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What Is Different in My Textbook?

I have nearly finished making all the revisions for the sixth edition of my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.   It has taken me a lot longer than I thought it would, much to my chagrin.  But it is soon over.  I hope to have it sent off next week. Several readers have asked what I’ve changed this time around.   Here is (part of) my new Preface, that explains how I originally imagined the book and what I’ve done differently in this iteration. ********************************************************** Preface When I started doing research on the first edition of this textbook, twenty years ago now, I had very clear ideas about what I wanted it to be.   First and foremost, I wanted to approach the New Testament from a rigorously historical perspective.   It is not that I had any difficulties at the time, either professionally or personally, with introductions that were more geared toward theology, or exegesis, or literary criticism.   But I wanted my book to be different.   I wanted to situate the [...]

2020-04-03T16:29:01-04:00October 26th, 2014|Book Discussions, Public Forum|

Introduction to My Introduction (to the NT)

I have decided to add an "Introduction" to my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.  I is very similar (indeed!) to the introduction that I have now in my Introduction to the entire Bible.  The whole idea is to get students to see why taking an academic course on the NT is very important.   Here is the new Introduction, in full: ****************************************************************************************************************** Introduction Why Study the New Testament? The New Testament is the most commonly purchased, widely read, and deeply cherished book in the history of Western Civilization.  It is also the most widely misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misused.  These facts alone should make it worth our time to study it.   But there are other reasons as well – religious reasons, historical reasons, and literary reasons. Religious Reasons Most people who study the new Testament do so, of course, for religious reasons.  Many people revere the Bible as the word of God, and want to know what it can teach them about what to believe and how to live.   In [...]

2021-02-23T01:24:49-05:00October 20th, 2014|Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

Where Do You Start an Introduction to the NT?

One of the hardest parts of writing an Introduction to the New Testament is figuring out where to begin.   If someone were writing a literary introduction, or even a theological one, it might make best sense to begin at the beginning, with the Gospel of Matthew, and then continue through the New Testament all the way to the book of Revelation.  But what if one is writing an Introduction from a *historical* perspective?   Matthew wasn’t the first Gospel to be written; Mark was.   So doesn’t it make better sense (after discussing the Greco-Roman and Jewish milieu out of which these books arose) to start with Mark? But the problems go even deeper.   The Gospels were not the first books written: Paul’s letters were written earlier.   Students almost never know this; they simply assume that since the Gospels occur first in the NT, and since they talk about Jesus, who lived before Paul, that they were written before Paul.   So if one wants to deal with the NT historically, doesn’t it make best sense to begin [...]

2020-04-03T16:31:46-04:00October 5th, 2014|Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

Getting Started on My NT Introduction

So far I have been talking about how I conceived of my textbook when I first started working on it in the mid 1990s, stressing in particular that I wanted to approach the task from a rigorously historical perspective.   I should say again, I really was not sure that anyone would be interested in a textbook like that.  The only think comparable that I knew about at the time was a textbook by Joseph Tyson, a fine scholar at SMU, whose book, though, was not widely used. In addition, I heard, while I was doing the research for my book, that an Introduction was being written by none other than Raymond Brown.  I thought that this was *certain* to make my book a non-entity.  Many of you may not know who Raymond Brown was.   At the time, he was arguably the premier scholar of the New Testament in North America.   He was extremely learned; incredibly deep; unusually insightful.  He had read everything.  He was tremendously energetic.  He trained some of the finest scholars of my [...]

2020-04-03T16:31:57-04:00October 3rd, 2014|Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

On Boring Textbooks

There is one other general principle that I tried to follow when writing my NT textbook in the 1990s.  In my experience, most textbooks – not just in biblical studies, but in all fields – suffer from one ubiquitous problem.   They are BORING.   A guiding principle for me was to try my best to keep from boring readers to death. I’ve always been amazed over the years how otherwise intelligent human beings can take really fascinating material and make it dull, uninteresting, soporific, and general snooze-worthy.   Take the Hebrew Bible – the Christian Old Testament – for example.   It’s an amazing book, filled with incredibly interesting stories, and beautiful poetry, and gut-wrenching reflections on life and the disasters that happen within it.  How can you make the boring?  Simple!  Ask someone to write a textbook on it. The New Testament too is a really interesting book – even apart from being the most important book in the history of Western civilization.   Any textbook written for undergraduates will be, for many of them, their first (and [...]

2020-04-03T16:32:07-04:00October 1st, 2014|Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

A Historical Approach to the New Testament

In my previous posts I talked about how I came to be convinced to write my textbook on the New Testament, back in the early to mid 1990s.   Once I agreed to do it, the first step was to decide exactly what *kind* of Introduction to the New Testament I wanted it to be.  This was a problem, because I was pretty sure that the kind of introduction that I would like to write would not be the kind of introduction that college professors would like to use. There were already lots of textbooks on the New Testament available at the time.   I myself had used two different ones over the years, one that was filled with all sorts of jargon and assumptions that made it way over my students heads (that one didn’t last!  but for years it was one of the most widely used on the market); the other one was very sensitive to the theological interests of the authors and, presumably, of the students, and that was very heavy on using each [...]

2020-04-03T16:32:45-04:00September 24th, 2014|Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

Agreeing to Do the Textbook

In my previous post I indicated that I was not at all inclined to write a textbook on the New Testament.   In fact, before the editor at Oxford University Press asked me to do it, I had never given it a moment’s thought – except for that moment when I thought (some years before), that whatever I did with my publishing career, I did *not* want to write such a thing.  Looking back on it, I’m not sure why I was so dead set against it.  I suppose it was because my plan was to write scholarship for scholars and nothing but scholarship for scholars. About a week after I turned down the offer to do the textbook, she called me again to see if I had changed my mind.  No, I hadn’t.  But I had started thinking about it.   When she called me the third time I had begun to think that maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. There were several reasons I had begun to change my mind.   For [...]

2020-04-03T16:33:09-04:00September 23rd, 2014|Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

My New Testament Textbook

I thought I would take a few posts to talk about what I’m working on these days – for the past month or so, with another month or so to go.  As many of you know, I spent almost the entire summer doing nothing but reading books and articles about “memory” and related topics (such as the telling of stories in oral cultures) from a variety of perspectives: cognitive psychology, neurology (very low level!), anthropology (oral cultures and how they pass along their traditions), sociology (communal memory), folklore (urban legends, rumors, gossip), and so on.   All of this was in preparation for my next trade book dealing with what we can say about the oral traditions of Jesus as they were passed along in the years before the Gospels were written.   I am still leaving open the possibility of writing a scholarly monograph on a similar topic. But I have had to take a break from all that.  And with huge reluctance.  There are dozens and dozens of books and articles that I’m still desperate [...]

2020-04-03T16:33:16-04:00September 22nd, 2014|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

New Discussion of Gnosticism

On to a different topic for a bit. I am now in the process or reading the copy-edited version of the new edition of my anthology of ancient Christian texts, After the New Testament. In early posts, back in January, I talked about what would be in this anthology and how it would differ from the first edition, which I published fifteen years ago. In addition to adding some sections (full new rubrics, for example, on Women in the Early Church and on the History of Biblical Interpretation), I altered a few things – especially my entire section dealing with Christian Gnosticism. In my first edition I simply had one undifferentiated mass of texts that I called Gnostic. This is completely unsatisfying, confusing, simplistic, and, well, just wrong. This time I’ve tried to mend the errors of my ways. Based on my reading of more recent work in the field, I’ve rewritten the general introduction to Gnosticism in the text, and divided the primary text readings into four categories, each involving different “kinds” of Gnosticism: [...]

Books and Icebergs

A couple of snapshots of my life right now, followed by a comment. Snapshot One: Snapshot one:  I’ve had a couple of people ask me why I’m reading so many books and articles about the resurrection right now, in preparation for my book How Jesus Became God.  The resurrection, of course, is key to answering the question of the title, since if Jesus was thought to have been executed, and to have stayed dead, not only would there never have been anything like Christianity, but Jesus himself would have been thought of by posterity as, possibly, a Jewish preacher who ended up on the wrong side of the law, or a failed messianic pretender, or yet another prophet who met a bad end, or something else – but not God.   The resurrection itself did not immediately make anyone think Jesus was God (at least that’s what I’m going to argue in the book), but without the resurrection, the thought process that eventually declared he was God would never have been set in motion. But back [...]

2020-04-03T19:18:34-04:00October 14th, 2012|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions|

My Bible Introduction

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, [...]

2017-12-23T13:34:22-05:00July 2nd, 2012|Book Discussions, Public Forum|

My Next Book

Several readers have suggested that this kind of post should be available on the blog for everyone, not just members.  I think they're right! ******************************************************************************************************************* The next two weeks are going to be highly intense for me, and I’m a bit worried about how I will be able to fit in my “blog time.”   The reason: I will be throwing myself day and night into writing my next book. Background Part One:  As I think I’ve mentioned on the blog before, I try to write three different kinds of books for three different audiences.  This keeps life interesting and varied for me.   First, I write books for scholars, in which I try to advance serious scholarship, speaking the language that works with my colleagues who have PhD’s in the field and who are deeply conversant with all the ancient and modern languages and with all the major critical and historical issues.  My most recent work of this kind is due out in October: Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in the Early Christian [...]

2017-12-23T15:42:58-05:00June 30th, 2012|Book Discussions, Public Forum|
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