Blogging the Bible

By Jim West
Quartz Hill School of Theology
December 2009

See also:
Academics, Biblical Studies, and "The Man on the Street"
Stalemate: Archaeological Research, The Public, and Our Responsibility

Some readers of Bible and Interpretation may already be aware of the fact that the Society of Biblical Literature and “Bibliobloggers” have entered into an “affiliate” relationship. To some it has seemed a curiosity, to some something unnecessary, to some something undesirable, and to some, a positive development as it links the online propagation of reliable biblical studies and the largest society of professional biblical scholars.

Questions have naturally also been raised by those concerned that such an alignment will result in those “in” and those “out”--in spite of the fact that from the very beginning it was made quite clear that only those bloggers who were members of the SBL and who wished to consider themselves as affiliated with the Society would be labeled “affiliates,” and that only as a self-identification, not as a delimitation or restriction.

So, at the end of the process, self-identified “bibliobloggers” were viewed as a segment of the larger biblical studies “world” and as such welcome under the affiliate umbrella of the SBL. This affiliation allows bloggers to organize their own program unit, obtain meeting space and program listing at the annual meeting, and function along with other scholars in their common interests.

And in fact, at the recently concluded annual meeting in New Orleans, members of the steering committee (under the leadership of Robert Cargill of UCLA) laid plans for the first official program unit which will convene in Atlanta.

But, as several have opined publicly and privately, “What's the point?” Or even more dismissively, “Who cares?” To these questions I answer, “You should.”

Biblical scholarship is being hijacked by tech savvy fundamentalists who long since have made use of the internet in order to propagate their ideology. Just as archaeology has been taken over (in the public eye) by pseudo-archaeologists such as Jim Barfield and Simcha Jacobovici doing junk archaeology, so too the primary repositories of biblical scholarship are found among fundamentalists (and a simple googling of nearly any biblical book or personality will prove this point-- the top hits are not exactly the most reliable).

Scholars are once again lagging behind the curve. Ensconced in towers away from the masses of people who are interested in the Bible, scholars publish in journals that only specialists read, while the lay folk are left in the clutches of misinformation. And all the while, good scholarship actually is being disseminated to a wider public in only some far corners of the world.

To put it bluntly, for too long scholars have turned their noses up at lay folk, and consequently they have not benefited from scholarly expertise. But now that situation can easily be corrected.

Blogging the Bible is the best way for scholars to get scholarship to the mass of consumers. Scholars can and should write journal articles in peer reviewed journals. They should publish excruciatingly detailed tomes that only a few other experts in the same field will ever read. They should meet at conferences and hear papers and interact and learn and grow professionally and intellectually. Likewise, they should write “popularizing” books targeted for the wider public. And finally they should, and I would suggest must, also attend to their duties as the disseminators of publicly consumable biblical scholarship for people who will not, or cannot, read extensive treatments. This is not to suggest that they dumb down their ideas, scholars should clarify, not reduce. But, scholars should also understand that anything that can't be explained in some clear fashion, so that the majority of people can understand it, may become an exercise in self-importance, not true scholarship.

Scholarship, it seems to me, must always be aware of its audience. And communication of said scholarship means dissemination. Scholars have a tendency--when they gather--to bemoan their students’ ignorance in the most basic matters. And yet within their hands, at their very fingertips, is a formidable, under-used tool for the correction of that state of affairs: Blogging the Bible.

The SBL Blogging and Online Publication Unit is a step in the right direction, closing the gap between what scholars know and what the interested public thinks it knows. The SBL Blogging and Online Publication Unit will strive to connect scholars, scholarship, and the public. It will concern itself with the issues of online publishing and the intersection of the academy and humanity.

Some will continue to dismiss, demean, or even denigrate such efforts. Unfortunately, by doing so, they will demonstrate themselves to be utterly out of touch with both the way information can be effectively shared and how students learn these days and in the future. The internet isn't a fad, and constructing an online presence will be, in the not too distant future, a requirement for all those wishing to propagate information.

Blogging the Bible is no longer a fringe pastime for a few; it is a means by which scholars of repute and of no repute at all are sharing the field they love with others who also love it. Every biblical scholar ought to blog, because every blogger out there isn't a biblical scholar.

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