biblical studies : bible : digital : food

Browsing Posts published by tim

FacebookThis is a first response to Vinoth Ramachandra’s post Network Selves. Ironically, but quite properly, it was thought through first as I was “doing Facebook” this morning. There was a lot to do as I have hardly looked at Facebook since before Christmas.

One of the things I did was to drop comments on some of my friends status messages. Usually when one does this it is responding to something someone else has already written. In one way it is a nice example of Vinoth’s trivialisation that FB encourages. Few of the comments were deep or challenging – maybe none of them were though I’d like to dream I am better than that, and that some actually cause people to think. They represent a very minimal form of human contact. Sharing a coffee would be so much deeper, richer and fulfilling! And yet… most of the friends I “visited” in this way are in different cities from me, none of them is within half an hour’s drive, some are hours away by ‘plane. This contact may be fleeting and trivial, but it is contact. When we meet (perhaps at next year’s Baptist “Gathering”, perhaps in the next life) we will still be (at least a little bit) in touch. Contrast this with what happened when we left Zaïre. Then too people we had been close to became far away, but then there was no Facebook, no email, telephone was horribly expensive and mail (carried by aircraft or ships, not by real snails ;) was haphazard. As a result when I meet my Congolese (yes, same country, just a different name) friends again (most likely in the next life, as no more local meetings are planned) we will have been “out of touch” for so much longer. This trivial contact through Facebook is better, more “incarnate” than none.

In my Facebook time this morning I also cross posted some of my blog posts. This makes them accessible to people who don’t use RSS feed readers or live otherwise technologically impaired lives ;) One of the items I put onto Facebook points to Vinoth’s post. While you may legitimately argue that increasing the audience for Tim’s blogging is trivialising, you can hardly say the same for Vinoth’s blog. More people, especially people outside Sri Lanka should read him. Facebook allows me to encourage that… If only one of my friends becomes a reader of his posts they will be enriched, become (if only a little) deeper thinking and more broadly experienced (since he writes from a different “place”) people and their faith will be nourished. Without FB and blogging this would not be possible

But enough of my knee jerk technophilic response. What of the dark side? One of my friends linked to a disquieting article that told of the mass deaths of doves (not mere pigeons but admirable turtledoves) another two friends had “liked” this link. In jest I commented on the strangeness of “liking” such news. But the linguistic oddity apart, this is FB at its trivial worst. TV on steroids. We barely see the news, probably (like me) the two who “liked” the link had not followed it up and read the article. We fail to respond adequately to the news, none of us will change our behaviour as a result of seeing the post. Facebook, in making “information” even more accessible, indeed in throwing great heaps of the stuff at us, adds to the numbing that TV, and before that Radio, and before that print, had begun. The more we “see” the less we perceive. We are the people of whom the prophet spoke long ago (Is 6:9b-10).

Vinoth Ramachandra posts rarely, but his posts are almost always worth the time to read and require time to reflect upon. His post today Network Selves returns to considering  the way the technologies we use change us, and some of the dangers associated with the instant and trivial tendencies implicit in many aspects of electronic communications technology. He already addressed this  a while back (in Becoming Faceless?) but this time adds more depth and more examples (from his recent reading of Jaron Lanier’s recent Penguin You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto.

He highlights the trivialisation of humanity and relationship many of the social networking sites encourage (notably the most popular – Facebook – which provides most of his examples).

Noting how prevalent use of such sites is in countries with large Christian communities he ends with the provocative question: “Why has it been left to secular humanists and others to articulate the prophetic insights that we desperately need in our technology-driven environment?”

I’m still reflecting on his comments about Facebook, which both mirror some of my own frustrations with the site, but also place them squarely in the context of what these “trivial” things are doing to our implied view of what it is to be huma, but I think I do know why Christians (and even Christian theologians) have been slow to really work out the theological implications of these increasingly ubiquitous elements of contemporary life. We theologians (on the whole and with, in my experience, relatively few exceptions) respond to technology in one or other of two extreme knee-jerk ways. Some of us fear the new, and so see each fresh technological intrusion as a threat to be resisted. Others see each new development opening new possibilities, and we rush in chasing the will-o-the-wisp of greater reach and relevance. (Yes, I’m sure you can guess which caricature fits me, and if you know my colleagues, close and distant you can probably type cast most of them too ;)

The result of this polarisation is that we are too busy fighting straw opponents and do not on either side have the time to really engage with the issues. The question is when will we slow ourselves, anaesthetise our jerking knees and begin a reasonable and careful examination of the theological anthropology of Facebook?

Photo WikiMedia

Logos have not announced, but rather let slip1 plans to prepare a native digital Bible Dictionary.2  11Jan11], the aim is to produce something nearer the easy reference end of the scale. Even so, the fact of making no public announcement or call for articles, and writing only to graduate students, suggests that Logos is flying a kite, and hoping to downplay the project if it fails to catch the wind. In another “industry” I’d suspect fear of commercial rivals, but I doubt that the Bible software business is quite that profitable or cut-throat ;) ))

Targuman quoted the email:

This Bible dictionary is intended to fill the niche between popular-level and academic resources by providing in-depth articles free from the scholarly jargon that would be confusing for a reader who does not have a background in Biblical Studies. The articles should give an in-depth look at current scholarship in each area, but in a non-technical language. We are looking for writers to contribute articles of about 1000 words in length. We’re offering compensation in Logos Bible Software products. Currently, the final date of submission is January 31st, 2011.

Below my email signature is a list of 1000 word topics that still need entries written. If you are able to write 10 entries for us before the end of January, you’ll earn $200.00 in Logos software products. If you can take on five entries, that will earn you $100.00 in software.

He and his commenters (on the two posts) raise questions about the process, not least the absence of any indications of the processes of quality control (editorial or peer-review or ?) and the very tight deadlines (5 or 10 entries before the end of the month).

Bob Pritchett [name corrected as above] attempted to allay some of these concerns in a comment:

Just to clarify, we are not planning to have a Bible dictionary written completely by graduate students. We are inviting scholars and subject matter experts to contribute specific articles.

A comprehensive Bible dictionary includes thousands of articles, though, and many are on subjects about which there is little recent discovery or scholarship. We believe these present an excellent opportunity for graduate students to contribute while building their CV.

(We also find graduate students more receptive to the idea that scholarship can appear digitally, not just on printing presses. )

I want to assure you that we have the highest standards for scholarship, and are working to build a quality dictionary for the digital generation. If you Google the forthcoming Evangelical Exegetical Commentary you’ll see a list of well-known scholars already working with us on a digital edition.

This information (from the mouth of the chief horse) makes the whole thing both more interesting, and more frustrating. It will not be a Bible Dictionary written entirely by grad students, but will have some articles from established figures. However, the list at suggests that the contributors have been picked more for their solid “Evangelical” (in the narrow sense) credentials than as a broad and inclusive representation of Evangelical scholarship.

However, this is where the two projects taken together get really interesting. The multi-”volume” commentary series together with the Bible Dictionary positions Logos in direct competition with (other) Evangelical publishing houses, like Baker and Zondervan. By taking the publication straight to digital much (or, with Logos pre-publication system, almost all) the risk associated with conventional print publication is removed.4 By making their works more obviously “safe”, and both Zondervan and Baker have been publishing increasingly works by evangelical authors who either fail to fit the ETS bold, only fit with some wriggling, Logos also positions itself to become the default Evangelical Bible study publisher.

Can it work? You bet! Will it work? Probably, though as Bob P mentions in his comment persuading more established scholars to publish digitally is difficult. Perhaps Logos is offering them more than $100 per 10,000 words ;)

  1. By writing to research students asking them if they’d like to write articles. See ePublished Bible Dictionary? []
  2. The method of non-announcement is really interesting, as far as I can tell from the two blog posts I have found dealing with the topic: ePublished Bible Dictionary? and More news on the Logos Bible Dictionary, and comments there by among others  Logos founder Bob Pritchett [name corrected ((With apologies, if I was not in the middle of my summer holiday I hope I would not have made such a silly mistake :( []
  3. A domain that Google seems not to rate highly enough to feature when it’s own name is the search term!  PS I am not sure what happened there, now even when I go into “history” and click the link to the search there the expected site shows at the top of the rankings as one would expect. Wierd! []
  4. A later possible cut down print version would be icing on the cake ;) []

This season between Christmas and New Year seems a time for nostalgia, so I was looking back through my December 2004 posts. Among them one in which I pointed to an article from Christian Century. I was not the only, or even the first blogger to appreciate the article, indeed I only found it because Jennee at textweek mentioned it. It was (and still is, if anyone has access to a library with back issues of the paper edition of Christian Century) a fine article. BUT it is not available on the Christian Century website.1

I thought/think the article was good. I’ll reproduce below my blog post, so you can judge for yourself. But has it actually been “published”. The online Merriam Webster lists as the first two meanings of “publish”:

  1. to make generally known
  2. to disseminate to the public
Now perhaps between 1999 and 2004 Christian Century achieved both of those things for Ms Taylor’s words. Today (at least by my, 21st Century, standards of “generally” or “disseminate to the public”) the article has been aggressively UNpublished. It really is time we started calling the print “publishers” “unpublishers”. Surely the claim: “My new book is being unpublished by Brill” is more true than the more usual verbal form?
Post from Sansblogue: Thursday, December 09, 2004 (incidentally still published, really and truly, here)
Seasonal reasons – Christmas and secular ceremonies ::

Jenee pointed me to a fine article from Christian Century “Holy Instincts“. Barbara Brown Taylor back in 1999 offered great stuff to reflect on at this season. She notices a bunch of “county prisoners” putting up the decorations in the town square.

Only two of them are really working. The third is making faces at the ball in his hand, in which he has discovered his own reflection.

Things like this, stimulated by secular celebration of the season should cause Christians to notice

…the holy spark that smolders underneath all this gratuitous tinsel and voltage. … While true believers lament the crass commercialization of Christmas and the loss of Jesus as the reason for the season, the Holy Spirit haunts the most secular ceremonies:

She admits:

There are all kinds of things wrong with the way we celebrate Christmas. We eat too much, we spend too much, we sentimentalize too much, we worry too much. Those excesses cannot douse the holy instincts that underlie them. We really are hungry. We really do want to give and receive. We really do want to feel deeply, live peaceably, sleep soundly and rise renewed.

And concludes:

God is in the midst of it, after all, still hunting new flesh in which to be born.

Or to put it the way Yancey does, in the book I’ve been reading for the last few months, at this time of year much that ordinary people do offers rumors of Another World.

Our job, if we choose to accept it, is not to beat people up and make them feel faintly guilty for not attending our church despite the “reason for the season”, but somehow to find ways to help them (but first to help ourselves!) catch the whispers in the tinsel ball, even taste the Christ in the dry turkey breast, eaten with family and friends…

  1. Actually it IS available online still, as a Google search will reveal, but in what I suspect is pirate unlicenced copy. []

My last opinion piece for Bible and Interpretation is out. Even before I woke up to read the email that it had been published Jim West had already posted a response (whose title I am too modest to trumpet, and which is accompanied by a flattering portrait ;) and Tom Verenna a longer piece: Tim Bulkeley on Reading the Scriptures. I do hope these signs of interest prove out, I’d love to see more reflection and argument about the issues I raise, because I think the gulf between seminary and church is dangerous to both, and most contemporary attempts to address the issue seem to miss the point…

Julia O’Brien’s piece in 2009 addressed some similar issues.

PS: Clayboy has written a fine post in response Training the schizophrenic scripture student that raises interesting and important questions for thinking the issues through further:

Firstly, I’m not quite content to leave methodological materialism to the atheists

With which I most thoroughly and heartily agree! My only discomfort with such an approach is when it becomes totalitarian, and excludes other approaches.His second point is fascinating and requires more thought :)

Second, I note that the emphasis on reading the texts of Scripture only with a literal hermeneutic owes a significant amount to the Reformation. In various ways sola scriptura reified the text as an object of investigation. It was the religious who separated the text in significant ways from the reading, listening and interpreting community. The Reformation initiated the divorce proceedings, modernity made them very messy.

Anabaptist styles of reading, and submitting to, Scripture might manage to avoid such a reification, treating the text more as a conversation partner, or perhaps better “authority” in the sense that we mean when we speak of a person having authority as “an authority”.

Jim West has taken time off from noticing that the human race is spoilt, broken and twisted, and has a fine rant about Print on Demand vs. Big Name Publishers asking which form of dissemination truly feeds on vanity. True Vanity Publishers, and the Authors who Feed Their Egos is much more fun than the usual stuff about yet another corrupt politician or televangelist. Apart from the grace of God humans are corrupt. Brill and other prestige publishers demonstrate that basic fact…

Displaying languages written in non-Roman characters on the Web has always been difficult. In the really old days you had to use pictures instead of text, then among the various work-around fonts that mapped Hebrew or Greek characters and even pointing and accents to Roman characters the SBL ones became a sort of scholarly non-standard standard. You had to try to persuade visitors who did not have those fonts installed to install them (or you could use the Logos or Bibleworks equivalents). The problem was if you chose Logos and your visitor used SBL all they got was Roman gobbledygook. Then came Unicode now you can be sure an aleph א because instead ofbeing some Roman character that just thought it was an aleph, a Unicode aleph really is an aleph. Unicode handles accents, pointing and just about every Hebrew or Greek (and most other languages ancient and modern) mark you might want to make. And the better news is that even if you wrote in XYZ’s special Hebrew font and your user did not have that one it would display in whatever they had. So if I chose SBL Hebrew but you only had Ezra SIL no worries it all worked… Except, if you had a font that only contained consonants and vowels, every accent I placed would show up as an annoying full-sized character sized box. Bummer!

Others may know this already, but for those that did not, here is good news. Using a CSS feature called @font-face we can now cease to worry whether visitors to our blogs and websites will have decent Unicode fonts installed on their machines, or risk those annoying little rectangles!

@font-face allows you to install a font on your server and deliver it with the webpage to your user. (Traditional methods of referring to fonts require the user to have the font on their machine.) It is not totally simple (for you the web-publisher, it is totally simple for your users) but it seems straightforward. Here are step by step instructions:

  1. Download a font that you like (as long as the license will allow this use1 )
  2. Go to the Font Squirrel webfont generator, and upload the font, filling out their form. (Incidentally for those who like changing Roman fonts that site has loads you can use.) Download the ZIP.
  3. UnZip it, and upload it to your webserver to directory called /fonts in the directory where you keep CSS files.2
  4. The ZIP file had a file in it called “stylesheet.css” rename it “fonts.css”.
  5. In the <head> of your HTML put this code BEFORE any other CSS code:
    <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="/css/fonts/fonts.css" /> if you didn’t call your CSS directory “css” then naturally you’ll have to put the proper path here ;) For a WordPress blog the CSS directory is: wp-content/themes/YOURTHEME (so put the /fonts directory there).

From now on wherever your CSS has something like:

.hebrew {
font-family: EzraSILregular, SBL Hebrew, Times New Roman, serif;

You only need the fall back fonts for people using really old browsers or weird hardware or something. Here is some Hebrew text with all the trimmings in SIL Ezra to prove it:  דִּבְרֵ֣י עָמֹ֔וס אֲשֶׁר־הָיָ֥ה בַנֹּקְדִ֖ים מִתְּקֹ֑ועַ אֲשֶׁר֩ חָזָ֨ה עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל בִּימֵ֣י׀ עֻזִּיָּ֣ה מֶֽלֶךְ־יְהוּדָ֗ה וּבִימֵ֞י יָרָבְעָ֤ם בֶּן־יֹואָשׁ֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל שְׁנָתַ֖יִם לִפְנֵ֥י הָרָֽעַשׁ׃ 2 וַיֹּאמַ֓ר׀ יְהוָה֙ מִצִּיֹּ֣ון יִשְׁאָ֔ג וּמִירוּשָׁלִַ֖ם יִתֵּ֣ן קֹולֹ֑ו וְאָֽבְלוּ֙ נְאֹ֣ות הָרֹעִ֔ים וְיָבֵ֖שׁ רֹ֥אשׁ הַכַּרְמֶֽל׃


PS: Of course, this does not work for people who read the post in a feed reader :(

  1. At present the only fonts that I know permit it are the SIL ones, which have beautifully open licences, but I have written to SBL and should hear soon if they will permit their Unicode fonts to be used this way. Ezra SIL is here. If I hear of other beautiful Hebrew, Greek etc. fonts that are licensed for this use I’ll update this post and make a list here… []
  2. If you don’t already have one why not be daring and call it CSS ;) []

Lament, I don't know maybe (photo by I Don't Know)

For my paper for the lament colloquium I want to distinguish three functional types of complaint/lament text:

  • lament which bemoans
  • complaint which charges or accuses
  • confession which despite the circumstances (which might warrant lament or complaint) expresses trust in the one spoken about or addressed

Notice that this classification is not formal, it is concerned with the attitude of the speaker of the text, and is thus functional rather than formal. Rather like Brueggemann’s functional classification of the psalms.

Complaint Department photo by mrmanc

Interestingly, recently Tremper Longman III has distinguished lament and complaint on formal grounds not merely seeing “complaint” as a clarification of the naming of “lament”. He speaks of lament when the text addresses God, and complaint when it is about God, but addressed to other humans. The “lament” psalms are examples of one, and Num 20:1-13 of the other.1

Longman’s classification is really interesting, but what really interests me is not the form of the text but the implied attitude of the “speaker”. After all attitude is why naming matters.  Juliette’s protest: “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” served her needs, distinguishing the object of her love from his family name. Yet by the end of the play we know that her claim, though perhaps true of roses, is less true of families! What we call things matters, not least because our naming consciously and unconsciously reflects and shapes what we perceive. While Juliette might claim that “Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title” others will merely see a Montague, one against whom they are sworn in feud.

Photo by Digital Library @ Villanova University

NB: In this post I return (the marking season being over :) to my paper for the first February colloquium and therefore topics I addressed before:

  1. Tremper Longman, “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? A Biblical-Theological Approach,” in Eyes to See, Ears to Hear: Essays in Memory of J. Alan Groves, ed. Peter Enns (P & R Publishing, 2010), 48 []

If Macs are for…


Mac ♥ PC photo by Ed Yourdon

A conversation, mainly on Facebook, but some here (WHY can’t Facebook take comments to a blog post linked there and repost them also to the blog? Is that really too much to ask?), about my previous post concerning getting started with Linux prompts this reflection (after a whole several weeks as a penguin):

Macs are for arty or trendy types. You know a Mac user just to look at them, they either scream “creative genius” or “I’m not really a sheep, I I’m just so hip I follow the in-crowd.”

Windows are for people who like to tinker with broken computers, and get intense satisfaction when they get them repaired and working, or for people who actually enjoy being distracted from work by “clever” toys like talking paperclips. You can also tell Windows sufferers just by looking at them, they either have large bald patches where they have rubbed the hair away trying to make the beast work, or they twitch and seem to be playing some invisible game as they stare vacantly into space.

Linux is for the rest of us. It just works, does what you tell it to, no more and no less.  And you can’t tell us to look at us, because we don’t have propeller heads, nor do we (often) wear clothing with penguin logos.

Linux: Uberstudent


I finally got fed up with the appalling frustration of Microsoft’s (every second name hides a really dysfunctional disaster area) non-operating system, Vista. Going back to DOS and Desqview or Windows 3.1 would have been improvements in usability.

Screensaver penguin :)

I’ve been using Linux, the Uberstudent packaging of a Ubuntu distribution, on my main PC for a few months now. I chose this distro because it comes with most of what I most need built in. Open Office and Firefox with Zotero are all there waiting, and most other needs of a generic student or teacher work straight out of the box. (I added Audacity, for better audio editing, and Bibletime, to keep me running till I have time to get BibleWorks working, but HTML editors and FTP clients and the like are all there ready.)

The installation was quick and easy, I basically took the defaults, and so far I have had none of that annoying running round turning off “services” I don’t want that every edition of Windows since the flood have demanded. My external plug in USB sound card/pre amp thingie was recognised with no need to install drivers (like Windows required), and wifi, bluetooth and the rest just work.

Most everyday jobs are “intuitive” for a recovering Windows user, and most others are easy to discover. The only exception was a problem when I was using a powerpack that was not powerful enough, it kept giving warning messages that although on mains power my battery was flattening. They were useful but annoying (I have not discovered how to turn them off). But using the pukka powerpack has removed the problem ;)

The only reason I have not yet got BibleWorks working, or that I have not considered Linux on my netbook is that we have been in the marking season, and we also moved into the lifestyle block not long after I installed Linux…

So far I have to say Uberstudent, or Ubuntu1 is just brilliant, it just works, and no hassle :)

  1. I don’t know whether Ubrestudent is just bog standard Ubuntu with some selected applications etc. or whether it is a significantly different OS, and frankly it hardly matters to me, unless the OS dies and I have to move to Ubuntu and then I may spot the differences… []