The Closing of Larry Hurtado’s Mind

I missed most of the debate over the senile splutterings of Larry Hurtado (here, here, here, here and here – for starters). For those not up on this little tiff on the corner of New Testament scholarship, the man who hails from Edinburgh, the gulag evangelico, argues that biblical training should focus on Hebrew, Greek, Latin (desirable), English, German and French – since all of the ‘worthwhile’ scholarship is in these languages.

I don’t want to rehearse the arguments made already, which boil down to the sheer reductionism of Hurtado’s position. Instead, I would add that Hurtado gives voice in his way to what may be called the closing of the western mind. Again and again in my travels through western Europe and North America, that closing becomes ever more noticeable. Cultural defence of the supposedly glorious ‘western’ culture is ever more strident, politics more xenophobic, and borders ‘securitised’. Hurtado’s troubled reflections on the changing nature of his own little plot – New Testament studies – reflects the same mentality: a reactionary defence a perceived golden age that has passed.


36 thoughts on “The Closing of Larry Hurtado’s Mind

  1. The most puzzling things, for me, about Larry’s statements are (a) his sheer ignorance of exactly how his position is ideologically marked – he seems to think that if he didn’t intend to come across as a white middle-aged male heterosexual imperialist, his work couldn’t and shouldn’t be read as if it were in any way ideologically coded; and (b) his desperate need to reinvent a particular version of NT scholarship, but as if there were some kind of essence of NT scholarship that needed to be recovered, a highly incoherent, self-contradictory stance. All he is doing is marking his territory and defending it to the death. Apparently Edinburgh are shortly to have a special day in his honour.

    1. Of course, ‘ideology’ is a dirty word in the sense that he would understand it. But it also fits with the reductionist stance he takes, which relies on the ideological position that it is beyond any ideology – precisely the self-contradictory nature that you indentify.

  2. Hurtado never said, “all of the ‘worthwhile’ scholarship is in” English, German and French.

    What he DID say was that historically the majority of NT scholarship has been written in those languages and that it only makes sense to be familiar with them.

    He never said other languages or cultures were in any way inferior, just that they have a lower concentration of NT scholarship. In fact, he remarked how another language (Spanish) helped him in his own dissertation.

    That’s not xenophobic, close-minded or senile. It’s pragmatism.

    1. ‘Pragmatic’ is of course ideologically neutral, is it not? Actually, he’s an old prick who whinges about the dreadful, shoddy youth of the world who lost the grand arts of ‘serious’ scholarship.

    2. ” these particular languages have been, and remain, considerably more important in the field, because far more important work is published in them across a far wider spectrum of matters. (By “important”, I mean intended to have impact and relevance for the field as a whole .)” – President Hurtado.

      Hurtado makes a pretty clear value judgment regarding what is “more important” and what is “intended to have impact…”.

      1. Yes he does, and also about what “the field as a whole” is. I happen to agree with him to some extent – I do think a solid knowledge of Hebrew (plus Aramaic of course) and Greek are basic – but by biggest concern with the position under critique here is that apparently nothing can be regarded as a valid part of “the field as a whole” that doesn’t fit into the “field as a whole” as defined by the person making the claim – the smoking gun for this seems to me to be the extraordinary response by John Stackhouse that “we can also stand for the common sense that the structures are the way they are, and if you want seriously to engage them, you have to engage THEM, and not what one wishes they were.” How does that leave any room for critiquing the ideological underpinnings of the field as it stands? Perhaps this should be reconfigured as learning the master’s tools to dismantle the edifice he so lovingly keeps standing.

      2. You can read “far more important work is published in them” two ways:

        1. Far more of the work that is important is published in those languages.
        2. The work published in those languages is far more important.

        The context obviously points to reading #1 but even if it didn’t, #2 can be objectively proved by a brief survey of the number of substantive theological journal articles, conferences, etc in those languages which far outnumbers those in other languages.

        But it’s obvious that this isn’t an unbiased group, calling him “an old prick.” Apparently not much Christ-likeness has rubbed off on this audience from their preferred NT studies languages…

  3. Really? You think because Hurtado argues students should be competent in the major languages of the disciple it means he’s closed his mind? This is xenophobia?

    You’re really making a mountain out of a mole hill. Hurtado was making a practical argument (a rather obvious one at that). Languages are so important its rather pathetic that NT students can barely read the basics. That’s just shoddy scholarship.

    The question of whether or not there should be more languages represented in this field was not his issue. There should be (and so students should have a few more, probably). But it’s rather silly to accuse him of a lament of the closing of the western mind. He’s more likely accusing students of being ignorant and lazy.

    1. Languages of the disciple? A nice slip. You miss the point(s) entirely. Hurtado is ideologically tone-deaf to his own ‘pragmatic’ dicipline-protecting statement. And his position is chronically reductionist, while assuming that his model is the full picture. I learnt Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Syriac and Coptic, plus German, French and a few more. I never regarded this, along with some exegetical skills, as anything but a starting point. As for ‘shoddy scholarship’, we can all play that game: I regard Hurtado’s scholarship as shoddy.

      1. You’re right. I have missed the point, and I still am.

        I’m not sure how I’m playing a game with the “shoddy scholarship.” At the very least (even if you think Hurtado’s is shoddy) a scholar needs familiarity with the languages. Obviously that’s not all they need, and I don’t think Hurtado argued that. So I’m not clear on how you think he’s being reductionist.

        I do think that BW16’s argument with Hurtado on the importance of French and German can be correct. It’s rather a different type of decision to make based on a research program. After all, just because most scholars engage with an European scholar rather than an Indian or African scholar doesn’t mean you should. You’re arguments may not be as persuasive to them, but why does it have to be?

        However, I think Hurtado’s point was more basic overall, and something I entirely agree with. Having seen at a major U.S. university the intellectual sloth of many a fellow student, it’s pretty incredible that someone would do a Ph.D. and be as monolingual as we Americans are (clearly, you are not!).

      1. Yep. I read the post and also the “dickhead” part, as a reference to a contributor.

        My dear great-grandmother, said something to me I will never forget. I could not have been more than five, or so. Speaking in her native tongue, she said these words, “An ad hominem argument is a sign of weak mindedness.” You go, Granny !!

        I certainly am thrilled to have discovered this blog, wherein its owner posts items which are original and important. Sadly, the posts that are original are not important while the posts that are important are not original. (Once again, Granny, or was it Dr. Johnson, hits the mark.)

        Signing off.

      2. R.B.C. : You claim to have read the post, yet you have clearly misinterpreted it. This merely reflects your intellectually incompetent skills of comprehension and suggests a prejudiced approach to the post.

  4. What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happening. What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happening. What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happening. What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happening. What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happening.

    Let me try to cool down your face a bit…

    Who is Larry? I’ve forgotten. Forgettable. Never mind. There is no, never was any, Hurt-egemony in our free thinking independent heads.

  5. Holy shit, I never quite understand why some posts generate discussion – like this one. Apart from giving me the chance to insult a few people and see how seriously they take me, it is sympotamtic of what James Crossley has been arguing re biblioblogging (see, namely that it is overwhelmingly white, male and conservative. And that seems to include an extraordinary blindness to the ideological effect of such a constituency on the opinions expressed in their blogs and indeed comments.

  6. Yeeus – and then you turn up in a hippyish dress and get accused of soliciting for sex. Sorry wrong conference – twuz the Umeerikun SBL. Same problem though. But I did apparently choose ludicrously unprofessional fluorescent attire for Nottingham last week and the nunnish undergrad at the BNTC registration assumed I was an intruder: “Excuse me” she said priggishly, “This is the Brrrritish ‘Theology’ Conference, you know”. In the bookstall we bumped into Professor X and I had an agonising debate with him (with my witness) over his assumption that religious approaches were appropriate for theology and critical interdisciplinary ones were not. Following a painful drink[less] reception with the highlight of the ‘speeches’ being the quacking of a heckling duck, managed to avoid the rest of the conference entirely. Stayed home with the cat instead.

      1. Yes I’m quite fond of it 🙂

        I should declare however that we knew Professor X quite well – or thought we did. Until our little ‘debate’ I had been unaware of his opinion on how scholarship should be done. But his name is not Larry. I didn’t see a Larry, I do not know who Larry is.

  7. Dave,

    Obviously you did not read BW16’s entire quote of HURTADO HIMSELF:

    “(By “important”, I mean intended to have impact and relevance for the field as a whole .)”

    IMPACT, meaning, domination and RELEVANCE, meaning, again domination, both meaning some sort of agreed to, hegemonic consensus, voted on and to be rigidly followed.

    If you cannot see this, clearly you cannot fault us for your blindspots. Its of your own doing.

  8. Apart from everything the Great Godfather of New Testament PhDs left out in his latest post, in his seeming determination to remain gatekeeper for the discipline, he seems to imply that the American system is better. A taught PhD? What about the ability to do independent research? A taught PhD discourages independence, encourages indoctrination and dependence on those (American) social sub groups and restricts the areas in which independent research can explore. A taught PhD hijacks freedom and independent original thinking and is inevitably ‘overteaching’. Doctoral students will effectively be shackled to the limitations of their dictatorial teachers, perpetuating Lazza Hurtegemony. Ed Sanders is a good example. Wrote a shocking PhD in the USA under the control and dictatorship of William Farmer and then slipped up to Canada and crossed over to the UK and independently produced decent critical historical work. Then Blitherington and McKnight, both wrote hopelessly second rate doctorates in the UK and scurried off back to the USA to become full blown fundies in theological seminaries. I dread to think UK universities would follow the USA. It’s been an interesting ‘culture’ experience in the UK but I look forward to getting back to the bottom of the world with more freedom and independence, before the UK is completely invaded, dominated and dictated to by America.

  9. The difficulty of this debate (stemming from a seemingly inconsequential post) is that for the last two centuries (of modern thought) the vast majority of accepted biblical scholarship for New Testament studies has come from the western academic culture. Now with globalization and rising pluralism we are seeing the naivete of a closed system that the academy produced. Surely we can learn from scholars in other locales than the increasingly insignificant western European establishment. I’m all for it. Now I don’t believe Larry Hurtado is attempting to say we shouldn’t.

    So I suppose the challenge for those offering their rebukes of his position is show any of us a handful of serious scholars of (what are now currently) minority languages who have offered something significant in terms of NT scholarship.

    I’d love to see the list. I’m being serious here. Having earned a rigorous PhD from a school in the UK in biblical studies (and done the requisite Greek, German, French, Latin, and Hebrew work) this would broaden my field.

    Perhaps we can move beyond the shallow entrenchments of our ideological positions and look to a greater conversation. So who are the biblical scholars in Africa, Asia, South America, etc. who speak/write/work in other languages who might aid our studies. I’m fascinated to see the list.

    1. “I earned a rigorous PhD in the UK in biblical studies” Bahahahahahaha!!! Whoever heard of such a ridiculous description? I am ever so suspicious – a rigorous PhD indeed. Even the ‘biblical studies’, nothing specific. And despite your ‘qualification’ you seem rather naive. “The list”? Really? Bahahahahaha! A list which is based purely on theses in foreign languages? Do you not know how to do your own research or use the library? You could make your own list, I dare you. Also you are not very astute – nobody has suggested Lazza said ‘we shouldn’t’. He has been clearly quoted suggesting it isn’t as important. And logically this sort of influence and authority has far broader implications for the discipline. And obviously (I’m sure Lazza will be delighted and flattered at your description of his post as ‘inconsequential’) Lazza’s post exemplifies a deeply entrenched problem in this field. It represents the epitome of all that is wrong. But you have such faith “I don’t believe” Lazza would do such a thing. You just have not done the research, eh mate. And I BETCHA ten bucks you’re Umeerikun!!!!!

      1. “I’m being serious here”. Just another example of his blithering tonish inability to tell the truth. I think he’s actually pretentiously conceding that we are all ideological, Rod, and while I think that is quite clear that he is ‘shallow’ I think he’s deeply and obliviously entrenched.

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