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biblical studies : bible : digital : food

One of the highlights for me of this week’s episodes of Jacob Wright’s excellent The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future was the interview with doctoral student Aubrey Buster. Her paper, by comparing the treatment of contested belonging within communities in Athens and Jerusalem (at approximately the same time), offers an exciting empirical support for theories that the experience of the dislocation of the Judean elite (deportation and return) led to the greater textualisation of Judaism.

She spoke of comparing Athenian citizenship trials, which depended on personal testimony to support someone’s claim to be a member in good standing of the community (by ancestral descent) with the claims of Ezra-Nehemiah that such issues in (post-exilic) Judah were established primarily on the basis of documents. It is often claimed that the experience of dislocation of the Judean elite led to the writing, editing and/or authorising of many of the biblical texts. I have not previously seen contemporary evidence used to support the claim in this sort of way.

Such research is excellent in itself, but also within such a course presenting current research not only gives students the sense of an open discipline, but also shows how evidence and argument can be used to better understand the biblical texts.

It also helps to firm op our understanding of the social and technological history of writing in relation to Scripture – an ongoing interest of mine :)

In a previous post I mentioned the old Deadly Green Bar trick that MS Windows has been pulling on complacent PC users sine the terrible days of Vista. (Microsoft-in-the-head as repeat offender) There I mentioned the “fix”1 mentioned at Techspot. I pointed out that it was not a permanent solution.

Actually, at least for me, it is worse than that my opperating system has now decided that as well as the Deadly Green Bar it will also lock me out of my own folders! I can get to the system folders (I told it to “show” them) and others off the C: but I cannot get to those in …User/Tim/ Since that includes My Documents etc. this might be a problem!

Thankfully most of my current work is in Dropbox and not “My Documents”…

  1. Actually a partial patch. But when a firm as big as Microsoft has you in their sights any fix is a good fix. []

Last week I offered some first impressions of Jacob Wright’s excellent MOOC The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future.

The second week’s lecture material has been interesting for two strikingly different reasons. Jacob presents a mediating view between “Minimalists” and “Maximalists”, sensibly taking the best ideas and arguments from both “sides”. Though many conservative viewers will feel in this week’s that he is too ready to ditch the Bible’s account in favour of alternative ways to explain the archaeological data. And therein lies the rub, for although usually careful to present the evidence and arguments that underlie his presentation [my impression was that] here and there at key points the viewer is asked to accept a scholarly consensus or the views of a few named scholars without the evidence being presented. [ Inaccurate example deleted, see comments below.]

The interviews with three scholars about their work on Assyrian imperial intentions, the lemelek seals and the Judean Pillar Figures were excellent at presenting data and reasoning.

I understand that in such a brief course one cannot argue and present evidence for every point, but I suspect that the lectures would carry more people with them if there had been time to lay the foundations more solidly.

For me the formal issue raises questions about my own teaching.

I had an odd need, the journal Colloquium published an article of mine a few years back, which I had not uploaded to Academia.edu1 but the proof copy I have is a PDF with each page shown twice on a landscape page.2 So I needed to split the PDF in half lengthways. I came across A-PDF Page Cut a neat little tool that does just that.

They also have a number of other PDF utilities, so the site is worth bookmarking, for those you never know when you’ll need it, but you will one day, moments with PDF files.

  1. Tim Bulkeley, “Back to the Future: Virtual Theologising as Recapitulation”. Colloquium, 2005, 37,2, 115-130. []
  2. Instead of the codex format of one page on a portrait page. []
Since this session concerns the background to the emergence of “Israel” in Canaan the Mereneptah Stele is mentioned and shown several times, photo from Wikipedia

When Jacob Wright’s MOOC “The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future” was announced and promoted I posted about it on Facebook.

I’ve enrolled and have begun the first week (the course started on Monday, but my first criticism is that I did not get an email reminder until I visited the course site again today – one of the biggest problems with MOOCs in my experience is lack of feedback for the student1 ).

Jacob is a fine teacher he keeps his material lively, and has an engaging presence and voice. The video “lectures” are broken into convenient chunks (of varied size from a couple of minutes to nearly a quarter of an hour2 which for me works well (as someone who as a teen would have been diagnosed ADHD, if the designation existed in those far off days, I have a short attention span and lectures bore me). Each is closed by one or two simple multichoice questions. This is brilliant, it gives the student instant feedback, and if we get them right instant reward and the sense that we are learning something. (Or if we are ourselves Hebrew Bible teachers at least the sense that we listened closely enough ;)

The videos make very skillful use of animated still shots of artifacts and places with the occasional video clip thrown in to create the sense of a video production. The technical values are as one would expect from an official university production.

That’s the good news, and if you are thinking of enrolling, do! The list is not yet closed, and if I have not yet learned much that is (to me) new, I have gained some interesting perspectives and ideas on how to put the material together. This is a MOOC for beginners that specialists can learn from! A fine achievement.

The bad news is that the videos are not optimised for viewing on tablets or phones. On my Phablet the screen resolution is small enough that the video (if played in the browser) overlaps the screen. I have tried the two different formats, and turning my screen around etc. but so far have not found a comfortable way to use the mobile device. (On a PC, even a netbook, all is fine, I guess university testers unlike poor adjunct faculty and students use phones with hi-res screens!)

At this stage I’ll also add a comment that perhaps reflects my context. Jacob uses a lot of Latin expressions, more than my usual audience of Kiwis, Pacific and Asian people would be comfortable with. I am not sure why, as usually the Latin expression is less familiar to me than kit’s English equivalent (like “divide and rule”) perhaps US audiences need “long words” to demonstrate academic credentials? It’s odd because in most ways the presentation is very simple and accessible with the few technical terms explained…

  1. see below. []
  2. so far. []

One of the key differences between people in prison and those outside is that many of those “inside” are “repeat offenders”. Either they don’t learn their lesson or something drives them to offend time and again.

Microsoft seems to be like that. One of the key “features” that caused my deep loathing for “Vista” was the way it made me wait while it indexed a directory with fancy thumbnails that I did not actually want, before I could “see” (filename, size, date…) the contents. That dreaded green bar!

Techspot has a fix (of sorts):

Needless to say it’s a very frustrating behavior, but thankfully something that can be easily fixed.

In Windows Explorer, right click the Downloads folder (or any folder you are having issues with), then select Properties.
Select the Customize tab
From the drop-down menu, Optimize this folder for: “General Items”

That should do the trick.

Well, maybe…

Note Windows might forget this setting in the future if you keep storing certain types of files (images or videos) and again default to optimize for them. I’ve had to change this setting back a couple of times in the past year, but most important of all, after the fix access is instant when I’m browsing around for my latest downloaded files.

Why, oh why, can I not just tell Microsoft-in-the-head Windows to cease, desist, stop!? Well because some users “want” this feature, and I “might” have switched it off by mistake!

I wish my Bible programs and Camtasia ran reliably under Linux, I am not made for this sort of stupid repeat offending, Windows should be repeat incarcerated.

Jim West needs more Logos users to “preorder” his commentary series it is a remarkable effort by one pastor/teacher to write clear straightforward comment on every book of the Bible (so far there are 36 volumes “covering 59 books of the Bible and 4 books of apocrypha”). I believe that the commentaries do not share the sometimes histrionic tone of his blog, where he claims logos are planning to kill him if the series gets sufficient preorders ;) But rather offers sensible useful comment aimed not at other specialists but at everyone.

That’s the first plea, for a serious work, but presented humorously. The second plea is not like unto it, rather it is free and without cost, but a birthday wish. To celebrate the fact that I have survived 66 years I am collecting audio and video readings of classic stories for children and adults. The request is simple, just if you have a blog link to the site, or if not share it on Facebook or other soacial media. Then people will start to visit, the great and wise Google will deign to notice its existance and my effort will be worthwhile :)

Photo from WikimediaI love using a laptop, on my lap. I prefer small notebooks as they are easier to carry and the screen is big enough when it is so close to me. BUT I hate the way in which at random my wrist or a trailing thumb will activate the touchpad while I am typing, and boing, I am now entering text in the wrong place. The cursor jumped :(

[Now I get annoyed with users who claim: "the machine/software just did" this thing I did not want done. I keep telling them that the error is theirs. So, I fully accept the cursor does not in fact jump around at random, it just seems that way. The effect is indeed caused by inadvertent brushes of my wrists or thumbs - but it is nevertheless annoying as all get out!]

There is a cure, a small utility from Google called Touchfreeze. It seems to work well, it turns off the touchpad while you are typing, but turns it on once you stop. I’ve been using it for a couple of days on both my netbook and my ultrabook and it just works. So far no worries where the trackpad is “off” when I want to move the cursor, and no more “jumping cursor” :)

It is just brilliant!

Google describe it like this:

touchfreeze
Utility for Windows to disable touchpad automatically while you are typing text
Annoyed when you are typing a document and accidentally the palm of your hand brushes the touchpad, changing the position of the cursor in your document or accidentally clicking on an option. TouchFreeze is simple utility for Windows to solve this problem. It automatically disables touchpad while you are typing text.

For a course on the Pentateuch that I am preparing I am stuck in two places for good readings to suggest. If you can help me I’d be delighted. I need a chapter-length readings, and ideally at a bit above basic beginner level, yet not too technical.

  1. Biblical narrative technique. Ideally a brief practically focused outline of things like plot, characterisation etc. Yairah Amit’s New Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary entry is too short and so does not quite hit the spot
  2. Purpose of the Pentateuch: was it revolution and/or (re)construction of a community. The idea of this section was to look at how reading the Pentateuch (or one of its possible precursors) might look at various periods. A bit like the last very short chapter in Wenham’s Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Pentateuch. 

A few years back I posted a video showing how to get to the relevant pages of a Bible commentary using Google Books. Since then the video hosting service I used has removed the video, and Google has changed their interface. So, here is a renewed one.

What this means is that any serious Bible student can get at the latest and best biblical studies without a library and from wherever they happen to be.

Commentaries are the lifeblood of serious everyday Bible Study, as they present the results of extensive reading packaged and simplified.