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‘Press Publish’: Interview with Jim West on Academic Blogging

‘Press Publish’: Interview with Jim West on Academic Blogging

As part of the “Press Publish” series on academic blogging, I am conducting short interviews with prominent academic bloggers from around the world. (The ‘hub’ for the discussion is the initial post on Starting an Academic Blog where the discussion and links to interviews are kept up-to-date).

Our second interview is with Dr. Jim West, Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies at the Quartz Hill School of Theology and Pastor of Petros Baptist Church, Petros, Tennessee. He has written a number of books and articles and serves as Language Editor for the Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament and Language Revision Editor for the Copenhagen International Seminar. He also blogs, as you may know, at Zwinglius Redivivus.

Many thanks to Jim for sharing his perspective on academic blogging.

1. When and why did you start blogging?      

I don’t remember the year but it was at the very beginning of the ‘phenomenon’. Mark Goodacre and Jim Davila had both started blogs which, sensibly, focused on their fields of expertise (New Testament and Hebrew Bible/ Pseudepigrapha respectively). I decided that a more generalist blog was also needed so I started my own which embraced both Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Theology, Church History, and current events. The blogs of Goodacre and Davila and then my own were quickly followed by numerous others, each focusing on the areas of interest of their authors. I wrote several years back an essay titled Blogging the Bible: A Short History, in the Bulletin For the Study of Religion, September, 2010, which discusses all of this in greater detail.   

2. What are a few of the benefits you see in blogging?  

There are numerous benefits of course but for me the primary purpose of blogging is to get good, solid, scholarly information usually only of concern to specialists out to the wider public. Of course it doesn’t hurt to mix that with humor and even a bit of snark (simply for the sake of entertainment). People really are interested in such things and the mainstream media scarcely ever get it right (witness the ridiculous exaggerations every time some archaeological ‘discovery’ comes to light). Our job as academics is to help people understand the facts. If we ‘package’ them in an intelligible way, they’ll ‘get it’.

3. Should more academics be blogging?  

Some should and some shouldn’t. Some are dull as dishwater when they lecture, write, and speak so they should probably avoid it because they would ‘turn people off’ to biblical studies related blogs. Others definitely should. There are brilliant people in the guild who should share their knowledge with the public and not restrict their work to monographs and academic conferences.

4. What advice would you give an academic who is thinking about starting?

Just do it, do it regularly, do it intelligently, do it in an entertaining fashion, and tell the truth. Few things are more frustrating than an academic who announces a blog who never implements it in practice or who posts so irregularly that when they finally do, no one bothers to read them because they’ve dipped below the horizon due to inactivity.

Thanks again to Dr. Jim West for contributing to the discussion!

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A quick housekeeping note: My RSS feed has been acting up, so for those of you reading via rss subscription, this may be the first post you’ve seen in a while. Sorry about that. The feed is now fixed and working properly. Feel free to have a look at what you missed.

11 Responses to ‘Press Publish’: Interview with Jim West on Academic Blogging

  1. Joshua,

    it is really questionable whether Jim West counts as an academic blogger. He is surely better known for his “humour” and “snark” than academic rigour. Very few of his blog posts have anything to do with academic study of the bible. He is also known for criticizing people for their lack of academic credentials while his own lack of academic credentials has been exposed. Take a look at Loren Rosson’s prophetic critique of Jim back in 2010 at the bottom of this page:
    Hector Avalos pointed out that Jim’s books are self-published, that his PhD is questionable and that he has not published in any respected journal. There is nothing wrong with this, except that he puts people down for being dilettantes and makes pronouncements on areas where he has no expertise. If Jim can answer his critics, then that’s well and good, but Loren’s point is that he does not do so.

    • Richard, I might clarify that I am envisioning academic blogging to be something inclusive of both students and scholars of biblical studies. Certainly Jim’s is a generalist blog and I’ve elsewhere described it as “…one of the best examples of a personal blog among bibliobloggers in the sense that, as one reads it, one gets to know Jim.” Even so, Jim blogs as much as anyone about happenings in biblical studies, even if those posts are a smaller percentage of his total–and he’s done it since the early days of the biblical studies bloggers. Of course, you’re welcome to question my categorization, and I understand why you raise the issue.

      As far as those old West, Avalos, Rosson disputes, I’m happy to leave them buried in the depths of the blog archives–too much ad hominem and even hints of vitriol to be taken seriously in my opinion.

  2. Joshua, I’ll press you a little more on this. You are “envisioning academic blogging to be something inclusive of both students and scholars of biblical studies”, so what is the relevance of listing Jim’s credentials in your second paragraph? Also, if his books are self-published and if his PhD is dubious, then your description of “Dr. Jim West” is misleading, isn’t it?

    You include Jim in your category of “prominent academic bloggers”, but is his blog prominent because of its (few) academic posts or because of its humour?

    To me, Rosson’s criticism of West shows no hints of vitriol. Quite the opposite. And the criticism IS relevant. For many years Jim has set himself up as a gate-keeper of scholarship. He filters information. There is nothing wrong with that – I’m not against peer review – but it has to be done by peers. As a bible generalist he needs to know (and be honest about) the limits of his expertise in specialist areas.

    He writes “Of course it doesn’t hurt to mix that with humor and even a bit of snark (simply for the sake of entertainment)”. Actually it does. Snark may be good for ratings, but it does not advance the discipline. In last year’s biblical studies carnival he used humour as a weapon to ridicule the NTS paper of Timothy Leary, without argument. I then posted a comment and he failed to address my point and did not allow my follow-on comment. This is not good, but it is typical of his approach. An academic blogger would have given a reasoned critique of Leary’ paper and then engaged with rebuttal in the comments section.

    • “…what is the relevance of listing Jim’s credentials in your second paragraph?”

      My template for these interviews is to begin with a brief bio, and so I have here. These bios are relevant because they acclimate the reader to the academic background of the interviewee. I am not going to quibble about the institution from which Jim received the doctorate. Nor do I think I have misled anyone by acknowledging the title. Further, I think Jim is more credentialed than you’re suggesting, but I do not care to defend him or argue about it. We’ll just disagree about this.

      “…is his blog prominent because of its (few) academic posts or because of its humour?”

      A false disjunction is implied in this question. His blog is prominent because he has remained near the center of biblical studies’ related discussions in the blogosphere for a long time.

      “To me, Rosson’s criticism of West shows no hints of vitriol.”

      I only meant that the whole dispute (which was much larger than one post or criticism) had hints of such. And I did not accuse only one party of this.

      Re. your final paragraph: Of course you’re welcome to disagree with Jim’s use of humor or his suggestions that others use it. I am simply asking four questions to a number of folks and relaying their answers unedited. As far your criticism of Jim’s previous actions, I’ll have to ask you to take those up with him, or better, let Leary take it up with him.

  3. Thanks for the discussion. I’ll just clarify one thing. My comments about Jim’s misuse of humour and his dismissive approach to Leary were intended to illustrate that his blog is not “academic”. His style of discussion does not meet the standards that we should expect from academics. This is another reason why I think it is misleading to describe him as a “prominent academic blogger”.

    Of course I DID take it up with Jim, but he refused to publish my comment or to reply to it, as I mentioned.

  4. it’s to be assumed that people like richard would find fault with both myself and your inclusion, josh, of my interview in your series. as dedicated ‘debunkers’ of new testament texts it becomes essential that they attempt to debunk those who mock their ignorance or point out the foolishness of their pseudo-intellectual arguments. ergo, his vendetta. i’m not unfamiliar with the tactics of the mythicists or the angry atheists. they’re good at ad hominem and bad at clear thinking. attack on, richard. no one, at the end of the day, cares what your views are except your tiny clique of like minded angry unbelievers who will applaud you and giggle in their hands.

    when you publish something, when you have articles, essays, and peer reviewed materials published in journals, give us a call back. until then, you simply have no business chattering on about things you, and loren (as a librarian dilettante) know nothing, really, about.

    • Jim here does not address Loren’s point, but instead attacks him as “a librarian dilettante”. In so doing, Jim proves Loren’s point.

      Jim also casts me as an unbeliever and a member of a clique of “mythicists or angry atheists”. I am non of these things.

      Jim, you suggest that I have not published in peer reviewed journals. This is both profoundly irrelevant and false. It is irrelevant because arguments should be judged by their logic, not be the credentials of their author. You can read my papers in JSNT (2001) and Tyn Bul 2005, and you will see that I am not a “debunker of texts”.

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