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<< Return to SBL Forum Archive Journal of Biblical Literature Today

Susan E. Haddox

The Journal of Biblical Literature, the flagship quarterly published by SBL, ranks as one of the top journals worldwide in the field of biblical studies. JBL was first published in 1881 and is now available in both print and electronic formats. The journal maintains a balance between articles covering the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, as well as including some scholarship on extra-canonical materials and occasional work on more general topics such as biblical theology or ancient religious practices. Each issue of JBL includes approximately six full articles, plus one or two critical notes and approximately ten book reviews.

Gail O'Day is currently serving her second term as General Editor. O'Day is the A. H. Shatford Professor of Preaching and New Testament at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, where she is also the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs. The General Editor has several duties. First, with the help of me, her loyal sidekick, she manages all of the articles submitted to JBL, directing them through the peer review process, which leads to acceptance or rejection. Second, she puts together each issue, trying to maintain a balance in the content, while also trying to ensure the shortest time between acceptance and publication. Third, she does the final proofing of the issues.

One of the most important responsibilities of the general editor is to nominate the members of the editorial board. Members of the board are appointed for three-year terms and can serve a maximum of two consecutive terms. The General Editor nominates members that among them cover the scope of the field, both canonically and methodologically. She also tries to maintain gender and ethnic diversity on the board, and includes representatives from the United States and abroad. The nominees are confirmed by the SBL Research and Publications Committee at the Annual Meeting. Board members volunteer their time and efforts and typically review six to eight articles per year. The board plays a dual role, notes O'Day. "The reviewers not only perform the more obvious task of maintaining the high standards of the journal, but also serve an important teaching function. This is especially true for articles whose authors come from under-resourced institutions, often outside the U.S. The review process is one of the few opportunities these authors have to interact with fellow scholars. Our board takes this responsibility very seriously."

The vision of JBL as a teaching institution as well as a forum for high quality scholarly research results in an unusual feature for top journals: virtually all of the articles submitted receive a full review. Even articles clearly unsuitable for publication, often by amateur scholars, receive consideration. O'Day generally assigns these articles to Emory doctoral students, who benefit from learning how to respond to papers in a professional manner. The typical well-researched and organized article gets two reviews. If there is a split between the two about whether the article should be accepted, it is sent out for a third read. In this way, the weight of the decision rests with the reviewers, rather than with the individual editor. O'Day prefers this approach because it respects the peer-reviewed nature of the journal and scrupulously protects the double-blind review process, in which neither the reviewers nor the author knows the identity of the other. The thorough review process does take time, however. Authors generally wait three to six months from the time they submit a paper until they receive a decision. Once the successful authors submit a final version, it takes up to twelve months before it comes out in print.

The actual formatting and printing of the journal is done by Paul Kobelski and Maurya Horgan at the HK Scriptorium in Denver. "JBL is very fortunate to have one of the best copy editors in the business overseeing its publication," comments O'Day about the careful work Horgan does on each issue. Once the articles are initially edited and typeset at the Scriptorium, proofs are sent to the authors. They, in turn, send their corrections to O'Day, who edits the articles a final time before they are printed.

In addition to the articles and critical notes, each issue contains around thirty pages of book reviews. Christine Roy Yoder of Columbia Theological Seminary is the current Book Review Editor and Todd Penner of Austin College is the Associate Editor. As Editorial Assistant, I round out the staff. It is my responsibility to do the day-to-day management of the journal: processing the articles submitted, ensuring the anonymity of the articles before they are sent to the reviewers, keeping track of the review process, and dealing with most of the correspondence from authors and reviewers. I also put together the annual report for the editorial board.

While the review process itself is anonymous, we keep certain statistics on the authors to monitor the diversity of the journal. In 2003, 116 articles were submitted to JBL. Forty-seven articles were submitted in Hebrew Bible, forty-eight in New Testament, seven on extra-canonical material, and fourteen on general biblical topics. Of these, seventeen were accepted. Five of the accepted articles were in Hebrew Bible, eleven in New Testament and one on extra-canonical texts. Forty articles were submitted from outside of the United States, with fifteen of those from Canada, eight from the UK, four from Israel, three from Germany, two from Singapore, and one each from Hong Kong, Australia, France, South Korea, Russia, Argentina, Brazil, and Finland. Two of these articles were accepted. Women submitted seven of the Hebrew Bible articles in 2003, none of which were accepted, and nine of the New Testament articles, five of which were accepted. Women also submitted two articles each in the extra-canonical and general categories. While the volume which appeared in print in 2003 (122) contained only three articles by women, in the first two issues of volume 123 six women authors appear.

JBL has sometimes been known as a bastion of "traditional" biblical scholarship, but the current board reflects a range of methodologies and canonical interests, and O'Day aims to publish quality articles written from diverse perspectives. Nearly half of the articles published during her tenure as editor utilize newer methodologies, including narrative, ideological, and sociological approaches. O'Day notes that as editor she has had to read each issue carefully several times, whereas before she might have only read articles more closely related to her particular interests. "I have found that I have learned useful things even from those articles which at first seemed irrelevant to my own research." It is this kind of inter-methodological and cross-canonical stimulation that JBL hopes to promote. While some articles are more specialized than others, the mission of JBL is to publish articles that can be understood and appreciated by scholars representing the spectrum of biblical scholarship. As the field continues to become more diversified, with the attendant pressure to become more compartmentalized, JBL hopes to maintain its place as a common forum for discussion of the biblical text and context.

Susan E. Haddox is Editorial Assistant for the Journal of Biblical Literature and a Ph.D. candidate at Emory University in Hebrew Bible.

Citation: Susan E. Haddox, " Journal of Biblical Literature Today," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited May 2004]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=270

 
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