Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Eric Sharpe's problem with sloppy scholarship

To appreciate the problem Eric Sharpe identified, imagine a well-known theologian publishing a new work on Biblical views of creation in which he provided his own translation of “Genesis 1.1.1” as “This is the story of how the universe was formed. When god began to form the universe the world was void, and vacant, darkness lay over the abyss.”

No doubt reviewers would quickly point out the typographical error in the references because  Genesis 1.1.1 does not exist. The correct reference is Genesis 1.1.

Then, no doubt someone would comment on the peculiarity of this translation. Most translations Genesis 1.1 read something like: “In the beginning God create the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep” (RSV).
In fact, none of the major English translations use the word “abyss” for “deep” nor do any except that of James Moffatt take the liberty of moving Genesis 2.4 to the beginning of Genesis. Yet this where Moffatt places, that is before Genesis 1.1. in his "The Moffatt Translation of the Bible" (1926).

Further suppose that a particularly thorough reviewer was puzzled by this use of Genesis 1.1 with its strange beginning and faulty reference. Therefore, he does a Google search and discovers that in 1920 Moffatt actually published an article on the Biblical meaning of creation that contained both the citation and faulty reference. If upon closer examination he discovered that the preceding and subsequent passages were direct quotes from Moffatt’s article without the required quotation marks. Then he or she might reasonably conclude that the entire passage was plagiarized with the reference acting a signature that proves plagiarism beyond any doubt.

As far as I know Moffatt did not write such an article in 1920 or at any other time. Nor, has some enterprising theologian used such an article in the way described above because if they did the plagiarism would soon be discovered and exposed.
The situation is quite different in many works published by Religious Studies scholars… To be continued …