This post will discuss several issues connected with the blog; hopefully that will be of some interest to anyone who pays good money to be on it. If you are ever inclined to make a comment on any of the posts, or a comment on any of the comments, then please do read the bit at the end.
I think this is a good moment to pause a second and think about the blog. I have spent the last two and a half months on a thread that came out of nowhere. For those of you with long memories, you will recall that back in April I was in the middle of a completely different thread, about my current understandings of where the traditional Christian view of the afterlife (that you die and your soul goes to heaven or hell) came from. This is connected to my current book project that I am tentatively calling “The Invention of the Afterlife: A History of Heaven and Hell” (or some such thing).
This is the second book of a two-book deal that I negotiated two years ago about this time with my new publisher Simon & Schuster. The first book was/is The Triumph of Christianity: How A Forbidden Religion Swept the World. That book is done and in production, scheduled to appear on February 13. I am completely finished with it, apart from working out with the publisher the cover design (a very difficult process in this case). When I secured my contract with Simon & Schuster, we agreed that this first book would be about how Christianity went from being the beliefs of a handful of rustic day-laborers in a backwater of the Roman empire a short while after Jesus’ death to becoming, within four hundred years, a religion of 30 million converts and the official religion of Rome, then to become the most important political, social, cultural, economic – not to mention religious – institution the Western world has ever seen. How did *that* happen??? That’s what the first book is about.
The second was a “book to be named later.” In other words, Simon & Schuster gave me a contract on the second book even though we didn’t know what it would be about When I finished writing Triumph last year I decided that next I wanted to work on the history of heaven and hell, that is, the historical development of these foundational doctrines within the Christian tradition. I started doing some serious research on the topic in the fall and through the winter, and was writing a fairly sustained thread of posts on that – was smack dab in the middle of the thread, in fact, back in April – when I decided to interrupt the thread with a single post explaining what I had done on the last day of my undergraduate course on the New Testament, the day before.
On that day, every semester, I tell students something about myself that they have wanted to know: what I really believe and why I have come to believe it. This is something that never comes up during the semester, since I teach about the New Testament from a historical perspective, not from the point of view of my personal religious beliefs. I basically tell the students the story of my faith journey for about 30 minutes, then take 15-20 minutes of questions, on anything the students want to ask.
My idea on the blog was simply to list via bullet points what I covered in those 30 minutes. I started explaining it on a post and realized I would need two or three to do a proper job of it. Then more. Then more. As I’ve indicated, that was two and a half months ago. I’ve done almost nothing else on the blog since.
So, I’m done with that now. Thank God, you might say.
But it does make me wonder: is this an appropriate and useful sort of thread for the blog? The blog is really about the New Testament and the history of early Christianity from Jesus up through the end of the fourth Christian century, and all connected issues. I try to deal with topics of major interest to anyone intrigued (greatly or slightly) about such things, covering such areas as the Hebrew Bible, religion in the Greek and Roman worlds, the life and teachings of the historical Jesus, the life and letters of Paul, the authorship of the writings of the New Testament, the formation of the Christian canon of Scripture, the Apostolic Fathers, heresy and orthodoxy in early Christianity, the role of women in the church, persecution and martyrdom of early Christians, the formation of early Christian doctrine, the spread of the Christian religion, the conversion of the emperor Constantine, Jewish-Christian relations in antiquity, and …. And just about everything else of interest to those who are … interested.
So this thread has been a different thing. And now it’s done. And I would like feedback – not on the thread per se, but on the blog. My sense is that it is best to mix it up by having (mainly ) academic discussions, and (some) personal discussions; to talk history and to talk about matters of personal importance (personal to me; personal to you). But what do you think?
Also, while we’re talking about the blog, let me make a few comments (and welcome suggestions) about comments that you and your fellow blog-members make on my posts and on each others’ comments.
- First, please do feel free to comment on each and everything you like!
- The blog is set up so that I have to read and approve every comment before it appears.
- I approve of the vast majority of all comments.
- When I do not approve a comment (this is an important point) it is almost always for one of the following reasons:
- The comment is not respectful of another person or his or her views. This blog is remarkable for the cordiality we all show one another, even when we disagree. I do not allow name-calling or branding or overly snide remarks. We need to keep it civil, even if that is not the typical style for Internet exchange. I often have to make a judgment call, and probably don’t make the right one always. But I do my best to weed out inappropriate comments.
- The comment borders on the proselytizing. It doesn’t matter to me if you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, pagan, atheist, or anything else – you are welcome on the blog and welcome to state your views. But if it looks like you are trying to convert someone, I will not allow that here. There are lots of borderline cases, as many of you know, but I do my best to keep us on point (and the point is not to convert others)
- The comment is not relevant to the purposes of the blog. Sometimes people sound off on other things, and these days, of course, it is tempting for *ALL* of us to state in rather forceful terms our political views. I myself have exceedingly strong political opinions (especially these days), but I am not allowing myself to go there on the blog, and I sometimes will not accept comments if they too go there, without some kind of connection to what the blog is supposed to be about.
- A final and also very important point: If you have a lot to say, and enjoy making very long comments – fair enough! But let me note two realities:
- It is hard, virtually impossible, for me, myself, personally to interact at length with lengthy comments, lengthy questions, or multiple questions all embedded in a single comment. I wish I had more time to deal with blog issues: but I don’t have, given the other demands on my time and life. So I do the best I can. I hope you’ll understand.
- If you want your voice to be heard by others on the blog, you are FAR more likely to get a hearing if your comment is short and to the point than if it goes on and on and on. I know it’s hard to write succinctly, but you’ll simply get more people to hear you if you do.
So, please give me comments about the blog, the threads, the comments, and anything else. And please feel free to ask me questions for the mailbag. I think things are going very well, and I’m hopeful that all things will simply get better with time.