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Re: [Synoptic-L] Crossan on Q skepticism

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  • 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 1 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
      http://NTGateway.com

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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 2 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



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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 3 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 4 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


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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 5 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 6 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 7 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 8 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 9 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 10 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 11 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 12 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 13 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 14 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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