Being a research scholar means a lot more than sticking your head in books and articles and churning out publications.  Here I explain an area of pure volunteer work with little glory but lots of grind.


A Research Scholar’s Editorial Work

One aspect of the life of a professional scholar that may not be well known to the general public involves editorial work.  For some scholars, this kind of work takes an enormous expenditure of time and effort, although much of the work, and many of the hours, are not transparent or evident to outsiders.  I have done a lot of editorial work over the years, but I do not think that my case is at all exceptional.  A lot of my colleagues have done less, but some have done a good deal more.  Many scholars see editorial work as a major component of “service” to the discipline.  Which means that, for the most part, it is really important but normally thankless!

As is my wont I will use my own experience as a guideline for describing this kind of work, since it is really the only experience I know about in excruciating detail.  I will devote three posts to the matter, two (including this one) dealing with editorial work involving academic / scholarly journals, and one dealing with work involving books (e.g., scholarly monograph series).

My Own Editorial Work As a Research Scholar

As I indicated in an earlier posting, publishing articles in scholarly journals is a very important aspect of professional work for academicians.  But someone needs to edit the journals!  Unlike popular magazines (Time, Newsweek, U.S. News… etc.), academic journals are not edited by professionals trained in journalism or communications.  They are edited by established scholars in the field who devote their time and energies to making scholarship available to the wider world of scholars.  Normally this is purely volunteer work (I’ve never been paid a dime to do any of it).  Every academic discipline has its serious journals, published in and read by scholars in the field.   In biblical studies there are such journals as The Journal of Biblical Literature, New Testament Studies, Novum Testamentum, Biblica, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly (which is not just for Catholics!); Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, and – well lots of others, in Europe and the United States.   In the history of early Christianity there are Vigiliae Christianae, Journal of Early Christian Studies, Church History, and others.

Scholars typically do one of two kinds of work for academic journals.   First, scholars serve on editorial boards.  For years I was on the editorial boards of the aforementioned New Testament Studies (which specializes in technical New Testament scholarship) and The Journal of Biblical Literature (which covers both Hebrew Bible and New Testament), the Journal of Early Christian Studies, and an electronic journal, Textual Criticism: An Electronic Journal.  For a number of years now I have also been serving as a co-editor in chief for Vigiliae Christianae (a major international journal dealing with early Christian studies after the NT, published by E. J. Brill in Leiden).

What Is a Referee?

Members of an editorial board typically get asked to “referee” articles that have been submitted to the journal for publication.  This is the “peer review” process, where experts decide whether an author’s article is suitable for the journal.  Since the entire idea of peer review is to have established experts in the field determine whether a submission is acceptable, members of editorial boards are always acknowledged, respected, and published members of the guild.

When an editor receives a submission, s/he sends it to one or two (depending on the specific journal’s policies) members of the board who are experts in the specific area that the article addresses, who evaluate whether the article is based on solid scholarship, whether it advances our knowledge in significant ways, whether it is well written and fully documented, and so on.  The referee then makes a recommendation to the editor.  This is normally a written report, of varying length, that is primarily intended to guide the editor in making a decision about whether or not to accept the piece.  Secondarily, reports are often provided to the author of the article to provide guidelines for making revisions.  Sometimes articles are accepted provisionally; if the author makes certain revisions, then the article will be acceptable.  Needless to takes a good chunk of time to read a submission and write up a detailed report; some reports are very brief (a simple statement of whether an article is acceptable or not); others can go on for several pages, indicating weaknesses in the author’s argument, pointing out other problems with the article, etc. – all in an effort to help the author produce a more convincing and publishable piece.

Some journals require a lot more work from their editorial boards than others.  For some that I have worked with, I have been asked to evaluate maybe five or six articles a year.  Others have as many as an article month or so to review.

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2022-10-21T12:44:07-04:00October 20th, 2022|Reflections and Ruminations|

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  1. NachoGoro October 20, 2022 at 7:44 am

    Hi Bart. How do you feel about the unpaid nature of such positions when the results are not open access? A common criticism I’ve heard of publishers such as Elsevier is that they charge people to submit, charge people to read but live off the free labor of academics.

    • BDEhrman October 22, 2022 at 2:50 pm

      I’ve always thought it was a complicated business and have never gotten my mind around “open access.”

  2. fishician October 20, 2022 at 8:47 am

    Is there a journal you would recommend that would be readable for us “amateurs” rather than being of interest to scholars only?

    • BDEhrman October 22, 2022 at 2:53 pm

      YOu might try Bible Review. But also, check out Bible Odyssey on the Society of Biblical Literature website.

  3. MichaelHenry October 20, 2022 at 9:41 am

    Thank you for sharing.

    What are some controversial topics you have rejected due to not meeting the criteria and what sort of controversial topics were accepted?

    • BDEhrman October 22, 2022 at 2:55 pm

      When it comes to the historical Jesus, I suppose *every* topic is controversial! Based on my research, for example, I don’t think that Jesus was born in Bethelehsm or predicted his coming death, or that anyone knows what he said as he was dying or that his tomb was empty. The first three of these four are not hugely provlematic for most historical scholars; not many agree on the last one though.

      • MichaelHenry October 24, 2022 at 8:57 pm

        Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I did not see it that way. I guess it shows how far I have grown when I think Jesus not being born in Bethlehem is not controversial.

        • BDEhrman October 27, 2022 at 10:17 am

          Yup, you are near the kingdom!

  4. Dalamar October 20, 2022 at 12:07 pm

    Hello Bart,

    I know this question has nothing to do with the current topic, but do the earliest manuscripts have anything out of order, primarily related to the transfiguration stories?

    • BDEhrman October 22, 2022 at 3:04 pm

      Some manuscripts do place stories in different locations, but very rrely, and usually only stories that are probably not original anyway. There aren’t any mss that relocate the transfiguration (e.g., to be a post-resurrection appeaance.

  5. RuthieL October 20, 2022 at 10:06 pm

    Hi, Dr. Ehrman. Do you think the writer of Ephesians in his Christ/church marriage analogy in Eph. 5:25-27 intends to imply that women are uniquely blemished and dirty in comparison with men? The passage exhorts men to love their wives with a love like Christ’s for the church, and then describes some ways Christ displayed that love (giving up his life for, cleansing, sanctifying). Commentaries I’ve looked at discuss how the cleansing and sanctifying might refer to baptism or the Bride/church preparing herself for the marriage with the Lamb in Revelation, etc., which are applicable to all believers equally in a gender-neutral way. But to me the impurity and blemishes language reminds me of the ritual purity laws in Leviticus, where women are at a disadvantage. And maybe blemish (“without blame”) hints at Eve’s transgression? Or am I totally out over my skis on this one? Thanks!

    • BDEhrman October 22, 2022 at 3:07 pm

      That’s a very interesting reading. I’ve never thought of it that way, but at first glance, it looks like a good point!

  6. Elupe October 20, 2022 at 10:50 pm

    Your vigor is inspiring. I don’t understand how you could possibly have the time to do even just the things I’m aware of that your involved in.

    How can one become a layman referee for your pre-published love/charity book?

    • BDEhrman October 22, 2022 at 3:09 pm

      Well, I don’t watch a lot of sit-coms…. In teh past I’ve held fundraiserrs wehre I”ve asked blog members if anyone wanted to read a pre-published book and make comments on it, for a set donation to the blog. Usually 8-10 people take me up on it (the donation is set kinda high: $1000). I don’t want / can’t let *too* many see a pre-published version. My publisher wouldn’t allow it. But to raise some money for charity, that’s OK. If I do that, it would be in a bout a year from now.

  7. RichardFellows October 20, 2022 at 11:27 pm

    Journal editors can decide not to send a submission for peer review. They can also send a submission to referees that they think will share their assessment. When a journal claims to be “double blind”, should the identities of the authors be withheld from the editor?

    • BDEhrman October 22, 2022 at 6:03 pm

      It’s not possible to make a blanket statement — different journals have different policies. I don’t think I’ve heard of double-blind reveiw in the journals I’ve been associated with or published with. But yes, most of the ones I know allow the editor the discretion of deciding whether a submission is viable and so worthy of a review. Otherwise, many hundreds of person-hours would be lost, if journals were *required* to review every single thing that comes in. Most of the time the decision one way or another is a no-brainer. But yes, I do think it’s best for reviewers not to know the identify of the author.

  8. Seeker1952 October 21, 2022 at 10:27 am

    Do you think a reasonable case can be made for biology to be an elective for public school students for whom evolution is directly contrary to their religious beliefs or those of their parents?

    To be clear, I think evolution is almost unquestionably true. I don’t think religion should be taught in public schools. I think creationism is religion. I don’t think biology should be prohibited or taught without evolution.

    But religious freedom is a fundamental right. For students to be required to learn something directly contrary to their beliefs-or those of their parents-arguably violates those rights.

    Other qualifications: It would be good, maybe even a right, for students-and arguably a fundamental part of education-for students to be required to consider ideas other than their own and those of their families. Churches are free to conduct their own creationist education. It’s impractical for curricula to be affected by every belief that various religions have. Society has a right to ensure that its members have the knowledge they need to function in the contemporary world.

    On the other hand, it arguably violates separation of church and state to let religion influence curricula in a substantial way.

    • BDEhrman October 22, 2022 at 6:31 pm

      I think science should be taught as science without raising questions of religious belief, and for that reason, religion, in my opinion, should not have any affect on the teaching of science — or indeed on public school curriculum at all — one way or another. Science is just science. Teaching science is not teaching religion, and if someone’s religion is opposed to what is taught in science, no one in my judgment should force them to accept the views of science. But they should certainly know the views of science, and the evidence that supports it. If they choose to believe something else — e.g. that the earth is 6000 years old, that humand did not evolve from other forms of primate, that the earth is hollow, that the sun revolves around the earth — that’s their choice. But it doesn’t mean they don’t have to become educated. For me, these various religious views (that some people still hold) are not really issues of discussion in sicence itself, since science does not take religioius views into consideration. Carbon 14 dating of skulls, e.g., is not based on any religious premises. It simply is science. If someeone wants to say that the skull simply cannot be 15,000 years old, because God created the first human in 4000 BCE, that’s up to them. But it’s not something you’ll find debated among scientists.

  9. Jesse80025 October 21, 2022 at 6:11 pm

    What is the job market like for people interested in New Testament research? I wonder often whether I shouldn’t jump ship from the IT path I’m in and do NT studies. I’m highly interested – I’d say it’s my passion, along with religious sociology, but I’m afraid that I’d simply never be able to make a living out of it.

    • BDEhrman October 22, 2022 at 6:51 pm

      Oh, it’s quite terrible, actually. Most colleges/universities are focusing so much on STEM that the liberal arts are suffering; the job market is incredibly hard, with really brilliant and well trained researchers and teachers having to pursue alternative careers after devoting themselves for many years to getting their PhD.

  10. AngeloB October 21, 2022 at 10:15 pm

    I might look up these journals on my State Library website and see if any of them are open-access!

  11. jbpink1234 October 21, 2022 at 11:20 pm

    I re-watched your old debate with Richard Bauckham and Peter J. Williams about ‘Historical Reliability’ and ‘Gospel authors as Eye Witness or the actual disciples’.

    Are they allowed to teach these in universities?
    I think both work/used to work at reputed Universities in the UK and also passed out from reputed Universities. It seems strange as it’s not at all similar to what Dale Martin, Joel Baden, etc are teaching at Yale.

    • BDEhrman October 22, 2022 at 6:57 pm

      I can’t remember offhand, but I don’t thing Peter has a teaching post per se, but a research position. I may be wrong. But yes, evangelicals do teach; it’s rare to find them teaching religious studies in research universities and secular colleges in the U.S. (they are usually in divinity schools, seminaries, and Chrsitain colleges), but there are some in the U.K.

  12. bramkoert October 22, 2022 at 2:26 am

    Hello Dr. Ehrman,

    Here I am again with a question related to Mark 9:1. Is it possible to read “there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until” not as saying: they will not die until they see it. But rather as: even though when it really happens everyone will have died, but some will see it before they have died. Are there any scolars who hold this position? Why or why not?

    Thanks in advance!

    • BDEhrman October 22, 2022 at 6:59 pm

      I’m not sure how you’re suggesting it. He is saying that some of the people that he is talking to at that moment will still be alive when it comes. (ARe you suggesting the “see” it some other way, not literally?)

      • bramkoert October 24, 2022 at 8:54 am

        I’m trying to figure out whether it could have been intended to be some kind of vision. But I think the only way they could have understood it to be a vision is if Jesus’ teaching was that it would not come within their lifetime.

  13. apmorgan October 23, 2022 at 4:07 am

    Some years ago on the Internet, a transcript of a humorous conversation circulated on social media, pertaining to whether it’s appropriate to say “I s*** you not” (without the asterisks) in an academic paper. The humour derived from the fact that none of the responses took issue with the swearing, but only with stylistic concerns such as the casual use of the first person. Thus for example, the questioner might have been advised to instead say, “The author hereby affirms the absence of reader-directed s****ing in the present text”. Or alternatively, “The absence of reader-directed s****ing in the present text is hereby affirmed”.

    I quote my own improvement upon it rather than the original source, but I do not deceive you.

  14. Hon Wai Lai October 23, 2022 at 3:00 pm

    I have always thought there is a distinction between the status and role of editors versus referees. The formers are well recognised academics in the discipline, invariably those with tenure, while referees include both senior academics and assistant professors or in some disciplines (e.g. social sciences), those yet to receive their PhD but have published some articles in top journals. Editors are named in journals hence gain academic recognition this way, while referees are anonymous, and typically do not gain recognition from their work, other than being able to put the fact they are/were referees for particular journals in their CV, and gain acknowledgement from the editors they liaise with. Is my impression broadly correct?
    Some journals have hierarchy of editors – editors-in-chief, deputy editors, managing editors, associate editors, consulting editors, assistant editors, and so forth. I would like to know more about the distinctions between differences between the editor types.

    • BDEhrman October 25, 2022 at 5:14 pm

      Yes, that’s in general right I think But I’d also say that it is highly unusual for an editor to send an article out to a non-tenured referee.

  15. R_Gerl October 24, 2022 at 4:20 pm

    Great article Bart. Active research is constantly updating our knowledge of the past and that obviously includes biblical times. The latest archaeological work confirms numerous battles in the Hebrew bible, see the link below. This is fresh and hot off the press. The first link is an absolutely must read for lay people interested in this stuff and the second link gives the scientific paper. For example, using magnetism to help date various military conquests, archaeologists have confirmed that the destruction of Gath by Hazael, around 830 BCE, was part of a broader miliary campaign against other cities. I interpret this to mean that the books written after the exile had to rely on earlier texts; I don’t see how so much information could be as accurate as it is under a purely oral tradition.

  16. Hon Wai Lai October 25, 2022 at 5:44 pm

    It probably is different between humanities (where academic positions are highly competitive due to relative lack of funding), versus the sciences. I used to have a colleague while working in the financial sector who held a PhD in engineering and had acted as journal referee despite never sought nor held academic position. I have a friend who refereed articles for financial journals while she was still completing her PhD in finance. She is now a lecturer in a British university.

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