Robert Turkel and His “Commentators of All Stripes”

by Farrell Till (format editing by Joseph Joson)

In the first Farrell Till / Robert Turkel Debate, accessible here, Turkel had tried to defend his position by quoting from commentaries that agreed with his stance. In the debate he had stated, “We point out that our solution from Hosea is reckoned by ‘commentators of all stripes.’” The reference to “we” and “our,” of course, only meant Turkel. His mention of “commentators of all stripes” was meant to impress his readership that he had actually consulted a number of differing commentaries and they all remarkably agreed with his point of view. In fact, in the debate, he stated, “my ‘commentators’ run the spectrum from conservative to moderate to liberal.” In the following article, published after the debate only on the newgroup (in November of 1998) and unseen by many, Farrell Till takes a look at these “commentators of all stripes” to see just how far up and down the theological spectrum they actually ran.


I have not edited Till’s material so you will see reference to his previous unsuccessful attempts to get Turkel to come and debate him in an open forum which only recently came to pass. You will also notice that halfway through the article, Till repeats himself as if recapping what he had said previously. This is because in the original format, his responses came in two different posts that were not connected as they are here. I try to maintain that sense of posting by placing a bar between the first portion Till had written and the second installment. From this, you will note that my only involvement with this article is the formatting I gave it for presentation here.    





In his "rebuttal" of the apparent discrepancy in 2 Kings 10:30 and Hosea 1:4 concerning Jehu's massacre at Jezreel, Robert Turkel, who writes under the pseudonym "James Patrick Holding," argued that credence should be given to his resolution of the problem, because it represented the thinking of "commentators of all stripes."  In other words, he was claiming that his resolution represented the views of "commentators" who were liberal and moderate as well as conservative. I replied to this argument in my 28-part response, so there is no need to show again that this argument proves nothing for the simple reason that there are many biblical views that are shared by liberal, moderate, and conservative Christians.  That the Bible contains errors, for example, is an opinion that is shared by many liberal and moderate Christians, as well as even some conservatives, but I'm sure that Turkel would not see this as a reason to change his belief in biblical inerrancy. 


To see just how accurate Turkel's claim is that his view of Hosea 1:4 represents the theological opinion of "commentators of all stripes," I have been tracking down the sources that he cited in the article I replied to, and so I will be taking these sources one at a time to see just what kind of "stripes" they are. Turkel relied heavily on the opinion of Thomas Edward McComiskey as presented in two works: (1) The Minor Prophets, vol. 1, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1992, and (2) "Prophetic Irony in Hosea 1.4: A Study of the Collocation [PQD AL] and Its Implications for the Fall of Jehu's Dynasty," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 58, 1993, pp. 93-101.


I call attention first to the fact that McComiskey's commentary was published by Baker Book House of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and, needless to say, this is not a publisher who is noted for objective biblical scholarship. All that one needs to do to check me on this is visit several "Christian" book stores and examine the materials on their shelves.  Besides being generally trite, much of it is published by the evangelical and fundamentalist publishing companies in Grand Rapids.  This, of course, is not intended to mean that McComiskey's view must be considered wrong by virtue of what company published it, but it does give reason to suspect that the scholarship represented in it may not be objectively impartial or as profound as Turkel would have us think.  Just as one would hardly expect to find objective scholarship in The National Enquirer or the NRA Journal, so one would expect that in all probability evangelical or fundamentalist views of the Bible will be found in materials published in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  An inerrantist position on the Bible would be one of those views.


I would like to comment here before Till’s article continues. In the time since this examination of Turkel’s sources was published, Turkel has written that this line of argument is fallacious. He claims that simply because an author is published by a certain publishing house, that should not affect his scholarship. While true, I wonder how he would feel if a skeptic quoted in refutation of his material authors published by Prometheus or Shambala? And does he really think that his own self-financed venture –Tektonic Plates—is an unbiased source for material related to biblical inerrancy? I thought not. – J.J.


An examination of McComiskey's commentary increases suspicion that this just may not be an objective biblical reference work, because it turns out that McComiskey is a "professor of Old Testament Exegesis and Biblical Theology" at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.  For those who may not know, this is the same "divinity school" where Gleason Archer teaches. Archer, as many reading this will recognize, is probably the chief guru of biblical inerrancy, and is known primarily for his book Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, a work that is heavily relied on by biblical fundamentalists looking for "solutions" to Bible discrepancies.  In the introduction to this work, Archer gave the following advice to his readers who encounter problem passages in the Bible:


Be fully persuaded in your own mind that an adequate explanation exists, even though you have not yet found it.


In other words, Archer's advice to his readers is that they approach the Bible with the assumption that it is inerrant, and even when they can see no explanation to an apparent discrepancy, they should still assume inerrancy. Now it may be that McComiskey does not share Archer's view of the Bible, but I suspect that he does, because it would be unlikely that he would be on the staff of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School unless he did accept the premise of biblical inerrancy.  In examining his commentary, I saw no suggestion at all that he is not a biblical inerrantist. Indeed, everything seemed to be written on the premise that he was commenting on a book that contained God's dealings with his chosen people.


At this stage of my investigation into Turkel's "commentators of all stripes," it appears very likely that he used only two or three primary sources, even though his endnotes contained 17 listings.  Although I won't know until I have been able to look through all of the books that Turkel cited, I suspect that he pulled a ploy that was very familiar to me from my days of teaching college writing.  It was quite common for students to find two or three primary references that contained within them quotations or references to other works and then try to present the secondary references as works that they had consulted in researching their papers. In such cases, a bibliography of 20 entries may represent only two or three books that were consulted during "research."  McComiskey, for example, referred to the opinions of Francis Andersen and David Noel Freedman, and so in Turkel's "rebuttal" of my article, he mentioned the same opinions of Andersen and Freedman that McComiskey had cited, and then Andersen and Freedman were listed in Turkel's endnotes.  McComiskey cited these two, along with James Luther Mays, Hans Walter Wolff, and Leon K. Wood, as "modern commentators" who have views on Hosea 1:4 that were different from his, and this was done in a short paragraph of only eight lines.  All of these names, however, turned up in Turkel's endnotes as works that he had consulted. Did Turkel actually consult all of these works, or did he just kill six birds with one stone by consulting McComiskey's commentary and then listing McComiskey's five secondary sources as works that he had also consulted?  He may have consulted them all, but I will be better able to make a judgment about this after I have seen all of their works too.  For now, it seems at least possible that these six listings represent only one source that Turkel actually consulted in the writing of his article.  At any rate, it was misleading of Turkel to claim that his view of Hosea 1:4 represented the opinion of "commentators of all stripes," because of the six listed above, only McComiskey agreed with Turkel (or to be more accurate, only Turkel agreed with McComiskey). McComiskey specifically cited Andersen, Freedman, Mays, Wolff, and Wood as "modern commentators" with views that disagreed with his, so that would hardly constitute a consensus of "commentators of all stripes."  In McComiskey's article in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, McComiskey even noted that Andersen and Freedman said on page 175 of their commentary that "(c)learly [pqd dam 'al] means to punish the house of Jehu for murder," so certainly the "stripes" of these two commentators can't be considered in agreement with Turkel's (McComiskey's) spin on Hosea 1:4. At this point, it is obvious that the view of Hosea 1:4 that Turkel presented in his article was the opinion of only one commentator of a very inerrantist stripe, and that was Thomas Edward McComiskey.  On the matter of what "paqad" meant in Hebrew, Turkel simply parroted McComiskey's view back to his readers, and praised himself for in-depth scholarship.


As I continue to receive the books that Turkel cited, I will post further evaluations of his "commentators of all stripes."  In doing so, I intend to keep readers reminded of a gross inconsistency in Turkel's view on the value of quoting commentators.  In his article that I answered, he repeatedly paraded before his readers that his view represented the thinking of "commentators of all stripes," and so that somehow gave more credibility to his view.  On another internet list, however, Turkel completely ridiculed the notion that quoting sources gives support to one's views.  An inerrantist member of my Errancy list founded a list of his own, which he called CCBE (Christians Combating Biblical Errancy), for the avowed purpose of forming a closed forum where biblical inerrantists could consider in secrecy the arguments of Dennis McKinsey and me and then post collective replies.  The list was closed to all who did not profess to be Christians, and the owner of the list became very upset when some of his members forwarded to me some materials that had been posted on CCBE. It so happened that one of the postings forwarded to me had been submitted by Turkel.


The issue concerned the claim in Exodus that after Aaron and Moses had changed all of the water throughout all the land of Egypt into blood, pharaoh's magicians did "so" or "in like manner" with their enchantments. Inerrantists were asked to explain how that the magicians could have changed all of the water in Egypt into blood after Aaron and Moses had already changed all of the water in Egypt into blood.  The collective response of the CCBE was that "all didn't mean all" and that the magicians had dug along the bank of the Nile, found water, filled some pots, and changed this into blood.  This quibble was based on the claim in Exodus 7:24 that the Egyptians did dig along the river for water TO DRINK, and so the CCBE reasoned that this was how the magicians obtained water with which to do "likewise with their enchantments."


In responding to this "rebuttal," I noted that the text refers to digging for water TO DRINK after it says that he magicians had done likewise with their enchantments, and I also quoted Philo Judaeus, a first-century contemporary of Jesus, who claimed that "every particle of water in Egypt" had been changed into blood and that when the Egyptians tried to dig for water, they found that it too was blood.  This was where Turkel came to the rescue of the struggling CCBE members with the following statement:


That's nice, but Philo is simply reading into the text what is not there. So if I find a Jewish commentator of equal worth that says the opposite, is it a draw? If I find two, do I win? Remember that Philo is trying to promote Moses and Aaron here and would maximize their feat to the greatest extent possible.


Here Turkel took the position that quoting commentators proves nothing, so if I applied his line of reasoning to his reliance on the opinion of McComiskey concerning the meaning of "paqad" in Hosea 1:4, all I would have to do is quote another commentator who disagreed with McComiskey, and then we would have a draw rather than the overwhelming victory that Turkel claimed throughout his article on the grounds that his view represented "commentators of all stripes."  To find a commentator whom I could quote would be simple, because McComiskey did that himself in noting that Andersen and Freedman say that Hosea 1:4 clearly meant that the house of Jehu would be punished for murder.  However, since Andersen and Freedman would be two commentators, that means that by Turkel's own logic, I win two to one. Furthermore, since McComiskey identified three other commentators (Mays, Wolff, and Wood) who have different views, then it becomes five commentators against one, so I really have won (according to Turkel's logic).


Anyway, more will follow as I find the works that Turkel cited and examine them to determine what "stripes" they wear on the inerrancy issue.  The next one I expect to receive is Douglas Stuart's commentary on Hosea and Jonah. I noticed in Turkel's endnotes that it was printed by "Word" publishers in Waco, Texas, so I'm betting in advance that this will turn out to be another fundamentalist publishing company.  We'll just have to wait to see.


I will remind readers too that I have challenged Turkel to debate this issue on an open internet forum that will allow readers to see EVERYTHING that both of us post on the subject.  This would eliminate "selective quoting" of an opponent as Turkel has done in his articles that purported to be "replies" to my materials.  When readers see EVERYTHING that both sides have to say, they can better evaluate the respective positions. Turkel has declined this challenge.



In his web-page article written in response to my claim of discrepancy in the views of the writer of 2 Kings (10:30) and Hosea (1:4) concerning Jehu's massacre at Jezreel, Robert Turkel (aka James Patrick Holding) presented a labored interpretation of Hosea 1:4 and contended that it was a much more likely meaning of the verse because it was a view that was held by "commentators of all stripes." After I had completed a series of 28 rebuttals of Turkel's article, I undertook an investigation of the theological leanings of his commentators of all stripes. In my first posting on this subject, I examined the religious views of Thomas McComiskey on whose definition of the Hebrew word "paqad" Turkel had relied more heavily than any other of his commentators.  My investigation determined that McComiskey is a professor of Old Testament Exegesis and Biblical Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, the same institution where Gleason Archer, the chief guru of biblical inerrantists also teaches, and that McComiskey's commentary on Hosea was published by an evangelical publishing company in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I found that in his commentary, McComiskey quoted five other commentators, Francis Andersen, David Freedmen, James Luther Mays, Hans Walter Wolff, and Leon Wood, all of whom Turkel had listed as "sources" in his endnotes, but that McComiskey in quoting them had indicated that they thought that "paqad" connoted the idea of punishment, which was the very view that McComiskey (and Turkel) opposed. Thus, it turned out that of these six "commentators of all stripes" only one of them (McComiskey) thought that Hosea 1:4 did not mean that Yahweh was pronouncing punishment or vengeance on the house of Jehu, and he was obviously a commentator with a strong evangelical/fundamentalist background. That, of course, does not automatically make his opinion incorrect, but it does cast suspicion on Turkel's claim that his view of Hosea 1:4 is a view held by "commentators of all stripes."


In addition to McComiskey, Turkel quoted at length Douglas Stuart on the meaning of "paqad" in Hosea 1:4, so I turned next to investigating Stuart's theological leanings.  From his commentary, World Biblical Commentary: Hosea-Jonah, volume 31, I learned that Douglas Stuart received his Ph. D. from Harvard University and is a professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  The World Biblical Commentary series was published by "Word Publishers" in Waco, Texas.  The publisher's very name implies a belief in the fundamentalist view of the Bible, but if there is any doubt about whether this is a fair conclusion, the "Editorial Preface" removed it.  Speaking about their purpose in publishing the World Biblical Commentary, the editors said, "First, we have tried to cast a wide net to include as contributors a number of scholars from around the world who not only share our aims, but are in the main engaged in the ministry of teaching in university, college, and seminary.  They represent a rich diversity of denominational allegiance. The broad stance of our contributors can rightly be called evangelical, and this term is to be understood in its positive, historic sense of a commitment to scripture as divine revelation, and to the truth and power of the Christian gospel" (second paragraph in the Editorial Preface).  In other words, the editors of the World Biblical Commentary volumes frankly admitted that they had selected writers who had a preconceived notion that the Bible is a divine revelation.


In the "Author's Preface," Stuart himself implied the same bias: "I have kept in mind that preachers are the single biggest group of commentary buyers and users, and that they are best served by commentaries that emphasize lasting theological concerns in proper balance with people's immediate, practical, personal or corporate questions."  Prior to this, he had said that "the only firm justification" for the existence of a commentary is that it must "constantly and carefully help its readers know what God has said and what they are supposed to do about it."  Hence, it is evident from Stuart's own words that he is a believer in the traditional view that what the Bible says is in reality "what God has said," and he made it his aim to write a commentary that would simultaneously reflect this view and appeal to preachers, who are the biggest users of commentaries.  So much for the objectivity of this author.


In his preface, Stuart informed readers that he would not follow in this commentary the usual practice of "giv[ing] ample space to summaries of the views of other major commentaries," because "such dialogue is terribly difficult to carry on fairly and consistently without short-changing others' arguments."  Hence, he warned that he had "consciously restricted [his] summaries of other commentators' views" so that he could "maximize productive use of the space allotted to [him] by dwelling directly on explaining for the reader what [he] think[s] the biblical text is saying." In reading the commentary, one will find that this was indeed the case. He rarely quoted other commentators, although I couldn't help noticing that he would sometimes follow very closely the content found in Hans Walter Wolff's commentary on Hosea.  Wolff, by the way, was one of the commentators of "many stripes" that Turkel referred to in his article, and Wolff was also cited by McComiskey in his commentary on Hosea.  As noted above, however, McComiskey referred to Wolff as a scholar who thought that Hosea 1:4 meant that the house of Jehu would be punished for the blood that Jehu had shed at Jezreel. In looking through Stuart's commentary, I didn't see any quotations from Wolff; however, Stuart did say in his preface that he was indebted to the "work of Mays, as well as that of Wolff, Freedman, and Andersen," all of whom were writers that both McComiskey and Turkel cited.


Since Stuart paid special tribute to Wolff and since McComiskey quoted him as a scholar whose opinion was worthy of consideration, let's see what Wolff said about Hosea 1:4.  In Hosea, by Hans Walter Wolff, translated by Gary Stansell, Fortress Press, pp. 17-18, Wolff said the following, which I am quoting at length so that I can't be accused of quoting him out of context.


        "In this verse the narrative makes its first main point.  In the preceding verses, only passing reference is made to biographical details. But now, as though it were the intention from the outset, the narrative enlarges upon the naming of the first child.  This took place immediately after his birth.  'Call his name [Jezreel].'  Although the mother usually gives the child its name, here the father does this at God's command.  The unusual name 'Jezreel,' otherwise used for a place or region, must have caused lively public discussion.  With such a provocative riddle Hosea's prophet ministry began, which was in the year 750 at the latest.  It is not surprising that the misgivings elicited by the growing boy named Jezreel later on evoked new responses from Hosea regarding the meaning of the name. According to the narrator, Yahweh's commission to name the child included at the same time the name's first interpretation (v 4b).  Since the name Jezreel, which is used as a catch word in Hosea's preaching, is inseparably linked with a person, the shadow of the incarnatio verbi is projected into the future: umbra futurorum.


        "'In a short time,' emphasized by its position in the sentence, sets a time limit for the fulfillment of judgment.  The prophetic word assaults the 'now' of its hearers.  There are, at least four years left before Jehu's dynasty comes to an end.  'To punish' is the meaning of PQD in this context, as the parallel 'punish' // 'put an end to' indicates and G[reek] confirms [ekdikseso 'avenge').  It is close in meaning to the word 'to revenge' [GPM], which G[reek] translates by the same word.


        "What act of punishment is meant by the words 'blood of Jezreel'? The name Jezreel, 'God sows,' denotes primarily the fruitful plain between the highlands of Samaria and Galilee.  The ancient city of the same name, known today as Zer'in, is situated on the highland's eastern border at the entrance of the broad valley of the Nahar Jalud leading to the Jordan. There the dynasty of Omri established a second capital, probably intended especially for the governing of the tribes of Israel, in the same way Samaria primarily governed the Canaanite populace.  Here 'Jezreel' refers to this capital....  'Bloodguilt of Jezreel' does not imply the execution of Naboth (1 Kings 21), since for that the Omrides were responsible (2 Kings 9:7).  It refers to the bloodthirsty extermination of the house of Omri in 845-4 by Jehu, one of the military officers.  Many of the members of the royal families met their death including Joram, the dynasty's last representative (2 Kings 9:24), old, guiltladen Queen Jezebel (v 33), and King Ahaziah of Judah (v 27).  Is Jehu merely accused here of doing more than he had been commanded?  Or is his dynasty's reign principally accused of illegitimacy, as that of his successors was?  Did Hosea know of the prophetic designation of Jehu (2 Kings 9:1ff) and his 'zeal' for Yahweh (2 Kings 10:16)?  With respect to these questions, only two things seem at once to be clear: (1) The bloodguilt resulting from this political struggle for power provokes Yahweh's judgment; (2) according to v 4, Hosea assesses Jehu's revolution *otherwise than did the prophetic circles gathered around Elijah and Elisha* (2 Kings 10:30)".


Wolff tried to minimize the obvious problem that his conclusion poses to the traditional view that the books of the Bible were "inspired of God," for he went on to say that "(w)e probably should not conclude, however, that this represents a conscious opposition to them [the prophetic circles gathered around Elijah and Elisha]."  He explained that this was probably what happened because "(i)n Hosea's earliest period, there was yet no connection with the prophetic traditions of the ninth century."  In other words, Wolff seemed to be saying that Hosea was clearly in disagreement with the assessment of Jehu's actions in 2 Kings 10:30, but he should not be faulted for this because he didn't know that "the prophetic circles gathered around Elijah and Elisha" had approved of Jehu's massacre at Jezreel.  I find Wolff's belief that Hosea was unaware of the praise that prophets had earlier heaped on Jehu to be very likely, because more than a century separated Jehu and Hosea, and the distribution of writings in that period was certainly not what it is today, not even to mention that 2 Kings was written well after the time of Hosea.  Hence, it is very likely that Hosea didn't know that another biblical writer would later indicate that earlier prophets had approved of Jehu's massacre, but that is really beside the point.  McDowell's claim in ETDAV was that the Bible is unique in that it is perfectly harmonious in its themes, but this is patently not so. Wolff, one of Turkel's "commentators of all stripes," has clearly expressed his view that prophetic circles before Hosea had assessed Jehu's actions entirely differently from Hosea's opinion of them.  That hardly constitutes perfect harmony, and it certainly shows that Turkel was very deceptive in trying to make his readers think that all of the commentators that he mentioned in his article agreed that there is no conflict between 2 Kings 10:30 and Hosea 1:4. This was obviously not so.


SUMMARY: So far, I have found in checking Turkel's sources that of the seven I have checked so far, only two of them thought that Hosea 1:4 was not pronouncing judgment on the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel.  The other five thought that the prophet's intention was to say that the house of Jehu would be punished and brought to an end because of the blood that its founder had shed at Jezreel. Thus, it is appropriate for me to remind readers again of what Turkel said on a secretive Christian list about my reference to what Philo Judaeus had said about the first Egyptian plague. (For the background of this quotation from an internet posting by Turkel, readers should check my first posting entitled "Commentators of All Stripes.")


That's nice, but Philo is simply reading into the text what is not there. So if I find a Jewish commentator of equal worth that says the opposite, is it a draw? If I find two, do I win? Remember that Philo is trying to promote Moses and Aaron here and would maximize their feat to the greatest extent possible.


So once again we find Turkel speaking out of both sides of his mouth.  When he quotes writers, he thinks that this should carry weight, but if an opponent quotes writers who disagree with his view, Turkel claims that it doesn't prove anything.  Furthermore, I have taken his own sources and shown that they disagree with him 5 to 2 on the meaning of Hosea 1:4.  Thus, by his own logic, I have "won" by showing that of his own "scholars" more of them disagree than agree with him.  This is in addition to the fact that Turkel misled his readers by leaving the impression that he was quoting "commentators of all stripes" who thought that Hosea 1:4 did not pronounce vengeance or judgment on the house of Jehu.  An examination of his sources shows that this was not true.


I will remind readers that I have proposed to Turkel that the two of us engage in an on-line written point-by-point debate that will allow readers on both sides of this controversy to see EVERYTHING that both of us post. I'm confident enough in my position and my ability to sustain it to make this proposal, but Turkel refuses to accept the challenge.