I have been explaining that I started to write books for a broader audience not because that was some kind of goal in my life – just the opposite! – but because I came to think it would be a good thing to try to communicate scholarship on the New Testament to 19-20 year olds in a college-level textbook. A couple of readers have commented that when my former classmates from Moody have indicated that I wanted (and still want) to write books to become famous, they were not referring to my textbooks but to my trade books for a general (adult) audience. That’s exactly right – that is indeed what they were referring to. The reason I’ve been talking about my first textbook is that this was the beginning of my quest to reach out to a broader swath of people. Here in this post I’ll get to my trade books.
After I wrote my first textbook (I’ve now written three, and compiled three anthologies of ancient texts, in good translations, with brief introductions, also for college kids), I thought – OK, that’s IT!!! Back to doing scholarship and only scholarship! I did not plan on writing another textbook, and certainly not a book for a broader audience.
Then the same thing happened as happened with the textbook. An editor pressed me and I finally agreed. This was a different editor. Half way through writing my original textbook, the book got handed off to a new editor at Oxford Press who had been brought on board to focus exclusively on textbooks in Religion and in Philosophy. This is someone who became a friend, and is now one of my closest friends, as he moved to Chapel Hill some ten years ago (even though he still works at OUP in New York, long distance), Robert Miller.
After the textbook was finished, Robert called me and told me that he thought I should write a trade book (for a general audience) on the historical Jesus. I told him he was crazy. I had vowed never to write a general book on anything, and especially not on the historical Jesus. No thanks. He called me again about it. No, I still wasn’t interested. But in the interim I had started to think: wouldn’t it be nice to have a book on the historical Jesus that didn’t lay out an idiosyncratic and personal view of the matter so much as the view that had been dominant in scholarship for nearly a century?
There were (and are!) lots of books about Jesus that are out there. But…
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