Yesterday Brooke Lester asked his Facebook friends, “I know the answer before I ask, but: Do we have no good, critical, open-access Intro to Old Testament textbooks?”
At the risk of re-repeating myself, This is something that a granting agency (especially one such as FTE or Wabash, for instance), ought to be all over like a cheap suit. Instead, many such agencies prefer to fund events that leave all the game pieces in the same places, but with hors d’oeuvres and name tags. One could do this with no support whatsoever, perhaps as an insurgent step toward breaking into the world of full-time employment, and I know a web site that would be happy to encourage, host, boast about, and generally celebrate the endeavour.
This is how I’d see this happening.
First of all, one would want to square away an array of organisational details such as word count/chapter, shared glossary and terminology, common points of reference (1000 BCE, 722 BCE, 587 BCE, 537 BCE, or whatever other dates or axioms that the first recension of the project would involve), format style, and so on.
Then find authors to cover the whole Old Testament and related introductory, complementary, or whatever-all else chapters you want. Make it clear that the chapters will be published under a CC license (I’d suggest “Attribution/Non-Commerical”) that permits authors to reuse their own work, but that the OT project retains the right to distribute the chapter. If you’re serious about this, I offer to write a chapter on interpretation. method, and history.
Gather all the chapters (“Ha, ha, ha!” laughs the experienced editor-and-deadline-evader). Hammer them into clean, standards-compliant mark-up, and give each chapter a web page. Produce well-designed PDFs of each chapter, and make those available for download. Hey, in a perfect world, you could persuade the authors to record their chapters so you could distribute digital audio (and video — or perhaps, a video abstract of each chapter). So at this point, you have a textbook that’s free to consult as web pages, free to download as PDFs, and (again, ideally) free to listen to/watch in digital media.
Arrange a contract with a PoD publisher to produce paperbacks of the textbook, which you can sell (with agreement from the author/license-holders, of course) with small shares to each author (presumably when sales reach a certain threshold). The authors can update or emend their chapters pretty much as they see fit (make sure there’s a version-number in a colophon in each page/PDF).
Now’s where it gets extra cool. Let everyone know that you will host alternate versions of chapters or supplements as long as they meet the common standards, and format, of the main version. If I like the textbook but think that Lester has botched the chapter on I Kings, I can write an alternate chapter, get it hosted at the FOSOTT site, and other teachers can elect to use my chapter if they prefer. Dissatisfied with the dominance of white male authors (or the relative absence of white male authors)? Add an alternate chapter. Detect misguided theological axe-grinding? Contribute an alternate chapter, or add a supplement. Sense the absence of useful study questions, maps, pictures you took during your summer digging at En-Wherever? Add photos, maps, pencil sketches, diagrams.
Bing, bang, bong, you have an open-source, free as in beer, free-to-reconfigure, free-to-supplement or even -alter (provided you give credit and don’t offer the altered version commercially without the author’s agreement) textbook. And that textbook is now useable anywhere English is read, for free. And that textbook is putting your name(s) in front of students and teachers all over the world, especially in places where they can’t necessarily afford the doorstop hardbacks that the textbook publishers love to charge so much for. And that textbook can easily be kept up-to-date. And if some agency were to fund it (and such funding needn’t even come to very much, in the world of granting — small to moderate honoraria for authors, editorial/production support, and so on), they could slap their name (or a prominent donor’s name) right there on the cover and on every title page: The Soros OT Textbook, or the Omidyar Introduction to the New Testament, or the Rowling History of the Christian Church, or the Buffett Handbook to World Religions or the Jobs Whatever He Wants As Long As It Includes Giving The Editor And Me iPads Book.
Plus, I would bet (if I were permitted to wager) it would change theological and academic publishing pretty dramatically, and it might even help get people a few jobs.