Wednesday, February 24, 2010
  The Invention of Hebrew: Chapter 2: What was the alphabet for?
Chapter two does live up to my expectations, though it challenges some of my preconceived ideas. I had accepted the conventional view that, since the alphabet is a much simpler technology of writing, it of itself promoted a "democratisation" of writing in cultures that adopted it by comparison with syllabic writing. In particular I have assumed and taught that this was so in the (Southern) Levant compared with Mesopotamia or Egypt. Now Seth asks the very good question: If alphabetic writing was so superior to sylabaries how come it was adopted so slowly between the first known examples and its widespread use?
A specimen of Proto-Sinaitic script from Wikipedia
For most of the second half of the 20th century the earliest alphabetic writing seemed to be the Proto-Siniatic inscriptions from around 1500BCE. However, since 1999 the Darnells' discovery of an earlier example of alphabetic writing at Wadi el-Hol pushes the likely date of the invention of the alphabet back to probably between 2000 and 1800BCE.

If the superior or easier technology of alphabetic writing was not the driver of its adoption, what was? "What was the alphabet for?"

Sanders suggests the new form of writing, associated as it was by its origin with those on the margins of organised society (as is the [presumed?] case for examples of Proto-Siniatic), was adopted to express a different and more inclusive vision of society. At Ugarit (Late Bronze Age) one ritual text was found in multiple locations, while all others were found only in one copy. The exception is a communal liturgy of atonement.

In Hebrew too, in the biblical texts (presumed to come from the [late?] Iron Age), one text stands out, the scapegoat ritual in Lev 16. It was retained among the traditions preserved in Scripture, despite fitting poorly with the ethos and ideology of Leviticus or of its presumed Tradents. It like the ritual at Ugarit involves "the people" as a significant actor.

Alongside this Sanders criticises the tendency among biblical scholars to focus on the state (witness all the excitement recently about some substantial walls in Jerusalem that may now be dated to the tenth century), whilst there is evidence for an alternative politics not based on the polis or state, but rather tribal, and typical of speakers of West Semitic languages. He writes eloquently of the flexibility (with membership determined not merely by birth, but also and perhaps more significantly by ritual and declaration) and durability of tribal authority when compared with a "state" and its kingship.

[An interesting, almost throwaway line, suggests a connection between the Hebrew Bible's unusual prominence of narrative prose and the somewhat lengthy and discursive political addresses found in the Mari diplomatic correspondence.]

Intriguingly, but frustratingly, chapter two does not explicitly answer its title. To discover, for sure, what Sanders believes was the purpose of the adoption of the alphabet one has to read on...

As you can see this is page-turning stuff ;) indeed this chapter alone asks biblical scholars to overturn a number of (too little examined) presuppositions. If even most of Seth's many theses are widely accepted this book will be a landmark in the discipline of Old Testament studies.

If you have read this book, and have reviewed it please post a link in the comments to your review, if you have not (but either agree or disagree with the opinions and reactions poszted here) please post a comment explaining how. I am finding this book exciting reading and one reason for posting my reactions as I read is in the hopes of reading with other interesting and interested readers!

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Friday, February 05, 2010
  The Invention of Hebrew: first and last paragraphs
Not having read the whole book, or even (yet) the beginning and ending of each chapter put me at a disadvantage in reading the "Conclusion". I am not sure whether it is a "tell 'em what you told them" or a "so here's what that all means" conclusion.

Maybe I'll have to rethink and read the first and last paragraph(s) of each chapter first - different books need to be read differently. Actually already with chapter one it is clear that I should read the first few paragraphs, down to the first section heading, as evidently these are Seth's intro to the chapter as a whole.

Actually, I'm going to revise my approach. Not just because (unusually) I am reading the whole of this book - my normal approach to reading is geared at avoiding reading more than I need ;) But because (having peeked at the beginnings and endings) the chapters look so exciting I want to read them properly before I savour the conclusion.

This is how books should be written!

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Thursday, February 04, 2010
  Brick walls and motherly God-talk
I've run into a brick wall working on my Amos land and territory material, a belated [well the oral paper was supposed to be only that, thoughts of publication followed the colloquium, and last year was so busy] literature search has thrown up a highly relevant article that could impact hugely on what I write, but the journal may not be available in NZ :( So, if anyone has access to
S. D. Snyman, "The Land as a Leitmotiv in the Book of Amos." Verbum et Ecclesia, 2005, 26(2) 527-542
and could scan and email me a copy, I'd be delighted :)

In the meanwhile I need to change mental gears and work on the Day of YHWH and the structure of Amos. To help me with the transition [at least that's my excuse] I have been doing the mindless but necessary job of converting more of Not Just a Father, my book on the use of motherly language and imagery to speak about God in the Christian tradition into the format that will allow readers to comment on, ask questions about and argue with my thinking paragraph by paragraph.

I am now doing chapter 5 "Theology of God as Both Father and Mother" though I have cheated a bit as chapter 3 is not yet written ;)

All I need now are people to make comments, so once again (now that I am back at work after the summer) if you know someone who might be interested in this topic please point them to the site and suggest that they really say what they think :)

But before you do that do please email the Thai prime Minister...

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010
  The Invention of Hebrew: First impressions
At SBL Seth told me that in exchange for a review here (and/or in a journal) his publisher would be willing to send me a copy of his new book:
Sanders, Seth L. The Invention of Hebrew. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009.

How could I refuse, the pre-publication hype and Seth's own descriptions of the book suggest that I'll either love or hate it. It seems it addresses my passionate interest in the intersection of culture and technology, especially writing and communications technologies. And it is focused on the "invention of Hebrew". My only sadness was that I had to wait till I returned home from a ten week working trip/holiday in Thailand and other interesting places. I'm home, and along with other goodies the book was waiting for me :) I'll post the review here in several parts, and I'll follow my usual procedure for reading a book (rather than for writing a traditional review, which aims to become a seamless whole) and post piecemeal as I read.

So first I looked at the most important bits (at least for getting an overall idea of a book):
The Invention of Hebrew is an attractively produced small volume (171 pages of text - no small is good, big just means more waffle like an airport block buster a waste of time, and in an academic book probably not entertaining either). The paper feels nice, though the print could be larger and sharper or I could be younger and sharper. It has a short but useful looking index and a bibliography. (Don't you hate books where you have to hunt the notes for the first mention of a work you need to consult!) Priced at $50 but the publisher (University of Illinois Press, who have a strong stable of interesting Bible related works now) it is even better value at Amazon for $40. By only complaint so far - and if you read this Seth please pass it on to the series editor - is that it follows the idiotic habit of listing the notes at the back and numbering them separately for each chapter. (This device developed in the BC period when it was hard work for poor writers and editors to keep track of all the notes and difficult for typesetters to place them at the foot of the relevant page. Computers changed all this. But graphic designers like "clean-looking pages" and actual users are not considered, once we have bought a copy publishers have no interest in our reading experience. Readers of academic texts need references, so either use the Harvard system of inline references, or use footnotes!)

The publishers blurb claims that Seth's book is groundbreaking: "absolutely innovative", "makes new knowledge", "first book to..." It also suggests that the work has an interesting thesis that Hebrew was a "self-conscious political language" promoting "a source of power previously unknown in written literature: 'the people' as the protagonist of religion and politics". Which is nicely sweeping and in a bookstore would lead me to open the work.

The preface is not at all one of the dead and dull ones that give "preface" a bad name, it is lively, quasi-autobiographical, and tells us that Seth intends to address loads of interesting questions:
The table of contents reads as if the book were a collection of unrelated essays:
  1. Modernity's Ghosts: The Bible as Political Communication
  2. What Was the Alphabet For?
  3. Empires and Alphabets in Late Bronze Age Canaan
  4. The Invention of Hebrew in Iron Age Israel
The four chapters are enclosed by an "Introduction" and a "Conclusion", but their titles do not strongly suggest their coherence and progression. Each looks interesting but they do not obviously work together. However, the sort of questions foregrounded in the "Preface" suggests that the blurb may not be exaggerating, this could be a ground breaking and interesting book. So I am hoping the "Introduction"will reveal how the chapters work.

All in all, I can hardly wait to read the "Introduction" and "Conclusion" tomorrow!

(But today I must make more progress on my chapter for The Gospel and the Land of Promise. My chapter will either be titled: "'Exile away from his land:' is landlessness the ultimate punishment in Amos?" or perhaps: "Land and earth, judgement and gospel in Amos".)

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Friday, November 06, 2009
  Effective communication 3: considers the audience
Photo by jsmjr
Different audiences, even different people in the same audience will respond to different styles, content and delivery.

Avoid words they won't understand - like jargon. Technical terms can be explained.

Kids sadly often look bored in churches (even kids much bigger than this one ;) but only when people persist in talking too long, or over their heads.

Sometimes the invisible audience is the most significant to address!

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Thursday, November 05, 2009
  Effective communication 2: Is concise
Oil Slick? by cyanocorax
Writers and speakers have to earn attention. Readers and listeners need to be rewarded. The more time we expect them to expend the greater that reward should be.

So, effective communication should be as brief as is convenient to communicate the message clearly. This rewards the audience with maximum benefit for their effort.

So, be brief!

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009
  Effective communication 1: Effective communication is clear
Photo by foilman
I subscribe to an email from Steve at Actuate Consulting, which today offered some bullet points on Effective Communication. Since communication is at the heart of most of what I do I thought I'd filter and adapt Steve's ideas into a series of short posts.

In my book the number one has to be: Effective communication is clear. If people do not understand, asking: What did she say? or What did he mean? communication has not occurred. Communication has not occurred unless a sensible message is received, no matter how much you spoke or wrote.

The best aid to clarity is a picky proof-reader. How I wish my students had spouses or friends with the courage to say: I could not follow this bit? What did you mean here? How I wish more biblical scholars and preachers would learn that to say something simply and clearly is better than to say something that sounds profound, but fails to communicate ;)

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Saturday, July 19, 2008
  Google > Stoopid?
Most people (from whom one might expect a comment) have already posted responses to Nicholas Carr's The Atlantic article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" I wanted time to think before I wrote (remember I'm introverted ;) Many of the kneejerk responses have been along the lines of "Carr's right, and it's a disaster! Now let's move on to the next topic..." Demonstrating nicely that Carr is right, in part the phenomenon he discusses of shorter attention spans when reading, and often writing, and therefore thinking online not only exists, but afflicts most of us. Carr provides a nice example to illustrate the phenomenon:
Bruce Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine, also has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits. “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print,” he wrote earlier this year. A pathologist who has long been on the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School, Friedman elaborated on his comment in a telephone conversation with me. His thinking, he said, has taken on a “staccato” quality, reflecting the way he quickly scans short passages of text from many sources online. “I can’t read War and Peace anymore,” he admitted. “I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.”
Reading online is different from reading print, think Jakob Nielsen's studies back in the 90s which showed that online readers scan. Then bring it up to date and apply it to "academic" readers as well as the metaphorical "ordinary user":
As part of the five-year research program, the scholars examined computer logs documenting the behavior of visitors to two popular research sites, one operated by the British Library and one by a U.K. educational consortium, that provide access to journal articles, e-books, and other sources of written information. They found that people using the sites exhibited “a form of skimming activity,” hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d already visited. They typically read no more than one or two pages of an article or book before they would “bounce” out to another site. Sometimes they’d save a long article, but there’s no evidence that they ever went back and actually read it.
Factor in the fact that today we live online much more than we did then, and the result is obvious: "the Internet" is changing the way we think. Reducing our capacity to process lengthy complex writing. In short, making us stupid!

But, is different worse? The authors of the study mentioned above wrote:
It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.
Carr's argument presupposes that "reading in the traditional sense" is both traditional and good. Yet for the purposes of the "readers" assessed by the study, academics researching prior literature on a topic, reading has perhaps never been the long drawn out sequential process Carr inagines. I have been trying to teach students "How to avoid reading books" for decades. Why? Because scanning not reading works, for researching prior literature scanning beats reading! As MarkG commented "

Reading differently is not necessarily reading worse.

Carr also argues that the structures and processes of the Internet shape and control how we think, claiming:
The idea that our minds should operate as high-speed data-processing machines is not only built into the workings of the Internet, it is the network’s reigning business model as well. The faster we surf across the Web—the more links we click and pages we view—the more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements. Most of the proprietors of the commercial Internet have a financial stake in collecting the crumbs of data we leave behind as we flit from link to link—the more crumbs, the better. The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction.
In other words: reading differently is worse because we lose the capacity for sustained attention. This is like Socrates argument in Plato's Phaedrus that the new technology of alphabetic writing (to which ironically we owe our "memory" of Socrates) "will produce forgetfulness in those who have learned it. They will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written."

So Carr is in fine company. Like Socrates he is correct, memory has been eroded by writing and the capacity for sequential sustained reading is being eroded by the Internet. Also, like Socrates, he is wrong, the human capacity for living is not eroded so easily and the new mental states are not (most of us believe - since few today voluntarily give up writing and advocate burning libraries to the ground) worse ;)

Google need not make you stoopid, but it is making us think differently, and that needs serious practice and study.

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Monday, May 05, 2008
  Zotero: Adding journal articles from EBSCO
When you search for a journal article using an EBSCO database no little Zotero icon appears in the location bar, however there is an "export button". If that is not clear watch the little video!

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Saturday, May 03, 2008
  Citation Nazis get U2?
If you write, as a student or academic (and you do not yet use Zotero) this is one video you MUST watch, and if it amuses you please pass it on!

By the way, for David (when he returns from lazing on the beach!) there is a mobile version, it is just over 1/2 the size of the WMV, but I'm showing the Flash version above (so Mac users can watch it ;-) which is 3x the size of the WMV or 6 times the 3GP...

What can I say to excuse this arrant sales pitch for Zotero? Well, it is Saturday, so I'm unwinding, or possibly coming undone ;-0

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Monday, April 14, 2008
  Brevity and the Bible
In a post below Writing differently I went on at some length to extol the virtues of writing briefly. Especially online. My attention has just recently been drawn to a Wall Street Journal (you see it is not on my usual reading list) article about a new presentation of biblical texts: "High-Design Bible Draws Attention" in the article (back in February!) Andrew Losowsky describes the project called Bible Illuminated, thus: "The Swedish-language Bible marries the standard text to glossy magazine-style design."

He provides a description, but also a photo, and as we all know a picture ≈ 1Kwords:

Now, as well as not reading the WSJ, I also do not read this sort of Magazine. The mags I do read I scan, when I meet a full page of text, like this, I scan it for nuggets and then flip on - incidentally forwards, since I read mags, like Hebrew Bibles from right-to-left ;) If this Bible's intended audience read mags the way I do, they won't get quite (what I'd assume) the intended effect of
the opening of Joshua! Andrew links this to the Samuel
Pepys blog

The Bible Illuminated is an example of a range of classic texts that are attracting new audiences through modern methods of storytelling.The diary of Samuel Pepys has been turned into a blog, with daily entries corresponding to the 17th-century original, at The creator, British actor Phil Gyford, says the site gets around 35,000 unique visitors each month. "I thought I'd like to read the diaries, but the 10 volumes were a daunting prospect,"he says. Transmitting it as a blog "seemed obvious," he says.
Now, it seems to me too, "obvious" that Pepys diary would make a good blog, the form and medium "fit". But I am not convinced that either the new Swedish Bible Magazine, or the earlier Teenage Mag versions, do fit form and medium to the content and genres of the Bible. Now, Joshua is not a good text for my argument, since narrative can perhaps be effectively transposed into very different forms and still "work", but imagine one of Paul's letters... One big glossy picture, and one page of Pauline prose... Yawn! As you know I prefer the audio route... (to check it out try some of the recent Romans from PodBible).

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Friday, February 01, 2008
  Remediation, aura and technologies of (biblical) authority
On IBSWM I have also worked enough on some of my media and Bible ideas to propose a paper for the SBL Annual Meeting (to the Bible in Ancient and Modern Media session) which runs like this:

Remediation, aura and technologies of (biblical) authority

The notion that the Bible has authority has been very significant in statements of faith and constitutions of many churches and Christian movements. Yet understandings of what textual authority might mean are inevitably different when the text is expressed in different media. Concepts of textual authority that have dominated understanding of such church documents have been drawn almost exclusively from print-dominated cultures. Yet, in addition to a historical progression from oral to written, from scroll to codex (at least in Christian circles), and from manuscript to print, the biblical text has always been variously mediated. Oral and written mediations of the text existed alongside each other since the precanonical phase. The biblical manuscript tradition remediated (Bolter's term) the text in many ways, adding spaces between the words, adding commentary around the text, illumination and other "decorations".

Contemporary remediation of the Bible is even more varied and extensive. In print medium a plethora of consumer Bibles each mediates the text in distinct ways, as each also imitates earlier mediations of the authoritative text. From early renderings of the Bible in audio tape and video film, more recently digital delivery and production of such non-written media has enabled an explosion of non-written biblical "texts".

This paper examines the "technologies of authority" (the term used in different fields by Akkermans and Schwartz, Katznelson and Zolberg, Salmón Muñiz, and Tatlock) that different mediations of the biblical text utilise. It will also explore how the concept of "aura" (Benjamin) throws light of discussion of biblical authority in an electronically dominated media culture. It then attempts to generate a framework for understanding how notions of the (biblical) text as authority interact with changes of medium.

Akkermans, Peter M. M. G., and Glenn M. Schwartz. The Archaeology of Syria: From Complex Hunter-Gatherers to Early Urban. Cambridge UniversityPress, 2003.

Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. The MIT Press, 2000.

Katznelson, Ira, and Aristide R. Zolberg. Working-Class Formation: Nineteenth-Century Patterns in Western Europe And. Princeton UniversityPress, 1986.

Salmón Muñiz, Fernando. “Technologies of Authority in the Medical Classroom in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries.” Http://

Tatlock, Lynne . “Authority, Prestige, and Value: Professionalization in the Musicians' Novels of Wolfgang Caspar Printz and Johann Kuhnau .” In The Construction of Textual Authority in German Literature of the Medieval and Early Modern Periods . Edited by James F. Poag and Claire Baldwin. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2001.

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  Narrative Speed
On IBSWM I have also completed, at least in penultimate draft, a short entry on Narrative Speed, also for my online Introduction to Biblical Narrative.

On Monday we head off for Sri Lanka, so if you want to hear from me over the next couple of months please subscribe (by RSS or email) to the blog that will have writing, photos (and we hope video interviews with interesting people) relating to this travel and teaching Old Testament in South Asia including a refugee camp. (If you have a blog yourself please link to it, so that people find it before we return ;)

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Thursday, January 10, 2008
  International Bibical Studies Writing Month
As well as AKMA's fine (if negative ;) progress, Airton José da Silva offers an article he has just submitted with an English introduction.

My article has been lightly corrected and is now nearly ready to submit, so if you want to pre-read or have comments on "The image of the invisible God: (an)iconic knowing, God and gender" now is the time!

Meanwhile I have begun collecting reading for the chapter on "Jesus and the Father" for the book about the use of motherly language and imagery to speak about God, whose title might be Not Just a Father.


Sunday, January 06, 2008
  Peer pressure and "Imaging the Invisible God"
There is nothing like a little gentle peer-pressure to make a human act! I have been reminded recently of my enthusiastic welcome for the suggestion that January 2008 be the inaugural International Biblical Studies Writing Month, by AKMA in Transitions and Tasks, by Charles in My Goals for the International Biblical Studies Writing Month, and by Chris and Chris in International Biblical Studies Writing Month and in International Biblical Studies Writing Month (great Chris-es title alike ;)
so now I must start to list what I'm doing:
  • I have completed polishing my paper from the God and Gender Colloquium, it was due in December, so is only a few days overdue, and the other participants have not submitted theirs yet as far as I know, so I'll link to my draft and invite comments and criticism: The image of the invisible God: (an)iconic knowing, God
    and gender
  • I doubt it counts for the "IBSW Month" but I am finishing two sets of course notes (well one is a revision but the other is new)
  • I am planning and hope to finalise a proposal for SBL International
  • I want to finalise a book proposal for Not Just a Father

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Friday, December 07, 2007
  International Biblical Writing Month
Targuman read International Academic Writing Month: the Final Scorecard - as a result he proposes some sort of "International Biblical Writing Month" with a bunch of bibliobloggers as its core. I'm game if others sign up, I have a couple of articles that need finishing urgently! However, since it is already 7th December and Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat I suggest January 2008 as the auspicious month... Unless we declare the month to be Holidaruary which runs from 10th December - 9th January in the old currency...

PS: in view of Jim's request below, and because I am one person who certainly does not know what it is all about - but I suspect most others in the biblioblogger circus don't either (except AKMA who knows everything, or at least everything that Dr Jim West does not ;) I'll explain, at least what I understand by the proposal, and therefore what I am offering to "sign up for".

Once upon a time a bunch of people who thought they "had a novel in them" got together (virtually) and assigned the month of November to write, to proclaim on their blogs how much they had written - or confess how little - and to support and encourage each other in writing. They called the scheme MiNoRoMo or some such name (NineOhTooWonOh?), then years later a bunch of academics, who know a good thing when they see it, and who must publish or die, made up their own version with a much more serious and grand name. Few if any biblical studies writers joined in. But many among the biblioblogger circus have writing projects, theses, articles, books... and perhaps we could leverage (trendy marketing term thrown in to make this all sound respectable) the community spirit of blogging to help us actually write and finish something... We're proposing now till the end of January.

The idea is you announce on your blog what you'll be writing, and then post updates on progress, and link to other people's updates and projects. As a result (a) you are encouraged or shamed into writing and (b) you get feedback that may improve what you are writing...

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007
  Writing for screen: Time to rethink?
Two articles I read today raise questions about whether we should rethink writing for screen.

Remember how we learned, slowly and painfully, that writing for screen was different from writing for print? On screen people scan rather than read, so terse writing, bullet points and headings are all desirable. They facilitate scanning... We also learned, first that text is fluid on the web, that everyone's browser is different, and also (paradoxically) that it is really important to make sure the essential stuff gets "above the fold". "Fold" is legacy language, from the world of print newspapers, meaning visible on screen without scrolling.

First, The Interaction Designer's Coffee Break cites Milissa Tarquini "Blasting the Myth of the Fold". She presents strong evidence (from AOL) that users do scroll. Then, she discusses the design considerations that allow us to help them - basically letting them know that they are scrolling for. Actually this post though very sensible and based on good research reorganises stuff we knew and hopefully already practice.Reviving Anorexic Web Writing

Then, in "Reviving Anorexic Web Writing" (on classic web-design blog A List Apart) Whose perceptive and hilarious childhood stories you must read! Amber Simmons argues that if we write well then the scanning rules do not apply. This argument needs more thought.

For a start it is not based on research, rather on some evidence and a lot of gut feeling. Then, while it seems clear her claims are true for some web writing. Her own delightful "stories" are a good case in point, one hardly scans them, rather they are read much as one reads a novel (only they are briefer - vignettes). Evidently also many bibliobloggers finest posts are the long ones that encourage real, deep reflection on a topic.

And yet, if a site basically offers information and/or ideas may it not be better to provide them in easy to scan format? If the writing is not the point might bullet-points and brevity still be good? Even better than finely crafted sentences...

Incidentally, and ironically, the image that accompanied Amber's article somewhat undermined her point. though I am still thinking about it - so this is a partial think I think that some writing is better for finely crafted sentences (the quill pen approach) while other writing is better if it provides a targeted dose of information (the syringe)...

Update: I have adapted this post in the light of Stephen's comment below, putting the asides into boxes. Let me know what you think of this "punctuatuion"...

Incidentally, writing this post has reminded me that I need to think about my punctuation - not all the misplaced commas and missing semi-colons, which I know about, but the bigger question of how I punctuate different sorts of parenthesis. I like parentheses, my thinking is a web of very loosely organised parenthetical material. But I need/want to help the reader distinguish parentheses that introduce a new thought (unconnected) from those that explain, or somehow fill out..,. Maybe I should use () for the interruptions and - - for the explanations...

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Friday, June 29, 2007
  Starting writing right
Bob McD is a writer, he blogged The beginning of a story (from the New Testament period) and it strikes me as a near perfect beginning, polished, supple and interesting language, that hints and teases the reader into beginning to construct a world. That's how beginnings ought to be. Not all the time, for that would be boring, but often enough.

Now he has followed up that beginning with a Prologue and I am still being carried along, though I wonder what NT specialists will make of the decisions he took to create the tale - I look forward to any discussion.

Incidentally, Stephen there's another nomination for the carnival, make sure that all the NT bloggers see the series, and so we get some juicy responses.


Thursday, June 28, 2007
  Writing: making the process visible
A post on the always stimulating IFbook blog, about recording the writing process ("Poetry in Motion"), pointed me to the intriguing QuickMuse. The site is devoted to presenting poets writing poetry. Not videos of poets talking about writing poetry, but screen captures of the actual (almost physical) process of writing.

Each poet was given a stimulus, so Marge Piercy got this quote about exodus:
A people with a moral vision for themselves and humanity emerged through the birth waters of the Sea of Reeds. This vision was created out of the dark night of slavery, from being crushed in the cruel womb of Egypt. They now march toward Mt. Sinai, to meet the Divine Presence that has called them into history.
Rabbi Mordecai Finley
She writes - at least on this occasion, with a short time limit - by slapping the main ideas down fast, and then tinkering till it is "right".

IFbook also pointed to Ian Spiro's fascinating Dlog, at neat Javascript (I think) application that records what you write... So here is me writing a short fragment titled "Writing". (You need Firefox or Safari for this to work, apologies to those with sub-standard browsers ;-) for such impaired folk, and for those without the time (or too lazy) to go watch as you read here is the (final) text:
So this system will visualise the composition process, as well as any mistakes the author makes in transcribing thought to page...

I wonder how such a writing "space" might affect the process of composition. For certainly the "word processor" impacts the way we write [do I need to check the reference for that book?]...

Might putting a recording like this on a blog inhibit, or would we all - good exhibitionists that bloggers are - write rubbish at great speed, or indeed learn to think BEFORE we write - now that would be novel ;-)

I started this with no idea where it was going... and I still do not know how to title it! [I must have missed that bit in skimming the instructions!]

This whole experiment was stimulated by reading the post on the IFbook blog at
and then looking at some of the poems they link to, and then wondering, how would such a tool (if always available) impact writing - after all writing is as interesting as reading!
I've now started wondering what this process does to our reading...

... and how cool it would be if someone produced an edition of Amos that reproduced this using Wolff's redaction critical analysis to make the "edits" would one "see" the canonical shaping process at work more clearly? When I have time I must try...

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Write good? AKMA on writing with pictures ::

AKMA's post Very Good and Write rightly focuses on focus, but (to my mind at least) carries good advice too far.

First the good advice, which I'm summarise as cave canem! Beware of the (shaggy) dogs. Everyone must agree that "just putting something out there doesn’t imply that it will contribute to getting a message across". Focus on the message to be communicated is indeed vital. When crafting words, I know I should follow his advice "don’t confuse and distract your readers with pointless, vague, superfluities" more than I do. (I am addicted to digression.) Indeed these wise words from a preacher (from the start of the following footnote) might beneficially be engraved on every screen:
We should, however, assess such indulgences with a pretty rigorous criterion of whether they contribute to communicating the greater message. (I’m looking at you, preachers who include irrelevant shaggy dog stories in your sermons.)
Yet, AKMA is not primarily writing about writing, or about speaking, rather the focus of his post is the use, in writing, of images. With this focus, I find myself less agreeable to the direction of AKMA's advice:
If what you write, or if the images you use for graphical communication, do not contribute to expressing clearly and precisely the message you’re hoping to convey — then don’t confuse and distract your readers with pointless, vague, superfluities.
What he says is true, but a partial truth. And partial truth is more dangerous, or in this case more stifling than arrant fiction. Certainly, images should not be added willy nilly, nor be pointless or superfluous. And yet the tenor of the advice is to resist strenuously the visual equivalent of a digression, to focus on images whose communication coordinates closely with the words'. How much depth and richness is lost when this advice is followed!

An image which "connects" to the text, yet connects obliquely, can so often encourage the reader (and all readers need such additional courage) to create new and added meaning of their own. While narrow and tightly controlled focus seeks to constrain readers to paths prepared in advance by the authoritative author!

So, for example, in my notes on the Genesis class' session on "Abraham's children (16 & 21)" I included in the sidebar images and text of Ishmael (see below) found from a Google search on the name. What exactly a reader makes of the implied connection between these modern Ishmaels and their ancient namesake I do not know, cannot know, but I suspect that their reading is richer for the side trip.

This Ishmael was (I believe) Technical Assistant in the Journalism Dept at Technikon Pretoria
I suspect there is a personality difference here, Barbara (and some of my colleagues) like (I suspect AKMA) prefer more ordered and orderly communication. They may be infuriated by my Ishmaelite style, but others (like me) delight in such invitations to imaginative play.


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