Is Bible software making us stupid?

I’m an avid user of Bible software. I love BibleWorks. I dabble in Accordance. I use Logos. While I was writing my thesis, this software was indispensable. I’ve been wondering, however, if the use of Bible software has a price (besides dollars). One obvious cost is proficiency in the original languages. I’ve often heard Bible software referred to as a “crutch.” I must admit, I’ve allowed myself to grow too lazy with Greek and Hebrew in the last couple of years partly because of the readily available grammatical helps in the software I use. This “cost” of Bible software has been commented upon by many folks, and that’s not my point here. There is a more hidden insidious cost, I think. Guy Billout of has written a piece titled, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” I think that his concern applies to digital biblical scholarship:

… media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles.

In an age where vast commentaries of Scripture and ancient texts are readily available at our digital fingertips, I wonder if we run into the same problem. I remember writing a paper where I noticed that I was looking at snippets of an author’s thought rather than his whole argument. Now, I was not simply looking for a quote that supported my point. I was really looking for information. I was researching. I just realized how easy it was to decontextualize the information. It was easy enough for me to do this skimming a paper book. I believe it is all the more easy to decontextualize an author’s thoughts while we’re browsing search results on a screen. Billout quotes Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.

We are not only what we read. . . . We are how we read.

I wonder if our method of doing computer based research of biblical texts actually shapes the thought that we put into it. It seems that this is an area where the hermeneutics gurus could lend a hand. I seem to remember Vanhoozer speaking of “a hermeneutics of love.” Incidentally, I Googled this phrase and found indeed that Vanhoozer has written of this – as has N. T. Wright. This hermeneutic respects the “otherness” of the text and the author and seeks to understand them on their own terms without imposing our own desired meaning. It would seem that this course needs to be taken by researchers – especially those who are using “search results”.

I would certainly not want to throw out the Bible software baby with the bathwater. We need not wipe our hard drives. Still, it would seem that we should acknowledge the way media steers our train of thought. We should discipline ourselves to “love” the text enough to actually spend time with it and read to understand rather than to mine disconnected data.

I wonder, as a librarian – one who is supposed to help others gather evaluate and use information effectively – how can I help teach this “hermeneutics of love”? How can I model it? As an academic do I practice it? I wonder if anyone has tried to apply this kind of hermeneutic to “information science” in general? How does one discipline one’s self to practice charity when reading texts using Bible software?

The Epistle of James at Boston SBL

Michael Bird at Euangelion notes that a draft of the Boston SBL program has been posted. Here’s my own “bird’s eye view” of papers presented on the Epistle of James, or the “historical James”:

  • A New Fragment of James from Oxyrhynchus / Michael Theophilos, University of Oxford

    It is not insignificant that 42% of published New Testament papyri are from Oxyrhynchus, Egypt. Furthermore, of the fifty-eight NT papyri dated to the first half of the fourth century or earlier, Oxyrhynchus contributes to nearly 60% of the material, i.e. thirty four fragmentary papyri. Given Oxyrhynchus’ prominence, prosperity and significant Christian influence this is somewhat understandable, even if it is equally as baffling as to why so much literature, both biblical and otherwise was ‘thrown out’ en masse, only to be found centuries later by two Oxford graduates, B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt of Queen’s College. The primary research that will be undertaken in this study concerns an assessment of a previously unknown New Testament papyrus fragment of the epistle of James from Oxyrhynchus (inventory number 51 4B.18/c [1-4]b). The significance of this study is to offer original and focused research into the history of the textual tradition of the New Testament. Discussion of the fragment will be divided into three sections. Firstly, an extended introduction which will note, among other things, the paleographic points of interest – roll/codex, recto/verso, date, lines/width/height of columns, estimated length of roll and significant reading marks (accents, breathings, quantity marks, punctuation). Secondly, an edited Greek text, both diplomatic and transcriptional (with a short description of how multi-spectral imaging aided in this process, and finally, a section devoted to issues which require further treatment, including exegetical comment, notable paleographic details and collation with other extant manuscripts. Images of the papyri will be included in the presentation.

  • Ill-Skilled Postmen and the Addressees of James: The Socio-rhetorical Function of the Prescript of James / Erin Vearncombe, University of Toronto

    The prescript of James serves an important socio-rhetorical function which provides the key to understanding the purpose of the paraenetic letter as a whole, establishing a guide for exegesis. James 1:1 is the only epistolary element in the document, yet the identification of the (fictive) sender James and the (fictive) audience of the twelve tribes is essential to the interpretation of the text. The address of James “to the twelve tribes in the Diaspora,” along with the pseudepigraphical identification of the author, functions to signal the rhetorical strategy of the letter, acting as a guide for the interpretation of the social world which is constructed in the document. A discussion of previous approaches to the prescript and epistolary status of James, including the characterization of James as a Judean Diaspora letter, an analysis of the pseudepigraphical character of James and the construction of ethos in the letter and a comparison of the text to other Greco-Roman paraenetic letters in terms of the primary importance of status association and negotiation in paraenesis will help to shed light on this socio-rhetorical functioning of the prescript.

  • Jesus and James on Justice in the Courts: A Reconsideration of the Ward/Allison Proposal / Christopher N. Chandler, University of St. Andrews-Scotland

    When interpreters of James come to the discussion about the seating of the rich and the poor in 2:1-13, they are faced with two interpretive options. The majority of recent interpreters, based upon parallel passages in later church orders, opt to understand this to be about seating arrangements in an early Christian worship service. A minority position, which is often noted but rarely taken seriously, is that 2:1-13 depicts an ancient judicial setting between two litigants. This latter position was argued for by R. B. Ward in his 1966 dissertation and a subsequent article in 1969. D. C. Allison demonstrated convincingly in 2000 that Ward’s position, far from being new, was a viable interpretive option among a majority of scholars prior to the 20th century. This paper seeks to build upon the ‘Ward/Allison’ thesis that 2:1-13 depicts an ancient litigious scene in two ways: 1) by demonstrating a significant but rarely noticed parallel between James 2:1-13 and Matthew 7:1-5, and 2) by uncovering the exegetical underpinnings of both of these passages in their halakhic, midrashic engagement with Lev 19:15-18—a section of laws governing just legal judging. Some of the theological implications such an interpretive shift of 2:1-13 might have upon the discussion of faith and works in James 2:14-26 may also be explored.

  • “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself” (Leviticus 19:18b) in Early Jewish-Christian Exegetical Practice and Ethical Formulation / Christopher N. Chandler, University of St. Andrews-Scotland

    The exhortation to “love your neighbour as yourself” from Leviticus 19:18b is a central maxim of Jesus and the early Christian movement. Yet the meaning of this expression attributed to Jesus and the NT authors is often taken for granted as a universalizing principle. The central ethic of the Jesus movement, ‘love,’ is therefore either understood as a kind/gentle attitude or is left rather undefined and vague. This discussion needs more nuance. Drawing upon Jewish exegetical traditions surrounding Leviticus 19:15-18, I shall suggest that both Jesus and his brother James understand Leviticus 19:18b not merely as a summary of the entire Torah, but firstly as a summary of the laws governing just legal judging in Leviticus 19:15-18a. Although Paul and Luke, engaged as they are in the Gentile mission, apply with rigour this principle of ‘love’ in a much broader universalizing manner in order to promote inclusiveness among Jewish/Gentile relations, this interpretation of the love commandment should not necessarily be assumed to be the sole view or use of Lev 19:18b in every case in the NT. The conclusion argued for in this paper, therefore, is that “love your neighbour as yourself” was not only viewed by early Jewish Christians as an ethical principle of universalizing peaceful relations between ethnicities, but was also seen to have ethical implications to do justice to one’s neighbour in the judicial system as well.

  • The Speech of Stephen; the Death of James / Shelly Matthews, Furman University

    This paper will consider the martyrdom of Stephen alongside related traditions concerning the death of James to underscore how both traditions grasp for ways to assert the split of Jesus believers, or Christians, from “The Jews.” As part of this analysis, the speech of Stephen will be set alongside the historiographical speech preserved in the Pseudo-Clementine recognitions 1.27-71, so that the relative hostility of each text toward unbelieving Jews might be better assessed.

  • There will be a joint session of the Letters of James, Peter, and Jude and Philo of Alexandria sections on The Formation of the Soul in Hellenistic Judaism and James. The meeting will be chaired by Stanley Stowers (Brown University) and will include the following papers:
    • “Living in the Soul Alone”: Philo of Alexandria on Soul Formation / Hindy Najman, University of Toronto

      This paper is interested in the way Philo depicts the natural course of the life of the sage as he eventually becomes soul or mind alone. Additionally, the paper considers how natural law and mosaic can serve to guide the soul on its journey to its telos.

    • Philo of Alexandria on the Contemplative and the Active Lives / Gretchen Reydams-Schils, University of Notre Dame

      Philo uses the phrase ‘unsociable community’ to criticize misguided forms of sociability. In the Roman era and so-called Middle-Platonism, under the influence of Stoicism, the boundary between the theoretical and the practical life becomes blurred (even more so than in the Stoicism of the Hellenistic era). This paper will examine the relationship between these two types of life in Philo’s work, taking also into account the relation between an individual and community, and the differences among different kind of communities.

    • Stoic Psychagogy and the Letter of James / John S. Kloppenborg, University of Toronto

      Interpreters have occasionally noted the coincidence between James’ vocabulary and technical terms of Stoicism, usually dismissing them as coincidental. This paper argues that in significant ways, James shares with Stoicism notions of care of the soul, control of the epithymiai, and the role of rational persuasion in the guidance of the soul.

    • Self-Mastery, Apatheia, Metriopatheia, and Moral Theory in the Epistle of James / Luiz Felipe Ribeiro, University of Toronto

      The reading of the Stoics’ influence on James received little support and only very recently got a comprehensive treatment in Matt A. Jackson-McCabe’s “Logos and Law in the Letter of James: the Law of Nature, the Law of Moses and the Law of Freedom. Before Logos and Law in the Letter of James, Jackson-McCabe contends, two lonely treatments of the Epistle allowed for a straight connection between James and Stoic Philosophy. Arnold Meyer in 1930, and M.-E. Boismard in 1957, independently argued that implanted logon (Jas 1,21) and the Perfect Law of Freedom (Jas 1,25) were drawn by the author of the Epistle from a Greek environment, particularly from Stoicism. According to Jackson-McCabe, James’ use of Implanted Logos derived from the early Stoa understanding of Émphutoi Prolepseis (Implanted Preconceptions). This paper proposes to add to Jackson-McCabe’s thesis of Stoic influences in James’ psychology and moral theory. It argues that the pseudonym Yakob might be read in light of the Jewish Hellenistic reception of Stoicism of the idea of the Stoic sage who achieves apatheia, or of the sage who is striving to control his passions through moderation (metriopatheia). This conflation of the Jewish Patriarch and Stoic sage can be seen in the figure of Joseph in the Testaments of the XII Patriarchs and in Abraham, Isaac and Yakob in Philo of Alexandria. The Epistle of James is seen deriving its own ideas about the sage from the Jewish Hellenistic reception of Stoicism and the tradition of the haploûs sophos, the single-minded sage, the man who is the embodiment of simplicity, showing no sign of duplicity, listening and practicing the Logos (Jas 1, 33-35).

  • The Jewish Christianity / Christian Judaism sessions may be of interest as well:
    • How “Jewish” Is the Protevangelium of James? Mary, the Temple, and Ritual Purity / Lily Vuong, McMaster University
    • Characterization of Women in the Pseudo-Clementine Literature / Päivi Vähäkangas, University of Helsinki
    • Jews and/or “Judaizers” in the Epistle of Barnabas: Internal Threat, External Rival, or Ideological Construct? / James N. Rhodes, Saint Michael’s College
    • Mandaean Polemic against Jews and Christians as Evidence about the Origins and Setting of Early Mandaism / James F. McGrath, Butler University