The A to Z of 2023

The A to Z of 2023 December 21, 2023

A year ago I was just returning from spending Michelmas term at Magdalen College in Oxford, at the halfway point in a yearlong sabbatical. I was happy to be back with my family after extended separation. I was wondering what it would be like, after spending time in the Bodleian Libraries’ David Reading Room looking at manuscripts and in the Duke Humphries library just because it is such a cool historic space, to relocate soon after the beginning of the new year to Milledgeville, Georgia. As it turned out, while there were no historic manuscripts I had gotten the photos I needed to of those while in Oxford, and while there was no existing collection relevant to John the Baptist in the library of Georgia College and State University, interlibrary loan meant that was not a problem in the slightest. The weather had grown cold in Oxford and it was cold in Indianapolis, making Georgia that much more invigorating. I took my first sabbatical in a spring semester not realizing how much the cold and longer night could be demotivating.

In addition to continuing writing and researching, I had the privilege of teaching a course on women in early Christianity for the first time at GCSU. I plan to offer it at Butler in fall 2024. ChatGPT made its appearance right during this time and I was briefly tempted to turn my attention away from John the Baptist to writing about this latest AI development. Instead, I decided to get students to use it and figure out what it was, what educators and everyone else ought to be worried about, what its shortcomings were, and how if at all we might harness it in positive ways for educational purposes. I talked with librarians about it, and encouraged my students to experiment with it and tell me how they used it. I told students they could earn points in other creative ways, by making artwork, songs, and memes. Of course found myself inspired to offer a parody song as well.

Some of the memes students came up with were absolutely brilliant. Here are a couple of my favorites, which I don’t believe I shared here.

ChatGPT ended up being a major focus of the Newell Scholar Lecture I gave at GCSU. That talk is on YouTube.

Since getting back to Butler, there has been an effort here as well to address the question of what to do with ChatGPT. You can find some of the resulting lesson plans on this site. I was so relieved that I managed to get the John the Baptist books wrapped up and submitted to the publisher before classes began. The most surprising thing was that I was pretty sure that I would then take some time off and not worry about what my next book project would be. Then I mentioned an idea in passing to my editor, and things quickly escalated so that now there’s another book in the pipeline. At last now finally I have just a couple of little things to contribute here and there, but several possibilities none of which I’m sure will go anywhere. I’ll say more about those at some point.

My book The A to Z of the New Testament came out in November and quickly got a lot of positive attention. I wondered what Eerdmans would think of my penchant for making silly videos including song parodies to promote the book, and to my surprise they were delighted! I talked with Jacob Berman (History Valley), Tripp Fuller (Homebrewed Christianity), Potential Theism, and many others about the book, a few of those interviews yet to appear. Rick Lee James shared a reading from the book on his podcast.

My book What Jesus Learned from Women appeared in Romanian translation. I hope to get a chance to travel there and give some talks related to the book in the not too distant future.

Blog readers, it has been quite a year and a half! I’m hopeful that more regular blogging will characterize the year to come. I had to focus on the sabbatical research if I was to have any hope of getting it done within the allotted time. But the fact that three of the four books that I have written since summer 2022 are aimed at a general audience, I hope you’ll believe me when I say that public scholarship remains a passion of mine, and that includes blogging.

There’s much more detail that I could go into about this past year, but I think that’s enough and captures the key points. How has your year been? What do you hope that I’ll blog about in 2024? Looking forward to writing more here for you, and the conversations that will ensue. Until then, have a merry Christmas and a happy new year if you celebrate those things!

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