Baker Academic

Thursday, July 18, 2013

My Response to J. Keith Elliott's Review--Chris Keith

Back in 2010, I read one of the most scathing book reviews I'd ever seen.  Unfortunately, it was of my own book, The Pericope Adulterae, the Gospel of John, and the Literacy of Jesus (Brill 2009).  The review appeared in the Journal of Theological Studies and was written by J. Keith Elliott.  You can read it here.  I should also add that shortly before the publication of the review, I won a 2010 John Templeton Award for Theological Promise from the Forschungszentrum Internationale und Interdisziplinaere Theologie at the University of Heidelberg based on the book.  So I received this harsh negative feedback in a context of simultaneously receiving encouraging positive feedback.

Elliott managed in the space of about three or four pages to criticize the cover of the book (which I didn't pick), the foreword of the book (which I didn't write), the price of the book (which I didn't set), the fact that I published a chapter in the form of an article too closely to the publication of the book (the time frame for which I didn't control), as well as my chapter titles and dedications.  He referred to my dedication of the book to a friend, my mother (for having survived two forms of cancer), my wife, and my (at the time) newborn son as "embarrassing and overblown."  He ended the review by taking the words I wrote to my son in the dedications out of context to make it look like I was dismissive of my own study.  The problem was not limited to the unprofessional act of dragging an author's dedicatory words to family members into an academic review that, ostensibly, was supposed to focus on the actual content of the book, though.  On several occasions, Elliott misrepresented the argument of the book and even attributed to me the precise opposite of what I claim in the book.  To this day I have no idea what prompted the review and its tone.  I had never met Elliott in my life prior to the next SBL when I made sure to introduce myself and ask a few pointed questions.

At the time, I offered no formal public response other than a quick comment on Mark Goodacre's blog when Elliott's review came up in the comment thread on Marks' discussion of another negative book review.  Elliott was a very senior scholar in the field of NT textual criticism and I was a very junior scholar.  There was no way for me to respond officially without it looking like sour grapes.  I did appreciate several blog discussions (here and here), though.

Earlier this year, the new editors for JTS learned of the review.  They were shocked and invited a response, offering to publish a formal apology before it.  That response, including the unreserved editorial apology, has now appeared in the online version of JTS and will appear in print in the next volume.  You can access the online version here.

Negative criticism is part of academia and to be expected.  We are not always right and our peers' job is to point that out sometimes.  Thankfully, though, this type of negative criticism is rare.  I appreciate the current editors of JTS taking the unusual step of rectifying such an odd review and offering me a platform to respond.

Update:  Brad Johnson comments on the journal taking responsibility for the review here.

13 comments:

  1. Chris,

    I just read the original review. My goodness. I don't think there's more than a few lines discussing the actual nature of the content of your book. The rest is pedantic nonsense. I look forward to your response.

    Yours,
    David Russell Mosley

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, David. There's a link to the response in the post, so you should be able to get there from that link.

      Delete
    2. Chris,

      Just realised that preparing to read it now.

      Yours,
      David

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    3. Chris,

      An excellent response, truly charitable and honest.

      Yours,
      David

      Delete
  2. "I made sure to introduce myself and ask a few pointed questions."

    ...to have been a fly on that book table.

    -anthony

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  3. I noticed this is not the first time JKE has been criticized for his reviews.

    http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/2009/02/greenlee-review-keith-elliott-responds.html

    Any chance your book referenced, positively, Greenlee?

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    Replies
    1. No, I don't think I mention Greenlee at all.

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    2. Just checked. No mention of Greenlee.

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  4. Wow, that review of your book was truly disingenuous. How does something like that even manage to make it past the editor at a serious academic journal?

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  5. Chris -

    You're not alone, nor is JTS for allowing his review to be published. He did the exact same thing when writing an RBL review for my work in "Revisiting the Corruption of the NT" (nothing about content, hammering the dedication, and noting issues that actually go back to the publisher not the author).

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    Replies
    1. I assume this is Dan Wallace. Yes, I remember reading that review. It too was out of line.

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  6. Ouch! That was a heck of a review. Does pedantry ever reach a point where it can fairly be described as evil?

    But on the plus side, my inability to wrangle a first in Elliott's classes during my time at Leeds no longer makes me feel so inadequate...

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  7. Chris,
    That was an interesting review, for sure. These sorts of events have bothered me for some time. I've read other ad hominem attacks in so called "reviews" written even by folks I like and admire – and much more scathing than Elliott's here. Some folks just aren't thinking (maybe), but then other scholars are predatory, especially when engaging others in "my area of expertise!"

    But sometimes I think the scholarly journals really don't mind letting vitriolic reviews slip through from time-to-time because they are, after all, quite titillating to read. I admit while reading Elliott's review of your book thinking "Wow! What worse can he possible say?" and then scanning ahead quickly for more dirt. I've been working on gossip in the NT for some time now, and I know how "entertainment" is an essential element to negative speech...We both hate it, and do it, all the time. Strange species are we! And folks are talking about "...that biting review of Keith's book by Elliott..."

    In any event, on better days, I think such discourse in our field is embarrassing at least, and damaging too. In 1999 I presented a paper on Qoheleth at a regional SBL at Duke U. A number of juniors and seniors (REL majors) from the school I was at back then, attended the meeting to experience a biblical studies conference. Unfortunately, they got to observe a public, ad hominem attack on me by a well-known (at the time) predator – just because I read the text differently than he did. Two of them were so shaken by the fiasco they dropped out of the major – in (of course, naïve) disbelief that folks (professional – “adults”?) studying the B-I-B-L-E could treat each other so badly.

    The tone of your response to Elliott was right on target. Nicely done!

    -Jack

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