Wednesday, September 30, 2009
  Bootleg Bibles
In the Western world we have the spiritual equivalent of the obscene EU wine lakes and sugar beet mountains, a surplus of Bibles. Any flavour (gender neutral or gender differentiated, common language or literary, Madam?) any colour (Burgundy moroccan leather, or trendy teen picture edition, Sir?) you like. It really does not matter, for only one Christian in ten actually reads the damned [swear word reluctantly intended] things!

In the majority world to match their common difficulty in finding adequate and healthy food supplies, or paying for medical care, there are Bible shortages. In Mobuto's Zaïre in the 1980s a cluster of poverty, mis-management and greed ensured that where there were not enough Bibles, basically anywhere far from Kinshasa, though there were handy sellers of bootleg Bibles. If you could pay the markup, you could be the proud owner of a personal copy. It only cost a couple of week's salary...
Photo by
You'd think that in this Century of the Fruitbat [editor's note: private joke shared only with the other reader of Terry Pratchett ;)] te Internetz would have cured at least this problem. Bible text can be transmitted to any computer screen at virtually no cost (where there is no Internet memory sticks and even old fashioned CDs can serve as vector for the viral Word). In fact with all those phones, soon the Word can reach even the barely literate as audio Bibles freely spread their divine contagion.

Apparently though if the Lusophone Bible Societies have their way instead of healthy "authorised" editions all these viral Bibles in Portuguese will be bootleg Bibles. Illegal copyright infringing pirate editions!

David has to behave himself ;) but you don't hear me laughing (see the comments here) that's tears you hear falling, for the sad, sad story of human sin and pride that holds "Bible Societies" back from actually setting the Word free :(

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Friday, September 25, 2009
  God as Mother
A few people have begun to mention my experiment in "networked publishing" (a fancy name for using sophisticated blogging software to allow readers to discuss, and potentially impact the content of, a book) Not Only a Father: Motherly God-language in the Bible and Christian Tradition those I have noticed are:
But as yet no one has begun to comment or discuss the material on the site :( I hope this weekend to add chapter three which will mean that the following material is available:
  1. Talking Pictures the introductory material
  2. Biblical Talk of the Motherly God:
    1. A Personal God without Icons
    2. Imagery in the Old and New Testaments
    3. God’s Motherly Love
Chapter 3 "Early Theology of God as Mother" which looks at motherly God-talk in the early fathers and through to the middle-ages should be online fairly soon. Other chapters will follow. But for the project to work, I really need people to read and discuss (or argue with) the work... so please do visit, and comment, or ask your friends to do so :)

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  Shame on Bible Societies
David Ker has posted an impassioned plea for the Bible Societies responsible for the commonly used Portuguese translations to be more open in their licencing of the translations they control. It seems to me he is right to call this "The sad story of downloadable Portuguese Bibles". Bible Societies ask for, and receive, donations from Christians so that they can make the Bible available. In the 21st century to refuse permission for other people (unless you are already doing it yourselves) to make digital text and audio Bibles available freely online is to turn Bible translation into a profit-making business.

David, start a petition begging these ostriches to set the word of God free, between blogs and Facebook etc. we should be able to swamp them with emails. But in case they are so steeped in tradition and fear that they still refuse, why not start an online translation project and produce an open source Portuguese Bible. Start from one of the poor quality e-texts of the old (so - I assume - out of copyright) version and adapt it keeping the text licenced under the appropriate Creative Commons licence...

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Monday, September 21, 2009
  Preserving lemons
After work today (all that marking ;) I needed some "making something" therapy. Dough for flat bread to eat with the beans in the slow cooker is rising quietly in the kitchen, and there is the joyful sight of a new jar of preserved lemons sitting quietly waiting.

Preserving lemons is real slow food. Alchemy at work as physical and chemical processes, that scientists may understand, but that most cooks seek simply to profit from, work at the lemons (and a few limes for extra zing). The process of sitting quietly in a dark place, marinating in salt and spices softening the nasty bitterness of the white pith extracting the unwanted tastes into the liquid, whilst, paradoxically at the same time transferring the intense zing of the zest to the whole. (I told you it is pure alchemy :)

In a few months time these citrus fruits will be ready for their turn in the slow cooker with chicken and olives...

If you have never preserved lemons, start tomorrow. Beg, borrow or buy some lemons (and ideally a few limes, 1 to 4 is fine). Cut them in quarters, press them down into a jar, witgh plenty of salt. Plenty might be a tablespoon depending on the size of your lemons. This is slow food, do not ask for exact recipes ;) In the jar you have probably put a cinnamon stick, some corriander seeds, a bay leaf or three, and if you must some chilli (other spices too are optional). Over the next few days (slow food remember) as the lemons sink gracefully into the brine, add more. When this process slows top up with oil, and seal the jar.

Wait a few months, hiding the jar in a dark corner so that you can be patient. In a few months, remember this is slow food ;) you can at last unite the lenons with the chicken and the olives in a dish that even lemonophobes and olive haters will enjoy and demand more of.

I'll give you the recipe soon, as even slow foodies are somewhat impatient, and waiting is half the savour ;)

[If, when you return in a few months, you find black mold on the surface it just means that the oil did not completely cover the mix, scoop it off and pretend it never happened.]

HT: This post was inspired by thre realisation that we only have 1.5 jars left from the Christmas stock, and by Rachel Barenblat the Velveteen Rabbi.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009
  Motherly God-language: an experimental publication
Julia's Jesus' image so intrigued me partly because for the last few weeks I have been exploring publishing my Not Only a Father: Motherly God-language in the Bible and Christian Tradition material. This short book is an attempt to explore the warrant in Scripture and Christian tradition for talking and picturing God as mother (as well as father). This has been a hugely divisive topic in churches, and on the whole Evangelicals have rejected such talk, largely (it seems to me because "liberals" have welcomed it ;)

Not Only a Father was written and edited with print publication in mind, but increasingly I am frustrated with the model that puts more and more books before fewer and fewer readers, unless you are skillful at tickling the public fancy and create a blockbuster.

Most print books apparently only sell a couple of hundred copies. [I read this statistic on somebody's blog recently, but did not note the source :( so if it might be you, tell me in the comments and I'll add a link!] What's the point, except for a specialist work with a tiny target audience, most blog posts get more readers than that ;) So, put the material online for free and watch the readers roll in... except my "output" gets measured by a committee who value refereed or publisher approved publication... so seek a publisher and lose the audience, but gain brownie points in the academic system :(

Enter, the successor to CommentPress (which was a fascinating project from the Institute for the Future of the Book). My bright idea is to publish Not Only a Father online free using so that the ideass can be discussed paragraph by paragraph. This form of commenting will encourage (I hope) a deeper and more reflective conversation than the usual forum perhaps even because at paragraph level deeper than for blog posts followed by comments. I will argue to the committee that this is research into new forms of publication (a research area where I have established credibility through the Hypertext Bible Commentary project and associated journal articles). Thus I hope to have my cake and eat it also :)

BUT in this bid to score points, while also allowing maximum accessibility, I need your help. If you (or you know of someone who) are interested in reading about and/or discussing this issue of motherly language for God. Please visit, or point your friend to Not Only a Father I have uploaded two chapters already: Talking Pictures an introduction to using picture language to spesak of God, and Biblical Talk of the Motherly God. Several other chapters will be added over the next weeks, and one is still being researched.

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  What's wrong with this picture?
I've been thinking about how to respond to Julia's biker Jesus, all rippling body builder muscles. Flexing his forearms to snap the bars of the cross. With the slogan: "You drew first blood. But. I'll be back." Apart from the obvious problem, that such a Jesus saves no one except himself, what's wrong with this picture?

It says no where in the Gospels that Jesus was weedy, granted neither does it say he went to the gym for hours every day, still carpentering probably meant that like my grandad he would have been muscly and even if wirey, strong. Not at all like the weedy androgynous Jesus of generations of popular Protestant iconography. You know the one with the wishy washy gentle smile and wavey blond or light chestnut hair down to his shoulders.

Actually, that's what's wrong with both pictures. They are pictures of Jesus. Not portraits of Jesus of Nazareth, but images of Jesus the son of God. Ikons in an iconoclast tradition. Orthodox Christianity, by and large, dismissed the Bible's iconoclastic streak, and happily developed a tradition of imaging God. Love them or hate them, Jesus images in the Orthodox tradition usally manage to avoid reducing Jesus to a kitch boy or girly boy next door. Protestant Christianity however reinvented iconoclasm. When this refusal to make plastic images of God breaks down, we have no tradition protecting us from this error. The result Jesus the girly-boy and Jesus the biker dude.

So... the deep question is, not so much: "What's wrong with this picture?" as in a culture that has become radically more visual, image-driven, can we retain the commandment: "You must not make for yourselves any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth..." or can we develop a stronger more theological iconographic aesthetic tradition that enables us to say firm NO to both Jesus the circus strong man and the gentle Jesus meek and mild (who features verbally in the Jesus is my boyfriend songs worship teams inflict on us, as well as visually in most Protestant religious graphics).

[I believe that Julia's image reproduces a painting by Boris Vallejo.]


Wednesday, September 16, 2009
  Citing Internet Ephemera
By its nature the Internet is an ephemeral medium, how many of the Biblioblog 500 still have the same URL as when they started (incidentally the site itself has moved so recently Google still lists the old URL alongside the new one ;) Why, even the venerable NT Gateway used to have a different URL just a few years back.

This makes scholars nervous of citing digital media. This is bad for scholarship, but good for nostalgia buffs who want to be scholars. They can go on advocating paper for preference.

Enter WebCite...
WebCite®, a member of the International Internet Preservation Consortium, is an on-demand archiving system for webreferences (cited webpages and websites, or other kinds of Internet-accessible digital objects), which can be used by authors, editors, and publishers of scholarly papers and books, to ensure that cited webmaterial will remain available to readers in the future. If cited webreferences in journal articles, books etc. are not archived, future readers may encounter a "404 File Not Found" error when clicking on a cited URL. Try it! Archive a URL here. It's free and takes only 30 seconds.
This needs to be better known, so please pass it on... HT to Suzanne McCarthy

NB: in case you think I should have referenced the Biblioblog Top 50 above I've done it here (so please don't complain ;)

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Saturday, September 05, 2009
  Digital audio and 'reading' the Bible
This morning I did my talk at the Digital Faith session at the University of Auckland, I've prepared short summaries of the two sections of my talk. The first is the introduction, which sets the scene, and introduces the PodBible project:

The second is a summary of the ideas behind the vernacular resourcing through approximate oral translation (that I have presented before here - but cannot resist

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009
  Biblical Studies, carnival or theme park?
This month's fun was collected at The Goldern Rule, as usual there is too much to read, and too little time to read it, but you are sure to find at least something that will justify the time spent ;)

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  Nomination for Principal
Yesterday news was passed round Carey staff and students that Charles Hewlett is being nominated by the search committee to the Baptist Assembly as the new principal of Carey Baptist College. Today the news has been sent round the churches. I imagine that everyone who knows Charles is delighted by the choice :) If you do not know Charles you can watch this video of a sermon of his:

If you want to show it to a group, why not buy the DVD? It is from a series of homegroup resources on the sermon on the mount.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009
  Facticity or important issues?
Jim West in response to my previous post accuses me of "grossly inappropriate" behaviour:
First, ‘minimalists’ aren’t extremists. Second, they don’t view the bible as ‘information’. ‘Information’ carries with it the notion of facticity.
Ah, tales of misunderstanding and exaggeration! Mea culpa. My statement, that Jim objects to, was an exaggeration, and was unfair to many on both "ends" of the imaginary and unreal (but nevertheless useful) spectrum. The extremists do not wish to discuss facts, I accept that ;)

However, from where I sit, the débat des sourds between fundies and minimalists often seems to descend into mere wrangling over questions of factuality. Some members of the debating teams involved are oblivious to this descent because they wish to embrace the ideologies expressed in biblical texts unquestioningly, and seem to believe that affirming the facticity of the text supports this view. Members and supporters of the other side, may regret this “slippage” because their “real” intention is to unmask the hidden agendas and ideologies of these same texts. But energy is expended on debate about history and ideology. Personally, I regret this frittering.

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  Hard Times for Bible Readers
Julia M. O'Brien has another thoughful and provoking post, on Reading Novels, Reading the Bible. In it she notices a phenomenon that has long interested me. Extremists about the Bible, both fundamentalists and minimalists (with apologies to Jim W who does not fit this label in this context), make the same mistake, both reduce the Bible to information.1 In doing so they are thoroughly modern.

Modernity worships factuality. It reduces life to facts. Mystery and wonder are relegated to "entertainment". Moderns know "the price of everything and the value of nothing" (as Oscar Wilde2 said).

No wonder, then if the Bible is important it must be full of facts, or if it must be dethroned then it must be full of errors! This is the student's approach to the Bible, examine, test and discuss it's facticity. How different the reader! Julia quotes James Joyce3:
[in reading novels,]  we walk through ourselves meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love.  But always meeting ourselves. 
Readers of the Bible "walk through themselves" and in doing so not only meet themselves, but also meet God. What we need is more readers and less students of the Bible. For all students meet is information. But there's the paradox, our profession produces Bible students smilies/sad.gif

Dare we, dare I, adapt the way we teach so that we may be less good at developing biblical scholars, but better at producing Bible readers?

This post is an expansion of a comment I left on Julia's blog.

1. In "Le texte biblique et le contexte africain" Revue Zaïroise Théologie Protestante II, 1988, 11-17, I argued that "conservative and "liberal" approaches to the Bible "la trahissent au nom de l'histoire" [betray the Bible in the name of history].
2. Wilde, Oscar, and Joseph Bristow. The picture of Dorian Gray. Oxford University Press, 2006, 42.  (Bristow notes that Wilde adapted this pithy saying in Lady Windemere's Fan two years later, so he was perhaps as fond of it as later generations have been ;)
3. James Joyce, Ulysses. The Modern Library Edition.  New York:  Random House, 1934, p. 210

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