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Trying to Make Scholarship Interesting

I've long been interested in thinking about how to make boring subjects interesting.  I've become especially attuned to the issue recently as I've begun to read a lot more scholarship in fields completely unrelated to mine.  Some scholars have a gift in being able to reach low level mortals like me.  My own field is not nearly as complicated as the hard sciences (always hard for me, at least!) but every field has its technicalities and jargon and wide range of not-widely-shared assumptions, perspectives, and history of investigation. And so I was struck when I ran across this post from some years ago, and realized that it's still the sort of thing I think about roughly every day. ****************************** The difficulty in presenting serious scholarship to a lay audience is how to make something that can be very dry and technical and detailed and, well, boring to most human beings actually interesting and lively and thought provoking.   It is obviously quite easy to make something interesting dull.  University professors are unusually skilled at doing that.   [...]

The New Edition of My Textbook: Reader’s Mailbag April 10, 2016

Here is this week’s Reader’s Mailbag (well, last week’s; I took yesterday off from work) (and it was glorious!).  This time around I will be dealing with just one question, about the new edition of my New Testament textbook   QUESTION: You say you first published your textbook on the New Testament about 20 years ago. I see that it is in its 5th edition (or more?). You’ve studied a lot, published a lot, no doubt learned a lot   RESPONSE: Actually, as it turns out, this past year I published the sixth edition of the book.   Who would-a thought?   To explain what is different about the new book, I need to say a few things about how I imagined the book when I first wrote it, back in the mid 1990s.  And then I can talk about what I changed for this new edition. Let me say before detailing all that that even though the book is meant for college and university students, it could be useful for anyone interested n the study of [...]

2017-11-13T21:10:12-05:00April 10th, 2016|Book Discussions, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

On Writing for A College Audience

I have been dealing with some of the criticisms that classmates from my college days at Moody Bible Institute have leveled against me.   The reason this thread started is that I had decided to say a few words about my Moody experience here on the blog.  I didn’t really finish that, but word got out among my former peers (I’m on a listserv that some of them hang out on) and several people made remarks about it.  I’m not sure they knew I was reading their comments.  (!) One comment was that I was in danger of judgment on the Last Day.  I’ve already said a couple of things about that.   Another was that I write my books simply in order to become famous.   This post will be the second one on that.  The third, which I will also deal with in a couple of posts, is the claim that I have led so many people astray (harming them, the truth, and reality as we know it). First let me finish with the view – [...]

Writing to Become Famous?

I’ve been referring to the reactions that I received from my former classmates at Moody Bible Institute about some of my posts about what my experience was like there.  Some of them, as I indicated, warned me of future judgment.   Others made some a rather belittling comment:  that I have written my books simply because I have wanted to become famous. My sense is that nothing I say would ever change someone’s mind if that’s what they are already inclined to think, but I do want to say something about the matter from my own perspective. When I started out in my publishing career, I had no idea at all of becoming well known and that certainly was not a goal of mine.  Very, very far from it.   My goal was to be a widely respected scholar among New Testament scholars; I wanted to become a world-class expert on the Greek manuscript tradition of the New Testament.  I had no idea at all of reaching out to the general public in anything I wrote.   I [...]

Making Things Interesting

I’m traveling hither and yon over the next couple of months giving lectures on a variety of topics. Right now I’m in Kansas City, near my old stompling grounds of Lawrence Kansas, to give two lectures at the annual Lyceum conference at Unity Village. It’s an unusual place, the center of a religious organization (denomination? They debate how to describe themselves apparently; but they are two million strong around the world), known as Unity. The people here are spectacularly friendly and helpful; I would say that their religious views are very, very far to the left of the spectrum; their group began as a New Thought movement in the 1880s, influenced by Transcendentalism among other things, highly spiritual and as far from doctrinally oriented as can be. For anyone interested, here is their website: In any event, Unity Village is a beautiful campus in a rural setting. The Lyceum is their annual conference which is put on every five years. I was a speaker at their first Lyceum in 2008, and they asked me [...]

A Problem with My Textbook

Writing any kind of book whatsoever is really difficult. But each *kind* of book is difficult in its own way. I tend to write three kinds of books: scholarly works for scholars (not for general consumption!); popular trade books for broader audiences of intelligent adults; and textbooks for college kids. As I’ve repeatedly said, I’m now finishing up my new textbook on the Bible for introductory level classes. The audience is, basically, American 19 and 20-year olds. And I’m finding it hard! There are several things that are just inherently hard for this kind of thing.  It is hard to take something that can so easily be made dull and lifeless and make it interesting and even intriguing.  It is hard to write at the right level so that the readers are treated like adults but not too much knowledge is assumed.  It is hard to take complicated ideas and concepts and make them simple and understandable enough for 19-year-olds who may be having the first introduction to the subject matter ever.  It is hard [...]

2020-04-03T19:21:54-04:00September 20th, 2012|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

Income from Books

QUESTION: Do you mind if I ask you about how the financial incentives for you compare between these types of projects? I assume that your books for scholars are not expected to make much money directly, although they are important for your career in other ways. Textbooks are very expensive compared to popular books; for example the list price for your textbook “The New Testament” (paperback) is $65. That’s actually not particularly high as textbooks go, but still at least three times as expensive as your popular books. Its also longer of course at 600 pages vs e.g. about 250 pages for “Misquoting Jesus” so they must take you longer to write. How does the compensation on your end compare?   RESPONSE: Not a problem -- there's nothing very secretive about it.   The first thing to say, though, is that authors have NO say (*NO* say!) over the price of their books.  Publishers don't even ask for an author's opinion! Scholarly books are not profitable, and usually pay nothing or next to nothing.  In lots [...]

2020-04-03T19:35:31-04:00July 4th, 2012|Book Discussions, Reader’s Questions|

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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