Tuesday, November 10, 2009

To publish or not?

We had an interesting problem in the BSG recently concerning editing of a paper that had been submitted to the Occasional Papers of the BSG. The question that arose concerned the grounds for rejection of a paper. We had a manuscript submitted that received four reviews that recommended against publication, And that after the paper had already been rejected by a different creationists journal. Sounds simple, right? If the reviewers say reject, then we should reject. What's the problem?

The problem was the point of the paper. The paper lays out an argument that the serpent of Genesis 3, the one that tempted Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit, was just a snake. Now as anyone with a conservative, evangelical background "knows," Eve was tempted by a manifestation of Satan, not just a snake. Except that's not what the Bible actually says. The closest you get to that idea is a single reference in the New Testament to Satan as "the serpent of old" in Revelation. So Doug Kennard wrote a paper to argue that the serpent was just a snake after all.

As I said, the paper received predictably bad reviews from a variety evangelical Old Testament scholars. Roger Sanders, the BSG executive editor, came to me with the reviews, and we talked about the reasons we could legitimately reject that or any other paper. Here they are, in no particular order (please note that this list is our own opinion and not official BSG policy):

1. We could reject something that was unscholarly. If it was an opinion piece or neglected important information or was somehow illogical, it would not be suitable for publication in a technical journal.

2. We could reject something that was outside of our editorial focus. If someone submitted a paper on geology or antievolution arguments or eschatology, then we could reject it based on our stated editorial guidelines. We publish papers on creationist biology, broadly defined.

3. We could reject something that was just wrong. It's possible that a very scholarly paper could be written that made a small error in logic or neglected a minor point that rendered the conclusion invalid. Such papers that could not be salvaged by altering the argument or conclusion would have to be rejected.

The problem with Kennard's paper is that it didn't obviously fit any of these conditions. All the reviewers agreed that it was scholarly, and it was not outside of the scope of our journal. That left the simple question: Is he wrong?

That's not a simple question. After all, the serpent of Genesis 3 is a peculiar creature. First of all, it talks, so it's not like any snake alive today. Second, it lies ("you shall not die") and it has a singular interest in seeing Eve eat that forbidden fruit. But there's no description of Satan's origin anywhere in the early chapters of Genesis, and Kennard is correct that Satan is not mentioned in the narrative of the Fall. The serpent is portrayed as one of the creatures that God created.

In the end, Roger decided to publish it. Given the ambiguous identity of the serpent, it seemed as if the negative reviews were primarily motivated by good, old fashioned disagreement. We didn't think that editors should impose our views on this particular issue, given that Kennard met all our other criteria.

Is the serpent really just a snake? I don't know. What I'd like to see now is a paper responding to Kennard's argument. Any Bible scholars out there care to write "The Serpent of Genesis 3:15 is not just a Snake?" I'm sure Roger would be glad to publish a really good paper on that subject.

Kennard. 2009. The serpent of Genesis 3:15 is a snake. OPBSG 14:1-11.