Evidence and Persuasion

I’ve been approaching the New Testament II class this winter somewhat differently from past years; whereas before, I divided the survey between gospels (first term) and epistles (second term), this time around I tried to do the cognitive work of the survey of the whole NT in the first term, and have been trying to get at questions of discerning stronger and weaker interpretations in this second term.

Certain aspects of the class have affirmed that decision. It looks clearer and clearer to me that it’s right to segregate the modes of thinking; it’s too much to introduce the conventions of NT scholarship at the same time I’m asking students to identify which are the strongest and best interpretations, and which are dodgier.

On the other hand, I haven’t quite successfully helped the NT II students arrive at a critical apparatus for recognizing stronger or weaker. That has a lot to do with the way the discipline has constituted itself; I’d argue that New Testament studies, biblical studies, has tended to induct new practitioners based on their intuitive apprehension of practices and rules that remain unstated, or are stated in ways unhelpful to a beginning outsider. I’d love to have the time to do some work on ways that biblical scholars actually frame their arguments — not the tacit arguments and warrants that we’re socialized to recognize and interpolate into the explicit rhetoric, but the ways we actually frame our cases (so that I could then work with students toward identifying which of these a particular article was advancing, and also could try to supply what our elliptical reasoning omits. That pertains directly to the project I was pitching to Rodney Clapp last fall, introducing students to biblical scholarship with very short manuals on “what makes this kind of argument convincing”; unfortunately, it would require a set-aside block of time to go through a repertoire of articles, highlight the argumentative skeletons of the pieces, and foreground the warrants, make explicit the presuppositions that stand to persuade the careful reader. Maybe after the next book. . . .

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