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Feedback on the Blog?

I’m back from Greece and Turkey now, with two weeks with nothing to do but work like a  wild-person day and night on my book project on Christian tours of heaven and hell in relation to their Greek and Roman predecessors.   I’m madly into Virgil’s Aeneid just now.  Great stuff.  I’ll say more about it anon.

But it seems like a good time for me to pause for a day and take assessment of developments on the blog and get your reactions.  I do this a couple of times a year, as old-timers will know.  My basic questions:  How is the blog going, from your point of view?  And is there anything we should change/do differently?  Any feedback at all is welcome – just let me hear it.

The goal, of course, is to keep the customers satisfied and to draw more in.  I’d like to use the blog to disseminate scholarly knowledge of the New Testament and the early Christian movement more broadly, for three interrelated reasons.  First, of course, is that I think this material – both the history and the literature of early Christianity — is of vital importance for understanding our world, our culture, and our civilization.  Whether we are people of faith or not, whether we are drawn to Christianity or not, and, in short, whether we like (or love) it or not, our entire history (past and present) can’t be understood without knowing about these Christian roots.

But, second, most people are woefully ignorant about early Christianity.  Or rather, the vast majority of people are woefully misinformed about it.  Everyone seems to have an opinion about Jesus, the Bible, the earliest Christians, etc.   But very few people actually know anything about these things, let alone scholarly information based on careful study of all the ancient sources of information.  People basically think what they have heard (often repeatedly) on TV, or at Sunday School, or in some popular book written by someone who was regurgitating what she read in another author who was repeating what he heard from a preacher who was vaguely remembering what she heard once in seminary.  Etc.    On the blog you get actual scholarly information based on rigorous historical and literary analysis – not just my personal views, but 99% of the time views widely shared by intelligent and hard-working experts who have devoted their lives to the topic.  That’s all to the good.

The third reason is intimately related but far more broad-based.  We live in very, very scary times, far scarier than any I’ve experienced in my brief 63 years on this planet.   Times are scary for all sorts of reasons (you can come up with your own list), but one of them is that the very idea of “truth” is under extremely serious assault.   Huge numbers of our fellow citizens don’t appear to believe in truth or to care.  They can’t tell a lie from a truth.  They don’t think expertise is anything other than personal opinion.  If they hear something different from what they want to think, they reject it.  If someone shows it’s a lie, they claim the person is deceived and bad-intentioned and out to destroy us all.

The basic problem, as I see it, we are moving into an age where evidence doesn’t matter.  All that matters is rhetoric and claims, whether based on evidence, no evidence, or flat out deceit.   This ain’t good.

I’m a proponent of truth and evidence and solid argumentation.  I hope you are too!  But we need to fight against those who don’t care about the truth so long as they get what they want.   The blog is a tiny, minuscule attempt to stand up for expertise and evidence and real historical knowledge.

ANYWAY, enough of the rant (one that not even I saw coming!).   Back to the details of the blog.  I’d like feedback.

Recently I’ve done a couple of things that I’d like your opinion on.  As you may have noticed, I’ve started using “guest posts” more frequently, with scholars in the field contributing guest posts on something they’ve done or are doing their research on.  I have more lined up.  But what do you think of this as an addition to the blog?

For the blog’s first several years I had readers ask (sometimes plead) for other voices than mine.  But every time I asked a fellow scholar to contribute a guest post, they hemmed and hawed, and said something about being busy and, well, they never did it (even when they said they would).  But as the blog has grown over the past couple of years, I’ve come up with a new strategy with much better success.  I’ve told a colleague about the numbers of members, around 7500 just now, plus thousands of more who tune in via Facebook, Twitter, and the blog Podcast, and pointed out that if they’ve just written a book this is absolutely free advertising among a crowd that is deeply interested in the sorts of things they’re doing and would not know about their book otherwise.

That seems to be doing the trick!  But what do you think of the idea of guest posts?   Am I doing too much of that sort of thing?  Not enough?  About right?   Give me some feedback.

ALSO, this past couple of weeks I’ve posted a short thread of much more technical scholarly posts (re-posting them actually) to show the level of argumentation that gets done in academic circles rather than for general readers.   I am certainly not inclined to do that a *lot*, but it does seem worthwhile to do on occasion, in part to show that scholars who state their views are not simply stating an opinion based on guessing but on the basis of a very close analysis that simply is not possible for anyone lacking the training and expertise (in ancient languages, a broad knowledge of ancient literature in those languages, other scholarship over the centuries, etc.).

But is that worth doing on (rare) occasion?  Or not so much?

The other thing I tried was that blog debate with a conservative Christian who wanted to prove there are no contradictions in the Bible.  I found the exercise frustrating – as I knew full well I would – but it did seem to spark a bit of interest.  And we used it to raise extra funds.  It brought in probably $3000 or so altogether.  So that’s good.   But what do you think?  Do you like that kind of thing?

I doubt if I would do too much of it, since if I were to debate an established scholar on any topic of interest I couldn’t just whip out the posts, but would have to do serious research.  That would be an enormous effort, comparable to writing an academic article.  Not sure I can do that.  But maybe on some topics on some occasions?  What do you think?

The ultimate goal of the blog, as you know, is to raise money for those in need.  Need is increasing these days.  I’d like to keep growing the blog – growing it exponentially rather than incrementally if possible.  If you have any ideas about how to do that, do let me know!

And give me any other feedback you’d like.  This blog is for *you* — I want it to meet your needs and expectations.   Many thanks for being part of the venture.

 


Finally! Now We Know. The “First-Century Copy” of Mark
Is There a “Best” Bible Translation Out There? A Blast from the Past

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    robgrayson  June 19, 2019

    Hi Bart,

    I only signed up for the blog just over a month ago, having not come across it before then. So far, I’ve found it extremely informative and good value, with a good balance between scholarly and more “popular”/accessible content. I joined just in time to see the debate between yourself and Matthew Frith, which I must confess didn’t find all that useful. By contrast, the guest posts from Jeff Siker were top notch, and his willingness to engage in discussion in the comments really helped too. I’ve also enjoyed the recent stuff about the authorship of 1 and 2 Thess.

    So far, I’m glad I joined and looking forward to plenty more!

    Rob

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  2. Avatar
    craig@corbettlaw.org  June 19, 2019

    Very informative and educational. You discuss literary works and contexts which most people never even know exist.

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    lobe  June 19, 2019

    I have loved the guest posts. It’s been awesome hearing from other erudite scholars on areas of their specific interest. Part of the reason I’m into this blog is it helps to bring a scholarly knowledge of a subject I’m interested in down to my thoroughly layman level, so it’s great to get a wider variety of that.

    The debate pretty much went the way everyone expected it would go. I found it interesting, but I suspect probably not enough for you to subject yourself to it regularly, lol. I’ll be content to get my Bart debate fixes from YouTube.

    I agree that the occasional “glimpse into scholarly argumentation” is good, if only so that I can remain humble about what I know and don’t know about the subject. Rare occasion is fine, more would probably not be of much value.

    In terms of growing, I’m no expert but a common model, particularly for things like Patreon, is to have a sort of tiered membership system with more benefits for higher cost. You might be able to drum up more cash if you added some perks for donating more, like maybe getting a burning question *definitely* answered by the Man Himself.

    One of the things I really enjoyed from your Great Courses lecture on the historical Jesus & the Triumph of Christianity was getting a feel for the historical context in which these incredibly important events were happening in, and their consequences to history shortly afterwards. Stuff like who other apocalyptic prophets of the time were, what kind of disputes the Pharisees were having amongst each other, what life in Roman Judea looked like, I find that fascinating. It’s not the focus of the blog, of course, since this is specifically about early Christianity. But I personally would enjoy occasional posts on some of the “bigger picture” stuff to situate early Christianity in its context.

    All in all, keep up the good work. I definitely get my money’s worth and then some!

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  4. Avatar
    Phil  June 19, 2019

    I really appreciate the blog – thanks for all the work that goes into it and I share your concerns and objectives about getting people back to facts and truth, not prejudice and tradition.

    I like the guest blogs, they seem a very Good Thing now and then.
    I enjoyed the debate and would have liked to see some responses from Rev Firth to blog comments. I would like more such debates from time to time.

    Academic posts are OK….I am not so bothered.. we know that actual academic writing can be quite technical and heavy, and I see no need to read it. I am more interested in the chance to access academic consensus conclusions that you provide.

    My request, which I have made before somewhere, would be to do a subscriber version of the podcast without the membership plugs. I love listening to the podcast and am grateful to JOhn Mueller for reading it, but hearing the plugs for the blog once and often twice per podcast when I am already a subscriber is a bit wearisome..

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  5. Avatar
    longdistancerunner  June 19, 2019

    I look forward to every blog post. Since I was a kid , the question of religious cults have been a burning issue with me.
    Even at an early age it made no sense to me.
    I told my parents one morning ( I’m 63 like you) that this idea of a loving god who created everything and demands your obedience or you’ll be sent to a burning inferno , so you better do as he says and love it or else, reminded me of a guy that walks in to the 7/11 and demands the money from the register or he’ll shoot you.. in both cases you have a choice!!
    But it has nothing to do with love or compassion.. anyway it started early for me and just never sounded right.
    Later, on the GI Bill I went to college and took two theology courses studying Martin Buber and Gabriel Marcel ( which I don’t recall now) ha
    By far and away my philosophy courses especially the course on Existentialism was my favorite..
    Then I watched for four years and five months my gentle, quiet wife slowly die of glioblastoma and I remember as she was being rolled out in her wheelchair one day to meet me at the group home she ended up at the lady sitting next to me saying “ It’s all part of God’s plan”… and I yelled “ It’s not much of a goddamned plan”!!!
    Oh well, that’s it.. I heard you on a Sam Harris podcast and I’ve read Misqoting Jesus, the newest book on the forbidden religion spread by the apostle Paul and am currently reading “ Forged” on Kindle
    Hope you keep up the good work.

    Long distance RUNNER

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  6. Avatar
    thelad2  June 19, 2019

    Greetings, Bart. Very much enjoy the guest posts. As to debating non-experts, not so much. Frankly, I’d faint dead away if either side of the argument, even once, said, “you know, you’ve got a good point there.” That said, an interesting variation could be an exchange between you and another NT scholar who has a different take than you on some topic such as the identity of the Son Of Man or the historical value of the Gospel Of John, to name just two. And, although not new, one way to generate donations might be to provide the blog’s membership with more opportunities to meet you. Not sure what that might look like and not sure how much of your already busy life you’d be willing to sacrifice. Anyway, I view every penny of the cost of my blog subscription as money well spent. Thank you.

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    saavoss  June 19, 2019

    I think the blog is great, most of the time. Intelligent, informative, articulate, interesting. I didn’t care for the debate with the conservative Christian. I found it frustrating. I have too much of that element in my life and use your blog to escape it. The idea of guest posts is OK, it really depends on who they are and what they say. My only gripe with the blog at all is when you imply that those of us without a degree (from a prominent University) in Christian History, are ignorant of the topic at hand. It’s a bit insulting. I would’ve have loved nothing better than to study at the University of Chicago, but we just couldn’t afford it. And now as an adult, my money goes toward my children’s education. That does not me I’m not very well read on the subject of Christian Origins, Early Christian Literature, or Ancient World Religions. So please don’t lump everyone, who is not your equal, into one illiterate basket. It’s comes across as very arrogant, and might cause you to lose members.
    Enough of that rant. All in all I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog posts. I have learned a lot, and your blog has inspired many a late night reading binge. Keep up the good work!

  8. Avatar
    Todd  June 19, 2019

    I’m into people…what they do and how they live. I would like more information about how early Christians lived, during the development of the early church, what the early churches were like, how early Christians got their information before the New Testament was formed, where they lived and what they did to support themselves, and how they avoided persecution. Also, what their churches were like, where they worshiped, and what ceremonies were used…daily life of Christians before Constantine…if such information is even available. That sort of thing interests me.

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  9. Avatar
    Hon Wai  June 19, 2019

    I like many of the initiatives you are making to enhance the blog. Ultimately, to me, the most important thing is you do what you think would make the blog viable in terms of demand on your time.

  10. Avatar
    cestmarrant  June 19, 2019

    1. I’m enjoying the guest posts a lot, and would be happy to have more of them.

    2. I find your very technical posts exciting, even though I’m not a scholar. I really like reading about the nitty gritty of scholarly arguments (including seeing the Greek – as long as it’s also translated). More of those would be fine for me.

    3, I find the debates with conservative Christians upsetting, and don’t want more of those. But I would like to see some scholarly discussions on points of disagreement – e.g. you and Mark Goodacre, and Stephen Carlson re: the existence of Q.

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    Nexus  June 19, 2019

    The guest post are amazing. I’ve discovered Brent Nongbri’s blog and I’ve also recently gone back and found posts of yours on Papias.

    The debate was disappointing and frustrating to read about half way through. Perhaps you could have an Q&A where you and another scholar explore some issue. It might work well with someone who’s work you are unfamiliar with (e.g. archaeologists or Jewish scholars). You are constantly saying we’d be surprised at what you don’t know! 😉

    I recall a few times on the blog someone mentions Gnosticism and at some point you say something to the effect: well, it’s complicated. I’d like to hear more about Gnosticism. (There’s an amazing Dr. Who episode that screams Gnosticism. It’s in a series of episodes with the theme of organized religion)

    You reach more people with your books, I presume. Perhaps use that somehow: ask for a donation, ask them to join, have a companion website to the book on this blog.

  12. Avatar
    AstaKask  June 19, 2019

    I want to say that it’s an amazing blog. I’ve learnt so much from this, and what is even better is that I get to pick your brain on relevant topics when I feel like it. It’s a privilege.

    I like the more scholarly posts, but I agree that they should be a sometimes food. And I would love to hear more debates from you.

    And finally, this has nothing to do with the blog, but if you haven’t seen Rocket Man yet I strongly recommend it. It’s a proper spectacle, as an Elton John biopic should be, and I think it’s best seen on the big screen.

  13. Avatar
    Truncated  June 19, 2019

    I definitely found the debate unenlightening, other than reinforcing how convoluted inerrantists positions can be. Things I would find interesting would be discussions with people who are critical scholars, but who have slightly different takes.

    For example, Peter Enns seems like he holds on to a real Christian faith, but after leaving Westminster Theological Seminary, seems to view the Bible as a critical scholar. How does he do this? What do you think of it?

    While your previous “debate” with Robert M. Price was underwhelming on Price’s part, he has a wide range of speculative theories (other than mythicism, please anything but that!) that would be fun to hear your comments on. I am sure a discussion, rather than a debate, would be the right forum. He is so kind and humorous and so many of your followers listen to the Bible Geek, we are always eager to see you engage (even critically). Maybe a discussion of his Holy Fable volumes?

    Also, two of the books you have recommended that absolutely confirmed my doubts about the Bible and allowed me to think more openly was “The Bible Unearthed” and “How to read the Bible.” Would love to hear how you agree or disagree with Finklestein or Friedman. For example, what do you think of Friedman’s Levite theory in “The Exodus”?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 21, 2019

      Yes, I don’t agree with lots of Friedman’s views once he gets outside the mainstream. But the basic presentation of the problems with the Pentateuch and the need for a solutoin involving sources I think is admirable. As to Enns, I don’t know him, but I do know lots and lots of firmly committed Christians who have a critical view of the Bible.

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      • Avatar
        nichael  June 21, 2019

        Regarding Friedman’s book on Exodus:

        I won’t presume to make any judgement on the “correctness” of Friedman’s claims concerning Friedman’s theory of the history of the Levites. But that said, speaking as a non-expert, I thought his book presented an excellent example of how a scholar goes about using the sources and their content to build and support an argument.

        Highly recommended to everyone.

  14. Avatar
    rburos  June 19, 2019

    1. I love the guest posts. And I have gone and purchased their book (and in a nod to you, told them so in my comments).
    2. I love the “debates”. you shouldn’t get frustrated because the ‘other side’ simply promotes a traditionalist argument that, like it or not, is part of the discussion, and we get to see this within a professional context–we gain regardless of their argument. I would be totally fine with complete fundamentalists coming in and promoting their ‘side’. In that way, you can still teach–even if it is only how to dialogue.
    3. I would really love (I know I’m repeating myself here) for you to discuss your views on important books, similar to the chapter ends of your textbook.
    4. Of course, you could simply just keep doing what you’re doing because I’m a VERY satisfied customer and promote the blog to my friends.

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  15. Avatar
    flshrP  June 19, 2019

    I’m all for having guest scholars post their work on the blog. It takes some of the load off of your shoulders and enlarges the scope of discourse on the blog.
    That on-line debate you had with the conservative Christian was informative and personally I would like to have more of that.

    As far as your concerns about society not valuing evidence, I think that it’s all the fault of religious thinking in which believers become close-minded and defensive about their treasured beliefs. These folks think that their beliefs about the supernatural are 100% true and, as a result, exhibit the symptoms of nearly invincible selection bias. And this mindset spills over into other aspects of their lives to produce the phenomenon you describe in which evidence is not valued and all that matters is individual subjective belief.

    What’s behind this devaluation of evidence is fear. For many of these believers, to question their religious beliefs is sinful. And apostacy is the unforgivable sin for these people who are fixated on the afterlife (non-existent) and the threat of eternal punishment to their soul (also non-existent). People who have been indoctrinated since early childhood into this living hell of supernatural fantasy, fear and threats of everlasting punishment are trapped by their cherished beliefs and will resist any attempt to change them. It’s the work of a lifetime to overcome this indoctrination and my guess is that many try but relatively few succeed.

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  16. Avatar
    fedcarroll77  June 19, 2019

    Good day Bart,

    For me being on the blog for just under a year I do find the blog very informative and interesting. I have seen great views posted by both yourself and even some of your colleagues who are scholars yet still Christian. There scholarship seems to not sway on their faith which I do find interesting.

    Onto my suggestions….. so my ONLY suggestion would be to when you post I would like to see more uses of other writings. This I mean use evidence (like how you’ve shown 2 Thess. Is most likely a forgery). How you used scholars and evidence blew me away. Since most of your posts are usually generalized or less “scholarly” focused. I know you are trying to reach out to a common folk audience, I personally am more interested in what makes scholars tick. Why they think what they think, what is the evidence for their conclusion, how do they come to that, etc. So for me more scholarly posts would be awesome!!

    Other than that one suggestion the blog format is great, the posts are lengthy, and you respond to any comments within 24 hours. Plus I do find it enlightening to have other guest writers who post on new ideas and conclusions that are gaining in the scholarly community (Jeff Siker, Brent Nongbri, etc). Overall great job so far!!

  17. Avatar
    tcasto  June 19, 2019

    Hey, Bart. Welcome back. Wish I could have made the trip with you. I spent a day in Jerusalem and Bethlehem last summer. Very frustrating with huge crowds at every venue. Would have preferred a personal tour at a less-busy time.

    To your main question, the blog continues to match my wants and expectations. I like the full coverage that several linked posts can provide. I think the occasional invited guest is a nice addition. And I really enjoyed the deep dive into the forensics that go into your research.

    Reading an on-line debate is less appealing. I much prefer the YouTube posts of real-time debates. And I enjoy revisiting the Great Courses material to refresh my memory.

    As to the concern that we are rapidly becoming a “facts are irrelevant” society, I share your opinion and I try not to despair. I think it odd that people will ask advice for something like a DIY project for which they know nothing about, but disdain information on something else that goes against their beliefs, even when it’s something they know nothing about.

  18. Avatar
    Hngerhman  June 19, 2019

    The blog is fantastic. Full stop.

    Feedback re: your questions:

    1. Love the guest posts – in themselves (both the content and the comment interaction), as well as a curated avenue to good further reading (happy to be “advertized at” by these select scholars)

    2. Huge fan of the wonky pieces – perhaps I’m an exception, and a glutton for rigorous argumentation. Maybe the optimal mix is 5%-10% academic-level posts (with translations!), to concurrently maintain the snappiness and accessibility that has the widest appeal plus the occasional deep cut for the hardcore fans (like Bruce and “Incident”)

    3. The debate was excellent, but I’m clearly biased (so will refrain from commenting further on this one, aside from a pragmatic observation that it definitely captured eyes/clicks). Would love to see more on other topics periodically

    One thought (broken record) on expanding the member catchment area would be an audio version of posts on a tiered subscription – I think you’d reach a broader cross section (there is an audio-only market, and JM’s *excellent* podcast proves it – make a subscription version daily, current and paywall). Roll it out alongside the next book blitz…

  19. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  June 19, 2019

    I find the blog highly informative and the reasons you give for its existence are spot on. A lot of us are old-fashioned enough to care about “truth”. If we don’t have a real (in some sense) objective external world, knowable by us, at least within the limits of historical and scientific methods, we are well and truly lost. “I am the way and the TRUTH and the light”– sort of remember reading that somewhere. Hmmm. Whatever serves the cause of truth. I think you have a reasonable number of guest posts so far, and the debates as an occasional event are great. But we all know you have a lot on your plate. Everything you’ve done here so far is fine. Just don’t burn out. It is possible to overextend. If the blog stays just as it is now, that would be fine with me. There is tremendous potential for harm in religious and theological discourse, due to the odd epistemology, in which invisible things and objectively non-verifiable assertions can have drastic consequences– purges, bigotry, holy wars. This blog is at least on the right track, as opposed to so much that seems to be on the wrong track today.

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    nichael  June 19, 2019

    [First welcome back]

    Point #1: Concerning occasional posts by other scholars:

    My vote is (to the extent that it’s practical) keep it up.

    In short, the broader the scope of topics and of information the better.

    (Also, to the extent that such posts might give you the occasional break [which, for my own selfish reasons, I can only assume ultimately help you maintain the already excellent level of your posts[ I can only assume this is useful as well.)

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