Because of the sorting effect of ordeals, priests who administer them learn of defendants’ guilt or innocence. Conditional on observing a defendant’s willingness to undergo an ordeal, the administering priest knows the defendant is innocent.
It is reasonable to think that medieval citizens would have often had a good idea about the frequency with which others in their communities who hazarded ordeals failed or succeeded. The fate of probands was not private, and medieval communities were usually small. Similarly, it is reasonable to think that medieval priests knew how probands decided when confronted with ordeals and knew those probands’ identities. Priests were the persons administering their ordeals.
Before their ordeals, probands spent several days with the priests who officiated ordeals, partaking in Mass, prayer, and so on. This may have permitted priests to glean additional information about probands’ guilt or innocence (Pilarczyk 1996, p. 98; Henry 1789, p. 273). Such information supplemented that which priests received from observing defendants’ willingness to undergo ordeals, facilitating their ability to identify (and thus condemn) a guilty defendant who took his chances with the ordeal because g had been set too low, because he had figured out that ordeals were a sham, or because some other imperfection prevented flawless separation.
Leeson's theory presupposes that elusive creature, the rational economic actor, but it also needs that actor to be very stupid, because as you can see it only works if the people taking the ordeal haven't worked out that the clerics could rig it [..] Also, you have to assume that those clerics themselves did not believe that God would speak in the process; this seems to be rooted in an idea I've met that the medieval clergy must all have been in on the Great Deception of Christianity.
The hand that has held the hot iron, the hand that has been plunged into boiling water are solemnly sealed and reopened again before witnesses three days later. [..] But, after three days, the normal healing of such a burn is still ambiguous. The phenomenon on which the group concentrated is, in fact, still as open-ended as a Rorschach test. Yet, paradoxically, it is around precisely this ambiguous experience that unanimity is crystallized.
LEVITT: I go to them and say ... give me about 40 of your newspaper markets, and I would randomly assign 20 of those to a control group where we wouldn’t do any newspaper inserts for about three months.
DUBNER: And what was their response?
LEVITT: They said, are you crazy? We can’t not advertise in 20 markets. We’ll all get fired. One of the other guys chimed in and said, yeah, we once had this summer intern, an MBA that we had hired, ... and the guy was so incompetent, he just forgot to order the newspaper inserts for a big chunk of Pittsburgh for the entire summer.
DUBNER: So…what did happen?
LEVITT: ... they called me with a spring of excitement in their voice and they said to me you are not going to believe what we found. We found no impact whatsoever ... And I said, wow, that’s amazing, alright, so when can we start the experiment... they said, are you crazy? We can’t not advertise in 20 markets, the CEO will kill us!
« Older The A.V. Club asks readers What’s your cultural de... | Last November, after five year... Newer »
This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments
Buy a Shirt