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Sense and Nonsense: Observations on Running a Blog Site

April 5, 2014

Caveat lector:  The following is a bit of a rant.  I came into blogging as a complete novice, and have had to learn as I went along.  Having opened this blog site as, well, at the risk of sounding noble, a public service, I simply thought that it would be interesting for me, and perhaps interesting for readers too, to post about/from my own research and scholarship (now, nearly 40 yrs in academic positions in the field).  One of the surprises (remember, I said I was a novice) was the experience of a few (a very few) people who seem to comment (1) far more often than the rest of the commenters put together, and (2) typically have some “hobby horse” idea that is . . . well, shall we say, eccentric (to put it kindly).

I’ve tended to approach comments and questions assuming (unless there was immediate/obvious indication otherwise) that they were sincere.  So, from other scholars, you get agreement, disagreement, other suggestions, corrections, etc.  Great.  From the “general public” you get questions, observations that may well be under/misinformed, but clearly offered with a view to learning something.

But from a few (I’d say over the 3.5 years of operating this site, about three/four) fall clearly into the puzzling type I’ve mentioned above.  This sort typically has developed some pet idea, not something small, mind you, but a “big idea” that fundamentally skews their view of the whole subject.  Among them, on this site, e.g., that Paul was a totally fictional character (yes, you heard that right).  The noisy folk who likewise are convinced (I guess they really mean it and aren’t putting us all on) that Jesus of Nazareth is a fictional character are another such category.  And on this site we’ve got a frequent commenter who, among his pet notions, has the curious idea that, e.g., references to “circumcision” in the NT are actually references to sacrifice.

These folk (in my experience) hardly ever have any of the training, skills and knowledge of the field requisite for forming a critical view of things, no proven record of publishing work in scholarly venues, no work that has been reviewed by those competent to do so.  But they have some kind of prophet-like sense that they’re onto something that has eluded all those with the requisite skills and training in the field.

And I repeat, these people aren’t interested in finding out that their views have no basis, or have been soundly debunked decades ago, or are just plain bonkers.  So, no matter how often you patiently answer specific questions (often coy, baited ones), or offer reasons and evidence for why their view is baseless, they persevere with impressive determination.  If you tell them that their view has no standing among scholars in the field, this has no effect, and they might then allege some sort of conspiracy among scholars to suppress what they know is the real truth!

They also seem to look for any opportunity to try to draw off the conversation into the orbit of their particular fancy.  Repeatedly, I’ve had to tell a few commenters that their line was not only misinformed but also irrelevant to the posting to which they were supposedly commenting.

I find this all rather tiresome.  I certainly don’t want to offend or scare off the many readers (now over 1500 subscribers), for whom (I hope) this blog site is interesting, informative, maybe even stimulating.  Anyone from time to time can propose some collateral issue, and I don’t mind the occasional accidental drift off into some issue that is suggested by a posting.

But the very few dogged (and, I have to say, apparently insincere) commenters (they aren’t content to read; their real purpose is likely self-validation via blog comments) whose main/sole purpose seems to be to try to inflict their curious views at every opportunity–these I find a pain in the posterior.  So, frankly, I wouldn’t mind at all if they (and, I think you know who you are) either refrained from this annoying activity, or just went off and unsubscribed.

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  1. Now I’m going to put my foot in it.
    Hi I’m Thomas.
    I have been going through your blog and have found it very helpful. I have downloaded a few of you articles and blog posts.
    I couldn’t find a one where this question could fit but, here it goes.
    I’m looking for a recent article that uses the biographical, internal and external test for Gospel reliability, not bolg posts, a published article in a journal or maybe an academic publication.

    • Tommie: By “Gospel reliability,” what do you mean? The Gospels as known from early manuscripts are generally considered by scholars to give us the texts written by their authors, and so a “reliable” text. See, e.g., any introduction to any scholarly commentary on any of the Gospels.
      Or do you mean “reliable” as an account of actions, events, statements of Jesus of Nazareth? Again, virtually any good commentary on any of the Gospels will address this matter. Among scholars (those of us committed to critical historical inquiry), the Gospels are considered primarily as texts originally composed to advocate early Christian faith, not simply as archival documents or some sort of CCTV footage. But they are commonly regarded as preserving a basically usable body of information about Jesus (perhaps more especially the Synoptic Gospels). Again, pretty much any good introduction to New Testament writings will treat the matter.
      There are hundreds of articles and scholarly books that address historical questions about this or that saying, parable, event, etc. in the Gospels. There isn’t one article or book that could address all these details adequately. But good introductions to the NT will survey matters.

  2. Steve Walach permalink

    Please continue blogging. I know of no other scholar who blogs as regularly as you do and none who interacts with responders as readily. You are performing a vital service — informing, instructing and inspiring. Thank you for your expertise and generosity.

  3. Donald Jacobs permalink

    Is it ever legitimate in your view for a non-scholar to express disagreement with a position you take and present evidence for another perspective? For example I generally disagree with you that the early Christians had a high Christology, that Jesus became divine rapidly, that Christological development was a result of religious “experiences” rather than religious synthesis, about the origin of the nomina sacra, about the reliability of the NT text, about the relevance of historical evidence to faith claims. I also believe James Crossley is right to argue that you and others are part of a broad conservative movement in recent early Christian studies, and it is lagitimate to read scholarly output within that framework. Do you call these sorts of views “conspiracy theories” and unwelcome? None of these are positions without support in the scholarly literature. Or is the problem that it is a nobody like me who has the temerity to voice them?

    • Donald: It’s fine to express disagreement, and, providing that you’ve got the data and sound argumentation for doing so, especially. But simply saying “I disagree” doesn’t cut it, and is rather boring. As for the sort of ad hominem slams that you offer (“part of a broad conservative movement in recent early Christian studies”), that’s completely fatuous, as well as being . . . ad hominem. The notion that there was an early explosion of “high Christology” is now endorsed by, inter alia, Bart Ehrman (in his new book), and I’m afraid it’s just where the data leads.
      So, if you want to learn something, comment. If all you want to do is poke at me with unsubstantiated claims, that’s kind of boring and not productive.

  4. Richard McIntosh permalink

    The normal way online to avoid such nonsense is to have a faq section. You can then put a notice on the leave a comment section asking the reader to please read the faqs before commenting.

  5. The same problem on my three blogs has led me to moderated comments. A comment is held for approval by a moderator (me). It’s a pain, but the only way I found to eliminate the trolls and ads masquerading as comments.

    • Oh, yes. I moderate all comments, refusing to publish some that are beneath contempt. But I’ve made the mistake of thinking that what sounded like a genuine question was that.

  6. Professor Hurtado,

    Though I’ve never commented on your blog, I’ve subscribed to it since you started it, and I enjoy it. I’m grateful. (I’ve forwarded many of your posts to D. A. Carson, whom I’ve worked for since 2006.)

    I hope that a small handful of impertinent commenters won’t cause you to resign blogging.

    Andy Naselli

  7. Wayne permalink

    Right on, Doc. I think your blog postings are always interesting, and more importantly to me, usually very informative. Please keep it up, no matter lunacies you encounter along the way! By the way, I heard you speak at St. Andrews last July, and felt you were extremely informative and gracious.

  8. Hi Larry, I read your blog with interest and appreciation, but rarely comment. I have my own modest blog and understand what you are saying here. Did you know WordPress offers you the ability of filter out people by IP address or name, or filter out comments containing certain words you regard as spam? It is sad to have to do this, but may be better for your peace of mind and your other readers. Thanks.

  9. I am a recent subscriber to your blog; I have learned long ago that it is best to be silent and thought a fool, than to open mouth….

    I am a conservative man (politically and religious); various perspectives interest me.

  10. J.J. permalink

    There is a reason colleges have admission standards and upper-level courses have prereqs. Essentially, your blog discusses graduate-level subjects and you have a few people that are the equivalent of high-school dropouts in these subjects responding. Your blog is one of the best out there and I hope you continue blogging and I hate to see you frustrated and worked up by these comments from ridiculous viewpoints.

    Since this is your blog, I say, just delete them and don’t respond to those. They aren’t worthy of your time, and they risk forcing you to curtail or abandon your good blogging which is so greatly appreciated by the majority of us.

    If it’s any consolation, look at some of the comment sections on articles in the Huffington Post and other sites. The comments are ridiculous and they provide no genuine reflection on the article upon which they are commenting. You see many of the same people who must do nothing all day but spend their time arguing with a bunch of other anonymous people making comments.

    The problem is caused by the openness of the internet. It used to be that if people questioned an author or scholar, they wrote a letter or sometimes made a phone call or stopped by their office in person. Today, people of some viewpoints (like the mythicists) comment on every possible internet post like it’s a drive-by shooting. (Pardon the American analogy, but random acts of violence with guns is a problem in the US, much like anonymous acts of cynicism on the internet.)

    I say, be selective with the comments you allow to be seen and don’t give it a second thought to delete or hide the others. It’s only out of a highly admirable sense of fairness and equality that these bother you, but please don’t let them.

  11. Alan J Shelley permalink

    Hi Larry
    For me, your blog is certainly “interesting, informative and stimulating” – particularly your recent comments about Tom Wright’s “big book” on the Apostle Paul. I am also enjoying your own “big book” on our “Lord Jesus Christ”. Please keep writing!
    Kind regards
    Alan J Shelley
    Bromley, London, UK

  12. As always, I admire the clear and specific way you express yourself. And remember, as Twain said, when you consider that all people are insane (or some such word he used), the mysteries of the universe are explained. Don’t let the nut cases get you down, Dr. H. I love reading your blog and I am sure many, many others do also. I taught public school English for 30 years and I still reflect on the few irrational kids and young adults that plagued me at times. But they dang sure do not hurt my memories of an otherwise wonderful and very enjoyable career. Let’s hope your irritating correspondents are ready to go bother someone else. Maybe you should just not trouble yourself with responding to them. Although it is hard at times not to swat a fly.

  13. Fr Aidan Kimel permalink

    Larry, you should feel free to block anyone whose comments undermines your blog and your enjoyment of blogging. It makes for a more stress-free experience for all of us.

  14. Sorry the ignoramuses, tools and trolls are a source of frustration. “On the internet, no one knows you’re a moonbat. Until you make it obvious for everyone.” 😉

    Perhaps a certain level of noise is inevitable on “open comments” sites. I get a lot out of reading this blog, and I surely hope you keep on with it. Thanks.

  15. Hope this works! Your blog is the best one out there, and we’d hate to lose you Larry!


    Sent from my iPad

  16. Mel Smith permalink

    Hi Larry, Glad you got that off your chest; I really feel for you and I’m writing to encourage you. I’m an Anglican priest recently retired from pastoral ministry; I find your stuff inspiring and part of my getting back to some serious biblical study. Over the past few years I’ve used your Jesus Devotion DVD and workbook with several groups. My son, now nearly forty, is about to start a theological degree by extension and you have been a part of both our journeys of late. Thank you! Keep it up.
    Mel Smith

  17. About the blogosphere, it may be worth reflecting upon some ancient words of wisdom:

    ‘You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villany’.

  18. Oh dear Larry, One reason I do not blog or read others comments-just your main point for the day, is this phenomena which you are experiencing. You are one of the comparatively few British NT Scholars who do regularly blog so I am grateful for that. Can’t you not just ignore the ones that are not worth replying to? It is not impolite. If someone is miss-using your blog pages- then ignoring them is justified. I presume you also have a veto capacity to remove the comments.
    Useful review of NT Wright and Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Iv’e just downloaded the kindle edition-much cheaper and virtually no space occupied- my shelves are packed with about 6000 books but electronic versions will soon outnumber the physical ones but they can be stored in a physical space the size of your hand.
    John Boggis

  19. thanks for the rant, I hope it helps make the blog discussions better. On a quasi-tangent, after the various posts outlining disagreements between yrself and Tom Wright, it would be interesting to get one on whether/if there are large areas of agreement between you both. E.g. on the matter of early high Christology for example?

    • Good suggestion.

      • Dear Larry,
        As quite a few people have already hinted at it, “welcome to the club”. I am also running a blog with two other journalist friends of mine: it is a fan-blog in Hungarian of our local football team, where you can read passages from the Iliad, quotes from Plato and Aristotle to illustrate the lessons of the most recent match. Nonetheless, trolling is just a daily phenomenon we experience. I was not surprised to learn how many people are experts in football, yet never thought that so much urban wisdom could surround the sacred art of theology. Simply keep up the good work and go ahead! As my grandfather (who was a watchmaker) used to say: do not waste your time on and with irrational people. This growing community needs you.

      • That’s very kind and encouraging, Istvan.

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