, as the
                                sole reward of a combative response to the situation, before embarking on a
                                combative response to the situation.

                                As for one's very natural indignation, which I repeat that I fully share, go
                                out to the neighborhood bar and drink it off. That's what they have
                                neighborhood bars for. Or write the New Yorker article yourself, and leave
                                it among your papers, to be submitted under a nom de plume by your executor,
                                sometime in the future.

                                I don't mean to be cynical, but I do mean to be helpful, and I wish you well
                                in extricating yourself from the situation with a minimum of friction and a
                                maximum of degree.

                                Use what tact you can, and beyond that, may good fortune attend you.

                                Bruce

                                E Bruce Brooks
                                Warring States Project
                                University of Massachusetts at Amherst


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                              • John C. Poirier
                                I d like to thank everyone for the thoughtful advice about my problem. I m not sure about the course I ll take, but I ll probably sit tight for a little while
                                Message 15 of 15 , Jan 17, 2005
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                                  I'd like to thank everyone for the thoughtful advice about my problem.

                                  I'm not sure about the course I'll take, but I'll probably sit tight for a
                                  little while longer before I take the next step. And that step, if I take
                                  it, will probably be to write to the Chancellor of the school.

                                  Unfortunately, I'm my advisor's first ever Ph.D. student, so I have no way
                                  of gauging whether I'm an exception to the way he treats students. (It's
                                  probably not good to be someone's first ever student.)


                                  John C. Poirier
                                  Middletown, Ohio



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