Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The 'Peter Jeffery Challenge' Gets Challenged at Evangelical Textual Criticism

I mentioned in a previous post that Ryan Wettlaufer wrote extensively about the recent Secret Mark conference in Toronto at Evangelical Textual Criticism's blog. One of his more humorous anecdotes was his account of Peter Jeffery's bizarre presentation at the conference:

He exclaimed with more than a little excitement that Smith's writings were full of "bullshit! just bullshit!" and challenged anyone in the room to take "the Jeffrey Challenge" wherein if you could take a copy of Smith's work, spend an hour in the library checking each one of his ancient source references, and not come to the conclusion that he was a crazy charlatan, then Jeffrey would write you a glowing recommendation on official Princeton letterhead to the business school of your choice! Jeffrey repeated this challenge several times, noted that he could use Princeton letterhead because he was emeritus there, and was, well, full of twitchy glee. Honestly, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it all, except that I might have figured out where all the coffee went.

Interestingly, Jeffery continued to justify his irrational behavior at the conference after being challenged by a regular reader who comes here. Ryan finally had enough and wrote today:

Peter Jeffery,

First, thank you for coming here and commenting, I think that's great.

Also, thanks for your presentation at the conference. I appreciate it, it was certainly memorable. And thanks of course for being a good sport regarding the coffee joke I made at your expense!

Your most recent comment has me wondering though.

And I want to stress here, I'm not arguing the content of your point - whether your conclusion is right or wrong. As I posted about, I tend to lean towards agreeing with you, but that's nevertheless not the point I want to make right now.

What I'm wondering about now is simply a point of logic in your method.

Your argument, as you lay it out, runs:

a. If someone knows how to read scholarly sources and takes the time to do so, then they will see that my conclusion is correct.

b. therefore, if someone does not see that my conclusion is correct, then they have either not taken the time to read the source, or they don't know how.

Is that a fair summary?

Assuming you agree, I want to focus on the "don't know how" part.

Assuming that the scholars who currently disagree with you have in fact read the sources (granting them that benefit of the doubt for a minute) that would confine them to the "don't know how" option. As you said, there's no third option.

Once they are confined to that option however, then aren't you essentially saying "since they disagree with me, then they must not know how to read a scholarly source"?

That seems to me to be what you're saying here:

"No one could possibly succeed, because anyone who knows how to read a scholarly book and actually takes the trouble can determine for himself that Smith's publications are just one falsifaction after another"

But if that's what you end up saying, isn't that just a long form of the old "any one who knows what they're talking about agrees with me; if they don't agree with me, then they don't know what they're talking about"? That is, isn't this just a variation of the "no true Scotsman" fallacy?

Or at least, isn't it slightly tautological?

We run into the same problem in textual criticism all the time. For example, I might get caught saying something like "no *real* textual critic thinks the long ending of Mark is original" to which someone necessarily responds "but what about so-in-so, who says that the longer ending of Mark is original?" to which I of course reply "obviously so-in-so is not a *real* textual critic!"

Thought I would pass that along to everyone ...

Email with comments or questions.

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