The Story so Far:
Neil at Vridar published a chapter of Tom Brodie’s book on Jesus which purports to show the many and detailed connections between the Elijah/Elisha narrative in 1 Kings 19, and Jesus’s challenges to his disciples in Luke 9.
James at Exploring our Matrix responded with skepticism.
It’s All Random … Mostly (what a very suitable blog title!) called out James on his use of the world ‘parallelomania’ – suggesting that it is a facile insult, but avoids engagement.
I’ve been musing on this today.
I find it hard to imagine what a constructive engagement with ‘parallelomania’ might look like. One that goes beyond just blank skepticism. Because there are some claims that can only be addressed with skepticism.
Seeing patterns in noise is hard to disprove.
Here’s an extreme example (to illustrate the problem, not to say Tom Brodie’s conclusions are comparable). If someone claims to see Jesus in a tree-stump, how do you have detailed engagement with them on it? They’re just going to head for the detail – “look this particular fleck of pigment looks like a nostril – right?, so clearly this section is a nose.” – “No, its just a coincidence” – “but this wiggle here in the nostril, that’s the columella transit, in the exact correspondence with this fleck here which is the philtrum, what other markings on the three have that exact combination – it can’t be coincidence!”
I’ve had those kinds of conversations with people claiming amazing biblical prophecies, for example. With really specific, odd detail. It is difficult to engage with.
So false positives in patterns can only be really disproved by an overall probabilistic argument, but such arguments can feel week, and they tend to require a huge corpus. Let’s say we were to properly engage with Brodie’s argument – how would it be done? Well, I’d want to find how many other texts, when interpreted at the same level of generosity, would also display the same number of ‘correspondences’. But nobody is suggesting Luke is independent of 1 Kings, so how do we tell the difference between coincidence, allusion, and derivation? Surely not by just counting the hits.
So I have some sympathy for using the term ‘parallelomania’ as a term of skepticism. To say, yes it is fine to find parallels, but as long as you’ve only shown the parallels, you’re relying on a kind of probabilistic innuendo to make your point: you have neither analysed the false positives nor the false negatives.