In this thread I’ve been talking about how I go about writing a trade book, and I am now dealing with the question of how an author chooses what to write about. I was indicating earlier that some of my graduate students have a difficult time knowing what to focus on in their dissertations. Most of my students come up with amazingly good ideas; but every now and then I have a student who simply can’t decide what to do. It’s hard because the dissertation is their first book, it has to be academically rigorous, on a topic of some intellectual importance, and dealing with it in a way that has never been done before. The same is true with all works of serious scholarship.
Having said that, I should point out that the New Testament itself is the most heavily researched book (or set of books) in the history of civilization. And lots of areas of New Testament scholarship are thoroughly “over-researched.” That makes it hard for students and even senior scholars sometimes to know what to write on, since so much of the field is so thoroughly overworked already. I think on the blog a couple of years ago I mentioned that I had been at my annual professional meeting and met three different scholar-friends from three different academic institutions who all told me they were writing a commentary on the book of Philippians. Like we need more commentaries on Philippians? (We have a *lot* already – some of them very good. It’s very rare that someone can say something new in a verse-by-verse exposition; so each of these scholars were trying to package old information in new ways for pastors, mainly, who wanted a commentary to help them know what to preach about on Sunday morning….) I consider this kind of enterprise – commentaries for pastors – to be a kind of scholarship, but it’s not really hard-hitting, ground-breaking, knowledge-producing, field-changing scholarship. It’s at a much lower level. (There are other kinds of commentaries that really are hard-core scholarship, however; those in the Anchor Bible and the Hermeneia series are real-deal-scholarship, for example; but most commentaries are not at that scholarly level).
My point is that there is scholarship for scholars to promote scholarship. That’s the kind of scholarship I try to do. There’s another kind of scholarship…
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