Mark Goodacre (12/05)

Blogger of the Month for December 2005

Jim West of Interviews Mark Goodacre

Editorial Note: Mark Goodacre is the author of the New Testament Gateway Weblogat

BB: Mark, first, what is your blog all about and why did you start it?

MG: The theme is academic New Testament studies and I describe it as the “sister of the New Testament Gateway”. Its birth came about through a combination of two things: (1) I was reading and enjoying Jim Davila’s Paleojudaica and one day in August 2003 he said something, I forget precisely what, that encouraged others to do the same thing that he was doing. It hadn’t even occurred to me before that moment to have a go at blogging myself. (2) I had been running a website called The New Testament Gateway since 1997. It’s a gateway site providing links to academic material on the New Testament, and it was growing pretty big. Parts of it were becoming unwieldy and difficult to run, specifically a “Logbook” where I logged every change to the site, a “Featured Links” section in which every month I added three or four new annotated links, and an email newsletter I would send out. It occured to me that if I were to blog, I could combine Featured Links, the logbook, the newsletter and a whole variety of other fresh things in a format that I would enjoy.

BB: If faced with the question, “should academic Biblical scholars” consider blogging, what would you say?

MG: I don’t have a strong view on that. I would certainly love to see more Biblical scholars blogging. I know that whenever I hear that a Biblical scholar has started a new blog, my initial reaction is always “Great!” It’s never, “O no, not another one.” And frankly, the blogging world gets better all the time for me because the more who are blogging in the general area, the more freedom I have to carve out my own particular niche, to blog on what I want to talk about rather than on what I might feel obliged to cover.

Of course a good number of blogs start off and never get very far, but I think that that’s fine. Why not try it out and see if it works for you and then, when it doesn’t, what have you lost?

Nevertheless, my guess is that there will never be a massive number of Biblical Scholars blogging because many academics are unnecessarily guarded about releasing their views before full print publication; they are nervous about putting anything out ahead of time. I tend to think that that is a shamefar better to push your ideas out there, test them out, take a few risks, see what happens and then your print publications are the result of more mature reflection and interaction. But that does not seem to be the way that most scholars thinkthey are shy, risk averse and too guarded, and the blog is as unfriendly an idea to them as the e-list has been for even longer.

Let me try to explain what I mean from that analogy with the e-lists (email groups focused around particular topics, e.g. b-greek, Synoptic-L, Xtalk, Corpus-Paulinum). In the early days of the e-lists (back in, say 1996-7), I used to think that one day they would be full of scholars testing out their new research. I imagined that they would become crowded with great scholars thinking exciting new thoughts on-line, and my guess was that the only way that the internet would be able to cope would be with increasingly specialized lists. But I was completely wrong. That has not really happened at all. The e-lists are not greatly different now than they have been for almost a decade. Most scholars do their research in a kind of “glorious isolation” and only interact with others at the point when they have already written a pretty full draft of a paper for an academic conference, or for a seminar or colloquium at a university. Don’t get me wrongthe e-lists are still great places to be, but on the whole they are not densely populated by academics, at least not in our area. I would guess that the growth of the blogs will be similarthey will continue apace, but there will be no explosion, and academics who blog will be a tiny minority.

BB: Who, among academics, would you like to see blogging who isn’t now?

MG: One of the glories of the blogosphere is its surprise nature. You can be really pleasantly surprised by who turns out to be a great and interesting blogger. On the whole the bloggers are all from the margins still, younger scholars, independent scholars, graduate students. To take the country I know best, the UK, for example, I know of no blog belonging to anyone with a chair. In that scene, I’d love to see Richard Bauckham, Larry Hurtado, Philip Esler, Francis Watson, Maurice Casey, Christopher Rowland, Judith Lieu, Jimmy Dunn, John Barclay, and all the rest of the top brass blogging, but you and I know that that is never going to happen. So my basic answer is that I would like to see more of the top brass blogging, but I really doubt that it is going to happen. In the USA, I would have the same doubts about the top brass too. One recently retired, world famous NT scholar told me that he had never even knowingly visited a website. Many scholars, even now, have not even heard of blogs and blogging, and some who have have no idea that there are blogs in the Biblical Studies area.

BB: Post the SBL Biblioblogging session, if you had to plan another such event, what would you do differently and what would you do the same?

MG: I would ask someone else to arrange it instead! Only joking. I really enjoyed the session, in spite of the fact that I was feeling really rough that day. I have made some comments on my blog about the session and about the ensuing discussion, and I don’t feel inclined to add to those comments here. On the whole, though, I thought it could hardly have gone better. The fact that we could have gone on for another couple of hours was definitely a good sign.

BB: Which blog (and I know this is an unfair question), do you find most interesting, and why?

MG: Since you know it’s an unfair question, I will dodge the answer by saying that you can get a fair idea of which blogs I read first by looking at my blogroll. I move them up and down on there constantly in relation to which I want to look at first. When nothing has appeared in a given blog for a month or so, it drops out of the blogroll altogether, and sits in limbo until it starts up again. The loose criteria I use for my blogroll combine regularity of posting, quality of posting, relevance to academic NT studies and personal preference.

BB: What do you see as the future of the “biblioblog”?

MG: After the useful session at the SBL, and the useful discussions both beforehand and afterwards, I am not sure that biblioblog is a helpful term, and at the moment I am disinclined to use it, though I have no problem with others using it. But outside of the terminological question, what I feel about the blogosphere in general is that it always has the power to surprise, and things are different now than they were even six months ago. So I’m not going to make any predictions except that I expect to be surprised.

Actually, let me mention one thing that I really enjoy about the blogs these days, the sheer number of people who blog the conferences, and especially the SBL. It’s been great fun reading all the different perspectives on the SBL this time round, and there must be over twice as many blogging it this year as last, and I expect there to be double the number again next year.

BB: Do you think that women are excluded by the “powers that be” from blogging, or is there something else at work, and if so, what do you think it is?

MG: I would like to say “pass” or “no comment” here because I am concerned about the way that we are beginning to problematize this. Of course we are right to be concerned about the lack of women bloggers in our area, but I am not sure that the issue is fruitfully dealt with by our obsessing about it. To problematize the phenomenon actually runs the risk of making it more difficult for changes to happen because we draw too much attention to the current situation, unduly isolating current and potential women bloggers. In other words, I am becoming increasingly convinced that the current lack of women bloggers is a situation not well served by a bunch of men sitting around frowning about it.

BB: If you could change one thing about your blog, what would it be?

MG: The photo of myself at the top. I need to get a decent pic. taken. Othewise, I would say that when I want to change something about the blog, I do so. The glory of blogging is that the blogger makes his or her own decisions.

BB: Now, to the more personal issues, how are you finding America?

MG: Ten per cent of the time I feel very homesick for England. I am afraid that I surround myself by things that make home seem nearer, BBC Radio 4, toast and marmalade, beef and Yorkshire pudding, curry, The Guardian, a decent cup of tea (which should be made in a pot with boiling water, not in a cup and not with luke warm water; it is one of the most remarkable facts about America that no one knows how to make tea). And I could go on but won’t because ninety per cent of the time I love it here. I’ve always been an Americano-phile and I suppose I wouldn’t have considered moving if I were not. Duke is a great place to be; I have great colleagues and great students. I am living in a beautiful part of Wake County, and the scenery around here is gorgeous. I am really lucky to have kids who are loving school here and who have made a great success of settling, making friends quickly, learning the pledge of allegiance, speaking in great American accents and so on.

However, I have a naively optimistic streak and I had not expected to find the move anything like as stressful and exhausting as it has been at some points. In particular, there is an awful thing called “US credit history” and it will be a stumbling block repeatedly to a foreigner trying to set up home in the US. We were repeatedly turned down for a mortgage, were threatened with eviction, were up to our eyes in debt, and to navigate your way around these issues in a new country while trying to teach in a new job and get settled is not easy. If you are a foreigner thinking of moving to the US, please get in touch with meI have a lot of advice I could give that I wish someone had been there to give to me several weeks and months ago.

BB: Have you attended a Duke University athletic event yet?

Do you plan on painting yourself Blue when Duke plays their arch-rival UNC in Basketball this year?

MG: I’ll take these two together and answer them in two ways. First off, I must say that my homesickness for England extends especially to cricket, which is a love of my life. I love football (which is called “soccer” here) almost as much, but don’t miss it so much because we have an amazing thing called “Fox Soccer Channel” and on that I get more live Premiership football than I ever got in the UK. Second, I am making an effort with American sports (notice the plural; it is “sport” in the UK) but it will take me a while to learn things. I am going to my first Duke basketball match in a fortnight and I am taking an American friend with me so that he can explain it all to me. Bear in mind too that I have several (American) footballers (and one “soccer” player) in my class, so that makes me feel more connected to Duke athletics.

BB: What is the future of the academic Biblical scholar blogging phenomenon? Gaze into your crystal ball and tell us what blogging will look like 5 years from now.

MG: Let me return to my e-list analogy. How different are the e-lists of 2005 from the e-lists of 2000? Are there substantially more in our area? Are the ones that are running now recruiting more of the top scholars than they were in 2000? If blogging develops in our area in the same way that the e-lists have developed, 2010 will not look as different from 2005 as we might expect. All I will say is that there is always scope for surprise, and I look forward to the surprises in store in the blogosphere. And I would like to think that I will still be blogging in 2010, and that people will not find my blog, or me, tiresome.

BB: Mark, thank you for your time, and thank you for agreeing to be our interviewee this month! Your blog is one of the most important and we all, always learn something from it, and you.

MG: Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate your encouragement as well as the opportunity to think about these things; thank you for taking the time to listen.

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