by , under Early Christian Rhetoric, Mike's Posts, Professional Stuff, Rhetorical Analysis & Comp

The semester is almost over, but not quite yet; there are still two more working weekends before my fall labors are complete.

My presentation last night, “Faith is Shared Food, and Other Conceptual Agricultural Metaphors in the NT Gospels” went ok. The Powerpoint was too dense, of course, and it showed it was a work in progress (the first half of it, I think, flows nicely, but then it gets bogged down in the 50 hojillion citations) and some of those citations/examples need some shoring up; but there was a lively discussion afterward. I went on teacher autopilot for most of it. Somehow I’ve got to get it down to 20 minutes for April’s PCA/ACA conference; H timed it at 35-40.

I’m not sure how to get around the bulk of the cites. The centerpiece argument, that FAITH IS SHARED FOOD is a major – if not THE major – conceptual metaphor in the gospels (as seen from their time of composition, of course) and that it overshadows more figurative agricultural metaphors – frankly, it all hinges on the number of occurrences. It’s hard for me to see a way around having slides filled with cites, even if they are just cites and not excerpts.

Then again, I have a citation fetish, it’s true. My first article has 95 sources. I don’t see the next one or the next one after that having much less – probably more, actually. I feel safer citing Tom, Dick, and Harry (and Jane, Jill, and Stacy); citations are the scholar’s armor, if academics is a battlefield as it is often implied, instead of the marketplace of ideas that it should be, ideally. In that particular source domain, citations would be more like friendly acknowledgments of fellow traders, I suppose. But with plagiarism hanging over everyone’s heads like the sword of Damocles, it often feels more like a defensive than a collaborative act.

I’ve been thinking about doing something on citation for the dissertation. A history of citation for a particular period – say, the NT, early Christian works, other Greek authors – compared to citation in the Attic period or to medieval, pre-typography times – and then carry that over to the citation systems that we worship these days. I am also worried over the loose views of citation that some freshmen have when they enter the university, especially when the proof text of Western civilization contains a brand of citation that is most definitely not up to Modern Language Association standards – and can’t be.

Even if you throw out impossible things like page numbers and publishers and dates, and accept just name of work or name of author and a word-for-word quotation (as that’s the best ancient citations tend to get and can be, as every document is hand-copied and unique) there’s a ton of stuff just in the gospels that doesn’t stand up. The author of Matthew in particular is quite willing to cite the Septuagint out of context or change its wording as to suit his rhetorical purpose… and then these citations come to us with nearly two thousand years of tradition as inerrant, and I get students who want to cite the Bible as a source.

There is a problem there – and it is the same problem that faces composition teachers who hold strong religious belief and yet teach rhetoric and research, with the necessary emphasis on logic and fallacy. How does one hold faith without evidence, and then demand of their students evidence rather than naked claims? Welcome to cognitive dissonance 101. Faith does not need reason any more than reason needs faith. Modern views that a text is just a text are not compatible with ‘well, some are inerrant and off limits’.

I would really like to spend some time looking at Celsus in the dissertation – he’s a Greek philosopher that wrote the earliest anti-Christian polemic still existent. No copies exist, but we have most of the text because Origen, one of Chrisitianity’s more colorful early figures, generously cited him in a lengthy rebuttal. It’s a great case for citation – it saved a entire work that the church very likely destroyed all known copies of.

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