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Aug 03 2012

A Correction and Rebuttal

Two scholars I have criticized lately have responded to my critiques and this fact is important enough for a brief note here. The first is Dr. Ralph Kenna, whom I took to task in various ways in Bad Science Proves Demigods Exist! Though his rebuttal largely skews reality and does not adequately defend the bad science in his paper–as I demonstrate in my response–he rightly criticizes me on two points: my opening line was misleadingly facetious, and I misrepresented one of their arguments.

I apologized and made corrections to the article. Those consisted of one line at the end of the first paragraph, which now reads:

To be fair, they only claim to have evidence “the societies” and “some of the events” in them are true, not the entire stories as wrote. But really they don’t.

And a rewrite of one paragraph later in the article, which now reads (new material in bold):

Certainly Beowulf is based on real historical persons and contexts (Wikipedia has a nice summary), but Beowulf himself is by all accounts a fictional character inserted among them, to play out a supernatural drama that obviously has no basis in history (no monster was terrorizing the lands that required finding a special young warrior named Beowulf to gather a band of men to hunt it down). This is actually admitted by Kenna and Mac Carron, so I should not take them to task for that (as I did in the original draft of this critique). But the general fact of it illustrates that any character could be similarly inserted, possibly thereby undetected. This tale appears to be a Nordic (and possibly Christian-influenced) adaptation of Virgil’s Aeneid. Like the Aeneid, if in Beowulf any ancillary (non-central) character was invented to fill out the story, would Kenna and Mac Carron’s method be able to detect it? I don’t see how. We can only confirm the historicity of its characters by other, more traditional methods; and by that method, we have.

That last sentence not being a correction but just a restatement of my original overall point, transitioning to the next paragraph.

Lester Grabbe likewise responded to my criticism of him in my review of Is This Not the Carpenter?, his chapter being the only one I found so terrible I had to take it substantially to task. His rebuttal was wholly inept, and my response reconfirms that everything I said in this case was correct. No corrections warranted.

6 comments

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  1. 1
    'Tis Himself

    I noticed that Grabbe accused you of chest beating and penis waving when he was the one indulging in that behavior.

  2. 2
    jacobfromlost

    Shouldn’t it be “not the entire stories as written”, rather than “not the entire stories as wrote”?

    Unless I missed something.

    1. 2.1
      Richard Carrier

      It’s an old colloquialism, “take it as wrote” (analogously, “the law as wrote,” “the story as wrote,” etc., meaning the same thing: without challenge).

  3. 3
    David Hillman

    It is by no means a consensus that the characters in Beowulf, apart forom Beowulf himself are based on real people. There was a Hygelac but Gregory of Tours makes him a Dane not a Geat. That the Shieldings and Ynglings really existed is doubtful, since such names for lineages were not used in the north till much later. That some burial mounds in Sweden were later associated with named Yngling kings in the story is no proof. I believe the Shieldings were the great army of vikings from Frisia so named by the Northumbrians, whose clan were backdated in made up stories. There are several plausible origins for the name: see for example Scalding in Alex Woolfe’s From Pictland to Alba. Also Irish names in story were back projections often from the invented genealogies of later kindreds. Much more fiction than allowed in the assumptions of the story, and fewer historical characters than in Shakespeare.

  4. 4
    Stevie Jake

    Still waiting on that reply to Thom Stark…

    1. 4.1
      Richard Carrier

      Already done. The latest revision is the reply. This was announced in my Ehrman recap.

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