Jun 092015
 

featherOf all the techniques that could be used to study ancient texts, there are a few that stand out as being both very important and largely understudied, being either ignored in practice or taken on faith due to the lack of relevant expertise or accessible tools. The ones that come to my mind right now are these:

  • Paleography. Understood in general terms and largely regarded as a matter of deference to the experts, this may not have an abundance of practitioners but is at least widely respected and has a huge impact on historical studies. The other two mentioned may be envious of such wide respect and acceptance.
  • Computer-Aided Textual Criticism. There are those who truly believe that completely-thoroughgoing eclecticism is the only answer, there are those who would like to do something more but have no idea how yet, and then there are the few who come back from their tours through the land of “CoherenceBased Genealogical Method” textual criticism and try to convince the other two that it’s really worth visiting sometime.
  • Stylometry. Of the three, perhaps the most confusion surrounds these techniques, and a large part of it is due to the confusion and unresolved questions that still persist among the experts. Due to a combination of widespread superficial familiarity with the studies and the contradictions from those using some kind stylometric method to reach controversial conclusions, stylometric “results” are most often cited with some degree of skepticism (except, of course, when credulously cited as a conversation-stopper).

The first of these two subjects truly are fascinating in their own right, and there are no doubt some others like these that I didn’t mention. But let’s talk about stylometry.

Continue reading »

Mar 192015
 

whaddayadoWhen it comes to getting a professorship of biblical studies: Quite simply, I have enormous respect for anyone who is brave enough just to dare to try, and I have (naturally) great respect for those who have succeeded in the same.

At the same time, I don’t view it as a standard by which one can judge whether someone is mentally fit to have a competent opinion on the subjects of concern, any more than (to draw an analogy) being an Olympic athlete is a necessary condition of being physically fit and able to play a sport competently. In each case there is the plain truth regarding the large number of people who either do not make the cut (for whatever reason) or who self-select themselves out of the running (quite rationally).

On the rationality of avoiding the race entirely (and the possible ethical ambiguity, then, of encouraging people without much means to pursue it), one could read Peter Enns’ post, are PhD programs in biblical studies ethical?

Consequently, I don’t view it as a terribly important criterion for judging whether someone is worth hearing, let alone whether an opinion is worth consideration. Asking for university credentials (demonstrating an ability to analyze material at a high level of sophistication and/or facility with languages or other specific working knowledge) seems at least germane; asking for place of employment seems tantamount to a sort of social-positional snobbery rather than any attempt to get at the truth of things. Perhaps I’m biased, since I don’t have anything relevant to say to either question. But I am hoping that the people reading this blog find some value to some of it, so perhaps you already agree with me, to some extent.

Continue reading »

Feb 192015
 

google-power-searchI recently mentioned the search tools available here:

http://bcharchive.org/

And they have already improved greatly.

The historical archive of the Biblical Criticism & History forum has been reindexed and checked so that it is indeed complete and unabridged.

The greater Blogosphere search function has been expanded with more websites and upgraded with “refinements,” which let you drill down by category into “biblioblogs,” “forums,” “books,” “articles,” “google-books,” “jstor-articles,” “resources,” or “websites” with just the click of a link.

Last but not least, an Early Writings search function has been created to allow you to use a Google custom search engine over online translations of early Jewish and Christian texts, which themselves are tagged for search refinement as “Early Jewish Writings,” “Pseudepigrapha,” “DSS,” “Talmud,” “Early Christian Writings,” “Apocrypha,” “NHL,” “Church Fathers,” or “Gnostica.”

Please have fun with these new toys! Let me know if you have any suggestions.

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Feb 062015
 

Biblical Criticism & History Archive SearchNow you can search the greater Biblical Criticism Blogosphere, a carefully curated collection of websites, blogs, books, articles, and resources containing about 30 billion web pages indexed and searchable with a Google Custom Search Engine. The search prompt can be found here:

http://bcharchive.org/

This Google-powered custom Internet search engine was created to sit alongside two very specific site search engines, powered by open source software and opening up the full archives of the Biblical Criticism & History forum from 2001 to today. The archives themselves are hosted at bcharchive.org (the historical portion, indexed using Gigablast search technology) and at earlywritings.com (the forum today, powered by phpBB).

I encourage you to play around with these tools! Who knows what pearls you might find? Continue reading »

May 162014
 

New RuleIn the past, on this blog, I have defended the right of the public to weigh in on topics related to the history of early Christianity. It’s a topic with wide interest, and it would be a shame to limit input to those who have pursued a credential in history or in theology. Besides the fact that people with different academic specialties have real value to bring to the table, there is something unbalancing about allowing only the voices of those who have gone through a long and expensive credentialing process, usually with the hope of gaining employment either as faculty or in ministry.

That being said, I am proposing a new rule: If you haven’t got a degree in history or religion, make everything that you want other people to respond to you about available for free online. Otherwise, don’t expect anything but obscurity. You have only yourself to blame for the level of interaction with your published work.

Continue reading »

May 162014
 

People who grow up with no religion have a low “retention rate,” but, apparently, it’s getting better.

In what can be described as a turnabout-is-fair-play move, given the general decline in religious belief in America, several have noted recent studies showing that those who report being brought up without a religion in America usually don’t end up with no religion. There’s a graphic from the Pew Forum showing that only 46% of those saying that they were brought up with no particular religious affiliation still claim no religious affiliation.

unaffiliated

It is, for reasons not really clear, even less predictive of atheism for one to say they were “raised atheist.” The 2008 Pew Forum survey had 162 survey responses (weighted at 430 statistically) in the continental U.S. saying that they were “raised atheist.” These survey responses have spawned several articles mentioning the statistics (albeit with little real discussion): most notably from Mark Gray in 2012, most recently from Jesus Creed and Exploring Our Matrix.

Let’s explore that a little.

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May 012014
 

2cents During the month of May, there is a little event going on at the Early Writings forum.

For each and every post to the forum in the month of May, 2 cents will go to charity.

So, if you’d like to make your two cents count, head on over to the forum and get posting! :)

And if you’d like to influence which charities receive the donations, there’s a poll underway for that.

In other news, I turned 33 years old today. Birthday cake and time with family are in my near future. :)

Dec 152013
 

choedrakDharmakirti was a seventh century Buddhist scholar and a founder of Indian philosophical logic. Dharmakirti taught at Nalanda, an ancient university in India that boasted thousands of students. Part of the curriculum consisted of oral discussion and debate. I found reading his Vadanyaya to be interesting in terms of observing the development of logic outside of the well-known European tradition. Studying logic in general is always profitable whether we are interested in philosophy or in history.

Dharmakirti says at the beginning of his work: “The wicked persons defeat even the one who argues rationally in debates by employing improper methods. We start this (work on the logic of debate) for repudiating them.” Dharmakirti thus believes that the disputant and opponent should not be desirous for victory but should rather want to correct misconceptions, to state the argument rationally, and to refute any irrational argument.

What follows is a description of Dharmakirti’s Vadanyaya, the “Logic of Debate.” Continue reading »

Nov 252013
 

wikipedia college creditNot just another Wikipedia rant: it’s worth thinking a little about what what makes the world’s largest encyclopedia tick, what’s different about academically-oriented writing, what the relative strengths of the two are, and why it matters.

In the words of Dr. House, “everybody lies.” When it comes to research, everybody has a bias.

Like the bacteria living in your stomach, some of them are the kind that are benign. These dispositions actually motivate you to digest information thoroughly, exercise critical thinking, and build a product of research that represents the subject matter faithfully and reflects on it intelligently. Others are less helpful and are the kind to consider as possible sources of error.

Continue reading »

Oct 152013
 

AtlanticRoadIt’s a good question why an agnostic would study early Christianity. I can’t answer for everyone, but I can answer for myself. Even after I have disengaged myself from believing the content of the Christian faith, I have never fully given up the interest in it that was ignited in me through a Catholic education. I still remember fondly my first church history teacher, typically Dutch in his enthusiasm for the somewhat arcane and eccentric subject. This subject did not stop being of interest to me after I was no longer a believer.

I also remember sitting in another church history class while in college, when the news of the election of the successor to John Paul II was announced, with the tittering and excitement people felt, most of whom were not themselves Catholic. There is a certain fascination with the subject globally even in people who don’t believe. In Japan, fictional stories incorporate Christian beliefs as an exotic motif. In Russia, where grown men have gotten into barroom brawls over Kant, they also have interest in speculation on the subject, which casts its shadow over the whole history of the Western world. And in California, where I live, a Persian friend of mine who is a Muslim had been himself wondering whether he should rather be a Christian. Suffice it to say that people of many backgrounds have found the subject of Christianity interesting.

My wife, who has a Lutheran background, has a story not that much unlike my own, except for all of the most nerdy bits. She also had passionate involvement with the church in her youth. She also continues to have a level of attachment and fascination, as I do. She also has no desire to be a part of any church. Of course, she has even less a desire to take up the academic approach to the study of religion as a hobby. It takes a certain kind of nerd to appreciate that. Continue reading »

Oct 142013
 

Cave_of_time

I’m pretty stoked about the new blog series starting at Higgaion:

In the coming weeks, probably stretching into months, I plan to read as much as I can find of the published literature on gamification and blog about the experience. I will also share some of the practical lessons I’ve learned from gamifying my own Religion 101 course.

Chris Heard explains the concept of “gamification”:

In case you haven’t encountered gamification yet, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative’s 7 Things You Should Know About newsletter for August 2011 used the widely-accepted definition, “Gamification is the application of game elements in non-gaming situations, often to motivate or influence behavior.” Nick Pelling claims to have coined the word “gamification” in 2002, defining it as “applying game-like accelerated user interface design to make electronic transactions both enjoyable and fast” and primarily seeking to make electronic devices fun to use.

These interests are close to my heart also.

It’s common knowledge that “hearing” is not as effective a tool for learning as “seeing,” and that “seeing” is not as effective as “doing.” This needs an addendum: “doing” is not as effective as “playing.”

Continue reading »

Oct 082013
 

This gorgeous map of the Roman Empire at the end of Trajan’s reign is in the public domain.

romanempire-117ad

The document below shows the languages of the Roman Empire around the same time. (Note the legend; “displaced” means that it no longer survived by the time of the dissolution of the western Roman Empire. That Celtic patch in Asia Minor is Galatian, as Jerome attests that the Gallic tongue was spoken in both regions in his day. The map shown below may not be completely accurate.) Continue reading »

Oct 042013
 

joinForumSeveral bloggers, including Roger Pearse and Neil Godfrey, among others, have used a venerable, ancient forum on the web to hash out issues informally in an open discussion format. This forum, over 10 years old, resided at the “Internet Infidels Discussion Board” as “Biblical Criticism & History,” where I moderated for a while.

Yesterday, that particular forum lived on at “Free Ratio” as the History of Abrahamic Religions & Related Texts. But today that forum got iced. Nobody can post anymore.

Since I see this as a tragic loss, given how few really active forums with quality discussion exist for our topic, I immediately responded by setting up its spiritual successor, the Early Writings forum.

I’m looking forward to the next 10 years of discussions, and to kick this thing off, I have alerted some of the notable posters from the old forum. I am also inviting everyone reading this to help give it a chance to grow by stopping by and posting. (And I will be putting some sneaky links on my other websites to get it rolling.)

Think of it as a place where you can float ideas, ask questions, or sound off with even less pressure than your blog’s “publish” button… which is something that I find valuable and that, for others, is the only way they prefer to get involved in the discussion: informally. Join us.

Sep 242013
 

I am starting back from nothing in two ways today. I am starting this blog, which launches into the biblioblog part of the blogosphere. While I will be writing about the themes of my existing websites (Early Christian Writings, Early Jewish Writings, and Christian Origins), I may stray into other topics and other projects. This will be my only blog, so it will be a reflection of what I’m thinking about or working on at the time. My blog is informal and may not even reflect my own views a week from now, so if you see something wrong, a comment would be appreciated. May I always be open to a change of mind and ready to admit a mistake!

I am also starting my library from nothing, or almost nothing, because I did have four books on the Dead Sea Scrolls that my sister had found left in her apartment. I had sold all of my books because I had been moving around a bit, most importantly to Norway where I met my wife and married her in 2012. Last year, we found out that I would not be able to immigrate to Norway to be with her, so I packed my life back into two bags, and now we have an apartment in California. Continue reading »