Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Master's Thesis: Chapter 1.3 Some methodological considerations

The work at hand is not a traditional thesis by a Finnish student of the Department of Biblical Studies. When I analyze Stephen Carlson's arguments for the hoax hypothesis, I do not content myself to choose only one (traditional) method common in the New Testament studies. Instead, I utilize deliberately various features from all the traditional methods from the field. This decision is dictated first and foremost by the arguments Carlson builds for his case: these arguments are so varied and diversified that to commit myself to just one traditional method would not make much sense, since the purpose of the work is to estimate if Morton Smith should be held to be guilty on the basis of Carlson's arguments.

In other words, it would be impossible to answer adequately to the questions I intend to pose, if I would content myself to use only one traditional method of the biblical studies. Instead of constraining myself, from the standard Finnish text book of the methods, "Johdatus eksegetiikkaan: Metodioppi" by Vilho Riekkinen and Timo Veijola, I utilize features from all of the presented methods. For example, when analyzing Carlson's arguments in Chapter 3.5, I utilize features from literary criticism as presented by Riekkinen & Veijola; likewise I work with form criticism in Chapter 3.3, with redaction criticism in Chapter 4.4, and with textual criticism in Chapter 3.2. In this regard I could be considered to have joined to the tradition of pragmatism: if a single method does not suffice, a pragmatist will utilize as many of them as is necessary and combine them in innovative ways. In addition, the debate goes well beyond the usual methods used in the field of biblical studies. QDE-analysis (Questioned Document Examination), for example, does not belong to the curriculum I have been taught by in Helsinki University. With regards to QDE-analysis, I have been working solely on the basis of foreign text books.

In addition, in the field of biblical studies there are no established criteria for assessing if complex matrices of meaning construed from a disputed text are deliberately left clues by the writer (forger/hoaxer), or ensuing simply because of coincidence(s) and/or overinterpretation; though somewhat similar questions have been asked in the research focusing on pseudepigrapha. The question is linked to the problems of demarcation between science and pseudoscience; the boundary between these two is extremely fickle at its worst.1 To be able to assess Carlson's clue arguments (that propose that there are to be found deliberately hidden clues of the identity of the writer), I compare them to the methods that an accepted pseudohistorical work, "Holy Blood, Holy Grail", uses when building pseudohistorical arguments. In this way, I aim to demonstrate that Carlson utilizes in his clue arguments methods that would be valid only in a conspiracy theory narrative, although Carlson's text is in its formal aspects a true academic, scientific text.

Thus, for lack of good methods for this line of work, I have to pursue the question I pose in a creative manner. After all, the methods used in a given research are, to freely cite Robert K. Merton, good if they fulfill only two criteria: first, the methods should be able to form an argument that is logically consistent, and second, the methods should be able to form an argument that is compatible with known facts.2

The questions I will pursue in this thesis will be these: 1) I aim to collect together Stephen C. Carlson's arguments for the hoax hypothesis and its counterarguments; I aim to assess the debate and offer further commentary of its issues, and 2) I aim to analyze the similarities and differences between Stephen C. Carlson's arguments and other accepted pseudohistorical arguments. The first question will be answered in Chapters 2 and 3. In Chapter 4 I analyze conspiracy theory thinking and discuss how and in what ways can Carlson's arguments about the deliberately hidden clues be differentiated from this mode of thinking. In addition, I also assess these clue arguments from a more conventional point of view. Because the study of history can only be conducted in probabilities, I judge that some of Carlson's arguments are more plausible in the context of the hoax hypothesis. Counterarguments, however, are ultimately more persuasive - at least, the letter text, that looks to be composed by Clement himself, is probably authentic. In Chapter 4, after discussing the problems of demarcation between science and pseudoscience, I make a stronger statement, namely, that the clue arguments can't be considered to be scientific in any sense. Therefore, on the whole, the hoax hypothesis does not look to be the more probable alternative.

1 Kiikeri 2004, 92-93. I will discuss the problem of demarcation in more detail in Chapter 4.3.
2Kiikeri 2004, 113.

[In addition to the above, I defend the use of Internet material (blog posts, online-only articles, etc.) and conclude with a note that everything cited in the thesis should be available from Internet Archive, at the latest from October, 1st 2009 onwards.]

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