As predicted, I began work on my Introduction to the Bible yesterday, and it has been as intense as expected. This is to be a fifteen-chapter introduction of the entire Bible, Jewish Scripture (= Old Testament) and New Testament, Genesis to Revelation (including Apocrypha). What a scream….
The really difficult thing for this book – as for every book – is to make it just right for the audience. My audience in this case is not readers at Barnes and Noble (the general public) and not my colleagues among the scholars. It is 19 year olds and their teachers. What is tricky is the balancing act between the two. For their teachers (who have to be thought of, since they are the ones who decide which textbooks will be used for the courses, and the whole point is to get your textbook used), I have to be knowledgable, scholarly and academically respectable, well organized, clear, and insightful. For the 19 year olds I have to be interesting and worth the trouble of reading (and informative, clear, organized, etc.). The big trick with 19 year olds is writing in a way that is not at all patronizing, treating them as adults, but communicating with them, nonetheless, on their own level, in ways that are clear, interesting and engaging.
Anyway, for the process of writing itself, I anticipated that by the end of the day, each day, I would more or less brain dead. And that is certainly the case. My idea is this. I have fifteen days, and I want to write all eight chapters that deal with the Hebrew Bible. So that’s a chapter every two days. Each chapter is to be about 14,000 words of text. The problem is (well, one of the problems) that in addition to the text itself, I need to provide lots of ancillary materials. I have “boxes” on interesting and related topics – maybe six or seven per page. Each chapter has to begin with a brief summary of what the chapter is about, and end with a glance back at what has just been covered. I have to highlight key terms and provide a list of key terms at the end of each chapter, and to provide brief glossary definitions of each term. I have to make study questions for each chapter. And so on and on.
So it isn’t just a matter of writing the 14,000 words. It’s a matter of writing the 14,000 words and writing all this other material.
My initial plan was to write the text of a chapter on one day and do the ancillary materials the next. But I realized, the day before I started plowing into it, that that would mean fifteen days of solid writing without a break, and I wasn’t sure I could do that. So I’ve devised a new system, and am waiting to see if it will work. It involves spending two days writing a chapter a day, followed by a single day coming up with the ancillaries for both chapters. I’m not sure if that’ll work, but I’m going to give it a try.
I started out yesterday with chapter one, a brief introduction to:
- what the Bible is
- why it’s important to be studied (whether a believer or not, a Jew, a Christian, an agnostic, a pagan, whatever),
- what the main difficulties are that present themselves for studying it (it’s awfully BIG; we don’t know who most of the authors were; it was written over a very long stretch of time – centuries; the different books have widely differing perspectives; it is filled with contradictions, discrepanices, and mistakes; we don’t have the original texts; to understand it we have to situation each book in its own historical context, etc. etc.)
- a brief overview of the history of ancient Israel and early Christianity
- and finally a discussion of religions in the ancient near east and Roman empire.
It took about eight hours to write up, and came in just over 14,000 words, about 42 pages double spaced. Today I wrote chapter 2, on the Book of Genesis
- an overview of its contents (and the problems they pose)
- whether it can be taken as a book of science (NO) or history (NO), or rather, (YES) a collection of myths and legends – which are nonetheless extremely interesting, valuable, important, worth knowing and reading and thinking about
- Sources that lie behind it (who wrote the Pentateuch? The JEDP theory, etc.)
- And the cultural background to some of the stories (other myths from the Ancient Near East)
About nine hours virtually non-stop, another 14,000 words. Tomorrow I tackle the ancillaries. For now, yes, I’m basically brain dead. I’m stopping now. And am just about ready to prepare and then consume a martini roughly the size of Pennsylvania.
For the next couple of weeks, I will probably, among other things, post a few excerpts from my rought draft, on the Members Site.