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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