Monday, April 15, 2013

On Biblioblogging, Part Four: How Biblioblogging is Like a Mel Brooks Movie

Note: Over past few days, I have been posting a series of thoughts on biblioblogging and New Media. I have become more active as a blogger over the last year, and thought that some of my regular readers would like to know why I consider myself a biblioblogger, and what it means to operate a biblioblog. For my working definition of a biblioblog, see Part One: A Definition. For a list of reasons biblioblogging can be a useful tool to the student and scholar alike, see Part Two: Advantages. For a list of drawbacks to biblioblogging, see Part Three: Disadvantages.

“The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” (R.I.P.)
One of the most pertinent recent examples of the usefulness of biblioblogging to scholarly communication as a form of New Media is the case of the so-called Gospel of Jesus’s Wife papyrus fragment. The fragment, which features Coptic text that includes the phrase, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’” was revealed to the online world on September 17, 2012 by Dr. Karen King, Professor of Ecclesial History at Harvard Divinity School. Along with the photograph and text of the papyrus fragment, it was also revealed that King would be releasing a journal article on her analysis of the piece, to be published in January 2013 by The Harvard Theological Review. The discovery caused quite a stir among major cable news outlets, who in turn erroneously reported that “solid evidence” of Jesus’ marital status had been unearthed! A sensationally titillating story, to be sure.
By the next day, however, the blogosphere was already hard at work scrutinizing and sharing the little knowledge that was available to the public. Dozens of scholarly biblioblogs referenced the find, dialoguing, referencing, cross-referencing, and debating on the authenticity of the fragment and its implications for the world of biblical studies. Upon closer inspection, several academic bloggers—descending upon the find like a school of highly educated piranha—confidently declared the fragment a modern forgery.[1] Within the space of two weeks, the breaking news of the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife fragment went from being an international media sensation to getting tossed on the junk pile as another over-hyped academic dud. Within a month, Jesus’s wife (may she rest in peace) was all but dead and buried. As of the posting of this blog in mid-April 2013, The Harvard Theological Review has yet to publish Dr. King’s article.
What is most remarkable about this whole spectacle is not only the astounding speed with which the fragment was addressed by a community of King’s peers, but also the efficiency with which scholarly dialogue was facilitated by use of the online medium of blogging. While I am firmly convinced that biblioblogging will by no means take the place of rigorous academic peer review and publication, it has nonetheless captured the attention of the greater academic community and given pause to those who might dismiss blogging as an inferior mode of scholarly discourse. In less time than it would normally take for one scholar to write, edit, submit, and publish a peer-reviewed article, a large community of corresponding bibliobloggers could quite possibly render the very subject of his or her study completely obsolete.
Conclusion, or How Biblioblogging is Like a Mel Brooks Movie
Perhaps a good illustration of the speed and efficiency with which biblioblogging catalyzes academic ideas is this very series of posts, which has utilized the writings of fellow academic bloggers to illustrate biblioblogging’s place within the culture of New Media. With relatively few published scholarly articles available on the subject (though the number is growing, even as I type these words), the most reliable data is currently found in the field itself, especially in the work of metablogs such as The Biblioblog Reference Library (currently under construction), which tracks and documents data pertaining to registered biblioblog traffic. The speed and accessibility of information that have facilitated biblioblogging as a legitimate scholarly exchange have nearly erased the typical waiting time that used to be the norm for academic progress. In a way, what biblioblogging does for the New Media might be compared to a famous scene from the Mel Brooks comedy, Spaceballs. Near the climax of the movie, the villainous character Dark Helmet—a parody on Darth Vader—attempts to locate the whereabouts of the hero of the film by watching a straight-to-video version of the movie itself, even while it is still in the process of being made. While fast-forwarding through the first half of the picture, Helmet pushes ‘play’ only to find himself watching the very scene he is currently acting in. He raises his arm and waves at the camera, and precisely at the same time, the Dark Helmet on the screen raises his arm and waves, too. This ultimately leads to confusion, and a frenzied series of questions culminating with the villain asking emphatically, “When will then be now?” If biblioblogging has any lasting effect at all on the intersection of theological scholarship and New Media, the answer is most assuredly “Sooner than you think.”

[1] Most notably Francis Watson at Durham University, who determined that a mistake in an online translation of the Gospel of Thomas was reproduced in the text of the Jesus’s Wife fragment. See Francis Watson, “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed.” Sept. 20, 2012.


  1. “When will then be now?”
    Such profundity is mind boggling.

  2. There is an upcoming book titled "Present Shock: when Everything Happens Now" by Douglas Rushkoff which would appear the be an elaboration on the question of "When Will Then Be Now?" He discusses the concept of "Present Shock" in this opinion piece at this link.