THE REAL MESSIAH BLOG: Steve Mason's response (part 3)

Steve Mason's response (part 3)

Dear Dr. Boid:

I know Birger G's work quite well, and everything that you say about rabbinic lit. is worth a hearing. But there are also many complicating factors. I have studied in Israel, and studied rabbinic lit with several competent people there and here. It's not my main thing, but it is important for a historian of the period. But all that is beside the point -- of this circumstance, this context. I have been asked to respond critically to someone else's work. All he has given so far are some very specific, particular suggestions. I have pointed out the problems with those suggestions. Zehu.

If one is going to make an argument about a particular rabbinic tradition, fine: argue it. Argue it, fully, in the scholarly way. But it will need to take into respectful account all of the work done by other rabbinic scholars, whether one agrees with their conclusions or not. I am not making any arguments, again. I am responding to things that you and Stephan have put forward, trying to understand them and their logics (you declined to indicate which rabbinic passage you had in mind, so how in the world did you expect me to know what you were thinking of?).

The basic point remains the very one at which we started. None of Stephan's work will find a place in historical scholarship until he makes a historical argument: a full and complete one. He can use as much rabbinic lit. as he wants to use. That's all fine. Why should I care? It's his argument. But he will need to argue his hypothesis for all the evidence concerning Agrippa, and show why it explains all of the evidence better than any other hypothesis. There is no point in getting into abstract discussions of halakhic midrashim, or getting perturbed about it. It's all irrelevant. I have not made any sort of case about anything in this discussion, because that is not my role. I have been asked to respond to others' arguments, and in doing so I have (a) sought greater clarity about what they mean (though the responsibility lies with the advocate, not with me), (b) pointed out where I see the problems in what has been said -- whether those points could conceivably be better argued is not my concern; I respond to what has been argued -- and (c) relentlessly pointing out that arguing for one Agrippa will be a very large and complex undertaking. As I said to Stephan at the beginning, there are no shortcuts. If he wants sometime to come back with a full historical argument for Agrippa singular, explaining all the material and literary evidence, against all other historical hypotheses, then I would be willing to , have a look -- if he is looking for critical engagement.

I am not making any case about anything (here), but only responding to cases made by others, out of sheer politeness and good will. I have my own things to publish, doctoral students to supervise, exams to administer, and heaven knows what. Since I am not trying to prove anything, I accept no burden of proof -- about some general theory of the accuracy of halakhic midrashim for pre-70 realia or about anything else. Let the one who wishes to make a case make the case (for Agrippa). Then we would have something to talk about. Detouring into what I myself would argue about all these matters is not relevant, and I lack the time or interest to research and write essays on all these subjects.

Best wishes,

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