Blogging needs Facebook

Mark Goodacre posted an interesting comment: The Jesus’ Wife Fragment and the Transformation of Peer Review? which linked to an equally interesting post Le véritable scoop de «l’Evangile de la femme de Jésus»: la transformation des normes de publication académique (peer-review), raising questions about what the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife saga may teach us about peer-review in the humanities. As often happens some interesting discussion of the post(s) took place on Facebook (WARNING you will only be able to follow that link if you are “friends” with Mark G). With blogging software trackback might lead a reader of the originalpost to Mark’s blog, but there is no trackback from Facebook… what blogging needs is a FB app that allows cross posting of comments (if the commenter selects this?) back from FB to the original post on the blog.

Facebook needs blogs for sustained posts that do more than tickle a meme, but blogging in turn needs a decent Facebook app!


BTW here are my comments (so far):

The media spotlight certainly impacted this case. But does it actually nullify it as a precedent, could pre-publication with public comment from interested parties (mainly scholars with an interest in the topic) substitute for or complement traditional secretive peer review.
There are certainly vested interests that will militate against such change, but there are benefits, at least for a scholar who thinks their work important, such a process would increase the “impact” of such articles…

Mark responded wondering if the actual HTR process this time was a good repeatable one, I replied:

No, but possibly a very light first round (basically just checking it “looks” scholarly with a skim read) then pre-publication, possible revision before the final decision to publish and definitive citable version…


Computer mediated collegiality :) The old draft: colleagues comment, publish… but with a much wider and less self-selected circle of “colleagues”.

NB for copyright and confidentiality reasons I have not quoted other participants, which gives a one sided view and over estimates my contribution :( a decent FB app would overcome that :)

More on my online book launch

Recently I posted a request to readers to help me “launch” the online discussable version of my book Not Only a Father.

The online version is at it uses a WordPress plugin to let people add comments, questions or to object to or correct things I’ve written.

Recently more people have helped by mentioning it on their blogs:

In order to encourage visitors who find the site (either by buying the paperback or through Google or those blog posts) what I really need is for some of you to post comments, questions etc. on parts of the book, so less tech-savvy people can see how it works :)

Online book launch

Do please participate in helping me to make my latest experiment in online publication work better. I want to explore how authors and readers can engage more and at greater depth through using online communications. My book Not Only a Father is not only available as a paperback on Amazon, but also the full text is online at using a WordPress plugin that allows commenting and discussion at paragraph rather than post level.

However, my publisher (the NZ Baptist Research Society) has no funds for promotion, and as yet few people have responded to my efforts on Facebook or here so the discussion is still sparse. I would like to do an Online Book Launch to (roughly) coincide with the physical one. So I am asking a number of bloggers to agree to mention the book (especially the free online version) in a post in the first two weeks of October (the physical launch is 10th October). I am also trying to find people willing to read a few paragraphs and post a comment (naturally if you want to read more I’d be delighted ;)

I wonder if you’d be willing to share in this in some way? I’ll mention everyone who does in posts (and leaves a URL) here, which since I am hosting the September BS Carnival tomorrow so this should give you extra Google mojo as a bonus ;)

Those who have already begun include:1


  1. If your name/URL is missing please let me know, I’ll try to keep this up to date, but am fallible :( []

Books are hot (Marshall McLuhan)??

Photo by pcorreia

There’s a provocative little discussion on Edge “What do you think Marshall McLuhan would have said about ebooks? How do they change the message of books?”

You may pick other takeways, but mine is the thought from Douglas Rushkoff (neatly reversing/correcting Clay Shirky) on how McC’s famous “hot vs. cold” distinction among media might play out. As he explains:

cool media are ones that require active participation, and usually hit more than one sense at a time. Hot media are more engrossing, and less participatory. McLuhan saw radio as a hot medium, because it was high fidelity but hit just one sense—hearing. It was so hot, in fact, that Hitler was able to stoke his mob this way. Television, on the other hand, was a cool medium. It was grainy back then, and required more participation in order for the viewer to resolve the image.

Which leads to the provocative thought:

The book is engrossing and uni-sensory, so it counts as hot in its current form. No participation, just engagement. We are swallowed up by the book. As the book becomes more digital, we tend to click around more, we have hyperlinks, we even have the ability to discuss the book with friends and peers as we read. These all contribute to making the book a more participatory and cooler experience. We can have more distance, we are alienated from the passion of the text to some extent, and we are connected to other readers.

Reviews and the society of scholarship

Photo "anger" (some rights reserved) by Jeff Hester

Photo "anger" (some rights reserved) by Jeff Hester

RBL (the SBL’s Review of Biblical Literature) is an innovative and interesting journal. It fulfills the important, but unglamorous, scholarly task of organising and publishing reviews of new book-length work in the field. So far so useful but ordinary. RBL has also pioneered the electronic publication of these reviews while retaining a print edition.1 It has used the flexibility of this mode of publication to open reviewing and the selection of works to review wider than traditional journals.

  • Any SBL member or other scholar can request a book (from the list of titles offered by the publishers), and if their CV looks suitable, review it. Traditionally the book re views editor searches round their circle of friends and acquaintances for someone who “might be interested”.
  • More than one review can be published for the same work. Traditionally each book will get at most one review in any particular journal.
  • Because e-publishing is speedy RBL is also “timely” it usually gets reviews out much closer to the publication date of the work than any print journal can achieve.

You get the picture, RBL is an early adopter and enthusiastic scholarly institution. Mark Goodacre has a post (RBL Innovation: Scholarly Rejoinders to Reviews) which draws attention to a new departure from standard journal practice that could have far reaching impacts on this unglamorous aspect of scholarship. Mark summarises the development thus:

SBL Review of Biblical Literature is allowing authors their right to reply in its blog.

The blog format enables authors to add their thoughts on their reviewers in the “comments” and the regular RBL newsletter has begun to draw attention to these.

He and his commenters speculate on the impact this right of reply may have on reviewing and scholarship in general. After pointing out how often authors feel aggrieved by a reviewer’s obtuse missing of the point, or unfair presentation of their work,2  Mark goes on to say:

I must admit to mixed feelings about this.  On one level, it could help to hold reviewers to account.  But on the other hand, it is part of the academic experience to learn to cope with reviews of your work with which you may disagree.  I wonder if the ease of a blog-comment response will encourage too many authors to respond too quickly and too negatively to critiques of their work that may — on reflection — help them.

Moreover, sometimes discretion is the better part of valour.  If you have an unfair review, it’s sometimes better not to respond.  Knee-jerk responses all too often end up looking petty, pompous or self-indulgent.

To me this is where the potential impact of this seemingly innocuous move in a quiet backwater of scholarship is really interesting. The location, on a “blog” that seems hardly visited and serves merely as a convenient RSS feed for lists of new titles reviewed, is obscure. Yet the phenomenon it recognises and enshrines in the practice of the scholarly “guild” is revolutionary.

For the practice of an author having the capacity to reply to a review already exists, if not on the journal’s site then at least on their personal blog authors now clearly have the “right of reply”, and are increasingly beginning to take it up.

This makes this aspect of scholarship, up to now one of the most impersonal in a culture (Western Academic) that has erred on the side of aiming to remove humanity from the humanities (“objectivity” anyone?) more social. So, in this brave new electronic world of scholarship we will need to learn are a new set of social skills. Too intemperate a response or any response at all that seems “wrong” (nitpicking, ad hominem etc…) will presumably lower the writer’s standing as a person. And this “personality” will no longer be hidden away in “real life” where fellow scholars do not follow one home.

Up to now this social aspect of scholarship has been by an large confined to conferences, now it is slowly entering everyday life. Interesting times :)

  1. RBL’s URL is a clear indication of how early it was in adopting the electronic medium. []
  2. Thinking of the effort and time that goes into writing a scholarly work there are understandably powerful emotions driving these feelings ;) []

Big Brother or Wither Authority?

This post is a blast from the past, first published exactly five years ago, but become perhaps more timely in the intervening half-decade.

“What is a book?” seems too simple a question at first glance. The closer we look the further a simple answer eludes us. Even if we associate “book” with the physical form that writing has historically taken in modern times, the printed codex of more than a certain number of leaves (smaller codices being “booklets!), the notion is still problematic.

For example:

  • How is a collection of essays, which most of us would call a “book” different from a similar collection that appears as one fascicle of a Journal?
  • Some of our “books” today existed already in the manuscript age, were they “books” then? Are manuscript texts not books today?
  • Some even existed as scrolls, so should the notion of book be technology agnostic?
  • What is the relationship between a “phone book” and its electronic equivalent?

So, to what extent is “book” a technology independent concept, or to what extent is it technologically bounded?

In a thought-provoking post, “the network made visible – some thoughts on the present continuous of books“, Sebastian Mary (one of the interesting bloggers associated with the Institute for the Future of the Book) offers this list of “common and often unexamined assumptions that underpin the tradition of the book.

Physicality – Books are physical: text and sometimes pictures organised in a linear form, and collected in physical libraries.

Authority – Books are time-consuming and expensive to make. Their ‘authority’ exists in proportion to this scarcity. The implication is that no-one would bother laboriously to typeset, print and bind drivel; so if a book doesn’t make sense then the fault lies with the reader. , and hence failure to comprehend a text lies with the reader, not with the text. This principle of authority in proportion to scarcity can be seen by comparing the medieval reverence for hand-copied books, through to modern offhand treatment of mass-produced ‘airport novels’. Authoritative texts reinforce their authority with reference to one another.

Fixity – The physicality of books perpetuates the impression of text as something immutable. This physicality also give rise to a tradition of books holding otherwise ephemeral knowledge in fixed form for posterity, and thus of books’ being timeless in a way that human life is not.

Universality – This is the trope most heavily challenged by twentieth century theory. The traditional ideal – and arguably the central proposition of the canon – is that books marked thus are of value to everyone, regardless of who, when and where.

Boundedness – Being a physical object, a book cannot contain everything.

The whole post/essay is really worth reading, please do not be satisfied with this chunk alone, torn from its context.

The opening paragraphs of the section “Whither Authority?” lead me in a different direction fro that Sebastian Mary takes, though that is probably the more interesting and significant direction (so, again read the post!) since my direction is different, after quoting the paragraphs I will diverge and follow my own nose!

Whither Authority?

On the Net, readers write, and writers read. Anyone can self-publish. So, following the principle that the status and authority of a text is in direct proportion to its scarcity, to write is no longer to be the privileged accessor and producer of canonical, authoritative texts. Notions of authorship and any but the most provisional and conversational kind of intellectual leadership become meaningless.

The boundary between ‘worth reading’ and ‘worthless blah’ is blurred by the visible, trackable emergence of content from the swamp of chatter. And, watching content emerge, it is plainly impossible to posit for the Net a set of human-centric values as (however speciously) the literary canon allowed. The Net has no transcendental signifier except itself, no cohesion to celebrate except that of technologically-enabled pseudo-diversity.

I am tempted by this dystopian vision, of a net that diminishes everything to a level morass of equal and opposite worthlessness. (Which is not quite what SM means, but provides a neat caricature of this tendency.)

Except, it ignores the imperial power of Google. (Using “Google” as a convenient shorthand for “Search Engines and other means of sorting and finding material on the net”.) Google prioritises pages. If I am looking for material: population statistics, poetry, pictures… I never trawl the net myself, and nor do you. We always use some meta-site (like NT Gateway or iTanakh ;-) or search engine/directory like Yahoo to begin our “surfing”.

This “beginning” also orients us. It provides an authoritative list. Explicitly: because the contents are selected (meta-sites) or ranked (Google) and implicitly: because in the past I have found the material they list, or that ranks highly, to be useful (more often than not, the occasional foray down to page three of the Google list is strangely rare, hence all the brouhaha over SEO).

Which brings me back to SM’s post…

The grammar of the Web is not one of human languages or literary forms, but one of computer languages. Online, the Writers (in the sense of those invested with weight, status and Authority) are software developers. No text writer may have the final word; nor will he shape the grammars he works with. Coders, on the other hand, create the enabling conditions for interaction.

For in the net it is the composers of Google’s algorithms who confer “authority”, and not mere authorship – which belongs to all without fear or favour. And yet it is not! For, given the complexity of the net, the algorithms can hardly take account of each page, or author, or even site. Rather, as well as the material itself:

  • the material itself:
    • is it coherent?
    • focused?
    • tight? etc…

they consider things like:

  • how others have viewed this material:
    • How many link to it?
    • Do these pages use similar keywords?
    • Are those sites “authoritative”? etc…

In other words, they consult the great unwashed, go for the wisdom of crowds, and all the rest. And as a result among the networked, some are more authoritative than others.

In a way it is the reverse of the old culture, which authorised by excluding. As SM put it the economics of print or manuscript writing creates “principle of authority in proportion to scarcity”. Publishers, in other words authorise this work by excluding others. In a sense the old Vatican Index Of Forbidden Books – a list intended to ensure certain books were/are not read – was the epitome of this approach. By authority by exclusion cannot work on the net.

Except if Google (in this case meaning both the broad category of search facilitators and the particular eponymous example) were to select and exclude on grounds other than the views of the mass of netizens. Which is what in fact happens. Google does censor the data. Authority in the net is powerful, if Google bans you who can find your work, yet hidden and secretive. Big Brother may no be watching you, but whether you know it or not, whether he is intent on “doing no evil” or not, his censorship has unauthorised works you might wish to see.

Quis custodiet Google? Although it may seem that the net is egalitarian, once the “whither” of authority is recognised one can see that it has not “withered”, but merely disguised its hegemonic tendency behind a benign smile.

Free Open Source Textbooks Project

AKMA has suggested (though it is phrased as a question: Time for FOSOT(NT)T? I think it was really a suggestion) that it is perhaps time to really start seriously on the project of producing a Free Open Source Textbook (probably as a prototype for a possible series).  Brooke (another initial primary discussant) seems both willing and more likely to be able (because of easing time-pressure) soon. The other initial contributor, Mark Goodacre, does not seem to have responded yet.

I pretty much agree with AKMA’s suggestions of format and approach, and for similar reasons I also agree that now might be the time to begin serious work on such a project. As he notes there is a conjunction of ripe technologies (together with a few exciting emerging – or at least not yet mainstream – ones) with a growing need and a growing willingness by scholars to consider such projects.I also have a personal reason for thinking the time is ripe. As I suggested in my Free open-source textbook project: call for participation I will soon begin to have more time available.

However I don’t think sitting waiting for volunteers to beat a path to our door will work – even though evidently we will be in the process of making a much better “mousetrap” than the existing expensive, out of date (by the time they hit print) and one-eyed offerings ;) We need a small self-appointed (unless we can persuade someone better credentialed to appoint) group to start putting the elements together, applying for funding, setting out clearly the parameters etc.

If at present the starters are AKMA, Brooke, Mark (?) and me who else is willing? (NB. perhaps looking at those names we would be aiming for an introduction to both Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and New Testament…)

For priorconsideration of the FOSOT idea on this blog see these posts.

70% of students could learn from this

Yes, here :)

Click for full graphic

Sadly the students who need this advice most probably don’t read my blog ;)

However, for students and others who do here  is some good sensible advice and a quick revision of some of the more useful operators one can use in searching Google.

HT: Lifehacker from

PS more than 70% of students in NZ do not use Macs, they still cost too much for most students.

SBL and the digital communications revolution

There is an interesting confluence in aspects of two significant documents that John Kutsko (SBL) pointed me towards. Today was a news item in Inside Higher Ed, it’s titled The Promise of Digital Humanities and reports on a meeting celebrating (US) NEH grants to digital humanities projects. Among the items that caught my eye was a section stressing the importance of open publication to the future of the humanities, in an era of shrinking funding when even prestigious departments are threatened with closure (like a year or two back the University of Sheffield’s renowned Biblical Studies department).

The section I’m quoting itself quotes the NEH’s Brett Bobley:

A lot of scholarly data over the last hundred years or so is locked up in expensive journals that the public could never afford to subscribe to.

“We’re quite happy about how the digital humanities is, in some sense, opening up the scholarly world to a wider audience,” he said.

That could be the key to winning back support for the humanities, suggested Doug Reside, digital curator of the performing arts at the New York Public Library.

Basically the argument goes that open publication could, by raising the public profile, also reduce the danger of the humanities being seen as irrelevant and so not worth funding.

My mind flipped back to the other document Kutsko had pointed to a week or so back. This one was a report, New-Model Scholarly Communication: Road Map for Change from the Scholarly Communication Institute. It is a careful, yet visionary, document which is full of interesting and exciting ideas.1 They talk near the start about how:

Advancing the humanities in and for the digital age demands the active engagement of many sectors of the scholarly community working towards a shared vision. The key actors in the successful transition of humanities to a digital environment are:
• Peer communities of scholars able to assess and validate new forms of  scholarship, including genres that cross disciplinary boundaries,  reach new audiences, and use technology in innovative ways
• Publishers able to support new communities of discourse producing scholarship in multiple media and genres, and engaging the attention of diverse audiences

They also spoke of libraries, administrators and funders, but I suspect these recommendations follow from the first two and that there are few of my readers who are administrators or funders! They then provide a series of “actionable ideas”. Which offer an exciting view of humanities scholarship finally adapting to the digital communications environment. Here I’ll draw attention to one:

Reengineer the system of credit. Explore and articulate criteria for assessing scholarly merit in the online environment; experiment with venues for peer review to increase transparency, reliability, and participation; devise methods to sift through the surfeit of available information and direct scholarly attention to meritorious work; and realign reward and recognition systems to apportion credit where credit is due

The peer-review system has served us well, despite its failings2 for it has promised, and on the whole provided, a more level playing field and access to all, along with a filter to remove the trash and select the good.

But it is not adapted to assessing the worth of digital communications, nor at all “transparent”,3 nor does it begin to filter the huge and exponentially growing pile of trash (with the occasional nugget of gold) that Google presents to our students and the general public – though this steaming pile is all that the underprivileged (those without access to the fine academic libraries) can use as their starting point. And finally as they say current systems of reward and punishment calculated on “peer review” and “established esteemed journals or publishers” do not encourage – in fact actively discourage – experimental discourse in favour of more of the same old same old. Yet the humanities are about discourse and scholarship is about the new and innovative.

Later in the report they speak of the sweeping changes we are experiencing as an environment for scholarship. They highlight four

• changes in the nature and constitution of the audience (for humanities and all online information): readers now expect to be active users and producers of content, not passive receivers of information; the time span between creating and posting content is short, and reception and reaction equally short

Here there are two challenges, assuring quality within a quick turn around environment (for this modified forms of peer review would be helpful)4 and even more radical an environment where “readers now expect to be active users and producers of content, not passive receivers of information”5 this change, from a sequence (with considerable delays) of one way communications to a genuinely dialogical engagement, will require new forms of communication more like blogging than print journals.6

SBL as the largest and most active global association of biblical scholars has a huge potential to promote and develop such a shift in scholarly communications. Alongside (what I can’t resist calling) legacy journals like JBL the society should set up and sponsor alternative communications media that are more open and responsive, more dialogical and yet with robust processes of quality assurance. Such a move on it’s own would have a refreshing and renewing impact on the discipline, opening real scholarship both to producers on the fringe (the various sorts of “independent scholar” who are increasingly around but still have poor access to both resources and publication outlets) and to a new and broader body of consumers (who currently get their biblical studies from Wikipedia and any  blog Google happens to anoint today).

• rise of informal peer-to-peer networks of knowledge: the blurring of distinctions between expert and lay, academic and public scholars, and scholars and the public is potentially a sanguine development in a democracy that assumes a well-informed citizenry; but it poses challenges to professionals and the processes of professionalization

SBL is one of the prime sets of scholarly networks, with it’s massive “meetings” and the less formal networks that gather round (some of) the program units. Again technology exists (not least email, but with newer more social media offering richer affordances) and is being developed to allow far more contact and discussion to continue outside the framework of “meetings”. This would open the society further to scholars who are not Western or not employed in established educational institutions  (and who probably lack the means to spend a few days in a horrendously expensive hotel far from home as often as they would like). We could over the next ten years see SBL become a genuinely global “meeting place” for biblical scholarship.7


  1. I hope to post about others in the coming weeks. []
  2. E.g. “peers” who are sometimes not peers but either old fuddy duddies, not specialists in the precise area of the study, or professional rivals; a review process that is not always as “blind” as it claims or where editors make the real decisions… []
  3. In fact it reeks of 19th century prejudice and pride meeting in smokey rooms in a “gentlemen’s club” ;) []
  4.  Paul Nikkel was already suggesting forms of review appropriate to the digital age in his paper “Through an Open Window: Exploring Openness in Biblical Scholarship” from the 2004 AIBI session I arranged. []
  5. My bold – to match the bold above. []
  6. The technologies for such media already exist, there are even (when one reads further into the report, and you should because it is fine stuff :) some environments designed for scholarly communications currently in development. []
  7. Initiatives like the International Meeting, the International Cooperation Initiative, and awards to enable non-Western scholars to attend meetings have already made fine steps in this direction, but digital communications could swiftly outstrip their combined effect in achieving this goal. []

The Nature of Christ as a Man: and the gendering of God

A search for "Christ as a man" brought up this photo by mararie

I have just posted another short section to my online discussable book on motherly talk of God Not Only a Father which addresses the question of how The Nature of Christ as a Man interacts with my ideas of the (non)gendering of God.

Not Only a Father  is an attempt at a new way of writing a book, discussing it with people as it is written. So the text currently on the site is subject to change, but I need your comments and questions or objections to help make this work. So please visit, comment/argue with me, and/or get your friends involved :)