Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Statement regarding Prof. Jan Joosten

FIrst posted on Facebook, June 23, 2020.
I am appalled and saddened by the recent news about Prof. Jan Joosten and his arrest as a collector of child pornography. Our compassion should be extended, first, to the innocent children exploited to make this filth. I also feel that Jan should be pitied as someone who fell into an addiction which, I do not doubt, he earnestly wants to be liberated from. In his own way, he too has been exploited by the pornographers. Our rage should be expended mainly on the producers and criminals who produce this garbage, and those who profit from it.
The wrong response to Jan's misdeeds – which he will and should pay a steep price for – is to ban, censor, and eliminate Jan's scholarly work. His work as one of the finest Hebraists of our time stands on its own, and is indispensable. I don't see how his crimes are relevant to an assessment of his work, nor do I see, going forward, how we are to manage as a guild if we have to inspect everyone's rap sheet and download history before we engage with their work.
Indeed, I am surprised (sort of) that the academy, so constantly on guard against any hint of encroachment on First Amendment rights, is eager to erase the outstanding work of one of their own for his deplorable consumption of heinous pornography – and yet would never countenance any movement or legislation to remove the scourge of pornography from the Internet. In fact, such a suggestion would no doubt be met with howls of rage from those now calling for Jan's head.
I for one will pray for the children (I am a father and a grandfather), and for Jan and his family. For the pornographers, I wish nothing but ill. As for Jan's scholarly work, I will continue to use it, cite it, and honor it for its excellence.
Comments welcome. Trolls will be deleted.


Joe said...

Dr. Cook, I was searching to find out how scholars are responding to the news of Jan Joosten. I am still in the discernment process on how to approach Joosten's scholarly work in light of the recent events. The article linked below critiques your position. I would be interested to hear your response.


Ed said...

Thanks for the link. My response is that I don't abandon my friends, even when they've done heinous wrong. I don't condone Jan's actions, and his loss of status and employment is richly deserved. But I don't modify my compassion to fit someone else's opinion.

Robert said...

Ed, stand strong on your coherent principles. The tide of incoherent vigilantism is strong.

papa van Mirte said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
papa van Mirte said...

Professor Cook, if I did not agree with you, I disagree with Stephen Young even more. You can find my profile as Hebrew scholar here (https://www.uantwerpen.be/nl/onderzoeksgroep/ijs/onderzoek/doctoraatsonderzoek/hans-van-nes/ ). I am appalled that Stephen Young on his blog accuses you of ‘himpathy’, being the tendency of sympathizing with a male predator. The examples Young brings of himpathy are intended to manipulate guilt away from the perpetrator and to plead legally on his behalf. By contrast, you have made it quite clear that Joosten deserves his punishment in full, and that pitying him does not contradict that. You did not appeal on his behalf like ‘himpathizers’ do.
To equate your take on Joosten with himpathy is despicable and like parts of the facebook discussion, it runs into slander and deplorable attacks. For what it is worth, I am sorry that this happens to you, sir.
Where I must differ from you, is what I consider your reductionism. I believe you make too sharp a distinction between Joostens research and his personal life. It would appear correct that good scholarship could come from a criminal mind. As Maimonides said: ‘learn truth from whomever speaks it’. But I guess the question is: knowing that any of Joostens articles on semitic linguistics could easily have been written alternately or simultaneously with viewing child rape, can we escape the notion that what comes from his desk is principally defiled? Can splendid scholarship be morally defiled by its author? I think we are in the unfortunate position where we need to ponder that question.
Hans van Nes (hvannes@gmail.com if you care to elaborate)

Ed said...

Thank you for your comments. At this point, I think I agree with all of the points you have made, and that my initial reaction was too reductionistic. I thought it would be possible to separate in my mind JJ's misdeeds from his scholarship, but in practice I am finding that hard to do. I was working on a paper in which I discussed (among other things) his views on pseudo-classicism in Hebrew, but I find now that I can't bear the thought of returning to that paper, knowing what I know now. The very sight of his name is a trigger for grief, anger, and nausea. Perhaps one day it will be different, and I still do not think that any kind of official moratorium should be imposed on citation. But I think it will take a long time, perhaps a generation, before his work can be dispassionately discussed. The tragedy of this event, and its impact on biblical studies, is devastating.

Joe said...

The comments posted here are helpful. Thank you for your response.

Robert said...

Ed, no doubt. It's hard to see his name without emotion (disgust, grief, sorrow).


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