Scholarly discourse

One of the areas I’m researching at the moment is rabbinic parables and how they were transmitted. I borrowed what looked like a very useful book from the library: Birger Gerhardsson’s Memory & Manuscript with Tradition and Transmission in Early Christianity. It’s two books in one, with a foreword by Jacob Neusner. I was encouraged by the introduction.

The next day I did a search in ATLA/ATLAS to see if I could find anything else useful and was disturbed to find a couple of reviews slamming Gerhardsson’s work. I lined up three articles to print, but the computer wasn’t talking to the printer and I was too tired to fight it, so I just bookmarked them for later. One of them was by Morton Smith.

This morning, over breakfast, I started reading Gerhardsson again, or at least the foreword by Neusner, who is spoken of as one of the leading scholars in this field. Thirty years after the original publication of Memory & Manuscript which he slammed, along with Smith, his doctoral advisor, he wrote an amazing foreword, admitting that he’d been horribly wrong, apologising profusely and outlining the value of Gerhardsson’s work. He also told the story of visiting Gerhardsson’s university some time before he’d retracted his criticism and of having Gerhardsson and his wife invite him to their home for dinner.

This, to me, is an example of graciousness in action.

I love reading scholarly literature, as much for the insights it often gives into the life and thinking of the author as for what it says about the topic at hand. And I am happy that my initial impression of Gerhardsson’s work wasn’t totally off the mark, after all.


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