The Library Basement
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SBL new open access policy

Recently the Society of Biblical Literature informed its membership of a new "Green Open Access" policy for works published in SBL publications (including JBL):

This policy allows the author to post or archive a PDF file of the postprint manuscript in specified types of open-access locations—the author’s institutional repository (IR) and the author’s personal or institutional website—following an eighteen-month embargo from publication date. The complete article citation must be provided as specified by SBL.

So eventually the article can be made available if the author takes action. This is generally a move in the right direction. I think this would work better if the works were openly available from SBL itself, since that would provide a centralized, indexed, and searchable repository. As it stands, the articles would be fairly disparate.

In the full text of the policy [PDF] there is a great synopsis of the enduring importance of centralized academic publishers:

Academic, peer-reviewed publishing uniquely serves higher education by setting standards, vetting content and methodology, and disseminating research. Such publishing is also a means of professional development through credentialing for tenure and promotion. Consequently, academic publishers are an essential component of the higher education ecology.

In spite of the power of internet technologies for self-publishing, JBL and similar journals still serve an important purpose. But following is where I disagree with the SBL:

In order to foster biblical scholarship and scholarly communication, the Society of Biblical Literature allows specific and reasonable dissemination of the results of scholarly research published within its books and journals.

Contrary to the terms of this new "open access policy," the reasonable dissemination of scholarship would involve providing immediate open access to the works, preferably under a permissive license. After all, how better could SBL serve the biblical studies ecosystem than by releasing the results of research to everyone? It could only improve the scholarly dialogue.

I suspect the only reason for closed access is so that SBL can monetize the articles by using restrictive copyright licenses. The selection of candidate articles, peer-review process, editing, and type-setting cost money, after all. However I think it would be best to cover those expenses up-front. I would like to imagine that my SBL dues and JBL subscription fee would be enough to cover these expenses. If they are not, I would be willing to pay more, if it meant that the articles published in JBL had unqualified open access.

This is definitely a positive development, so I hesitate to criticize this fresh policy change. But I think SBL needs to keep moving in the direction of freely-accessible content, for the good of all.

More momentum for freely-licensed Bible texts

Just a couple of quick notes:

As I have found processing the text of Bible versions, versification is no simple task. What happens when you have verses labeled "3/4" or "5c" or simply null, as a inter-verse portion of a chapter (all these examples from Rahfl's Septuagint). BibleOrgSysis Rob Hunt's "attempt to develop a system that is multilingual, multinational, and multicultural from the beginning—to pull all of these various Bible organisational systems into one place." The project was first announced in 2011, but it is still actively being worked on now. From the looks of the code, he's adding extensions for Drupal and other systems. Great news.

In another corner of the web, Stephan Kreutzer of Freie Bibel explains the importance of free software and free culture licensing for Bible texts. Stephan is working on contributing to the ecosystem of free software tools which can be used to proofread and edit digitized texts.

Very encouraging!

Scientific study of the results of higher criticism?

The methods of higher criticism which are employed in biblical studies and other fields can yield intriguing results, but are the conclusions trustworthy? In the case of ancient texts, the reality behind redaction or source criticism is speculative, and there is no authoritative measure by which to evaluate the practice, because we do not have independent documentation of the sources or editorial process. So if two critics reach differing conclusions, and these lead to a significant divergence in exegesis, there is no way to settle the matter. It becomes "he said, she said" among scholars.

While we cannot know for certain in the case of ancient texts, there is a way to evaluate the various methodologies of higher criticism in general. This will help rank the relative quality of these methods, which will lend confidence to judgements passed on ancient texts.

I propose a study as follows: Two pools of texts are assembled. The first pool will be known to be composed by a single author - the analogue to a placebo group. The second pool will be comprised of texts with documented eclectic sources and editorial history (Wikipedia, with its history of edits, would be perfect for this). These texts would then be passed to scholars in a double-blind fashion, and they would be asked to make an analysis of the history of these texts. The results of these analyses can be objectively scored for precision and recall, which will reveal the best scholars and their best practices.

Is anyone aware of such a study having already been published? Are there any problems with the methodology I propose?

Unicode conversion of the LXX Morph text

I had been looking for a morphologically-tagged LXX for research and
came across the CATSS LXXM text. The one thing lacking for my use of
this text was that it was in betacode and not in unicode.

By searching I have found that many people have taken this text and
converted it to unicode for embedding in web sites, but to my knowledge
nobody is publishing the equivalent plain text files. The Unbound Bible
comes closest, but it publishes the text and the morphological analysis
in two separate files, which is suboptimal. So I decided to embark on
converting the LXXM to unicode.

Luckily James Tauber has shared a Greek betacode to unicode conversion
script which took care of most of the hard work for me. Using this,
I was able to convert all of the texts to betacode to unicode. I am
sharing the result as a git archive: lxxmorph-unicode.

The texts differ from the originals in the following ways:

  1. Several corrections have been applied.
  2. The betacode text has been converted to unicode.
  3. The files are now whitespace-separated rather than fixed-width.
  4. The second column, containing the POS and parsing information, has had its whitespace replaced with hyphens in accordance with the above.
  5. Combined the split files of Genesis, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and renumbered all the files.

Please note that this resource has a rather novel license which
requires users to fill out a user declaration and send it in to the
CCAT program at the University of Pennsylvania (see
0-user-declaration.txt in the repo). As far as I can tell, my redistribution of the unicode version complies with the license. I have contacted Robert Kraft (the former steward) and Bernard Taylor (the current steward) with the corrections I've found.

(link to the original announcement on the Open Scriptures mailing list)

Psalm 82, 2012 edition

God stands in the General Assembly; in the midst of world leaders he renders judgment.

He says, "How long will you make unjust legal decisions and show favoritism to the wicked? (Selah)

Defend the cause of the poor and the fatherless! Vindicate the oppressed and suffering!

Rescue the poor and needy! Deliver them from the power of the wicked!

They neither know nor understand. They stumble around in the dark, while all the foundations of the earth crumble.

I thought 'You are the elite; all of you are rulers of the most powerful nations.'

Yet you will die like all mortals; you will fall like all the other rulers."

Rise up, O God, and execute judgment on the earth! For you own all the nations.

Adapted from the NET Bible. Inspired by James M. Trotter's "Death of the אלהים in Psalm 82", JBL 131, no. 2 (2012): 221-239. Trotter argues that the "gods" in this psalm should be understood as divine kings (c.f. Isaiah 14).

Prayer for the distractable mind

From today's alternate Psalm, 90:12:

Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

This one really resonates with me, the constantly-distracted.

Jesus' vocabulary

A friend of mine asked if I had a list of all of Jesus' words, sorted by frequency, with common words like "the" removed. I did not have such a list at hand, but I took it as a challenge.

Thanks to software, most of the work to create a sorted listed of Jesus' vocabulary is trivial. I can easily make a frequency list of his words and remove common stopwords. The most challenging part for me was finding a source of the gospels from which it was easy to extract just Jesus' words.I asked around, and found that the World English Bible XML contains a \<wj> (i.e. "words of Jesus") tag which delimits exactly what I need. So after a bit of processing, and thanks to NLTK, I was able to provide a basic list of Jesus' most common words:

  1. one - 221
  2. father - 211
  3. tell - 210
  4. man - 196
  5. God - 163
  6. things - 163
  7. come - 158
  8. son - 149
  9. go - 123
  10. also - 113
  11. know - 111
  12. may - 111
  13. kingdom - 104
  14. see - 102
  15. lord - 97
  16. said - 96
  17. therefore - 94
  18. give - 93
  19. heaven - 86

Based on the top of the list, I'd say Jesus was primarily talking about the good news.

I've shared the code.

Bible software galore

We are experiencing a downpour of new Bible software offerings. Here are just three which have come to my attention lately:

  • Sofia (or Bible Web App v. 2) is an advanced web application which can work without internet access in any browser ([useful for restricted countries][]).
  • Verity, a desktop application for Windows and Linux.
  • MetaV ("the meta-version"), including a web UI called [MetaV Explorer][], which lets you browse the Bible by time and location.

Enjoy!

Useful metadata for Bible passages?

What types of metadata would you like to see tagged onto Bible passages? Here are a few I can think of (many of which have already been implemented):

  • Morphological tagging (parsing, lemma, etc.)
  • Cross-references
  • Explanatory footnotes
  • Textual variants
  • Diologue info (e.g. identifying who the speaker is)
  • Geo-coding
  • Time and date
  • Related media (photos, art, etc.)
  • Topic
  • Genre

Any others?

Random Genesis

I have just begun working through Natural Language Processing with Python. One of the first features highlighted in the first chapter is the ability of nltk (the Natural Language ToolKit - a Python module) is to generate random text from a corpus.

Without further ado, here is what my system generated based on the book of Genesis in the KJV:

In the selfsame day , neither do thou any thing that creepeth upon the bank of the east wind , sprung up after th And I will send thee a covering of the Philistines unto Gerar . And he commanded the steward of my master greatly ; and she bare unto Jacob , went forth to go down and buy thee fo But if thou be in the second , and fall upon Adam , in the land is good : and his two womenservants , and begat sons and his eleven sons , and put every man ' s

Sound realistic? ;-)

Testing the waters of the NIRV

My wife and I ordered a copy of the New International Reader's Version of the Bible, published by Zondervan. She thought it would be useful for Sunday school to have an easy-to-read Bible which was a full translation, unlike most children's bibles. So far I like how it reads.

I'll share one example from the beginning of Hebrews, which I think is one of the more difficult books of the Bible to read. First, in the NIV:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

And now in the NIRV:

In the past, God spoke to our people through the prophets. He spoke at many times. He spoke in different ways. But in these last days, he has spoken to us through his Son. He is the one whom God appointed to receive all things. God made everything through him.

The first thing that should jump out at you is that the NIV has one sentence, but the NIRV breaks these two verses into six. The sentences are shorter and easier, though splitting them up this results in some repetition (since the verb "he spoke" gets repeated for each adverb).

The vocabulary is simpler, and people and place names are unified (which is something which may give biblical theologians fits). Overall I like it. A real translation which is more accessible to less-experienced readers is a positive in my book. Now let's see who all complains about it.

Strong's Dictionary in sqlite3

Someone asked the Open Scriptures mailing list about getting the Strong's Dictionary data into a sqlite3 database. Challenge accepted. And it was quite the challenge.

The Strong's repo for the Open Scriptures project contains an xhtml version of the Strong's dictionary. I would have used that data as a source, but for two problems: 1. it lacked transliterations, and 2. some of the unicode lemmas for the Hebrew portion were missing. Thankfully the repo also contains the XML sources for the Greek and Hebrew. I decided to unleash Python with xml.sax.

Unfortunately those XML sources were two different data types, so I had to write two different parsers. Also, the Greek portion contains self references with just the number, not the unicode string, so I had to write a second pass parser to fill in the missing lemmas. It also turns out that some of these self references are to Strong's numbers which are not a part of the dataset, which has me a bit perplexed (I'll be following up on that soon).

After changing my mind a few times about how I wanted to approach the "description" part of each entry (and some accompanying refactors of the code), I finally got a working product. You can find it in my Biblical Studies git repo. I put it under the MIT license so people can do whatever they need to do with it.

I am not really sure if there are any other open sources Strong's->sql importers out there. Maybe someone can take my script and give it support for other databases (or even frameworks, like Django).

Edit: And Darrell Smith provided code for doing it with regex in PHP. Technology can provide many paths. Glad to see there are so many helpers on the Open Scriptures mailing list.

Update: I've update the script to use 1.5 of the Strongs Greek XML, and it also downloads the source files automatically, so you don't have to checkout the Open Scriptures git repo if you don't need it otherwise.

Update 2 (March 10, 2012): The MorphGNT site was moved to Github, so I've updated the link to the Strongs Greek database in the script. Also, here is a compressed copy of the sqlite3 database which results from the script.

Zeitgeist

Trust in the Lord for ever,
for in the Lord God
you have an everlasting rock.
For he has brought low
the inhabitants of the height;
the lofty city he lays low.
He lays it low to the ground,
casts it to the dust.
The foot tramples it,
the feet of the poor,
the steps of the needy

\~ Isaiah 26:4-6, NRSV

A Psalm for 9/11

I propose Psalm 34 for a 9/11 lectionary reading. Of particular note is verse 18:

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted

and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Argument and allegory: counter-example

In my previous post I suggested that at least one New Testament author's argument in at least one passage does not really make sense if we take the Adam & Eve story as an allegory. In Timothy 2 Paul seems to take it literally and to make his rhetorical point in such a way that an allegorical reading would make it invalid.

[][]In the comments it was suggested that Paul here was making reference to Adam & Eve as an illustration, not as a warrant in his argument. I disagree based on my reading. However I do not want to cause confusion: interpreting parts of the Bible in modes other than literal-historical-grammatical does not automatically undermine those New Testament passages which rest thereon. I can think of at least one clear counter-example:

Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”

He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

\~ Matthew 12 NIV

Obviously there is some debate among Christians as to whether Jonah is to be understood historically or as a parable. In this case I do not think it matters which direction the interpreter leans. Jesus is using the Jonah story as a sign, illustratively, and therefore the literal truth or lack thereof does not really bear on the validity of Jesus' statement.

I'll probably manage to push out a couple more posts on this topic to clarify my thinking.

[]: http://thelibrarybasement.com/images/2011/08/HeQi_046.jpg

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