Archives of Reception of the Bible

Past blogging in more ways than one.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Why blog?

Well, let’s give it a shot.

Why write a blog?

Recent discussion by among others Mark Goodacre on the future of blogging on the Bible and Biblical Studies seems to suggest that wherever blogging on that subject was going, it was unlikely to take off in a big way. This may well be true for a number of reasons. One that I hope Mark will forgive me for raising is the sheer quality of some of what is already being done. Looking at his and Jim Davila’s blogs, I am overwhelmed by their dedication (and sometimes concerned for their families!) Blogging as they do is clearly very hard work (as Mark’s recent experience of falling behind after his move to the States shows), and it is easy to imagine many academics being put off blogging by time considerations. On the other hand, other blogs seem to stop and start, and your careful academic can worry even about that—how easy is it to keep writing? How embarrassing would it be to quit? Thankfully, blogging permits a range of commitments. For now, I’ll say that this won’t be a daily update blog, but nor will it be written once in a blue moon (brave words, eh?)

I have to say that I am fairly positive about the future of blogging. This is in part due to one of the peculiarities of life in a British academic institution. Pressures on academics in the UK at least seem designed almost to prevent an easy exchange of ideas between academics and the popularisation of their work to others. The temptation to ‘guard’ one’s work until it is nearly ready to publish and to refuse to write popular books until likely RAE requirements are fulfilled can lead to a rather defensive attitude (the truth is that possible financial penalties mean that only the sufficiently prolific can now afford to do as they wish)—not a very satisfactory situation unless you are totally addicted to life in the ivory tower! (An additional problem for academics, of course, is the chance of getting into trouble over blogging. Anyone reading Colby Buzzell’s book on blogging in Iraq [‘My War’] or who has seen recent coverage of people disciplined for blogging about work can easily imagine the potential problems involved. “Do I really want to put my head over the parapet and go on-line,” careful academics can ask themselves?)

Blogging, it seems to me, is one way to escape this aspect of my academic situation. It is a chance to think out loud in public and, hopefully, to put some positive thoughts into circulation. I hope no-one on-line will be offended if I say that one of the attractions of blogging for me is that it will be refreshing not feel that I have to fit what I think into certain restrictive academic formats (monographs, research papers, peer-reviewed journal articles). What I want to do is simply talk about what interests me in the hope that it will interest others.

So what does interest me? Real readers of the Bible interest me. I was trained to do historical critical work on ‘original meanings’ and still do it occasionally. I also teach such approaches. But what really interests me is seeing how people encounter texts and what they do with them. My PhD work was on the work of Brevard Childs and his canonical approach to the Sodom Narrative (published as 'Canon and Exegesis: Canonical Praxis and the Sodom Narrative' [London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002]). At the same time, I wrote articles on other subjects for publication, figuring that I would need them to get a job (I was certainly right on that). What I eventually came to realise was that the readers I had studied in the latter were no different to the canonical reader I had studied in the thesis. From Biblical Theology and Childs’ Canonical Approach I moved increasingly towards ‘Reception’ as a catch-all for what I wanted to do (hence the title for this blog).

Since I am interested in readers of all kinds, no time period is beyond the pale. I aim to be a dilettante, studying things that are of little or no concern to either traditional exponents of Biblical Studies or historians of the periods involved. This is not for me anything to apologise for, but rather something to be extremely happy about. I am able to ask questions no-one else thinks to ask, and in the process it seems to me that a new discipline can appear. After all, New Testament studies is a very crowded discipline and I have little interest in adding my own small contribution to that particular pile, worthy as that task as a whole is. Instead a largely unstudied history of effects is there for those who want to examine it (imagine having no critical editions of texts, for example).

Currently, I am looking at certain aspects of the reception of Acts in the Early Church and have recently taken on the Hebrews commentary in the Blackwell Bible Commentary series (see for further details). Of all the commentary series in production—someone once told me that about thirty series were in production—this one seems to me to be the most genuinely innovative. Impossible to ‘finish’, I would agree. But a real gift to the dilettante. Just think of the possibilities opened up for further study both by academics and interested others by a series focused on the reception of the Bible.

Anyhow, more on that later.


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