Thomas Verenna: Character and Scholarship

The blogger hambydammit on his blog Life Without a Net posted a book recommendation of Thomas Verenna’s new book Of Men and Muses (here).  I’ve left a few comments:

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I understand he is a friend and so you obviously have a different kind of relationship with him than others who’ve known him from online. Even so, I think it’s unfair of you to imply that only one person ruined his credibility. I’ve seen him around in many discussions and he has a way of irritating all kinds of people and let me say it has nothing to do with being smarter than everyone else. He apparently lacks certain practical interpersonal skills.

I originally knew of him through his alias and didn’t know his real name. I accidentally came across his blog without realizing who he was and he acted like a righteous know-it-all. He seemed unable to admit when he didn’t know something. That isn’t to say that he isn’t intelligent. I generally agreed with much that he said, but he just had such a disagreeable personality… or at least that is how he seems online… maybe he’s more easygoing and friendly in normal life.

Anyways, I won’t judge his scholarship based on his personality. I’ll check for some more reviews of his book and see what others think. His name is well enough known in the onine biblical studies community and so publicity shouldn’t be a problem. This book will be the test of whether his scholarship can actually stand up to criticism.

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Sounds like you have a balanced attitude. I have a couple of responses to Verenna.

First, many people have criticized him of making dishonest and misleading statements (from plagiarism to claiming he knows what he doesn’t). I can’t verify many of these criticisms, but in my own dealings with him he does seem to lack humility and an openness to new perspectives. He certainly doesn’t take criticism well and practically invites people to dismiss him in his own dismissal of others.

Second, I do give his scholarship a chance as Robert M. Price reviews his work positively. I respect Price, but I mistrust Verenna’s using Price as a reference for his own views. Verenna dismissed out of hand the work of D.M. Murdock all the while admitting he had never read her work, but in the same discussion throws out the name of Price. The problem is that Price changed from criticism to praise once he read Murdock’s work and even wrote an introduction to one of Murdock’s books. Verenna’s attitude toward Murdock (who has more respectable credentials than he does) demonstrates an intellectual sloppiness not to mention an unfounded righteousness that is just plain annoying.

So, I’m mixed. He does have some intelligence and there is potential that he might add something worthy to the discussion of biblical studies. For me, the jury is still out. I’ll keep my eyes out for further book reviews before deciding whether to buy this book.

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I generally agree with your attitude.  I’m not a fan of web drama and haven’t directly been involved with the conflicts involving Verenna, but it seems that Verenna himself wasn’t shy about web drama and at least in the past was a willing partner to some of the conflict.

I tend to ignore criticisms if I only hear them once or only from one person.  However, the criticisms of Verenna involve large numbers of people in very extensive discussions on respectable forums.  It’s hard to ignore.

Even so, I still would’ve not given much credence to it all if he didn’t act the way he did in the discussions I had with him.  I judge him on my personal experience (when I didn’t even know who he was and so I wasn’t judging him based on any preconceived biases about his character).  It isn’t ad hominem.  He in fact dismissed authors he himself admitted to having not read.  So, that much would seem to be a fact.

It is clear to me that he does (unless he has remedied the situation by further study) lack knowledge about certain issues he speaks about authoritatively (and so that fairly places doubt on his scholarship in general).  If he hasn’t read Murdock, he shouldn’t claim to have a worthy opinion.  Both Price and Murdock have more credentials than he does, and Price respects Murdock.  None of this is ad hominem or mere web drama.  This is a fact, but I’m open to this fact being revised (by either his recanting his uninformed judgment or else by informing his judgment on this matter).  I truly hope he has studied further since I last interacted with him, but in order for that to happen he’d first have to humbly admit he lacked knowledge about it.  Personality issues only rub me the wrong way when they influence a person’s intellectual ability.

Valid criticisms can’t be ignored as just web drama.  It’d be much easier to ascertain the worth of Verenna’s scholarhip if he himself had originally ignored (rather than fed) the web drama.  His scholarship is mired in web drama because of his own actions.  As a counter-example, Price has managed to remain above the fray of web drama and his scholarship is clearly respectable partly for that very reason.

However, it does appear that Verenna is trying to become more respectable.  I wish him well in that endeavor.  Maybe this book is a step in that direction.  If his scholarship is worthy, then I’m more than happy to consider his viewpoint.  So far, I’ve looked around at the book reviews and haven’t seen any in-depth analysis of what he writes about.  He does seem to have a few people who strongly support him and so I’m hoping one of them will go into more detail.  I look forward to seeing more discussion.

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I understand your perspective.  I don’t care that much about the web stuff other than I tend to look at multiple viewpoints when researching a subject.  It’s basically impossible to do a web search about multiple perspectives without coming across web drama.  I mostly avoid web drama and it was an accident that I came across Verenna’s blog.

I’m more interested in the questions than specific answers.  At the same time, I’m interested in how questions are asked and how answers pursued.  Specifically about Verenna, I am extremely curious about the subject he writes about and my views aren’t too far off from his.

I guess that I’m just not sure at the moment what his scholarship offers in respect to the scholarship of others.  There are quite a few active authors who write about mythicism and who are critical of literalism.  Is he adding new insight… if so, precisely what insight?  Or is he writing for laymen and so bringing clarity to a complex subject?  Either insight or clarity is worthy, but a little of both would be wonderful.

I would buy his book right now, but I’m not as yet prepared to spend the money and time on it.  Sadly, I can’t read everything that catches my attention.  I truly am hoping that his book sparks discussion because then I could better see what he is bringing to the table.