Re: In the interest of more open discussion

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Sep 02 1998 - 06:48:13 EDT

I'm sorry that the need to clarify our intent occasions citation of the
full correspondence, yet I'm hopeful that this response MAY be helpful!

At 12:23 AM -0500 9/02/98, wrote:
>Dear Carl and Edward:
>Thank you for the recent post in support of open discussion. I do have a
>couple comments, however.
><< Dear B-Greekers,
> Since B-Greek is meant to be a forum for discussion, not for debate, we
> would like those with helpful experience in apologetics to assist our efforts
> to foster open discussion. Our concern arises from observation in posts of
> recent weeks of several tendencies that appear inimical to open discussion.
> Some individuals appear to enter into our discussions primarily when the
> Greek texts under discussion impinge on particular issues, whether purely
> theological or more broadly social and ethical--or even purely grammatical.
> It appears that such individuals have fully resolved their own minds on
> these issues, have perhaps even published their views in extensive
> apologetic monographs, and are more concerned to enlighten the rest of us
> by citing their own published work than to engage in an exchange of
> perspectives. >>
>I can appreciate the position you are in, and I recognize b-Greek for what it
>is: a forum for open discussion of Greek texts that is meant to enlighten list
>participants. Regarding the above paragraph, I am a bit confused: Is there
>something wrong with selectively participating on this list? What I mean is,
>many of us enjoy reading the posts, but we are too busy with other, related
>pursuits to contribute on every topic. Still, when a topic close to our
>heart/profession comes up, then those interested are likely to spend time
>interacting with the topic.

No: certainly there is nothing wrong with selective participation in list
discussions: we ALL do it (some of us are more selective than others, of
course!). And we are absolutely delighted when a LURKER decides to
contribute something to a discussion.

>So, for example, Bart Ehrman might, for obvious reasons, be more likely to
>contribute to a topic regarding NT textual criticism. Michael Palmer might be
>more inclined to participate in a thread on word-level categories, and so
>forth. I am sure these and other list participants have their own views in
>their respective areas of expertise, but the line I think you are drawing has
>to do with tolerance, and the need to discuss the issues with facts and not
>with a zealous predisposition, only. In this, I agree with what you say.

My dear sir, you understand our point and the line we intend to draw precisely!
Let me, however, dot some I's and cross some T's. When a text-critical
issue arises, we are pleased as punch to hear from Bart Ehrman a helpful
comment. On linguistic issues, we are equally pleased to have input from
Micheal Palmer, Mari Olsen, Rod Decker, Rolf Furuli, A.K.M. Adam (I don't
really mean to omit anyone, but I may be doing so inadvertently)--and I
won't hesitate to acknowledge that you yourself have illuminated some
issues that some of us (myself included) have tended to view from too
narrow a viewpoint. But yes: tolerance is what we're looking for, but not
just a dogmatist's tolerance of the ignorance of others so much as a mind
open to the possibility of learning something new from others.

><<It would be helpful--and might also save us some bandwidth--if persons
>posting on a topic on which they have published views should state at the
>outset that their views on this topic are settled, that they have published
>on it and indicate the title(s) of such publications and the pages on which
>their definitive account of this topic may be found. >>
>That is a good idea. But just because I or someone else have published books
>on certain topics does not necessarily mean our views are settled. Of course,
>if it is clear, by means of the posts given, that the person's view is
>settled, your suggestion is a very good one, and it will keep persons who have
>little interest in discussing the issues with an open mind from sending post
>after post with their previously stated position being repeated time and time

Again, you understand the point we intend very well, and you rightly note
our intended distinction between a book that a scholar deems to be the
"final word" on any topic and a book that even an acknowledged authority
recognizes is a sort of "progress report" on issues that may as
yet--perhaps beyond his or her own lifetime even--await a final resolution.
This is indeed a matter of attitude; what we hope to find in this forum is
minds that are neither empty of ideas nor closed to the possibility of
enlightenment from others.

><< Sectarian groups (whether recognized as 'orthodox' or not is irrelevant)
> also threaten the free exchange of ideas when they seek to dominate
> discussion of particular NT texts, perhaps because they fear opponents
> will misrepresent what these texts must mean. >>
>I understand your concern, and I share it. But as long as the discussion is
>focused primarily on the grammar of the text in question, those interested in
>the topic should follow the discussion and decide for themselves. Do you

Absolutely. Those who have spoken before on a topic or even a specific text
need not feel barred from further participation. On the other hand, if they
have good reason to believe that their views are already well known to
list-members, it might be sufficient to provide a date and suggest
consultation of the archives rather that re-state yet once more what all
but newcomers might expect them to say.

><<Anyone whose list-tenure
> extends more than a few months knows in advance who will respond to queries
> on particular texts and also knows pretty well also what they will
> say--there is neither danger nor hope of their changing their views. They
> are engaged in apologetics rather than discussion. What's particularly
> unfortunate about this is that unsuspecting newcomers who step into these
> topics often have new and interesting things to say, and there is
> for interesting discussion if we can step back and expose ourselves to
> learning something new instead of choking the discussion with well-rehearsed
> viewpoints. >>
>I wholeheartedly agree with you. And I know you don't consider giving facts
>and information relevant to the subject a rehearsed attempt to choke the
>discussion. Oftentimes newcomers have not been exposed to different
>viewpoints, and those who are familiar with the issues of a particular point
>should be encouraged to share what information they have, and then leave it at

As indicated in my preceding response, this is a judgment call and I think
posters should use some discretion. Surely there ARE some matters that have
been pretty thoroughly discussed, and for those the most helpful advice may
well be to refer inquirers to the right place(s) in the archives, rather
than rehearse yet once again a weary tale. What we are asking for here is
common sense and discretion (are they so rare?): I hope we haven't come to
the point where a newcomer dare not raise a question about John 1:1--but I
would also like to think that those who have said their say about the
question raised might discreetly refer to where in the archives they have
said it rather that repeat it yet again and renew yet again a rehashing of
issues that have been aired pretty thoroughly. As things now stand, I am
inclined to cringe when I see a new inquiry regarding John 1:1--and when it
comes, I start to read the thread, always hopeful that some new light may
conceivably penetrate the obfuscation and glazed eyes, but often find that
after half a dozen posts on the text, I start ignoring the remainder of
what will be contributed to the thread.

I might add here that there has been some discussion among the B-Greek
Staff of the possibility of FAQs on topics such as John 1:1; you may find
it interesting to know that we couldn't resolve to our mutual satisfaction
the tension between the helpfulness of such FAQs and the peril of their
appearing to have any ultimate authority. For that precise reason, the
question of B-Greek FAQs remains in limbo--neither saved nor damned.

><< Please understand that all views are welcome here. But you must all help
> ensure that all views MAY be openly discussed here. Those who seek to
> ensure the domination of one particular viewpoint are not being helpful.
> Any poster whose interpretation of a particular NT Greek text is heavily
> influenced by some particular theological perspective or sectarian doctrine
> might do us all a favor by being up-front about these views rather than by
> pretending that they are disinterested inquirers. Often enough such candor
> may help clarify for others exactly what such a poster has in mind. >>
>This is another good point. I have also noticed several attempts by some to
>initiate threads with questions about a text that they know will involve a
>"debate" of sorts. Some of the questions have been asked by one who
>participates on other boards, and who has clearly already made up his mind
>prior to sending a post to b-Greek, which post made it *sound* like he was in
>fact a "disinterested inquirer."

Yes, that has happened more than once. Our new (Lyris) software, I might
note, does allow us to screen the first two posts from every new subscriber
before they are sent on to the list, and there's been at least one occasion
in the three months since the list has moved to Sunsite when we've
prevented a potentially inflammatory "query" from distribution to the list.

>Anyway, thanks for your comments on this issue, and may the b-Greek list
>continue to be a place where viewpoints of all sorts can be presented,
>considered and openly discussed.

Thank you very much, Greg. This atmosphere will continue to prevail so long
as list participants display intelligence, sensitivity, courtesy, and good
will. We really hate to have to give a nudge to display of such qualities,
but occasionally we must.

Carl W. Conrad
Co-Chair, B-Greek List
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243 OR

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