Friday, August 05, 2005

Sansblogue on Open Source Online Biblical Studies

I had missed an interesting post in AKMA's Random Thoughts (AKMA: can't you give interesting posts like that more interesting headers than "Prior Art"?!) to which Tim Bulkeley draws attention in Sansblogue. The gist is on getting coordinated quality on-line Biblical Studies [AKMA: also Theology] materials available. Tim adds the following proposal:
So, I propose that:
(a) we begin to discuss such a proposal here in blogsphere
(b) those of us at SBL in Philadelphia try to meet - over coffee or a meal - to strengthen the network and begin identifying issues
(c) we work towards a (CARG sponsored?) day to really work things through before SBL in 2007
I'm sympathetic with the aims here, and we can start on (a) straight away. As a first step, I'd suggest that Tim (and perhaps AKMA too?) hone precisely what the goal(s) are here. So many people are already committed to the production of quality on-line resources in our area that one might argue that the kind of thing being talked about here is already well underway, and is evolving dynamically. If the essential proposal is: how can we get a big project financed (especially AKMA)?, then there is still a large part of me that just sighs. I have felt for some time that the key to the development of exciting on-line projects in our area is the voluntary efforts of people like us. The funding comes, if you like, from two places: (1) the educational institutions that employ us and which are committed to the dissemination of our scholarship not only within their walls but also outside of them, so that our salaries here are the funding, and the time we allocate is our decision about commitment to such an important goal; (2) the self-funding provided by the gifted and enthusiastic amateurs who make such a major contribution in this area by devoting their own time. But I am of course interested in seeing and hearing about different proposals. So I'd like to repeat my question that Tim or AKMA or others begin by explaining precisely what we need in the area that can only be provided by dedicated funding.


theswain said...

a) what would such a project look like?
b) how about extending the discussion to the e-lists

AKMA said...

Mark, I am encouraged to hear that you feel enough freedom and institutional support to suppose that we can make great headway without the addition of funded leaves, stipends, or equipment; not everyone has the same experience. (Will Brum be searching for someone to fill your position?) I don’t expect unanimity on this topic, but the responses I’ve encountered over the years suggest that the theological academy will prefer to lag than to leap. I’d be tickled to be proved wrong, though.

I’m happy to put heads together with Tim and you an others, but (again) we all have different enough assumptions and ideas that I’m not sure how much room for cooperation we’ll find. I hope that we can say, with the Apostle, “Much in every way!”

As for titles, I’ll note that you find this one insufficiently exciting.

Whit said...

As a priest in a rural area (and not an academic), I find the all this very exciting. It gives a novice like me incredible access to ideas and new sources of information. I fear that someday, this material may create a substatial market and move from free access to subscription. Professionals will continue to keep up out of necessity, but folks like me may slowly lose out. This may be made worse if big dollars in funding become involved. I'll enjoy it while it lasts and hope for the best. I like the freedom of the new frontier that exists right now and I appreciate everones' willingness to share.

Peter Kirby said...

One area where it seems to me that some kind of financial support is necessary is the creation of new online translations for works discovered since 1922. I have principally in mind the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library. To take an example, my "Open Scrolls Project" ( ) has not satisfied me with its progress. Some people have volunteered and some of them have produced translations, but it is very slow work. For this reason I have contacted someone in my area about doing a new translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls for pay. Unfortunately I am not wealthy enough to do this without eventual compensation in some form, so I plan to put the finished result on the "Early Jewish Writings CD" (first version to be published next month or so) and in paperback form. Depending on the translator's willingness to sign such a contract, I would like to release portions of this new translation to an open source license (free on the 'net) for every few sales of the book or CD-ROM. That way the translator gets paid and the stuff eventually finds its way online. (Stephen King once did something similar with a novel: when enough people had paid a small amount, he released the next chapter for free.)

That's one of my ideas, which has already been put in motion. Another idea involves the domain name "" that I've registered. I realized that there is no place where people can go and conglomerate their notes on the biblical text. I've heard of one person who produced a special binder with extra large margins on a KJV so that they could write notes and keep them together. Most bible software packages have the option for leaving a note on a verse. What if the bible software were web-based, and if certain comments from certain people (not a total free-for-all) were published as footnotes to the biblical text? What could happen is that a person registers and automatically gets the ability to make their own personal notes on the Bible, which only they see. They can then apply to the editor to make comments that everyone can see, with an explanation of their education, background, and intent. Once approved their comments become visible to all users, unless they are converted by the editor into simply private notes because they aren't acceptable. The web site would have the selection of over twenty Bible translations, as well as Greek and Latin, and cross-references between the Bible passages. I hope that there is interest in this and that I get more ideas for its improvement. I haven't mentioned this idea on my own blog ( ), so I will do so now.

I am about 25% done with converting Early Christian Writings into a database. It is slow work, but, I hope, worth it.

Peter Kirby

Peter Gainsford said...

Forgive me for entering this very interesting discussion very late in the day; I'm a classicist, not a theologian, and followed a link from ( to this comment, and to AKMA's and SansBlogue's blogs.

Like theswain, I'm curious to know what exactly is being envisioned here. I'm guessing it's not a project for primary texts, which would duplicate the efforts of the Oxford Text Archive; rather, secondary resources such as scholarly work (copmmentaries, articles, etc.) - along the lines of - and perhaps material designed for use in religious praxis. Am I thinking along the right lines? Or is something quite different being imagined?

For the record, I'm inclined to think that whatever the nature of the project(s) will be, funding will be an absolute necessity. Now, mostly that's for pragmatic reasons. But I'm also thinking primarily of the need for academics, in particular, to be able to demonstrate their research output: I have a sneaking suspicion that something like the British RAE, or New Zealand PBRF, is simply never going to acknowledge any non-print work as valid research unless it's part of a project that's legitimated by some funding body or other.

Peter Kirby said...

I've commented further on this here.

Wayne Leman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Wayne Leman said...

Mark, the concept of OSOBS could be extended to Open Source Bible Translating, as I have just blogged .

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