Archive for June, 2004

Decline of Greek and Hebrew?

Published: June 17th, 2004

Last Saturday, Mark Goodacre over at NT Gateway Weblog noted an interesting article from The Guardian about the reaction of Classics teachers to the recently announced plans of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority “to drop Latin and Greek from its GCSE and A-level syllabuses in England and Wales” (read the whole story here).

This reminded me of a similar situation in Spain’s public school system, and, most of all, of relatively recent (and sad) developments in a good number of theological institutions around the world. Greek and Hebrew (never mind Latin) have also been “ditched” in many places, or at best relegated to a marginal place. And most certainly Bible software cannot make up for this lack of systematic study of the biblical languages.

This is just the sort of thing one would expect to see when “business interests” and politics become the main criteria. But surely education is something else. I’m afraid these are bad days for the Humanities… (big sigh)

Update (June 18): Tim Bulkeley makes some revealing comments on SansBlogue, based on his personal experience. I suspect he is not the only professor who feels that way. This only comes to show that we are facing here a general tendency. What strikes me, though, is this apparent paradox: while there is definitely a decline in the teaching of the biblical languages among many theological institutions, the number of people who are actually interested in learning “a little Greek” or “a little Hebrew” in order to read technical commentaries and make a better use of certain Bible software tools is growing. I still remember a few years ago when I was asked to teach Greek to a group of preachers at the local church I am now attending. It was fun! Anyway, as I once commented somewhere else, a graduate with a major in Biblical Studies who has never taken Hebrew and Greek is very much like a medical doctor who’s never studied Anatomy. And one question inevitably comes up: would you trust such a doctor? I think it’s about time we took the tools of our trade seriously. We cannot afford to “play” Theology and Exegesis. We need to “do” them right. It’s not the preserve of scholars and professors I am talking about here; it’s something that affects ministers too in a very real sense and, therefore, any Tom, Dick and Harry sitting in church and listening to a sermon or Bible class.

As you can see, I have some strong feelings about this whole area. Well, nobody’s perfect :-)

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Blog Update

Published: June 14th, 2004

What you see now is the new look of the Bible Software Review Weblog. You may have to press the Reload button in order to see it properly. For some reason (guess why…) it only displays as originally intended when I use Internet Explorer. However, it looks good on other browsers too, like Safari and Opera. I wish I had more time (or, better yet, a web designer with some spare time, and willing to help me out – hint, hint…) to work on that, but right now that is a luxury I cannot afford. There is still some tweaking to be done (e.g., the profile is not working well), but that should be easy to implement. BTW, the blog is best viewed at a screen
resolution of 1024 x 768 or above and UTF-8, but works fine at 800 x 600 too. As always, your comments are appreciated, although given the wide range of browsers and OSes, I cannot promise everything will look exactly the way you’d like.

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More Changes

Published: June 12th, 2004

After a short final round of tests, I plan on changing the look of this blog sometime next week. If you point
your browser to this address:
(no longer active!) you will be able to see a preview of what’s coming. Now is the chance to have your say. So, speak now or forever hold your peace… ;-)

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Use of Blogs in Theology and Biblical Studies

Published: June 9th, 2004

This may be considered off-topic by some, but since this blog falls into the general category of Biblical Studies, and given the fact that I am the blogger, and I decide what’s on-topic and what is not ;-) , here it goes.

Jim West, over at Biblical Theology comments on a new blog called U of London Bachelor of Divinity: Davide’s Notes.

Apparently it was started recently (April 20) by Davide, a BD student at the University of London. He sums up the purpose of his blog with the following sentence: “This blog is meant to jot down notes on theology and various reflections related to my Bachelor of Divinity studies. Expect no coherence, no originality, no spectacular insights,
and so on.” Bravo, Davide! I commend you for taking the trouble to blog on your studies. I think this is one of the great things about weblogs, and something sorely missed by people who embark on non-residential courses. The University of London External Programme,
with which I am well acquainted, offers an excellent Bachelor of Divinity syllabus (IMHO it was even better when Greek was compulsory!).

I’ve been very pleased to learn about Davide’s interests, and how he is
debating with himself (and his readers!), what subjects he should sit next academic year. I take it that he’s just completed Intertestamental Studies and Philosophy of Religion this year. I wish him well, and humbly suggest that he consider taking New Testament with Greek Texts (rather than English)… Sorry, couldn’t resist!

In conclusion, I think blogs like this one are a very interesting development in the field of Biblical Studies. Up until fairly recently, external students enrolled at the University of London, particularly those living outside Great Britain, did not have much chance to exchange opinions, share news and links, and encourage and be encouraged by fellow students. Now all that has changed. Maybe not everybody is aware yet, but the fact is that the Internet has
potentially revolutionize the way we learn, study and live. But you know that already. That’s why you are reading this blog… My goodness, I’m preaching to the choir again!

(…a few minutes later…) Oops! I must have missed a more recent post where Davide says he’s changed his mind and finally decided to take Greek and Hebrew. Good for him!

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SBL Forum Review

Published: June 7th, 2004

This month’s SBL Forum includes a review of Logos Bible Software Series X
written by Frank Ritchel Ames. The review majors on features and content of academic interest. There is one comment, though, that I cannot agree with. He says that “The software will run on faster Macintosh platforms using a PC emulation program such as Microsoft Virtual PC.” I have not tried Virtual PC on a faster Mac, but all the reports I have read indicate that Libronix will run painfully slow even on a high-end Macintosh. If by “running” one means having a cup of coffee between one click and the next one, then I concur: it does run ;-)

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Blog Makeover

Published: June 3rd, 2004

After the recent Blogger update, I have decided to make some changes to the overall look and feel of this blog. But before I proceed any further, I ask you to visit
this test blog (no longer active!). There you will see the new layout and features. I’ve done my best to take into account different resolutions and browsers, but I must say that this has become a real headache. I cannot find a way to make it look exactly the same on every single browser and/or OS. So please, give me your feedback. I would appreciate it if you could leave your comments there, rather than sending emails. This way I can also test the commenting system. Incidentally, one of the new features is that I get an email every time somebody posts a comment. The downside is that managing comments is much less flexible than the current service offered by HaloScan (and no trackback either!).

Apart from the obvious cosmetic changes, there are two more subtle ones. I am now using FeedBurner, so that those of you who have requested an RSS feed can have it. Please let me know how it goes, and keep in mind that for the time being only the “test” blog is available. Also,
as Mark Goodacre pointed out, you will now find that posts are being archived individually.

I don’t know if this will be a “disimprovement”, as Jim Davila calls it,
but depending on your suggestions and criticisms I’ll move forward in one direction or another. To be honest, I care a lot more about the contents of the blog (and related website!) than the design. However, if I can make your visit a more pleasant experience for y’all, so be it!

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Bible Software and Bibliographies

Published: June 2nd, 2004

Mark Goodacre notes some of the articles published in the Denver Journal. The first one he mentions is New Testament Exegesis Bibliography, compiled by C. L. Blomberg and William W. Klein. Fairly standard list, with lots of good books. But my question is: why isn’t there a single reference to any Bible software, multimedia software, courseware or such like? Does this mean that there is no single software tool that deserves to be recommended? It baffles me that this should still happen in 2004. Come on, ladies and gentlemen! there are currently some excellent applications that scholars and students should not only know about, but use extensively.

Update (a few hours later…): Mark left a comment, which he repeats in an update to his original post, where he aptly points out something I failed to mention: Internet resources. These are increasingly becoming a vital part of any research project. I guess the whole point of this thread is that we should wave to a good number of people and say: “Hey, welcome to the 21st Century!”

More… David Lang emails me with some helpful observations: “I think many people shy away from citing electronic resources in their research because they’re unsure how to do it. For example, how do you specify a
page number in a footnote or bibliographic citation if you’re dealing with an electronic resource?” Well, a simple Google search returned a number of useful links on citing electronic and online resources. The Columbia Guide to Online Style seems to be a good one, although there are a number of them. Also, let’s remember that many high-end Bible software packages include different bibliographic formats that users can just copy and paste. As for the comment that “even if a student or scholar properly cites an electronic resource, most of that student’s professors or that scholar’s peers may not KNOW the conventions for citing electronic resources, and so may regard such sources of information to be less credible or more difficult to verify than good, old-fashioned books”, I think that’s exactly the point I was trying to make. Many people have not made the “switch” to electronic-based research yet, and it’s about time we all did. Beginnings are always difficult, and standardized citing conventions may still be in a state of flux, but we have to hang in there. I believe we have to encourage the use of digital tools, and apply to them the same critical thinking approach we should use when we work with any other sources.

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Calculated Obsolescence

Published: June 1st, 2004

Jim Davila complains
(and rightly so, I hasten to add) about one of the most annoying aspects of today’s software/hardware market: “upgrades” that don’t add anything at all (I feel tempted to call them “downgrades”). The only thing they upgrade is the need to get a newer, faster computer, to add lots of RAM, and to switch to a different OS, Internet
browser, or what-have-you. This is known as the “calculated obsolescence philosophy.” Computer parts and programs aren’t made to last. They are only meant to embark you on an endless search after the “latest fad.” Many of the big, well-known companies do that on a regular basis. We all know it. They know we know, and we know they know we know (are you still with me? ;-) ), but useless upgrades are being released all the time… Would that they would take examples such as this one.

Fortunately, Bible software as a whole is not known to adhere to this calculated or planned obsolescence philosophy. Not that there aren’t upgrades. There are, and quite a few of them, but most do
add new features and improvements, so that they are really worth it. It is also true that the majority of upgrades don’t force users to systematically update their hardware. However, some applications are RAM and processor “eaters”, and some serious thought should be given to what system requirements would be considered adequate for the average Bible software user. I think too much is taken for granted in this area. As a rule of thumb, in religious and academic circles one cannot count on having the latest technology. Therefore, applications should
strike a balance between optimizing its performance and keeping the requirements at a reasonable level.

Sometimes upgrades make justice to their name. A good point in case is the latest Accordance release (already mentioned here). Before, the Bible Atlas run noticeably slow on my iBook 600. Now, with version 6.2 runs at least twice as fast! How’s that for a real
upgrade? Quite honestly, that’s the way to go. We don’t need to be constantly upgrading our hardware in order to keep up with “state-of-the-art” technology. What we need (I’m talking as a user) is better programming, more optimization and a “calculated appreciation.”

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