Markus Vinzent's Blog

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Paul Foster, Review of my 'Marcion and the dating of the Synoptic Gospels'

First of all - before I give my comments about the above review - I'd like to express my gratitude to Paul Foster and every reader of my monograph. It is a wonderful duty and responsibility to read and write reviews of colleague's books, as it is one of the gems of being reviewed by them. Criticism is part of this job and being criticised is what one wants when one publishes something. One of the most important elements, in my eyes (and I do not write reviews myself to please anybody, but to contribute to the discussion furthered by the text I am reviewing, hence I do not expect less of any reviewer and am more than willing to subject myself to criticism) is to take criticism serious - so far, and I hope I am not moving away from this principle by getting older, I have never taken criticism personally, but always tried to get to the bottom of a counter-argument, think it through and then, of course, come up with my own judgement. Yet, it is never taken lightly and the intention is to learn from every review.

In the short review that Paul Foster published about the above monograph to conclude that 'as a whole the book is unpersuasive and idiosyncratic throughout' (sounds so similar to the review by Dieter T. Roth in JTS - see special blog entry that one wonders who copied whom?), unsurprising, as the book challenges, indeed, fundamental assumptions shared by many New Testament scholars like himself, but rarely supported by firm arguments. In a way, he admits this, when he sees the strengths of the book in that it gives 'summaries of previous scholarship, either in relation to Marcion or the dating of the Synoptic Gospels, and in showing that many scholarly proposals are based on slender evidence'.
If this is learned from the book, I am quite happy and live with the verdict of idiosyncrasy - as too many NT scholars in the past have repeated a scholarly consensus which stood, indeed, 'on slender evidence'. Of course, I would have liked the reviewer to have also engage with the detailed interpretations of evidence presented.

When he complains 'that earlier scholars are often cited as being in broad agreement with Vinzent’s work. However, when the carefully nuanced statements of scholars such as Andrew Gregory or Christopher Tuckett are read in context it appears, at least to this reader, that what Vinzent draws from them is in fact markedly different from what they seem to be saying', he gives as example the reviewer's quote of my previous monograph on Christ’s resurrection, James Carleton Paget who stated that ‘it is, however, dif´Čücult to see how one could disprove what he [Vinzent] has argued’ (p. x). Foster adds: 'This is presented as suggesting that reviewer was open to Vinzent’s proposals. Again, reading the review in its entirety, it is obvious the person was being extremely nuanced and careful in his selection of words, but clearly did not agree with what was being argued'. The bias of Foster's review can be seen from the fact that what he accuses me of is the principle on which he himself wrote the review, as I state in 'Marcion and the Dating of the Synoptic Gospels' about James Carleton Paget and his review that 'as the responses to my recent monograph (Christ's Resurrection ...) have shown, readers were complimentary, although not unanimously applauding of its results - something which, in any case, no scholar aspires to - but the serious and detailed criticism underline that the questions raised were seen as worth investigating. For example, in his 27-page review for the Journal for New Testament Studies (2012), James Carleton Paget concludes, despite his methodological criticisms, that 'it is, however, difficult to see how one could disprove what he [M.V.] has argued, that is, show it to be wrong beyond reasonable doubt' (ix-x). To turn this statement, where I point out that Carleton Paget presented a 'serious and detailed criticism', particularly with regards to my methodology, is far from me having presented him so suggest 'that reviewer was open' to my proposal. What, however, I was trying to do is the contrary. Despite Carleton Paget being extremely sceptical of my book and having spent 27 pages on it arguing against my proposal, he then was forced to conclude that despite all his criticism he could not achieve to fail the proposal 'beyond reasonable doubt'. Whether or not the present reviewer would have been led to the same conclusion, I do not know, but I would have liked to see him presenting his counter-arguments, so that we could engage in a serious discussion.

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