Sunday, May 14, 2017

The delusions of biblical scholars

At First Things Matthew Walther, reviewing a recent book, writes about "The Last Great Homilist," Ronald Knox (1888-1957). Knox, Walther writes, was the "author of essays, parodies, apologetics, criticism, light verse, and memoirs; scholar and author of detective fiction; ecclesiastical historian; translator; and homilist of genius.":
Ronald Knox
.... All the while he scribbled away, writing detective novels (largely to support the Oxford chaplaincy), essays, pamphlets, articles, translations of spiritual classics...catechetical material, and much else. He scripted a radio program about a communist invasion of Britain, which, much like the famous Orson Welles broadcast that it inspired, led to panic among unsuspecting listeners. He invented and, with the help of Dorothy Sayers and others, refined the so-called “Sherlockian Game,” a parody of the higher criticism in which the Historical Holmes, obscured by the errors and interpolations of Watson and his lying followers, is revealed....

Such teasing was more than a parlor game; it was the only polite way in which a sensibility such as Knox’s could have engaged with the delusions of positivist biblical scholars. ....
Knox, along with Chesterton, Sayers, Christie, and others, was a member of the Detection Club (and author of its Ten Commandments). As indicated above, Ronald Knox and Dorothy L. Sayers also initiated studies of the Sherlock Holmes stories (referred to as the "canon") satirizing the methodologies used by the "Higher Critics" of scripture. Excerpts from Knox's "Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes" (pdf):
IF there is anything pleasant in life, it is doing what we aren't meant to do. If there is anything pleasant in criticism, it is finding out what we aren't meant to find out. It is the method by which we treat as significant what the author did not mean to be significant, by which we single out as essential what the author regarded as incidental. Thus, if one brings out a book on turnips, the modern scholar tries to discover from it whether the author was on good terms with his wife; if a poet writes on buttercups, every word he says may be used as evidence against him at an inquest of his views on a future existence. On this fascinating principle we delight to extort economic evidence from Aristophanes, because Aristophanes knew nothing of economics; we try to extract cryptograms from Shakespeare, because we are inwardly certain that Shakespeare never put them there; we sift and winnow the Gospel of S. Luke, in order to produce a Synoptic problem, because S. Luke, poor man, never knew the Synoptic problem to exist. ....
.... Any studies in Sherlock Holmes must be, first and foremost, studies in Dr. Watson. Let us treat at once of the literary and bibliographical aspect of the question. First, as to authenticity. There are several grave inconsistencies in the Holmes cycle. For example, The Study in Scarlet and The Reminiscences are from the hand of John H. Watson, M.D., but in the story of The Man with the Twisted Lip, Mrs. Watson addresses her husband as James. " Nihil aliud hiclatet," says, the great Sauwosch, "nisi redactor ignorantissimus." Yet this error gave the original impetus to Backnecke's theory of the deutero-Watson, to whom he assigns The Study in Scarlet, The Gloria Scott, and The Return of Sherlock Holmes. He leaves to the proto-Watson the rest of the Memoirs, the Adventures, The Sign of Four, and The Hound of the Baskervilles. He disputed The Study in Scarlet on other grounds, the statement in it for example that Holmes's knowledge of literature and philosophy was nil, whereas it is clear that the true Holmes was a man of wide reading and deep thought. We shall deal with this in its proper place. The Gloria Scott is condemned by Backnecke partly on the ground of the statement that Holmes was only up for two years at College, while he speaks in The Musgrave Ritual of  "my last years" at the University, which Backnecke supposes prove that the two stories do not come from the same hand.
Moriarty
The Gloria Scott further represents Percy Trevor's bulldog as having bitten Holmes on his way down to Chapel, which is clearly untrue, since dogs are not allowed within the gates at either University. ....
.... In The Final Problem, the police secure "the whole gang with the exception of Moriarty." In The Story of the Empty House we hear that they failed to, incriminate Colonel Moran. Professor Moriarty, in The Return, is called Professor James Moriarty, whereas we know from The Final Problem that James was really the name of his military brother, who survived him.... And, worst of all, the dummy in the Baker Street window is draped in the old mouse-coloured dressing-gown! As if we had forgotten that it was in a blue dressing-gown that Holmes smoked an ounce of shag tobacco at a sitting, while he unraveled the dark complication of The Man with the Twisted Lip! ....
Applying similar methods Rex Stout wondered whether "Watson was a Woman?" (pdf). (And in television's Elementary he/she is.)