I just finished spending five days at my annual professional meeting, the Society of Biblical Literature, this year in Atlanta. This is a very large conference, probably about 6,000 people here for it – not to mention another 6,000 here for the American Academy of Religion conference that is held jointly with it.
For both conferences this is a chance for professional academics in their various fields of religious studies (New Testament, Hebrew Bible, early Christianity, early Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Religion and Culture, Religion in the Americas and so forth and so on – lots and lots of fields) to come together, attend academic papers on various topics (dozens of papers read by scholars all at the same time throughout the convention center), have meetings for various organizations, talk to editors, browse through the enormous book display hall where publishers in the field display all the recent books, and so on. This is not a conference for lay-people interested in the topics: it is heavy duty scholarship. But for experts in biblical studies, it is a mecca.
I used to attend the conference purely for the academic content, going to papers in New Testament exegesis, early Christian history, textual criticism, and so on. I still do *some* of that, of course, since that is, after all, the point of the conference. But even more these days – here in my 33rd year of coming! – I use it as a chance to see old friends in the field and former graduate students. I get booked virtually day and night seeing people and catching up. It’s a highlight of my year.
I participated in a couple of panel discussions at this year’s conference. One of them was, interestingly enough, about blogging. There are numerous scholars or religious studies, of course, who have blogs on their fields of expertise, including a number of experts on the New Testament. Among the latter are blogs run by various friends/colleagues of mine: Mark Goodacre, Larry Hurtado, and James McGrath. You may want to check these out. The panel discussed the possibilities and problems with blogging. And so talked a bit about the Bart Ehrman blog.
Preparing for my remarks led me to think about a few things about this blog that make it different from all the others, and to reflect on how it is going. Here let me say a couple of things that make this blog distinctive:
- This is the only blog that I know of that is focused almost exclusively on disseminating scholarly views of the NT strictly to people who are not scholars of the NT. That is, my blog is meant for the non-professional. The others are to a certain extent as well, of course; but the mission of my blog seems to be a bit different, an attempt to take even taken-for-granted-among-scholars-and-long-known-views and present them to people who have never heard of such things.
- Mine is the only blog by a biblical scholar that, to my knowledge, charges money for the right to join. This approach, in other words, is virtually unheard of.
And here are a few of the successes and problems and issues distinctive to this blog:
- I am very happy to report that our membership is continually growing. We currently have 4800 members. That’s fantastic – more than I thought. But I want to keep growing. If you have bright ideas, let me know! And PLEASE: spread the word among your family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, doctors, dog-walkers, cable-repair guys, and so on….
- This year we will meet one of my financial goals. I have wanted the proceeds of the blog to hit $100,000. And it looks like this year it is going to happen. It would *NOT* happen were it not for the extraordinary generosity of some of the blog members who have made donations on top of their membership fees. The blog *depends* on these donations. Please think about donating yourself, as we build up the amount we raise. And many, many thanks to those who have donated. I wouldn’t be doing this if it were not for you. And I want to set higher and higher goals, as all the funds go to important charities dealing with people in desperate need of help.
- The major challenge for the blog is personal – how I can keep it going. It’s a huge commitment and my time is crunched. So what else is new? And whose time is *not* crunched?!? But still. Every now and then a member will complain that I don’t spend enough time engaging with them and writing full comments back to everything they say. I wish I could. I just don’t have the time. Look at it this way: suppose I offer to spend, say, just five minutes a day responding to each and every member who wants me to interact with their views. And suppose only one out of twenty blog members take me up on that. That would be 240 five-minute responses a day. And that would be 1200 minutes of responses. And that would be 20 hours. A day. If I did this only for one out of twenty members. Uh, well, that ain’t gonna happen. So many apologies for not being able to be even MORE involved than I am, but there’s only one of me! I either need to get cloned soon or we need to figure out how to squeeze more hours in the day and more days in the week and more weeks in the year!!!
I think the blog is going great. I hope you do to. Please donate to it. (Hit the Donate button). And get more of your friends, family, and acquaintances to join up. (Remember: it is VERY easy to give Gift Subscriptions to the blog as well: just click the Gift Subscription button and go from there). Finally, thanks to all of *you* who make this entire enterprise possible!