A Blog-Based Consensus?

A Blog-Based Consensus? September 22, 2015

Andrew Bernhard has shared his analysis of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, showing the likelihood that the forger used Mike Grondin’s online interlinear of the Gospel of Thomas, on both Mark Goodacre’s and Bart Ehrman’s blogs.

What struck me most was his reference to there appearing to be a consensus on the matter among scholars.

There have been two journal issues dedicated to the subject, but most of the discussion has taken place in the blogosphere.

And so this seems to me quite possibly to be the first time that it has been possible to talk of a scholarly consensus achieved and arrived at primarily via blogs.

In fact, Candida Moss and Joel Baden have written an article for The Atlantic about the fact that scientists and humanists have been drawing different conclusions about the papyrus fragment.

I will be speaking about this topic at the upcoming York Christian Apocrypha Symposium, and the focus of my paper is the way blogging is changing scholarship, and how we make sure that the changes are for the better, using the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife as a test case. I firmly believe that the added speed that online interaction (especially, but not exclusively, blogging) makes possible can be truly positive thing – provided that we do not allow the added speed, and the smaller number of scholars who blog, lead us in unhelpful directions.

And so let me ask a key question: how do we make sure that discussions in the blogosphere involve the working towards consensus that historic scholarship involves? It seems to me that if one does a survey on blogs, one might find that rejection of the traditional two-source solution to the Synoptic is more common than it is in the academy as a whole. And so it is clear that the blogging scholars agree that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is a fake. How do we get from there to determining whether the rest of the scholarly community feels the same way?

This is a genuine question – and if you help me find the answer, your comment might be cited in my treatment of this subject!

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  • Occam Razor

    The bloggers create a self-reinforcing feedback loop, unfortunately. And you, James, whom I like a lot, get caught up in that, IMO. Who wants to be accused of being out of the mainstream or supporting — gasp! — the theories of grubby filmmakers? So the clique all write blog posts quoting each other saying the same thing. That’s not consensus, it’s junior high.

    I don’t have the expertise to fully understand all this, and I don’t doubt that this particular fragment was forged, but it is curious that the bloggers come to a different conclusion than the scientists. My biggest problem is that the bloggers have a consistent history of trying to debunk everything related to Jesus burial, which I think is to their discredit, while the scientists have no such axe to grind.

    • JayBee03

      There’s probably some truth in the self-reinforcing loop suggestion, but
      the vast majority of the “bloggers” on this matter aren’t armchair
      quarterbacks sitting around in their PJs. They’re academics, scholars.
      They are in the same class (or peer group, say) as the “scientists”, so
      to pit the former against the latter as somehow deficient or lesser is
      to set up a false dichotomy. I don’t think anyone needs any expertise
      other than a good mind capable of critical thinking and reading (that’s
      not a dig at you–I’m generalizing) to appreciate that the case for
      forgery here has been made in overwhelming fashion. I’ve read many of
      the blogs, as well as the New Testament Studies journal articles that
      were made available freely online, and I don’t see how any other
      conclusion is supportable.

  • arcseconds

    It’s sometimes useful to have poll or poll-like data on members of a particular academic area. I’ve found David Chalmers’s philosophy poll interesting and sometimes even helpful, for example.

    Polls take a while to organise. But in this day and age it needn’t be the case. If academics just saw it as part of their jobs to answer a five-minute poll once a week, then you could balance out having lots of census data on many issues, with tracing attitudes to particular issues over time. If this were in place already, then we could track the changing attitudes to the Jesus’s Wife fragment by the week!

    However, someone would have to organise it of course, and despite the fact it really doesn’t seem onerous, I imagine getting a decent response rate would in fact be difficult. Getting academics to agree to do something is worse than herding cats!

  • arcseconds

    A more practical suggestion: maybe bibliobloggers could each adopt a non-biblioblogger biblical scholar. Buy the scholar a coffee every month, and discuss what’s been going on in the biblioblogosphere, and in world of biblical scholarship more generally. Send feedback to whomever is doing the circus or carnival or whatever it is, and have the ‘feedback from beyond the blogs’ as a regular item on that round-up.

    Obviously this requires some effort, but I think it would actually be to the benefit of all concerned. The biblioblog phenomenon becomes more integrated with the wider scholastic community, and the individuals form closer ties, too!

    After a while you could gently suggest the possibility of doing a guest post, and before you know it you’ll have new biblioblogger recruits, at which point of course each of you needs to find a new pal.

    Then everyone sends 5$ up the chain to…

  • Bethany

    “In fact, Candida Moss and Joel Baden have written an article for The Atlantic about the fact that scientists and humanists have been drawing different conclusions about the papyrus fragment.”

    Dunno. It sounds like at this point there’s widespread agreement that the papryus itself, and now the ink as well, is ancient. The question is when the writing was done, and the lab tests can’t determine that. And I don’t really find Moss argument, that basically we’ve never seen an example of a known forgery made with a technique the point of which is to make it difficult or impossible to know something is a forgery, compelling. I mean, we wouldn’t, would we?

  • Stephen Goranson

    The scientific tests published so far do *not* prove the ink is ancient (or medieval).

    Scientists do not all suggest the ms is old. See Krutzsch and Rabin in July 2015 NTS.

    And what of Stephen Emmel’s codicological research: is that text
    research or material research–or both? And what about that bit about
    writing (inking) around a (physical, material) hole?

  • Stephen Goranson

    It is surely true that blogs (and the internet more generally, including non-bloggers quoted online) played a big role in showing this ms is fake. But, also, reportedly, Prof. King, at first, suspected forgery; two of the three outside readers for HTR raised grave doubts; and many at the Rome Coptic conference thought it fake. So considering the ms genuine might have been a minority view all along.
    Scientists did not prove the ms “passed muster.” So far, the biggest scientific contribution–assuming the second C14 test is reliable–is that the papyrus material dates several centuries later than King and Bagnall proposed–not ancient, but medieval.

  • Stephen Goranson

    The Sept. 10 Atlantic article by Baden and Moss begins:”In 2012, the world was introduced to the wife of Jesus–or, more accurately, to an ancient papyrus….” Actually, more accurately, not an ancient papyrus. Though the article goes on to make several interesting observations, and offers lively opinions, it includes further unreliable statements.