Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Several months ago I wrote a post about open access scholarship in which I expressed a general appreciation for the movement. I also expressed the concern that oversight (peer review, basically) is an important aspect that needs to be retained to guarantee minimal levels of quality. What I am really advocating for is greater access, without reducing oversight; how that can happen, I do not know.

I recently came across a couple examples of the lack of oversight that I think are really illustrative, because one is a fringe theory that shouldn't see the light of day, and the other is a potentially important work of scholarship.

First for the fringe theory, which Larry Hurtado calls a zombie, one of those ideas that just won't die no matter how many times you kill it. Apparently, there is another resurgence of the assertion that Jesus did not exist; not that Jesus isn't God, but that there was no historical individual from Nazareth called Jesus, who was executed by Rome.

The reason I bring it up here is because of Dale Allison's blog interview, in which he addresses the same matter:
One more observation on the recent resurgence of the mythical point of view [that Jesus does not exist]. It may be driven in part by the internet. In the past, most of the gatekeepers of the discipline—acquisitions editors—wouldn't have been interested in the topic. The internet, for better and worse, has changed this. It's now possible for a movement to make itself felt independently of the big publishers.
I think he is right. Internet aside, it would be very difficult for these types of theories to gain much traction, as they would not pass muster with editors and peer-review.

The second example I would like to point out is a blog post on ASOR by Brian Colless titled,
The Lost Link: The Alphabet in the Hands of the Early Israelites. In
Kh. Qeiyafa Ostracon. Wikimedia
his post, Colless argues that the seemingly haphazard orientation of letters in very early inscriptions, such as the Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon, actually convey the vowel sounds. For example, an aleph with a reclining orientation would have a different sound than one that is inverted.

I think, if Colless' assertion is accurate, that this is an extremely important observation. But in a blog post, even a post on ASOR, I am not sure what to make of it. Had this appeared in a peer-reviewed journal, I could have more confidence in it, knowing that some scholars in paleography had looked it over. I do not have the expertise in this area to critically evaluate Colless' argument. Further, I wonder why Colless did not put forward his idea by submitting it to one of ASOR's publications rather than the blog. Perhaps he put his idea out in this format as a way of time-stamping his findings?


Isaac M. Alderman
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