A network of highly cohesive details reveals the truth.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Opening Movement...

...of the grand opus number one.

Sounds spectacular, huh?

Well, I think there is something going on that's pretty big--a movement to open up the Biblical text so that one and all can engage the text. And have the text engage them. I think the bazaar has discovered the text, or might it be the other way around? (see this wiki article, the book, or Eric Raymond's own page about the Cathedral and the Bazaar. These articles are about software engineering, but the cathedral and bazaar model still applies. I also think John Forbes Nash's view of equilibrium in a competing system provides some impetus to the whole "Opening up the Text" movement. As little as we like to admit it, different denominations and churches compete--sadly, large churches swallowing up little ones. And yet, we all are focused, or like to think we're focused, on a common vision.

There's a buzz about "Opening up". For example, in no particular order:

"What we need is the time to devote to open-source scholarly productivity ... and the financial support that will motivate scholars to offer their research and written instruction outside the current print-publishing-prestige-profit complex."
Yup, true enough. I've been involved in Open Source since way before it was called such (I suppose around 1990), and the prestige of Open Source is directly correlated to the service one supplies to the community. Anyway...

Back in March I sent an email to Zack Hubert which I think was more than he wanted to think about at the time. It said the following (somewhat edited for content here):

I run across people, dedicated people who yearn to have a closer walk with God, who admit to me, "I don't understand the Bible." These people are not dumb and I feel their pain. The point I'm making is we absolutely must find a way to get the original meaning, accurately exegeted, with a high degree of public exposure and peer-review (this feeds the accuracy), into a language that people can just read. What I might call koine English--not street language, but not academic either. It simply needs to be in the vernacular. Are we there today? No. But, if I may say so, I'm a firm believer that the process is outlined in the Bible. The problem is clearly defined in 1 Cor. 14:6-12.

I've come to the conclusion that there are two different uses of a Bible Translation (BT). Think of these, if you are at all knowledgeable of computer science, in use-case terms. In other words, if we ask the question, "How does a serious Bible student use the Bible?" we get two answers (two, rather high level, cases). One is analytic. The other is synthetic.

The first is where the details of the text-- lexical, syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic--are all analyzed. This is a use-case used by the analytical and detail oriented person. And let me emphasize: it's valuable. However, it appears to me that our current educational establishments cater to this sort of person when teaching exegesis and hermeneutics and therefore the BTs are skewed toward this use-case. They don't allow, other than maybe just touching it, the benefits linguistics brings to the table. Especially the results of some cognitive linguistics, but more so the results of discourse or text linguistics. And that brings me to the other use-case.

The way language works in communication is very highly synthetic. In other words, the vast details of how a specific text works interrelate in highly cohesive ways and thereby form a coherent meaning in one's mind. What this ends up meaning is that there must be this other use-case.

This second use-case involves at least the following details:

  • Markup of a text into paragraphs and rationale for the location of these breaks.
  • A synopsis (thesis statement or precis) of each paragraph
  • Translation into a destination language. This translation is more synthetic than the typical literal translation. We need both, but the more typical literal translation directly supports the analytical use-case. This synthetic translation is somewhat more paragraph oriented. In other words, a person reading the translation of the paragraph should come to an approximation of the synopsis (mentioned immediately above) of that paragraph as determined by a paragraph level exegesis. If they don't, then there is either something wrong with the translation, or something wrong with the synopsis, or both.
  • Community involvement in the translation process (See next)
  • Full exposure of why a translation choice was made. In other words, the rationale of the choice is fully exposed to peer review where the peers exist along at least one of three dimensions: clarity, naturalness, and accuracy. In other words, we need people, all of which are viewed as peers, along each of these dimensions. And I think it is very important to understand that "the ploughboy" exists along at least one of these dimensions. One significant advantage of this full exposure is that it would end up teaching people the interpretive context. Many wrong interpretations are easily dismissed when one learns that the original hearers could not have understood the passage that way.
  • We need to the ability to keep several versions of the translation artifacts (objects that support the translation) around. Open Sourcing the data would foster people to develop their own artifacts, but a central repository would foster the community communication that is so very badly needed in order to come closer to the intent of the original author. How is that, you ask? Notice that Romans 12:1-2 has to do with getting our individual minds straightened out so we can know the will of God. OK, that's good. But note what immediately proceeds from that statement. Paul immediately launches into how the body has to work, each utilizing their own gift(s) to the benefit of the others in the body. We really do need each other. There's a coherence in the achievement of scholarship.
Furthermore, the two use-cases are mutually supportive. The "stuff" that supports the analytic case also supports the synthetic case. and, the "stuff" that supports the synthetic case, in turn, supports the analytic case. This is based on the two simple facts that the whole of a text is more than the sum of its parts and, two, that the context shapes the interpretation of the individual details. Again, a very high degree of coherence.

Sorry for the long post; but, I've been thinking about this for going on 5 years now.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Tracking the Wiley Understanding

I just installed trackback. Thank you Wayne ;-) I think it's a good thing.

As you can see from the description in the sidebar to the left, I believe "an extensively diverse community of humble people" is necessary for an accurate understanding of the Bible. So, the networking dynamic of trackback is just the type of thing that encourages such a diverse and community effect.

I get this idea from 1 Cor. 3 (NLT) or (NASB).

Briefly, Paul tells the Corinthians that people driven by their own physical or self-centered desires quarrel with each other. They even take sides by congregating behind a single person. Paul subverts that modus operandi by showing that these "leaders" (he calls them διάκονοι, generally translated 'servants'--I would translate as 'facilitators') are really cooperating in a much grander, growth plan. Paul claims that "by his resting upon the benevolent resources he's received from God" he has laid the foundation (which is Jesus Christ), but there will be all sorts of other people building on top of that. Time will tell which parts one has added to the building are precious and which ones are just rubbish. But, in either case, the building being built is God's temple. Each of us is to be very careful how we build. He finishes with a warning to "scholars" who think they have authority simply because they are scholars, picking up a primary subtheme from 1:18ff. They need the attitude of non-scholars lest God use their own twisting of the truth to grab handfuls of them. After all, scholars who aren't facilitators, aren't really scholars. And then, lastly, he reminds his readers that "all are yours."

It's that last statement that I find quite gratifying. God owns the planet; he is sovereign. So, whatever there is will serve his purposes, which are always good. There will be rubish that needs burned, of course; but a community of humble people working together to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ will, ultimately, succeed in an accurate understanding and practice of the message God has delivered to us. I pray we can track that message and even gain ground on grabbing a hold of it for ourselves.

It's "an extensively diverse community of humble people" that can make the difference.

Lastly, if you want to see how diverse crowds facilitate accurate results, you might enjoy reading "Wisdom of Crowds" by James Surowiecki. I haven't read it. Initially, I did one of those, "No way! Can't be!" sort of things. But, after reading the Wiki article called "The Wisdom of Crowds"and some reviews at Amazon, I think there's a ring of truth to it (and I think with Paul, too). Let me know if you've read it and what you think. He deals with the fact that there are many cases where the mass of people did extremely stupid things. Interstingly, it's the lack of independent action that leads to the debilitating vortex.

Let's Track the Wiley Understanding. It's got to be close. Right? We won't know unless indendently we build the temple together.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

All the Discourse's a Stage..

...And all the participants merely players.

I'm reading a borrowed copy of Eugene Nida's "Contexts in Translation". On page 39 he says:
The audience of a discourse also serves as a context to highlight the meaning. For example, the parable of the Father and the Two Sons in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 15, there are two audiences: the repentant outcasts who gladly listened to Jesus and the Pharisees who were suspicious of Jesus and had contempt for the outcasts. The differences in the audience parallel closely the experiences and behavior of the younger and older sons.

I'm happy about that.

I think the overall message of Luke 15 has everything to do with what I'll call "The Priority of the Prodigal". Even God celebrates with a party when a lost one is found. So, I was quite pleased with his observation that the audience mentioned in Luke 15:1-2, indeed, all three participants with Jesus in the center, form one of many interpretive keys to the entire chapter.

On the one side we have the "sinners" and "tax collectors". 'Tax collectors" is a poor translation but it is hard to find a better. These people had bought at an auction a tax collecting franchise from the Roman government. By the 1st century CE they were limited to a certain extent at how much they could charge, but they needed to make a return on their investment. If you figure they made about 10%, the money they plopped down at the auction meant they were considerably wealthy to begin with. Perhaps, if measured by today's American standard of living, it would be above a half a million dollars. But being wealthy was not the problem with the "tax collectors"; Pharisees were also frequently wealthy.

The issue was the money they were collecting was Israel's money. And that money was being transferred to an occupying and unwelcomed government. In fact, the government was a Gentile government. Those people had different gods, bad gods. Their god was not the one true and living God--the God of Israel. Tax collectors, therefore, were traitors.

Sinners weren't any better. We now know from archeological evidence that some Jews ate pork. We know that because pig bones have been found in otherwise obviously Jewish homes. I think it likely these people were labeled "sinners". So, it was more than just a label of disdain. "Sinners" were just that--sinners. They broke Torah.

The Pharisees were the successful people of the day. They were successful in their businesses, in their religion, in their government which was centralized in the temple system. They were respected. Though perhaps a little pompous.

The Scribes, or what I like to call, the Torah Teachers, were the experts in the Hebrew Scriptures. Today, we would call these people Theologians or perhaps Scholars. Again, society respected them.

Jesus was in the center.

And he shamed himself by eating with...those...those...those "people."

I won't develop how the participants in the discourse play out in Luke 15 further, other than to say this: Read Luke 15:11-32 and compare the participants with: the younger son, the father, and the older son. I'll give you a hint: one thing you should observe is that the younger son, when he got a hold of his part of the inheritance did not bear his responsibility of taking care of his father. He "gave" it to the Gentiles. And, O! yes, the wonderful, wonderful father--it was quite shameful for an older man to run in public.

Knowing how the participants of a discourse play out in the discourse is one of the tools of good exegesis.

Our God runs.


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Exegetitor is born

Well, I think it's time to start a blog. I certainly can't get over this strange feeling I'm talking to no one. However, perhaps eventually, there will be others. Anyway, hello to the great out there.

What I want to accomplish with Exegetitor is fairly straightforward. I've felt for some time that exegesis of the New Testament text is hampered by an uninformed (or even ill-informed) understanding of how communication works. That is not to say that the baby should be thrown out with the bath water. The mechanics of exegesis as taught in books like Gordon Fee's " New Testament Exegesis" are quite good. Instead, it's to highlight that Biblical exegesis is too focused on the details. Details are important, we need to observe and understand how a genitive relates to its head noun, for example; but, I think what is missing is a clear understanding of how those details get connected within what I suppose should be called a communication event.

The audience for this blog, if it ever has one, will be the serious Bible student. However, I want it accessible to a wide variety of people. Topics, at least as they relate to exegesis, will include things like Relevance Theory, Pragmatics versus Semantics, issues related to Bible translation, and many, many others. But, I want the substance of these topics to be communicated. I very much hope to make it practical, too. That is, I want to take large texts and work through the exegesis. I'm thinking of doing James first, since I think many understand it as a somewhat loose list of proverbs. It's actually a very cohesive letter.

Lastly, and most importantly, I want the authority of the Bible to be upheld. My prayer is that God would be honored and who he really is clearly communicated.