The Final Blogger Session #AARSBL15

The Final Blogger Session #AARSBL15 November 22, 2015

For the last ever Blogger and Online Publication session, we had two papers and a panel lined up. First up was Rick Brannan, who talked about the process of blogging as a stepping stone to producing a book. He invited the audience to take photos and blog and tweet as he spoke, and so I obliged and took a photo as he was presenting. Brannan told the story of how his interest in apocryphal Gospels was rekindled, and noticing that Faithlife/Logos did not have an edition of the Greek texts. He talked all the way through the process, including prior to it going into the blogosphere. had many older published editions, but often finding versions of fragments and agrapha proved more difficult. P.Oxy.5072 was what moved the project into the realm of the blogs, since in fact it had been mentioned on the blogs, and Brannan remembered having read about it there. He then tweeted an appeal to anyone who had access to a copy of the relevant published volume, and someone sent him pictures. He then blogged his transcription, for the reason that he wanted feedback on his transcription and translation, knowing that the internet is full of people who are happy to tell you when you are wrong. Blogging and other social media also came into the picture since he had to do his own promotion of the publication. The concluding point of his paper was less “you can blog and get a book out of it” and more the relationships and networking that resulted out of the process. He then ended up contributing to a printed volume that Tony Burke was putting together, and Brannan and Burke were connected via blogs. A pdf of Brannan's paper will be on his site soon.

Christian Brady was up next and said that what he was going to do is perfect for the internet age: talk about himself and his blog. Brady had blogged from around 2003, but the first “official” post on his blog Targuman was in 2006. Initially he thought he wanted to be anonymous. But he realized (as was key when they tracked down Ross Ulbricht) that he would have to tell people about the blog as himself to get people to read it. A combination of ego and honesty also contributed: if he said something worthwhile on his blog, he wanted people to know that he was the one who said it. His first blogged about research on the targumim, posting thoughts about his own work and about articles he had been reading. Because relatively few people work on the targumim, having conversations and getting feedback was great, since work in such areas can leave one feeling isolated. Photography is a passion of his, and so he also blogged his photography. Humor, in particular cartoons, is an area of interest, and blogging has gotten him to know some cartoonists. As many know, his son Mack passed away in 2012, when he was 9 years old, and the community support he received touched him greatly. Brady also mentioned the support that professors whose jobs were threatened received from blogs. Brady ended up blogging about the theology of suffering. When internet troll “theologyarchaeology” (aka David Tee) posted hurtful comments, other people responded. When someone mentioned Emil Brunner, it opened up a whole interesting world. Brady also talked about the apparent different professional and personal personas that scholars may have online. His concluding comments were about the SBL speech policy and said that one of the great things about blogs is that they give everyone a voice, and it is the reader who has to provide intelligence. We can ignore trolls, and don't need our minds to be guarded. In the discussion, there was a question about Facebook, and so there was discussion about the SBL Facebook group, as well as using Facebook to drive traffic to blogs, and having to block his mother on Facebook. Daniel McClellan asked about the advice that is given to students to delete their online presence before looking for jobs. Brady responded by saying that he is involved a leadership institute which brings up students' Facebook pages and talks about them. Someone mentioned that unfocused blogs, with personal as well as professional, are prone to lose followers. Brady uses tags to make it possible for people to follow just certain topics. Brady said that in many respects his blog is his journal. It is great to be able to go back and read about past experiences. The last question from the audience was essentially a compliment on the nice appearance of Brady's blog.

Next was the panel. Bart Ehrman was up first and talked about not having a natural desire to blog, and his model of having paid subscriptions raising money for charity. His aims are to disseminate knowledge to an interested public (he isn't writing for scholars, although some scholars subscribe), and to raise money. The latter is his main goal – if it did not raise money for charity, he wouldn't blog. Each year he has raised tens of thousands of dollars, and this year it has passed $100,000. There have been challenges. He wondered when he first started how long it would take to run out of things to say when posting this often, but it has not happened yet. Now the question is when he will start repeating himself, and after three years he has found himself saying the same things, albeit differently. Since he doesn't remember exactly what he said that long ago, neither do readers. He had to hire a tech person to help him since he is not a techie. While most members are courteous, there are exceptions. If someone keeps flouting the rule to that effect, they will be blocked and their money refunded. Once a week he makes a post which is entirely visible to the public.

Wil Gafney spoke next, and started with the issue of trolls and diversity. Women get rape threats, black bloggers get racist comments and messages. Ignoring trolls and expecting them to go away doesn't work in such cases. Some will mail blog excerpts to board members at the blogger's institution. Originally Gafney blogged anonymously. Gafney mentioned Twitter being where her finely sharpened social activism is articulated. Facebook is more like the home of grandparents, where things are said for family and parishoners. She described the challenge of posting sermons, then getting a book deal on the topic that would incorporate that material, and having to develop two different versions from that point, one for the congregation and one for the book. Gafney also shared her experience of blogging about television and film. She concluded talking about which posts on her blog have received the most traffic.

Larry Schiffman started by talking about the case of Raphael Golb setting up sock puppets and posting in the name of scholars who disagree with his father, including Schiffman. This meant you would find those things if you searched for Schiffman's name, and so he needed to get his actual self online. The website helps publicize his lecturing activity. Most of his blogging is an effort at public education, just as his public lectures and involvement with documentaries and the media. He aims at keeping the blog “religiously neutral” because he wants all readers to feel that the content is for them. It is all academic, with nothing about politics. He uses the blog for things he writes that he doesn't know what else to do with. Schiffman said that there is a “morality of discourse” that we stand for as scholars, which we need to stand for on our blogs just as in the classroom and elsewhere. He also talked about the fact that academic writing earns us very little, and so we would lose very little in the way of royalties if we gave it away for free, but he is still stuck in the older way of doing things. His blog does not allow comments and so in a sense is not really a blog but a dissemination tool. But readers can submit questions, and some of those will be answered on the blog if the person who submitted it gives permission.

We then had time for discussion. One question was about the possibility of Wil Gafney getting a professional publicist to help her in the same way other public figures have done. Publicists can help protect someone and not just help those who do not have attention get it. Another question was about whether blogging by professors helps with university recruitment. Schiffman said he doubts that it helps – but answering e-mails from high school students does. High school students do not tend to read our blogs! Gafney said that it is different with Masters-level students. Potential students may start as the “good kind of stalkers” on Twitter. Brady said that a blog needs to be run by an institution to work well for recruitment. Daniel Gulotta mentioned taking his blog down, and discovering that “hate shrines” by others remain. Ehrman replied that the mythicists are characteristic of the democratization the internet represents – a small minority can be very loud. Another question was about attacks from within one's group rather than outsiders. Schiffman said he thinks it is unwise for graduate students and untenured faculty to get involved in disputations, because online information can influence hires even if not consciously. He advised against responding to what others say about you online, at least when those people do not share our morality concerning discourse. There was a question from someone who had been blocked by Gafney on Twitter, who had questioned her credentials. She replied mentioning the challenge of interpreting what people say on Twitter. Daniel McClellan asked Ehrman about using the blog to clarify points in relation to How Jesus Became God and the response to it. Ehrman had found the response book largely disappointing, but thought that Craig Evans' was particularly good and yet also misrepresented the evidence, and so he blogged a response to get information out about what we know about Roman crucifixion and burial practices. The next question was whether the panelists would have a blog if they were grad students today. Schiffman said no, Ehrman agreed saying that it takes time away from your research, and Gafney concurred, saying that if you are a student somewhere that requires blogging you should avoid controversy. The next question was about time dedicated each week to blogging. Ehrman said he is lucky to write fast and so 1000 words takes him about 20 minutes. He spends about six hours a week on the blog. That is seven work-weeks from his year. Gafney said she is a “rage blogger” and aims to not let a month pass without blogging. Schiffman has his daughter run the blog and sends her material. He also emphasized that blogging has to be the right choice for you, it isn't one size fits all. The next question was about guidance for bloggers. Brady replied that different platforms may suit different blogs. The next question was whether people ever concede a point, change their minds, or apologize. Gafney mentioned having apologized for losing her temper on Twitter. But the other person had wanted to keep fighting. Another question was about whether one can have high quality discourse online. Schiffman said it is hard to do so without face to face interaction, but one needs to live one's ethics online as in person. Defending oneself already puts one in an inappropriate mode.

Don't forget the bloggers' dinner tonight at Meehan's at 5pm!



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