"The object of all good literature is to purge the soul of its petty troubles." ~ P.G. Wodehouse

Monday, September 23, 2013

Community, Vocation, Virtue, and Classic Education as Benefits of Religious Higher Education

Dr. Thomas Albert Howard of Gordon College in Wenham, Mass recently wrote a article for Inside Higher Ed entitled "The Promise of Religious Colleges." Howard argues that the current challenges facing higher education actually offer religious institutions of higher education "a propitious opportunity."

The positives as he states them are, first, that religious institutions are still about the personal, about the interaction between faculty and students not just in the classroom but also, and almost more importantly, outside the classroom. The discussion of things that matter and the mentoring that occurs at these institutions is something that cannot be offered in the same way or at all at larger universities.

Second, codes of conduct still exist are religious institutions and need not seem antiquated.

Third, these universities and colleges focus on vocation and calling and not career. The religious institutions challenge students to shape their lives and futures around virtues like justice and charity and not vices, greed, narcissism, and pride.

Fourth, and finally, religious institutions offer hope in the area of the liberal arts, or the classic education of the arts, humanities, and sciences. The liberal arts hold the ideal that learning is important for its own sake and not only because you can get something out of it. It is about the discussion of ideas, revisiting the great questions, and reading and interacting with the important minds of humanity.

Religious institutions must continue to strive for these ideals and hold this promise dear. Utilitarian forces seem to grow stronger everyday.

(Relatedly, see some comments on Perry Glanzer's from the March 2012 Christianity Today on similar ideas and themes.)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Visualized Bible: Cross-references Imaged

Recently the Guardian Data Blog brought together a number of data images of the Bible in a post entitled "Holy Infographics: the Bible Visualised." The above image is the first of those images. I think that the image itself is actually quite beautiful in the rainbow like arcing of color, especially when the high resolution image is viewed (find that here). The image is attributed to  

"This is about how the bible speaks to itself - or the textual cross-references within it. The bar graph that runs along the bottom represents all of the chapters in the Bible. Books alternate between white and light gray and the length of each bar denotes the number of verses in the chapter. Each of the 63,779 cross references found in the Bible is depicted by a single arc - the color corresponds to the distance between the two chapters, creating a rainbow-like effect."

This appears to be the Guardian Data Blog description given by Mona Chalabi, although it is a rewrite of Chris Harrison's description on his website

"340,000 cross-references between the Old and New Testament." These cross-references are said to be "primarily" from the following: "public-domain sources, especially the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, which provides most of the data. It also includes data from my Topical Bible and Twitter Bible Search. I created this experiment because it was hard to find Bible cross-reference data on the web. Download all the cross-reference data (2 MB .zip)." (I am unclear as to the "I" speaking here is, re: "my Topical Bible and Twitter Bible Search"). A note at the bottom of the web page indicates that all Scripture citations are coming from the ESV, but I understand that the cross-references are drawn from a larger set of information and not necessarily from the ESV.

These two images raise a number of questions. First, we have quite a discrepancy of Bible cross-references: 63,779 to 340,000. Quite a shocking difference actually. The second question, especially with such a discrepancy, is what is being classified as a "cross-reference." In biblical studies, the issue of usage of biblical texts between Old and New Testaments is the question of whether we have a citation, an allusion, an echo, or something else. And if we have a citation or allusion or echo, are the NT authors using the Hebrew or Greek version? And what Hebrew text or Greek text? Are they the texts that we have now? For example, Matthew seems to prefer the Septuagint (Greek OT) over the Hebrew, but what OT text is he referring to in Matthew 2:23, when Matthew writes: "and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene." Scholars debate what prophet and OT passage Matthew means by this. So what is it cross-referenced to? Some Bibles will indicate multiple cross-references. If Matthew intended one and the cross-references list more than one, we already have a data difference in just one NT verse.

A third issue comes down to what the cross-references listed in various sources indicate. I have spent the most time working with ESV cross-references. And these cross-references can mean multiple things. Sometimes they are indicating citations such as Psalm 8:4-6 in Hebrews 2:8; other times allusions such as the allusion to Jacob in John 1:47. And on other occasions the cross-references are merely noting similar wording between verses even though there is no contextual similarity between the texts like the phrase "covenant of salt" in Numbers 18:19 and 1 Chronicles 13:5. I would say that this latter example is not "the Bible speaking to itself" but rather similar language found within the Bible. 

A fourth issue can be found in cross-references within books of the Bible. With the ESV references in particular, when the first instance of a phrase occurs in a book, say "the Son of Man" in Mark, the cross-references listed here may list all or most of the instances of the phrase in the rest of Mark or just the next instance. Then the next may only list the cross-references to the next, thereby creating a chain of references. Each reference may only be linked to one or two others when in reality there are many more uses of similar language. This way of listing cross-references would create the sort of asymmetry between OT and NT mentioned in the description of the second image (the red and blue one) above found at OpenBible.info. In other words if similar language is all that is being referred to the OT passages may list cross-references to the NT but not the other way or vice-versa. And again, this does not mean no cross-reference exists. It just means the source one is looking at does not list a cross-reference.  

These sorts of images would actually be more helpful and worthwhile if they focused primarily on citations of the OT in the NT rather than all similarities of language and other aspects within the Bible. There is more agreed upon data to work with in citations (although the line between citation and allusion can be debated). Cross-references on the other hand are more often in the eye of the beholder or editor. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

GK Chesterton on Distraction and Multi-tasking

In his short essay "On the Prison of Jazz" published in Selected Essays (Collins, 1939), G.K. Chesterton makes some comments entirely relevant to multi-tasking and distraction. His primary topic is the inability to hold a conversation in a restaurant while there is live music, namely jazz: "But talking to people who are listening to something else which is not the talk is a sort of complex or nexus of futility." Considering he lived in a non-digital age, his comments on distraction and doing two things at once are strikingly and even more worthy of consideration.

"For, though we talk lightly of doing this or that to distract the mind, it remains really as well as verbally true that to be distracted it to be distraught. The original Latin word does not mean relaxation; it means being torn asunder as by wild horses. The original Greek word, which corresponds to it, is used in the text which says that Judas burst asunder in the midst. To think of one thing at a time is the best sort of thinking; but it is possible, in a sense, to think of two things at a time, if one of them is really subconscious and therefore really subordinate. But to deal with a second thing which by its very nature thrust itself more and more aggressively in front of the first thing is to find the very crux of psychological crucifixion. I have generally found that the refined English persons who think it idolatrous to contemplate a religious image, turn up next time full of delighted admiration of some Yogi or Esoteric Hindu who only contemplates his big toe. But at least he contemplates something, and does not have ten thousand brazen drums to encourage him to do it. He is so far a real philosopher, in spite of his philosophy. He does not try to do two incompatible things at once" (356-57).