Friday, November 20, 2009

Five Things I Want to See in Earl Doherty's New Book. (pt I)

So Earl Doherty has finally put out his "second revision" of The Jesus Puzzle, though given both the new title and the fact that it has ballooned to 800 some pages, "second revision" is probably a poor choice of words. It's a new book.

So what would I most like to see?

Less rhetoric.

Readers might recall a pair of posts here awhile ago dealing with the question of 2 Peter's knowledge of Mark's gospel. It addressed Doherty's assertions regarding the term "delow" as being a "revelatory verb." Doherty withdrew the certainty of his wording in discussion (though it still stands on his site), but downplayed as nothing more than "colorful language."

In similar fashion, in The Jesus Puzzle he makes the bold assertion that the lack of artefact veneration is "perhaps the single strongest" piece of evidence in his favour (p 75). Except that history tells us a different story: Artefact veneration was the exception, not the rule, and his expectation is anachronistic. In correspondence he withdrew that assertion as well, demoting it to "another piece." The demotion is still undue--it's not a "piece" of anything--but at least it's more reasonable. The phrasing was apparently just more color.

The problem with this "colorful language" is that it always speaks to a degree of certainty, or a strength of evidence that overstates his case. The popular reader (Doherty's self-described target audience) doesn't know if he's presenting delow properly. They don't know how common artefact veneration was. They don't know that Doherty's misrepresenting the evidence, even if unintentionally.

I'll grant that it's probably accidental, and that 'colorful language' results in inaccurate presentation. But it's certainly easy to see how someone less generous might prefer the term "disingenuous" or even "dishonest" in place of "colorful."

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