It seems like an exercise in self-aggrandizement for someone to answer a question that they've asked. Certainly if a question is old and stale and not generating any sort of conversation, and the asker has done some research and wishes to answer, accept, and share the research, then that's one thing. But this honestly makes a mockery of the process.

Self-answering just strikes me as being intellectually dishonest.

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Immediately self-answering rubs me the wrong way too. As you said, if some time has passed that's different, but this... I came back tonight from being away for a few days and the pile of these questions surprised me. –  Gone Quiet Apr 10 '12 at 2:22
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Under normal circumstances, self answering questions is perfectly acceptable, but >20 of them in a row does seem a bit disingenuous, as if the point was to use the site as a publishing platform to propagate ideas rather than an legitimate place to find answers. –  Caleb Apr 10 '12 at 11:30
    
@Caleb there is the issue of volume - mitigated to some degree by the speed at which they disappear from the front page –  Jack Douglas Apr 10 '12 at 11:47
    
It is generally true that site policy is decided by voting here on meta. However network policy takes priority in cases like this - if SE has decided to allow this sort of post we have no authority to say people can't do it here. There may be wriggle-room on the nuances but not on the substance. –  Jack Douglas Apr 10 '12 at 11:52
    
@JackDouglas I didn't realize that. Thanks for the education :) –  swasheck Apr 10 '12 at 14:03
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3 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

In principle, there is nothing wrong with answering your own question:

it is not merely OK to ask and answer your own question, it is explicitly encouraged

When this happens the OP is using the site as a kind of blog, and I believe that is not neutral, but actively good for the site. It is important to note that other answers may get many more upvotes than the OPs and if you accept your own answer it is not pinned to the top of the list above higher-voted answers

It is the issues of tone in the post you link to that rightly cause people to get a bit tense I think, rather than that it is self-answered (or how quickly that happens). In cases like this I'd encourage you to direct your annoyance into providing a better answer!, not only phrased in a more gentlemanly way, but with superior content. This is best for the site and the OP, who may learn something in the process.

I'm all for conflict/discipline where it is necessary, but in this case I think the intrinsic format of these SE sites provides the only solution we need, meaning the community has no need to respond other than with the usual means of creating great content, and voting good content up and bad content down.

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I think my answers are perfect. They are 100% correct in terms of the textual evidence. The problem is that people who come to these things have all sorts of religious motivations to disagree, and sometimes don't read the answers fairly. –  Ron Maimon Apr 10 '12 at 7:55
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We all think our own answers are perfect :-) –  Jack Douglas Apr 10 '12 at 8:00
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@Ron You too come to the text with a load of motivations and presuppositions that dictate your interpretations. These show through fairly clearly in your attitude and content, and your denial of them does not lend credence to your ideas. –  Caleb Apr 10 '12 at 8:05
    
@JackDouglas: No, we don't. My answers to many questions are imperfect. Monica Cellio has given what is probably a better answer than mine to the ten commandments question, because she knows Deuteronomy and I don't. The only perfect answers are the ones which I accepted. –  Ron Maimon Apr 10 '12 at 8:13
    
@Caleb: I come to the text as a completely unbiased reader--- I have no religious motivations at all with regard to the text. I had curiousity about the grammar (I started doing this because I was curious about the ancient Hebrew linguistics, whether it is recursive like Chomsky predicts, or not like Everett would predict. Everett wins.) Anyway, the presuppositions are only that Hebrew grammar is the thing I "feel" when I read the text (which I feel is 99.9% grammatical), and that any remaining grammatical discrepancy in a handful of places is not my fault, but the text's. –  Ron Maimon Apr 10 '12 at 8:15
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@Ron One of your presuppositions is that there is in fact a "correct" answer to any question. It is one I happen to share but it is a supposition nonetheless. Just because you are persuadable on some questions doesn't belie the fact that you have presuppositions - and doesn't make you any different to anyone else here. I don't reject your answers because I don't agree with them, but because your reasoning is often flimsy and/or shrouded in ranting. I am perfectly persuadable too on any issue. –  Jack Douglas Apr 10 '12 at 8:17
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@Ron You have strong anti-religious biases, reject the miraculous and divine intervention in history. In fact you come to the Biblical text with a presupposition that it is, in a sense, fictional since the accounts could not be historical. These things you bring to the table seat you on a side of it. Until you are willing to acknowledge that, like everyone else, you base your interpretations on your world view, your reasoning about what must or must not be a right answer is rightly to be suspect. You may well be right on some issues, but your modus-operendi often works against you. –  Caleb Apr 10 '12 at 8:31
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@RonMaimon, though your weekend here may serve somewhat as a case-in-point, this isn't something that is specifically directed toward you. You just had an active weekend. It did broach a broader question that I had about this practice, in general. I've seen many other users do it, not just you. I'm sorry that this has turned into somewhat of a finger-pointing exercise. –  swasheck Apr 10 '12 at 13:55
    
@JackDouglas good info, thanks. I didn't realize that SE had such a complex set of bylaws. –  swasheck Apr 10 '12 at 13:57
    
This answer satisfies my curiosity. It is explicitly encouraged within the SE culture. That's fine, I just didn't know if it was something we could put to the community to discuss. –  swasheck Apr 10 '12 at 14:04
    
@Caleb: I have no anti-religious biases. I am perfectly fine with the notion of God, Jesus, divine intervention, personal God, providence, and faith. I just reject miraculous events, and these are not necessary for religion (good thing, or else religion would be a crock). I don't wish a discussion with anyone who believes in any miracles, as I will never change my mind, and from the very nature of this stance, I can see that there is no honesty there. My "presuppositions" are that the laws of nature are not violated. I wish my answers to be evaluated on their internal merits. –  Ron Maimon Apr 10 '12 at 23:24
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Asking good self-answered questions.

Since I've earned lots of reputation from self-answered questions since the earliest days of Stack Overflow, I figured this is as good a place as any to share my hard-won insights into the process. Asking good questions is hard and asking good questions you already know the answer to is exponentially harder. In terms of reputation and learning a subject, it's also exponentially more rewarding.

Self-answered questions come in two (sometimes overlapping) forms:

  1. You have a question and later you discover the answer, and
  2. You have an answer and want to post it to a question that doesn't exist.

The overlap occurs for me when I have a question, do some research in order to ask it intelligently, and discover a satisfactory answer before the question is completely written. If you have a passing knowledge of the topic at hand, it's difficult to ask a question without having some idea about how it might be answered.

The closer you get to form #2 (having an answer, but not a clear question), the harder it is to ask. Basically, a good question must be answerable in a variety of ways and there's a huge temptation to funnel the question into one or another answer. The results can be ugly. In essence, you have to suspend your confidence in order to ask what appears to be a genuine question. It requires a bit of self-deception to ask as if you really didn't know. (This is not, by the way, dishonest. Rather it's a vital exercise in self-evaluation. I believe this is why self-answered questions can be so enlightening.)

In no particular order, here are some tips that might help in a quest to ask questions of oneself:

  • Pretending that you are a writer for Jeopardy works well for me. Yes, there might only be one right answer, but you need to preserve some mystery and suspense for the audience. Try not to make your argument in the question itself. (It's a bad sign if your question is longer than your answer.)

  • Sometimes it's helpful to list two (or more) positive alternatives. (E.g., "I've been thinking about buying a kayak: Should I buy a plastic, fiberglass or inflatable?") This keeps the question from being too broad and shows that you've put in at least some research (though your answer will show much more). It also keeps some options open for other people to provide answers even after you've picked one choice and defended it.

  • Quoting others can really help. If you are able to find somewhere in the literature a question that your answer fits with, you can just quote the question. (Often I find these sorts of questions in surveys of the relevant academic literature, so they often include a good list of options as well.)

  • Before you submit your question, take a moment to re-read it (a good idea in any case) to see if you could imagine writing more than one answer to it if forced. (For instance, if you were on a debate competition and the positions were assigned by coin flip.) Consider moving some parts of the question into a potential answer if it seems like you've tilted the contest too far in one direction or another.

Should we encourage self-answered questions at this stage in the site?

To get at the question you actually asked, I think we should encourage these types of questions as long as they are good fits for the site. The fact is we are in great need of good questions and we really can't be picky about why they were asked.

We don't need (now or ever) bad questions, however. Since self-answered questions are difficult to ask well, we need to be vigilant to be sure they fit the mission of our site. We should not be hesitant to downvote, vote-to-close, edit or otherwise correct problem questions.

The only other caveat I have is that all questions should encourage answers. Sometimes a question that is answered by the asker has the appearance of not wanting (or needing) additional answers. That's not quite as productive as questions that are left unanswered for a few hours or days. For that reason, I have been trying to limit my answers to my own questions until at least a few other people have had a chance to read them. (If that means that a question with an obvious answer is left unanswered for a while, so be it.)

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Perhaps a self-imposed delay that only accepts after x amount of time. –  swasheck Apr 10 '12 at 19:39
    
@swasheck: Let's not give anyone a hard time about not waiting long enough, however. It's ok to ask a question and immediately answer it yourself. It's just a little less jarring to ask, wait a little, and then answer. –  Jon Ericson Apr 10 '12 at 19:48
    
@JonEricson: If you know the answer, you shouldn't make someone waste time researching it. Just post the answer yourself. –  Ron Maimon Apr 10 '12 at 23:28
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@Ron: That's a fair point. It's certainly the right way to go about things when there is a clear answer. But when there is potentially more than one answer, it just comes off as riding roughshod over all other points of view. Plus, many of us enjoy researching this stuff. (Otherwise, we wouldn't be here. ;-) –  Jon Ericson Apr 11 '12 at 2:41
    
@JonEricson: For the DH questions, there is only one right answer (except for the one where Monica Cellio provided examples of later duplication that moot the question). It is an act of willful blindness and intellectual dishonesty of monstrous proportions to deny the DH after reading Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus. The textual boundaries are so obvious. I found them myself, I agree with the 300 year old academic tradition, and it is wrong to treat clearly incorrect unsupportable positions with respect that they do not deserve. –  Ron Maimon Apr 11 '12 at 3:59
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I guess I should explain: there was a call for contradictions a while ago, and I saw that, and immediately had a core-dump of all the minor things that came up while doing translation of Gen,Exo,Lev. I wasn't confused on most of them, as I noticed the "documentary hypothesis" was very clear in the text early on, so I just posted the contradictions, together with their resolution, as a question/answer pair.

The point of this is to generate interest in the hermeneutics site, not to self-aggrandize. I just happen to have a library of minor inconsistencies and mysteries, because I just recently did the most extreme close reading one can do to the texts in question. I also noticed that self-answering is common and encouraged, and I didn't want to waste someone's time researching the answer to a question where I already know the answer.

There were also questions that I don't know the answer to, and I labelled those as such. Unfortunately, I do not believe in supernatural events, and I can't condone those people who push those things, as they produce a sense of befuddlement and fear in people, together with false hopes for supernatural intervention in cases where one cannot expect anything better than divine intervention, in its characteristic slow, providential, generational way.

In order not to be mysterious, there were only two or three other minor points that I noticed in Gen/Exo/Lev (altogether, 16 or so contradictions is not bad at all for a text of this length--- you find more in a typical hollywood movie!)

  • The Manna jar that is placed on display doesn't rot, unlike other manna kept longer than one day. What gives? It must be that God specifically declares that this manna does not rot. There are two questions here: is this legitimate to make up an exception to the manna rotting rule, because God commands that some be preserved? (I think yes) And secondly, how the heck did they keep the jar of manna from rotting? What was actually in that jar? Did it taste like "wafers coated with honey" as the text says? Could you eat it after 400 years? It was presumably sitting in the sanctuary until the end of the first temple days.
  • The sockets of the tent of the tabernacle are each made of a "talent of silver". A "talent" seems to be about 100 lbs (originally, I thought about 500 lbs, based on the description of the menorah as 1 talent of Gold, and the pictures of the sack of Jerusalem which show the menorah as the size of a person--- I guess the second temple menorah was just bigger, so I deleted the question). Could the tent support 500 lbs of silver? It is made from some sort of super-sturdy canvas, but it says it is made from goatskin and reddened seal-skin, tied together with "cloth loops" into "cloth eyes". This doesn't seem reasonable for a structure supporting 500 lbs of silver. Similarly for the planks at the bottom, a talent of silver per socket just seems to make absurdly large or absurdly thick sockets (I imagined them to be 1 lb, not 100lb). But I am not sure this is an actual contradiction, or just a failure of my imagination.
  • There is an actual grammar error in 35:22 which is possibly an obvious interpolation. This one is hermeneutically significant (unlike the others), but I am not sure if there isn't a better interpretation than the one I give. I will ask this one just now. (EDIT: here it is )

If you want to know where these questions are coming from, go to Wikisource translation of the bible, and look at the comments at the bottom. These are the things that tripped me up.

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+1 for explanation. I'm all about generating interest. Please don't put comments like "great post Ron" "thanks Ron" since any interest that is generated is quickly diluted by such stuff. –  swasheck Apr 10 '12 at 13:58
    
@swasheck: It was a joke--- I felt weird accepting my own answer. It felt like patting myself on the back. I thought you would chuckle. –  Ron Maimon Apr 10 '12 at 16:15
    
I just happened to be wandering through something that linked here and just wanted to say, I noticed the small error about yellow/black hair for the leper and googled it. It brought up your post. When I saw the evidence about LXX that was enough for me to think this site was cool, so I joined. –  Mike Feb 16 '13 at 15:31
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