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Response to KC James Review

UPDATE: KC James has now deleted his review for the second time.

UPDATE: KC James deleted his original review (along with the long comment thread) and reposted it, with a minor addition. However, he did not delete his criticism regarding the absence of indexes in the back of the book, even though he already knew that there are indexes provided online. This seems disingenuous.

The minor addition to his review is as follows:

For example, his arguments about genocide, which, if it took place, tends to ignore the struggle for survival that the Israelites found themselves in. (Of course, Thom attempts to deal with this in the section on the Cannanites, but I simply disagree.) In a later era, they found their existence threatened but did NOT fight back in any organized manner, and would have been exterminated if it had not been for what can be called the genocidal methods of the Allied powers.

And, of course, even in our own time they are being threatened with extermination and may have to repond with the genocidal methods provided by modern Science itself, or fact extermination in that part of the world.

My response: KC “simply disagrees” with my “attempts to deal with this,” but doesn’t say why, and doesn’t say what my attempts to deal with it are. The fact is, I showed unequivocally (both from the text itself and from the archaeological record) that the Canaanite genocides could not have been defensive wars, and even if they were, a defensive war does not justify the wholesale slaughter of non-combatants and children. Thus, KC’s point is moot.

My original response to KC’s original review is as follows:

KC James left a three-star review of my book on Amazon. Although I quote it in its entirety and in chronological order here in my response, those interested can read it here without my interruptions.

I want to thank KC James for taking the time to read the book and for taking the time to review it. I appreciate KC especially because he and I have such sharp disagreements on some issues, yet I think his review was honest and relatively fair. I’d like to respond to some of his comments, but I want to do so only because it’s understood that I’m appreciative of his comments. Even though I take issue with some of them, I think they are generally helpful and bring up relevant issues. That said, I’ll get on with my responses.

KC titles his review, “Good Writing, But Nothing New.” I’m pleased to hear KC thinks I am at least a decent writer. It’s also a sign of his good character that he takes the time to include a compliment about a book with which he has such substantial disagreement.

“Nothing new.” Well, as I explained in my preface, the purpose of the book was to distill scholarly information in an accessible manner for non-scholars. So while there isn’t much in the book that is original to me (although I do make some small original contributions in places), there is some material in here that has not appeared in popular form until now. Of course, much of the material has appeared around and about the place, but I didn’t write the book to be original; I wrote the book because it represents the most important issues that challenged my faith and led me to a transformation process in my thinking.

Stark has a feisty style, but this is just the latest version of the type of stuff you can get from Bart Ehrman and the like.

That may or may not be the case. In many places, I make much more extensive arguments than Ehrman has. My exegesis of the relevant discourses in the Gospels, for instance, is more extensive than that provided in Ehrman’s (still very good) volume on the subject, as is my response to Christian apologists.

Its touted as being so honest, but he makes his arguments like there is no real possibility of disagreement from the other side.

I take issue with this characterization, though it is an important issue to bring up, and I’m glad KC did so. I tried to be as honest with the material as possible, and I do believe that an honest approach to the data will result in an interpretation much like my own. In short, I am convinced of my position. But I take those who disagree with me very seriously, and this is evinced in the fact that I spend so much time responding to and refuting their arguments, particularly in chapters 6 and 8.

Example, the ten pages of so is which he dismissively talks about N.T. Wright.

I take issue with this characterization as well. N. T. Wright has been a huge influence on me and I have read almost everything he’s written. I have read everything he has written on the historical Jesus. It is a mischaracterization to say that I am “dismissive” of N. T. Wright’s interpretation of the Olivet Discourse. If I were merely being dismissive, I wouldn’t have devoted twelve pages to responding to his argument. The fact that I spend twelve pages critiquing him shows that I hold him in high regard, even if I am convinced that his interpretation of the data is very problematic. As I pointed out in the book, I used to hold to Wright’s position, so my critique of his position comes from the perspective of someone who was once persuaded by it.

(This is ironic since so far as I can tell Thom has no advanced academic qualifications or expertise in the history and languages of the time…I don’t think he is even working on a Ph.D.)

This is both inaccurate and irrelevant. It’s true that at present I am not working on a PhD. I am applying to PhD programs, but I am currently a third-year graduate student in religious studies. It is true that I do not yet have my degree, but that does not mean I am not qualified and competent to make the arguments I’ve made. KC’s claim that I have no qualifications or expertise in the history and languages of the time is inaccurate. I am competent in biblical Greek. I am competent in biblical Hebrew, according to doctoral level entrance standards, and had my training in Hebrew from a professor who received his PhD in Semitic Studies from Harvard University. As for qualifications in the history of the ancient Near East, Hebrew Bible and second temple literature, I have taken extensive graduate level coursework under the tutelage of a professor who received his PhD in Semitic Studies from Johns Hopkins University and is a world-renowned expert in ancient Near Eastern history, archaeology, and epigraphic materials, and who was a post-graduate teaching fellow at Johns Hopkins University for two years. I have had my training in New Testament studies under a professor who received his PhD from Boston University. The only remaining coursework I have left to take toward my degree are required courses that are unrelated to ANE and biblical studies. I have had two-and-a-half years of graduate level coursework in biblical studies and broader ANE and second temple literature. So while it’s true that I am not yet a PhD student, the reality is that I am qualified and competent to make the kinds of arguments I’ve made in this book.

Or when he talks about the end times he seems to think that for the people of the time Jesus lived in that the end did not in fact arrive, for them. Their entire society was leveled and dispersed.

I take issue with this criticism as well. This hinges upon an interpretation of the word “end” and is irrelevant to the actual statements made by Jesus about the final judgment, as I argued extensively in chapter 8 of my book. KC has not challenged any one aspect of my interpretation of the material or of my criticisms of Wright’s interpretation of the material. I showed how Wright’s interpretation does not do justice to the actual language used in the text.

As for my qualifications to critique N. T. Wright, a few comments. Although I do not hold a PhD yet, the reality is that my critique of N. T. Wright has been approved by leading experts in historical Jesus studies and second temple apocalyptic literature, such as Dale Allison and John Collins. So the issue is not really that I am “unqualified” to disagree with N. T. Wright. The issue is whether my criticisms are good ones or not. Dale Allison and John Collins did not dismiss my work and criticisms of Wright out of hand because I am not “qualified.” The real question pertains to the soundness of my arguments, not the letters behind my name.

But of course, the lack of letters behind my name will no doubt be a talking point among those who disagree with my positions.

Finally, N. T. Wright was making criticisms of people with PhD’s before he had his PhD. If he wasn’t doing that, then he never could have obtained his doctorate. Students are encouraged to critique scholars and to publish their criticisms if they can. And really, it doesn’t take someone with a PhD to see that Wright misuses much of the biblical material to make his case for preterism, as I showed in chapter 8 of my book.

The clincher is that at the end when he asks rhetorically what “foundation” we can rely on, he just asserts that there is none. Of course, as such, he has sawed off the limb he is sitting on and has no objective foundation from which to launch his attack and express his moral indignation.

All this criticism does is display KC’s commitment to a foundationalist epistemology which is untenable, and almost completely ignores the extensive discussion of the problem of “foundationalism” I offer in chapter 10. It is a criticism that only has weight to those who hold the assumptions I have critiqued at length in my book, and therefore begs the question.

And the fact that there is not index is a real weakness for what is supposed to be a scholarly book.

We chose to leave indexes out of the book to make the retail price more affordable for buyers, but multiple indexes have been provided online at the book’s official website.

Although I take issue with much of KC’s criticisms, I appreciate the relevance of the issues his criticisms have raised, and can only refer those interested to my book, where I believe I have adequately addressed those issues, despite KC’s largely unsubstantiated protestations to the contrary.

In closing, let me again thank KC James for taking the time to write his review and to speak his mind. I am grateful he has done so and I hope his comments and my responses will be helpful to many.