Thursday, August 15, 2019



  1. Is keener a reliable source? Im not trying to be negative - I just don't know anything at all about him.

    I read books after I read up on who the man is. Any thoughts?

    1. Please look out for my new book, The Mirror or the Mask, coming out this December. The theories about ancient biographies that Keener and Licona are advocating are, frankly, untrue. I demonstrate this at length in the book and have written about it in detail in blog posts.

      What is more seriously disturbing, on a personal level, is that some of the things even said in this interview are simply not an accurate representation of the kind of thing that Keener and others are *saying* about the Gospels.

      Take, for example, the statement in the interview that the changes they are talking about did not involve "making up events."

      Well, frankly, that is misleading. Keener states in his commentary on Matthew that Matthew doubled the number of healings of blind men in Matthew 9 and Matthew 20--in other words, one of those times it didn't happen at all. Matthew has duplicated the incident and written it as if it happened twice, in order to include the earlier one "among Jesus' ten signs." If that isn't making up events, I don't know what is!! In his commentary on John, Keener very seriously suggests (though he is a bit ambiguous) that John invented the part where Jesus breathes on his disciples and says, "Receive the Holy Ghost." This might have been John's substitute for Pentecost. If that isn't making up events, I don't know what is.

      And Keener firmly believes that John moved the Temple cleansing, *in the sense that* he "made" it happen in his "story world" (a phrase Keener uses over and over and over again in his John commentary) at a time when it did not really happen. I repeat, this is not just narrating out of chronological order but *making* the event happen at a time when it didn't. That is, if not making up an "event" (depending on one's definition of "event") certainly making up the time when it happened.

      Keener also suggests that John exaggerated the extent to which Jesus carried his own cross.

      Keener thinks that Luke invented a portion of Gamaliel's speech to the Sanhedrin in Acts, which is why the supposed "anachronism" of Theudas occurs in that speech.

      I give these concrete examples to show how truly and disturbingly confusing some of the things are that he says to Sean McDowell in this interview.

      Let me also add that I have offered Keener a copy of my book, which was drafted and being offered to readers by May of this year, and that he has expressed "busyness" and may not read it, despite the fact that it interacts extensively with his work and disagrees with it and with Licona's.

      From this interview, I see no reason to believe that there is anything at all new in the "new" book that I have not already dealt with.

      Oh, and by the way: The "conventions of ancient biography" that they talk about are not really found in ancient biography outside of the Bible, either. I examine that in great detail.

    2. I wonder what would motivate someone like Keener to do this. He's still evangelical enough that liberals would turn their nose up at him. And these kinds of ideas won't win hearts with evangelicals. I suppose he may really believe this stuff instead of feeling peer pressure, but it's weird for someone who is otherwise traditionally protestant to chase after "the Bible is kinda fictional" flights of fancy.

    3. Well, the sociology of all of this is rather complex, and I could write a book on it. My *actual* book isn't on the sociology of it, but I've given it a lot of thought, as you can imagine, as I've come up against such enormous opposition when I oppose these views. First, you have to realize that Keener's own background in his education wasn't particularly conservative. In many ways he's become *more* conservative over time in deciding that the Gospels have so much history *in* them. This is part of why he himself is unable to see that the "kinda fictional" stuff is still problematic. He views himself as having moved "right."

      Second, it's important to realize just how incredibly, unimaginably intellectually dysfunctional the discipline of NT studies is. It's really difficult for people who haven't done a lot of reading in the field, without being *part of* the field, to accept just *how* bad it is. The most incredibly weak arguments are taken to be strong. Sheer bias is treated as professionalism. Complex theories are vastly and systematically preferred over simple theories. Normal views are viewed as ultra-conservative. I could go on and on. Keener is steeped in the discipline. So once again, he just doesn't realize that what he's accepting is not well-supported by argument.

      Third, sheer number of footnotes is taken as a substitute for good argument, and Keener himself is very learned in the sense of amassing a lot of footnoted material. This blinds him, literally blinds him, to the fact that he isn't really drawing rigorous conclusions from the mass of data he has collected. I could give you repeated examples from Keener's own work (and much more from Mike Licona's, which Keener promotes) where there is a citation, and you wade through and go to all the trouble and look up the citation in the original source, and you say, "*That* doesn't support what you just cited it for!!" But the sheer fact that he has so many citations causes people (and him, himself) to assume that he's defended his conclusions in a rigorous fashion. (cont.)

    4. Fourth, Keener himself, I've come to realize, has a good mind for storing facts but not *at all* an analytical mind. He just is much better at cataloging data than at analyzing it. I realize this will shock a lot of people, and it isn't intended as a *personal* attack, but it is just the case. He accepts a lot of weak arguments, and he doesn't know that he's doing so.

      Fifth, this semi-fictional view of the Gospel has become incredibly popular in the last five to ten years, and it hasn't been nipped in the bud or strongly challenged except by hard-line inerrantists, and so it has just grown and grown in a kind of hot-house atmosphere where the self-styled moderate evangelical scholars (Licona, Keener, Craig Evans, Daniel B. Wallace, etc.) are all sort of encouraging one another. Not a single person, even those who are more conservative in their own work, in that in-house group is willing to "take on" these views at their root and say, "No, that is not correct." They take in each other's laundry, they accept each other's conclusions under the assumption that they must be right without checking, they treat each other with kid gloves. There is an *enormous* amount of pressure to be collegial within evangelical NT studies circles. You wouldn't want to be like that meanie, Norm Geisler, would you?? I didn't think so. Just occasionally they will give each other a *little* pushback. Craig Blomberg, whose own work is generally very sound, did write a somewhat critical review of Licona's book, which was probably considered to be about at the limit of the self-criticism allowed in the guild, but Licona is sufficiently impervious that he would have needed something even more strongly worded to serve as any kind of real "intervention." And nobody touches Keener to disagree with him strongly, because he is so highly respected.

      So this idea that the Gospel authors changed the facts here, there, and the other place is largely allowed to go unchallenged in evangelicalism because "everybody" (except those crazies on the far right) is deemed either to accept it or to let it go by without really *strong* challenge.

    5. Sixth, the view in question is protected by *enormous* amounts of euphemism. Even to get people to admit what they are saying is harder that you can imagine. Well, just look at this interview between McDowell and Keener and you see what I mean. Most people simply don't know what Keener means by the liberties they were allowed to take or the changes they were allowed to make. And Keener himself rarely gets down into details on those matters. He prefers generalizations. You have to go to his commentaries and comb through to find concrete examples. When these things are challenged, inevitably the messenger (me, nowadays) is accused of *some* kind of misrepresentation, even if he illustrates with extensive quotations, and the spin machine goes to work. So even among themselves they often don't really talk clearly about what so-and-so is really saying. I once wasted more than 48 hours in e-mail with a NT scholar who shall remain nameless to whom I wrote with the innocuous question (which I never thought he would find offensive) whether he thought John moved the Temple cleansing in the sense of merely *narrating* out of chronological order or in the sense of actually *changing* the order within his (John's) own narrative world. I stated the question clearly up front in the first e-mail and he would. not. answer. He wasted a huge amount of my time and became *incredibly* snarky. Why did that happen? Well, because in a published work Mike Licona said that this scholar agreed with him on the Temple cleansing and cited private communication. Licona (to give him this much credit) was clear that he meant John was *changing* the chronological order explicitly in his Gospel. I thought perhaps Licona had misunderstood the other scholar. I wrote to the other scholar to ask. So what was I asking him to do? I was asking him to state whether he really agreed with Licona or not--a fellow member of the guild. And I was asking him to speak clearly on an issue where, perhaps, there had been a misunderstanding and hence an inaccurate representation of his own view by a fellow member of the guild. Instant wagon-circling, including (it was clear) not reading my e-mails with any real attention, incomprehensible misunderstanding of my position, which I was stating extremely clearly, and refusal to answer a straightforward question.

      These are the sorts of social forces that are in play here, and Keener, who I believe has good intentions, is just part of the mix. And Keener uses a lot of confusing language and euphemism himself, though to give him credit where it is due, when I have made in correspondence the above distinction (between narrating out of chronological order and changing chronology), Keener himself has said it is a legitimate distinction and has been willing to state his own view clearly--that John actually *changed* the year of the Temple cleansing. So when pressed, Keener will give clear answers to clear questions. It's just that he tends to default to speaking vaguely and in a potentially very confusing fashion when not pressed or when writing spontaneously.

    6. Lydia,

      Oh, and by the way: The "conventions of ancient biography" that they talk about are not really found in ancient biography outside of the Bible, either. I examine that in great detail.

      Is any of your discussion on the web?

    7. Some is, but lots more in the book. Here is a wrap-up with bits on each post in a series I did in 2017. You can browse from here to the specific posts that interest you:

      You might find especially relevant (given the part you zeroed in on) the posts "Flowchart: On Alleged Literary Devices" and "On Some Examples in Plutarch."

      In the book I also go into the rhetorical exercise books and discuss the claim that these "taught students" to alter history. The misunderstanding of the exercise books is simply astounding. Basically, it would be like reading an English composition textbook in which kids are encouraged to write a play about George Washington and concluding from the existence of that curriculum that people in 2019 had a loose historical convention according to which it was okay to present partially fictionalized works about Washington in serious history.

      I also discuss speech-writing in the book.

      These things are really "dusty," and I know how boring it can be for people to read through the refutation. There's also a big temptation just to say, "I'm not qualified" and to let Licona & co. tell us what to think about Greco-Roman history. But we shouldn't do that. We actually can evaluate the material for ourselves. I've tried to be extremely thorough in the book, going through example after example and showing how it's misunderstood and misinterpreted even in the Greco-Roman literature itself.

      Those posts will give you an idea. I think the flowchart is especially helpful, because it shows just how *strong* these claims are about "literary conventions" and therefore how much of a burden of proof they have to fulfill. New Testament scholars tend to have, shall we say, a rather casual relationship to the burden of proof. At times they seem to believe that they only have to *think up* some theory and it instantly becomes a serious contender.

      In the book (and as far as I remember in the posts as well) I point out that, if we allowed this sort of discrepancy-hunting and jumping to conclusions in general, we would have no ordinary discrepancies left in history. Everything could be categorized as a "literary device." And of course nobody is committed to not saying that Plutarch made an ordinary error, or was careless about facts, or even lied. Yet ignoring those possibilities creates a set of supposed "devices" in secular literature that then serves as a *baseline* for the scholars' expectations in the Gospels. It's a terrible, terrible method.

  2. Might not agree with all of perspectives but he is an erudite and fantastic scholar.

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  4. I don't always agree with Keener but he puts out a lot of books of high quality material.

  5. Hasn't Licona long been on the idea that the 'righteous came back to life, walked out of tombs' is apocalyptic imagery? Pious fable? Not literally true, no matter what else it might be?

    This would be the same thing writ large.

    The logical conclusion is where Liberal & Reform Jews are at now, the Exodus is just myth told to transmit moral messages.

    PS. Thanks for the detailed sharing, Lydia!