A long post weighing in on Avalos and Koester

I have been reluctant to become too involved in the controversy over biblical studies - not because I don't have an opinion, but because over the years I have come to realize just how complex this issue is. In many ways, it is a debate about idealism and realism, at least as it as played out in my own experience as a professor in the field.

When I first began teaching, I set up a proper curriculum in my mind at a liberal arts college in a religious studies department. I changed out the old curriculum which was canonically based with a new curriculum that did not include categories like "Old Testament," "Hebrew Bible," "New Testament," "Apocrypha" or the like. I did not want to continue to arrange the curriculum around religious categories that preferenced one particular religious tradition over another.

All went well until I offered my Christian Origins course. I enrolled six people. Then I offered my Ancient Israel course. Again I enrolled six people (not the same six, and in a different semester). Usually my courses enrolled 25-30, so these numbers were weird. So I decided to try an experiment. I changed the name of the Christian Origins course but kept everything else the same - course description, syllabus, exercises. I put it on the books as The New Testament and Christians Origins. The class enrolled at 25. I didn't get a chance to try out The Old Testament and Ancient Israel because I moved to Rice before I retaught the course.

Now I have thought about this experience a lot because it taught me something about the expectations of young people in America and their interests. The young people in my courses are not aware of the debates of the academy until they enroll and we get talking about them. What do most of them know? They know the words "Old Testament" and "New Testament" and they think they know what this means in terms of content.

Does the biblical canon influence us in America? Certainly, everything from politics (where I see the religious bible right moving to a hostile takeover [akin to what happened with the Southern Baptist Convention]) to literature. And wherever I have taught (Michigan, Illinois, Texas), it (as the "Word of God") has a prominent hold on a very large portion of our youth. And yet, in my experience as a teacher, these young people (before they enroll) know next to nothing about what the texts actually say, what the difference is between historical readings and doctrinal readings, how, when, and why the canon came together as it did and what the heck this means, and so forth.

So this has prompted me to create a 100-level course called "Introduction to Biblical Studies" (which I taught in Illinois for years) and now "Introduction to New Testament Studies" (which I teach here at Rice). In this course I cover everything from oral culture, literacy, manuscript traditions, development of canon, diversity of early Christianity, and historical readings (source, form, redaction, social scientific, feminist, tradition, rhetorical, literary, post-modern criticisms - and how these types of readings differ from doctrinal readings in terms of purpose and questions). Frankly, I wish that every college in America offered this type of course. It is unbelievable how much this information excites students and motivates them to want to know more.

There is another issue that we face in the academy. Jobs. There is a difference between seminaries, divinity schools, private (often religious-affiliated) universities, liberal arts colleges, and state universities. Each of these places has different needs in terms of teaching religion, and when you go on the job market, you need to be clear and honest with yourself about which of these types of departments you want to work in.

For a department in a religious-affiliated school, including seminaries, the concentration there is going to be teaching canonical materials, and often the historical method is trumped by theological hermeneutics. This doesn't mean that the historical method isn't taught, but that doctrinal issues and contemporary hermeneutics are going to be emphasized. The students who are enrolling in the courses are enrolling mainly to become ministers of a faith tradition, or who just want to learn more about contemporary hermeneutical readings of the material. Historical methods and linguistics are background or serve to support the doctrinal hermeneutics going on in the course. These schools need and want people in Old Testament, New Testament, Gospels, Paul, Systematic theology, Ethics, and so forth. There are a lot more jobs in these types of institutions than non-affiliated religious studies departments.

When non-affiliated religious studies departments post in Old Testament and New Testament, or Biblical Studies, what they are after is someone who handles the religious textual, exegetical and ideological traditions from a historical perspective. This is different from a post in Early Jewish or Christian Studies which is likely looking for a historian who handles social, political, gender and religious history.

The Society of Biblical Literature is a society that works with both of these constituencies, as does AAR. These are societies whose members include everyone from theologians, to philosophers, to historians, to textual critics, no matter the religious tradition studied. Neither society is exclusively secular or exclusively religiously-affiliated. Both interests are found among its members and its units.

It is not new news that there are over a hundred people who apply ever year and do not get jobs. In my time, fifteen years ago, it was even worse than this. In the eighties, PhD programs admitted many more people into their programs than could ever be employed by the market. This led to many people not getting jobs, and ending up with an enormous amount of debt that they couldn't pay off. And yes, they ended up driving cabs, or going back to law school. I ended up working in university administration part time for three years, until I finally got my first tenure-track position at Illinois Wesleyan. Helmut Koester is the one who encouraged me, telling me that the average wait was going to be 3 to 5 years post-graduation.

The universities sobered up to this fact and realized how unethical it was to continue to put out so many PhDs with so much debt and no way to pay. So in the nineties, they consolidated their funding. This meant that they began to let into the program far fewer people but funding each of these people more fully. This hasn't fixed the problem entirely - there are still PhDs that never get a tenure-track job - but it has helped - and it has made getting into PhD program highly competitive.

Where does this leave me in terms of my thoughts on the subject? I understand Koester's position on the reality of American religiosity and what this means for those of us who study and teach early Christianity. I understand Avalos' position to rid the historical study of early Judaism and Christianity from its canonical limitations (including the name "Biblical Studies"), because these limitations support religious and theological interests. I personally have negotiated this front by breaking canonical boundaries in my own scholarship, creating sections at SBL which cross canonical boundaries, and teaching beyond these boundaries. But this doesn't mean to me that the biblical texts aren't essential to early Judaism and Christianity. In fact, their importance reverberates for centuries and centuries, and yes, they are still with us.

In my opinion, teaching the bible is more important than ever in America. We are faced with the religious right taking over the Republican party, a party who has just reformed its platform to denounce abortion even in cases of harm to the mother and rape. How many of us are now seeing emerge in our communities public policies like teaching creationism as science? What is next?

So rather than debate the semantics of Biblical Studies, I say we need to concentrate on educating our youth about the history of the Bible and its influence, so that our young people will have the information to evaluate for themselves the claims that religious faith traditions make before it really is too late.

Best Wishes to my graduating seniors!

It is that time of year already when some of our students are off to "start" their lives. I want to take a minute to wish the very best to the senior religion majors, and to give a special word of blessing to all those who have worked with me over the last two years. Many of you started with me in my first semester, and have hung in there taking course after course. I am honored to have had you in my classroom, and I have learned from you many things, and been impressed with your desire to know more - even Coptic! So blessings to all and a final word:

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.

Houston Farris...on to become a minister!
Kate Hicks...on to study law at Harvard!
Jake Schornick...on to study Beowulf and old English!
Roger Sharpe...on to become an attorney!
Meg Shelley...on to become a graphic artist!
Brett Snider...on to become a prosecutor!
Caitlin Thomas...on to become a minister!

Exam question option for my students in Christian Controversies and Creeds

This post will be of interest to my students in Christian Controversies and Creeds. This is an additional question I'm offering on the exam, and can be written in place of one of the questions I have already distributed. If you choose to answer this question, print this blog post and attach it and your answer to the exam.

In the Houston Chronicle on Saturday, there was a piece published on Lent in the Greek Orthodox Church, since Orthodox Easter is being celebrated on April 27. For Holy Week, congregants refrain from eating meat, dairy products, fish, wine and olive oil. They avoid malicious talk and many refrain from sex. Fasting is not a novelty among the Orthodox. They fast 180 days a year, including every Wednesday and Friday. But Lent intensifies the practice.

Here is what the priests and the lay people had to say when describing their tradition:
"People want a passive, entertaining, consumer-driven Christianity. That's not Orthodoxy."

"Lent helps me gain discipline. It is participating in the sacrifices Christ went through."

"Orthodox practices have changed me dramatically. It's about not living for myself but for others."

"Lent is a time of spiritual cleansing, renewal, purification. Life is not food. Life is not entertainment. Life is not earthly gratification. It is becoming more human, more like Christ...Lent reminds us that we eat food to live. We don't live to eat food. The true food is God."
Question: Which of the three paradigms we have discussed in class is reflected here? In three sentences or less, explain your choice.

Why speciality units at SBL are important

My ruminations here represent a continued reflection about SBL and the importance of the formation of specialized groups. I remember years ago how difficult it was to get permission from the SBL Powers to form new groups. There was a policy to keep the number of groups limited, and to encourage scholars to work out their research agendas within already established groups.

I recall the meeting at the University of Michigan on Vision and Audition in 1995 when I proposed to the scholars present that we form the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism unit. I distinctly remember one of the scholars present shaking his head and admonishing us that our unit would never be approved because the SBL was not allowing for the expansion of its number of units. I'm one of those people that take such advise as a challenge, so we went ahead with the proposal anyway. Of the couple new units approved that year, we made the cut.

Why did I suggest that we form this group? The main reason was that the academy had no units studying mystical traditions or religious experience. So when my colleagues and I tried to present papers in other groups, our work was tangential and even marginalized in those sessions. The audience had come to hear about a particular text or set of texts - be it the Dead Sea Scrolls, or Rabbinic literature, or Nag Hammadi literature, or Thomas traditions, or Pseudepigrapha - and when we would try to engage them in a conversation about mystical traditions within this literature, it wasn't particularly productive because it wasn't their issue or interest.

But once we formed a space for the discussion of the mystical to occur, wow, did things happen. I think our unit, in terms of publishing books connected to our unit, is one of the most productive. I can list at least twenty books that have roots in our group, and these books are published in excellent scholarly series put out by Brill, Mohr-Siebeck, T & T Clark, SUNY, etc.

And what spins off should be noted too. From the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism group has been the creation of the Religious Experience in Antiquity unit, and the New Testament Mysticism Project Seminar - more spaces for more scholars to explore connected but more specialized interests or research projects (as is the case with the New Testament Mysticism commentary). It is the snowball effect, and it is what vitalizes everything that our generation of scholars will produce.

These smaller specialized units allow a space for graduate students to be welcomed into the academy, to be supported as they look for jobs, as they begin writing for journals, and publishing their first book.

But complete specialization and separateness is not what I'm talking about. It is important to stay connected to the discourse of other groups. So the ability to do joint sessions on a common topic of interest is exceedingly vital. We try to put together a joint session at least every other year, to stay in touch with bigger issues and alternative methods.

This is what I mean when I say that SBL is a communal experience for me. And I can't imagine it being that way without the presence of the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism group to which I owe more than words can express. I just can't emphasize enough how these units can become your family, your home away from home. The people that I have met and worked with in these units have become very dear to me. I can't imagine a SBL meeting without this special space for us and our work. Or our Saturday night dinners, which is always a highlight of my meeting.

So I am SO GLAD that the SBL Powers have changed their minds and policy on new groups, allowing the growth to occur and supporting this as much as possible. I don't worry one bit about "over-specializing" - this isn't even a word in my vocabulary. What we are about is enlivening biblical studies, making it an exciting field for a new generation of scholarship. To do this successfully requires scholars to have the freedom to work on collective projects, to create units that support minority positions or interests as well as the dominant.

With more units, it means that we are going to miss things that we would like to have been part of. But when hasn't this been the case? It also means that the committees have to provide an agenda that the group wants to participate in. But this is what we want anyway - programming that is connected to the scholarship happening on the ground.

This means, though, that we are never going to have our agendas set two years in advance as the SBL Powers are insisting - because who knows what fabulous things we are all going to be doing then (smile!).

My SBL Odds and Ends

Mark Goodacre has some reflections on SBL that I wish to comment on, since my reflections are quite a bit different from his.

My experience of SBL is a communal one. What I mean is that this is the one time of year that I get together with scholars who are working on similar projects and texts. It is a time to catch up on what everyone else is doing and thinking. It is a time to share what I've been doing. It is a time to celebrate publications and other successes. It is a very valuable time to me, and the one year I missed when I was eight months pregnant remains a hole in my institutional SBL memory.

I have found that reading papers is actually a good thing especially in larger groups. No amount of predistributing paper is going to mean that anyone in the audience has read it and digested it. Predistributing only works if the group is very small - like a seminar - and the goal of the meeting is detailed discussion of the paper (like the New Testament Mysticism Project Seminar).

But this is not the goal of all sessions, nor should it be. The paper reading sessions have their own goal, and that is distribution of information for general comment. This is extremely informative especially when the committee has set up a coherent slate of papers, and offers one person to summarize and respond to the set of papers read. Hearing a paper read is not the same thing as reading it in my office, just as studies of orality and scribality have shown. Why? Because the orator can be interrupted, can be asked questions, can be probed for further information or reflection, can interact with the audience. It is these interactions, these intersections with others, that adds even more value to these sessions.

I might add, however, that orators need to distinguish between the written word and the oral word. Rewrite your academic paper into an oration (think: public lecture), and it will be more concise and easier for the audience to follow. I started doing this last year for my conference presentations, and I have found that the feedback from the audience is much more positive. Get your thesis out there, and a few solid points developed, and that's it. Leave the rest for the publication that will follow out later.

The other sessions that I find helpful are the book review sessions. In these sessions the respondents give a good sense of the content of any given book, have some critical remarks, to which the author can then reply. The best book review sessions are the ones where all comments and responses have been prepared ahead of time, and read at the conference. The Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism group has done review sessions almost every year, and they are very successful in my opinion. The best book review I heard this year was by James Tabor of Jane Schaberg's Resurrection of Mary.

As for the number of sessions, when SBL first started to allow for more and more sessions (about three years ago I think), I was concerned that the sheer number wasn't necessary, and would keep the number of attendees down per group due to competition. But this just hasn't been my experience so far. I am developing a different sense of the SBL units now that so many are being put into place. These units function as small communities of scholars with like interests, goals, and projects. More often than not, these interests cannot (and perhaps even should not) be cultivated in already existing units, because the already existing unit has its own history, method, and past/future agenda. Even though leadership is made to shift in the units, they remain controlled by the community of scholars who launch them. I see nothing wrong with this as long as the agendas continue to be full of life for the community involved. And as long as the powers that be allow other communities of scholars to form their own groups to support their own research.

So if a group of scholars wants to open a unit on "History in Acts" as a separate venture from the Acts group (which has its own life and interests), then I say let it be. The more units like this that come into existence, the more research will be done and distributed. This policy allows for minority positions to have their own sessions, rather than be controlled by the dominant position which might already have a unit that is not interested in the minority position.

As for issues of attendance, I think that my original perception of needing to cultivate large audiences for all the SBL units is silly. The SBL unit's success has little to do with large or small audiences. It has to do with the community of scholars who form the basis of the group, whether or not the session is helpful to them. This community might consist of 20 or 120, but these are the people for whom the sessions are built to inform and interest, not the 5120 who could care less about the subject.

What to do about competing time slots? This has been the big drag of the programming from day one. I don't see any way out of it. There will never be a meeting without overlap. So it comes down to the luck of the draw and individual choice of attendance.

I want to emphasize only two things that I hope that the SBL organizers will consider. Stop 9-11:30 a.m. sessions on Saturday. We need this time for committee meetings. I do not like these early morning sessions at all.

Please judge room size better. I cannot believe that the panel on Judas where Elaine Pagels and Karen King were responding to Birger Pearson, Louis Painchaud, and me was put in a room that seated 75. People were sitting in the aisles, along the perimeter of the room, and hanging out the door. Those crammed in the doorway told me that at least 50 people tried to get into the room, but finally left exasperated.

Finally I want to say that I absolutely LOVE the Friday working sessions. I hope that SBL will continue to allow for these sessions. It is time for closed seminars like the New Testament Mysticism Project to get real work done on communal projects.

Should we write for the public?

On a chat thread on PTG, there is a very interesting post about academic writing v. public writing with some references to recently published pieces on the subject in SBL and Chronicle of Higher Education. Since the thread would not let me directly respond tonight and also because I think that this is an issue for all of us to consider as a community of scholars, I am posting my response here on my blog.

The points raised in this thread are a real concern of mine. I decided to write The Thirteenth Apostle as a trade book, not my normal academic prose for a tiny audience of my colleagues. Why? Because I am tired of sitting by and witnessing the public being given bad information (for whatever reasons).

I started out of the classroom, realizing how ill-informed my students were about religious studies and Christianity in particular. I began venturing into adult public audiences and saw immediately that the misinformation was even worse there. And the response and feedback I started getting when I took the time to actually begin sorting things out with them was tremendous. My audiences were so happy and sincerely grateful to finally hear straight talk from a historian without a theological agenda.

So I decided about a year ago that the best way to get the word out to as many people as possible was by beginning to write trade books. My vision for my general public writing is not the dissemination of the agreed upon knowledge of my field. My vision is to write for the public what I have learned from my own research, to take my academic publications and make them accessible to anyone who cares about the subject.

There is no reason that scholarship should continue to be locked down, to be accessible to a few. If scholars are going to change the face of knowledge, it has to go beyond the corridors of the Academy. Why is it that biblical scholarship hasn't gone into the churches when ministers are trained in seminary to be biblical scholars? Because very few are taking the information to the public, probably for fear of the reaction of those who might not want to hear what biblical scholars have to say. Herein lies the apology of our field. Are we going to continue to leave public education on religion to the churches, to the evangelists, and to the journalists? I say, no, the time is here for scholars to step up to the plate and begin to care about public knowledge (or lack thereof).

That is not to say, however, that there is not a place for academic writing. By no means! Academic writing is necessary for us to work out the problem effectively and in the kind of detail that most general audiences would not be interested in. But that detailed professional work has to come first, it has to come before the general audience book on the subject.

This is how I wrote The Thirteenth Apostle. I first wrote a long academic paper, working out all the problems and details. I delivered a version of the paper to an academic audience at a conference and got all kinds of feedback. Then I went home and reworked the academic paper for publication in an academic volume. Then I went to public audiences and began lecturing on the subject. And only then did I sit down and write the general audience book.

This has implications for the untenured professor who is learning to write and participate in the guild. He or she must at this stage in the career be focused on academic writing and figuring out the field for him- or herself. In other words, there is a stage in the career where the profession is apprenticed. And during this period, general audience writing should be put on hold. After the scholar has written and published in the Academy and knows what he or she wants to say, then the time will come to make that accessible to the public, preferably after tenure when academic freedom is more secure.

It is my opinion that we are obligated to make our work accessible to the public. As I wrote in The Thirteenth Apostle, I didn't want to write that book. My friends were the people on the NG team. Going public means that you are putting your reputation on the line in a really big way with whatever you say. But, even with this awareness, I felt that the public had been so misinformed about the Gospel of Judas that I thought it would be unethical for me not to say something and correct the mistakes publically. So I really was compelled to sit down and, in the end, just write it.

SBL not an important venue for critique?

Again, I have to disagree with many of my good friends and those who have posted in the comments on my previous entries, that SBL is not the forum to critique the Pope's book.

Who attends SBL? Scholars of biblical literature and its cognate fields, ministers and other people of the cloth, graduate students and seminarians, editors and publishers. It is exactly these people who need to be discussing the Pope's book publically, and then returning home to talk to their parishioners and students about it. These are also the people who write books, articles, reviews, and speak to the media when called upon. It doesn't matter that SBL does not have a direct public audience. It is the direct scholarly, ministerial and student audience that will make the difference, who will individually bring the discussion back to their own enclaves in this world.

It is vital for the members of the Society of Biblical Literature to step up to the plate and address matters of the public and the bible. Much of what we do is erudite, but not all of it has to be. I think that as a Society, we must make a concerted effort to educate the public (beyond the classroom) about the academic study of religion - what it is about and how it is different from the doctrinal or theological study of religion. If we don't, we are only fostering the "religious illiteracy" of the public and its consequences (which reach deep within the political, social, economic, etc. spheres).

Handy Conference Calendar

Okay, I've been an SBL member for more years than I would like to admit, and I never knew that the society keeps an electronic calendar of upcoming conferences, with links to webpages about the conferences where available! What a great tool this is. So for those of you who might have been in the dark like me, here is the link.

Graduate Student Poster Session for Codex Judas Congress

We will be organizing a poster session for graduate students who wished to be officially involved in the Codex Judas Congress taking place March 13-16, 2008, at Rice University. I have uploaded an application form to the web here. Deadline for applications is January 7, 2008.

I am working with a local hotel (within walking distance of the university) to offer conference rates for lodging. I will post that information as soon as it is finalized. Watch the official webpage for the Codex Judas Congress.

As for the scholars participating, they include Nicola Denzey, Ismo Dunderberg, Niclas Förster, Majella Franzmann, Wolf-Peter Funk, Simon Gathercole, Matteo Grosso, Karen King, Alastair Logan, Antti Marjanen, Marvin Meyer, Johannes van Oort, Bas van Os, Elaine Pagels, Louis Painchaud, Birger A. Pearson, James Robinson, Rimer Roukema, Kevin Sullivan, Madeleine Scopello, Einar Thomassen, John Turner, Michael A. Williams, and Gregor Wurst.

The artwork shown here is the logo for the conference. Since it is original artwork, please do not copy it without permission from me, unless you are using it to advertise or announce the CJC on your own blog or website, then you already have my permission to use it. If at all possible, I wish to keep the picture associated with the CJC.

Welcome Jared Calaway

Wade just sent me a link to a new blog that has been started by a former student of mine (back when I was teaching at IWU). From the undergraduate Religion Department at IWU, he went on into the PhD program at Columbia in "Religions in Antiquity," where he has studied with many great professors including Alan Segal. Jared has just achieved candidacy - Congratulations! - and is now starting a blog, he says, to keep in touch with the outside world as he begins dissertating. Keep track of his blog. Knowing Jared, it is sure to be fascinating. Even its name is wonderful: Antiquitopia.

Handy Introduction to Using the Critical Apparatus

This just in. Mr. Brent Nongbri is a PhD candidate in the department of Religious Studies at Yale University. He wrote me the following about this wonderful write up he has created for his classroom, showing his students how to use the critical apparatus. He was kind enough to allow me to post a link to it for my readers to use. This link will take you to his website, scroll down and click short introduction to the apparatus. Thank you for sharing this with all of us!
Brent Nongbri wrote:
I have been teaching the introductory course in "biblical" Greek at Yale Divinity School for the past couple years. Generally I think students interested in reading Koine Greek are better served taking classical Greek at the university. On the other hand, one thing that makes "New Testament Greek" unique and a bit challenging is the abundance of (often conflicting) manuscript evidence (classicists never have to deal with such a complex critical apparatus); so I think that teaching people how to read the "Greek New Testament" means, in addition to teaching them Greek grammar, teaching them how to access these manuscripts through the apparatus. I found that there was no convenient and concise introduction to this material for students, so I decided to write up this handout.

Since the introduction in the Nestle-Aland itself can be intimidating (and, at times, overly confident about having really produced "the original" Greek of the New Testament), I tried to condense that info. down to the barest essentials and remove some of the Alands spin (replacing it, no doubt, with some spin of my own). After the class finishes the introductory grammar, I give them this handout to the students before we start reading out of the Nestle-Aland in order to get them into the habit of glancing down at the apparatus every time they see a symbol in the text. It's great practice for an intro class because the variants often improve on the Greek style of the printed text, and the students can see the different options for expressing a thought in Greek at the same time they get a sense for the extent and variety of manuscript differences. After a few weeks, I quiz them on the symbols and abbreviations in the handout. The students seem to enjoy this aspect of the class, and they have a leg up on many of their peers when they move into more advanced exegesis courses.

Let's get "real" about the Synoptic Poll

I must respond to Mark Goodacre's interpretation of the Synoptic Poll blog. He writes:

"Brandon's poll provides a nice snapshot of what some people think about the Synoptic Problem at the moment, and several comments on the poll provide interesting perspectives on some current thinking about the question...the poll reflects some movement away from the confidence in the Two-Source Theory that characterized previous generations of scholarship."
It does?

Let's get real about this poll. It is not a scientific poll. Any introduction to psychology or sociology book or class tells us that for a poll to mean anything it must be carefully controlled and executed.

Brandon's poll is neither.

The audience is who? What percent of people who took the poll even knew what all the different answers were? How many just guessed for the fun of it? What percent of people who took the poll were even in the Academy? How many people voted more than once? How many people who voted have taken a course in Biblical Studies, exposing them to all the alternatives? I could go on and on.

What external factors influenced voters? Perhaps Mark's comment at the beginning of the voting process that everyone should vote for the Farrer hypothesis influenced more than a few voters? Perhaps the fact that the voters could view the tallies before they voted influenced their votes - the bandwagon effect? Perhaps those who didn't know what Q is, but saw Augustine's name, thought, hey, I know he is saint, so he must have been right? Perhaps the ordering of the alternatives influenced voters? I could go on and on.

So I take back my earlier remark that this poll can tell us what bloggers think. This poll can't tell us anything because it was not done in a controlled environment with a specific audience and question in mind. If you want to know what the Academy thinks about this, you have to poll the Academy with a controlled poll. If you want to know what Bibliobloggers think, then you have to poll them and only them with a controlled poll. If you want to know what any bloggers think, then you have to poll only that group with a controlled poll.

So counter what Mark Goodacre says, this poll says nothing about advances in the Academy in terms of less confidence in the Q hypothesis. I reiterate that Q is still the reigning hypothesis in the Academy, and I don't see it going away any time soon.

Books questioning Q have been published since its postulation over a century ago, and recently again as a critique of the Q project and its enormous critical edition. But this doesn't suggest that Q is on the decline. It suggests only that scholars are continuing to work on the Synoptic Problem, as well we should.

Update 6-6-07
See Mark Goodacre's response
Jim West's reaction
Loren Rossen's view

Synoptic Problem Poll

I am a little concerned with some of what I'm reading across the blogworld tonight regarding the results of the Synoptic Problem Poll on Novum Testamentum. Although it is fun to see what the blogging world thinks about this, it would be completely inaccurate to interpret the results of the poll to mean that the Two/Four-Source Hypothesis is losing ground in the Academy, or that the Academy is flirting with the Augustinian model, or that it has found the Farrer hypothesis convincing. Although this might be happening in the blogging world, it is not happening in the Academy. Quelle still reigns there.

Top Four Frustrations About Academic Writing

I'd like to join the blog discussion about academic writing. What frustrates me most as a writer and as a reader:

1. When an author has forgotten who the audience is. It is not so much that technical language should be avoided (or long sentences, or complicated strings of words), but that it should be avoided when writing for certain audiences. So what should be first on our minds when writing is our audience. The language and sentence structure should support that. This doesn't mean that we should over-complicate things though. I must admit that I dislike reading most philosophical writers because I hate to muddle through the language.

2. When an author has misappropriated quotations, misunderstood a person's work, or put words in a person's mouth that are not that person's words or thoughts at all. We should be very concerned about fair use and honest representation of another person's work. It is my personal opinion that we all must be more careful when we write that so-and-so thinks/believes/says something. Does that person really think/believe/say this, or are we as authors creating a position for another person that is not really his or her own, in order to push our own agenda?

3. When an author casts his or her criticism as polemic. If you won't say something face to face to a person, or in a public venue with the person sitting there, you shouldn't say it in writing. Mark Goodacre's advice is seconded here.

4. When I finish reading an article or a book chapter and I have to stop and figure out what it was about or why what I read was important. It is up to the author to tell the reader this very clearly, in the opening and closing of the piece, and often in between. I always ask my students, undergraduate and graduate, to boldface their theses. Why? So that they make sure that they have one!

Other blogs in this discussion:
Mark Goodacre
Loren Rossen
Angela Erisman

Bon Voyage to Judy Redman

I can't believe it, but Judy's time at Rice has come to an end already. She is headed back to Australia this weekend. I am very pleased with the progress she has made on her dissertation (examining the Kingdom parables in the Gospel of Thomas). She has been hard at work on her chapter on method and approach, which is quite evident from her own blog where she has been posting about her progress. Her visit to Rice has been mutually fruitful, since she also helped me edit a couple of my own pieces. And I have gained much from our conversations about the Gospel of Thomas and other subjects. She tells me that she will be working on her project for several more years. So I wish her the very best in that process, and hope that she finds as much joy in writing as I do. Farewell!

Update 5-5-07: For Judy's own farewell see her own post.

Congratulations and Welcome to New Ph.D. Students

Now that the campus visits are over, I want to take this time to congratulate again and to welcome into the Rice community three new Ph.D. students who will be moving to Houston this summer to begin work in the Bible and Beyond speciality. All three have given me permission to formally welcome them on this blog.
Welcome to Chad Day. Chad comes to Rice with a B.S. in Sociology and a M.A. in Religious Studies from UNC Charlotte. He wishes to study the Jesus movement, post-NT Jesus traditions, and the early church, with a particular orientation toward Judaism and its literatures, the Christian apocrypha and extra-canonical writings. He has an avid interest in "disciplinary border crossing" so is interested in continuing to foster his love for a range of methods and approaches to the field including postcolonical criticism, socio-rhetorical criticism, discourse analysis, and social theories (especially Bourdieu).

Welcome to Franklin Trammell. Franklin comes to Rice with a B.A. and M.A. in Religious Studies from UNC Charlotte. He has already written an impressive M.A. thesis (which I got to read parts of) reevaluating Q scholarship, particularly the layering of Q. He argues for a unified Q from the beginning. At Rice, he wishes to pursue another interest in the magical and mystical traditions in early Christianity. So I imagine that he will eventually be working in those alchemical texts that have yet to be fully translated as well as the traditional magical, hermetic, and gnostic materials. But he is aware that the mystical tradition already is emerging in Paul, so he will be studying the NT text from this perspective too.

Welcome to Claire Villarreal. Claire returns to Rice after an eight year hiatus during which she traveled abroad to Thailand, India, and Nepal studying and teaching meditation. She has a B.A. from Rice in Religious Studies and English. She wishes to become a comparativist, particularly in terms of mystical traditions within early Christianity and contemporaneous Buddhism. So Claire will not only be involved in the Bible and Beyond speciality, but also will be working intensely with Anne Klein who will guide her through the Buddhist materials.
I am extremely excited about working with each of these students, and inaugurating in the Fall the Rice Early Christianity Research Seminar, an on-going working seminar whose goal will be to thoroughly reconceptualize Christian Origins. To do this, we will take seriously all literature produced during the ante-Nicene period, archaeology, documentary literature, geography, indigenous populations, Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts. There will be no canonical boundaries. There will be no Christian apology. We will use both the web and traditional publication to share our progress. So stay tuned for that in the Fall.

Tenure and Blogging

Given the newness of my own blog, I can't help but chime in on the Tenure and Blogging discussion that Cathy Davidson and Mark Goodacre have initiated.

I think the discussion about whether blogging should count for tenure in the US amounts to little more than wishful thinking. To consider it anything "like" equivalent to refereed publications is not realistic. No matter how many hits a site might get, no matter how much discussion might be generated or feedback given, blogging is not only outside peer review, but it is outside the guild. Not only can the blogger write anything she or he wants, but anyone can respond in any way. This is not peer review and it is not critique by the guild. It is not even close to it.

I have published scads of articles and books that have gone through peer review, and it is not an equivalent process to blogging and responses from other bloggers. Whether or not you think that the anonymous peer review process is "elitist" or "traditional," it is what makes what we do a profession, controlled by a community of professors who have had years of training and uphold rigorous and necessary standards. Without it, we would become editorialists and teachers, not professors.

What about blogging and service? My experience with the tenure process is that service means service to your university and your department. There are some overtures to public dissemination of the guild's knowledge, but if this appears to be too generous on the part of the person seeking tenure, it can work to her or his disadvantage. The question will come up, why has this person spent so much time outside the guild? How much more could this person have published if only she or he had spent the time doing that instead of public service? So what "service" really means is "committee work" with an occasional public lecture.

I have real doubts about blogging being a good thing for a tenure case. In fact, if it were me, I would tend to downplay it. When my dean found out that I had begun blogging, his reaction was sincere worry. He wanted to know how I would continue with my writing-for-publication agenda if I spent time blogging. And I am a full professor with tenure and a chair!

Even though each university has its tenure quirks, I really put out a caution to those of you who are in your probationary period no matter your university. I don't suggest stopping your blog, but I do suggest that you make sure it does not interfere with writing-for-publication or committee work. Blogging is not the same as publication or service. It will not be considered the same no matter what arguments you try to make in your tenure document. And if you emphasize it too much, it could raise some eyebrows.

Update 4-14-07: some interesting discussion on other people's blogs
Mark Goodacre
Stephen Carlton

Welcome, Judy Redman

Judy Redman has arrived on the Rice campus, safe and sound after a long and exhausting flight from Syndey, Australia, yesterday. Ms. Redman is a Ph.D. student at the University of New England. She has traveled here to work with me as a visiting student-scholar for five weeks on a portion of the dissertation she is writing (under the mentorship of Professor Majella Franzmann). Ms. Redman is examining the Kingdom parables in the Gospel of Thomas. Once she recovers from the jet lag, we will start working together.

Judy, very glad you are here and looking forward to making progress on your project!