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More on engagement: Begin by reading

Dr. Licona has asked Tom Gilson to publish his response to Tom's call for engaging with my ideas--which is to say his reason for refusing any engagement with my critique. It is here. Tom asked me if I would like to respond in my own blog venue, so herewith a few brief points.

1) It is interesting to me that Dr. Licona appears to be indicating that he has not even read my critique of his work. In describing the amount of time that would be required to engage and indicating that he has no intention of taking that time, he says, "Since her blogs on my book are very long, I would begin by reading them, which would take a few hours." This is really striking, especially given that Licona doesn't appear to think that this is in any way an embarrassing admission.

Perhaps there is just some misunderstanding here, and he has read some significant portion but not the whole. Perhaps that is all that he means. Or perhaps he has read them but means that he'd have to read them again, though that isn't what he says. Since he complains elsewhere in the post about my "tone," he appears to have read something or other. But what? This line certainly gives the impression that he has not read with serious attention to argument. Elsewhere in the response Licona says that Tom and others might think that

I should spend the required time considering Lydia’s criticisms carefully and either revising my position or clarifying and defending it. I do not share their sense of necessity.

So which part of this does he have no intention of doing at all? Has he done any of it? Does he plan to? How about at least considering my criticisms carefully? Revising his own position if he's wrong? Yes, those would be a good idea. Is it just the final "and" part he feels no necessity to do (clarifying and defending), though he has done or is going to do the other parts?

Yes, I acknowledge that he would have to read my material if he were going to respond to it. That should go without saying, but not everybody appears to agree, as indicated by numerous Facebook exchanges in which people disagree with me without reading either Dr. Licona or me. So I should say that I'm glad Dr. Licona and I agree that he would, in fact, have to read my material before responding to it.

But as a scholar Dr. Licona should be planning to become at least substantially familiar with my material anyway, even if he has no time to respond or to read every word.

He says, "The issue then for me is whether Lydia’s criticisms of my recent book justify my engagement. I do not think that they do."

It's somewhat astounding if he is confident that my criticisms do not "justify [his] engagement" without reading them. Again, not necessarily every word, but I've organized my work in a way that would make it fairly easy to read a representative sample. As I often tell people, they can start with the wrap-up post and browse from there to other posts according to the synopses. Has Dr. Licona even done that much?

Scholars in the humanities are adept at assimilating fairly large quantities of material, reading quickly, perhaps occasionally skimming, reading some portions word-for-word, and the like.

If he literally has not attempted to read what I have written to any significant degree, I am afraid this should be a cause of some concern, as it betrays a lack of interest in finding out if, perhaps, he has made serious mistakes. I have given arguments to that effect. Aren't arguments what scholars care about?

Of course I cannot force Dr. Licona to read what I've written. But if he doesn't read it, how can he know that what I've argued is wrong and that it isn't even worth engaging with? As an analytic epistemologist and probability theorist, I have some information concerning epistemic issues such as simplicity, complexity, testimony, independence, reliability, burden of proof, and the like, and these all come to the foreground in these debates. Disambiguating terms is also something I do a fair bit of in my field, and it's a very important matter in these areas of New Testament studies. I'm also trained in evaluating the force of arguments.

It behooves Dr. Licona to acquaint himself with serious critiques of his work; as of now, as far as I can tell, mine is one of the only critiques of any kind out there and the most detailed and informed review that includes criticism.

Refusing to become directly familiar with serious criticisms of one's work by a serious scholarly opponent is a profoundly unscholarly decision. If that's the decision Dr. Licona is making, I urge him to reconsider it.

2) Dr. Licona’s repeated references to “what would happen”--to endless debates and so forth--are not addressed to the exchange in Phil. Christi, which would be limited in scope and which was the immediate occasion of Tom Gilson's post. Licona mentions this only briefly to dismiss it. It’s certainly true that it would take a chunk of time, as I acknowledged in my original post on Dr. Licona’s refusal. There I expressly said that he doesn’t owe me an exchange, and I reiterate that here.

But let’s keep focused: Tom has not called for an endless exchange but for some serious engagement with the ideas in question. Tom has said that he thinks there should be visible scholarly engagement by Dr. Licona, not unlimited back-and-forth. So sweeping predictions about what would happen later or what Lydia would do are not to the point.

3) The reference to Mike's personal friend Kurt Jaros as offering to debate me, and my alleged decline of that suggestion, is quite pointless. As Dr. Licona seems to realize, I have already interacted with Kurt at length on Facebook on these topics. (There is, however, a slight error in Mike's post. I am not actually a member of the CAA Facebook group, though Tim is. I have engaged Kurt on Tim's Facebook "wall" and in personal correspondence.) My husband, Tim, has interacted with him with great patience and at length concerning Mike's work, in semi-public forums on Facebook and in private e-mail.

We have tried very hard to engage with him, spending many hours of our time. There are numerous witnesses to the sheer amount of time and effort we have spent in exchanges with him on semi-public forums concerning Mike's work.

What emerged in these exchanges is that Kurt, in contrast to Dr. Licona, does not have a well-thought-out position. Nor did he, when we tried to engage with him, have a good knowledge of Dr. Licona’s own work, of Licona’s position, or of the arguments on which it is based. Nor has he shown an acquaintance with my arguments on the other side. This has made him an extremely poor advocate of Mike's position, to say the least. Even after we gave him more information individually (which he could have easily gotten from my posts but apparently did not), he did not show himself willing and able to assimilate it and to represent Dr. Licona’s position in a clear and accurate fashion. In numerous ways he has not proven to be a remotely fruitful partner for useful dialogue on these subjects.

To give just one salient example, Kurt has insisted that Dr. Licona’s position is that the authors of the gospels were merely "apathetic about some details.” Every word of this characterization is grossly inaccurate. Dr. Licona clearly argues that the authors went out of their way to create certain literary/narrative impressions deliberately. Quite a number of the examples in his book clearly go beyond mere “details,” extending to inventing entire incidents and sayings in some cases. This could obviously not be done by means of mere "apathy" nor would it merely be a matter of "details." All of this has been pointed out to Kurt repeatedly, personally, and all of it was already amply illustrated in my series, but he has stuck to his misleading characterization. When one cannot even get a clear and accurate proposition to be discussed on the table in the first instance, one is stymied.

One place where Dr. Licona and I can agree is in urging people to read his work. Indeed, it often seems that the people who most need to read and understand his position in detail are his own supporters! I've been astonished and disheartened to see how many of Licona's most ardent supporters, as well as those who argue strenuously at the metalevel that there is no important issue at stake, do not even know what his position is.

I would also urge people (Dr. Licona included) to look in addition at a serious argument on the other side, and I've done careful work to provide that argument. Scholars and even interested non-scholars should attempt to avoid confirmation bias by reading arguments on both sides of an issue. My work can even provide a lead-in to Dr. Licona's work for those interested.

My intent has never been to issue some kind of general challenge to debate some supporter of Dr. Licona or other. Indeed, my critique of Dr. Licona is not chiefly intended to egg on anyone to a debate as if public, formal debate per se were an end in itself. It isn't. Knowing and teaching the truth is the ultimate goal, and the proximate goal is serious engagement with arguments on the issues. Dr. Licona, a scholar, has written a book. Dr. Licona has multiple lectures and debates available on-line. He has a substantial scholarly body of work. It is his work and his position that are in question. I, another scholar with relevant expertise, have carefully read his entire recent book, familiarized myself with much of his work in other venues, and have written a careful, serious, considered, scholarly critique of his work.

It would be good if others interested in these issues would become acquainted with that critique and with Dr. Licona’s work and give the matter serious thought, since the issues are important. Care is what we need to exercise if we want to know the truth.

Comments (22)

Something else that needs to be said is that Lydia is a well-respected scholar who has produced work that would be sufficient for tenure and promotion at a research university (over 30 peer-reviewed journal articles and author/co-author of two academic books). Also, Lydia has been involved with publishing critical back-and-forth journal articles with some big names, such as Alvin Plantinga (on epistemology) and Robin Collins (on the design argument). It's not like Lydia is just some crank with a blog. She has a track-record of high-level scholarship and academic argumentation. My guess is that both Plantinga and Collins believe that their views have benefited from their exchanges with Lydia. (Let me add that I don't think Collins and Plantinga believe that having direct scholarly exchanges led to an endless quagmire of rebuttals and responses. That's a silly and baseless excuse for Licona not to enter in a critical exchange with Lydia.)

Given Lydia's latest book on biblical scholarship that takes a unique conservative approach to the Gospels/Acts (that also has been hailed as an important work by many titans of conservative biblical scholarship), I think that Licona's engagement with her criticisms would provide an opportunity for him to branch out and discuss some ideas that are not presently part of the mainstream of New Testament studies. Lydia's objections to Licona's claaims all strike me as reasonable and substantial. She's not "heretic hunting," unlike some others who have been vocally opposed to him. Her criticisms dig into the works of Plutarch and the methods of biblical scholarship that Licona is using. As an academic, he should welcome this exchange for a chance to increase the scope of his arguments and to reach a larger audience with his views. Should his arguments carry the debate, I think his influence would go up.

Finally, if he is too busy to participate in an exchange right now, perhaps Licona should consider looking further out, like six months or year from now. It seems strange to me that a scholar who is interested in seeing his work find more areas of influence wouldn't be interested in finding a way to engage with some new criticisms in a forum that may reach a broader audience as well. Even if we are just talking about adding distinguishing marks to one's academic career, it seems that he is missing an opportunity here.

Mike Licona has always said he was a doubter. . . . I hope he's not refusing I'm order not to be challenged. Perhaps he may feel it's his position or bust


I couldn't say about that for sure. What I can say is this: He seems pretty convinced in his book by various challenges of alleged discrepancies. That is to say, he seems to think that traditional attempts to harmonize are very often wrong. Now, suppose that he believed (as I do) that one needs quite high *individual* reliability for the books in question. Then there might be a concern that this is unachievable, unavailable, because of these many alleged discrepancies, *since* he so often thinks that they are real discrepancies, that harmonization is "strained" or doesn't work.

In that case he would think that he would have to find a position that would still make it possible to conclude that Christianity is true while denying quite high individual reliability for the books in question.

Here's where it gets a little tricky, because it's sort of like asking, "What shape would a trapezoid be if a circle were square?" In other words, I think this is all wrong at every step--we do need quite high reliability, but we have it, because the majority of the discrepancies are merely apparent and harmonization is often good historical practice and there is a ton of positive evidence for high reliability.

But suppose that Licona *were* right in rejecting harmonization so often, and then suppose further that he *were* right in thinking that he can still get a good probability the truth of the "central events" despite that.

Notice that what this leaves out is the entire matter of "literary devices." That is to say, if he *were* right about both of those, he wouldn't have to compass land and sea to say that these were "literary devices." He could just say that they were propaganda or outright errors or whatever. Since he think that the "overlap" can still be supported even if all of these other discrepancies are *real* (because he thinks that "multiple attestation" is going to come in and save the position), the statement that the discrepancies are caused by "literary devices" doesn't really serve any positive probabilistic purpose. It's not like it makes the overlap *more likely to be true* if literal inaccuracy in the surrounding non-overlap portions is caused by "literary devices" rather than by simple error. Indeed, one could argue just the opposite. (I have argued that myself.)

So his elaborate "literary device" theory really isn't *adding* anything to the probability of the truth of Christianity.

So in that sense, if his other reasons for saying "It's all okay" worked at all (which they don't), they would work at least as well, or even better, if he didn't have the elaborate apparatus of literary devices.

I doubt very much that he's thought it through that way. It seems that he and his followers believe that the "literary device" theory is helpful because it lets us say that the Gospel authors were not *morally bad people*, that what they were doing didn't *count* as errors or as deception by the standards of their time. But if one thinks about it, how much does that really help us as far as figuring out the truth? Not much, once we have said that this set of "liberties" or "freedoms" makes it *not morally bad* for them invisibly to change the facts. One can just say that even granting that that wasn't morally bad, that it was accepted at the time, the effect upon our epistemic evaluation of what they say is still fairly radical. Certainly simply saying, "It was morally okay for them to do all this changing" doesn't give us particularly *more* justified confidence in whatever happens to be the overlap between their explicit statements. Why should it?

All of which is to say that he may believe it's "his position or bust," but that really just isn't correct for the mechanism of "literary devices" even if one granted a lot of his other false premises. If supposed "multiple attestation" could save Christianity from fictionalizing literary devices, then it could save Christianity from ordinary legend, ordinary error, and morally dubious propaganda just as well.

Oh man I wish he would eventually have a brief back and forth with you. I really wonder what his reply would be?!

Craig Keener is on Johnathon's webinar this Saturday. I think I may have to ask him a few questions on Licoma's work.

John DePoe, thanks, great points.

I think what I find most disheartening about Dr. Licona's approach is the not-very-subtle implicit denial of what you are saying to the effect that I'm not just a hack or a crank and that he should at least think clearly about my ideas.

Notice, for example, that his response doesn't say the sort of "Fermat's last theorem" thing: "I have thought through responses to Lydia's criticisms, but they are too long to write in the margin."

In other words he does not say that he's read and carefully considered my criticisms but just doesn't have time to engage in a debate. Very much to the contrary. For all that one can tell, he hasn't given them any serious consideration at all and never intends to and is encouraging other people to ignore them altogether as well. That is certainly one quite reasonable interpretation of what he writes--that he never intends to consider my arguments seriously because he assumes (from secondhand reports or brief glances or something) that they aren't worthy of serious consideration.

That concerns me far more than his refusal to engage in an exchange in Phil. Christi., or his refusal to do so for right now, etc. (As you say, it could be scheduled later.)

Relatedly, I encourage people to read his work and compare both sides of the argument, but he decidedly does not reciprocate, encouraging people to read both his work and my criticisms and to make up their own minds.

If closed-mindedness becomes a perceived virtue in Christian scholarship, then God help Christian scholarship. That's the concern. My main reason for promoting an exchange was to promote serious thought. Licona's response appears to be to treat me tacitly but pretty obviously as incapable of writing anything on the subject worthy of consideration. That's troubling.

Indeed, to make it even more discouraging, I've seen it suggested that the very length of my critique is a reason for ignoring it. But one could work at reading it gradually or read chunks of it. Nobody says that Licona's very long 2010 book shouldn't be read or purchased because it's several inches thick! The length of what I've written is a sign of seriousness, thoroughness, and care--indeed, of showing sufficient respect to Dr. Licona's original work. If the scholarly virtues of my critique are treated as a reason for ignoring it, then, once again, God help the Christian world.

He also said he only had so much mental "bandwidth." He also said in the Ehrman vs Licona written debate on bestschools.com that he had a "learning disability," (1) but he did not disclose what specifically that is (though I know what it is, but do not want to disclose it since it is personal). However, it is not a major one (e.g. mental retardation), but a moderate one as Licona seems to do fine in most of his debates, writings, etc. He just needs grace just like anyone else.

He may eventually get around to reviewing Lydia's work, but it sounds as he is busy at this time. I suggest giving it time.



1. chttps://thebestschools.org/special/ehrman-licona-dialogue-reliability-new-testament/michael-licona-interview/

Cameron, I wish it were only a matter of time, but if so, I believe that he would have taken a different rhetorical approach and, in fact, said something more like, "It will be a while before I get around to it." Even Phil. Christi could have set up an exchange for later.

On the contrary, his approach and everything he says points to a great deal of dismissiveness and to an intention *not* to think about or possibly even read my work on the subject. Notice that he urges everyone to read his work (as I am) but doesn't urge anyone to read mine. My perception is very strongly that he wants most people to ignore my critique entirely.

I have other evidence (including the original version of a post from last fall which he deleted and replaced) both that he has been previously unaware of my qualifications in epistemology and probability theory and also that, if he now knows of them, he is implying that epistemology and probability qualifications are utterly irrelevant to these issues and that anyone without a very narrow set of credentials is utterly unqualified to disagree with him. That's the narrative--Lydia as hack.

At the very least, Lydia wins by default.

Licona and his lackeys have reverted to "tone policing". I am starting to think that maybe Licona is intimidated. I have read all of Lydia's posts, and at best her "tone" is gentle polemics, because she finds his views to be wrong. If Licona takes Lydia's "tone" as overly harsh then he has extremely thin skin, and judging by his weak responses to Bart Ehrman, I think he is overly concerned about tone.

Lydia or anyone who cares to respond,

I consistently see Mike refer to people like J.I. Packer, Keener and Blomberg as supporters of his work. I find this to be somewhat perplexing.

1. It is false that Packer swallows Licona's views whole hog. He doesn't, and one can see this at Normal Geisler's website. I am not a big fan of Dr. Geisler but he had a correspondence with Packer. You can read about that here:


2. I also find it to be slightly contradictory that Keener is pointed at as a major proponent of Licona's views. In fact he wrote an endorsement of Lydia's book, so obviously at the very least Keener is open to having a view significantly to the right of Dr. Licona.

3. Craig Blomberg is known for his defense of John's gospel, and has engaged in some fairly serious harmonization that is similar to Lydia's.

I find it mildly disingenuous to claim that individuals support some view that would go completely against the whole corpus of their work. This is what Mike does, he marshals a bunch of evangelical icons to his position. This happens often with biblical scholars and theologians. They redefine terms, and then try and say that they are the same views that some scholar of the past held, and therefore the new views becomes sacrosanct. Enns tried to do this with Calvin's doctrine of condescension in biblical revelation. However, it is clear that Enns is far from Calvin and denies large portions of scripture.

Yes, the list of "endorsers" is definitely inflated. Blomberg has in fact criticized Licona's book *to some extent*, though not nearly as extensively as I have. I believe Licona listed Robert Stein in that same list. I'm waiting right now for a physical copy of Stein's recent review in JETS of Licona's book, but a preliminary report indicates to me that it contains some criticisms.

I'm gathering that inclusion in that list is predicated merely on "did not condemn the book as sweepingly as Lydia did" or something like that, which is a pretty low bar! In the case of Packer, I do not wish to be at all unkind in pointing this out, but since he was already (literally) blind by the time he wrote a blurb for Licona's book (and what I've seen was very brief), it seems highly doubtful that he had read it all (had it all read to him) and knew all of its contents. Perhaps (given his previous correspondence with Geisler) he should therefore not have given it a blurb, but the blurb I've seen rather bland anyway.

On the other hand, I don't want to overestimate the relevance of endorsements of my book, either. I could give quite a star-studded list of endorsers of my book, some of whom overlap those who allegedly "endorse" (or don't totally condemn?) Dr. Licona's book! What is one to make of that?

What I make of it is that people write endorsements somewhat easily and that we shouldn't infer *too* much from a blurb, much less from mere silence or "non-condemnation"! I would never claim that all of my endorsers read every word of my book, and I'm sure the same is true both of Mike's *actual* endorsers and (still more) of the people he lists whom he thinks have read the book and "do not show as much alarm" as Lydia does, or whatever phrase he uses. What is the probability that they have really read his whole book and know everything that is in it? Fairly slim, I would say. And I'd say the same of mine.

I've re-evaluated the positions of a few of my own endorsers, and I've come to the conclusion that some of them probably do not realize that Mike's position and my own on the general nature of the gospels--e.g., that they are reportage--are in conflict, or the extent to which my book supports that thesis. Hence, they may not realize the extent to which what I wrote in my book sometimes challenges their *own* positions taken in other publications. Or else in some cases I'm sure they were simply being generous in endorsing my book despite its disagreement with some of their own positions. I think Dr. Keener may fall into this category somewhat especially concerning the Gospel of John. From what I have read since the time when he very kindly endorsed my book, he and I would have some real disagreements there, though of course I'd like to flatter myself that my book may have moved him somewhat. This is why we have to be careful not to infer too much from an endorsement, and this is why I'm not getting into an "endorser listing" match with Mike, despite the fact that my publisher worked hard and got me many pages of blurbs.

So it really all comes back to the arguments.

Everybody makes decisions day in and day out about which possible efforts available to pursue truth are worth the effort, and which ones are going to be left aside. This is the inevitable result of a modern world in which there are tens of thousands of people who think they have "the truth" and are willing to argue about it in public. You can't give all of them equal time. In fact, you can't even give all of the worthwhile ones adequate time to really grasp them, there are simply too many. And undoubtedly you will choose to discard some that had you known how good it was you would have held onto it strongly. But the fruit of the current information glut is that even good stuff will be thrown out, because you can't spend all your time sifting, eventually you have to stop doing triage and actually deal with something. And while there are general standards that hold for doing that triage, when it comes down to the nitty gritty, every person will apply their own personal filter that is made up not only of general standards but a hundred thousand details of prior information gathering.

That's all premise for saying that nobody can prove to another person that he really must to consider this, that, or the other new information source in lieu of all the other claims on his attention. So if Licona decides that Lydia as a source of ideas doesn't get past his filters, it's not like someone can definitively prove his filters are out of order.

But that's the subjective aspect to the process of gathering ideas and information. Objectively, Lydia's arguments are worthy of being addressed, and Licona would be better served by at least making a start by reading what she says - at least some of it - and at a minimum pointing out the shape and direction of what his response would be. Even if he leaves the detailed analysis and response to others like his graduate students.

I left a strong set of comments on Tom Gilson's page urging that Dr. Licona should reconsider his stance, but I doubt that they will make any difference at all.

I remain astounded, not at the proposal of fictionalizing literary devices, (which, while I hold the proposal in the greatest distaste, would be a "solution" of sorts to problems of discrepancies in the Gospels), but at the recklessly free advance of them in places where there isn't any problem to begin with. And then the apparent intention to die on those molehills of one's own making rather than give ground and admit "well, no, this isn't actually necessary or even a helpful hypothesis for making the Gospels 'work' ". Such as saying that Jesus didn't really say "I thirst" from the cross. How in the world does "I thirst" represent something that an exegete or historian regards as problem to "get around" or "resolve" or "fix"? It doesn't. The hypothesis that Jesus didn't say it is nothing more than a gratuitous advance of personal myth-making about the past that can't possibly bear the weight of historical or scientific method.

Right, those utterly unforced errors are pretty amazing.

I've decided that way to find a map for where such unforced errors on the part of allegedly evangelical scholars will occur is to see where far more liberal scholars have raised gratuitous questions about the historicity of some gospel passage. So if "critical scholars" make a big song and dance about the oddity of the so-called "little Pentecost" where Jesus breathes on his disciples, sure enough, that's a place where Licona will suggest out of the blue that John made up the incident.

What I'm gathering the literary device theorists do (and Licona in particular has done) is to assume that a place where such a question has been raised, even if it's utterly gratuitous, is automatically a problem that cries out for solution.

This fits with the words from the cross, because I gather it's already been a trope in Ehrman-esque circles to try to make the "Jesus of" the crucifixion in each gospel very different from the "Jesus of" the crucifixion in another gospel, and to scoff at any idea that Jesus said all of the words from the cross. Ehrman calls this "making up your own gospel."

So allegedly the "Jesus of" the crucifixion in John is triumphant, the crucifixion is a glorification rather than terrible suffering, and so forth. (As if crucifixion in the real world could ever be *anything but* horrible suffering.)

Well, "I thirst" doesn't fit that pattern very well, so Dan Wallace (for what he admits in his paper are theological reasons) conjectures it out of the crucifixion narrative in John by the nonsense about its being a "dynamic equivalence" for "My God, why have you forsaken me?" And Licona just follows Wallace in this regard. Wallace is allegedly a "conservative" scholar, which is why he refused to publish that particular paper, but his "concerns" here are entirely such as arise from a distinctly ahistorical approach to the gospel of John.

This same pattern of caving in to far more liberal scholars about where things are considered problems is evident in Licona's treatment of the infancy narratives. in a written debate with Bart Ehrman, he agreed with Ehrman that there is some major problem of the infancy narratives, largely because of their lack of overlap. At no point did Licona make the simple point that mere lack of overlap is not even apparent discrepancy. At that point he admitted that he couldn't find any Greco-Roman literary device to explain the alleged "problem" of the infancy narratives. So instead he suggested that the reader "speculate" along with him and came up with the "speculation" that both Luke and Matthew made up all of the non-overlapping portions of their infancy narratives! He called this "midrash," a misuse of that term that has been condemned by no less than N.T. Wright. Licona said he wasn't saying that he believed that speculation but was not sure "what was going on" with the infancy narrative, thus declaring himself apparently *agnostic* on whether or not the non-overlapping portions of the infancy narratives were invented! He also said that he had some "plausible" conjectures and then put forward only this "midrash" example as a possible solution to the "problem."

But once again we see that utterly unforced errors, such as treating the narrative of the Wise men (to pick one non-overlapping incident in the infancy narratives) as possibly invented, arise from allowing a very liberal, even a skeptical scholar like Ehrman to decide what constitutes a problem to be solved in the gospels.

Blake, to return to Licona's odd list of sort-of-endorsers. For a couple of those scholars, I have not been able to find anyplace where they have written even anything that could be deemed a public endorsement of Mike's views. Maybe I've just missed it. In the case of Blomberg, his review in the Christian Scholars Review (under a very strict word limit) was distinctly mixed, and the only portions of Licona's book he could be said to endorse were extremely tame things like "spotlighting." Blomberg made there the comment that the gospel authors never made up whole incidents, and it was unclear why he was bringing that up. (Again, I know that CSR has very strict word limits, so he probably couldn't explain.) Did it indicate that he knows that Licona sometimes conjectures that the authors sometimes might have made up whole incidents, and he disagrees? But perhaps didn't want to come out and *say* that this is an aspect of Licona's book? It certainly *is* an aspect of Licona's book, so if Blomberg didn't know that, it just would mean he didn't read the whole book. And Blomberg clearly doesn't agree with doing that. I did not see a single place in that review where Blomberg endorsed deliberate fictionalization, and he spent some time expressly disagreeing with Licona concerning the alleged changing of the day and time of crucifixion in John--an area where Blomberg has done a lot of work.

Silence in the scholarly world definitely does *not* indicate consent or endorsement! Still less does mild criticism rather than sweeping criticism indicate that the critic had nothing stronger that he thought of to say.

How confident can Licona be that each of these people has actually *read* his book, and what degree of endorsement is indicated by their non-criticism or by the relative tameness of their criticisms? Why might this not indicate either that they are unaware of how far his views go or that there is a lot of disciplinary and personal loyalty causing people to be unwilling to criticize a fellow member of the discipline in any very strong terms?

Undeniably the published work of someone like Darrell Bock (to pick one name in the list) would lead one to think that this position and his approach to, say, harmonization is not the same as Licona's. In Bock's paper at an ETS discussion of Licona's book he spent (I have listened to it) 33 out of his 37 minutes giving quotations from ancient historians virtually *all of which* pointed to an emphasis upon the importance of truth! I'm not saying that this means that Bock consciously disagrees with Licona. In the other four minutes he seemed to imply that Licona's ideas are relatively mild and fall within the limits of merely being less precise or something. This, again, leads one to wonder if Bock had at that time or has since that time read Licona's entire book. In the round table conversation (which I've read) Bock gave the impression that he would harmonize Peter's denials rather than take them to be changed in a deliberate or literary way, as Licona would.

So Licona is doing something distinctly odd in giving a list of names of people based (in some cases) on the mere fact that they haven't condemned his work strongly. That means very little, and it certainly doesn't amount to an *endorsement* of his stronger fictionalizing views.

Licona says:
“Kurt has invited Lydia to engage with him on my book....However, this time it is Lydia who has refused to engage.”

I don’t see how this shows that Licona “seems to realize”, as you say, that you have spent time engaging with Jaros. It seems to state the opposite...he doesn’t say you refused to continue, but flat-out says you refused to engage.

He says it elsewhere in the post. Something to the effect that I interacted with Kurt on the CAA--slightly inaccurate (it wasn't on the CAA) but still shows that he knows there's been interaction. I wanted to make it clear that I'd noticed that sentence.

Obviously, by "refused to engage" he must mean "refused to have a formal debate" or something like that. It's the only thing he can mean, since he knows apparently about engagement elsewhere.

The sentence is:

My friend Kurt Jaros has already engaged with Lydia in the CAA Facebook group.

And if I hadn't thrown in that qualifier but had just said, "Perhaps he doesn't know that I've already engaged with Kurt Jaros," someone would have rushed out to tell me that I was reading carelessly and that he does know, so he obviously just meant to refer to my not wanting to have a formal debate with Jaros, etc.

So I can't win.

Does anyone wonder if I get a little bit tired of this sort of nit-picking?

Not sure what happened: I appear to have misquoted him, since he does say "declined" rather than "refused."

I agree about the nitpicking, along with the tone policing, especially since the latter is given as part of the reason for his declining to respond to you.

Have you thought about writing up your overall take into a more academic review or critique to submit for publishing? Maybe a more official venue might lead some to take this more seriously. Or, perhaps a short book, with several responses (from Bock, Blomberg, etc.)? That was done years ago with N.T. Wright's work, and Licona's book seems influential and problematic enough to merit it. And it sounds like several scholars have already at least addressed it somewhat, so they might already have some materials to just put into shape (e.g., Blomberg's review, Bock's conference notes).

Anyhow, I appreciate the work you're doing--I've long been concerned about biblical scholarship's lack of awareness of logic and adherence to popular paradigms regardless of challenges to them. For example, Bauckham's 1998 book critiquing the "Gospel communities" perspective seemed to me to be a nearly defeating criticism, yet it was mostly ignored. Or, there was Bultmann's famous article on demythologizing, with its utter non sequitur that because the modern man uses electric lights, he can't believe in demons...

A long review version of my critique will be published in the Global Journal of Classic Theology, edited by John Warwick Montgomery, who is highly supportive of my position. It will be coming out in the fall. I wish it could be sooner, but earlier issues were filled by the time I had it finished. It will be of course taken for the most part from the examples and discussion in my blog series but partly original.

I think it highly unlikely that either of the evangelical NT scholars you mentioned would agree to be part of an anthology of articles critical of these views if the anthology included my stronger critique. Not because no one else has uttered any criticisms, though they have been rather muted. But because it would appear disloyal.


You are wise not to settle for Kurt Jaros in lieu of Licona. When Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) would debate issues such as Christian baptism, he would insist on an opponent who was the leading champion of the opposing position. Otherwise, even if he "won" the debate, observers might conclude that the matter remained unsettled because some lesser champion failed to adequately advance or defend his position.

I generally avoid the debate format altogether. It's not my preferred approach. There's an odd idea on the Licona camp's side that I'm somehow looking for a debate with someone-or-other. On the contrary. I'm looking for my criticisms of Licona's positions (and the written, stated positions of those whom he quotes and follows, all of whom are influential within the church and the seminaries) to be carefully considered. That, of course, means considering Licona's positions, too. I will say this for Licona: He has a whole book, lectures, debates, etc. And, while he is occasionally obscure or "plays up" the less objectionable aspects of his position (his use of the phrase "guy version and girl version" is particularly confusing and should be abandoned in the name of clarity), when one reads all of his work, especially his book, one finds stated quite explicitly where he is coming from. And he's stuck to this position over a period of time while working to influence the seminaries, etc., with it. That's the position I'm disagreeing with and that I have done the work to analyze. With anyone else, it isn't even a matter of a different champion "of the same position," much less a different champion who is being heeded as Mike is.

So *if* I must go to a debate format of some kind (which I do not prefer) in order to draw attention to these issues and get them the kind of consideration they deserve, I would do it with someone who fits that profile, with the combination of influence and clearly stated position on the matters in question.

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