. O frabjous day! Callooh, callay! I’m chortling in my joy. My new book came out today: Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented their Stories of the Savior. It is available now, as we speak! Many, many thanks to everyone on the blog who has commented on various posts that I’ve done related to the book, and especially to those blog members who actually read the book in advance and made comments on it. I acknowledge you in the Acknowledgments, and I thank you here!
The publication date of a book is always an ecstatic and anxious time for an author. Will people buy the book? Will they like it? Will they hate it? One never knows! This is the seventh book that I have published with HarperOne. It has been a very good run. I started out publishing my trade books (that is, books written for a general audience – the kinds of thing you would find in Barnes and Noble) with Oxford Press. I published with them just because I had been publishing my other work with them, and they asked me to do a trade book.
My first Oxford book was a work of scholarship, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (1993 – 23 years ago now!). That book was decidedly not for general audiences! (Although I know that a number of members on the blog have read it) (bear in mind that when I say a “number,” that two is a number).
On the basis of that book, oddly and for some unknown and unexpected reason, my editor at Oxford asked me if I would be interested in writing a college-level textbook on the New Testament. That was virtually the last thing that I wanted to do. But after she cajoled me for a while, I came to think that maybe it would be an interesting exercise: my other three books were all for scholars in my field of Greek manuscript analysis; how ‘bout a book for nineteen-year-olds who wouldn’t know a Greek manuscript if it bit them on the nose (which, of course, would not be possible). So I did it. Now that textbook is in the sixth edition. Go figure.
After the textbook was done, my editor (a different one this time) tried to persuade me to write a trade book, not for 19-year old students but for their parents. He wanted a book on the historical Jesus. I told him that was the last think I wanted to do. (Different editor, but this was becoming a refrain). I wanted to return to hard-core scholarship. But after a while I thought that maybe it would be interesting to write a book for an educated general public of non-experts on something as important as the historical Jesus. And so I did. It came out, as my first tradebook: Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.
And after that, I wanted to get back to serious scholarship. I had started doing work, then, on a new edition and translation of the ten Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press). But while I was working on that, another publisher approached me to ask if I would be interested in writing a trade book on the question of how we got the canon of the New Testament. I had long been interested in that question, but I told him no, it was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to stick to my scholarship.
He talked with me about how I would write the book if I *were* to write it. I told him that I had always thought that the best way to understand how we got the books of the NT was to recognize that there were other books that were (to speak metaphorically) vying for a spot, and you had to put the canon discussion in the context of the broader discussion of orthodoxy and heresy in earliest Christianity. But I also gave him names of people who could write the book, since I didn’t want to. Still, he wanted me to do it. I thought about it for a long time, and ended up agreeing (the full story is pretty funny; I’ll tell it sometime on the blog). And so I wrote the book (but ended up publishing it with Oxford instead): Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. My wife Sarah still insists it’s the best trade book I ever wrote.
I wrote several other trade books with Oxford, and enjoyed very much working with them: Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code (this was a huge break through for me, since with this book I first realized that I can write a trade book – that is, do the actual writing once the research and outlining is all done – in two weeks); Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene (my favorite title of the books for which I’ve been allowed to give a title); The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot.
When, at some point, I came up with the idea of publishing a book on the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament – my area of scholarly research for some twenty years – I had trouble getting a publisher interested in it. My editor at Oxford was not sure they would go for it. I tried several other publishers. Harper decided they would give it a shot. Turns out to have been a very good thing indeed. That was the book that made my career take off: Misquoting Jesus: The Story of Who Changed the Bible and Why. Since then I have published five books with Harper. Five of the six have done extremely well (none as well as Misquoting Jesus!).
And now this – Jesus Before the Gospels, my seventh. In my next post I’ll talk about how it differs from all the others. For now I’m just chortling.