I recently had a comment posted to my blog’s About Me page that I think merits a bit of attention. The comment was posted by a Mr. Ralph Ellis, and it reads as follows:
I note you extensively quote from Tom Verenna.
I would not believe a word Verenna says. Verenna makes reviews without reading the book, and writes with an agenda rather than with balance. And then when he is caught out with errors and lies, he hides behind censorship like a little child, and will not debate his mistakes.
Tom Verenna biography:
I very rarely delete comments, and I don’t plan to delete this one, but I’d like to briefly respond to Mr. Ellis’ concerns. First, this is a direct personal attack on Tom that I don’t find particularly informed or accurate. In my dealings with Tom I’ve found him to be a quite balanced and self-aware student of the ancient world. I’m broadly aware of his academic and non-academic background, and I see no reason to judge his contemporary contributions to the academy by a past zealous tendentiousness that he has directly addressed and moved beyond (here).
Second, I am generally well enough informed about the issues on which I comment on this blog to know when someone’s contribution is valid. I don’t need to be told that my endorsements are misguided.
Next, the link in the comment takes one to a website entitled “Thomas Verenna Is A Lying Idiot.” Obviously such an insulting and unprofessional attempt to undermine Tom’s credibility does more to expose Mr. Ellis’ own lack of scruples, but it gets worse. Ellis’ accusations of dishonesty are incredibly ironic in light of his rather transparent habit of posting multiple anonymous and/or sock-puppet comments on his and others’ blogs in an attempt to make it seem like his claims have broad support. This kind of childish and petulant behavior flatly undermines any and all claims on his part to objectivity or scholarly erudition. Mr. Ellis is apparently submitting comments like these all over the internet, and as the link above shows, he’s starting blogs to personally attack Tom.
Finally, in trying to find some kind of academic expression on the part Ellis I came across a series of self-published texts that assert simply impossible connections between Jesus and other historical figures (see a Google Books preview of his most recent one here). Ellis’ flagrant lack academic training and discipline is put on display in his tendentious syntheses of astrology, folk etymology, reductive symbology, and parallelomania. I began to put together a brief response to some of his linguistic claims about Izates and his family, but it appears that’s already been taken care of for me, so I will just defer to other analyses here and here. In sum, the etymological connections he makes are utter nonsense, and he stumbles naively over every inch of the linguistic and historical contexts he tries to navigate. He’s basically squinting at transliterated names until they are similar enough in English for him to just nakedly assert that one is just a poor pronunciation of the other. He has absolutely no evidence whatsoever for these connections beyond his mere assumptions. These wildly speculative links are then used as a foundation for manipulating and altering other historical data until they fit his theoretical presuppositions. Everything is then couched in academic-sounding vernacular, giving it a stale air of erudition and sincerity that would only fool those uncritical enough to ignore the atrocious cover artwork, the shameless self aggrandizing, and the conspiracy-theorist framework (“this book really does overturn all our preconceived ideas about the New Testament and the history it was trying to tell [or sell]”). This qualifies as scholarship only when that word carries the prefix “pseudo.”
As a result, I must condemn Mr. Ellis’ personal attack against Tom Verenna. Not only are such attacks unwarranted by anyone presuming to assert academic respectability, but his criticisms ignore the significant personal paradigm shift to which Tom has attested, and fail to even acknowledge (much less engage) real concerns with the academic value of Ellis’ work.