Now that I’ve finished the draft of my book on the afterlife, and am waiting for readers’ comments, I am turning to a revision of my textbook: The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. It was first published in 1997 and this will be the seventh edition.
It’s hard writing a decent textbook (and not so hard to write a lousy one). A constant struggle. In breezing through blog posts of years gone by, I’ve seen that I was having the struggle precisely six years ago, when writing (the first edition of) my textbook on the entire Bible, Genesis to Revelation. Now *that* was a chore. And I was confronted by one problem in particular. Here is how I described it at the time.
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. 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 to write with both a good sense of humor and a sense of distance between you, the author, and the reader. It is hard to know what among the millions of facts that are relevant to the task to leave out of the book altogether. It is hard to tell a narrative that will grip the student-readers. It is hard to make the book appealing at one and the same time to the 19-year-old who may nothing about the topic in advance and to the professor of the course who knows, or who thinks s/he knows, absolutely everything about it (so that it is at an introductory level and compelling for the student, but based on sufficient scholarship and insight to satisfy the professor). Well, there are lots of other reasons it’s hard. But it’s hard. It’s gotta be hard – otherwise there would be lots more really good textbooks out there. And how many good textbooks *are* out there? In my field, not a whole lot….
But in addition to all this, I’m having one particular difficulty with this book. I had it with my New Testament textbooks (I have two of them – one the first regular one, the other a shorter somewhat simplified version of it) as well, but now the problem is a bit exacerbated by personal circumstances. The problem is …
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