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Should Authors Use Pseudonyms?

I stumbled onto a thought provoking story (via Michael Bird) about Robin Parry’s use of a pseudonym in writing The Evangelical Universalist. Parry states two reasons for his actions: (1) protect his employer and (2) refrain from overshadowing another book he wrote which he deems to cover a more important topic.

While I think his reasons are fair, I question the use of pseudonyms in biblical studies. Publishing a work anonymously hampers critique, something that serves to sharpen both sides of an argument. For example, if the book provokes an opposing response, will the author engage the matter again in a journal? Under a pseudonym? Doubtful. I also suspect that anonymity takes away from the credibility of a work. If the argument for or against something is tight, present it. Stand by your work (when you publish, not down the road). If too many other writers begin taking the same approach (using pseudonyms), scholarship will lose steam…lot’s of steam.

12 Responses to Should Authors Use Pseudonyms?

  1. I think if it is temporary and the author intends to release his identity a little later then it’s fine. Personally I see more advantages than disadvantages with special circumstances like this one (e.g. Controversial topics, not wanting to overshadow other books). I don’t think it will lead to a flood of scholars publishing their work pseudonymously.

    Bryan L

    • Yes, you’re right to say it may not lead to a flood of such activity, but I would suggest that one in these circumstances should just wait to publish. Publish at the time you are ‘ready’ to reveal yourself.

  2. Dear Josh

    I’d also like to say a word in defence of Robin Parry. One dear American Christian has already made the point that anonymity helped to de-personalize the issue and help readers to focus only on the topic in hand.

    What of all the pseudonymous writing in the Holy Scriptures?

    Most important of all, we need to read the book to see if it fits with what scripture actually says. There’s no point being loyal to Augustine, Calvin or whoever, if we don’t first strive to be loyal to the over-arching message of the Bible.

    The gracious tone of Mr Parry’s book makes it a good and peaceful read. I pray it can be a blessing to others as it has been to me.

    • Nicolas, Thanks for your thoughts. You’re welcome to defend Parry’s actions. To be clear, I’m not criticizing him for his specific actions in this case. I’m only suggesting that pseudonymity is not good for biblical scholarship. Also, I disagree that the issue is completely ‘de-personalized’. Recall that the book was not technically anonymous, but pseudonymous.

      As far as pseudonymous writing in the Scriptures, that is a matter of debate. I personally do not buy the arguments of pseudonymity for any NT book (though I acknowledge cases of anonymity).

      I agree with your third point: we should not be loyal to a person rather than the Scriptures. We must handle the text itself, but surely you aren’t suggesting that biblical scholarship as a whole would be better if everything was pseudonymous.

      Parry’s graciousness or the peacefulness of the read may well be true. I still don’t think pseudonymity is good for scholarship.

  3. I’m not convinced Josh. Why would it hamper critique? I’ve seen reviews of Parry’s book, and they’ve offered critique? If he wanted to respond, he could have just set up an email address with “George MacDonald” as the sender, and reply to a journal. I also doubt that it takes away from the credibility of the work. An argument should stand on it’s own merits, not on the identity of the author. That’s tricky to separate and hold separate, but there is no necessary reason. If I randomly picked up a book where the author’s identity was hidden by something, and was convinced by the evidence and arguments proposed, would the identity of the author make me change my mind?

    While I would prefer scholars to name themselves, perhaps for contraversial topics like this, it is better to allow the controversy to settle before one reveals oneself.

    thanks for your blog. Great thoughts here.

    • Sean, By ‘hamper’ I don’t mean to suggest that there is no possibility of critique. You’re right, Parry could have responded to critiques using a pseudonymous email. Did he? I don’t know. My post more generally deals with scholarship as a whole, not Parry in particular. I simply don’t think his approach would be good for scholarship as a whole.

      Regarding credibility, I mean to suggest that using a pseudonym raises suspicions about credibility. The argument may be dynamite, but it begs the question: why not claim it?

  4. Thanks Josh,

    As a rule I think that pseudonymity is not good but on occasion I think that it is defensible (and it has a noble tradition).

    In my case I did have a blog as Gregory MacDonald and an email address which I used to correspond with people so interaction was possible. I was even on a radio show (with my voice disguised). So I am not sure that much debate was hampered – there were certainly a lot of online (and a few published) reviews. A few were critical (though not that critical).

    I guess that I always had it in mind to make my identity known when attitudes had changed a little. In part it was people reading the book that changed attitudes a tad so I ‘had’ to publish to bring about a situation in which I could reveal myself (hence waiting might not have worked).

    Whether my justification in this instance was correct you must judge. My conscience is OK with it. Suffice it to say that it is not my normal practise and I don’t expet that many will follow in my footsteps.

    One plus point about using a false name was that it did generate a discussion about why the situation within evangelicalism was such that I felt the need to do this. That was a useful discussion.

    Anyway – thanks for this. In fact I am flattered that you thought of my book as a work of scholarship. I had not really thought of it that way (because I don’t think of myself as a scholar – just a never-ending student).

    A good discussion and I don’t mind if you think I made the wrong call on this one. If I did I apologize and hope that at least the discussion can proceed aright now.


    • Robin, thanks for stopping by. While I don’t anticipate ever using a pseudonym in publishing, I think you gave fair reasons for doing so (as mentioned in the above post). This post is more a reflection on how pseudonymity (in my view) is not generally good for biblical studies, and less a reflection on your particular situation. In your case, having now revealed yourself makes the work… well, no longer pseudonymous (practically speaking).

      I’m glad to hear you facilitated interaction after publishing the book. I still wonder if critique was hampered. Perhaps not in this case. But to be clear, I am not intending to say that Robin Parry made a mistake in publishing pseudonymously, but only that the general practice will not help scholarship. In any case, I think the subject is worth thinking about.

      Maybe I’ll have chance to interact with your book in a future post. Thanks again.

  5. Dear Josh

    A very late “thank you” for your gracious reply to my rather prickly comment above (sorry).

    I hope you will comment on “Gregory MacDonald’s” book The Evangelical Universalist sometime in the future.

    In Christ,


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