Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reasonable Usage of Scholars

Is it reasonable to accept FACTS asserted by scholars when you are unaware of any dispute on the matter and you don't personally have expertise in the area?

Jason recently wrote a post justifying why he ignores questions I pose to him in our debates. Among other reasons he points to the fact that I didn't respond to certain arguments he posed just prior to the time I moved three and a half years ago. Jason says that is reasonable, but what is unreasonable is that when I involved myself in discussions again I didn't get back to those same arguments. I told him that I didn't have copies of them and they were no longer available on line and that I would be happy to respond if I could access them. He made statements which made me think he did have copies, so I asked him to send them. He didn't respond to my request. Yet he is still criticizing me for not responding to these arguments.

It seems to me that these are just the games Jason plays to extract himself from tough situations. Fine. Doesn't matter. I'm going to continue to ask questions, as I've asked follow up questions in the comments section here, and Jason can just continue to believe he's justified in ignoring them.

My arguments about the reliability of Josephus have depended on a claim I made regarding scholars. I say that it is reasonable to accept historical facts if they are claimed by experts in the field. So for instance, Robert Eisenmann claims that statements from Josephus can be cross checked with other ancient sources. I accept the claim. I'm unaware of any dispute on the matter. He says that Josephus gives good information about the political background situation of the events he describes. I don't have the citations, but I accept the claim based upon Eisenmann's assertion. I'm unaware of any dispute on the matter.

I formulated arguments for the reliability of Josephus based upon the facts asserted by Eisenmann.

Jason has been arguing that I'm not justified in adhering to such facts. He demands that I produce the sources being cross checked. He asks if the language on the relevant artifacts is being interpreted correctly.

I say I don't need to do that. To illustrate this point I said that if Bart Ehrman asserts that an interpolation exists in a manuscript I'm justified in believing there is an interpolation where Ehrman claims without handling or seeing the manuscript myself. I'm not saying I can likewise just affirm all of Ehrman's opinions on controversial issues. I'm saying facts of the case can reasonably be affirmed on the basis of a scholarly opinion.

I think that's a pretty reasonable view. Initially Jason disagreed. But since then he continues to act like he disagrees, but he doesn't make it clear what he's arguing. He's talking about how Eisenmann has a vested interest in making Josephus appear reliable. He says that I haven't proven that Eisenmann's "view of Josephus" is undisputed. Also Eisenmann has engaged in some annoying behavior and holds some controversial views on OTHER topics. What does any of this have to do with my claim that it is reasonable to affirm a FACT if an expert in the field asserts it and you don't have expertise in the area?

What do you mean, Jason, when you say Eisenmann's "view of Josephus"? Do you mean his overall opinion of the reliability of Josephus or do you mean his claims regarding facts about Josephus?

I'll be clear, even though Jason isn't being clear about what he's arguing. I haven't claimed that Eisenmann's views regarding the reliability of Josephus are undisputed. This is not about Eisenmann's opinions on the reliability of Josephus. I've put certain facts on the table, supported by Eisenmann, and I formulated arguments for the reliability of Josephus on this basis. Look high and low throughout my posts and you will not see me argue that Josephus is reliable because Eisenmann said so. I did offer a summary from Eisenmann that basically affirmed the conclusions I drew from the facts, and that summary provided a couple of more facts, including some of his weaknesses. But the actual basis for my claims has been clear. It is not Eisenmann's opinion. It is arguments I formulated on the basis of facts such as these:

1-Josephus provides an autobiography
2-His claims can be cross checked with other ancient sources
3-His reports are quite detailed. The nature of the details suggests an impressive mind
4-Some of his reports are likely based upon direct interrogations
5-He describes the political background situation
6-He admits his biases in a section that appears self-critical
7-His reporting of minutiae can be described as meticulous
8-His reporting appears encyclopaedic in its details

Of course being detailed doesn't make a person reliable. Appearing encyclopaedic doesn't make a person accurate. But I formulated arguments based upon the above facts that make it reasonable to think Josephus is more reliable than the NT. This doesn't mean he never lies, never contradicts himself, never makes mistakes. Jason quotes scholars asserting those points. But he hasn't quoted anyone denying the facts I've listed.

If he does, fine. I'm interested. But I'm reasonable to accept facts asserted by scholars that I'm not aware are contradicted by anyone.

So there's my question for Jason. Is it reasonable to accept FACTS asserted by scholars when you are unaware of any dispute on the matter? Nobody is claiming that there is no variance amongst scholars about the general reliability of Josephus. That would be absurd (which is probably why you're characterizing my view this way). I'm simply affirming the position I said way back at the beginning.

In pressing Jason on this point I had predicted that he might quote my questions, but he would not reply on substance. That prediction has proven to be true. Does Jason deny that an opinion of a scholar is a reasonable basis to affirm a non-controversial fact? Jason won't answer this question after all this time. He'll say he won't answer because I haven't responded to an argument that is no longer available to me from 3.5 years ago (among other reasons). Does he really think anybody believes that?

So watch for a reply from Jason. It might be quite lengthy. But if you read it, see if it actual answers this question:

Is it reasonable to accept FACTS asserted by scholars when you are unaware of any dispute on the matter and you don't personally have expertise in the area?

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