Captain’s Log. Stardate 8.01.08. Starship Enterprise. Cyberspace - the Final Frontier. A remote corner of the universe, thought by previous explorers to be virtually uninhabited, turns out to be teeming with life and energy. Biblical blogdom, as Lieutenant Commander Spock notes, contains its fair share of lower life forms. On rare occasions, the curve of his eyebrow has nevertheless suggested that intelligent forms of life may also be sighted, or at least cited, on roads less traveled by.
The biblical blogosphere now functions as a conveyor belt of top shelf information, and serves a purpose to which it is ideally suited whenever it highlights and reviews the growing number of online resources to which all future scholars will turn. It has become a place of great fun, where satire and humor raise hackles and deflate pretensions. It is an echo chamber of controversies that challenge the field of biblical studies and related disciplines, and beyond that, of synagogue and church. It is fast becoming a public record of controversies, a resource to which scholars will turn in the future when they write the history of these days. The number of excellent biblical blogs keeps on growing, as I pointed out a short while ago. Below the fold, I back up the above statements with copious examples from the past 31 days of biblical cyberspace, and, where necessary, from precedent months.
Rock Hard Rockin’ Scholarship based on Primary Sources
The nuts and bolts of the field of biblical studies consist of manuscripts, inscriptions, and other textual finds, the vast remains of the material cultures of antiquity the texts reflect, and the scholarly output which catalogues, publishes, and analyzes it all. It is only a matter of time: all the relevant data and analysis, or discussion of it, will be online, a few keystrokes away. It will be like having shelf after shelf of the best research libraries in the world in your laptop or desktop, with the contents of each and every book fully searchable, along with caches of three dimensional high-resolution images of things like house and temple plans, topography, cylinder seals, statuary, pottery, etc.
Excellent projects and reviews thereof include the following, and deserve to be highlighted and reviewed by biblical bloggers as the occasion permits:
A blog from the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in the National Library in Jerusalem: this past month, Hebrew Manuscript Findings in the Bindings in Biblioteca Estense Universitaria, Modena were announced. What a treasure trove! (I discussed an important liturgical text from elsewhere and Ezra Chwat’s relevant blog post here.)
What about Patrology and Patristic Texts online? Phil Snider started a great discussion this past month: go here and here. Eric Sowell is my hero in this field, and that of NT manuscripts. He digitizes important texts, post pdfs of manuscripts, and makes the whole field of Archaic Christianity come alive. The Albanian manuscripts are amazing.
The Online Critical Pseudepigrapha: Sean reviewed two updates a year ago, but since then there has been silence. If I ever get my act together, Ben Sira will also soon appear on this site (yes, I know, it’s not a pseudepigraphon, but who cares, so long as it is available online).
The Genizah Online Database; better still: the awesome Penn Cambridge Genizah Fragment Project (background, go here); the Princeton University Geniza Project, and the Friedberg Genizah Project: I gave an example of the immense potential of having Cairo Genizah fragments online, using a Ben Sira text as an example, here.
Never visited the Aleppo Codex website? Almost the whole extant manuscript has recently become available online. The site contains the best detailed short introduction to the particulars of the manuscript available anywhere, on or offline.
Tradition Seforim Blog is a great example of a top-notch website with acute attention paid to primary sources. This post on the opus and person of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, rest assured, is the best short introduction to the subject matter you will find anywhere, in cyberspace or on dead trees. As Dan Rabinowitz announced in June, the Seforim blog was “adopted” by Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought. The synergy is splendid.
What about the Special Treasures from The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary website? Whenever I access this site, I have to make a quick trip to the bathroom, it gets me so excited. Don’t forget HUC’s Klau Library Haggadah Exhibit, the New York Public Library’s Collection of Digital Illuminated Manuscripts; and the absolutely magnificent Prague Bible (1489), now of Yeshiva University. And then, there is the most beautiful haggadah of them all: thank you, Rachel Barenblat aka Velveteen Rabbi, for your splendid blogging.
Get this: a 17th century letter written in Hebrew from one Christian Hebraist (John Selden) to another (Joannes Stephanes Rittangel), courtesy of the amazing Mississippi Fred MacDowell. The digital image is crisp. I’ll know contemporary Christian Hebraism is on track when Rob Holmstedt, Randall Buth, and I start corresponding with each other in Ivrit.
Another pants-wetter: Codex Sinaiticus online: the best review so far is by Peter Head (go here); here is a review by a normal human being; here is my review, The Goodspeed Manuscript Collection of the University of Chicago Library is a better place to start, but most of us are just happy to see such magnificent projects underway, however iffy their first iterations may be.
Pete Bekins, Jay Crisostomo, Charles Halton, and Duane Smith, our trusty online Assyriologists, or, in the case of Duane, trusty Ugaritician who dabbles in Assyriology, hailed the arrival of CAD and CHD online in PDF form (not all volumes) months ago. Sad to say, I’ve found the online CAD edition hard to use, and I have a fast DSL connection. The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, a leader in the development of online resources for scholars of the Ancient Near East, is nonetheless to be praised once again. CAD = The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary; CHD = The Chicago Hittite Dictionary.
Sources I look at to get the scoop on new archaeological discoveries include:
(1) That one wonderful minimizer of all great discoveries which prove that every word of the Bible is true (tee-hee): Jim West (case in point: a Gedaliah seal, and don’t even try to suggest that the person in question is the biblical Gedaliah [here], now corrected by the excellent Lawrence Mykytiuk)
(2) James Davila (no introduction needed to serious students of the Bible): note the discovery of an 8th cent. BCE alphabetic inscription in Sam'alian, to be presented by Dennis Pardee at the SBL annual meeting; a post on the new Deuteronomy (?) fragment (also here; note Mike Heiser’s not unrelated thoughts, which put matters in a different light)
(3) The formidable April DeConick, whose Vision of Gabriel roundup is superb. Best comment thereto among biblical bloggers known to me: Steve Cook here, who also has a great series on UCLA’s fantastic Qumran Visualization Project.
Online resources for the study of the Bible, the Ancient Near East, and the Ancient Mediterranean: they get better all the time. It is no longer possible to do serious or not-so-serious research without recourse to them.
Did you notice that many of the blogs I linked
to do not appear on the canonical biblioblogs
list? Is this an oversight of the editors of that list (Jim West, Brandon Wason, and this
goof-off)? Apparently so. My proposal: that the list be subdivided in some
fashion based on subject matter focus, and that it include precisely that range
of blogs whose authors understand themselves to be a part of a community of
puckish learners who actively absorb the results of ongoing research in the
field of biblical literature broadly defined and cognate disciplines.
bloggers will also be committed to the ideals of (1) reasoning together about
the choices we make, whether the choices are shared or not; (2) seeing
ourselves as human beings bound to all other human beings by ties of
recognition and concern; (3) developing one's narrative imagination, that is, the
ability to imagine what it might be like to be in the shoes of a person
different than oneself, and to be an intelligent reader of that person's story.
(HT to Martha Nussbaum for the outline of a program for a truly liberal
education, see her Cultivating
Humanity, pp. 9-11, et passim).
If that is done, the list will grow considerably. Some of those already on the list might not actually belong, come to think of it, but so long as a blog is funny and is willing to humor “Bible experts,” let’s include them.
To be continued. Next installment: Controversies.