Monday, January 24, 2011

Older scholarship


Whilst age of writing does not determine its truth/falsehood, I suppose that Muslims might say that to the extent Evangelical Christians like to avail themselves of modern conservative scholarship, Muslims should be allowed to do that as well and that a work dating from 1913 is out of step with modern scholarship.

1. I don’t think there’s anything inherently defective about older scholarship. One has to judge that on a case-by-case basis. For instance, Theodore Zahn and Bishop Lightfoot made lasting contributions to patristic and biblical scholarship.

Newer scholarship can relate to older scholarship in different ways. Sometimes newer scholarship will invalidate the conclusions of older scholarship. But sometimes it will merely refine or supplement older scholarship.

If newer scholarship were to ipso facto invalidate older scholarship, then the scholarly enterprise would be futile–since today’s cutting-edge scholarship will soon be yesterday’s antiquated scholarship. All scholarship becomes obsolescent in principle. But if all scholarship has an expiration date, why bother?

2. Some scholars are more distinguished than others. Margoliouth was one of the outstanding scholars of the 20C.

3. There’s an obvious sense in which his work on Islam might be superior to contemporary treatments. At the time of writing, he felt free to criticize Islam without fear of reprisal. By contrast, a contemporary Oxford don would be inclined to pull his punches, at best, and rewrite history along politically correct lines, at worst.

Nowadays, an Oxford don can be prosecuted for speaking ill of “the Prophet.” Or assassinated.

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