feisty Kitchen

Kenneth Kitchen is always a fun read, and not simply because of his wealth of learning but also his unashamed feistiness. The former humbles me, and the latter speaks to me. For example: after dealing with (=dismantling) some of the core presuppositions of the New Literary Criticism, Kitchen says:

And so one could go on and on. But this tiny handful of examples of (anti)academic lunacy will suffice. If the English departments that started off all this nonsense can find nothing better to do than this drivel, then we would be much better off without them. And their resources would be freed up for people with something worthwhile to offer to their fellow humans. The only worthwhile thing one can really do with claptrap deconstruction is…to deconstruct it.

On the Reliability of the Old Testament (2003), 471-2

Such fiestiness pervades the book, especially the final chapter.

cracks in the dam(?)

Dedicated readers of this blog will know at least two things: 1) I am poor at posting consistently, and 2) a number of posts have dealt with the problems of plagiarism. Many of the instances of plagiarism I highlight tend to come from students who either fail to abide by the rules of proper citation or are ill-informed about such rules, or from (more or less) popular writers/authors–and often for similar reasons. In the main, I can excuse such things because they can be seen as rookie mistakes. Thus, I tend to get over those instances rather quickly. I see it. I gripe about it (usually to myself, sometimes here). And then I move on.

But there are times when I don’t move on as quickly. And these times are related to when I discover plagiarism in scholarly work–either personally or I hear/read about it from others. Recently, two seasoned scholars have been criticized for plagiarism in their respective commentaries, and both have admitted to the regrettable causes for it (e.g., pressures of publishing, time-crunches) and it appears that both commentaries will be pulled from circulation. This bothers me, in part, because scholars should know better–or at least they are better informed about what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it. But as we’re discovering, that idealistic view is being rattled by reality. And what I fear is that this kind of rattling is creating cracks in the dam, which if it gives way will bring about disturbing and disruptive consequences.

I still remember one of the more disturbing instances I encountered: it was in 2011, while I was doing some follow-up research during my doctoral studies. Specifically, I was reading a published dissertation on a theme in Pauline theology.¹ I first suspected it when the writer made an argument that was surprisingly similar to the scholar he cites. The differences in wording were minimal at best (e.g., transposing two words, alternate spelling on a Greek term, an elision of one minor clause). However, I became concerned because the writer did not place the argument in quotes, despite the minor differences. Though, to his credit, he did cite the scholar’s work with an in-text reference, but the citation gave the impression of an allusion to the other’s work, not one that signals explicit reliance upon it. So I ultimately let it go as a one-off, one that might be debatable and thus not sufficient for further thought.

But then it happened. When reading an earlier portion of this same dissertation, I found an explicit use of another’s work without proper citation–let alone quotation marks. In this second example, the author presented an explanation of a particular Greek term and this explanation carried on for nearly 120 words (essentially the length of the preceding paragraph in this post). Only at one point did the author place a portion of the explanation in quotes (5 words, to be precise), followed by an in-text reference. However, by looking at the argument found in reference cited and comparing it with what is found in the dissertation, it is obvious that the author lifted more than the five quoted words. In fact, nearly the whole 120 words were lifted from the source used. But again, since there were no quotation marks around this larger section, thus signaling the use of another’s work, one would not suspect that the larger section was boosted. The only reason I knew of the similarities is because I had read the source used only the day before. Thus, when I came to this portion of the dissertation, things sounded far too familiar.

Not knowing what to do, and being a mere PhD student at the time, I decided to ask a professional. His initial response was this: “From your description it sounds to me like carelessness rather than deceptive plagiarism (i.e. there is a reference to the source material, but the wording is too close to the source without being acknowledged as citation). And it is not uncommon. Deceptive plagiarism (if no source/reference is given, and large portions are found to be derived from an unacknowledged source) is a different matter and would perhaps warrant some further probing.” Even though this distinction and criteria for making it were a touch different than what I was used to, I heeded his follow-up response, which was (paraphrased): I’d leave it alone. You don’t want to start your career as being the one who outed an established scholar and professor for plagiarism.

To borrow from Ron White: “I told you that story to tell you this one”. This morning, while doing some research for a sermon series I’m doing, I came across the following:


The book on the left was published in 1978, while the one on the right was published in 1993. (I am going to leave the authors for these two works unnamed for now). The parallels in the larger description are close enough to raise an eye-brow, though such material might be said to fall into the category of general knowledge, which is not necessarily required to be cited. (I would debate some of the nuances of that escape clause, especially in this case, but point taken). However, it’s the smaller paragraph that bothered me. The wording is exactly the same, with the exception of one qualifying phrase (i.e., “of the guild”). But there is no reference. No footnote. Nothing. There’s not even a entry in the “Further Reading” list of the newer book for the older one. This should not be happening, especially by a scholar who is known for thoroughness and precision.

¹ I’m being intentionally cryptic at the moment because I am still torn with how to proceed with this.

review of the really, very, holy, Dr Tilling

My review of Chris Tilling’s monograph,, Paul’s Divine Christology is now published (in SCJ).  If you click the SCJ link, you can gain (free) access to all of the book reviews in the current edition.  There’s more than 60-pages worth, so you’ll certainly get your fill.  Happy reading.

why just those two?

This is nothing but a quick rant. More like a sucker-punch, really. While reading through Carson & Moo’s, An Introduction to the New Testament (as you do on a Wednesday morning), particularly the chapter on the Corinthian letters (go figure), I found this rather strange observation:

Both Corinthian epistles are occasional letters, that is, they are letters addressed to specific people and occasioned by concrete issues

–Carson-Moo, Introduction (2005), 415.

This is strange because, with the possible exception of Ephesians (though I’m not convinced that it is an exception), all of Paul’s letters are occasional.[1] So why specifically designate–or single out–only the Corinthians letters as “occasional”? Is it because those letters address more problems in one go than the other letters do? If so, that in itself does not necessarily make them more “occasional” than the others and thus worthy of the description. It simply means the Corinthians had more problems, and the proliferation of problems in one location is (essentially) the occasion for writing… four letters.

Poor form, guys. Poor form.

[1] Admittedly, Carson-Moo acknowledge this point later (see 490), but they hardly do anything with it. In fact, the acknowledgement reads more like a throw-away line than anything else.

Robinson adopting Paul’s style?

I may be completely alone in this, but I find humor in Paul’s remarks in 1 Cor 1.14-16:

I thank God that I baptized none of you except Cripus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other.

Every time I read this passage I hear the first bit (“I thank God . . .”) spoken with passion and definiteness. And then I imagine Paul thinking, “Oh crap, that’s not right”, before–under his breath, maybe or in hushed tones–mentioning the first half of the second bit (“Now I did . . .”), and then resuming the original passion and definiteness for the final claim, “beyond that . . .”.  It’s almost as though Paul’s desire to make a point got the better of him and he suddenly realized it, thus requiring some self-correction. (Or maybe Sosthenes chimed in and reminded Paul of what happened).

But there is something else about this passage that I appreciate, and that is Paul’s decision to leave the self-correction in the text for everyone to see. Sure, since this comment was early on the in letter, Paul could have said, “Scrap that and let’s start again.” But he doesn’t. It’s almost as though he’s saying: “See, I’m not perfect; I screw up from time to time. But I’m willing to own up to it.” Could this be a part (or an illustration) of the wider argument he is making to the Corinthians? Maybe.

However, answering that question is not the point of this post. This post is about something I noticed this morning while reading a little handbook on Romans. I found what looks to be John Robinson adopting Paul’s style:

Perhaps the easiest way to picture the progress of the epistle is as though you were making a journey by canal across an isthmus. You could imagine the epistle going from Corinth to Rome across the isthmus of Corinth, though the first canal was not in fact begun until about ten years after Paul was writing. It was started by the emperor Nero in 66-67 with a work-force largely composed of indentured Jewish slaves, and then abandoned unfinished. Until that time, smaller vessels were apparently dragged over bodily on some sort of slipway. But imagine, for the sake of the exercise . . .

–J.A.T. Robinson, Wrestling with Romans (1979), 9

It’s as though Robinson realizes, as soon as he writes it, that his analogy is crap–or at least historically inappropriate–and has to correct himself. Hence the over-qualification. As with Paul, what’s interesting in this case is that Robinson retains the analogy for the sake of his argument (which is quite good, by the way) and we get to see it–despite its inappropriateness. Any other writer today would rework the argument or come up with a different analogy for the final manuscript so as to avoid embarrassment. Not Robinson. And that’s commendable.

books read in 2012

W. Travis McMaken, over at Die Evangelischen Theologen, listed all the books he’s read from cover to cover in 2012. I thought I’d follow suit and mention the ones I managed to complete, although my list won’t be as impressive as his. In no particular order:

  • J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings: Two Towers
  • Bill Bryson, Down Under
  • Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island
  • Bill Bryson, Made in America
  • Robert Ludlum, Bourne Identity
  • Robert Ludlum, Bourne Supremecy
  • Paul Brickhill, The Great Escape
  • Alexandre Dumas (fils), La Dame aux Camélias
  • Jeremy Clarkson, The World According to Clarkson, vol. 1
  • Jeremy Clarkson, The World According to Clarkson, vol. 2
  • Jeremy Clarkson, For Crying Out Loud
  • Oscar Wilde, The Portrait of Mr W.H.
  • Oscar Wilde, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime
  • P.G. Wodehouse, Something Fresh (Blandings Castle)
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes

(My high school teachers would be proud that I’ve read this many. And shocked). The comparatively less academic nature of my list is due partly to the fact that I rarely read technical books from cover-to-cover. For those, I read more to get a feel of the argument and follow the way it develops certain themes/ideas, which means I wind up reading between 75-90%. (If you’re really curious–or just that bored–I can list those in a different post).

I’ve already started in on a few for this year (* indicates those in the queue):

  • G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World?
  • Robert Ludlum, Bourne Ultimatum
  • Bill Bryson, History of Everything
  • Eugene Peterson, The Pastor (started late last year, and working through it slowly)
  • * Malcolm Muggeridge, The Green Stick
  • * Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  • * Slavoj Zizek, In Defense of Lost Causes (because I’m feeling brave… and Chris Tilling recommended it)

That’s all I’ve got for now, but I’m sure the list will grow as the year progresses. Who knows, I might need a break after Zizek’s. How about you? What did you read last year and what are you hoping to read this year?

great chapter title

I recently learned of Kent Yinger’s little book, The New Perspective on Paul: An Introduction (2011). While for many within the academic guild the “new” perspective is growing a bit old and stale, this contribution will benefit those interested in the development and content of the NPP–at least on an introductory level. From what I can tell on a cursory glance, it looks to be even-handed and positive in its treatment (unlike some) and it seems to adopt a moderately playful style of writing. My favorite bit . . . the title of chapter 5: “The Fur Starts Flying: Concern over Sanders’s [sic] Judaism.” Great stuff.

just a hunch

Wondering about recent “street-level” books on Paul (just something I do from time to time; not sure why), I decided to check–a book distributor that this guy thinks is absolutely wicked–to see if anything new has emerged. While I did find a couple that looked rather interesting, I was immediately struck by a book on the front-page:

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 01.17.27

I remember hearing about and seeing this book when it first came out, and I remember thinking/hoping that it wouldn’t last. Partly because it follows a similar paradigm used in many “church growth” books–i.e. the system is shot, people have tried other ways to fix it and failed, they don’t know what else to do; I have a “new way” [nb: usually presented as “never-been-tried-before”], and if you use it in your church it will work wonders, etc. (Don’t writers of these kinds of books see that that paradigm/system is shot?) Moreover, the thrust of The Circle Maker, despite appearances, is not about God; it’s about self-interest and the delusion of entitlement. I figured (=hoped) it wouldn’t take long for people to see through the façade.

Thus, I must admit my surprise seeing that The Circle Maker has hung around this long. But then again, it has been significantly reduced in price. There might be a (really good) reason why it’s been reduced 67%: the premise and ultimate focus of the book (i.e. the self) are crappy. At the same time, there might be a reason why the book is radically reduced rather than completely pulled: it maintains the cash-flow for the publisher rather than stopping it. This is the same reason why publishers and book sellers still put out (failed) doomsday/end-time books (e.g. this drivel by Hal Lindsey). That reason is not about endorsing content; it’s about making money. Just a hunch.

what are you reading? [answered]

My Australian brother, Mark Stevens meanderingly asked the question, “what are you reading?” Before answering, I must express my appreciation for what Mark does (knowingly or not) leading up to his question. He shows that his selection of books is purposeful and intentional. Mark is not (or does not appear to be) reading at random or to assuage a passing fancy or to kill some time. (“As if you could kill time without injuring eternity” –Thoreau).

Moreover, he reveals that his reading is reflective and integrative. Mark does not read so that he can scratch off titles from a list and do a happy dance. (Maybe he does. Mark?). Instead, he reads because he wants what he learns to make sense in real life, and knowing how that happens takes patience and cogitation. (“And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say” –Treebeard). That was my meandering way of saying: Thanks, Mark for your insight and habits.

Now, to answer the question at hand. My reading is broken up into two parts: work related and pleasure. I have a page dedicated to this breakdown, but I admit that I have failed to update it lately. So this post will be an updated version (which means I’ll need to fix the allotted page, at which point this will become redundant. C’est la vie).

Work Related
1. L.L. Welborn, Paul, The Fool of Christ (2005)
2. Kenneth Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes (2011)
3. Adrian Long, Paul and Human Rights (2009)
4. Bengt Holmberg, Paul and Power (1978)
5. C.K. Robertson, Conflict in Corinth (2001)
6. Peter Marshall, Enmity in Corinth (1987)
7. Edward Adams, Constructing the World (2000)
8. John Lewis, Looking for Life (2007)
9. J. Brian Tucker, You Belong to Christ (2010)
10. Commentaries and journal articles beyond my desire to count.

1. Eugene Peterson, The Pastor (2011)
2. Jennifer Ash & Armin Brott, The Expectant Father(2001)

Now your turn. What are you reading?

transient theological thoughts (4)

In the introduction to his little commentary on Romans, C.H. Dodd says:

Whatever particular dates be assigned to the epistles to the Thessalonians, Corinthians, and Galatians, they all preceded the Epistle to the Romans. I have indicated in the notes several passages where a train of thought in Romans can be recognized at an earlier stage of its development in one of those other epistles. Thus the short eschatological passage, [Rom] xiii.11-14, points back to the more elaborate treatment of the same theme in 1 Thess v.1-10. The discussion of the ‘body’ and the ‘members,’ in [Rom] xii.5-8, and of the problem of the scrupulous conscience, in [Rom] xiv.1–xv.6, presuppose the fuller and fresher discussion of these themes in 1 Cor xii and viii–x, without reference to which the passages in Romans are hardly to be understood in their full meaning.

–C.H. Dodd,The Epistle of Paul to the Romans(1963), 22-23

On the surface, I say: “Rock on!” I’m all for highlighting and emphasising the places where specific themes or ideas appear in different letters. I’m especially supportive of this when it leads to a more nuanced understanding of Paul’s thought and/or theology. As Dodd points out, having this more nuanced knowledge gives us a behind-the-scenes look at Paul when he writes what he does, and that is indeed a laudable opportunity.

Further reflection, however, leads me to say: “Hang on a minute.” I’m not sure if Dodd was aware of what he implies in arguing his case. If I’m reading him correctly,* Dodd’s near insistence on the necessity of recognising intertextuality seems to create problems for one of the more basic hermeneutical goals–i.e. to hear/read the text in its original context. In effect, Dodd wants us to imagine a historical context that is not necessarily fair, and the effect of that imagined context leads to a conclusion that is not warranted.

Let me say this in a different way: 1) our goal is to understand the letter of Romans in its original context (i.e. its effect on and relevance for its original audience); 2) Dodd contends that the full meaning of key elements of Romans is contingent upon having knowledge of what Paul has argued elsewhere; 3) thus, for the original Roman audience to appreciate and know fully Paul’s meaning, they would have to be aware of what he said in 1Thess and 1Cor on similar themes; 4) however, Dodd offers no evidence (provided there is any) that the Romans were aware of such texts, let alone what Paul argued in them; ergo 5) we must assume that the Romans’ awareness of Paul’s full meaning in his letter to them was lacking–if not deficient. That, for me, is a big problem.

While intertextual readings might be useful for us when seeking to ascertain wider meaning (or, the larger framework of an author’s thought), I do not think it is appropriate to require such things for original audiences. It might be appropriate, however, if such audiences had time and the ability to acquaint themselves with other texts by the same author beforehand; but we cannot say that is the case for the Romans–at least not at the time of the first reading of the letter. Thus I think Dodd suggestion has placed an unfair burden on the original audience, in their ability to ascertain Paul’s full meaning, and an unnecessary obstacle in our way of seeking to understand how the original audience would have read Paul’s letter.

* I (as always) admit to the possibility of being wrong, especially this week–my personal “demons” have been relentless.