September 7th, 2012
I love Dr. Robert Gagnon; I truly do. He delights me regularly.
I’ve never encountered someone so convinced of his theological and intellectual superiority, yet transparent in his lack of logic or consistent thought. Watching him jump through hoops to simultaneously believe completely contradictory teachings and seeing the steps he takes to try and support his positions leaves me laughing out loud.
But he’s disappointed me in his public dispute with Jean-Fabrice Nardelli, a classical philologist at l’Université de Provence. In July, we hosted a monograph by Nardelli in which he systematically illustrated that Gagnon’s assertions in his book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, were a bit, ahem, lacking:
The level of naivety, superficiality and incompetence in this section of his book, whether on matters technical 76 or on issues of interpretation 77, puts the other existing accounts of Mesopotamian homosexuality by fellow evangelicals (those in Wold, Out of Order. Homosexuality in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, Grand Rapids, 1998, or Davidson) on a class apart, despite their insufficiencies linguistic and text-critical and their ideological shortcomings. Even if one eschews a comparison between Gagnon’s text and the best short survey at hand 78, his pages have no claim to be called a fair review of the Egyptian, Levantine and Assyro-Babylonian traces of male-male sex and affect 79. Was it really so difficult, for a biblical scholar untrained in the relevant languages but accustomed to juggling with Semitic documents and their huge critical literature, to reap the benefits of the best scholarship in the field and then proceed without compromising the indispensable awareness that even the most reasonable conclusions grounded in solid facts and arrived at by a sturdy-looking network of conjectures might be found, in the end, to be fallacious and not square really well with the evidence 80 ? The unpretending L’homosexualité dans le Proche-Orient ancien et la Bible by T. Römer and L. Bonjour (Geneva, 2005), pp. 13-35, 80-102, shows that it was no superhuman task, simply one which demanded care, modesty, the control of the limits, philological and anthropological, between which the sense is to be fought within the primary documents, and a strong sense of self-effacement. In the place of it, we are dealing with a scholar who holds his farthing candle to the sun, but remains silent whenever a difficulty unmapped in his sources crosses his path.
As has always been his habit, Gagnon responded without hesitation and sought to intimidate his opponent. His rather bizarre choice of attack was to obsess on the numbers of pages of each (a rather revelatory peek into his thinking which certainly helps explain his seemingly-endless ranting diatribes).
Nardelli obsesses on relatively minor points of the book, such as a ridiculous three-and-a-half page critique (pp. 9-12) of a three-sentence observation that I make about the Greek word epithumia (Ἐπιθυμίᾳ), “desire,” and another three pages (pp. 22-24) on a short paragraph in my book on Jesus’ use of the term raka in Matt 5:22 (and otherwise no discussion of a 43-page chapter of Jesus).
Gagnon (who often posts multi-part rebuttals) warned the reader that this was “In process as time and interest permits” and ends his mere 7 pages with “to be continued…”.
But after Nardelli clearly, in a detailed rejoinder, illustrated the extent to which Gagnon was lacking in adequate scholarship to undertake the debate, Gagnon became silent.
As day after day slid by, week after week passed, I marveled. I’ve never seen him hesitate for a moment to whip out 20 or 30 pages in response to the slightest criticism or imagined slight. And here he was allowing Nardelli’s words hold the place of final statement. Totally out of character.
But now it has become clear. Though he hasn’t found time or interest to address the latest round, he has found time and interest to (laughable) reconcile his position that gays are invariable condemned to hell and the doctrine of eternal security (but that’s left to perhaps a separate commentary).
Gagnon has moved on. His “to be continued…” must mean “… at some date so far distant that I hope no one recalls that I’ve been corrected and refuted by one who is better skilled and more principled.”
Gagnon has laid down his arms and retreated to fight on another front. So very sad. I could have used a chuckle.
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Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
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Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"
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