Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Matthew Effect

In a comment on my previous blog post, The Dalai Lama Quotation and the Historical Sceptic, Stephen Carlson notes that this is an example of "the Matthew Effect", about which Daniel Rigney writes:
The term Matthew effect was cooined by the Columbia University sociologist Robert K. Merton (1968a) to refer to the commonly observed tendency, noted above, for initial advantages to accumulate through time . . . In his pioneering studies of prestige systems in scientific communities, Merton demonstrated that prestigious scientists and institutions tend to attract inordinate attention and resources, leading to the further accumulation of prestige, which in turn attracts further resources (Daniel Rigney, The Matthew Effect: How Advantage Begets Further Advantage (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 4).
The term has come to be used of occasions where a piece of research, an idea, a quotation, a story gets associated with a more famous, more prominent person.  It is called the "Matthew effect" because of Matt. 13.12, "For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away."

Now what I find delightful about this terminology is that it inadvertently contains within it an example of the very phenomenon it is describing.  Matthew has been, since the early second century, the most popular Gospel, the Church's Gospel, and when people quote something that's in more than one Gospel, they invariably quote from Matthew.

So a saying that originates in Mark's Gospel (Mark 4.25),* which most scholars rightly take to have been written prior to Matthew, is actually remembered better as a saying in Matthew.  It is not the Mark Effect but the Matthew Effect.  The better known, more prominent Gospel lends its name to the feature that is thereby illustrated.

* See also Matt. 25.29, Luke 8.18, Luke 19.26.

That Dalai Lama Quotation, and the Historical Sceptic

Seen this on Facebook recently? It's been doing the rounds
"The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered, ‘Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.’"
It's a great quotation but according to the Damien Zone, it is a hoax,
"This quote, printed over a photograph of the Dalai Lama, is floating around on Facebook. It is inspiring millions of simple-minded Facebookers — but there’s a problem. HE NEVER SAID IT! There is no record of the Dalai Lama ever saying this and on his website there is no mention of it. Devout followers of the Dalai Lama say it is not true, but we live in the day where all one needs to do is put something up on Facebook and it becomes the law of the land — at least where idiots are concerned."
I am no expert on the Dalai Lama but the case presented by the Damien Zone sounds plausible, and certainly a good deal more plausible than the simple pasting of a quotation next to the picture of the Dalai Lama.

Now of course if the Dalai Lama did not say that, how might the analogy help us with historical Jesus research?  Or any research into great figures of the past?  Misattributions of quotations to Winston Churchill are famous and even in our own area, there is a great misattribution of a saying to Schweitzer (about looking into the well) that was actually said by George Tyrrell.

I must admit that the ease with which misattribution like this can happen within someone's lifetime, as well as not long after their death, reminds us of just how perilous it is to build a picture of the historical Jesus that crudely assumes historicity for sayings material, screening the Gospel sayings and parsing them down to the nth degree to find nuances in what he said.

Imagine the historical Dalai Lama scholar in two thousand years with this multiply attested saying that emerges during the great man's own life time.  What if the dissenting voices like the Damien Zone's get lost but the apparent witnesses to the saying remain?  Every now and then a helpful analogy comes along to remind us how precarious the task of historical Jesus research can be.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bloggers Get-together at the SBL

Bob Cargill is putting out the call for a  bloggers' get-together at the SBL in San Francisco.  Here's the link to his blog post with the cases fixed so that it's easier for old fogies like me to read:

Where shall the bloggers congregate at SBL in SF?

He also draws our attention to two sessions involving blogging in the program:

S19-314 – Blogger and Online Publication
11/19/2011, 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Golden Gate C2 – Marriott Marquis

Robert R. Cargill, University of Iowa, Presiding

Robert R. Cargill, University of Iowa
Welcome and Introduction (5 min)

Alice Bach, Case Western Reserve University
Can Blogging at 3 AM Be Considered Scholarship? (25 min)
Madeleine Flannagan, University of Auckland and Matthew Flannagan, Independent Scholar
Blogging a Short-Cut to Peer Review: How to Do It Effectively (25 min)
Juhana Markus Saukkonen, University of Helsinki
Sense and Practicality: Building a Historical GIS Online (25 min)
Richard Price, The Past, Present, and Future of Scholarly Social Networking (25 min)
This session will conclude with a Q&A discussion period with CEO, Dr. Richard Price.
Discussion (25 min)

S19-320 – Engaging the “Wired-In Generation”: Knowledge and Learning in the Digital Age
11/19/2011, 4:00 PM to 5:30 PM
Room: 3000 – Convention Center
Theme: Hosted by the Student Advisory Board
Teresa Calpino, Loyola University of Chicago, Presiding
Mark Goodacre, Duke University
Pods, Blogs, and other Time-wasters: Do Electronic Media Detract from Proper Scholarship? (15 min)
Christian Brady, Pennsylvania State University
On the Internet No One Knows You’re a Grad Student, Or How Social Media Can Help You, Build You Up, and Tear You Down (15 min)
Kelley Coblentz Bautch, St. Edward’s University
Videoconferencing in the Classroom: Broadening the Horizons of Students through Interactive Scholarly Exchange (15 min)
Discussion (30 min)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bart Ehrman "something of a superman"

It's official -- Bart Ehrman is "something of a superman when it comes to scriptural studies", at least according to a review of his co-edited volume, with Zlatko Plese, The Apocryphal Gospels, in the LA Times, with thanks to Jim Davila for the link.

The Cinematic Savior: Jesus Films and Related Literature

A former student of mine, Jon Rainey (MA Religion, Duke, 2009), has put together an excellent bibliographic essay on Jesus films, ideal for those who require a little guidance on this topic.  It reminds me that I really ought to resurrect my Jesus Film pages.

The Cinematic Savior: Jesus Films and Related Literature
Jon Rainey
Theological Librarianship 3/2 (2010): 22-26

It's available, free to all, from the link above (PDF).

Great work, Jon!

Sunday, October 09, 2011

C. K. Barrett Obituaries

The Guardian published its obituary of C. K. Barrett last week. It is written by Robert Morgan who describes him, alongside C. H. Dodd, as "the greatest British New Testament scholar of the twentieth century":

The Rev CK Barrett obituary
Biblical scholar known for his acute analysis of the New Testament

Thanks to Alan Bandy, Sean Winter, Mike Bird and others for the notice.

The Telegraph obituary was published a month ago, but I did not get the chance to mention it because it fell during my sabbatical from blogging:

The Reverend C K Barrett
The Reverend CK Barrett, who died on August 26 aged 94, was one of the foremost New Testament theologians of the 20th century

Both obituaries mention his habit of doing his NT research from 10pm to 2am each day.

Jim Davila on KGO Radio

Among a thousand things I have missed while I have been away is Jim Davila's appearance on KGO Radio, on Brent Walter's God Talk.  Luckily, you can catch it as a podcast.  (Previous God Talk episodes featuring bibliobloggers here).

The Jordan Lead Codices Information Page

There is one thing I have been able to keep up with while I have been away and that is the issue of the Jordan Lead Codices.  I have been privileged to be among those bloggers who have been discussing this issue and I have been cheering from the sidelines while some really great work has been taking place, explaining clearly and decisively why the evidence demonstrates that these are fake.  Now Steve Caruso has gathered the key information together in one place:

Thanks to Steve and everyone else involved for putting information out there in such a clear and accessible way.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Biblioblog Carnivals

So what's everyone been up to  while I've been away?  On these occasions, I like to turn to the Biblioblog Carnivals, and I am not disappointed this time.  Over on Scotteriology, there are two carnivals, "the lesser" and "the greater":

September Biblioblog Carnival: The "Lesser"

September 2011 Biblical Studies Carnival: The "Greater"

I must admit that I don't know / can't remember / can't work out who is behind Scotteriology, and the about page doesn't help me much, but many thanks for helping those, like me, who have not been around the blogs at all in September and can catch up with such an entertaining digest.

Sam Cooke, "Touch the Hem of his Garment"

Far too many of my analogies and digressions in class are drawn from British culture, so it's always nice when I can point to something like this.  On Thursday this week, we were talking about Matthew's Gospel and we were looking at his redaction of the story of the woman with a haemorrhage (Matt. 9.18-26 // Mark 5.21-43 // Luke 8.40-56), and the note that she touched not just his garment but "the hem" of his garment, Matt. 9.20, a minor agreement with Luke 8.44.  It reminded me of one of my favourite old gospel tracks, Sam Cooke's "Touch the Hem of His Garment". If you are not familiar with the track, it is a classic. Here is a nice youtube version with some fan-added images: