February 2012

I’ve been trying to keep up my German in other ways since I’m not reading German articles/books for my research.  [Because of a short-term staffing issue in the department here I happen to be teaching 5 classes this semester (though only 3 preps).  It’s not bad, and it does help fund summer travel plans, but it also doesn’t leave any time for writing.  We like most teaching focused universities usually run 4/4 loads (i.e., 4 Fall/4 Spring classes, with summers optional).  And I’ll return to that schedule in the fall.]  Anyhow, for my German my only contact is that most week days I read through (and sometimes listen to) the Deutsche Welle news (with the help of Dict.cc, of course).

I had the goal of being able to read a Harry Potter novel in German when I finished my PhD, but I wasn’t to that point, nor am I really there now, but I thought that I’d give it a go since the only way you get there is by practice.  And I don’t want to do something academic at night where I have to think about the content–in that way a novel would be ideal.  So I tried to download a German version of HP on our Kindle since I didn’t want to have to have one shipped.  To my dismay, I learned that Rowling wouldn’t license the books for e-readers because of her love of actual books–a bit hypocritical since she licensed them for audio books and movies, but that’s beside the point.  So, I just looked up free German edition books on the Kindle and found quite a few.  I settled on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or rather Huckleberry Finns Abenteuer und Fahrten (German Edition), since I know enough of the story to keep up with the text.  Though I probably only get about 1/2 of the sentences and don’t look up most things, I am picking up more vocab and grammar.  However, the German translator also keeps true to the poor grammar of Jim and others, and it took me a couple of chapters to figure out why some things didn’t square up.

Since our Kindle (a Kindle 3, in case it matters) has a built in dictionary for English books (just move the cursor and a gloss pops up), I thought that surely I could get a German one as well.  It turns out that you can get a German-English one even!  This site has Free (as in GPL2) translation dictionaries for the Kindle, and importantly the German-English is the most robust.  It doesn’t include inflected forms (though most past-participles are there) and some more colloquial terms, it’s perfect for my goal of just making it through a lot of text where I’m happy to only understand the general story.

I’m about 1/2 way through the story and may shoot for an updated novel for my next try, perhaps Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol or rather Das verlorene Symbol, since I’m planning on writing a paper about it because he pushes the idea of ‘apotheosis’.


Our Student Theological Society invited Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer to give a lecture here at MBI last night. I couldn’t stay for the lecture, but had the opportunity to join him and the society leadership team for dinner beforehand in the student diner room. I went primarily because I was asked by our Bible and Theology departments to serve as the faculty representative at the dinner. Faculty representatives aren’t required for such occasions, but as a courtesy to our guest we thought it might be nice to have a “colleague” more familiar to the students and with the institute present at the meal. Unfortunately, my “colleague” status, as exaggerated as it might be in the presence of such a tenured scholar as Vanhoozer, was shown to be even more overstated than initially presumed, once he sat down at the table and asked us, “So, are all of you undergraduates?” …

Now, I suppose youth has it benefits, status isn’t everything, and being mistaken for a student every now and then is something I will surely miss when I’m old and grey, which Vanhoozer assured me of once I introduced myself immediately thereafter. But I’m looking forward to the day when introductions will no longer be necessary just for the sake of distinguishing myself from students. In the meantime, I’ll just have to keep overdressing whenever I’m on campus, or at least until facial hair becomes an option and wrinkles begin to form!

Analysis Window: I love the analysis window! I rarely used it on BW7, since it could not do much that I found helpful beyond defining and parsing words. But with the improvements introduced to BW9 (and BW8 before that), I now use the analysis window regularly. Its purpose is to provide additional data for the user to view which corresponds to the word over which the cursor is placed in the browsing window. The cursor in the browsing window is synched to the analysis window, so unless the shift-button is held down or the cursor stops moving, the data in the analysis window will continue to change as the cursor moves over new words in the browsing window.

To me, the two best features of the window are what are called the “use” and “browse” tabs. The “use” tab functions like an instant search tool, displaying every instance of the word which the cursor is placed over—with the option to view all its occurrences either in the individual book under study, or the entire version. If the cursor is placed over an English word, only that specific form of the word appears. However, if the cursor is placed over an ancient word, then the user has the option to view the occurrences of the word’s specific form, or all its forms.

The “browse” tab, on the other hand, functions as the name suggests: a second browsing window. When the cursor is placed over a verse in the main browsing window, the tab displays that verse (in bold) at the top of the analysis window together with those verses which immediately follow it—for as far down the screen as the interface allows. Since the main browsing window allows the user to view either an entire passage or a single verse in numerous versions, in my opinion this tool becomes most helpful when the version selected for the “browse” tab differs from that displayed in the main browsing window (all languages available in the main browsing window can be displayed through the tab). Otherwise, the tab only displays text already available in the main browsing window. This is a great feature, since BW7 only allowed the user to view a text in multiple versions once verse at a time. The only adjustment I recommend for future BW versions is to display the verse over which the cursor is placed in the middle of the window rather than at the very top of it, so that the user can see the text immediately preceding the verse as well as that which immediately follows it. For being able to view the immediately preceding text is often more beneficial than being able to view that which appears several verses later.

Because I rely on these two features so much, but also rely on the analysis window to view lexica (e.g, I’ve set the “analysis” [lexicon] tab to display BDAG entries when I place the cursor over Greek words), it is then additionally beneficial that BW9 has the option, as I’ve said in an early post, to expand the analysis window by opening a fourth window (on the far right) that allows the user to do two analysis functions simultaneously.

Search window: For me, the primary appeal of BW is the power and flexibility of its search engine. Through the search window command line, the user can search for verses containing individual words, forms of words, phrases, groups of words, parts of words, etc. For this reason, BW will appeal mostly to those who desire to do exegetical work in the original languages. Although modern-language-only users can benefit from the software’s ability to search phrases and word combinations that are impossible for an exhaustive concordance, my impression is that those who are interested in doing such complex searches are normally those who are able to work in the biblical languages. And I do such searches all the time. Much of my research would simply be impossible if I did not have such a useful search tool as BW.

New to me in the search window of BW9 (though I believe this feature first appeared in BW8) is the ability to rearrange and hide verses that return from a search. The user can now tick a box next to each verse that returns from the search in order to configure the results as desired. This is an especially helpful feature when a search returns so many extraneous verses that they become a distraction. By hiding the extraneous verses, the user can “clean up” the window and concentrate better on those that actually matter for the project.

Another great feature of BW is the use of tabs above the search window’s command line. The tabs function exactly like tabs in Internet Explorer: they allow the user to work with multiple texts and have multiples projects open at once, each with their own search results and analysis window. Since I frequently use BW to conduct word/phrase searches, I normally devote individual tabs to a specific corpus of literature, so I can quickly do a search in, e.g., the LXX/Apocrypha/NT, Josephus, Philo, or the Apostolic Fathers without having to close or change my current window.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we’re looking at moving to a one-volume Bible introduction textbook to use for our sections of OT and NT, respectively.  For freshman most OT and NT textbooks are too long and distract from students just reading the text.  I’m a NT person, so I may be biased, but it does seem that (like Ed said in the comments to the previous post) there are more options for NT than for OT, and that has been born out by our discussions of textbooks at HBU.

As far as criteria, we’re a broadly evangelical institution so we want a textbook that engages critical issues but that is not overly critical (that’s surely a sliding scale so there’s flexibility).  In addition, we would like a textbook that introduces students to the material culture, i.e., has pictures.  Price is not a determining factor, but we also want to be conscious that a sizable portion of our students are confessionally non-christian and that we don’t want to over burden them with books that won’t keep.

I poked around on CBD and Amazon to see what one-volume options were out there.  They mostly seem to be focused on religious studies markets (and thus more critical than our context), and I couldn’t find many (recent ones) that were focused on more broadly evangelical concerns.

Here are some of the more popular (but more critical) introductions around:
Introduction to the Bible: Revised Edition, Fant and Musser
Introduction to the Bible (8th Edition), Hauer and Young
An Introduction to the Bible, Kugler and Hartin
Exploring the Bible, Steven Harris (recommended by commenters)

Here are a couple of evangelical ones I found:
The Lion Guide to the Bible, Walker (good price, lots of pics. I think this will be our top choice.  It is a little less critical than our target, but still a good volume.  Btw, it’s distributed by Kregel in the US.)
The IVP Introduction to the Bible, Johnston (a little short and no apparent pictures)

There are a couple of handbook-type introductions that were out there that are organized canonically (though surely many others are around):

The Baker Illustrated Bible Handbook, Hays and Duvall (lots of pictures, good price, but LONG at 1100 pages–but this includes side articles and other material)
The Eerdmans Companion to the Bible, Fee and Hubbard (few pictures and often black-and-white, good price, 834 pages).

Another option is Fee and Stuart—just the first or a combination of the two (good price and a little shorter, but no pictures):
How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour, Fee and Stuart (strictly books)
How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Fee and Stuart (basic hermeneutics and introductions to different genre)

As another option, we’re considering going with a study Bible and letting lectures serve to supplement missing issues.  A possible option here might be an electronic study Bible like one Logos mentioned they are developing.  I’ll be interested to see how it turns out since it can be more indepth than a paper study Bible which is limited by space.

In the end, I’m not sure if we’ll stay with the separate introductions, a single volume, a study Bible or something else.  Further thoughts and suggestions you have would be most welcome.

Jim Barr at Bibleworks (BW) was kind enough to send me a review copy of BW9. My plan is to post a few blog entries over the next week or so commenting on the main features of the software (primarily for the benefit of newcomers to BW) as well as highlighting what’s new on BW9 (for users of older versions). Now, I should admit that I was using BW7 prior to receiving BW9 (I never purchased the BW8 upgrade). So I will do my best to distinguish what is new to BW9 from what is simply new to me. I will say at the outset, however, that after using BW9 for the past three or so weeks, I emphatically recommend that anybody (like myself) still using BW7 or earlier versions make the upgrade immediately: the improvements are well worth the expense.

Interface: The interface for BW9 is, thankfully, the same attractive and user-friendly interface used in earlier versions of the software, so longtime users need not fear any drastic changes there. There are still three primary windows appearing in vertical columns to aid users as they handle texts: the browsing window (in the middle), the search window (on the left), and the analysis window (on the right). New to BW9, however, is the wonderfully-helpful option to expand the analysis window by opening a fourth window (on the far right) that allows the user to do two analysis functions simultaneously.

Browsing window: One of the standout features of BW has always been the ability to view numerous versions of a single text in the same central browsing window. BW9 has all the main Bible translations and critical texts needed for studying Scripture, as well as many other valuable early Jewish and Christian texts. The single most obvious improvement of the browsing window (from BW7 anyway) involves the layout of the lists that appear when the user clicks on the tabs to select a Bible version, book, chapter, or verse. The list that opens no longer forms a single vertical column that may go well below the bottom of the screen (e.g., in earlier BW versions, if one were studying Psalms and clicked the chapter tab to change chapters, not all 150 chapters of Psalms would be able to appear as options on the screen at once). Rather, the lists now appear in multiple columns making it easier for users to select the desired version, book, chapter, etc., without having to scroll down the list. Also different from BW7, the lists of versions are now initially collated according to language. Once a language is selected, a new window opens displaying an alphabetized list of texts in that language in multiple columns. This is to be distinguished from earlier BW versions in which clicking the versions tab produced a single alphabetized list of all texts reaching well beneath the bottom of the screen.

Negatives: The only negative comment I wish to make now is that the program takes a bit longer to open than my previous version. This may have to do as much with my aging laptop as anything, but I do wish it didn’t take so long to start up.

I will post on the search and analysis windows soon, as well as on the new modules and other helpful BW9 features.

I recently came across this advice about publishing for early career scholars. It comes from a conference last year organised by the Institute of Classical Studies in London. Although written with Classical scholars in mind, much of what is said can be helpful to early career Biblical scholars as well.

The presentations offer advice on all forms of publishing, but two points stood out to me. First, many of the contributors said that they began by writing book reviews. This is indeed a good way to get started, and there are many good practical reasons to do book reviews (you get to keep that CUP book that costs $150!). But it must be remembered that book reviews don’t carry much weight on a CV. You should decide early on how to balance time between writing reviews and researching and writing for journal articles and books. If you are going to write reviews, one way to get a balance is to review books that are directly related to what you are researching.

The second point that stood out was the advice to edit a volume. I have just recently completed editing a massive volume (630 pages) and I can say that this has pros and cons. I spent a lot of time working on it, especially since I had to typeset it as well. And the indexing took forever. But the payoff has been worth it. I have had the chance to work with some leading NT scholars, and I have learned a lot about the whole process that goes into editing books.

I took a road trip this weekend to Ft Worth to a taster event offered by Logos this weekend at SWBTS.  The best part of the event is always the road trip with friends–I got to share a ride with David Capes, Peter Davids, and Phillip Marshall, who are my collegues at HBU.  It’s great having some established scholars in the department like Peter, who knows everybody it seems and has some great stories.

But to the larger topic, I’ve never been a big Logos user partially because of the price and partially because of the speed, but I do have several key texts that I use in Logos (TDNT, IVP Dictionaries, BDAG, LSJ, ABD).  This overnight event was very eye-opening for me, and I was very impressed with the Logos platform and where it is heading.  I am still convinced that BibleWorks is still the best bang for your buck if you are doing core biblical studies and want direct access to key ancient texts, but the importance of Logos is their commitment to emerging forms of media like tablets and smart phones as well as what appears to be a little more savy with regard to ease of use.

Recognizing that this was a sales pitch, I doesn’t seem that they are misguided when they talk of world of paperless books in the near future, particularly to the growing popularity of tablets.  I’m not sure how I would fully integrate Logos into my teaching at this point (though their rt-click, add to Powerpoint option for all their stuff definitely and audibly won the crowd and me over), but Bob Pritchett definitely started my gears turning when he started to help us envision a classroom in that world of no print books.  We have recently had a speaker on HBU’s campus that mentioned how the internet was going to radically shift the value proposition of traditional institutions.  Students will have to be convinced that the gen ed portion of the education needs to be as expensively offered through these institutions rather than through the cheaper online options.  One way (that I’m sold on and use already some because it’s much more like the British model) to increase that value proposition was to include more discussion in the classroom since they can’t get that online, and then to offer some lecture portion online for the class that the student can watch when it’s most convenient to them (an aspect I don’t do, though think it would have benefits).  This fits well with the Active Learning method that I am hoping to integrate more and more.

At any rate, the Logos proposition would facilitate some of that, but it’s a wider issue beyond their software.  However, they (Logos) seem to see how that environment will shape things in the not-to-distant future, and it’s that vision for the way technology will shape society that strikes me as a fundamental value proposition for Logos.  That is, not only do they offer a very good (but wildly expensive, imho, vis-a-vis BW) product, they also clearly have a vision for the future that will enable the longevity of the product.  I’m sure BW will remain competitive, but with their lack of integration into tablets and phones (which to my basic knowledge is not anything that will change soon, though feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) will create difficulties for them and therefore for us.

Now that I’ll have the scholars edition of Logos with the biblical texts to integrate with the dictionaries that I already owned, I’ll have to see how user friendly it all is in practice, but I’m definitely interested to try it out, not least since so much of my time is currently devoted to teaching preparation and therefore Powerpoint.