I am nearing the end of the literature review section of my article on the Structure of Amos. There is nothing like such an exercise to encourage one to examine the nature and worth of scholarly publication.
As an undergraduate student, newly converted to a quasi-literary or historical discipline (Biblical Studies) from the rather different disciplines of Psychology, I eagerly explored the arcane works to be found in the Theology Library (then just across the road in Pusey House), sometimes when unusually excited by an idea I even supplemented them with the wonders available in the Bodleian (a little further away but still a pleasant stroll).
[One of the major delights of study at Oxbridge, in addition to the marvelous erudition of one’s fellow students, and entertaining excentricity of one’s teachers, and even sometimes the reverse, is the freedom from the lecture courses that lesser institutions inflict on unwary students. This freedom allows the exploration in depth of ideas that catch one’s interest :)]
Regularly in such exploratory missions, endeavouring to map this new (to me) terrain of biblical studies, I wondered at the capacity of any collection of renowned scholars whose books and articles I pulled from the shelves to fail to agree about anything, much.
This capacity had ceased to amaze me, but still amused me, when I wrote a brief review article comparing Hayes little: [amtap book:isbn=0687010403] and Andersen and Freedman’s huge :[amtap book:isbn=0300140703] Amos commentaries. [Incidentally now the relative prices amaze but do not at all amuse me. How can a 250 page paperback cost more than a 1000 page hardback?] Both claimed to present clear evidence allowing the reader to reconstruct, following the tram lines laid down by the omniscient authors, the details of the ministry activity of the prophet Amos some seventeen hundred years earlier. The confidence with which the author of the short book could assert that Amos had enjoyed a very brief but powerful ministry, while the authors of the 1000 page tome assured us that his ministry was long and complex, was dazzling ;)
In those days my own “publications record” had no effect whatever on my employer’s income, and little on anything else. Since then the NZ government has introduced a clever scheme to get more accountability for all the pennies they rather stintingly dole out for higher education: the successive Performance Based Research Funding exercises. Since this generosity extends to private as well as public institutions, provided only they can demonstrate that they conform to the goals the government sets, have good retention and pass rates, get most of their graduates into employment etc… I get “assessed” by these exercises. We do not know the marking schedule, have no idea of the details of the criteria by which each of us will be judged and found wanting, but we are fairly sure articles in International Journals count quite a bit. Wouldn’t you find something with which you could plausibly disagree given such motivation?
But wouldn’t it be so much better for the world if scholarship (at least in the humanities, where research does not mean killing animals or smashing atoms, or anything else that is quantifiable, or will lead to a clear and evident improvement in human economies) were measured and rewarded by some more meaningful criteria?