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Academic Publishing: Personal Stories

November 13, 2019

Mentioning the 20 yrs delay between the initial printing of Hunter’s important book, Paul and His Predecessors, and its subsequent publication and scholarly notice, put me in mind of other stories of the unexpected problems that can arise in academic publishing.  Here are a few of my own.

My PhD thesis was successfully submitted and the degree awarded early in 1973.  Not long thereafter, my supervisor, Eldon Epp, encouraged me to submit it for publication in the prestigious monograph series, “Studies and Documents” (founded by Kirsopp Lake in the early 20th century.  I did so and awaited word on it.  But there was no word for several years.  I learned later that the series was for a few years without a publisher, and there were some personal problems among the editorial board.  I was a church pastor 1971-75 and had other things on my plate, so I didn’t think about the delay much.

But when I took up an academic post in 1975, I became concerned to get my study out.  Then, in 1977, the series reactivated with the publication of Harry Gamble’s landmark study, The Textual History of the Letter to the Romans, which showed persuasively that the earliest edition of Romans included chapters 15 and 16.

Not long thereafter (sometime early in 1978, I think), I was informed that the editors were ready to proceed toward publication of my thesis.  We had to negotiate some revisions, among them the inclusion of another manuscript, and a focus on the manuscripts then often referred to as “Pre-Caesarean.”  What with an academic move (to the University of Manitoba), marriage, and other things, I submitted the revised manuscript in summer 1979.  But the book didn’t appear until 1981, some eight years after it was first submitted for publication.

After publication, I’m pleased to note, my analysis and argument seems to have won the day.  The so-called “Pre-Caesarean” manuscripts (Codex Washingtonianus and P45) did not in fact exhibit any meaningful relationship to the manuscripts thought to represent the “Caesarean Text” in Mark.  The textbooks were accordingly re-written.  It was a long wait, but a satisfactory ending.

Fortunately for me, my first two academic appointments seem to have rested more on strong recommendations and on people being impressed with papers that I gave at academic conferences.  Today, it’s rare for one to get a junior appointment in the UK without that first book.  But I scraped through.

My second book was a general-reader commentary on the Gospel of Mark, commissioned by the editors of a then-new series in 1978 to be published by Harper & Row.  I duly undertook the task, and submitted the manuscript on time.  The commentary appeared then in 1983.  But, for some reason, by that point the publisher seems to have lost interest in the series.  It was one of the better kept secrets of the time!  I noted one review, however, that judged it the best general-reader commentary on Mark in English (but that was 1983).

But Harper & Row didn’t market the series volumes at all, and after a couple of years sold the series to Hendrickson.  The original design was that the volumes took the Good New Bible as the base text.  But Hendrickson insisted that the volumes had to be converted to comment on the NIV.  So, I undertook that, and finally in 1989 the commentary appeared in its new format, and Hendrickson did a good job of marketing it.  But that was some six years after its initial abortive publication.  More recently, Baker bought the series from Hendrickson and relabeled it.  That little commentary continues to sell, and attract occasional comments of appreciation from just the sort of “general” reader for who it was intended.

In my experience, however, the longest and most puzzling delay by far is yet to be resolved.  Several years ago, I was contacted by the editor of a series on the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, asking if I would update the discussion of the Greek fragments from Cave 7 that had been written by Eldon Epp about 20 years earlier.  Out of appreciation for Epp, I agreed, and spend a couple of months on the update.  The volume remains unpublished, however!

Sometimes such extraordinary delays are caused by one (yes, often one) inconsiderate contributor who just can’t bother to fulfill the commitment to produce his/her contribution.  I’m not privy to the situation regarding this particular volume, however, so I’ll just note the unusually long delay (still going on).

As you can see from these “war stories” about academic publishing, one can’t predict things.  I hope that today’s younger scholars don’t experience these sorts of problems.

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  1. Norman Hunter permalink

    Hi Larry: I have a first edition copy of your Mark commentary with Harper and Row. Too bad I didn’t get you autograph it when you were still at the University of Manitoba. You would have been writing it when we first met. All the best, Norm

  2. Judy Diehl permalink

    Thanks for this, Larry, I completed a commentary for Zondervan in 2018, but it will not be out until May of 2020 — and I thought this was bad! Now I feel better — 🙂 Judy

  3. Andrew Linkous permalink

    Dr. Hurtado, I recently read your Mark commentary and found it quite helpful. I appreciate you explaining the book as a whole and especially your comments on how Mark seems to indicate that Jesus cannot be understood by anyone, even his closest companions, without considering his death and resurrection. Thank you from another general reader.

  4. Jimmy Akin permalink

    I know how frustrating the delays can be! Back in the 1990s, I contributed a large number of articles to an encyclopedia, but here it is–25 years later–and, although the publisher still says it’s coming out, it isn’t out yet.

  5. Thank you for sharing your experience. So the six year delay at the publishers before my Spanish-language version of Duff’s “Elements of New Testament Greek” (“Curso de Griego Biblico”, CLIE 2019) wasn’t unusual, after all! But I’m glad that it finally made it! (The only plus point, at a personal level, is that it has a photo of me that was taken six years ago!!)

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