For all who are interested!    This coming Monday, 2:00-3:00 pm, I will be leading a one-hour webinar hosted by Oxford University Press.  It is free and open to everyone.

The webinar will focus on the history of the ideas of heaven and hell, the subject of my recent book with Simon & Schuster.  So *that’s* a bit strange.  An Oxford event focusing on a book I wrote for someone else???   I’ll explain below.

FIRST, about the event.  I will start by giving a fifteen-minute talk, and that will be followed with Q & A.  Since several hundred people have already signed up for the event, the questions will be in writing, either submitted in advance or on “Chat” during the talk.

The original idea of the webinar was to make it for university students and their professors.  But then Oxford thought, what the heck: why not just open it up?  It’s not like we have to worry about their not being enough *chairs* in the room!   So, anyone can join up to listen and watch.  There are no stipulations and no preparations required ahead of time.  Just come into the event on your computer or other device.

To do so you’ll need to tell them you’re planning on coming.  Here is the link.  Just click it, read what it’s about, and join up:

So.  The situation is a bit unusual.  why is Oxford Press sponsoring an event for me to talk about a subject I cover in a book that I wrote for a *different* press?  I’ve never heard of *that* before!  But there’s a good reason for it.

Basic line: the topic of heaven and hell is also something I cover in my various Oxford Press books, most especially my textbooks.  Any exposure my book receives may indeed encourage professors to use my textbooks; and it can also provide some nice additional information to students attending the webinar who already are using my books

Over the years, Oxford has published a ton of my books — all my textbooks, a bunch of my tradebooks, and most of my scholarly monographs.   The textbooks are the big sellers.

And here I should STRESS: these books are marketed for undergraduates, but they are the IDEAL place for adults seriously interested in the New Testament or the Bible as a whole, and who don’t know where to start.  How do I find out what the Gospel of Mark or the book of Revelation is all about (or any of the other books of the Bible)?  Or how to know what Jesus really said and did?  Or whether Paul really wrote all the letters in his name?  Or about the books that didn’t get into the New Testament?  Or about who decided which books should be included, and when, and on what grounds?  Or what we can say about the surviving manuscripts of the NT.  Etc. etc. etc.

A good, solid, up-to-date textbook is the place to go.  We shouldn’t think of textbooks as only for the 19-year olds.  They are perfect for their parents and grandparents as well!!

So let me talk about my three Oxford textbooks.

  • The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (Oxford University Press)
    • This was my first one, originally published in 1994.  It is now in its seventh edition (just came out! Copyright 2020).
    • It provides a full discussion of the major issues involved with understanding the New Testament, everything from the Roman world in which it emerged, to the history, culture, and context of Judaism, to a discussion of each and every book of the New Testament from a historical and literary perspective:  the main themes of each book, complicated issues they present and how scholars address them, when they were written, by whom, how they relate to each other; how reliable they are.  There are also discussions of the life of the historical Jesus (how doe we know what he really said and did?); the life and ministry of Paul; the formation of the canon.   And so on and on.
    • At the end of each chapter is an annotated bibliography of further books to read for anyone who is interested, along with important pedagogical tools: summary highlights of the discussion; key terms in the chapter; study questions, etc..
    • The book also includes time lines, maps, photographic essays involving archaeology and manuscripts, and a full glossary. It was quite a production making this thing, and every edition has simply gotten better, imo, often with the assistance and always with the advice of others.
    • As to the overall character and orientation of the book, I’m not sure how to put this, but, as some of you know, I am often attacked by people who endorse very conservative religious commitments for having an excessively liberal bias that is very much on the margins of serious scholarship.  I simply don’t think that’s true.  Most of my major views are represented in this book.  These views are NOT on the margins of serious scholarship.  On the whole they are the views the vast majority of scholars outside the ranks of fundamentalists and very conservative evangelicals have.  There is very good evidence of that.  Since it was published in 1997 – so for well over 20 years now – this book has been the most widely used textbook in the field of New Testament studies in North America.  Why?  Because it embodies and expresses the views and perspectives that MOST professors of New Testament in institutions of higher learning have (and that includes professors training Christian ministers in seminaries and divinity schools, outside of the fundamentalist and very conservative evangelical realms)
    • Sometime on the blog I’ll talk about how it came about that I wrote this book.  It was the last thing I ever wanted to do at the time, and the best thing I ever did do!  Life can be like that…
  • A Brief Introduction to the New Testament (Oxford University Press).
    • About eight years after my textbook was published, my editor, Robert Miller, and I were feeling a bit frustrated.  It was the top-selling book in the field, but some professors at smaller colleges and community colleges felt that it was more information than their students could handle.   And other professors were teaching not on the semester system, with 15 weeks in a semester,  but in the “quarter system, with 10 weeks.  The book was more than they could squeeze into their term.
    • And for that reason a number of professors were using a different textbook.  SO, we decided I should to a shorter version of the book for people in that situation.   Hence, my Brief Introduction.   In the current editions, the longer book is 580 pages, the shorter 370.   I cut stuff.   I hated doing it.  But, if you need barer bones, you need barer bones.   And a lot of professors use it.
    • The first edition came out in 2004; we have just now finished edits for the fifth edition, which will be out later this year.
    • The concept, perspective, and approach are very much like the longer book.  There’s just less book in this book.
  • The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction (Oxford Press)
    • About half the colleges/universities in the country that have a course on biblical studies do not split it up into difference classes on  Old Testament/New Testament, but teach a one-semester Bible course.   I’m not a fan of that, but I suppose every expert in one thing thinks that a semester on that one thing is not enough.  One semester isn’t enough for the New Testament.  But for the entire Bible??
    • Anyway, it’s the reality.  And I’ve never liked the textbooks on the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.  They tend to be dry as dirt.  I wanted to write one that was more intriguing and interesting, while being full informative and backed with scholarship.
    • I decided to make my book shorter  then my larger New Testament book, since students in a class on the whole Bible will have so much more reading in the Bible itself during the semester; the Old Testament, as you know, is much larger than the NT, and for this class students read from both.  And since the NT is just about half of the book, well, it’s a relatively very brief treatment.  It hits the key points and tries to keep them interesting.
    •  The basic approach is the same as in the other two, with the same kinds of features throughout.
    • This book first appeared in 2014 (Don’t think I noticed this before, but these text books were all spaced precisely ten years apart….), with the second edition in 2018.   The second edition, imo, is MUCH improved in terms of structure and layout.
    • And I have to say, I LOVED writing this one.  It was unusually good fun.  In my PhD, my secondary field of study was Old Testament; I’ve taught courses on the OT at both Rutgers and UNC.   And always found it such a pleasure because there is SO much good and interesting material in it.  Fantastic stories, poetry, deeply thoughtful reflections, powerful proclamations:  Great stuff.
    • And yet VERY little known, not just by students but by the populace at large.  Including committed Bible readers who rarely understand the bigger picture, let alone how the smaller pictures fit into the bigger picture and in relation to one another.

OK, so my point for this blog post:  If you want quick and ready information about anything you’re interested in the Bible, these would be possible places to turn, with suggestions for further reading.

SO, why is Oxford sponsoring an event in which I deal with a topic of a book I wrote for a different press?  Because I deal with virtually all the aspects of the topic in one way or another in my textbooks.  And they would like to promote the textbooks.  And so would I.

Think about coming in to the webinar.  Just clink the link, again: