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. [↩]
When I was a child, well not a child exactly but when I had enjoyed less than half the lifespan I now look back on, I thought as a child, and I dreamed of being a systematic theologian. But (through a series of ‘accidents’) God called me to be a teacher of the Bible, and I am delighted with that calling. In this video fragment Myk Habets (talking about his book The Anointed Son) 1 reminds me why systematic theology matters. There is a horrible moment when Myk is in full flood, and the director interrupts2 but hang in there because the next question is a ripper!
Watch it here, and buy the book!
A mere few dollars for users of Amazon Kindle, is there an ePub version? [↩]
And I could happly have strangled her, well not really but metaphorically? You bet! [↩]
I have been forwarded a copy of the email the Society for Biblical Literature sent to its members about moving the Review of Biblical Literature into its members-only space.1 I will comment on that email here, trying to point out why I see this as a significant and retrograde move.
But first some background. I have been an SBL member since the early 80s, I retained membership for a few years after I retired from Carey thanks to the generosity of SBL who allowed me to pay as a Student Member. I recently allowed that membership to lapse, though if the new means-tested membership fees had been announced at that time I would probably have renewed. I have attended a number of International (since 1986) and annual meetings of the Society (since the mid-90s), usually giving papers. I stopped attending after retiring from Carey because of the cost of airfares. (I never used the official expensive hotels). I greatly value the Society for its role as the largest and often the most innovative scholarly society in the discipline of biblical studies.
The email opens “In order to solidify RBL’s status as a valuable resource produced primarily by SBL members for SBL members, we will be moving RBL behind the SBL member login.” The heart of this sentence is largely true. RBL is “a valuable resource produced primarily by SBL members for SBL members”. However, the key word is the adverb. Since RBL moved to free open publication on the web it has not been used exclusively by SBL members. Biblical scholars in majority world contexts, who cannot afford to attend the Society’s meetings, or even perhaps membership in the society, used the resource. Students, at least the good clever sensible students we all love to teach, used it. (How better to evaluate, and get a feel for, a new area of study than to read a few reviews of key texts?)
Such users are now banned and access is only for those willing and able to pay for SBL membership. 2
Apparently the reason for the move is to increase funding for RBL. “Our hope is that, after this period,3these individuals will join the SBL at least at the public membership level, if not full membership. In addition to significant investment from SBL, the increased financial support thus provided will help fund a number of highly desired upgrades to and expansions of the RBL architecture.”
I doubt those students I mentioned, or indeed many of the majority world scholars will follow this perhaps wise hope. I wonder if SBL is measuring the flood of new memberships? A question on the application form would be informative!
Yet my core objection is not that the move will probably fail to achieve its stated objective, but rather what such a move says about the Society which makes it. What shall it profit a scholarly society if it gain the whole Google, but lose its soul?4 If “scholarly information exchange” continues to be privatised with ownership increasingly divided between big international publishing companies5 and scholarly societies then those societies that get in on that act will have lost their raison d’être and may as well shut up shop. If learning is privatised they become mere secret societies for rich-world bible scholars (with a few charity cases on the margins).
Meanwhile biblical scholarship in the two-thirds world will become more and more indebted to the Fundamentalists or dilettantes :(
I have not seen any explanation for the new closed status of RBL on the RBL’s website, though I did not hunt for it when I was refused entry. [↩]
In other news the membership fee has been scaled according to reduced income and is only US$45 for those earning $10,000-25,000. This reduction does allow more majority world scholars to join the society and is a welcome move. [↩]
Of continued access for individuals who subscribed to the RBL email newsletter but are not SBL members. [↩]
If, in the interests of literary allusion, my non-religious readers will permit this word, if not just read “spirit”. [↩]
I note the recently announced closure of Sheffield Phoenix Press [↩]
The first step in proofing your work is to check it for sense and flow. While one can try to do this by looking at the text, it is much better done by listening. Listening to a computer interpret what you have written is especially revealing. (The computer has little or no understanding but follows rules of grammar and intonation that have been programmed in, it is thus good at showing up clumsy sentences.)
As well as clumsy sentences, listening to your work can help us spot where we have failed to make the ideas flow. By listening you may spot jumps in logic that you missed while focussing on looking at the words.
Many commercial word processors, like Microsoft Word, have the capacity to read text aloud (MS Word on PC instructions). The open source word processors use an add-in to do this. Read Text can be downloaded and installed from this link. The add-in adds a small icon to your menu bars, I needed to move this so that it did not occupy a whole line to itself, or the description linked above tells how to use it.
It helps to follow along with your eyes as the computer reads, what you should spot (and probably correct) are places where the computer has not made sense of what you wrote (reword it, add or revise punctuation, etc. till it works) or places where you spot jumps or repetitions (again edit to correct the problem).
Spell and grammar checkers
Most students know about spelling checkers, some foolishly don’t use them to check their spelling, or ignore their warnings. Don’t! Poor spelling may not be important to you, but it will signal loudly to your markers that you are careless.
Grammar checkers can also be really useful. Even the basic grammar checker in Libre Office often shows me silly mistakes that students could have avoided in essays I am marking. A better grammar checker, like the one in commercial word processors, or the free Grammarly, will do an even better job.1 Correcting your errors will also improve your writing, meaning you have less errors to correct next time.
The last step
For the final step, you will need a friend or family member who can write good English. (Perhaps you can offer some service in return, or cook some treat as a thank-you : ) The ideal person will be able (and if you encourage them enough) willing to be a tough audience. You want them to say things like: “What did you mean to say here?” or “I’m sorry I don’t understand this!” or “This does not seem to follow from that…” Much better such comments come from a friend than the marker!
There is a subscription “pro” version of Grammarly which catches far more mistakes and corrects more complex errors. It is too expensive for me to try, but then I have spent decades learning to correct my own grammar. [↩]
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! [↩]
Hi, I have collected an ecclectic bunch of posts from here and there for the January carnival. But, like all carnival editors, I’d be glad to hear your nominations. Especially I do not have “enough” non-US or non-White or non-Male posts, any nominations for posts from these or other oppressed majorities would be especially gratefully recieved!
I have many friends (and respect their theological accumen) who are calvinist (some with bigger some with smaller Cs). For me two of the main foundations of my theology forbid me the comfort of that neat system:
The experience of total depravity – which since my life includes living ten years in Congo (Kinshasa) as well as teaching in a refugee camp on the Thai Burma Border seems to me a mere fact of life, not a theory.
My trust in the Sovereignty of God – for in the face of human depravity nothing less than irresistible grace is sufficient to make sense of this world.
But you see precisely because these two things seem to me foundational, the other planks that comprise of the calvinist theology seem to me suspect. Total depravity – obviously, irresistible grace – hopefully, but limited atonement – sorry I believe in the sovereignty of God, and if God is to be God, only God knows whether or not love wins by Universalism or in some other way, and as for the perseverance of the saints – I am sorry but as well as total depravity I also believe in human agency, people are guilty of the crimes they commit and unless somehow (through their choice to be united with Christ, however that works, and however it is expressed) someone chooses salvation, they are dead in their sin.
So, you see no TULIPs for me, but just the slender hope of a dandelion pushing its way up through the concrete pavements of the (all too) human world.
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?
Today has been a day for Facebook.1 The results have been interesting.
Following a Skype meeting I joined another Facebook “gated community” (you know one of those “closed groups” that is closed so people can say things freely without worrying about being attributed out of context. These communities are needed. But membership in them conflicts with one of my Facebook principles, I try not to write anything on Facebook (or here, or anywhere on the Internetz) that I am not OK with saying in public. In principle my public and private faces should be one.
Apparently2 I am an extrovert on Facebook, I “speak” before I think. I posted a quick knee-jerk response to a friend’s post, another friend of that friend objected strongly. I defended myself. By this stage my brain was back in charge, so I believe the reply though firm was curteous. The response was “we’ll have to agree to disagree”. Now, agreeing to disagree is fine, on occasion. When an atheist and a theist have been arguing for a while and neither is any more coming up with interesting new twists, time to agree to disagree. When a Muslim and a Christian discuss the divinity of Christ or the place of Sharia law, time to agree to disagree. For sure “agreeing to disagree” is often better than the alternatives. But is agree to disagree the appropriate response after just a couple of exchanges all of just a few dozen words at most?
My take is that “agree to disagree” engaged too quickly is an easy way to avoid the stress of having to consider views different from one’s own. (Which given the stresses and pressure of life is sometimes appropriate, God knows.) But it happens in a world mediated by Facebook and Google, both of whom make their money by not showing us things we dislike/disagree with but instead confirming our prejudices. In a world thus mediated “agree to disagree”3 are dangerous tools.
It is this agreeing to disagree that enables Jerry Falwell’s disciples to stomp and cheer his hitlerian remarks, or that permits the radicalisation of Muslims in the streets and busses of European cities.
On Tuesday early I finished marking for the year, after a weekend trip to Auckland for a wedding, and went back up to Auckland for the Aotearoa New Zealand Association for Biblical Studies meeting. I am due a day off! [↩]