Monday, July 30, 2007
  Institute for the Future of the Book
Since a few hours after I made the post about IF:Book and CommentPress below the IF:Book blog has seemed to be unobtainable from here. Does anyone know if the URL has changed, the domain is for some reason no longer obtainable in NZ or the site is down for 48 hours?

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Sunday, July 29, 2007
  On Satire and precious politicians
Prime Minister Defends David Benson-Pope
Jim West drew my attention (in his post Oh Those Crazy New Zealanders) to the absurd "new parliamentary rules which ban using images of MPs in the debating chamber to make fun of them" (NZ Herald). With a (sadly) few (but notable) exceptions politicians have no sense of humour. But this rule is ridiculous. The TV networks have no need to ignore the rule, they just need to broadcast selected highlights of the parliamentary debate with no comment. Depending on the level of idiocy achieved in the selection broadcast we'll all either fall asleep, or perceive the deep and biting satire of human life that is politics.

As for Anthony Flannery's claim that

The public has a right to see how their elected representatives behave and perform in Parliament -- warts and all.
That is one right that I am happy to fail to exercise 99.99999% of the time - I have better things to do.

Please note the photo and caption on the right (taken from Scoop) are in NO WAY intended to satirise our respected PM, who will no doubt continue to defend her errant minister to the bitter end!

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Friday, July 27, 2007
  Hebrew tattoos and would-be superstars
Apparently Victoria Beckham has a much admired Hebrew tattoo, and John (of Hebrew Poetry) had the good sense to provide a patient explanation of what is going on with the Hebrew. (And "incidentally" to offer some sound words about the Bible.) So, if anyone is interested in having Victoria Beckham’s Hebrew Tattoo Patiently Explained John is the guy to explain it!


Thursday, July 26, 2007
  CommentPress targeted commenting for longer online documents

Ever since I saw the The Holy of Holies: On the Constituents of Emptiness experimental e-text I have wanted to get the chance to play with the commenting system that if:book used for that. I can see loads of possibilities for a longer more reflective type of blog post that allows readers to comment on particular steps in the argument. Which in turn could allow the author to adapt the text in a second iteration...

Today (well the 25th, but they are based in the USA which is nearly a day "behind" the real world ;-) if:book released CommentPress as a Wordpress plugin.

So... Maybe we could even use this to allow more public interaction and commenting on (at least some of) the papers for the "Media and Religious Authority" colloquium... all I need is someone to help me set up a Wordpress site with CommentPress installed and a nice theme...

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  Media and Religious Authority
On Tuesday we held an exploratory semi-virtual mini-colloquium on "Media and Religious Authority".
  • Exploratory because the ideas we discussed are not yet written papers
  • Semi-virtual because we were in two places and talked via Skype and phone
  • and only mini because the meeting took under 2 hours (though the Auckland people enjoyed a lunch together as well ;-)
Heidi Campbell has already posted about people's ideas (in her "Media and Religious Authority Colloquium") so I'll only put names+ here. It came out of the 2005 colloquium Virtual Theology which produced the issue of Volume 37:2 November 2005 of the journal Colloquium (see the articles from that here).

On Tuesday the participants were:

  • Paul Teusner (Uniting Church) how Emerging Church bloggers respond to technorati or google blog ranking systems
  • Peter Horsfield (RMIT) new media and religious authority in Australia
  • Ann Hardy
    (University of Waikato) the Exclusive Brethren's attempts to impact the NZ general Election

  • Stephen Garner (ex-University of Auckland now employable) religious authority comic books & graphic novels
  • Tim Bulkeley (Carey Baptist College and University of Auckland) is interested in the role of textual authority in different religious environments
  • Heidi Campbell (Texas A & M) part of her major study of religious blogging
Where to from here?

The group plans to work on these ideas and to hold one or more other "meetings" (this time with a system for sharing things like PPT or pictures as we talk) to engage further with each other's ideas as we finalise the papers for publication. We need to fix a date (or dates if we do some short seminars instead of a day) for the next meeting(s), and we need to find out if others are interested as with half a dozen we are looking at an issue of some journal while if we had another four or so we would think of a book...

So, if you are inerested... drop me a line, who knows our next meeting might include your place as well as Auckland, RMIT and Texas A & M...

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Friday, July 20, 2007
  Blogging blurs the information lines?
The NZ "think tank" Maxim Institute has a short item on blogs in their latest newsletter Real Issues they ask if: "Blogging blurs the information lines"? The post (after all their newsletter is just a blog that does not allow comments - only "letters to the editor") begins with some hyperbole about the venerable tenth birthday of blogging. (From what momentous event do they, or their source the Wall Street Journal date the blog I wonder?) They make a claim that few bloggers would dare sustain that:

Arguably it ranks third only to the invention of the printing press and the internet in the impact it has had on the communications' world.
Using the example of (the topical) "spin doctors" they argue that information is the "most valuable commodity today". This is simply untrue and an indication of how old media savvy people simply do NOT GET the new world. If you think information has significant worth think about the cost of one page of the Encylcopedia Britannica and how this price has changed over time. In my paper "Back to the Future: Virtual Theologising as Recapitulation" I calculated:
The cost of information can be approximately measured by calculating the cost per page of an encyclopaedia (or its equivalent before the modern genre “encyclopaedia” developed). Since the value of money, and indeed exchange rates, change with time and geography, the time worked at an average wage to earn one page of information provides a comparable measure across time. So, in the manuscript age a scribe produced some 150-200 lines per day,[1] and information cost in the order of 8 hours per page.[2] In 1771, when the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica was produced it contained 2689 pages of information, and cost ₤600 or 11⅓d per page.[3] The average wage for an English farm labourer at that time is estimated to be about 11½ d per day, so such a servant would have had to work about one day to earn a page of the new publication.[4] Given that farm labourers were paid significantly less than professionals like medieval scribes, and that estimates put the wage of a skilled artisan at this time at about double this,[5] we can suggest that the cost of information had at least halved by this time. By the close of the twentieth century, however, a print copy of the encyclopaedia cost NZ$2,050 but contained nearly 32,000 pages, or about 6.5 cents per page.[6] The average hourly wage was NZ$17.44 giving about 13 seconds per page.[7]

All of these figures concern the cost of information supplied as words on a real page of paper. Electronic information is cheaper still. At the turn of this century the CD-ROM edition cost NZ$100 giving a cost per page equivalent of just over one half second. The graph of this cost is clearly asymptotic, tending towards zero - for half a second’s labour is a very low cost indeed. The information will take hundreds of times longer to read, let alone process and understand. The cost will never reach zero because there is always some cost involved in accessing information, if only things like the electricity required to run the equipment.
So,the major premise of the piece is flawed. Therefore its discussion and conclusions are also inevitably flawed. The conclusion reads:
If it is to genuinely provide us with more information, then blogging relies on our ability to filter information and discern truth. But in an age so skeptical of experts and authority, can we really put blogging to good use?
Wrong and wrong! Because the New World of communications relies on our ability and responsibility to filter information we MUST be skeptical of "experts" and "authority" and so must put blogging to good use!

By the way, if you are a Maxim fan and want to check my "expertise" or "authority" please start from my CV, I'll be delighted if you check my opinion any way you like - you see as a blogger my reputation and therefore readership depends on being reliable as well as entertaining!

[1] or this estimate see Michael Gullick, "How fast did scribes write? Evidence from Romanesque manuscripts," in Making the Medieval Book: techniques of production: proceedings of the Fourth Conference of the Seminar in the History of the Book to 1500, Oxford, July 1992 (ed. Linda L. Brownrigg, Los Altos Hills, Calif.: Anderson-Lovelace / London: Red Gull Press: 1995) 39-58.

[2] The pages of print encyclopedias contain many more words than a manuscript page and my estimate of 8 hours seeks to represent this fact – if one simply measures by the page the figure would be nearer three hours.

[3] The figures are drawn from various editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica article “Encyclopaedia”.

[4] Gregory Clark, "Farm Wages and Living Standards in the Industrial Revolution: England, 1670-1869", The Economic History Review 54,3 (2001) 477-505, esp. 503.

[5] Peter Mathias, The First Industrial Nation: The Economic History of Britain (London: Methuen, 1983) 197.

[6] E-mail response from 16th May 2005.

[7] The New Zealand Official Yearbook 102nd edition (Wellington: Govt. Printer, 2000) 332.

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Monday, July 16, 2007
  Reading Job
William Blake's imagining of Satan inflicting boils on Job.
William Blake's imagining of Satan inflicting boils on Job. (From Wikipedia)
A few people are planning to produce a reading of (an English translation of) Job (freely available for anyone to listen to or use) where each character has a different voice. So one reader will "be" Job, while another "is" Bildad... Librivox will provide the hosting, etc. all we need are readers. We have a few but need a few more. So, please, if you read English well consider volunteering to record one part of Job - all you need is a microphone (e.g. the one you use for Skype) that connects to your computer and a free download of Audacity the sound recording/editing tool. It is fun, why not try it?

Or if you don't read well yourself, suggest the project to a friend. You could read just a chapter a week, or get inspired and read ten over a holiday weekend, it is up to you... For more details just either email me (tim at or visit the Librivox forum for the project.

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Friday, July 13, 2007
  How come our people don't read the Bible any more?
Mark Brown (Bible Society in NZ) is posting in parts a "talk" he gave, to "a Christian Leadership Conference on the topic of Bible in the church today" in part one he points out the shocking statistics on Bible reading among Kiwi (and even worse[!] US Christians).
The Bible Society undertook some research that displayed only 21% of the more than 2,000 church attending participants read their Bible daily. Twenty one percent. Twenty two percent stated they read it at least weekly with the remaining 57% which absolutely should blow you away. I hope it does, because this is a crisis. The remaining 57% saying they either read the Bible occasionally or hardly ever – 22%. Now similar studies recently conducted in the U.S. stated that only 12%. In this study in the U.S. which is quite large, 12% said they read the Bible regularly. Twelve percent! This is an issued that faces the Western Church and I’ve had the opportunity of doing a little travelling, chatting to colleagues in other western Countries, in the U.S., U.K and even Australia. And this is the problem they face. This is an epidemic.
Mark also candidly shares his personal experience, in which the central problem was "that through my theology training the Bible had moved from my heart to my head." This is a huge problem (at least for a theological educator!) though one I will hope to return to in a later post. For now, I just want to note now what happened when we discussed Mark's question in our local church elders meeting a while back.

The oldest elder began the conversation: "Why don't people in our church read the Bible like they used to?" After acknowledging the issue, we swiftly moved to the usual "answers", push SU Notes etc.. Then we recognised that many (but not all) people don't actually READ. They can all read, we have nearly if not 100% functional literacy, but people use that literacy to scan newspapers, webpages or magazines, they do not read books. We also recognised that many of these "non-readers" (as well as many young "readers") can be seen jogging and on buses with their ear buds feeding them music... The result PodBible, audio Bible for the iPod generation!

Incidentally, PodBible has been "down" for a week, but is working again now, so if you know someone who tried and failed, please explain it was circumstances with our hosting company, involving high usage, and a catch 22 that compounded a Murphy situation (which I probably won't explain more for fear of bursting into exhausted tears ;-)

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  Calling Auckland Bloggers! or Media and Religion scholars?
Heidi Campbell (Texas A & M) author of When Religion Meets New Media (Routledge) and the blog "When Religion Meets New Media" if there are bloggers in the Auckland vicinity who would be interested in a face to face get together to meet Heidi and each other on the evening of the 24th please contact me by email or phone 526 0344 with your contact details. We will be having a sort of semi-colloquium on Media and Religious Authority that day (hopefully with virtual participants as well as physical ones - if you are an academic and interested in this topic please also contact me!) and a quiet chat with a wider group could be a good way to finish the day.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007
  Dead Sea Scrolls in current liturgy?
In a comment that to another post on ancient hebrew poetry I mention that in a radio interview that I listened to as a podcast from ABC (when will I start just saying an ABC podcast?) George Brooke from Manchester made the almost throwaway remark that some of the prayers from the DSS c/should be used in church today. John stes out to demonstrate this in his “Blessed is the one who does not forsake her in tribulation”: 4Q Beatitudes post.

The photo of Cave 4 at Qumran is from mockstar
(thank you you are a star for making it available with a CC licence

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Saturday, July 07, 2007
  Why blog?
Long, long, ago though not so far away, in a universe both very like and yet quite unlike this one ("The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there." L. P. Hartley) I started a blog. My goal was to discover why people blog. I could not do this from the outside looking in, all i could see was interesting (and not so interesting) stuff, but little to explain the motivations and rewards. I expected this experiment to run for a short while... years passed... (well, three or four have ;-) I quickly got absorbed in blogging and forgot to ask: Why?

The rewards are primarily:
  • social - in reading and writing blogs one "meets" so many interesting people (some of us who met physically for the first time at the notorious SBL Biblioblogging session in 2005 discussed this)
  • intellectual - one also meets, and I hope shares, such interesting ideas
  • surprising - when by email, phone or face to face on meets someone who actually reads what one writes (now that's seldom happened to me as a result of print publication!)
But, still, why do I continue to spend/waste time blogging. The question has been raised for me by a conversation with Heidi Campbell, who is running some research on religious bloggers, the announcement by Lingamish that serious bloggers must divide their attentions between several blogs, and now on a more serious note Gary Rendsberg chips in with his half-birthday reflections!

Gary and David both make a big point of statistics, somehow the number of people who "visit" makes the effort worthwhile. This does not encourage me, sadly this blog has seen better days, 2005 was the highlight, and I have now far less visitors than I used to back then :( In fact Sansbloque's best day ever was Tuesday, August 30, 2005. So in the hopes that nothing succeeds like success and in the interests of nostalgia here is a replay of that day's posts - TAH, DAH:

The view from my office ::

Stephen's post (full of the joys of [Southern Hemisphere] Spring) titled "The sun is shining..." suggested to me a new round of the old this-is-my-desk blog craze...

[Sadly the inspiring photo of a distant and high skylight with grey sky has gone the way of all digitalia, and is no longer available, but trust me it was and is uninspiring!]

The new and even more exciting this-is-the-view-from (or in my case "of")
my-window craze. Despite Stephen's extolling of the windows at Carey,
the view from mine is impossible without a ladder, and I've never
climbed up to look...

Peer review another look: or, on the salvific effects of peer review ::

Jim West has, in Biblical Theology, a fine polemic piece titled "Washed in the Blood of the Peer Review" taking me (and others) to task for our dependence on "peer review". He sums it up, himself, in fine style:
sum I object to the scholarly mentality that sees itself as "washed in
the blood of the peer review". Peer review does not guarantee truth. No
one can believe it does. Hence, it exists simply for the preservation
of power. It is nothing less than the old cliche of the smoke filled
back room where the good ole' white boys gather around the card table
to buttress the careers of their friends while they ignore those who
are not worthy of their attention because "their ideas didn't appear in
the Journal of High-Falootin' Research" published by Brill and costing
95 Dollars for each issue published on a quarterly basis.
largely I agree with him. I have no desire to defend the "system" it is
(almost) indefensible (well it's not, and probably some biblioblogger
with more desire will defend it) but I certainly don't
want to defend it. And I did say, as well as some incautious stuff,
that I now (thanks to Jim's good sense) deeply regret, and won't repeat
;) I did say "or some process that ensures similar rigorous standards".
And will note that, in the sordid world where paid academics live,
"publish or perish" is the rule, and the publish part needs to be
recognised by other bodies as the equivalent of peer review else it
only counts for mini-brownie-points and will not save your career, job
and family income!

So, in summary: I heartily withdraw the phrase "peer review" and reword the last bullet point below:
  • scholarly,
    unless Open Biblical Studies submits itself to quality assurance to
    attest to outsiders (particularly beginners) that it is indeed
    scholarly, and (through some process that ensures rigorous standards as
    a peer review process intends) satisfies the professional academics'
    need for recognition.

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  Branding scholars
Abélard and Héloïse depicted in a 14th century manuscript
Abélard and Héloïse depicted in a 14th century manuscript
Source: Wikipedia
Not a terrible plot by the powers that be to identify the stroppy and awkward with a new tattoo, but Charles Halton's post on Awilum about scholars as academic brands.To give you a taster his first paragraph reads:
Academics is not merely about reading, teaching, and writing–it’s also about brand building. Want to get your new book idea distributed by a top-flight publishing house? Want to be asked to participate in the invitation-only conference? How about writing a major article for a prominent dictionary or encyclopedia? Ever dream of editing a journal? Want to recieve an endowed chair? You get the picture. In order to do anything of these things you need to be bright, dependable, and have good ideas. You also need to be a one-person brand.
A different, but effective way to think about academic careers - particularly recommended to recent PhDs and scholars with an early onset mid-life crisis ;-)

At this point I think I am (almost?) thanking God that I've never had an academic career! I've been teaching at tertiary level for the last quarter century, but always my employers have had activities and qualities they value much higher than "scholarship". Faith, integrity, simplicity... But the scholar as brand is not a new phenomenon, the early European Universities of the middle ages (even while they were religious institutions and their teachers "Religious") had their "stars" - think Piere Abélard ;-)

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Thursday, July 05, 2007
  On (not) being a two blog mind
Keeping a second blog is apparently all the rage. Not only is Stephen Carlson Feeble Mindings, but now David Ker is no longer content to speak just Lingamish, but he's gone completely Lingalinga with a second blog. It is probably just an excuse to get lots of links like these, to raise his already inflated standings but I have doubts about this blogflation.

When we were in Congo people used the euphemism "Deuxième Bureau" (or second office) to speak of the mistress a rich man might keep as well as his wife. Certainly anyone who can maintain two blogs must be (time) rich, but are they also unfaithful or is this a useful trend?

When I started this blog, back in 2004, I said:
I am not sure that I can blog ...
So this probably is not [yet?] a blog, therefore it's a NonBlog, yet I'm not joking (in French sans blague ;)
That assessment remains true! So, no second office for me, though I do hope to keep my audio annex going with posts to 5 minute Bible... but not until my paper for the God and Gender colloquium is finished!


  Women in Ministry
A conversation I had yesterday, with a woman in ministry, allows me to compensate for the title of the post which shall not be named (lower down). Since Hannah (not her real name) is not an NZ Baptist, she should be unidentifiable - sadly if she were an NZ Baptist minister she would be instantly recognisable as they are SO few in number :(

Before training as a pastor, Hannah was a leader in another profession. There, her talents, ideas and guidance were welcomed. Now she is a pastor, and in the one place where "who you are" should not matter - "in Christ" - she finds that being a woman matters more than the qualities she can offer. She finds the ministry to which God called her an uphill struggle, because of the attitudes of others.

People say that this issue, of the roles of women and men in church, will "take a generation or two" (just as slavery did). They may well be right.

However, when would you date the beginnings of a movement to allow women free and full exercise of any ministry in the church to which God calls them? Among British Baptists the issue was a live one in the early 60s. We are more than a generation on from there. From when would you date the beginnings of a movement to ensure that our image of God is not distorted through exclusive or excessive use of male imagery and language? I know it was a live issue when I began a PhD on The Image of God and Parental Images in 1977. At 30 years that makes about "a generation".

But Hannah's experience shows, like that of the (all too few) other women who have followed God's call to ministry in Evangelical contexts, that the issues are far from resolved. Our colloquium on God and Gender (at Carey in Auckland from 12-13th July) and the public evening dialogue that accompanies it still have a role to play. Most of the draft papers for the colloquium were in on time, I hope to finish my draft today... If you live near Auckland do come to Carey Baptist College at 7pm on 12th to listen and share in this dialogue on women, men, God, and the Church.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007
  Poverty and Wealth
Craig Blomberg (the NT scholar) is giving a public lecture tonight in Auckland his subject Neither Poverty nor Riches – A Biblical theology of Possessions matches the title of his book, so if you can't get to Henderson this evening you can just buy the book instead ;-)

Wednesday 4th July, 2007 at 7:30pm
Bible College of New Zealand, Auckland Campus
80 Central Park Drive, Henderson

Seriously, though I have not heard Blomberg, by his reputation and writing this should be a another good occasion, Auckland theology is blest with many fine academic visitors this year, and SBL International is here next year too!

This evening sounds like a chance to get Blomberg's own take on the highlights of his book, which has to be interesting.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007
  Chicks in Church
No, don't blame me for the title, I was not at the meeting what agreed the title!

That disclaimer out of the way, the evening intends to provide an opportunity to really get some discussion going in NZ Evangelical circles about the roles of Women and Men in church. Chris Grantham should be a lively and entertaining chair and the panel is chosen to represent a range of views. The dialogue (it is not a debate, the goal is to talk sensibly and listen respectfully) is associated with a two day colloquium of "God and Gender" that a number of us are participating in along with US visitor Craig Blomberg.

Here is a flyer, and a link to a PDF if you can send it to possibly interested parties (in or near Auckland on 12th).

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Sunday, July 01, 2007
  Bible, Babel and Web 2.0
In AKMA's post "Retrospect and Prospect" he writes:
The items of special concern to one constituency in our planning
meeting stayed fixed at the Web 1.0, or generously at the Web 1.5 level
— whereas the digital natives who will very soon be entering
seminary take Web 2.0 for granted, and some have begun messing with
more adventuresome instantiations of the digital environment. To a
student who’s active with Facebook and Flickr, who plays in
Second Life or Warcraft, who’s comfortable chatting in text,
conversing over a shared audio server (such as Ventrillo or TeamSpeak),
at the same time she’s flying to her island in Second Life, a
seminary’s installation of BlackBoard not only represents archaic
technology, it represents determined irrelevance to her way of daily
I'm not sure whether the "one constituency in our planning meeting" phrase indicates an otherwise widespread desire to engage with the opportunities and challenges of Web 2.0 and beyond, or whether it is just a scholarly caution not wishing to implicate others in what one has observed is true of a small sample. Either way, the inability to engage with Web 2.0 and beyond seems to me to be endemic in the Theological world. How many teachers at your institution (assuming you are institutionalised ;-) have a blog, even?

There is a reason (beyond old age and advanced technophobia) for this. Web 2.0 begins from letting everyone and anyone have a voice. Scholarship is a series of guilds. Guilds are communities designed to keep others out, and ensure that only the authorised, and properly respectful, may perform the holy acts and mysteries that the guild "owns".

In biblical studies this fear of letting "lay" interpreters loose on the sacred text is deeply ingrained. (See Jim's post More Wretched Dilettantism for a textbook example!) In academic institutions the stakes are different, after all "we" control the marks. Yet the fear is similar, if teaching gets tainted by Web 2.0 ideas students will decide for themselves what is worth their time and what is not. They might decide that the solid (if frankly often dull and insipid) scholarship we value is not interesting enough... No, "we" know what's right, and good, and true and we'll make sure our students are not given freedom enough to think for themselves - they might hurt themselves poor things!

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