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Scholarship and Blogging

Scholarship and Blogging July 29, 2014

Larry Hurtado has expressed some frustration with some members of his blog audience. Here is an excerpt from his recent blog post on the topic:

Scholarly work intended to have an impact on the field isn’t done in blogging. The amount of data, its complexity, the analysis and argumentation involved, and the engagement with the work of other scholars that forms an essential feature of scholarly work all require more space than a few hundred words of a blog-posting, or a few paragraphs of blog-comment. So, it’s rather unrealistic (not to say bizarre) for some commenters to assume otherwise…

Blogging (at least this blog site) is for disseminating basic results of scholarly work, and alerting interested readers to publications where they can pursue matters further. But if you do want to engage the issues, you’re just going to have to do some serious reading . . . in books, and articles, and in the original sources on which scholarly work is based. The Internet and the “blogosphere” hasn’t really changed that.

In theory, there is no reason why a scholar could not write most of their thoughts and drafts of most of their scholarly works on a blog. A blog is a format, and so the content can literally be anything. But for most scholars who blog, that is not how we use them.

A blog post, like a popular magazine article, can be a great first point of entry into a field. But if you want to have a full grasp of the reasoning and evidence, then simply reading more such articles and blog posts will not suffice. It is time to read books. Reading even one scholarly book on a topic will provide you with detail that a dozen superficial online articles and blog posts will not provide.

I think that is Larry’s main point. Blogging is an attempt to distill, to mediate, to inform, but in ways that by definition summarize and omit much detail. If you want more detail, then by all means ask a question on a blog – but be prepared to be directed to someplace where the scholar in question has already addressed the topic. Expecting a scholar to type out their book for you in order to save you a trip to the library is obviously unreasonable, isn’t it?

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, Jona Lendering discussed Maurice Casey’s recent book about mythicism, and his conclusion was that, although Casey is right about most important things, he approaches the subject in a manner that will inevitably leave mythicists unpersuaded. In the process, the need for scholarship to be well-represented online is addressed.

If Casey’s and Ehrman’s books specifically aimed at addressing mythicism fail to persuade those committed to that particular form of pseudoscholarship, it would be wrong to think that these are the only scholars doing work relevant to the question. For instance, Chris Keith has been active in sharing his scholarship online. It would be easy for someone who is inadequately familiar with the field of New Testament to miss that work like Keith’s has relevance to the historicity of Jesus. If his conclusion about the Gospels contesting whether Jesus was scribally literate is correct, then the Gospels offer evidence related to the historical Jesus in the process. This is why it is so laughable when some suggest that the matter of Jesus’ historicity has not been addressed by scholars. There is lots of evidence that has the potential to be judged to support there having been a historical Jesus, and scholars have been looking at it closely for a very long time, and continue to do so.

Of related interest, Scot McKnight asked whether anyone still reads Bultmann, and whether they should. The answer is obviously “yes,” isn’t it? The Huffington Post piece on Wikipedia’s religion articles as battlegrounds also relates to the topic of online scholarship and dissemination of information.

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