Letter To
A Young Scholar
July 2006

Philip Gilbert Hamerton left a wonderful guidebook to the Intellectual Life in the form of letters to imaginary correspondents. In that vein, here is a letter written as though to a young PhD candidate who had sent in a draft of an essay for comment.

I am afraid I cannot congratulate you on the essay you have kindly sent. You attempt to make room for a personal theory of the Analects (what that is, I need not here specify) by first dismissing other views of the text. Your sample of competing views is partial (no Japanese scholarship is represented), and your refutations are weak, sometimes nothing more than the citation of a contrary opinion, without attention to the merits of the contrary argument. These questions need more attention.

You are probably right in thinking that our book, The Original Analects, is the ranking opinion which runs counter to your own. To it, you devote more space than to the other options of which you take notice. But every statement made about that book or its conclusions is wrong, and every point you urge in opposition is either weak or irrelevant For example, it is not true that we give precise dates for Analects chapters (all dates are circa), or that we conclude that it accumulated at the rate of one chapter every 12.7 years (this figure was not a conclusion, it was part of an explicitly preliminary assay of the probable nature of the work). Similar misrepresentations abound. Whether this is due to mendacity or to colossal carelessness on your part, you best know. But let me suggest that neither quality will recommend you strongly to the scholarly world at large; the world in which you hope to make a career. Perhaps it is time to reconsider.


The saddest aspect of your essay is that it seems to have been written in complete ignorance of the great tradition of humanistic scholarship which has had its fullest development in the study of the Greek and Hebrew classics. As a primer in that tradition, I might commend John Hawkins' researches as collected in his Horae Synopticae (1899). Hawkins proceeds with the Gospel of Mark as I wish you might have proceeded in approaching the Analects. He inventories the material. He notes the degree of overlap and nonoverlap with the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. He isolates passages in Mark which appear in neither of the other Synoptics, and proceeds to ask, Why not? His answer is that the unique Markan material shows Jesus or his family in a bad light. It includes his two healings through the agency of human spit rather than the Holy Spirit, his occasional expressions of anger or of other merely human emotion, and the awkward moment when his mother and his brothers sought to have him confined as a lunatic. Of these passages, Hawkins concludes that it is far easier to explain their omission in the other Synoptics than their addition in Mark. This amounts to a directionality determination. To it, he adds others, such as Mark's imperfect Greek, which the other Synoptics seem constantly to correct or improve. The weight of this carefully assembled and carefully interpreted evidence goes to suggest that Mark is earlier than the other two Synoptics, and was used by both of them, a conclusion which has never been satisfactorily refuted, and which is thus widely accepted in the scholarly world at this time. You make much of the word "intertextuality" in your essay. The above, may I take the liberty of suggesting, is how one examines an intertextual situation.

The Past

And while you are in that part of the library, perhaps you might find a moment to dip into the masterpiece of Julius Wellhausen, translated in 1885 as Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel. In that work, building on the results of several predecessors, Wellhausen convincingly demonstrates that the books of the Hebrew Bible were built up in layers, and not written as integral texts by the people whose exploits they describe. They are retrospective, and the four major strata show a series of retrospective revisions of history. This is how the grownups operate. I would hope that students of Sinology, which is admittedly a junior discipline in the academy at large, will exert themselves to reach the grownup level as soon as they can. They need to do so, and even more, Sinology as a whole needs them to do so.

Best wishes in doing so,


E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst

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