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When are biblioblogs appropriate?

On the internet. But as print media and scholarship evolve, biblioblogs creep into places that maybe they shouldn’t be.

Case and point: Eisenbrauns‘ new book edited by Miller, Naudé, and Zevit called Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew (2012). The book’s afterword is an article by Zevit entitled “Not-So-Random Thoughts Concerning Linguistic Dating and Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew” (pp 455-489), and this blogger thinks that Zevit has brought Bible blogs (or at least one) into a place they don’t belong.

In 2008, Bible scholars Ian Young, Robert Rezetko, and Martin Ehrensvärd published a 2 volume book called Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts (Equinox) (henceforth LDBT), wherein they conclude that Hebrew Bible texts cannot be dated based on the linguistic evidence available. This started a huge debate among Hebraists to the degree that the topic has dominated more than one SBL session every year since 2009. Now, Eisenbrauns has published a book that collects articles on the topic, and most specifically, responses to LDBT. Zevit’s afterword is one such article. In this post, Zevit’s handling of a biblioblog interview in that article will be discussed.

The now defunct Hebrew and Greek Reader weblog did some interviews with the authors of LDBT back in 2009. As the creator of those interview questions, I think I am qualified to shed light on the questions in question. There are 7 issues I take with the article, and 3 resulting broader issues for further discussion.

1. On p459, Zevit writes, “It is rare that authors of a very specialized academic book are interviewed and even rarer when readers of an interview can be sure that what is reported reflects the ipssisima verba of the interviewees. But it happens sometimes.”

It used to be rare that scholars were interviewed about their specialized work. Since YouTube, iTunesU, podcasts, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, that has all changed. In fact, this all changed a few years before 2008, when LDBT was published. For some time now, anyone in the world can read, hear, or see scholars discuss graduate level academic issues, and many do so everyday.  I think Zevit’s assertion of this as a rarity is evidence of a generation gap in biblical studies.

2. I find the use of ipissisima verba uncritical and perhaps even self-contradictory (but I’m no classicist, so I’m open to being schooled). To say that the interviewer used the same words as the authors on page 459, and then to say on page 461 that the authors deny the interviewer’s premise of assuming the authors have their own dating system is quite near self-contradiction. While I used the words “linguistic dating”, that is what was being discussed. The real issue is if I was a dumb parrot, mouthing back to the authors their own ideas. Obviously that’s not the case, because the questions show that, at the time of asking, I did not fully understand what the LDBT authors were talking about (one letter off and that acronym takes an entirely different meaning!).

3. (And this is a picky thing, but I think is also evidence for a larger issue) The website is once referred to as “Hebrew and Greek Reader: Bible, Language, Education”. This was not the title of the weblog. The taglines “Bible, Language, and Education” are simply taglines. When creating a wordpress.com weblog, wordpress.com gives bloggers the option to put taglines in the site header under the title. Again, this is the generation gap. Had the author ever created his own weblog or played around on wordpress.com or blogspot.com, he would have quickly seen that blogs are not like books or academic papers. Bloggers use keywords to get more hits, not to create formal titles. Further, an Eisenbrauns editor should have caught that.

In a footnote, Zevit cites the website haphazardly. Two of the four URLs given take a reader to the relevant page, the other two do not. The main website reference mistakenly has an @ symbol that looks like a Twitter handle, the specific interview pages have ellipses in the URL (though @Eisenbrauns has explained this. Follow them on Twitter!), and in (2) Robert Rezetko’s name has an ø symbol instead of a letter o (@Eisenbrauns has also explained this typo). While there are cleaner ad hoc ways to cite a blog in a footnote, there are guidelines for this now. MLA, Turabian, and SBL style handbooks all explain how a website is properly cited. In fact, §14.246 in the new Chicago manual is dedicated to citing blogs.  Zevit, and even worse Eisenbrauns, has followed no standard convention. For Zevit, this is evidence of the generation gap. For Eisenbrauns, it shows editorial sloppiness.

4. Zevit’s understanding of tone on the blog is also objectionable. In footnote 6 on p459, he writes that the answers given in response to 7 (except for Young’s) are “serious and on-point”. I disagree.  I think Rezetko’s response that includes detours into cooking is not “serious and on-point” but rather funny and conversational. One of the special things about Bible weblogs is that many of them, to follow Ian’s use of colloquialism, take the piss out of scholarship. Biblioblogs are funny and off-point and chase down detours and post lots of pictures of lol cats.

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5. Zevit also addressed my interviewing skills. He writes, “Question 7 is poorly worded from two unrelated questions (p461)”. I am grateful for the criticism. The question is poorly worded as evidenced by Zevit’s assertion that the two parts of question 7 are unrelated. They are indeed related, which is why they both make up question 7. By “writing style” and “research method”, I meant exactly what I said. I wanted to know if the authors wrote in a particular way. Do they do lots of re-writing as they go? Do they do one big blow-out draft, put it down, then edit it a month later? Do they write as if the paper might be read aloud? At the time, I was writing an MA thesis and my writing style was being forced to change from something I would call bop-prose to scholarly technical writing. It was hard and I wanted to see if others had similar struggles. Then by “research method” I meant the exact same thing. Do you write in a particular place? Do you stop to do push ups or stretches to break up the time? Do you listen to music when researching? I could have made the questions more specific, but I didn’t want to direct them too much. I was simply interested in how their scholarship works in daily life. I am satisfied with their answers. All three basically said, “No.”

The relatedness of the two parts of question 7 is a great issue to raise in the post’s comments section. Why this question was not first asked there instead of being taken to print, I do not know. It is worthy to note that in all the comments I’ve received about these interviews, this is first time I’ve ever heard of someone being confused over the interview.

6. Regarding question 13 in the interview, Zevit asserts that the phrase “linguistic dating” actually refers to the LDBT books and should thus be capitalized “Linguistic Dating”. This is incorrect. Again, why an author would assume this and publish a mistaken assumption before asking the question in the blog’s comments section baffles me. Again, perhaps Zevit is on the other side of the generation gap from me and did not wish to enter into an online discussion. Still, an editor or one of the peers who reviews such works before they are printed should have offered to ask the clarification question on the blog. This is why comments sections exist.

By “linguistic dating” I do not refer to the LDBT books, but rather the lack of formal historical linguistics in the authors’ work. To clarify this, I added “(like generative or cognitive linguistics)” to indicate that I was looking for a formal theory rather than their ad hoc process. Again, I could have worded the question clearer, but the interviewees clearly understood and answered accordingly.

There is also a pesky typo. “Cognitive linguistics” is misquoted as “cognate linguistics” (460).

7. Again on p461, Zevit mistakes what is happening in the interview. In question 15, I asked a question about their research, using their term “textual instability”, and then I formed the question in a way that was not conducive to their conclusions. They have concluded that linguistic dating of biblical Hebrew texts cannot be done with present evidence (and I agree). However, at the time (still three-quarters of the way through Vol. 1 back in 2009), I did not fully understand that. I was expecting them to propose an alternative dating system, as Zevit rightly notes. Upon discovering my ignorance, the authors did not call attention to my error, but quickly and simply corrected me. I am thankful for their time and answers.

There are some specific issues I take with Zevit’s handling of the interview, which I have detailed above. On the whole, there are three larger issues that this section of the new Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew book raises. 1) Just how big is the generation gap in biblical studies? 2) Are book publishers less strict with senior scholars in the peer review and editorial processes? 3) How do scholars go about deciding which weblog posts are worthy of being re-published in print media? And what etiquette should be observed when doing so?

But question 3 is the biggest. Some might even expand, should biblioblogs be used to analyze printed scholarly work at all? To that I answer- with discretion. Certainly little-to-nothing I’ve ever posted should be used in an Eisenbrauns book. You take the finished work to folks like Eisenbrauns. Hebrew and Greek Reader was a learning tool, a writing tool, a conversation tool. It was useful as an undergrad and a new masters’ level student to have a place to vomit out ideas and get feedback from others. Sometimes posts were good. Sometimes they were bad. But as for me, they were all good cause they all taught me something (“shut your mouth” was a common theme). I think many other bloggers have approached their sites the same way, like a comic doing open-mic night: just working out the new stuff.

But then I think of bloggers like John Hobbins and April DeConick and Kurk Gayle and Steve Runge who often write/wrote (Hobbins ain’t a country pastor no more) posts that should be referred to in scholarly works.

So when are biblioblogger posts appropriate for printed scholarly materials? When they’re not mine.


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