Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Iconic Books Blog

One of the highlights of the recent American Academy of Religion conference I attended was getting introduced to Jim Watts of Syracuse University. He, along with Dori Parmenter, are the motive forces behind the Iconic Books project:
Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. For more about iconic books, see the link to the Iconic Books Project.
As soon as Jim and I started talking, it was clear we had been approaching the same field of study from differing but complementary trajectories. His project is an exploration of how the books we encounter become themselves objects of veneration and sites of worship. Hence the study of Iconic Books explores the sociological construction of these sites of veneration - that is to say, it looks at how the book exerts power and influence by its physical presence (as opposed to what is often thought to be the proper site of a book's power: "what it says" or "what it means"). I think this emphasis opens up fascinating possibilities for analysis, especially as we move into these questions of the "resurgence of the religious" in public life.

Material Scripture's complementary trajectory attempts to explore Althusser's claim that "ideology has a material existence." Where Watts's project looks at the physical object being transformed sociologially into an ideological signifier, Material Scripture looks closely at how theologies (as ideologies) are transformed into the layered materiality of "book-ness."

In both cases the question of materiality is paramount, but the methodologies are distinct enough to be generative of some deep conversations in the years to come. I am very thankful to my friends Tim Beal (who himself has a new book on the material study of the Bible coming out) and Wilson Dickinson for making sure Jim and I got the chance to meet.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Review of Chuck Zerby's The Devil's Details: A History of Footnotes

The footnote, like any other significant invention, begins as an idea in someone's swirling gray matter, then seeks a way through human distractions, daydreams, fantasies, arguments and conflicts, and then gets itself transformed into a "thing" [p. 37].

Chuck Zerby's little book, The Devil's Details: A History of Footnotes, is a book I keep feeling I should have liked more than I actually did.

In the first place, the book is chock full of good and useful information, and not an inconsiderable amount of history and insight. Of particular interest to someone of my odd ilk, Zerby effectively highlights the very deep entwinement the development of the footnote has with the history of the printed Bible itself.

In fact, Zerby makes the claim, based on the available textual evidence, that the first recorded footnote, properly speaking, was placed by one Richard Jugge, in charge of the Bishop's Bible somewhere around 1568 [pp. 19 - 24]. This is of especial interest because, as Zerby intimates, the footnote has never - not from its very beginnings - been a neutral or innocuous addition to a text. Footnotes are always personal, persuasive, and polemical, much to Zerby's delight.

Perhaps it is this delight that I found offputting. Zerby's research is at many points an excuse for some rather precious phrasing and overly-narrated historical asides. E.g., "These details of Crabbe's life, and the ones that follow, have been lifted (as in shoplifted, perhaps) from a consistently amusing thumbnail sketch of him by Michael Schmidt" [p. 122, n. 9]. Zerby does not simply purloin others' bon mots, however. He feels at liberty to develop his own imaginative back-stories to the literary figures he recounts, not always to the credit of the furtherance of the overall argument.

Zerby's research, it should be noted, relies heavily on another volume, oft-quoted on the bottoms of the pages of Devil's Details. This other volume, Anthony Grafton's The Footnote: A Curious History, functions as a sort of foil to Zerby's text, in that Zerby relies on it repeatedly for information, all the while disagreeing with Grafton's conclusions and methodological assumptions. He admits as much when he avers, "I have borrowed a great number of [Grafton's] facts and his antidotes [sic]; our interpretations of them differ dramatically" [p. 90 n. 2].

The reason for this complex relationship to Grafton's text eventually becomes clear. The question that drives Zerby, at the end of the day, is this: should a footnote be informative or performative? Grafton holds to the former; Zerby clearly opts for the latter. That is to say, for Zerby, the dramatic possibilities of the footnote eclipse its mere discursive possibilities, and he has choice words (nay, paragraphs - even unto whole chapters) for those who would think otherwise.

Thus Zerby's book itself employs and deploys footnotes not only to the end of logging sources, but for the evocation of effect and drama. There are points when this affectation works rather well (and I am still poststructuralist enough in my interests to enjoy a good performative aside every now and then). The difficulty arises when, enraptured with his own joyous prose, Zerby loses sight of restraint and, eventually, the reader. For such a short book, it was, at points, a very tiring exercise when these flights erupted.

That does not mean this is not a book worth laboring through. While I found Zerby's style more off-putting in the early pages, by the time I got to the last third of the book, I had settled into a truce with it, and found the book both informative and entertaining. If I were to compare the book to a movie, I would say its marketers and director were unsure whether it should be a documentary or a romantic comedy. Trying to be both, it ends up falling short of either.

For that shortcoming, however, there are still jewels here. The Devil's Details manages to be a useful history of the footnote, despite itself.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Typography of the Tetragrammaton through the centuries

Kendall Soulen, at Wesley Seminary, recently sent me the following question:

I'm working on a book on the name of the Trinity that touches on how scribes and printers have handled divine names in sacred texts. There's been a fair bit written on nomina sacra recently, but I haven't seen much on handling e.g. the Tetragram in modern european vernacular translations. Can you direct me to a source that traces the history of using capital type for LORD (HERR etc.) in recent centuries? Specifically, I'm wondering whether Luther introduced the practice, or whether it was already current before him. I would be grateful for any help.

I've been doing a little digging, but I haven't been able to find much information on this practice. If anyone out there reading this can point out some good resources on this question, please leave a comment below. Many thanks.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Let the reader understand" - Red Letter Edition

The origin of "red-letter edition" Bibles - Bibles that print the words of Christ in red ink - reportedly center on an edition conceived and printed by a man named Louis Klopsch right at the dawn of the 20th century. Inspired by Luke 22:20 ("This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you" [NAB]), Klopsch produced both a New Testament (1899) and a full Bible (1901) that used red ink for the words directly attributed to Jesus, as well as those words in the Old Testament quoted by him in the New.

This first red-letter edition was published by The Christian Herald Bible Press, with versions quickly following from the presses of Thomas Nelson, A.J. Holman, and others. Red-letter editions are now a standard of the Bible publishing industry - even to the point that the recently published, environmentally conscious Green Bible mimics the format, printing the words that (loosely) deal with nature and conservation in green.

Several months ago my colleague Jimmy Barker mentioned red-letter Bibles in passing, and I credit that conversation for sensitizing me to what I found recently while leafing through the Gospel of Mark in my Crossway ESV Thinline Bible, which I bought to use in teaching my classes this fall.

Jimmy was mentioning that these red-letter Bibles often print the text of John 3:16 ("For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life"[NAB]) in red ink, which presents some interesting questions of interpretation for the reader, as the text is not clear in any English version as to exactly which words of the larger passage are direct quotations from Jesus, and which words are narrative commentary about Jesus. (I suggested at the time that he write a post for us about it, and I hope he will once his dissertation is finished.)

It was this observation that made me sensitive to another strange instance of red ink - this time in Mark 13:14 (reproduced here): "But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be - let the reader understand - then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains."

The text, in my Crossway Bible, is reproduced entirely in red. However, the text contains that aside, "let the reader understand," that opens up an entire realm of interpretive complexities.

In many editions, this phrase is rendered as a parenthetical aside that is not logically conjoined with the quotation around it. An editorial addition that came about in the process of writing the account of Jesus' words. While this explanation does not dispel all the interpretive questions that can arise, it goes a long way toward keeping the logic of the passage intact.

To print this aside in red, however, is to make the visual claim that this phrase is a direct quotation of Jesus. This would mean, on the face of it, that in the midst of this discourse about desolation and fleeing to the mountains, Jesus paused a moment and actually said the words, "let the reader understand."

To print these words in red is to gesture toward an entire theology of omniscience on Jesus' part. It is to imply, visually, that Jesus was well aware that his words would not simply be heard in that moment, but remembered, written down, and read in the future. Given the ubiquity of the Bible in our culture, this may not seem as controversial an assumption as it actually is.

To print these words in red ink is to make the tacit claim that Jesus was speaking words that would be heard as a non sequitur to his immediate audience - not a parable or a difficult phrase, but a complete anachronistic gesture toward the written page - for the benefit of future audiences. Some contemporary readers, of course, seem to have no problem with this.

I do, however, especially in light of the very mixed presentation we can observe across the various English editions of the Bible with regard to these passages. Editors and publishers do not have anything approaching consensus with regard to where to put quotation marks or parentheses around these sentences.

Thus the practice of printing the aside in red ink strikes me as somewhat sloppy on the part of Crossway's editors. Perhaps others will disagree with my reading (and I hope you will leave a comment if you do - I'd like to hear your thoughts), but the anachronistic reading (omniscience or no) just seems off to me. I would argue that this phrase would convey a much more consistent visual logic if it were printed in black, while the rest of the words remained red. Barring that, the decision to print in red demands at least an explanatory footnote.

I have been doing some research to see if these matters are being discussed anywhere online or in Crossway's own literature. I haven't found much yet. If anyone knows of any, please add them to the discussion below.

Meanwhile - let the reader understand - I have some mountains to flee to. See ya.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

From MSNBC: "World’s most popular Bible to be revised"

A couple of days ago, MSNBC.com published an article detailing the most recent revision to the NIV:
The world's most-popular Bible will undergo its first revision in 25 years, modernizing the language in some sections and promising to reopen a contentious debate about changing gender terms in the sacred text.

The article only scratches the surface of the controversy regarding the move to more inclusive language in English versions of the biblical text. However, even if it does not provide much detail, the article does let the readers know the disagreements exist:
Many prominent pastors and scholars endorsed the changes. But critics said masculine terms in the original should not be tampered with. Some warned that changing singular gender references to plural ones alters what the Bible says about God's relationships with individuals.
The full article is available here. There is also a fun (though pointed) response by J. R. Miller here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"No doubt to help with young Rocky's revival": Gideon's first century.

For a long time now, I have begun my classes each semester by stealing a joke from my old professor Walter Brueggemann. As I go over the syllabus and required texts for my courses, I tell students they will also need to bring a Bible to each class meeting. If they don't have a Bible, I go on to tell them, "check into a hotel and steal yourself a Gideon's between now and our next meeting."

Though it usually gets a polite laugh, the truth of the joke depends on the hard work of this scrappy little organization that finds its home just a short drive outside Nashville. They have been quite diligent in their endeavors.

Currently, the Gideon's International Bible Society gives away, on average, one copy of the Bible (or at least their New Testament/Psalms publication) every second of every day [1]. That's a pretty amazing statistic, but not surprising for those who know the history--and the zeal--of this organization.

The month of July marks the one hundred year anniversary of the founding of the Gideon's ministry of placing Bibles in hotel and motel rooms across the country and around the world. The decision to start the ministry occurred during a Gideon's convention in 1908, held in Louisville, KY [2]. Working with the help of the American Bible Society, who provided copies of both the King James Version and the American Standard Version to the Gideon's ministry at a very reasonable cost.

The pilot for the program started late in 1908, with 25 Bibles placed in the Hotel Superior in Iron Mountain, Montana. "By July 1909, 5774 Bibles had been placed in 17 U.S.A. states. Texas beat out Indiana by one Bible, placing 1,389 versus 1,388" [3].

By 1951, then Executive Vice President of the American Hotel Association, Charles A. Horrworth, pledged that the Gideon's Bible would not only be available in every American hotel room, but "displayed prominently" in plain view [4].

To say that they were successful would be a tremendous understatement. I have traveled the world, and have found Bibles (in various languages) placed by the Gideons in rooms I have stayed in from central Mexico, to Paris, and Tuebingen, Germany.

In the hundred years of the Gideon hotel ministry, many religious organizations have followed their lead, making a variety of religious texts available to travelers. The highest profile example of this, perhaps, is the Marriott hotel chain's inclusion of the Book of Mormon in each of its rooms (the Marriott family, who still have primary ownership of the corporation, are longtime Latter-Day Saints).

The Gideon's Bible is remarkable in that it is, at the same time, one of the most thoughtfully designed and least-obviously designed Bibles available. The Gideon's place their Bibles in locations where people are on the move and perhaps in times of transition or great crisis. Hence you will find a Gideon's not only in hotel rooms but hospitals and doctors offices throughout the land. They know who they want to reach, and the unassuming design of the cover invites inspection without denominational or faith credentials. Once the cover is opened, carefully-placed one-page guides throughout the book direct the reader to a "plan of salvation" designed to lead to succor, if not transformation.

Regardless of how you feel about the Gideon's or their ministry, it must be admitted that this simple idea--a Bible in every room--has been one of the most successful evangelical endeavors of recent memory. So happy 100th birthday, guys. Here's to the next century!

1. "The Battle of the Books: The Business of Marketing the Bible and the Koran says a lot about the state of modern Christianity and Islam," The Economist, December 22, 2007, p. 80.
2. Sowers of the Word: A 95 Year History of the Gideons International (Lebanon, TN: Gideons International, 1995), p. 100.
3. Ibid.
4. Sowers of the Word, p. 102.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Material Scripture and the traditions of Biblical Theology

Let me begin by recalling briefly a conversation Jimmy Barker and I had with James Barr, a couple of years before the distinguished professor's untimely death. We (Jimmy and I) had spent the summer reading through the classic texts of Old Testament Theology, and we wanted to know whether the discipline of Old Testament Theology, in Barr's opinion, should be considered a branch of theology or a branch of biblical studies.

Without hesitation, Barr answered that it was a sub-discipline of biblical studies.

I mention this to give context for the assertion I am about to make regarding the "proper" taxonomy for Material Scripture. If, as Barr avers, "Biblical Theology" is not a discipline of theology per se, but rather the practice of biblical scholars applying theological categories to the texts they study (a debatable claim, certainly, but reasonable enough to assume for the present discussion), we might, mutatis mutandis, consider that Material Scripture is what it looks like when theologians attempt a form of textual criticism of the Bible.

This is to say, as biblical scholars adopt and borrow from established theological categories in the practice of Old (and New) Testament Theology, so too can theologians delve into the methods of biblical studies with regard to the study of the sourcing, assembly, redaction and reception of scriptural texts.

In both cases the various methods, in the hands of the new practitioners (or, following Orson Welles, perhaps I should say practioners), will both resemble and depart from their settled and established origins. Hence Material Scripture's preoccupations in the practice of textual criticims may differ markedly from those of the established field within biblical studies. This, of course, is to be expected. Just as some biblical scholars (at times, proudly) flout the conventions of we systematicians, so too can the tactics of close reading and source analysis find new trajectories in the hands of the theologian. On both sides of the mirror, experts become novices, at least for a season, and interesting results follow.

Thus, in the first place, Material Scripture is a strategy. It is a means of (re)introducing the inescapably ethical dimension of the act of reading. To read (in the present age, and likely in all ages) is to participate in a number of simultaneous economies--some overt, many implied. The so-called "marketplace of ideas" exerts lines of force during the process of reading, as do the more tangible (and fungible) aspects of the "real" marketplace, through which both the book itself, and the funds with which to procure it, come into being. Material Scripture is a strategy against the reification and abstraction of such economies precisely to the extent that it is able to focus on concrete readers and specific imprints of texts in its praxis. If you will, Material Scripture attempts to maintain an ethical commitment to what might be termed the "breathing reader," the reader with flesh and bone.

Material Scripture is thus a close reading, though not necessarily of only the text itself (although this as well may certainly play a part), but also of the "marginal" aspects of the imprinted text, referred to by Gerard Genette as paratext and hypotext. That is, matters such as footnotes, introductions, graphic design, editing and editorializing, not to mention the effects of marketing and advertising, become available for theological analysis in a Material Scriptural reading. Everything that the given book "is" is open for discussion and reflection in this process.

Furthermore, because Material Scripture intends to focus on the reader and the physical book though their interactions during a "real time" of reading, it has a peculiar relationship to scholarly notions of "history" and "the past." While not denying that events have happened, and that such events can and are documented meaningfully, Material Scripture finds much more value in asking how such documentations and reconstructions of "the past" function in the rhetorical struggles and power dynamics of the "present moment." That is to say, in its methodological procedures, Material Scripture telescopes the questions regarding "the past" into its present analysis, probing how these reconstructions function as "expert narratives" and "commanding voices" during the process of reading and textual assembly (that is, the hypotextual process is always already caught up in the arguments about, and imaginings of, the reconstructed "past").

Consonant with this, Material Scripture maintains a methodological suspicion regarding the matters of "authorial intentions" and "original texts," choosing to treat both as manifestations in the "present" moment of a "breathing reader's" encounter with a physical imprint of Scripture, rather than as some fixed master narrative that exists, isolated but accessible, somewhere in "the past."

This stance of methodological suspicion is not a denial of the past or its importance. Rather, it is an attempt to keep the focus more on the matters of the "present" (a term, I realize, that is almost as fraught with ideological baggage as referring to the "past") to maintain the thickness of discourse around all the rhetoric, politics, and power relations that are constantly at work in each of the various biblical disciplines.

Material Scripture, therefore, remains aware that it is a constructed posture within a traditioned set of conversations that occur at the overlap of academic discourses. A material scriptural reading or analysis will resemble, in some respects, styles of reading and textual analysis that occur in more traditioned discourses. However, such readings will also interrupt assumptions and conventions of those discourses, much in the same way that a biblical theologian might, at times, interrupt the established assumptions and conventions of systematic theology.

That being said, I am not proposing that Material Scripture is in some manner to be construed as a "response" to biblical theology. Similar to what I write about Scriptural Reasoning last week, there is a level of complementarity at work between the practices. However, it should also be noted that certain practices of the biblical theologian may be challenged by the practices of Material Scripture, simply by grace of the interest the latter has in making explicit the unspoken conventions that have been "encoded" into the physical objects of Scripture.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Jewish Daily Forward article on controversy over Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition

The following article is written by Michael Kaminer and appeared online at the Jewish Daily Forward. You can access the article in its original form by clicking here.

Furor Over Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibition

Contested Homes: From the dusty caves of Qumran to the gleam-ing pyramids of Toronto, the Dead Sea Scrolls find their resting place in question.

By Michael Kaminer

Published July 15, 2009, issue of July 24, 2009.
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Crowds at the Royal Ontario Museum’s heavily hyped Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition — Dead Sea Scrolls: Words That Changed the World, which runs until January 3, 2010 — have far exceeded the museum’s own expectations. In the show’s first nine days, more than 18,000 people flocked to the museum’s spectacular new Daniel Libeskind-designed Michael Lee-Chin Crystal pavilion — about 52% above the exhibitors’ own projections.

But hosannas for the showing, featuring four scroll fragments on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority and displayed in public for the first time, have not been universal. Last April, the Palestinian Authority appealed to Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, to cancel the show, citing international conventions that make it illegal for a government agency to take archaeological artifacts from a territory that its country occupies.

The P.A. and Muslim activists claimed that the scrolls were “stolen” from Palestinian territory and illegally obtained when Israel annexed East Jerusalem — where the scrolls were stored — in 1967. “The exhibition would entail exhibiting or displaying artifacts removed from the Palestinian territories” by Israel, wrote Hamdan Taha, head of the archaeological department in the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities, in a widely publicized letter, calling the show a violation of international law.

Echoing those sentiments on the day of the press preview, Canadian Arab Federation executive director Mohamed Boudjenane called the scrolls “stolen property… seized from an occupied territory,” and repeated the call to close the show on a national newscast.

Their appeal obviously didn’t stop the exhibit. “Any claim that the Palestinian Authority might present to the Dead Sea Scrolls would face significant legal obstacles, particularly at this time,” said Patty Gerstenblith, president of the Virginia-based Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation and director of the Center for Art, Museum, and Cultural Heritage Law Program of Chicago’s DePaul University. “The Palestinian Authority’s lack of status as a recognized state would undermine any potential claim based on national ownership or rights to cultural property under international legal instruments.”

Regardless, the activists’ complaints set off a media firestorm in Canada and the blogosphere. And they made ROM personnel work diligently to avoid any hint of controversy at a June press conference, at which Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty cut a ceremonial red ribbon.

“I can’t answer that question,” said Mark Engstrom, the museum’s vice president of collections and research, when pressed for details on the Palestinian complaints. “The museum’s not the right forum for a political debate,” opined Julian Siggers, vice president of programs at the ROM. “I’m an ancient historian. I can tell you about the past,” said Risa Levitt Kohn, the noted San Diego State University professor who guest-curated the show. “I’m an archaeologist. All we do is cultural activities,” said Hava Katz, the IAA curator of the exhibit.

A less modulated voice came from the margins of the exhibit — literally. Polish-born, New York-based artist Joshua Neustein was invited to create an installation to complement the scrolls in a gallery two levels up from the main exhibit. The result, Margins, embeds one of Neustein’s signature chandeliers in a gallery wall, accompanied by transparent sheets bearing typography and texts. “I wanted to take the scrolls away from archaeologists and make it part of a philosophical discussion,” he said.

Neustein continued: “I don’t know what the Palestinians really want. Where are the scrolls supposed to go? To a political organization? Do they want them not to be shown? They’re political activists, and they look for causes that will gather together a group of people around a slogan. They don’t know what they want.” Antiquities, Neustein said, “are being contested all over the world. The Greeks want the Elgin marbles back. We’ll end up in the Western Hemisphere with just tepees.”

Getty Images
Scroll Down: Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin at the Dead Sea excavation site in Wadi Qumran, circa 1953.

In fact, “the last thing the Palestinian Authority would say is that people shouldn’t see them,” said Thomas Woodley, the Montreal-based president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, which has been active in the protests. “But there are principles that need to be respected. UNESCO conventions and protocols are clear that it’s illegal for a country to take artifacts of a territory it is occupying. ”

The scrolls “are a treasure for all humanity. But we would like to see the Palestinians returned as caretakers, and we would like there to be a balanced narrative. The ROM is presenting the scrolls entirely from the Israeli perspective. There’s no discussion about what happened between their discovery and their exhibition today.”

Why protest now? “Your guess is as good as mine,” Woodley said. “It should have happened a long time ago. Maybe people are just realizing some of the implications. The rightful caretakers of these scrolls would be the Palestinian Authority.”

Gerstenblith also couldn’t speculate on the timing, “unless maybe they have been influenced by the large number of restitutions in the past two to three years from American and other institutions to Italy.”

Though the objections didn’t accomplish their stated goal, an undercurrent of conflict now colors the exhibit and its media coverage. The dustup, however, might have helped the museum; the ROM has been “thrilled with the response” since the show opened on June 27, according to spokeswoman Marilynne Friedman. And, political disputes aside, the ROM is winning accolades for a state-of-the-art presentation of the ancient texts.

The ROM also can claim a number of firsts — no small feat, considering how many times the scrolls have been exhibited since their accidental discovery by Bedouin goat-herder Muhammed edh-Dhib in 1947. It’s the first major museum exhibit to broaden focus from the Qumran caves where the scrolls were found to the wider ancient world that produced them, from Jerusalem to the Second Temple to the key Galilee town of Sephorris. It’s the first time the four previously unseen scroll fragments are being displayed in public, made possible because of the ROM’s long relationship with the IAA.

Words that Changed the World is the first blockbuster show in the ROM’s new wing and — this being multicultural Toronto — it’s probably the first scrolls display co-chaired by a “community advisory panel” comprising a Christian, a Muslim and a Jew, with massive outreach to clergy, community leaders, cultural influencers and educators.

“The ROM did a brilliant job, and I don’t use that word lightly. The exhibit provides a lovely formulation that allows us to see the scrolls in an ancient context. It transforms the way in which the scrolls have been received,” said Hindy Najman, director of the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto and a consultant on the show. “It’s an historic moment for Canada.”

Michael Kaminer is a frequent Forward contributor whose writing has appeared in The Washington Post and The New York Times.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Scriptural Reasoning and Material Scripture: Some Initial Reflections

There is a story, probably apocryphal, that some years ago, soon after Walt Disney's death, two gentlemen from the Disney board of directors were standing on a bridge in the midst of the recently-completed Disneyland. Looking at the Magic Kingdom, one of them said, "Isn't it too bad Walt isn't alive to see this?"

The other, so the story goes, simply replied, "Oh, Walt saw all of this."

Proverbs 29:18 tells us that without a vision, the people perish. I think the vision referred to in that passage must necessarily be a grand vision, a vision inconceivable and invisible, perhaps, to those around the one seeing the vision. It is, I think, a vision that needs some explaining and convincing before others will come to see it and share it. Without overly secularizing the Proverb by the comparison, it seems Disney was an example of one who had precisely this sort of "strange vision." The majesty of such strange vision is such that great things arise from it; the tragedy of such vision, however, is that often the seer does not live to see its fruition.

You must trust me when I assure you Peter Ochs is a man of such grand vision, though his mind's eye is focused, not on the comfortable distractions of an amusement park, but on the tragic brokenness of our present world, and how it might be prayerfully and graciously repaired.

I have spent a week living in this vision, as a participant in a leadership training forum for the Society of Scriptural Reasoning, held at the University of Virginia. Over forty pastors, imams, laypersons, and scholars gathered in Charlottesville for the event, and I think it is safe to say none of us left at the end of the week having not been profoundly moved, both by the events themselves that transpired as well as the portent and possibilities the event held for the future of (inter)religious dialogue.

Here, in this post, I want both to outline briefly what is happening in Scriptural Reasoning (SR) itself, for readers unfamiliar with the practice, as well as delineate how I see the relationship of SR to Material Scripture unfolding in the future.

"The text is our only host"

SR is a pragmatic practice, which attempts to learn how to read the texts claimed by the various Abrahamic traditions as holy (e.g., the TaNaKH, the Qur'an, the New Testament, the Hadith and the Talmud) in non-ironic conversation with each other. SR is, in other words, the attempt to read together in the midst of the "thick differences" between the tradtitions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

These "thick differences" arise from the traditioned readings that result from formative and catechetic readings from within each tradition (referred to in SR as a "house of reading"). That is to say, Christians are taught by other Christians how to read "their" Scriptures, and though some of these Scriptures are shared with Jews and, in varying ways, Muslims, the traditions of reading and interpretation are not. Hence an essential aspect of the SR process is learning one's own identity as a traditioned reader--exploring the hermeneutic landscape of primary texts as well as commentaries of those texts within one's own tradition.

This is to say that, as a Catholic, the ethos of SR encourages me to read in the "thickness" of hermeneutic differences between my tradition and various Protestant interpretations of our common texts. Most of SR practice, in other words, is spent not participating in Scriptural Reasoning directly, but participating rather in what might be referred to as "Textual Reasoning" (in the case of Judaism), or "Biblical" or "Qur'anic" Reasoning, respectively. We learn to read closely and contentiously with those of our own tradition prior to the practice of Scriptural Reasoning.

Having done this preparatory work within our own Houses, however, we participate in SR through the metaphorical construction of a "Tent of Meeting." The image of the Tent is a shared theme of all three Abrahamic traditions, and was chosen both for its temporary nature and the tradition of hospitality that surrounds the image in all three traditions. Unlike the House, the Tent is a non-permanent structure erected on the way to somewhere else. The Tent is not where we live forever, but it is where we meet on the journey, and, in meeting, we welcome others who are also away from their permanent homes.

Charlottesville last week was such a Tent. In SR the phrase is sometimes used that "the text is our only host," and for this meeting we were hosted by Exodus 34, in addition to some passages from Hebrews 3 of the New Testament and Sura 28 of the Qur'an. In both plenary meetings and smaller groups, we read these texts slowly and closely, discovering in them and among them new movements of the Spirit in their interpretation and imaginings.

One of the key aspects of SR is to honor the traditions and demands of one's particular House of reading, while inviting, for the sake of hospitality, the suspension of the hermeneutic limitations normally in place as a result of one's commitments. This is a dangerous process, of course. SR welcomes readers to see these texts afresh, and apart from the normal guardrails that restrict the free-play of associations. At various moments each of the members of my group resisted some aspect of the readings offered around the table. Ultimately, however, this venturing from the safety of our tradtioned readings allowed each of us to return to those readings with a fresh set of eyes and new insights.

It is here that the vision of Peter Ochs, and the others who first began these hopeful and pragmatic explorations of reading together some fifteen years ago, finds its full flowering. SR neither demands nor invites participants to syncretistically abandon their identities in favor of some homogenized comportment. Far from desiring to reduce participants to some idealized "essence" behind each of the traditions, SR instead takes these irreconcilable differences as its starting point.

From there, SR attempts the practice of "reading together across differences." In a variety of reflections, Ochs has often referred to this practice in the language of the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, the "healing of the world." While I cannot speak to the breadth of its success, I can attest to our week long meeting as a confirmation of the ethos that funds this vision: Jews, Muslims and Christians were able to meet and read together, without trying to convert each other. We were heartfelt and honest in our different readings, while remaining hospitable and open to each other.

I know it will sound like the opening to a corny joke, but as a result of this past week, I feel it might be possible, someday, to say, "A Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim were standing peacably together on a bridge..."

...and, God willing, in that day to come, one might turn and say to the other two, and remark, "Oh, Peter saw all of this."

Without saying too much more about the process itself (interested readers are encouraged to explore the excellent introduction to SR by David Ford in the volume, The Promise of Scriptural Reasoning), I would like to turn now to an exploration of the interrelationship between SR and Material Scripture.

Scriptural Reasoning and Material Scripture

In many respects, Material Scripture can be viewed as an alternative form of textual criticism. Like textual criticism, Material Scripture asks questions about the origins of the physical object of Scripture under analysis, and seeks understanding of the construction and ideological context of the artifact of a given Bible.

In contrast, SR and Material Scripture should not be regarded as alternatives to each other. In fact, SR and Material Scripture occupy separate, though tangential, fields of inquiry. For example, in the SR training of this past week, a list of recommended guidelines for our practice during the week was offered on the first day. The second of these guidelines suggested that questions of translation and how we "got" the particular English text in front of us, should be suspended for the purposes of the SR reading.

There are good reasons for such a guideline. First, this guideline reduces the power dynamic that might arise from an "expert" reading of the text (i.e., someone adept in the "original" language imposing a masterful reading over all possible interpretations). Second, if the text is to be the host, then the agreement that the particular English version in front of the readers will serve this function allows for us to have, as it were, a "shared tent" for our reading. The suspension of text-critical questions during SR is, ultimately, a gesture of hospitality.

In this sense, Material Scripture and SR begin, respectively, where the other has chosen to remain silent. This is to say, if a participant in SR were to transgress the guideline mentioned above, they would essentially cease the practice of SR and begin a practice of Material Scripture. Material Scripture is fueled, moreover, by an ideological suspicion that is intentionally suppressed during the practice of SR. In agreeing to simply share a translation in a common tongue, SR evinces a trust of the text which is absent from the practice of Material Scripture.

In reflecting on this, however, it is also possible that one might regard Material Scripture as an extension of the "thick reading" of the text, as found in SR, to include the very physical structures of the material shape of the given Scripture itself. Hence the differing physical sctructures of various imprints of Scripture might be seen as material "encodings" of traditions, which can be read alongside each other in their irreducible particularities. In a similar manner to SR's refusal of syncretism, Material Scripture eschews the reduction of these physically differentiated imprints of Scripture to some purified or homogenized idea of "Scripture." Material Scripture, moreover, resists the notion that this reified "Scripture" in any way serves as the norm to the actual physical instantiations of Scripture we observe. In this sense, Material Scripture has a similar pragmatic basis to Scriptural Reasoning, in practice.

The development of the idea of Material Scripture arose, itself, out of a deep conversation with Scriptural Reasoning. The ethical preoccupation of SR is shared in the cultural materialist roots of Material Scripture, as practiced in this blog and my other writings. Cultural Materialism, as articulated in Scott Wilson's book of the same name, understands itself as a profoundly ethical practice, in that "before it has anything to do with the real, materialism is first an inherently moral, even theological concept... The mutual reinforcement of the moral and the material is implied by the double meaning available to the term 'good'" [37].

Later, Wilson ties this ethical preoccupation to the same sort of brokenness addressed by Ochs and the repair of tikkun olam, through a quotation from the cultural materialist par excellence, Walter Benjamin:
"For without exception the cultural treasures he [the historical materialist] surveys have an origin which he cannot contemplate without horror. They owe their existence not only to the efforts of the great minds and talents who have created them, but also to the anonymous toil of their contemporaries. There is no document of civilization [Scripture included] which is not the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is not free of barbarism, barbarism taints also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another" [141].

In its hospitality to the other, SR is rightly criticized for being inhospitable to the traditions of barbarism that inhere deep in each of our traditions. In a similar fashion, Material Scripture desires to be inhospitable to the cultures of silence that surround the physical transmission and construction of our present imprints of Scripture, with regard to the suppression of "the other" in the physical structuring of the text.

In this manner, it is my hope that Material Scripture and SR can be regarded as complementary practices with a similar ethical core.

Final reflections, for now

I will admit I found it difficult, at certain moments during the week, to suspend my desire to push to Material Scriptural questions in the midst of SR practice. I found it hard, in other words, to suspend my questions about where this given English text came from, and why this particular translation was chosen in preference to other available options.

At the same time, I was able to recognize how the introduction of specifically Material Scriptural questions would derail the practice of SR in its moment of openness and hospitality. It would, in other words, abrogate the maintenance of trust essential to SR practice. As such, I see the deep value of agreeing, in a limited space and time of study, to suspend the suspicion of the origin of a given text before us, for the sake of reasoning together.

That being said, as SR continues to develop into its third decade and beyond, it may find some value in a turn to the deeper questions posed by practices like Material Scripture, as a means of engaging in an ethically-preoccupied textualist criticism. As SR continues to engage the increasingly "difficult" texts of our various traditions, it is my hope that Material Scripture may prove of increasing utility to the practice.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Material Language

"If no word in a language is exactly the same as any other word in a different language, and languages are reciprocally incommensurable, either translating is impossible or it consists in freely interpreting the text and recreating it. At this point what interests scholars is no longer the relationship between source and target but rather the effect of the translated text on the target culture. Such research is undoubtedly interesting for studies in comparative literature as well as for studies on the evolution of a given national culture." - Umberto Eco, Experiences in Translation (Toronto: U of Toronto Press, 2001), p. 21.

I have commented elsewhere in this blog that I am deeply suspicious of appeals to "original language" as a means to settle interpretive questions regarding a text in dispute. My suspicion, as stated before, has to do with the notion that the "original text" (e.g., a Hebrew or Greek critical text) somehow gains us a privileged access to the past and not, as I argue is actually the case, a mediated reconstruction of the past in the present. It may seem a trifling point, if one trusts one's reconstructions. For me, however, such attempts at reconstruction will always and inevitably be marked by the interests and concerns of the present.

There is no correction for this bias, furthermore, because it is built into the very fabric of that with which we are dealing: language itself. Language comes with an insurmountable local bias.

Take, for example, this recent essay by neuroscientist Lera Boroditsky, entitled "How Does Our Language Shape the Way We Think?"

Boroditsky's research points out that "quirks of grammar, such as grammatical gender, can affect our thinking," and she goes on to claim that, "Such quirks are pervasive in language; gender, for example, applies to all nouns, which means that it is affecting how people think about anything that can be designated by a noun."

Which might mean that, contrary to the claims of proponents of so-called "Cartesian" or "generative" grammars (Noam Chomsky, John Searle, and others), there is no shared meaning "behind" the various languages spoken in our Biblical versions. When we translate into English what was a Greek translation of an Aramaic statement (as is the case with the Gospels), it is not a matter of hanging different signifiers upon the same "background" meanings. Rather, the very meanings expressed in each of these iterations - Aramaic, Greek, and English - are inextricably bound to the materiality of the structure of that particular language itself.

These differences in language are not minor. In Boroditsky's research, which she discusses here in an interview with NPR's Here and Now, she demonstrates how the linguistic connection of the cardinal directions to the life of the aboriginal Pormpuraaw affects the manner in which they conceive time itself. In another example, the interview discusses the relationship of direct and indirect language attribution with regard to events to the formation of memory and blame (a fact that would have stark implications for such Christian doctrines as sin and atonement).

Adopting such a position into one's hermeneutic methodology would, of course, make the notion of verbal plenary inspiration quite difficult to maintain. That is to say, even if God dictated, word for word, the contents of the "original" Bible (which some extreme versions of verbal plenary inspiration assert), this by no means indicates that we, as English speakers, can obtain to the weltanschauung at work in those "original" words. Put another way, it is not a matter of simply translating language, but an entire metaphysic surrounding and interpenetrating the language, that is required.

In pointing out this implicationof Boroditsky's claims, some might argue that I have now pulled the rug out from under any veracity to Scripture at all. I do not think this is the case, however. Scripture has managed, through the ages, to "mean" and "have meaning," despite this non-transparent mediation that does not actually access the thought-schemata of the past. In other words, the book still works, despite its not working in the simple manner we thought it did.

For me, this is fascinating. When Boroditsky describes the Pormpuraaw manner of dealing with time, social interaction, and indeed all facets of life through the medium of the four cardinal directions and the path of the Sun's travel, I attempt in my own mind to imagine what that sort of weltnaschauung would be like to have, instead of the very Western "left-to-right" schemata I am hardwired with. Inevitably I will fail at fully imagining this difference, of course. Our wiring is tenacious. The trick, as in all translation, is not to get it "right," but to get it wrong in a useful and compelling way.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mark Bertrand interview from 2006

Mark Bertrand, who runs the Bible Design Blog, was interviewed a couple of years ago for the Worldview Academy podcast. I just came across it, and found it pretty interesting listening. In particular, toward the end of the interview, he mentions an essay by Gerald Hammond, in the Literary Guide to the Bible, which discusses the massive influence the King James Version had on the solidification of our English grammar (an insight also made, at the turn of the 20th century, by Franz Rosenzweig).

If you have a half an hour, this is worth your time. Listen to it here.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A printed rose, by any other name, still smells like ink

As I write this, I have open on the table next to me a copy of Gary Larson's The PreHistory of the Far Side, an anthology of both his cartoons as well as the creative process that went into their creation. I have the book open to a particular panel, a full page of penguins, a veritable sea of them, filling the frame of the cartoon like academics at a conference, thickly huddled, but each looking lost in thought and separate intention.

In the middle of the frame, one lone penguin, wings outstretched, rises above the herd (perhaps I should say "flock," but the Nietzschean connotations of "herd" are important here). Beak to the sky, this lone ueber-penguin sings out with joy, "I gotta be me, oh I just gotta be me..."

Beneath the cartoon, to give the cartoon some explanation and context, Larson has written,
"My publisher's gift and stationary division decided one day they wanted to make this and a few other Far Side cartoons into posters. The problem was this one particular cartoon featured nothing but penguins and ice, which didn't lend itself to color. When the finished posters showed up, I was interested to see they had indeed found a use for color in this cartoon--they made the one penguin (who's singing "I Gotta Be Me") yellow--the others remained black and white. In other words, the entire point of the cartoon had been reversed. In the original version, I was being cynical about the futility of trying to be unique in a sea of commonality. But by making just the singing penguin yellow, the publisher made him stand out, and the cartoon then made the same point the song originally intended."
I remember that poster from my college years. I saw classmates hang it on their dormitory room walls, and we sold it for a time in the bookstore in which I worked on campus. Even at the time (almost twenty years ago now), the yellow penguin struck me as odd. Then, a couple years back, I first read Larson's comments I quoted above. In the time since, I have come to find this strange story of cartoonist and publisher an increasingly lucid example of two interesting points about Bibles, their publication, and their interpretation.

The first point is glaringly obvious once we have heard Larson's version of the events surrounding his monochromatic penguins. Publishers, in the course of publishing, alter the "thing" they publish. Larson claims that the cartoon has one "meaning." Then the publisher has--through the act of turning the cartoon into a poster for distribution--given the image a different and opposite "meaning."

The second point is related to the first. Publishers, in the process of publishing, make these sorts of amendments and additions to the "things" they publish because--whether we are talking about the American corporate marketplace of big-box retailers or the often-praised "marketplace of ideas"--the governing idea of retail is that "different is good." The "new and improved" product or idea, differentiated from the herd, is the one that will catch the eye and move off the shelf faster. At least, so goes the common wisdom.

Why I like this strange little story, about this strange little cartoon and its ambiguously interpreted penguin, is because these questions of differentiation and sameness are, on one level, the very stuff of the cartoon itself. The undifferentiated penguin of the "original meaning," rising up from the sea of sameness, prompts the viewer to consider the ultimate success or futility of the gesture, for in this defiant act of differentiation, there is no observable difference. The discomfort of the juxtaposition is what makes it funny.

It is hard to imagine a way in which making the penguin yellow would make the joke funnier. In fact, it could be argued (as Larson does) that coloring the penguin removes the joke entirely. This fact raises its own series of slightly discomforting juxtapositions. The point of the cartoon, we imagine, is to provoke humor. Yet, with the addition of the coloring (if we trust Larson's assessment) the joke is muted, if not lost. Which might lead us to ask, if the point of reproducing the joke on a wide scale is not the joke itself, what is the point?

There is another interesting question that follows upon this, namely, is Larson the expert with regard to the humor (or lack thereof) of his cartoons? Does his assessment, his claim that his intended meaning was lost, carry weight in this matter? As the "author" of the cartoon, does his "intent" make a difference? If his intent has been abrogated in some manner, is the cartoon in some way invalidated?

I raise these questions because, when we are dealing with one cartoon, created by one cartoonist, these questions of "authorial intent" may seem more straightforward than a situation where we are considering a more ancient manuscript, with several potential (and potentially unknown) authors, let alone scores of redactors and storytellers repeating variations on the theme prior to its being "fixed" in written form. This apparent difference (that we are "closer" to the author's intention in the case of Larson) may not ultimately prove accurate, but we can use it, at least for a moment, as a fulcrum for our analysis.

Consider: Larson crafted a piece of artwork with a certain intended "meaning" (i.e., cynicism about clamoring for "uniqueness"). Larson then signed over to his publisher the rights to reproduce and distribute this artwork on a mass scale, in exchange for financial compensation (fairly standard practice between cartoonists and their distributors). The "original" cartoon artwork is then prepared for publication through a process of graphic design, layout, and prepress decisions. In order to make the sale of these reproduced objects more likely, steps were taken during this prepress process to make the image more eye-catching; to make the image unique and differentiated from other products a consumer might be enticed to buy. Hence the layout artists and prepress executives decide to make an alteration (but is it an alteration or an enhancement?) to the "original" artwork, and a resulting alteration (but is it an alteration or an interpretation?) is made to the "meaning" of the piece.

I am putting this term, "meaning," in quotation marks for the moment. I am doing so because, in my estimation, we often use this word too casually. We are often very comfortable--too comfortable--proclaiming authoritatively what things "mean," as if this were an unproblematic and undisputed fact that was available to everyone, everywhere (or at least every sane one, everywhere), plain for all to see and comprehend.

I would like to suggest that--even in the present case--"meaning" is more complex than that.

For instance, my Mother and I had an ongoing conversation for many years, from my youth and into adulthood, about my interest in comic books. Comic books, of course, are basically just long-form cartoons. My Mother, and, I am sure, many who share her opinion, might wonder why there would be an entire industry (actually, a multi-billion-dollar industry at present) devoted to what basically are nothing more than "squiggles on a page." This viewpoint (that comic art is frivolous, and thus by its very nature a waste of time) might preclude some readers, therefore, from seeing any "meaning" in Larson's cartoon. For readers convinced this is all frivolity anyway, to speak of the cartoon having a "meaning" (let alone to spend time debating what that "meaning" might be) would therefore be at best a waste of time, and at worst a rank absurdity.

Furthermore, we might also imagine whole groups of people in the world who, for a variety of reasons, would look at Larson's cartoon and also fail to find any "meaning" there. For example, certain autistics have difficulty discerning the "meaning" of pictorial representations and abstracted concepts. Line drawings of emotional situations, for example, are for such readers not connected to the emotional situations that occur between people. Hence, for such an audience, the "meaning" of Larson's cartoon might prove elusive.

Moreover, we can certainly assume that there are people in the world who, for a variety of socioeconomic or geographic reasons, have no idea whatsoever what a "penguin" is. Therefore a cartoon about a landscape full of penguins may strike them as odd for very different reasons than the reasons an "informed" reader might give. That is to say, many styles of readers may find the cartoon "funny," but the root of the humor will perhaps be quite different.

Each of these alterations of perspective--though admittedly somewhat fanciful--point to the difficulty of claiming, without complication, that there is some singular "meaning" to the cartoon, even given Larson's assertion that the cartoon was supposed to have a particular "meaning." There seem, instead, to be a series of interpretations, each with a varying attachment to something we might term "humor," which arise in response to the physical object (the cartoon printed on the poster or the page).

Added to all these complications is the complicated matter of Larson himself, and his intention in writing (is this the appropriate term?) this cartoon. As the author of the work, we might very well be tempted to give his intended meaning pride of place as the meaning of the cartoon. Such a simplified position, however, arises only in the suppression of certain salient material facts. Larson entered into a contractual relationship with his syndicated publisher, who, from a legal standpoint, is thereafter considered the "author" of the work. (This is commonplace. For example, I signed a similar agreement with my publisher regarding the book I am writing, and one sees this sort of transfer-of-authorship language often as well in the end credits of feature films.) In other words, the publisher, in compensating the artist in exchange for the rights of distribution, claims the right to be considered, in a limited or full extent, as the originator of the work.

Once the solitary, "original" work moves into the realm of reproducibility, all sorts of factors introduce themselves. When reproduction is undertaken by hand, the possibility of "scribal errors" is always present, by which the copying of a text or image allows for the introduction of a host of misrepresentations. In the history of Bible transmission prior to the introduction of mechanical printing, for example, we have innumerable instances of words being miscopied, transliterated, truncated, added-to, inserted or omitted. At times these emendations are unintentional, at other times intentional, and very often their appearance is simply inscrutable. Regardless of reason, they happen. Moreover, in order to consider these emendations as "errors," one must have access to--or imagine--the original. With regard to our ancient manuscripts, this process of recovering "the original" is always a mixture of both access and imagination. The matters of "authorial intent" and "meaning" are never pure in this process--whether we regard the "original" or the copies (which become oddly "co-authored" through interpolation)--and the claims of experts to know the contents of the original documents is as much a political claim as it is a scholarly one.

Mechanical reproduction (such as printing and lithography), in a similar, though not identical, fashion to by-hand reproduction, introduces an instability into the claims of authorial intent with regard to the fixture of "meaning." For example, films are edited, sometimes without the input or consent of the director (leading to the growing number of "director's cuts" available to the public); moreover, in the making of films (particularly big-budget ventures) the script itself will often be rewritten several times, by any number of writers who may or may not share, or even know, the "original" writer's "intent" and vision.

Consider the large-scale industry that flourished in the 1980's and '90's around taking classic black and white films and "colorizing" them. To what extent, in such cases, is the "black and white" aspect of the medium essential or optional? Books, whether fiction or nonfiction, pass through editors and marketing departments, committees of vetting readers, and (increasingly) focus groups of demographically-balanced "ideal" readers, each of whom leave their unseen but indelible mark on the "original intent" of the author. Lithographic, color-separated and offset reproductions of photographs and paintings are subject to mechanical factors affecting the size, contrast, tinting and coloration of the mass-representation of the "original" piece. The songs you hear on the radio have gone through not only a series of circuits and filters that "compress" the sound (allowing it to be broadcast more easily over the airwaves or through an MP3 file), but the voices of the singers themselves are increasingly manipulated to render correct pitch and timbre. Instruments are sampled and textures of sound are synthesized through ever-more sophisticated plug-ins for digital computer recording consoles.

It is difficult, in sum, to find any current expression of human creativity available through the mass market that is not, in varying ways, mediated and manipulated by dozens, if not hundreds, of unseen hands. As noted above, these unseen hands, in very real ways, serve as "co-authors" in the final object we purchase and consume.

To return to Gary Larson's cartoon, then, the matter becomes complex. We can romantically assert that his "intention" with the cartoon was to express a pure message of cynicism regarding assertions of individuality. But, if this were the simple fact of the matter, then why not simply draw the cartoon and (in a sort of Emily-Dickinsen-at-least-while-she-was-alive-and-before-anyone-knew-or-cared-about-the-posthumous-"Emily-Dickinsen-the-genius-poet" sort of move) lock it in a steamer trunk in the attic? Larson did not do this. Instead, Larson's "intention" was not only to make the cynical point, but to distribute the cartoon in which the cynical point was made in the hopes of making a profit. In other words, Larson's "intention" was not "pure," at least in the romantic sense considered above. It was always a complex intention, involving both "meaning" and "market" aspects.

I do not note this as a criticism, but rather to highlight the often-overlooked fact that it is very difficult (certainly in our present age, and perhaps in all ages) to locate these "pure" and non-complex "meanings" and "intentions." Authors, in the hopes of being distributed and read, make compromises on the "pure meaning" of whatever they create through handing the "original" over to these myriad unseen co-authors. Not only is this ubiquitous, it is, I assert, an unchangeable fact. Like the songs we hear on the radio, our artwork, our literature, and our Scriptures have been filtered and altered by the very processes through which they become available to us, removed as we are from the "original" authors and their "intentions."

Do not, in other words, blame that one yellow penguin. That one yellow penguin is all of us.

Friday, May 29, 2009

de Gruyter's Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception (forthcoming) invites contributors

I just came across an article in the Association for Jewish Studies periodical, Perspectives, announcing an ambitions, ten-year long project from Walter de Gruyter publishers. This Encyclopedia is projected to be 30 volumes in total, and to cover the growing scholarly field of "reception history" and its cognate fields.

Most importantly, they are looking for contributors. Barry Dov Walfish, one of the editors, writing in Perspectives, said, "If anyone has expertise in a topic of biblical interest and would like to write for EBR, please be in touch with me or one of the other area editors."

Barry Dov Walfish can be reached via email at barry.dov.walfish@gmail.com

I am reproducing the information from the de Gruyter website below.


Cover Edited by Hans-Josef Klauck
Bernard McGinn
Choon-Leong Seow
Hermann Spieckermann
Barry Dov Walfish
Eric Ziolkowski

in cooperation with Dale Allison, Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, Donna Bowman, Brian Britt, Michael Cameron, Mordechai Z. Cohen, Joseph Davis, Jamey Deming, Martin Forward, Peter Gemeinhardt, Haim Goldfus, Ann E. Killebrew, David W. Kling, Volker Leppin, Paul Mendes-Flohr, Martti Nissinen, Dennis T. Olson, Nils Holger Petersen, S. Brent Plate, Christine Roy Yoder, Thomas Römer, Günter Stemberger, Marvin A. Sweeney, Johan C. Thom, David R. Thomas, Samuel Vollenweider, Jan G. van der Watt, Sidnie White Crawford

The new indispensable biblical research tool from de Gruyter

New Circumstances in Biblical Studies
Biblical studies have fully participated in the recent interdisciplinary exchanges among the humanistic and social scientific disciplines. Today, aside from the classic historical questions about the conditions and circumstances of the Bible’s origins, inquiries into the reception and culture-forming influence of the Bible are drawing considerable attention.

Formation and Reception of the Bible
Responding to these new circumstances, the Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception (EBR) pursues a twofold task. EBR offers a comprehensive and in-depth rendering of the current state of knowledge on the origins and development of the Bible according to its different canonic forms in Judaism and Christianity. At the same time, EBR also documents the history of the Bible’s reception in the Christian churches and the Jewish Diaspora; in literature, art, music, and film; in Islam, as well as in other religious traditions and current religious movements, Western and non-Western alike.

Indispensable Compendium of International Research
With this broad program of reception history, EBR moves into new terrain, seeking to do justice to the fact that the biblical texts not only have their own particular genetic background and setting but also have been received and interpreted, and exerted their influence, in countless and diverse religious, theological, and aesthetic settings. EBR will shape scholarship on the Bible and its reception.

EBR is a resource tool for scholars in biblical studies and related fields but also accessible to general readers interested in the Bible. It is edited by an international team of scholars, all experts in their fields. EBR will be published in English, and the articles will appear in print and online.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Aquinas College forum on Sacred Scripture, June 15 - 19, 2009

[n.b. - I am participating in this forum, and giving a presentation for it on the 17th entitled, "Living in the Bible Belt: The Fundamentals of Fundamentalism." I am particlarly excited about Fr. Rosica's report on the 2008 Vatican Synod on Sacred Scripture, on the morning of the 16th. If you are in town, and interested in the Bible, I would strongly urge you to join us for these discussions - they promise to be very fruitful!]

St. Thomas Aquinas Forum 2009

Each summer, the St. Thomas Aquinas Theological & Catechetical Forum at Aquinas College offers an intensive weeklong study of a particular point of Roman Catholic doctrine or devotion, led by one or more Aquinas College faculty members. The half-day sessions include daily Mass and opportunities for personal prayer, Eucharistic Adoration, and sacramental Reconciliation. Attendance can be counted toward hours needed for diocesan catechist certification programs.

Sacred Scripture:
The Word of God...Living and Active

Date: Monday - Friday, June 15 - 19
Time: 8:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.
Daily Mass: 9:00 a.m.
Registration fee: $100

Registration form (1.13MB pdf)

2009 Flyer (1.28MB pdf)

2009 Speakers:

Reverend Thomas Rosica, C.S.B. holds advanced degrees in Theology and Sacred Scripture from Toronto, Rome, and Jerusalem and has lectured on Sacred Scripture at universities in Canada from 1990 to the present. In October 2008, Father Rosica was appointed by the Vatican as the Media and Communications Liaison to the Synod of Bishops on The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. Last February, Pope Benedict appointed Father as consultor to the Pontifical Council of Social Communications. Father also served as the National Director of World Youth Day 2002 and the Papal Visit to Canada, and is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the Salt and Light Catholic Television Network.

Andrew Minto, Ph.D. is professor of Sacred Scripture and Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. A former account executive in the financial services industry, Dr. Minto earned his bachelor's degree from Louisiana State University, a master's in Theology from Franciscan University, and a Ph.D. in Sacred Scripture and Theology from The Catholic University of America. Dr Minto also serves as Consultant to Redeemer Pacific College in Vancouver, British Columbia; Assistant Editor of Fides Quarens Intellectum; and reviewer for Oxford University Press on a proposed new study Bible in the Catholic Tradition.

Sister Mary Dominic, O.P. teaches linguistics and Scripture at Aquinas College. Prior to joining the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in 1987, Sister earned a Ph.D. in linguistics and taught at Auburn University. In 2003, Sister earned an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Providence College. She has published a number of scholarly articles on linguistics and Scripture.

Sister Jane Dominic, O.P. is a member of the theology faculty at Aquinas College. Sister is a popular speaker on a variety of topics related to religious life and theology and has presented to young adult groups, parenting groups, RCIA classes, and lay organizations in Nashville, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, South Bend, Ind., and other cities around the country. She is currently studying at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas, the Angelicum, in Rome.

David Dault is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and holds degrees in philosophy, religion and theology. He is currently writing a book for Yale University Press on the phenomenon of "designer" Bibles. A convert to the Catholic Faith, David's presentations often reveal his appreciative sense of humor toward the challenges facing Catholics in the "Bible Belt."

For more information on the St. Thomas Aquinas Forum, please call (615) 297-7545 or email catechetics@aquinascollege.edu.

Gregory Boyd reviews The Patriot's Bible

My brother Allyn brought this to my attention. It comes from the Christianity Today website. Dr. Gregory Boyd (of Letters from a Skeptic fame) does a two-part, in-depth review of The American Patriot's Bible: The Word of God and the Shaping of America (KJV, Thomas Nelson, 2009). The following quotation will provide a good overview of his conclusions:
[T]he selective retelling of American history found in the Patriot’s Bible is not what concerns me the most. What disturbs me more is the way the commentators attempt to give their idealized version of American history divine authority by weaving it into the biblical narrative.

The review can be accessed through these links: Part 1 and Part 2.

What is particularly interesting to me, from the standpoint of material-Scriptural questions, are some of his analyses, toward the end of the review, in which he examines the effect of interleaving a jingoist reading of American history with the biblical text itself:
I have no doubt that those who contributed to the Patriot’s Bible are sincere, godly people who genuinely believe they’re doing America and the Kingdom a service by publishing this work. And had they published their particular interpretation of American history in a separate volume, I would have had much less trouble with it. What grieves me deeply is that the Patriot’s Bible fuses this interpretation with the biblical narrative in an attempt to give it divine authority. As such, this version of the Bible virtually incarnates the nationalistic idolatry that has afflicted the Church for centuries and so thoroughly compromised the beauty of the trans-national, self-sacrificial Kingdom Jesus came to bring.

There is a lot of conversation to be had around these sorts of interleavings.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Quest for the Historical John Wyclif

The following extended quotation is from John Wyclif: Myth and Reality by Gillian R. Evans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005):
No work in English which can be attributed with certainty to John Wyclif survives; nor is there any evidence that he actively got the work of translating the Bible into English under way or was even directly involved in it. Not a single "great book," or any book of lasting importance, bears his name. We can point to no quotation so memorable that it echoes down the years. He was not the only one among his contemporaries putting forward the particular arguments which came to be associated with his name and the only 'English freedom' he certainly fought for was the refusal to pay taxation decades overdue to the papacy from the kingdom of England; even there he was acting as one of a diplomatic mission and not as a solitary hero. It is not at all easy to say in the end what Wyclif's achievement was [243].

I haven't read the full book yet - I only just learned of it from a book review by James A. DeJong in the Calvin Theological Journal (44:1, April 2009, 172-173). It seemed interesting enough, just from this quotation, to mention. Given the Protestant hagiography surrounding him, this foray into revisionist history opens up interesting questions about the early development of the English Bible.

Worth a look, certainly. What do you think?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Conference on Codex Sinaiticus, July 6-7, British Library

[From the conference website:]

Codex Sinaiticus is one of the world's outstanding manuscripts. Together with Codex Vaticanus, it is one of the earliest extant Bibles, containing the oldest complete New Testament. This treasured codex is indispensable for understanding the earliest text of the Greek Bible, the transmission of its text, the establishment of the Christian canon, and the history of the book. Over 400 leaves survive and are held across four institutions: the British Library, Leipzig University Library, St Catherine's Monastery and the National Library of Russia in St Petersburg.

To celebrate the virtual re-unification of all extant leaves of Codex Sinaiticus, on 6-7 July 2009, the British Library is hosting an academic conference on topics relating to Codex Sinaiticus. A number of leading experts have been approached to give presentations on the history, text, conservation, paleography and codicology, among other topics, of Codex Sinaiticus. Selected conference papers will be edited and published as a collection of articles.

[For more information and to register for the conference, click here]

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Interview with Wayne Hastings of Thomas Nelson Publishers

On April 8, 2009, David Dault spoke to Wayne Hastings, Senior Vice President and Publisher for the Bible Division of Thomas Nelson Publishers, in Nashville, TN. A portion of the interview is transcribed here. Thank you to Michael Hyatt, president of Thomas Nelson, and my colleague David J. Dunn, for helping make this meeting possible.


David: Thomas Nelson has been in business since 1798, and in that time it’s business has been the propagation of the Word, but it’s also been in business, and so there’s always a balance between the desire to spread the word as widely as possible and the desire to have a work that is bought by as many people as possible. How, either in your own executive vision, or in terms of the vision of the company, is that balance struck between the market and the mission?

Wayne: They're the same. You can’t do one without the other. So if I didn’t make profit I wouldn’t have funds to reinvest into research to then reinvest into new products to then reinvest in more research. So it’s a cyclical. Without the profitability, without the market, you know, it’s very hard to give away Bibles, and suddenly you just run out of funds to do that unless you made a profit.

David: And so is a part of the mission of Thomas Nelson to actually produce Bibles that are able to be given away, in addition to the Bibles that are sold?

Wayne: We also came up with a program five years ago called The Million Bible Challenge, in which we put together a Bible that retailers were able to sell to churches for $1.00. It's a full Bible. They are sold to churches for $1.00. We would sell cases of them for $20. Twenty Bibles in a case for $20. Our goal was to do a million, and have stores equip churches to give away a million Bibles within 12 months. We hit the million mark in 3 months. And to date I think we’re over 6.5 million Bibles that have been taken by retailers to their local churches who then give them away.

David: And what, if I may ask, are the characteristics of those Bibles? Are they just a cover, Old Testament and New Testament? Or do they include any sort of critical apparatus or any sort of introductions or is it just….

Wayne: [Goes to shelf and produces a copy] No, it’s pretty simple. It’s pretty simple.

David: [Examining the book] Oh, so it’s just like a trade paperback? Fantastic. Okay. I see it's the New King James Version.

Wayne: Yeah.

David: And a very simple introduction.

Wayne: Mostly a "Welcome to the Bible" type of introduction. It’s purposely done without any theology in it. It’s just, Welcome to the Greatest Book of All Time.

David: Absolutely. And the little preface of the New King James Version and then…so what I notice first off is that instead of the traditional two columns there are three columns per page. At what point in the creation of this Bible was that decision made?

Wayne: In the early stages... the beginning, because the goal was to get the cost down as far as we could and biggest cost down was to save paper and so we wanted to develop a product that we could put in a page count that would match the matrix we needed to be a $1 at retail.

David: And where is this Bible produced? Is it produced here in Nashville or is it produced overseas or….?

Wayne: Printed?

David: Printed, yes.

Wayne: Well it started in East Tennessee but they moved their plant to Bogota, Colombia. So now there done in Bogota.

David: Gotcha. Okay. Fantastic. And the text is printed on a different paper stock then people might be used to in Bibles as well.

Wayne: Trade paper stock.

David: Trade paper stock, yeah. Part of what I look at in my own scholarly work is study the actual physical form of Bibles. Like how they are…the process by which they are put together and the physical "stuff" out of which they’re made. So this is very helpful for me to get this in my hands and to take a look at it. This is what I would consider the sort of "low end" of the scale…

Wayne: Right.

David: …it’s a very plain Bible with not a lot done to it other than just making sure that it’s printed in a durable way that gets into people’s hands. But on the other end of the scale of what Thomas Nelson produces you have, for example, the Life/Style Bibles with silver and other colored covers. You have the BibleZines. A lot of very high production values are put into those. When you’re moving from something that is obviously missional and bare bones, like the Dollar Bible, into the "higher production value" items like the BibleZines--items that are intended to evangelize populations that don’t normally feel comfortable picking up Bibles or populations that are on the edge of being churched, like a youth population--what are some of the decisions that go into that process in terms of creating Bibles?

Wayne: From my perspective it’s all based on the customer need and filling a gap. BibleZines are a great example. You look at what young…take Revolve as the best example…you take a look at what young girls ages 11 to maybe on the stretch 16 are reading today and then you compare that to a black bonded Bible. Well there’s a gap and you can say, “Well, gee, they should be reading that black bonded Bible." But the truth is, they’re going to be embarrassed to carry it. It doesn’t match what they’re already reading. And so our goal was to take something that was very familiar to the average young teenage girl, and then wrap in that the Bible text.

So we started at the customer…came to understand the customer…came to understand the habits of the customer and then produced a product that fit the lifestyle…you used a good word…the lifestyle and the need of that customer. What we found after the production of it was that they suddenly were very comfortable carrying it. They were very comfortable taking it to school. They were very comfortable leaving it out because it looked like everything else that they had but when a friend said, “Gee, what’s that?” they could say, “that’s my Bible.” And then that created a conversation that they never perhaps would have been able to have if they had a black bonded Bible with them, and had that barrier go up.

So that’s really where…just about everything where we start is at that customer need. So whether that customer need is exegetical material that’s extra-biblical and gives context, or whatever, or if it’s fashion...you kind of look at the customer and say, “Okay, why is there a need and what is the gap we’re trying to fill?”

David: Now let me stop right there and ask what are the means by which that need is determined demographically?

Wayne: Oh, lots of things…sometimes it dart board and sometimes it's scientific…you just look at it. You first of all…at Nelson especially, you start with our core strength, which is our authors. Most of the core authors for Thomas Nelson are pastors.

David: Like Max Lucado and folks like that?

Wayne: Yeah. So you realize that they have a message and that message needs to be extended in format. And so you take that message and you blend it with Scripture and suddenly the customer has the feeling that they’re going through the Bible with Max Lucado. Or they have the feeling that they’re going through the Bible with John MacArthur and so you’re again filling a need for a customer.

The average Thomas Nelson Bible customer owns 3 to 10 Bibles. I know it’s a wide spread, but that’s the average. So when we talk to the customers, they are sincerely looking for God’s Word to them. They’re sincerely trying to understand the book, and by understanding the book they feel closer to God, more inspired by God. Understanding the message gives them hope, freedom. And believe me, these people are extremely sincere and want that message. I’m talking about my core, core customers.

David: Sure.

Wayne: And so they expand the breadth of their Bible collection because they have a feeling that something done a little differently is going to get them closer to what they really want, which is hearing from God. So you start there and you understand that about the customer. That there is…and I’m talking about the center of the bulls eye…

David: Yes.

Wayne: ….you start there with that understanding that there’s a desire for intimacy between that customer and God, and God’s Word. So now you start asking questions of the customer, of what is going to help facilitate that yearning. And so for some customers it’s having notes, and because those notes either exegete the Scripture, or exposit the Scripture, or inspire the Scripture if it’s a daily Bible or something like that. It doesn’t try to be Scripture, it just….in some broad sense amplifies the Scripture for that customer. That’s one way to do it.

For another group of customers it’s…fashion…it’s such a crass word sometimes, but it’s the look and the feel of the product. So the fashion element sounds kind of plastic, if you will. I have a good friend that owns a Christian bookstore down in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and he’s third generation bookstore owner. So he’s been through a lot. He’s seen all things in the industry and he made a comment to me, he said, “a woman came in the other day and asked me for a lilac Bible and I said, why do you want a lilac Bible? and she says, because it will match my Easter outfit.”

Okay, so now the Bible as fashion doesn’t dilute the message at all; it’s just making that customer much more comfortable carrying it. And it sounds funny, but that’s exactly how they feel. They want something that is appropriate to either style or color or something that sets…makes them…gives them a level of comfort. And we’ve seen it in other things in society. It’s not like they degrade the message, it’s just a level of comfort and a level of style.
We’ve seen it in society, Bibles are just a little slow to react, but go back…I mean I’m a lot older then you are…when I was a little kid growing up the only thing we had was AM radio.

David: Yes.

Wayne: And FM was kind of this underground, weird…I mean my parents didn’t even listen to FM radio even for music, they just didn’t go there. It was all about AM radio.

David: Right.

Wayne: Well then as I became a teenager FM became extremely popular and as FM matured suddenly you not only had just Top 40 stations and country stations and classical stations, they began nicheing those genres down into Hot Country stations and Oldies Country stations and Modern Classical stations, and you’ve got Satellite radio now and you’ve got a whole station that’s nothing but Beatles 24 hours a day. So society in itself…I mean cable channels have done the same thing. As a kid growing up we had 13 channels, that’s all we had. I think I’ve got 500 stations on my television. I mean it’s nuts. And everyone is this little niche that….and magazines, we saw it magazines, you know.

So Bibles have just been a little slow in following, in that we’ve just niched down the presentation of it to very narrow audience types. But in the aggregate they all have the same need. Does that make sense?

David: Yeah, it makes perfect sense. What I want to ask then…what I wonder is have you experienced, as these new demographics are being sort of "narrow-casted" to these Bibles, what happens to the notion of little ‘C’ catholicity? The notion of the people of God reading the same word. Is that lost somehow or is that…?

Wayne: That was lost a while ago. And where it was lost when and I don’t have exact date, but in my mind it was lost when pastors moved away from saying, "this is the only Bible you can read." And they began…and computer software helped in this, because suddenly my pastor could look at 7 different translations on his computer screen and find exactly the word he wanted to describe the point he wanted. And he was smart enough to know that all those words could mean the same thing in the koine [Greek], so he could look at the word and say, “yep they’ve done it there, all around the word, but this one describes it the best. So this Sunday I’m going to show The Message up on the screen….”

But he might also have the King James up, the New King James up, the NIV up, NASB up, and he’s just looking for a way to make his point with his congregation. So pastors did two things…they did three things….they stopped pounding the pulpit and saying this is the only Bible you can read, because they were just concerned about people getting in and reading the Bible. Secondly they started projecting scripture up on the screen and people began not leaving their Bibles at home and then third they went multitranslation on us.

And so the Small ‘C’…everybody reading the same word, just doesn’t happen. Even in my church which is pretty close to…you know my pastor preaches out of the New King James. But even to the point of him never deviating from the New King James, I’ll bet you that our congregation is probably 60% New King James, maybe 10% King James and the rest is mixed. So the translation thing left awhile ago.

In fact when I was in Christian retail, if somebody would walk into the Bible Department and say I want a Bible and I would ask them what translation they wanted, the two most common answers I got were "English" and "Holy." And so even the customer today doesn’t know, because there’s 60 some-odd translations out there. They’re not all carried at retail, but if you go online…some of the online sites….just look at that list…it’s huge.

David: Yes.

Wayne: So translation has really lost its prominence in the customers' mind, and our research shows that less than 15% of people actually making a buying decision based on translation. It’s a little skewed because sometimes they might already know in their head what they want, but for the most part it’s less than 20% that really make a decision based on translation. They’re making a decision based on some other value that they have…sometimes it’s price….sometimes it’s price driven only…sometimes it’s features and benefits….sometimes it’s look and feel, but it’s not necessarily translation anymore.

But it’s just…that’s what makes it work. It’s when something comes together…I mean have you seen our Chronological Study Bible?

David: If it’s the one I’m thinking of, I think I own it.

Wayne: When I was in retail every year one of the best selling Bibles besides Tyndale’s One Year Bible in January was a Bible by another publisher that was a chronological devotional Bible.

David: I think I’ve…it was an older version. Came out like in the 70’s, right?

Wayne: So I walked in one day and said, guys, what would it be like if we did a chronological Bible?…but there’s so many people who don’t understand that the Bible is relevant, they think it’s set over here and all of society was going on over here, and then the Bible just sort of sits here outside of society. What if we did a Bible that glued together culture and history and everything else and put it in order so it was much more readable by the customer and we made it relevant? So we went to our sales team…our sales team goes…I don’t know if that’s a good idea, but if you did this, this and this, this could be kind of cool. So my editorial team…God bless them, they take my ideas and make them real. My editorial team went out and did all those changes…we made it full of color…we brought in page samples, which is what the guys really wanted was full color and page samples, and the guys fell in love with it the second time around.

David: Gotcha.

Wayne: But we still don’t know if anything is going to happen with this thing. It’s just like…it’s still kind of weird. So then the Bible is released. I’m interviewed by a reporter actually. And he wants to pick a fight. He wants to pick a fight with me about, "why in the world would we disrupt Canon?" and, "did we make the right choices?" Now we made choices…we made informed choices…that’s the best you can do because some of it isn’t recorded so how do you know, you know…

David: And if I remember correctly, in the introduction to the Bible you basically state just that…you say…

Wayne: This guy wanted to pick a fight. He just was one of those reporters that just wanted to pick a fight. So we did the interview, but I knew when the article came out it was going to be a negative article. And it did, it came out in Christian News…whatever that news service is…it was extremely negative and a lot of outlets picked it up. So I wrote a rebuttal on my blog…I just wrote a rebuttal on my blog and just outlined what we did and just told the facts as I knew…I didn’t mention the reporter at all ,but just the facts of the product. Is one of the most popular blog articles I’ve ever written and what was funny was…that’s still a bestselling Bible…and it was just…you know you just walk in with an idea and you go how do we make this thing more relevant and it clicks.

David: Would you mind sharing with me your blog address?

Wayne: Oh yeah. It’s www.waynehastings.blogs.com/offtheshelf. That’s my release valve. I love to write.

David: Thomas Nelson has been in the specialty Bible business for a long while. The earliest Bible that I know of that Thomas Nelson has done for the specialty market was the Heart Shield Bible in WWI. Do you know of one that was earlier than that?

Wayne: Well it depends on how you define "specialty." Actually Thomas Nelson himself broke Bibles into signatures so people could afford them. And so he was selling 32 page installments so people in the 1790’s and early 1800’s could actually afford to have a Bible in their house. So the original special Bible…we laugh…the original specialty Bible publisher was actually Thomas Nelson himself.

David: So like later generations would buy an encyclopedia on an installment plan, you could buy a Bible on an installment plan? And then when you got it all together you could stitch it together yourself, or just keep it in the signatures?

Wayne: His whole gig was making books affordable. I mean, he was one of the first….in fact you can read this on Mike’s blog [Michael Hyatt is president of Thomas Nelson]. He’s done some history on Thomas Nelson. [Nelson] was one of the first publishers who understood the mass market, and that books just weren’t for the elite. So he did all kinds of things. In fact, I think he was the first guy that had started book fairs so people could actually see the books and see what they were. He invented the rotary press--but didn’t patent it--so he could print them more effectively, more efficiently and cheaper. And then he broke these Bibles into signatures and sold them. So he was just an entrepreneur who wanted to get books to the mass population in Edinborough, Scotland.

David: There’s a couple more specific questions that I’d like to ask, because in the process of talking to people about this book I'm writing, these are questions that they’ve asked me.

Wayne: Okay.

David: First, and this sort of has a…sort of a sacrilegious tone…so again, it’s not my question but somebody else’s: When I was talking to somebody about BibleZines and how BibleZines are modeled on magazines that are popular in "unchurched" demographic segments, somebody asked me the question, "well is there any limit on what they would do?" In other words, for example, there are unchurched populations that read adult literature…what is the policy for limiting what you would model a BibleZine on? Does that make sense?

Wayne: Yeah. Gosh that’s a good question. I mean…

David: Not just adult magazines, but like Guns and Ammo

Wayne: Yeah. Yeah. There is an editorial filter for everything we do. But in the case of a BibleZine we try really hard to use features to make Scripture relevant in the kids' lives. So even if one of the features is, you know, top 10 music of 2009…Christian music of 2009…it’s there to help them bridge that gap. Oh this is relevant. I see that. So we’re putting something in a BibleZine, and some of it is overtly tied to the Scripture it’s next too. So you’re in First Timothy and it’s talking about leaders and there’s a sidebar about leadership. I mean…it’s an expositional article about leadership…biblical leadership…and that’s cool. Then there’s some other stuff in there that isn’t [directly tied to Scripture], but they're all religious, all moral. It’s not taking any kind of stand but it’s there to bring in the relevancy factor because, I’m sorry, there’s just a lot of kids out there that don’t think the book is relevant.

David: Oh absolutely.

Wayne: So you got to tease them a little bit with editorial content that’s going to let them know that it is relevant. And that’s all. I know we’ve had our critics, but that’s really what we try to do. So there is tremendous amount of intentional content that drives kids to Scripture, but there’s also some content in there that just lets them know that…you know, like one time we put in an article about 10 ways to attract a guy. We got a lot of flack on that.

David: I think I remember reading some blogs

Wayne: Yeah. But one of the ways was be in prayer. Dress modestly. So it was like…come on…I mean it’s G rated material but girls are thinking about guys all the time. So let’s put it in there.

David: I have a related question about that intentional content. The entire visual package of a highly specialized Bible--full of color, lots of production values, either the chronological study Bible or BibleZine, to take two examples--is going to include these additional written pieces, and they're also going to include footnotes and pictures and visual presentation. s At what point in the process is the graphic design and the layout staff brought into the process…?

Wayne: Early, early, early.

David: So there’s a general theological feel established that is sort of global to the product and then everybody is sort of on board with working with that page by page?

Wayne: Yeah. That’s right. Highly talented graphic designers who understand the Word. And so it’s really kind of…they're just great people…but they’re still visual and they just shuffle the deck and there it is and we change it and they say there it is and then we go…

David: And so the last question that I would have…you had the flash of insight about the Chronological Study Bible, and then from that point--when an idea sort of hits the ground--to a finished Bible that’s in the stores…about how long on that process?

Wayne: If it’s a major content driven Bible like a Chronological, or Dr. Stanley’s Bible or John MacArthur’s Bible it’s a good 2-2.5 years. I mean the Bible alone is a million words. That’s a lot of words. And then you add 300,000 to 400,000 words so right there…you know the average book is what, 60,000 words?…so you’ve got 5 books that you’ve got to edit. So we put it through at least two if not three proofreading exercises from different proofreaders. Even though we have data files of the text…the Bible text…we still proofread that. Just because anything can happen at the printer or the typesetter…even though the typesetter just importing the file, anything can happen. So we proofread that. And then you’ve got the page layout work. You’ve got the writing work. So it’s a 2-2.5 year process. It’s not a cheap book to make and it’s not a….we have to plan a lot of edits. That’s hard…publishing sometimes can be hit driven…you know, so Sarah Palin becomes the vice presidential candidate and six weeks later somebody’s got a book on Sarah Palin. It’s like, oh my gosh, we could never do that in this division.

David: Mr. Hastings, thank you very much for your time.

Wayne: You're welcome.