I was grabbed by a question Derek Tovey asked on Facebook. He’s been reading the blurb to Peeter’s edition of Elizabeth B. Tracy, See Me! Hear Me!, Contributions to biblical exegesis and theology 75 (Leuven: Peeters, 2015). The blurb begins with an (unreferenced) quote from Fokkelmann: “The Bible does not contain one single instance of small talk.” Derek asked: “Is he right? Can you find an example of small talk in the Bible?” I think he is and I can’t, can you?
There is banter in the Bible, not least banter between strangers – the case of Jesus and the woman at Sychar (John 4) is a strong example. There are examples of a host’s gracious welcome – Abraham and the three men offers a classic example (Genesis 18). But no “small talk” (which I understand to mean polite by trivial or meaningless talk to oil the wheels of social interaction).
This seems to me not unexpected, I can’t think (though please let me know that I am wrong) of examples of small talk in literature before the modern period, and even then the earliest examples I think of are from Shakespeare (and I think drama works differently from prose narrative).
More than that though biblical narrative is well-known to be parsimonious with unnessary detail of all sorts. Descriptions are almost only given when some detail advances the plot, or characterisation, in significant ways. Indeed, often the silences and omissions are meaningful, “fraught with background” in Auerbach’s redolent phrase.
Fokkelmann, however approached the question differently. The quote comes from his introductory textbook and his concern is with the way characters’ speech is “existentially revealing”.
The other speeches in our pilot story show that the character’s text not only contains many forms of the present tense, but often also commands and wishes. This means that speech is often about the imminent future, and this is something the narrator himself can never manage. Characters may say that they want to have this or that, or want this or that to be done in such-and-such a way. Speeches are often excited or dramatic.The Bible does not contain one single instance of small talk; almost every word by a character is existentially revealing or rooted: the speaker is totally committed to the matter under discussion.1
This notion of speech in biblical narrative as “existentially revealing” is (I think) much more interesting than mere parsimony!
Jan Fokkelman, Reading Biblical Narrative : An Introduction Guide (Louisville Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999) 68. [↩]
Back in the 20th Century it used to be difficult and expensive for books or websites that seek to explain the Bible to get suitable illustrations (it was even hard to get pictures for classes. For the Hypertext Bible Commentary: Amos “volume” I had to travel to Israel and take photos myself. For an earlier print book Etudions l’Ancien Testament I paid an artist to produce line drawings to illusrate various aspects of the text.
Then with the advent of “Web 2.0” and sites like Flickr and Wikipedia finding photos of places became easy, many with Creative Commons licenses. Photos of ancient statues, wall plaques and other such large and impressive objects was also possible, though few people can take really good shots in a museum. However, since the average Jo or Joe who is visiting a museum is unlikely to shoot everyday tools and the like these are still hard to source.
Model granary with store chambers, grain sacks and scribe, Middle Kingdom (AD Riddle)
I was delighted therefore to read AD Riddle’s Three Things I Like About Egypt in which he writes about the usefulness of Egyptian museums with things like their tomb figures illustrating aspects of life like the model granery with its scribe (above).
I was even more delighted when Todd Bollen in a reply to my question in a comment said Bible Places are looking at producing a collection of such photos!
It’s not yet launched (coming Thursday US time, Friday here) yet from what I’ve heard and seen The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance could be an answer for people looking for a decent, fun game for kids (and the young at heart?) that inculcates Christian values and the gospel message it cannot be worse than most of the “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho” type nonsense that is usually marketed as “Christian”!
I am working on some ideas I delivered orally a few years back and at that stage did not finish polishing with a view to publication. Basically the idea is that if we read David’s story as told in Samuel-Kings1 through the optic of his relationship to death, unsurprisingly the episode in 2 Samuel 10-12 where he arranges Uriah’s killing to cover up his taking of Bathsheba is seen clearly as the turning point, such a reading also makes sense of David’s puzzling response to the illness and death of his first child with Bathsheba.
Because designers of file formats and Bible software that uses them are print-centric in their thinking I seem to face a choice in envisaging a new generation e-commentary. Either I produce something that accepts the traditional limitations of print, but which would work within Bible software and so be available to people when and where they need it. OR I produce a genuinely electronic commentary, with links and media (pictures, video and sound), but that must be accessed apart from the Bible study tool.
In my previous post I expressed some frustration at the lack of tools for conveniently preparing a text marked up in OSIS (Open Scripture Information Standard). In this post I will look at OSIS from a different prespective. I am discovering that, as well as the practical difficulties of producing well-formed valid XML, I have another deeper problem. OSIS is designed for marking up Bible and related texts, but it is designed for and from the print age. Its mentality is that of words written on a page. It is therefore quite good at rendering manuscript texts (after all print largely mimics manuscript). It is not good at producing e-texts.
To make matters worse, different front end1 designers have different ideas about the importance of non-textual elements (like figures)2 or hypertextual elements (most notably links). Among those who can import OSIS text (often adapted into Sword modules) some support figures (though the ability to size and place images in text seem to be rudimentary), others support links – though learning the arcane methods reguired is problematic and on occasions the results are bizzare (Xiphos3 may jump to an internal link in a commentary module, but seems to reset the Bible text displayed to the start of Revelation each time, not quite the effect I am after!
At present it looks as if I have the choice of aiming for commentary that is as print-like as possible, producing such a print-like commentary augumented by links to Internet based materials outside the commentary itself, or producing an e-commentary that does not work inside Bible software.
If anyone can suggest ways to cut the Gordian Knot, or even a decent compromise, would deserve and recieve my deep gratitude!
Think Bible software or websites that allow you to read and study the Bible. [↩]
Over a decade after the peer reviewed citable edition of the Amos commentary was published, and after several false starts and a lot of unproductive work, I am returning to explore the possibilities for e-commentary.
One thing that has changed for the better is that now OSIS (Open Scripture Information Standard) is more firmly established. It will allow the material coded in such a way it can be shared across, and used within a number of Bible software front ends. Screenshot below shows a mockup of some commentary on Amos 1:1.
One thing that has not changed1 is that OSIS is infernally difficult to code and no convenient tool exists to let anyone but a markup geek work with the markup.
I am learning lots, I now know about modern Bigendians and why they are dangerous to meet. I am discovering the delights of disappearing titles and the vagaries of front end designers, more than I ever thought I’d want to know about file formats and relative paths… One detail I learned is that if you put a BOM where you should not everything blows up. But that is not why everything blew up this afternoon, I still have to discover that new piece of information!
If anyone reading this knows of a decent way for a human (who is not a markup geek) to compose text in OSIS markup I would be delighted to hear from you!
As part of my preparation I have been rereading my old papers describing how I envisaged the project a decade or a decade and a half back, in case anyone else would find them interesting I am uploading them to Academia.edu here are the 2004 ones I have been looking at recently:
Back since before we produced PodBible1 I have been concerned with falling rates of Bible reading among Christians in the Western World.
Among the churches I have most contact with, NZ Baptist and occasionally other Charismatic and/or Evangelical churches, there has also been a slow but marked decline in the public reading of Scripture. Often now I can attend a 90-120 minute service of which less than 1% is spent reading the Bible, and it is never normally over 10% (including the sermon, where sometimes only a collection of small fragments is actually read and not merely referenced).
Yet, it is precisely in these churches, where our faith and practice are founded and built on Scripture.
That’s the first point: We read Scripture less, yet we claim it is the basis for our faith – we have a problem!
Now something that seems, at first brush, unrelated. I record (among other things) readings of children’s stories. Recently different people, referencing different ages of child, have mentioned that the Beatrix Potter stories are preferred over Winnie-the-Pooh. The reason given is that Potter’s are illustrated and so the child has a video to watch, while Pooh is just audio. This makes a priori sense since children get to see so much video today, and recent children’s books are usually illustrated with copious colour images, where a generation ago only a few line drawings often sufficed.
For me, this recognition was confirmed by the experience of reading Paddington Bear to my grandson. At 5 and a bit, he is a good reader, enjoys reading and also loves having stories read to him. He had watched several episodes of a video version of Paddington (not true video but like my Beatrix Potter produced zooming and panning over simple colour images). He was “getting” the humour and chuckling away. So, later that day I got out the copy of a Paddington omnibus edition we used to read to our children. I was only a couple of pages into the first story, when he complained: “Where are the pictures?” I showed him the few line drawings, and he chose another book to have read.
The rising generations2 are simply less able to enjoy aniconic stories.
We have a second problem to compound the first: We are becoming less interested in, and even less able to ‘read’ aniconic stories.
There have been attempts to address this. As well as the ‘biblical’ blockbusters, which attempt to ‘retell’ the Bible stories as engaging cinema, people have produced visual Bibles (or at least episodes or whole books from the Bible). Some are extremely expensive and use the full range of the actor’s and videographer’s crafts (notable among these are the Jesus Film3 and the project known as The Visual Bible).4 Distant Shores Open Bible Stories has gone the opposite route and used a crowd-sourced open and free approach.
There is however a significant issue with such visualisations, the biblical text is inherently aniconic, not only is the text itself consistently unimaged (at least for the first many centuries of its transmission) but beyond that we have very few indeed pictures of its characters from their own lifetimes. Most of those are foreigners on the periphery of the story, none of the major characters was5 imaged in from life.
If the ‘visual Bible’ approach is fraught with theological and practical difficulties, are there other approaches to cope with these issues?
Even if small children are more resistant to stories without pictures, most become capable of attending to such stories, and many learn to love them. Reading the Bible aloud in church is more, and not less, vital than it was in less visual times.
Children seem more able to concentrate in the absence of images when other stimuli are reduced (e.g. listening to stories through earphones on car journeys or to an adult reading in a darkened room). Perhaps, in church, we could dim the lights for the reading of Scripture!
This post is very much an exploratory musing, so (if you have the attention span to have read this far ;) do please contribute to my thinking by voicing concerns, ideas, hopes, … in the comments!
The idea for PodBible was stimulated by a desire to help a generation who read little, but listened to MP3s a lot, to “read” the Bible. [↩]
Remember this process did not begin with ubiquitous video on phones, but broadcast video on TV, or even earlier with film, photography and printing advances making images cheaper and very much more widespread, already a century ago before my father’s birth! [↩]
Not quite a visual Bible, but closely based on Luke’s gospel. [↩]
Which perhaps in ways not unrelated to the amounts of money involved has been mired in controversy and strife. [↩]
The issue of the month was (perhaps) that RBL is moving behind a paywall. Since RBL has been a striking (often wonderful, occasionally frustrating – especially when stronger editing was needed, perhaps refusing some reviews) pioneering example of open scholarship, this move causes some raised eyebrows (listed in the order they seem to have appeared, or at least that I noticed them):
Two things seem worth noting here about this excitement, one is the presence of non-Western and non-Anglophone voices raised in protest (perhaps those with well-paying posts in Western academia do not feel the need of such open scholarship as sharply as the rest of the world), and the other is that as far as I can see the whole thing was over within a few days. We (the people of Biblical Blogaria)8 seem not to care too much when another example of the privatisation of scholarship is conducted, in our name, by a “scholarly society” many of us belong to, all for reasons of “business model”.
Although the Biblical Studies Carnival is10 a global phenomenon we cannot let the politics of the Imperial power pass without comment but perhaps Sarah Rollens (Marginalia Review Blog) piece on Donald Trump’s “love” of the Bible and his popularity among US evangelicals Donald Trump’s Bible may be sufficient mention.
On the subject of intellectual heritage, the antiquities trade (insofar as it deals in objects that were not uncovered in a reputable dig or provenanced in some other reputable way) seems to encourage an increasing destruction of human intellectual heritage. However, if one journalist’s investigations are right the Islamic terrorists are not (as yet) profiting significantly from their destructive activities.
Steven Anderson has a post like a Bible Dictionary entry on The Urim and the Thummim which could be handy to point to when students want more…
Archaeology is not (perhaps) as daft as people think
Just when it seems there are only three sorts of Archaeology, the money-makers (who have the TV serial and the book contract in place even if they have nothing but puff and nonsense to sell), the summer holiday archaeologists13 ones who descend on the Near East14 with hordes of students and other hopefuls in toe to do the digging and hopefully discover a text that mentions one of David’s descendants, and the ones who write those fascinating studies of surveys of ancient rubbish tips which give us our most likely glimpse into real life in ancient times. When along comes someone who tells us that studying cosmic rays inside an Egyptian pyramid will reveal interesting truths long hidden, only (this time) they are apparently gen-u-ine scientists, with real cosmic ray guns/sensors…
If you have ever wondered “What have the Book of Genesis and the movie Fight Club got to do with GDP?” The BBC16 Analysis program presented Tomas Sedlacek: The Economics of Good and Evil providing an answer.
At 5 minute Bible I have been trespassing into the NT, with another in a series of brief17 introductions to Bible books, this time Mark’s Gospel. Perhaps the series could be useful to students you know/teach. Comments and critique by NT scholars would be especially welcomed.
James McGrath posted about an interesting looking podcast interview he has done, sadly the ‘cast is only a freebie to suck you in to a never ending whirl of Gnostic wisdom, or a one off payment of the price of a paperback codex for just more of James’ own wisdom.18
Calls for Papers
Those who have read this far deserve a reward, and nothing19 rewards a scholar more than the opportunity to inspire/mildly interest/bore colleagues with a “publication”, and conference papers inevitably20 become publications. Here are the calls for papers I am aware of from January 2016 (if you know of more please tell me and I will add a mention):21
Steve Wiggins has to get a mention so that I can say he blogs at Sects and Violence in the Ancient World, among several possible candidates my eye fell What you pay for, a post about Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, surely demonstrating that the said Jesus was the inspiration for America’s favourite president (before the present incumbent).
Image from Deane’s last post (this month) in the series Mythical Documents from the Ancient World.
Also concerned with Angels and demons, watchers and giants Jim Davila wonders how Lesli White (a scholarly editor for Beliefnet.com)25 can miss considering the Enochic traditions in her treatment of angels and demons.26
Preaching the Bible
The carnival is not about Bible preaching, but since almost everyone comes to Biblical Studies27 because of their faith and the belief that the Bible (whether Jewish or Christian) is in some sense authoritative Scripture it seems fair and right to point to examples of blogs concerned with preaching from these texts.
Paul Windsor (Art of Unpacking) is more concerned with teaching the art of preaching in the Majority World. Jackson Wu offers more directly biblical reflection geared at helping us see the deep roots of the Bible in an honour-shame view of the world, quite different from contemporary Western views, his comments The Meaning of God’s Grace on Barclay’s book is an example this month. For a non-Westerner’s view of Western religion and Bible reading Vinoth Ramachandra’s blog is always worth reading, though often less than comforting as he efficiently but usually kindly exposes the hypocrisy Western Christians often fail to recognise.
Ryan Thomas at Religion and Literature of Ancient Palestine has a Review of Thomas Römer, The Invention of God (2015)both Römer‘s theses and Thomas’ critiques are really interesting. For me Römer’s conclusions are a reminder of how much historical reconstruction in our discipline depends on our evaluation of particular (aspects of) biblical texts as historical sources, and therefore why I tend towards agnosticism29 about history in this sense. (Ryan posts rarely, and seems to be using his blog almost like Academia.edu, an earlier post had 80 footnotes.30
Larry Hurtado posted a reprise of his discussion of Christians and codexes in Christians and the Codex: Encore!31 he makes some really good sharp points, some of which cause me to reevaluate some things I have written in the past. However, I am unconvinced by his conclusion. What do you think? Did early Christians prefer the codex in order to mark themselves as different?
PS: This post is not early! It is set to go live at midnight in the early hours of 1st Feb 2016, to all you people in more backward parts of the planet, just catch up will you!
PPS: Bizarrely, I have been listed during most of January as among the “top 4%” of researchers on Academia.edu, I am not sure why this is, but am relying on you all clicking this link to check whether that is true and so, either boosting my bogus statistic further, or better still finding something I have written that interests you, after all, interesting people are why we do this job ;)
PPPS: If you searched for your name and missed yourself please look again manually as I probably either forgot to name you or spelt your name wrongly32 or perhaps I really did leave you out :(33
But Phil Long is looking for volunteers for the rest of the year (after May) and would delight in YOU stepping up, it’s quite a bit of work, but a good excuse to investigate biblical blogging more widely than usual, and grauanteed to give your blog a boost of visitors, and greater Google mojo, what greater reward could you ask?
I say this month’s carnival because I am publishing it at either 0:00 on the 1st of February (though I believe 0:01 is the traditional timing) so that it is also published at 12:00 on the 31st January, since this later date is the 12th blogiversary of Sansblogue, a nice way to celebrate an auspicious occasion! Anyone who is suspicious may consult the first post here, the last post has yet to sound ;) [↩]
120 seemed too high a number to me, so I looked back at the list of carnivals past, some are now mere ghosts, existing only in the Wayback Machine, others like my two previous efforts still exist at the same URL, some no doubt have moved… but since the first carnival was held in 2005 and 2006 (the idea was slow to get off the ground till Tyler Williams put his shoulder to the wheels) it seems correct, but then Sansblogue’s twelfth birthday occurred this month! [↩]
In loving memory of all those American and Germanic monographs we have known and loved, except for the bit where we have to find endnotes at the back of each separate chapter. At least here there are convenient hyperlinks :) [↩]
Whilst I tend to agree with the author’s assessment of the contemporary relevance of these prophets, W. Travis McMaken looks suspiciously like yet another White American Male Protestant, so the post is clearly disqualified! [↩]
Footnote added post scriptum: I confess I had not noticed that this is Caroline T. Schroeder’s blog, until she pointed it out, my excuse is that early monasticism has never been a major theme of my work. [↩]
Who are after all despite the “digital revolution” still predominantly White Western non-Woman – is that why they call it the WWW? [↩]
Since Academia.edu informs me that this month I am among the top 5% globally clearly such open scholarship does have some benefits! [↩]
In theory, if not in fact. See my moans about the lack of non-White-American-Male nominations as evidence. [↩]
Is his surname really “Ill”, and if so what made his ancestor sick? [↩]
Am I allowed to mention Facebook here in the BS Blog Carnival? [↩]
Though usually not at this time of year, only coming out in the American summer, not the real one over and after New Year. [↩]
That embattled bastion of British Imperialism and the dream of honest fair reporting. [↩]
About 300 seconds. Duh! The name says it all, pace Juliet. [↩]
Seriously, the $1/podcast approach is an interestimng experiment in crowd funding the production of such resources! [↩]
Well nothing much in the realm of professional activity anyway! [↩]
After months of hard work on Facebook and other timewasters and a few tough days of actual research and writing. [↩]
This promise is exclusive to this category, any normal (or abnormal) posts outside this category have already been cast into outer darkness. Sorry I missed you, but make sure to announce your genius to the organiser of future carnivals. [↩]
Or to remove the allusion to Karl Barth, depravity and biblical studies. [↩]
In the process linking all sorts of strange, if not wonderful, things. [↩]
PS all the rude remarks about Q above are entirely my own fault, and none of the authors cited, nor even Mark Goodarce who is otherwise, sadly, absent from this carnival, should blamed for my scepticism or Philistine response to NT scholars imaginative creations. [↩]
I say she is a “scholarly editor” because her article links to such scholarly material as “This Article Is About To Get Banned From The Internet!”, “‘Fat Hormone’ Stops Women From Losing Weight”, and “Weird Trick To Make Women Obsess Over You”. Links removed to protect the gullible. In view of the obviously high quality of Beliefnet I can quite understand Jim’s horror at their editor’s ignorance of basic biblical studies. [↩]
Clearly a topic where fools rush in where Others fear to tread! [↩]
The battle is over, modernity won, but guerilla Bible readers still fight back.
The battle for the Bible was over before war was even declared. Modernity won the battle, and people today (both Christians and Atheists) read Scripture using modern categories and methods. It is a history book, a manual, a book of poetry, full of myths and legends… all categories modernity imposed on Bible readers.
But there is another way, guerilla reading. Reading the Bible as it was meant to be read. The Bible is God’s love letter to humanity. Along the way it tells the story of his dealings with a chosen people, his entry into human life in the child born at Christmas, his death on the cross and triumphant rising to new life as the Spirit of God filled the church…
This series will teach you to read the Bible as it was meant to be read, to discover God through the ancient words of Scripture and to apply that knowledge today.
If you have read this far how does this sound as the sales pitch for a simple how-to series on reading the Bible? Does it claim too much? Is it too warlike? Or just fun?