Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Critical" Scholarship?

Brian LePort recently blogged here about critical scholarship and the value of faith-based commitments for many scholars. His questions made me think, if scholars are clamoring for "critical" scholarship, would they also be self-critical? Would they unswervingly commit to a standard of "critical" scholarship outside of their own interests? Is that even possible? For example, in my Synoptics Gospels class, we've been talking at length about NT scholarship's stance on Q and the various "solutions" to the Synoptic Problem. From what I can gather, it seems like there are three main camps (though not divided equally into thirds): (1) Two-Source theory, which is Markan Priority + Q, (2) Griesbach or Two-Gospels theory, which is Matthean Priority with Luke coming second, and Mark conflating the two, and (3) Farrer theory, which is Markan Priority without Q, viz. Matthew following Mark, then Luke using both. One thing that strikes me though is how differently a scholar from a particular camp interprets the data, and how unlikely it is to me that they will ever change their individual conclusions on this issue.

Would a scholar who claims to be "critical," after a decade or two having devoted himself or aligning himself with a particular stance, even be able to self-critically come to a point where he/she would flip-flop on the issue? I suppose for various other issues in NT scholarship, there is a kind of spectrum whereby you can shift your stance somewhat, but in something like the Synoptic problem, that doesn't seem possible. Either Mark was first or Matthew was (or Luke for that matter!), and either Mark conflated Matthew-Luke or he didn't. I don't know that you could find a middle-ground per se on this issue. Seems to me that it is quite possible for scholars to hold tightly to their own conclusions and keep publishing and building on it even if an "objective" (if something like that is even possible) perspective has basically proven it to be false. On some levels, isn't this the same as a faith-commitment that is so often disparaged in academia?

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