16 votes, average: 4.88 out of 516 votes, average: 4.88 out of 516 votes, average: 4.88 out of 516 votes, average: 4.88 out of 516 votes, average: 4.88 out of 5 (16 votes, average: 4.88 out of 5)
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Irritating Amazon Reviews

OK, to start off with, I have to admit that my skin is not as thick as I would like it to be.  And because of that, I really should not read reviews of my books on Amazon.  It is, to say the least, highly aggravating.  As on the Internet generally, people can say what they want and there is no mechanism (well, no effective mechanism) for making sure they say things that are true, right, or responsible.   So why do I read these things?  I suppose in hope (idle hope, most of the time) that the person will have read the book, understood it, and “gotten” the point.  It doesn’t always happen.  It often doesn’t happen.  OK, actually, it usually doesn’t happen.

Here is a sample of the kind of thing I mean.  The writer of this review is not simply wrong about things, he is downright scandalous, leveling a charge that he does not substantiate (for a good reason: he is unable to substantiate it, since it is flat-out false).  But why does he need to substantiate it?  He can just say it and get away with it.

First I’ll give the full comment and then I’ll explain why it is completely and utterly wrong.  (For those of you not following my recent posts: this Amazon review is about my new book Jesus Before the Gospels.

His comment:

In the introduction of Ehrman’s book, he makes the claim that the book is a great contribution to the field of biblical studies since “the vast bulk of them [scholars of the New Testament], so far as I can tell—have never explored this research”. Yet he doesn’t mention any work or scholar in the field that has come close to the alleged research of the book (for a reason of course). However, for anyone who has read McIver’s book (… he is referring to Robert K. McIver (2011): Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels (Society of Biblical Literature) ), it becomes clear that Ehrman was highly inspired (or rather more) by McIver’s book. Yet Ehrman fails to mention this work in any of the book’s notes or citations. In many parts of the book, especially but not exclusively in the first four chapters, Ehrman’s book even seems as a second-hand exposition of Mclver’s, and as stated before, he’s never cited him.   Despite my Admiration to Dr. Ehrman, I think that it’s crucial to give the credit only to the credible author. And think professor Ehrman has done a great disservice to his history by plagiarizing another Author’s work.

OK, so to begin with, is my claim true that the bulk of NT scholars have not explored the research into memory?   Yes, I believe it’s absolutely true.   Does that fact that this unknown and unnamed reviewer has read a (single) book that deals with a similar theme invalidate the claim?  No, of course not.  I have NEVER said that there is no NT scholar on the face of the planet who has not looked into memory studies.  I’ve said that “the vast bulk” have not.  If I had meant that “no one” has I would have said so.

Then is it true that I never mention any biblical scholars who have dealt with the issues related to memory?  Does he mean apart from the scholars that I do name, such as Jan Assmann, Kenneth Bailey, Richard Bauckham, James Dunn, Birger Gerhardsson, Werner Kelber, and, well, and others?

OK, then is it true that my book was inspired by Robert McIver’s?   I’m sorry, but at this point, I really had to laugh.

I became interested in memory studies because I had heard some papers read at a session of the Society of Biblical Literature meetings a few years ago (papers by Chris Keith and Zeba Crook – both of whom generously read my manuscript, by the way, and made helpful comments on it – and Paul Foster and others).  I decided I wanted to learn more about memory.  And so I spent two years doing almost nothing in my spare time but reading cognitive psychology (on individual memory), sociology (on collective memory), and anthropology (on oral cultures).  I read almost nothing by a NT scholar.   I then outlined my book and decided what I wanted to say.

THEN I read the few books out there that deal with similar issues in respect to the New Testament, books by Dale Allison, Richard Bauckham, James Dunn, and a few others (there are not many, as I’ve been saying).   Near the very tail end of my research – after the book was fully outlined – I did some mopping up exercises, which involved, among other things, reading McIver.  I hadn’t read him before that because I did not see his work cited in other things I had been reading and was not aware that he had made any kind of impact on the field.  But then I learned about his book and I was very nervous, thinking that maybe he had already written the book that I wanted to write.  So I read it.  And I was disappointed.  I was not disappointed because he said what I wanted to say but because he had such a different point of view from mine and I didn’t think that he argued for it convincingly.  I was expecting great things (in fear that my book would no longer be needed!), but didn’t find them (others may find his book more helpful).

At every point McIver takes a very conservative, evangelical stand on just about every issue connected with the Synoptic Gospels, arguing for their innate reliability based on what memory research says (as anyone knows who actually reads my book, that’s just the opposite view to mine!  How is it that I’m supposed to be dependent on his book?!?).  Here is what he says, for example, about the validity of eyewitness testimony:

“Taken together, the two case studies … reveal many of the basic characteristics of eyewitness memory.  It is generally trustworthy, but the level of accuracy varies from individual to individual…  Where an eyewitness is not intentionally lying, there is a general, if not specific, reliability about his or her testimony….” (p. 20).

I have to admit, I was more than a little puzzled when I read that conclusion.  The studies of eyewitness testimony point in just the opposite direction; in fact, one of the two studies he is citing argue precisely against this conclusion.  I decided that his book was completely unusable for my purposes.

But this anonymous reviewer of my book on Amazon is claiming not only that I took over McIver’s views, but that I plagiarized him.  Here is someone who needs to look up the word “plagiarism,” since he obviously does not even know what the word means.  It’s a very serious charge, and if someone wants to label me with it, I would very much like him to know what he is actually saying, because it is a scandalous thing to say, not to mention absolutely false and completely offensive.

I will discuss a further point in my next post, whether it is incumbent upon me, when writing for a general audience, to cite all the scholars who support or reject the views that I set out – not in a scholarly book but in a book meant for non-experts.

 

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 8, 2016

    It is very irritating indeed!

    To start, I have now read about a dozen of your books and have never heard you claim that you are making a “great contribution.” In fact, in your trade books, you say over and over that you are trying to summarize for the lay reader widely accepted scholarly findings. And you do that incredibly well.

    Second, how can you possibly be copying McIver when you disagree with him?

    I am sorry that some do not fully appreciate your enormous contributions in trade books, textbooks, this blog, your Teaching company lectures, and your youtube debates. I do…. Keep plugging away. You are not thin-skinned, just human…..

  2. Avatar
    dancaslin  March 8, 2016

    Accusing you of this obvious falsehood is a trumpish tactic to unfairly erode your credibility with people who are likely to hear a statement like, “Someone accused him of plagiarism” and then translate that into, “He’s a plagiarist.”

    Despicable.

    I’m reading your book now and think it’s wonderfully insightful. I am so grateful for your life’s work in this incredibly important field of study.

  3. Avatar
    mcritzman  March 8, 2016

    “Here is someone who needs to look up the word “plagiarism,” since he obviously does not even know what the word means.”

    I’ve been seeing this kind of thing more and more lately. Every time it brings to mind the scene in The Princess Bride when Vizzini says, “INCONCEIVABLE!” and Inigo Montoya replies, “You keep using that word, I don’t think you know what it means.” I often say that if I win the Mega Millions I would like to buy a truck load of Dictionary’s to hand out to people.

    • Avatar
      Elisabeth  March 13, 2016

      *dictionaries

      Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Though that Princess Bride quote is one of my favorites. 😀

  4. Avatar
    raypianoplayer  March 8, 2016

    Accusing a writer of plagiarizing is a very serious charge. It is a charge that should not be based on opinion but on factual evidence only. The individual has not offered a evidence.

  5. Avatar
    cjcruz  March 8, 2016

    I’ve flagged the review in question as “not helpful” and your other readers should do the same. For those who wish to offer this feedback, search the three star reviews. Incidentally, it’s interesting that this individual would award you three stars for allegedly plagiarizing someone else’s work. Maybe he or she truly doesn’t understand what the word means.

    1
  6. talmoore
    talmoore  March 8, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, I didn’t see that review. Maybe it has been deleted?
    Anyway, as they say, haters gonna hate.

  7. Avatar
    doug  March 8, 2016

    The criticism you quoted sounds like it came from a conservative Christian with an ax to grind. I guess we knew they wouldn’t like your book. I’m up to page 60 of your book, and it is interesting, clear, and well explained with good examples. If you weren’t so influential, not as many people would bother to throw mud at you. I’m glad you are influential!

  8. Avatar
    spiker  March 8, 2016

    It’s understandable that after putting so much work into a book that you might want to see how it is received.
    People that know your work would find this sort of review bizarre. While not having gotten to the new book yet, I
    was a bit skeptical that you would make a claim like ” the book is a great contribution to the field of biblical studies”
    I can’t help but think the reviewer did not actually read your book, but probably scanned it for things to criticize.
    Are you sure that Amazon, if notified, wont do anything about a charge like that?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 10, 2016

      They won’t let an *author* have any say in teh matter, but other reviewers they will listen to.

      • Avatar
        spiker  March 10, 2016

        WOW

        That’s weird. I mean if there’s an accusation of plagiarism, you would think they would want to see if there was anything to it. It’s not as though you’re just saying you don’t like the review.

  9. Avatar
    Jimmy  March 8, 2016

    Hi Bart, I also read the amazon review. The person who wrote the amazon review gave five stars to your “how Jesus became god”. Go figure

    Anyway, instead of putting sources and the like in your books how about posting them somewhere on the web so people who would like to view them can.

    I am half way through your book and love it! I had to buy a second copy for my wife because we cannot read the one copy of the book at the same time.

  10. Avatar
    spiker  March 8, 2016

    It’s understandable that after putting so much work into a book that you might want to see how it is received.
    People that know your work would find this sort of review bizarre. While not having gotten to the new book yet, I
    was a bit skeptical that you would make a claim like ” the book is a great contribution to the field of biblical studies”
    I can’t help but think the reviewer did not actually read your book, but probably scanned it for things to criticize.
    Are you sure that Amazon, if notified, wont do anything about a charge like that?
    There is a report abuse button out there so I think Amazon would be willing to hear your complaint.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 10, 2016

      They won’t listen to the author himself if he notifies them, only other people.

  11. Avatar
    flshrP  March 8, 2016

    If nobody else you used in your book is citing McIver, then you’re off the hook.

    My two-volume history of the U.S. manned spaceflight program in the 20th century ran 1453 pages, the last 70 of which were the references. I probably cited about 1/4 of the references I consulted. Accumulating and sorting through that pile of references is one of the reasons the research took me 3 years.

    An author is also an editor and has to make judgment calls on what information to include and cite and what to discard.

    If this guy is a minor league scholar, there’s no reason to mention his name.

    I’d chill out and have a tall one (or two).

  12. Avatar
    Jana  March 8, 2016

    I know Dr. Ehrman and we can’t rebuttal on nonsensical comments either. The best I could do was click on ‘was this review helpful’? (NO!)

    • Avatar
      Jana  March 8, 2016

      Because this review basically claims dishonesty (and I’m also upset) I’m wondering Dr. Ehrman if there is a mechanism such as amazon “chat” or others to have such claims addressed? I could search this out.

      • Avatar
        Jana  March 8, 2016

        Actually what I can do is link your blog answer here in the comment section under living42day’s review … with permission.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 10, 2016

          Sure!

        • Pattycake1974
          Pattycake1974  March 10, 2016

          Just curious, why are you posting the blog answer under living42day? Are you talking about the same living42day that’s a member of this blog?

          Living42day wrote a review, but I didn’t see the above comment anywhere on Amazon.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 11, 2016

            I have no idea!

      • Bart
        Bart  March 10, 2016

        I think there are ways people can complain about irresponsible reviews — but the author of the book cannot complain!

        • Pattycake1974
          Pattycake1974  March 15, 2016

          I haven’t given a review on Amazon yet but plan to as soon as I’m finished reading it. Almost there! I think the book is solid and well-researched. I feel that the latter half of the book delves into what readers are really interested in. I do have one particular pet peeve though; there are errors that weren’t caught during the editing process. Words were spelled correctly, but they are the wrong words. One of the scriptural references was wrong, and that’s kind of a biggie. I don’t know how publishing companies handle these sorts of things, but they should really fix it.

  13. Avatar
    herculodge  March 8, 2016

    I just wrote a positive Amazon review of your book. It is well supported, complements your other works, and makes a fascinating case that Mark’s “memory” of the secretive Christ (secretive about his identity and mission) is much different than John’s “memory” of the outspoken Christ.

  14. Avatar
    bobnaumann  March 8, 2016

    I understand your anger and frustration, Bart. No one likes to be accused of plagiarism. Why not write a comment on his review pointing out the differences between your book and McIver’s book, or do you think that would be too self-serving?

  15. Avatar
    Hon Wai  March 8, 2016

    Indeed a defamatory remark by an amazon reviewer who probably didn’t read your book or totally misunderstood it. Given the originality of your thesis, do you plan to publish in academic journals the core argument?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 10, 2016

      My original plan was to write a scholarly book on the topic as well, but I’m into research for a different book just now and don’t think it’s gonna happen, at least any time soon.

  16. Avatar
    bbcamerican  March 8, 2016

    I’m reminded of a line from Rudyard Kipling’s classic poem “If” –

    “If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools…”

    Continue to seek the truth, Dr. Ehrman, and please continue to allow us to come along for the ride!

  17. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  March 8, 2016

    I wish people would think before saying such things. True plagiarism can have devastating consequences. Besides that, falsely accusing you of plagiarism is defamation of character and also has very serious consequences! I mean, what on earth is this person thinking?!?

  18. Avatar
    VirtualAlex  March 8, 2016

    Oh Bart please don’t let these things get to you. Had it been a well reasoned, properly evidenced, or even just well written criticism, it might have been worth a second thought. But people are always going to dislike your work because it’s threatening to them. Be spurred on by that! There are so many who need to be reached with your research. I’ve read/listened to almost all your books (I’m saving up for your New Testament text book) and I’ve learned SO MUCH in such an enjoyable way. You have a wealth of information to give to the world and you do it so brilliantly. Please don’t let the haters get to you. Never stop writing! Xxx

  19. Avatar
    CarlWeetabix  March 8, 2016

    The fastest way to lose your faith in humanity is to read the comment section of any blog. Reviews I imagine are similar. My sympathies to you there indeed.

  20. Avatar
    Stephen  March 8, 2016

    Prof Ehrman

    I travel frequently on my job, both by plane and auto, so for me that means audio books! The narrators of your books are very professional and no complaints but I was wondering, since you seem totally comfortable lecturing and debating, what your thought process is in deciding not to narrate your own books. Just curious.

    thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  March 10, 2016

      I never get asked (though I did one — I think it was the book on Judas) (or maybe it was the Da Vinci Code). It was no fun! I doubt if I’d ever do it again.

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