April DeConick on Paradidomi

April DeConick writes a brief post on the New Testament’s usage of παραδιδωμι and how scholars should translate it according to context. This is a great little reminder. However, what most interests me is an aside in her post –

I want to say up front that my reading of Judas and this verb has nothing whatsoever to do with the angst between so-called liberal and conservative scholars. In fact, I resent this sort of labeling because it is nothing more than theology rearing its head in the academy. Scholars aren’t “liberal” or “conservative”. In our field, whether a scholar is “liberal” or “conservative” is not an academic designation, but a theological designation (is the person in favor of progressive, evangelical, fundamentalist, etc. Christianity).

When I read internet perspectives on my work, particularly my views on the Gospel of Judas, I am stunned how often I am labeled a conservative, when all I am is a historian doing her job recovering the best history possible given the sources with no apology for Christianity. My views on the Gospel of Judas are actually “liberal” by strict definition, since they go completely against the status quo and the established tradition that scholars have held for hundreds of years – that Judas in the Gospel of Judas should be a Gnostic and a hero. He is not.

I’ve written before on the use of “labels” and how they can hinder academic discourse. When people call DeConick “conservative”, I have to scratch my head. How is going against the mainline arguments provided by scholars in any way “conservative”? My guess: people use labels to avoid dealing with real arguments. If you can’t address someone’s argument, just call them a name. I’ve seen too many arguments dismissed by the wave of a hand and a label. It’s nonsense.

Of course I’m not advocating some kind of weird philosophy where no descriptive terms are to be used. If a label somehow helps to summarize a particular belief accurately, I’m all for it. But, if the label is used to be the means by which one dismisses an argument, I’m totally against it.

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