Saturday, February 28, 2009
  Burmese food and culture evening

If you are in Auckland on 15th March, some Burmese groups are holding another Love Burma fundraising Dinner. The last one was very enjoyable. For just $30 you get loads loads of delicious Burmese and ethnic foods. There will be a short report from Dr Aung Mang of MEGST on cyclone relief and Christian witness, as well as a cultural display with ethnic dancing. A fun and informative evening out.

5pm-8pm at Laidlaw College (ex-BCNZ) just $30 which covers the donation as well as your food. The details are here do tell your friends, or why not make up a party!

Friday, February 27, 2009
  What should a Bible Translation look like?
Page from La Traduction Oecumenique de la Bible
First was David's mild-mannered complaint about the "Section Headings" that translators, or their publishers, add on to the Bible text, sometimes misinterpreting the meaning; then my response and Henry Neufeld's post basically agreed, but perhaps expressed more stronhgly revulsion for section headings as possibly misleading additions to the text of Scripture (some of the comments to David's post were in the same tone). For a more thorough and balanced account of this iniquitously arrogant practice see David's second post Dissection Headings and especially the comments there.

Then Wayne asked about translation gaps meaning places where a straightforward (rather than lengthily explanatory) translation leaves a naive reader lost to much of the meaning. He gives as example Romans 11:16:

Here is how the passage reads in the TEV (Good News Translation) which our children grew up on:

If the first piece of bread is given to God, then the whole loaf is his also; and if the roots of a tree are offered to God, the branches are his also.

The TEV is one of the most idiomatic translations ever produced in English. Its English is natural. Yet someone without background knowledge of Jewish religious customs would not understand Rom. 11:16 in the TEV or any other translation, for that matter. And we really can’t make an encyclopedia out of our translations, filling in all such large translation gaps.

In the comments there I suggested that this was where a good (simple) set of cross references that points to possible allusions to other passages of the canon, or references to practices etc. was an essential part of a good Bible translation.

So... all this got me wondering, what should be included in a good simple Bible translation for beginners, and what is unwarranted tinkering with the sacred words of Scripture?

Here is my first attempt to think through the question:

Organising the Text
Section headings were added so as to break up the text, make the Bible seem more like other books, and make it easier for users to find things - though as David points out headings in the header at the top of the page would achieve this.

Paragraphing (rather than the older practice of printing each verse as a separate paragraph) was also begun to make the Bible "look like" other books none of which (except poetry which is broken into lines) are printed as a series of consecutive "verses".

What makes paragraphs acceptable and headings anathema?

Firstly, almost all "normal" books in our culture have the prose printed in paragraphs, but section headings are optional. Second, although bad paragraphing misleads a reader, it misleads them much less than a badly placed or worded section heading. (That's why I am glad to see the layout of many modern Bibles indicate when the old [but not "biblical"] chapter breaks fall in the "wrong" place.) So, paragraphs do more good and less harm. Indeed they are part of the translation process for printed books in our culture are not merely worded in English, they have paragraphs for prose and lines for poetry. Thus in translating ancient Hebrew or Greek into modern English this adaptation of form is legitimate.

Chapters and verses are a similar case. They too are added to the Bible and NOT part of the text. Yet, they are very convenient, how else - if we wanted to check the cotext - would we know which precise part of Romans Wayne meant (above) unless we knew the whole book nearly by heart? But, since they are additions added to the text, make the indications small and as unobtrusive as is convenient.

Notes are potentially very useful and informative. Textual and translational issues can be signalled by the translators, so that a reader can understand that a choice has been made, and perhaps even the sorts of reasoning that prompted the choice.

Cross References can suggest passages with similar wording, or that treat a similar topic or theme, or which might serve as background to the passage to which they are appended. These are extremely useful, and even (see above) can be considered part of the translation process, if the readership is deemed to include users who are new to the biblical world. Such references can become dangerous, especially when they are combined with words that suggest their meaning (rather than simply the Bible references). So, that is a practice to be avoided ;)

Explanatory information is added by the publisher (since this sort of note is often not composed by the translation team - though perhaps they should be, see my comment on Wayne's post) may add notes explaining customs, historical details or other information that helps a reader understand the what text might have been intended to mean. This sort of note is potentially more "dangerous" as they might be used (and often are in "Study Bibles") to push a particular line of interpretation, but they are very useful especially for beginning readers.

What would you add? Where do you think I have gone wrong? The aim is a translation that:
  • is faithful to the biblical text
  • is useful to a contemporary English-speaking (or other modern language) reader
  • avoids unnecessary additions and interpretations of the text.
Note that you might like to consider (as I have done above) a beginner in reading the Bible as well as a biblically literate reader.

It is probably no accident that the Bible I describe above is very like the French La Traduction Oecumenique de la Bible except that my copy has the iniquitous headings added :( but its cross reference apparatus is brilliant, and every Bible publisher should try to licence it and copy it as soon as possible ;)

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  Theological Interpretation
Anthony with HT to Philip Davies posted a nice clip from nijay gupta enjoy:

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009
  Defending God
Humans have a strange need to defend God. Somehow deep-wired into us is a desire to protect God from God's own actions. (At least the central poetic section of) the book of Job argues forcefully that this desire is wrong, humans cannot make God just because we lack the necessary inforation to understand. Indeed the very desire is impious! (As the formulaton above "make God just" makes clear by its phrasing - this desire is blasphemy, setting self over God.)

Claude is running a series about one of the ways many Evangelicals are tempted to commit this impiety, saving the Bible from itself. The reasoning seems to go:
  • the Bible is God's word
  • therefore it can contain no error
  • my Bible seems to say that Joshua wrote the book that follows Deuteronomy or that Amos wrote the book that has his name on it
  • but scholarship shows that these people are very unlikely to have written these books
  • therefore scholars are wrong and not proper Bible-believing Evangelicals 
The result is a whole industry that seeks to protect the Bible (and the God to whom it belongs) from itself. Great Bible readers of the past were more careful in their reading of the Bible, and less inclined to believe that they knew better than God! On the date of Joshua (one regular candidate for such "defense") Calvin wrote:
As to the Author of this Book, it is better to suspend our judgment than to make random assertions.

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Friday, February 20, 2009
  Adding to Scripture
David Kerr has a good post "Those nefarious section titles in your Bible" in which he discusses the section headings that one finds in most printed Bibles today.

Headings are added to the Bible by translators, they are then printed in such a way that they look and feel like part of the biblical text. They are not and never have been part of the Bible text. (Except the mysterious and often incomprehensible headings to Psalms, those these same Bible publishers often put in small print - they are merely part of the Bible text and not therefore as "important" as the clever ideas of the inspired translation team. Warning: the previous sentence may contain irony and sarcasm.)

Section headings are therefore systematic and institutionalised lies, that are presented as Scripture. (Chapter and verse divisions are too, but they are at least a convenient way of identifying the passage one is talking about.) This practice is a travesty and institutions like Bible Societies ought to have more respect for Scripture than to amend it in this way.

Please note as David's examples suggest these "titles" are not neutral, they often direct us as readers to understand the text in a particular way. While those directions may often be good, they are never scriptural.

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Monday, February 16, 2009
  Biblical narrative: trying out Prezi
Prezi seemed a brilliant real alternative to Powerpoint. By real alternative I mean, not software from an alternative supplier that does much the same as Powerpoint but perhaps with more subtle transitions and animations, but software that reenvisages a presentation as something more than a collection of slides.

It is!

Prezi lets me create something like a mindmap, and then share it with others, or use it to illustrate my talk. Click on the image below to explore my Prezi on biblical narrative it's my first try, it has no pictures, but already I can see this is a new and often better way to present ideas than the old slideshow was. An audience can zoom in and out (just click on something to zoom in there, click on the magnifying glass icon to zoom in, or the full screen icon to see the whole "page") or step forward or back through the presentation with the arrows.


Stephen asks (in the comments below) for a standalone file to run the presentation on a PC (without the need for an Internet connection) here it is. It is nearly a 10MB download as it includes the files for Prezi as well as the data for the presentation. Apparently it works on Windows and Mac (but not yet on Linux) so pretty portable!

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Thursday, February 12, 2009
  Holding cell
For members of Burma's ethnic minorities who flee over the borders life can be quite good if they can integrate into a village of their own people in the new country. Wven as "illegal immigrants" with no rights and a fear of the authorities they have a place to sleep, work and food. If they integrate into a refugee camp life is more restricted still, but more secure, since an NGO and the UNHCR seek to protect your "rights". If however you are "caught" by the authorities, or a vigilante group, in the new country, then things get tough. This account arrived today from a friend of ours:
The holding cell is seriously overcrowded with standing room only. My brother must even try to sleep standing up as there is no place for him to lie down! He was covered in 'jail rash' from all the lice, ticks, bed bugs and mosquitos that are continually biting him. He was still wearing the same set of clothes he was arrested in 3 months ago! I asked him if he had had anything to eat and he said "no". He has lost a lot of weight and is looking very thin. Despite all this, my brother seemed content and told me that he was trusting in God. Please pray that the UNHCR will use their influence to try to help him and that Immigration will move him out of this horrible and inhumane place.
Please pray!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009
  Biblical Narrative: A One Paragraph Summary
I'm teaching "Biblical Narrative" this semester, David Hymes has just published three posts of full and well documented introduction to biblical narratology:
I have no desire to compete, and no intention of offering a corrective, but we are asking writers of Bible Dictionary articles (By the way have YOU offered an article for this free online dictionary project?) to provide a one paragraph summary of their entry. So I wondered, how would my paragraph read?

This is a false task because I have not written a dictionary article, but prepared a course, but still... What are the most important things to say about Biblical Narrative if one only had a few sentences?

Biblical Narrative in one paragraph:
Prose Narrative is the most widespread genre in the Bible, with examples in both Hebrew Bible - comprising most of Gen-Kings, plus other "historical" books and several shorter more focused stories like Ruth, Jonah and Esther as well as episodes elsewhere - and New Testament mainly in the Gospels and Acts. Events are recounted very much as if "seen by an observer", with minimal interpretation or interpretative clues offered by the writers, there is also minimal description, so these accounts are "fraught with background"1 meaning hearers/readers have to interpret meaning for themselves (as we do in real life). Working within such a framework, hinting much while saying little, encourages hearers to engage with these narratives rather than just enjoy them.

That's my first draft, what would you write?

1. This is Auerbach's phrase (Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. 50th ed. Princeton University Press, 2003, 18.) RETURN

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Thursday, February 05, 2009
  Prezi: Powerpoint killer
Prezi looks like it could (at last ;) be a Powerpoint killer or at least real alternative. Open Office offers Powerpoint-like presentations for free, but Prezi (to judge from their demo) offers ways to make different more intuitive and visually interesting presentations. It is based round the metaphor of doodling on a tablecloth to explain something to friends. This could be a MUCH bigger breakthrough in presentations for teaching than it sounds. It could be enough to get me actually using the projector for more than photos and videos!

Being in Flash it is all done with vectors, so you can swoop in very very close to the detail that's invisible on this screenshot, can include pictures and stuff as well as shapes and words... great for explaining ideas and their relationship in ways that let your students pan out to see the "big picture" and fit things in context.

But it is in private beta and I don't have a login :( If anyone knows how to get inside the magic castle please let me know - they say they will only let the filthy rich and venture capitalists inside, but surely they want potential users (especially those in the top 50 bibliobloggers) to try, demonstrate and generally rave about how wonderful their tool is? Don't they? Haven't they heard of Web 2.0???

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  Kiwi Preaching
Paul (Windsor the retiring - in the sense of leaving a job soon) principal of Carey is starting his new job with a Forum to encourage thought about "Kiw-made" preaching. Here are the details, sorry it is not cut-and-pasteable text, but the graphic is what they sent (just click to see it bigger).

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  Hebrew and Greek fonts
If you are using (or used to use) "legacy fonts" to put Hebrew and/or Greek into documents your help is needed. You will know if you are using such fonts instead of Unicode when you give the document to someone else, it may look strange (or even like comic book swearing ;) to them.

Thomas is preparing a tool to covert such documents to Unicode, now standard and much more transportable! But he needs help, a large collection of documents with old Hebrew and/or Greek text that he can test the conversion tool with to make sure no characters or accents etc. are not converted properly.

If you might have such documents email me, or leave a message in the comments and I will put you and Thomas in touch...

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009
  Screencasting without an install
I'm delighted with Camtasia, it is easy to use, and gives me loads of control. Brilliant for making screencasts and online presentations. BUT, I'm a geek, I like playing with computers and tweeking settings... most of my colleagues don't :( That's where Screentoaster (HT Jane Hart again) seems ideal, it runs from your browser, no FTP uploads, just use the "embed" code to add the 'cast to a blog or course... Has anyone tried it?

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  What makes Biblical Studies anti-social?
Jane Hart's weekly list of interesting educational links mentioned Academic Earth an organization founded to give everyone on earth access to a world class education.  It has thousands of video lectures from the world's top scholars. It looks a brilliant resource. The front page includes lecture series from Princetown, MIT and Yale (OK so it is Americano-centric) cool!

The "Subjects" tab lists: Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Economics, Engineering, English, Entrepreneurship, History, Law, Mathematics, Medicine, Philosophy, Physics, Political Science, Psychology and Religion so there's something for everyone!


The only entry under "Religion" is Christine Hayes fine series Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). And we already know about those lectures... where are all the other Biblical Scholars? What makes Biblical Studies so ungenerous, so unwilling to share?

If your institution has a less "dog in the manger" attitude to teaching about the Bible than my employers do please go to the page about partnering with Academic Earth, you may earn no cash, but you might raise your reputation and assist people with fewer resources...

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