My SBL (2012) Paper

Thanks to Bryan E. Lewis for recording this.

I would suggest putting in the head phones and cranking it up, or reading the paper. I would like to thank everyone who came to hear my paper and those who have supported me along the way with my blog and the like. Thank you to all of my friends and those scholars who have created the educational space.

I chose not to overly correct it — although I know there are my usual typos and other things. Call it a natural paper. The entire paper and footnotes can be found here: From Blogging to Book – SBL Paper

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Introduction:

The purpose of this paper is not to sell or otherwise plug my book, to be published by Wipf and Stock near Easter, 2013. It is not as formal as perhaps others; but that is the point, that a student may stand near scholars as that student matures into scholarship. This paper is meant to suggest that the use of the online medium known as blogging is beneficial not just to the individual who blogs but to the broader community of those who read, engage, and find themselves shaped by the medium of online scholarship. It will only in a small way offer some sort of response to a recently published work urging the democratizing of biblical studies. To that end, I will explore the road journeyed as I move from blogger to author with a book to be published by Wipf and Stock near Easter, 2013, from fundamentalist to a sometimes reasoning individual, and finally, how the future of online scholarship is becoming more like the future of other entertainment and informative venues. The focus is always the educational space provided by scholars who are accessible via the blogs.

Welcome to the Democracy:

Currently, there is a debate among scholars and those who pretend to be as such about the nature of open access journals, peer-review, and in some corners of the world — generally in the more enlightened British isles — how blogging fits into this. Many who host online mediums do not intend them to be similar to open access or peer reviewed works, recoiling at the thought that other scholars, yes real scholars, would dare challenge their claims — or that students would dare stand with other scholars, even to the point of challenging scholars or pseudo-scholars publicly. On the other hand, there is the fortunate experience of engaging scholars and theologians regarding a wide range of views, even in disagreement with them, without the dissolution of friendships wherein the student may actually learn something. This is not merely a method of peer review — as a student, I fully recognize that actual scholars are not my peers; however, it allows students to grow in unexpected ways because the scholars whose books we read in our classes and delve into in our studies are now an email, tweet, or facebook chat away.

While Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s 2009 book, Democratizing Biblical Studies, is not particularly about the online blogging world, her ultimate concern is an educational space in biblical studies that allows for critical engagement and a pedagogical model that requires constant reevaluation of accepted biblical meanings. This is needed, she feels, due to the democratizing nature of globalization. No longer do we fully expect only white males to be concerned with the academic study of religion; indeed, our the global reach of the internet has now created spheres of influence beyond Harvard, beyond the Isles, beyond Germany. We now recognize the interconnectivity of spheres from Asia, Africa, and South America. There are global voices calling out for a better reconsideration of religious traditions, religious fundamentalisms, and how the multitude of voices shape our reception of newly introduced knowledge. To extend her world into mine, let me change her charge of challenging accepted biblical meanings to challenging accepted scholarly precepts. While Foirenza is concerned more with theological discussions, we are not so obtuse in biblical studies as to deny that we have the same issues plaguing our art. For example, as Mark Goodacre points out in his works on the Easter Bunny of New Testament Scholarship, Q, some previously questioned precepts have suddenly become starting points for students and scholars — assumptions that need no be questioned because all of the work has already been done.

Fiorenza does not anticipate the use of blogging, at least not in the developed form, but she does call for the use of the internet to drive the new forum she believes is needed. She understands quite simply the role of the internet is one in which a student may “learn how to develop intellectual skills of investigation, to articulate ethical criteria of evaluation, and to analyze hermeneutical frameworks of interpretation.” Instead of turning the scholar into a wikipedia outlet, she insists that this is about the critical evaluation of knowledge. Let me take her statements further. The scholar, as opposed to other theological disciplines, is no longer the depository of knowledge; the online scholar is the dispenser of knowledge that, depending on how often they post, requires us to critically engage. Not only are biblical meanings and scholarly precepts reevaluated on a constant basis, but so too pedagogical innovations.

The online blogging community provides for a certain educational space and not just in graduate-level biblical studies with the occasional rehashing of long settled claims. Let me state quickly that an educational space is not the same as a classroom. It is the space created when two or more are present in the name of learning with both willing to learn. This prevents us from assuming too easily that either religious fundamentalists or scholarly fundamentalists can simply by opening a blog contribute to an educational space. Indeed, an educational space must be one where the sharing and absorption of ideas are on somewhat of an equal basis. Yes, the scholar is still the expert, but she may not always be the facilitator as we see in the most common classrooms. Let me also state that the scholar is not always an accessible scholar. An accessible scholar is the first step in creating an educational space, especially in the online community. The accessible scholar is the one willing to engage via the many avenues of social media, if even just a little bit. These scholars are the falling trees in the forests of students and make the scholarship heard in the educational space.

I will give more of a backstory later in the paper; however, to speak about the expected quid pro quo shortly, let me insert something quick here. Coming from fundamentalism where anti-intellectualism was still too intellectual of an argument for us, scholars who made themselves available through the online medium provided for a much needed way to prepare myself for graduate biblical studies. When I first opened my blog in 2008, I did not expect to engage scholars, nor to sit at their feet. Yet, by the way of Dr. Jim West who first brought me into the biblioblogosphere and even went so far as to defend my less than academic blog until I was able to stand on my own, I was able to interact with others and still others until I suddenly became a book reviewer for numerous publishing houses. Many times, the books I reviewed allowed me to engage the author directly in a way that would not other be possible if the author was no already hosting some sort of online medium. Yes, while the publishing houses are rarely as altruistic as I would like to think, their early recognition of the online blogging medium as a method of information dissemination, namely information about books, has allowed a quid pro quo of blogger and publishers in which the student reviews and engages the book in return for nothing more than the books although in some cases, friendships are known to develop. It is no small part the role publishing houses played in bringing to light the capability on online blogs.

This quid pro quo is not simply between book reviewer and the publishing house but between the student and the scholar. For the more accessible scholar, the educational space provided by the online forum provides not just a way to promote a book or theory, but to engage other scholars in a public manner, as well as to engage students and non-students alike as they develop their own pedagogy. I can cite the example of a professor at United Theological Seminary, Dr. Lisa Hess, who developed the blog for a class as she built her online pedagogy. This was done not only in front of the class, but because of the presence of the blog, in front of the world — or rather, at least those who could google it. She was able to transition what she learned on line to build a successful and highly modeled curriculum for use by other online professors. Another example is former disciple of mine Jeremy Thompson, an adjunct professor, Hebrew-enthusiast, and former blogger who began a series of teaching posts to bring his studies and his unique, or rather, his peculiar pedagogy to the online medium. Before he became too selfish and turned to pursuing his PhD full time, it was garnering no small amount of attention.

It is a safe bet that most scholars did not establish a blog to create an educational space. There is the occasional Mark Goodacre who has not only a blog but perhaps the must used website in New Testament classes, the NT Gateway. If you are unfamiliar with this resource, it is a gem and more often than not the first go-to site for students in graduate courses — and if it recommended for students it is only because their professors are using it first. However, this is not the only educational space Dr. Goodacre has provided. On his blog, he deals with a range of topics including the Santa Claus of New Testament studies, Q, as well as his newest book on Thomas and the Gospels, and takes time to point out, as a textual critic, those scholars and journalists who have created their own Synoptic problem, not to mention pointing out the uncanny resemblance between Coptic fragments of Thomas and Jesus’ marriage certificate. The simple fact that he does this online, while engaging with students — not just recognizable scholars — places an open review on his pedagogy. He is not the only one of course; however, he provides the most visible method of fulfilling Fiorenza’s goal of democratizing biblical studies and not in the least since he has released his Through the Maze book free for e-readers.

 

Recent work by Professors and Doctors of Education Kern, Ware, and Warschauer not only supports the professor at United and the newly minted Dr. Thompson, but so too Fiorenza’s call for educational space. Their work has shown how the online environment leads to a wide variety benefits, including intercultural awareness (something Fiorenza desires) and development of multiliteracies. The accessible scholar who not only engages online but teaches online will no doubt become something of a fixture in the future as more schools invest in at the very least a hybrid — mixture of online and classroom time — form of education. Those scholars today who are already engaging in the practice will lead the way, no doubt. While this is perhaps not what Fiorenza’s democratizing biblical scholarship is ultimately about, it nevertheless recognizes an essential truth of the online medium — that the vast network of scholars, students, and lurkers exists in such a way as to provide not just a powerful way to sell books, but a way to exchange ideas, build pedagogies, and develop the next generation of scholars.

Fiorenza’s subtitle includes the word emancipatory. No doubt, one stands before you today in part due to the emancipatory nature of biblical studies and I suspect in the audience is no less than a few more than can claim the same thing. Of course, it is no the scholar’s role to be professor, priest, and psychiatrist; yet, with the online medium, students are afforded the ability to be freed from fundamentalism or lackluster graduate studies, or even their own self-deception of just how new their new idea really is. Indeed, we are often liberated from our own social dimensions and limitations by scholars and online interactions.

I live in the middle of Appalachia — Charleston, West Virginia. The closest graduate program in any way related to biblical studies is the Appalachian Bible College which lists on its schedule of classes one on Evangelization. You get a ‘A’ if you can get a poor soul saved. This is hardly a real institute of higher learning, or learning. Around me are those mired deep in various strains of fundamentalism who have a difficult time even pronouncing diphthong. I do not want to disparage them; but their idea of biblical studies is the King James Version and Sunday School classes. The plethora, then, of online scholarship has allowed me to stand above the usual constrains imposed in areas that are far removed from real institutes of higher learning and engage in scholars from the United States, Europe, and Africa.

The online medium provides as well for students to have access to current trends and events in scholarship. For instance, I have become aware for the fallacy called the Griesbach Hypothesis not through the usefulness of a historical book on the consigns of  failed theories. Instead, because of blogs who call attention to the disparity between reality and this hypothesis, I was drawn to further investigate it. In recent months, events such as the Jordan Codices, the so-called Jesus tomb, and Jesus’ wife, scholars and blogs who have acted as clearing houses for information have reported numerous visits from universities and seminaries as well as newspapers and magazines. Professionals and students alike no longer need to wait for long distance papers presented at a session in an inhumanely designed McCormick Park Center to see if in fact all of these things are either good old fashioned bunk or just simply new bunk. They can follow the work of a cabal of scholars, and even students, who dialogue publicly about the lack of quality evidences supporting the seller’s claims. They can watch in what amounts to real time the dissection of various pseudo-scholarly claims and promises with no need to plain a pilgrimage to Jesus’ tomb to bring his wife flowers while reading his autobiography on lead books. This space is provided for students and would-be students alike.

Online Scholarship and Promotion: 

Biblical Scholarship is not the only liberal art to explore a democratizing space. While not so much educational as creative, a recent of spate of movies starring the Hollywood Elite have instead chosen to go the independent route. Paranormal Activity, Vamps, Butter, and Argo are just a few recent movies that sought independent studios, relying heavily on internet promotion, not just from the studio but so too cyber word-of-mouth. Indeed, Paranormal Activity was sold theater to theater by the actors until it caught out. This is a macrocosm of what is unfolding in other industries including publishing and scholarship. In publishing, vulgar books such as The Shack and 50 Shades of Grey went from self-published money pits to earning millions of dollars for their respective, and I use this term lightly, authors, selling stories about impossible and detrimental realities. The common connection, between macrocosm and microcosm, is the independent route taken by the promoters.

Of course, the danger is the such a democratized space is that you will get unmerited pretenders. For every Argo, the public will be bitten by Vamps. For every decent self-published book highlighting some avenue of real scholarship that otherwise would not see the light of day because of a lack of platform for the author, the public will find their interests perverted by the likes of The Shack. Yet, the danger in sometimes not taking the independent route is that the public will miss movies like Argo and some platformless scholars will never be published. We know of those who would claim more than their due, the occasional Little Honey Tee Tee’s or unclothed not-an-archeologist. While the educational space is a democracy, it is still a place where we can expel those who have stumbled drunkenly into our place believing it to be some sort of a bank. But, like the use of self-promotion by other liberal artists, scholars who make use of the free educational space, whereby followings are built, word-of-mouth via book reviews increase book sales, will find their value increasing and their work successful — that is, if it is worth it.

Application:

Warning, what follows is anecdotal. Similar results are not guaranteed and not appreciated. After all, as an author now, I do not need the competition.

I first opened shop in February 2008 with the intent to politely inform every one of their eternally infernal fate. In January of 2010, I had engaged John Loftus regarding a certain verse about one of the Psalms. I was not alone in this endeavor as the famed Matt and Madeline from New Zealand who agreed with what I said, but did so with professional titles. Loftus determined that since I did not hold a master’s degree, I was of a certain ineptness to discuss anything with him; he had other excuses for not accepting what M and M had written. I was indeed torn about seeking higher learning in biblical studies, wondering just how far it would take me; however through one particular online interaction with Dr. Robert Cargill, I discovered that it was acceptable to see scholarship as a suitable form of spiritual service. I cannot grant my transition to academia to this one transition, although I have a framed copy of that comment hanging on my wall at home, I can attest that through such encouragement, the move to academia became much easier. Therefore, I promptly decided to get my Master’s degree and then a Phd so that eventually, I could return the favor to my friend John.

I am fortunate enough to live in West Virginia, a place where cemetery seems to be a pun on seminary and where Appalachian Bible College was the closest “school” for “higher” learning in biblical studies. I did not want a bible college nor a seminary.  This was clearly not an option. What was an option, however, was United Theological Seminary, located in Dayton, Ohio, but offering a hybrid degree wherein I was able to take some online learning as well as have an in-class presence; I will graduate in less than a month with a master’s.

There is an inherent limitation in the online format for any type of classes. For instance, the limitation on arguing with your classmates when they are clearly wrong. Equally so, it is impossible to give your classmate and/or teacher what is commonly called a stink-eye when said person dismisses the work of your favorite scholar or scholars while speaking gloriously about Q or some sort nonsense. However, with the online interaction afforded by the presence of the same scholars as well as their willingness to participate, the limitations of online learning are broke down to a mild nuisance, tolerable only through bing reading an orgy of blog posts and dribbling comments from space to space with the hopes your scholar will show you some sort of attention.

During this time, I had the fortunate pleasure of reviewing a book by Dr. Adam Winn regarding the purpose of Mark’s Gospel. At first, I distrusted his ruse, believing him to be just another pseudo-scholar who would thwart the plain-sense-meaning of Scripture. I initially gave a tepid response and review to his book, but as time progressed I was afforded the ability to revisit the issue and discover a more sure foundation. I was equally able to engage him and on his thesis and at times, unsolicited but always welcomed, he engaged me. Likewise, as my initial thesis turned into an exegesis paper, and an exegesis paper into a book, I was able to freely engage scholars from across the country and very much the world as to the subject matter before me, finding them a generally agreeable lot, at least to bounce questions to. Not only would I float an idea around on my own blog, but I was invited by several scholars to include them in any help I sought. Both of these avenues created the perfect educational space to grow the initial idea.

It was not long before I was ready to seek out a publisher. Yes, I applied at those far out of reach; however, this is a must, I think. I got the offer from Wipf and Stock, and in case you have forgotten, the book will be published near Easter of 2013 — because John Dominic Crossan, Bart Ehrman, and Tom Wright can do it, I can do it too — by Wipf and Stock. 2013.

Conclusion:

I want to close this paper by suggesting that those scholars who are standing in the educational space beckon their colleagues into the open field, to get a blog, to get a co-blog, or even to make regular contributions to current blogs. We do not expect you to be our teachers for even less than you are making in now; but you will be in the educational space known as the internet. We will be in your classroom, awaiting your posts. We will buy your books; we will engage you; we will praise or disparage you, Tom Wright or Tom Wrong. Some of us will be unappreciative of you while some of us will wait up all night, sitting in a corner, awaiting you to comment back to us. But, you will be in this educational space. Here, perhaps, you will learn as much from one another and from us as we learn from you.

As the world turns to receiving information from the global online community, having scholars provide their work, collaboration, and support will not only benefit in more fruitful scholarship but so too in preventing this or that latest, greatest discovery from getting any more undue attention. And it may even save a wayward soul a time or two.

Post By Joel Watts (10,115 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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7 thoughts on “My SBL (2012) Paper

  1. I know I’m responding almost a year after you posted this, but I just wanted to point out that you left out Australia.

    As a kind of blogger who aims to be accessible, I was encouraged by your paper.

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