Friday, September 6, 2019

ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World

Paul's First Mission Journey on ORBIS
I've mentioned ORBIS before, but Chiara Palladino just posted an excellent review of the site. She writes:
The aim of Orbis is to allow investigation of the concrete conditions of travel in the ancient world, with a particular focus on the 3rd-century Roman route and transportation network. Orbis is a response to the long-standing scholarly debate about visual representations and study of “spatial practice” in the premodern world: traditional mapping approaches fail to convey the complexity of the variables involved in travel practices and provide a flat view of phenomena that are strongly connected with space and movement, such as trade, economic control, and imperialism. Orbis was conceived to respond to the specific question of how travel and transport constraints affected the expansion of the Roman Empire.
You will want to read the rest of the review and see examples of what sort of insights ORBIS 
can offer. From a biblical perspective, it can provide a good sense of how long and how expensive travel might have been in New Testament times. You cannot list more than a beginning and endpoint for each journey, but you can keep stringing them together to get the kind of map of Paul's first mission journey I depict above. You will see that not every city is included in the ORBIS database, so it does not include smaller locales like Lystra and Derbe. You also should create a map by right clicking on a site to make it a start or endpoint, since some of the names have changed by the 3rd century CE. (E.g., Antioch of Pisidia is listed as Caesarea of Phrygia.) You do have the options to choose fastest, cheapest, or shortest; set the season which would affect sailing options; choose whether you go by road and/or river/coastal sea/open sea.
Paul: Neapolis to Thessalonica - Via Egnatia

In this segment Paul traveled on his second mission journey from Neapolis > Philippi > Amphipolis > Appolonia > Thessalonica, ORBIS correctly picks out the Via Egnatia route. We also learn that such a trip would take 5.8 days to cover 173 kilometers (107 miles). 

So check out the review, and then play around with ORBIS for yourself.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Atlas of the Biblical World released!

I am happy to report that the Atlas of the Biblical World I coauthored with Robert Mullins is now available through Fortress Press and Amazon.
Based on the latest current scholarship, Atlas of the Biblical World features striking full-color maps and insightful commentary to make the ancient biblical world come alive. The complexities and questions that accompany the responsible study of the ancient world and its intersection with the biblical narrative are addressed through innovative map design and analysis. Sharp commentary that accompanies each map provides factual data, addresses questions of interpretation, and locates the biblical narrative in its wider historical and cultural context, making this particular atlas an ideal introduction for students of biblical studies. The atlas will feature over 60 full-color maps, illuminating commentary, full-color photographs of key historical artifacts, timelines, charts, and an index to the maps and content.
The official blurb from Fortress is quite glowing (!), but I am very happy to stand behind the content Bob and I have provided. The abundance of quality maps means that there is usually a map on every two-page spread, so that the commentary refers directly to the map at hand. Bob wrote the larger share of the atlas covering OT history. I wrote the chapters beginning with Alexander the Great to the Second Jewish revolt. I also provided most of the cover photos and six others in the book.

Here is what I wrote in the preface:
This atlas is intended to serve both as a collection of maps useful for biblical study and as a survey of biblical history. With a subject so vast and with space limited, the authors had to make choices about what to include. It is hoped that what remains is a helpful introduction to the Bible’s people, places, and events. The volume is organized chronologically rather than by the order of biblical books, but it does parallel the biblical narrative and is thoroughly cross-referenced. It should be easy to consult this atlas as one reads the Bible and place the biblical events within the larger history and context of the biblical lands. A Gazetteer is included for convenience in locating sites.
This atlas provides more than just maps with historical commentary. Geography is important, because it accounts for why things happened where they did. History—based on archaeology and extra-biblical artifacts in addition to the Bible—is important because it clarifies what happened. With better clarity about where and what events in the Bible occurred, we are better able to interpret the biblical story and understand why things happened from the perspective of what God has been doing since the beginning. 
As for us contributors:
Dr. Robert Mullins, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Azusa Pacific University and co-leader of an excavation at Abel Beth Maacah, has written chapters 1–45. Mark Vitalis Hoffman, Glatfelter Professor of Biblical Studies at United Lutheran Seminary, and frequent traveler to and photographer of archaeological sites in Israel, has written chapters 46–69. The cartography is the work of Cambridge-based Nick Rowland. Page layout and design has been carried out by Bounford.com, Great Gransden,  Cambridgeshire, while the index and gazetteer have been compiled by Christopher Pipe of Watermark, Cromer.
At 170 pages, it does not compete with the more comprehensive atlases available and which I have reviewed here and here. (I am still using the Crossway ESV Bible Atlas in my seminary course that surveys biblical geography and history.) It is intended, however, as the kind of atlas one could bring along on a trip to the biblical lands, since it is in a portable size, with good paper stock, and a very durable binding. Using the criteria I set in my own reviews,
  • Approach: It is intended as a Bible-reading companion, but the Gazetteer and Index make it useful for general reference.
  • General Matters: It can be used as a travel companion and is also ideally suited for adult Bible studies. I think it is reasonably priced at $24, and it is also available for Kindle or ebook at $22. 
  • Scope It covers the full biblical story from prehistory to Revelation and the second Jewish revolt in 135 CE. The intertestamental period from Alexander the Great to the Herodians gets special attention, since it is so important for establishing the context of the New Testament. While some atlases have chronological proportionality (and hence the 100 years of the NT period gets only scant attention compared to the 2000+ years of OT history), our atlas has ~35 pages covering the NT.
  • Perspective: Both Mullins and I understand the Bible to be telling a story. We do not need archaeology to 'prove' the Bible, but we also regard the Bible as one important resource for making sense of the archaeological record. We have our opinions, but we reflect the most recent and best scholarship.
I hope you will check the atlas out, and I'd love to hear any feedback!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Photo Companion to the Bible: Daniel and Esther


I had previously reported on the Photo Companion to the Bible: Acts and noted what an outstanding visual resource it is. Todd Bolen at BiblePlaces.com continues to release more resources in this series, the latest of which are the Photo Companion to the Bible: Daniel and another on Esther. Previous volumes on Ruth, Psalm 23, and the Gospels have also been released. The resources come as DVDs, but in the package a link is included to download all the files. Given the disappearance of CD/DVD drives on portable devices these days, distributing the volume on a USB drive would be handier, but the download option is a good workaround.


Each volume is a collection of PowerPoints with one file per chapter of the book. Each PowerPoint is a collection of slides with clear chapter and verse references labels on the slides. It makes it very easy to go quickly to a particular passage and see what visual resources are available. For presentation purposes, a slide could be directly copied into one's own presentation, but the images can be easily copy/pasted on their own. Each slide has excellent annotations describing what is depicted. There are over 1000 images for Daniel and over 700 for Esther.

As a typical example of how it all works, the Daniel volume has 12 PowerPoint files for each of the 12 chapters in Daniel. Opening the one for chapter 7, there are 121 slides. There are 7 slides connected to Daniel 7.1 which reads: "In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream:" The seven slides include images of:

  • Nabonidus Chronicle which mentions Belshazzar
  • Nabonidus cylinder which mentions Belshazzar (cf. image below)
  • Stele of Nabonidus (Belshazzar's father) from Teima
  • Picture of "Daniel St." sign in Jerusalem
  • Clay model of a bed, from Nippur, 2100–2000 BC
  • Model of a wooden folding bed, Egypt, circa 1550–1300 BC
  • Scribe copying Scripture
Each of the slides includes info about what is depicted, and I've bolded the words in the text and for the images to show why they were included. In a personal study of working through Daniel, these images provide helpful supporting commentary. If I were creating my own presentation or study guide, I doubt that I would use the street sign or the bed images which come from different contexts. The inclusion of peripheral images is typical throughout, and it is better to have them than not, though it does sometimes mean perusing through lots of slides to find the most relevant ones.

The pictures all are of good quality and include a mixture of artifacts (statues, coins, mosaics, many museum artifacts, etc.), sites, abstracts (e.g., sky, sea), maps, and modern images (animals, plants, signage, etc.). Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the images in these volumes on Daniel and Esther is that Bolen and the other contributors went to Iraq and Iran and obtained these images where the ancient Babylonian and Persian empires were located. These are not the typical tourist sites, and getting such images will likely become more and more difficult. Also note that free lifetime updates are promised. Further, as for permissions to use the images, it states, “The purchaser is granted permission to use this work in face-to-face teaching, video-recorded sermons, class notes, church newsletters, and like contexts.” Any other use would require specific permission.

These volumes are a fabulous resource. It is fascinating to peruse them on their own, and it's even better to employ them in conjunction with focused study of the biblical texts.

Disclosure: I was provided these resources for review but without any expectations of positive review.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Library Extension for Firefox and Chrome (You'll want this!)

I just discovered Library Extension for Firefox and Chrome, and it really is remarkable. Once you add the extension in either of the those browsers, an icon appears in the toolbar. Click it on to select your available public library and some educational institution ones. If your library system offers it, it will also allow you to connect to Hoopla and OverDrive.

Then, when you are looking for a book in places like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads or  Audible, Library Extension will automatically include information on its availability.

For example, I looked up Rasmussen's Zondervan Atlas of the Bible on Amazon, and the page looks like this:
As you can see, a new box has been added on the right telling me that it is available on Hoopla through my county library system. I click on the link, enter my library credentials, and I can start reading the atlas right away. That's pretty excellent. It even works for audiobooks, e.g.:
It's not a perfect system. Depending on which edition or version of a book you select, you will get different results. And your public library probably doesn't carry that technical volume on an advanced biblical topic. And sometimes, you really want to just buy the book and have your own copy!

In any case, this is a handy way to see if your local library has a book you can check out, and sometimes it is even available as an eBook or an audiobook. It's a great way to save some money!
HT: CNET

Monday, April 15, 2019

Designing for Agency in Bible Study

I didn't make it to this year's BibleTech in Seattle, but Stephen Smith at OpenBible.info posted the slides of his presentation. (Find them HERE.) Doubtless he provided more context for the slides, but it's fairly easy to follow his argument. Basically, he looks at Bible software and Bible reading from the perspective of game design which is concerned about agency. I'm greatly simplifying and making some assumptions from the slides, but he points out the importance of Competence, Relatedness, and Autonomy as motivating factors. Bible software marketing tends to promote competence and autonomy. (You can master the Bible on your own with our program!) But that's not what most people are concerned about when looking for something in the Bible. Here's where aspects of creating relationships come into play. (E.g., YouVersion's sharing options.) As Smith states,
Bible software, in general, supports competence across a narrow audience: mostly male Christians in some kind of leadership role. This narrow focus limits the market for Bible software because it doesn’t support life as lived by most Christians (slide 23)
Here's where Smith's previous work on a "Franken-Bible" comes into play. (Cf. my blog post here or go to his Adaptive Bible site.) He now has an Expanded Bible site which attempts to bring in Competence (you get to choose among translation options; the text includes sidebar notes with info and links; once you complete a chapter, you're rewarded by it generating an audio version you can listen to), Relatedness (you can share your created translation with others, something that can't easily be done at the Adaptive Bible), and Autonomy (you can do it on your own, and there is no wrong answer to discourage you).

I'm including a graphic of Smith's annotation of the print version (which is really inferior to the online, interactive version) so you can see how the Expanded Bible site was constructed, but you really just need to go play around at the site.
Smith, slide 32
I appreciate the various perspectives that Smith brings to bear on this project. They are certainly worth considering. Thanks to Steve Smith for sharing this!

Saturday, April 13, 2019

New KJV Parallel Bible - Textus Receptus vs. Critical Text

On Thursday 11 April, Mark Ward announced on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog the release of a free, online tool for teaching textual criticism to English speakers: the KJV Parallel Bible. Ward explains:
The site dedicates one page to each of the 260 chapters of the New Testament. On each of these pages are two columns. The left column is the KJV as it stands in the common 1769 Blayney edition. The right is the KJV as it would be if Peter Williams and Dirk Jongkind could travel back in time and hand the KJV translators an NA28—instead of the mixture of Stephanus (1550) and Beza (1598) the translators in fact employed... The differences between the two KJVs are then highlighted.
This is more of a thought experiment than a critical tool, but it's a helpful one. As I teach my students, I note that the most likely time when text criticism will arise in the parish is when someone notes that their KJV Bible is not the same as the NRSV or NIV Bible someone else is using. This site clearly highlights such differences, as is visible in the example from Mark 1.2 above.

With the critical text rendered in the archaic English of the KJV, it's not intended as a translation but as a text that's easy to compare with the KJV. What Ward concludes is that:
1. What’s really remarkable about Scrivener’s TR and the modern critical Greek text is not how different they are, but how similar they are.
2. English makes certain patterns in the variants more visible.
     A. “Jesus Christ” and “Christ Jesus” are a common variant pair.
     B. Revelation appears to me to be worse, textually, than other books.
     C. The TR is not so much “longer” as “easier” or “smoother” and therefore longer.
3. The same thing can be said with different words.

While you're at the site, be sure to check out the Study Guide and also the fun TR Quiz. Some of the quiz examples can be guessed correctly if you think in terms of making things more understandable and orthodox, but many are indeed inconsequentially different.

Thanks to Ward and the others who have shared this interesting resource.

Friday, March 29, 2019

BibleWorks Update!

When BibleWorks announced they were closing up shop in June 2018, they noted that the program would, of course, continue to run as normal. They also indicated: "We will, Lord willing, continue to provide compatibility fixes for BibleWorks 10 well into the future."

I still use BibleWorks regularly since it has so many resources I have not purchased in either Accordance or Logos. True to their word, I still was pleasantly surprised to see that they recently released a Windows 10 Compatibility Update: 10.0.8.710.

I haven't had any issues running BibleWorks in Win10, but if you still have the program, it probably is worth it to start it and update.

Universities of Cambridge and Heidelbergt Announce Digitization Project

A Greek New Testament manuscript dated to 1297 from the collection of Cambridge University Library.
The University of Cambridge posted on their web site:
In a major collaboration announced today (March 28, 2019), Cambridge University Library, 12 Cambridge colleges, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Heidelberg University Library and the Vatican Library have come together as part of a two-year £1.6m project, funded by the Polonsky Foundation, to digitise more than 800 medieval manuscripts... Hundreds of medieval and early modern Greek manuscripts – including classical texts and some of the most important treatises on religion, mathematics, history, drama and philosophy – are to be digitised and made available to anyone with access to the internet.
While the digitizing is a great asset, just as important is the cataloging and conservation that will be accomplished in this project. You can see what's available now on the Cambridge Digital Library and the Heidelberg Digital Library.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Online Bible Reference Taggers Comparison

ESV.org recently announced the availability of their free ESV CrossReference Tool. It gives me an opportunity to compare the three options that are now available. All are free. All work by adding a simple javascript either to a web page, or, if you want to make it available site wide, to a site template. They automatically find Bible references on a web page and generate a popup when hovering over a Bible reference like this: Mark 6.34.
By following the links below, I provide examples of each one's capabilities and provide some commentary.

SUMMARY (Update 2019.03.05 - Thanks to comment by Andley Chang)
  • ESV CrossReference Tool
    • Only links to ESV
    • Does have audio function
    • Provides social media and email linking
  • NETBibleTagger
    • Only links to NET Bible, but...
    •  ... click through links to the outstanding Lumina Bible online site with many additional resources
    • Allows customization of display
    • Also note that there is a NETBible Web Service (API) you can use to create links to Bible texts without using the automatic reference tagging.
  • Faithlife Reftagger
    • Offers option to link to a selection of Bible versions
    • Provides social media linking (but I regularly have trouble making the popup persist long enough to click on the link)
    • Links to the Biblia or Faithlife Study Bible. From these sites you can access many more resources
    • Allows customization of display 
  • BibleGateway Reference Tagging Tool 
    • Offers options to link to most Bible versions (over 60 English Bible versions, Greek (SBLGNT), Hebrew, and uncounted other non-English languages)
    • Links to BibleGateway site for more versions and other resources
    • Option for a Spanish interface link and other customizations
    • Does not recognize period separator for chapter.verse
As you can see, each has some benefits. Since I have a good Logos library, linking to Biblia online provides me access to all my resources. If you want access to non-English language, BibleGateway is the only choice. For most of my purposes, sharing Bible references on a blog like this or online articles I write, I will most often use the NETBible Tagger with BibleGateway as a second choice.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Photo Companion to the Bible ACTS - Review


In addition to his informative blog, Todd Bolen at BiblePlaces.com has been compiling some excellent study resources, the latest of which is the Photo Companion to the Bible volume on Acts. Previous volumes on Ruth, Psalm 23, and the Gospels have been released. The primary creators of the Acts volume are Steven D. Anderson, A.D. Riddle, Christian Locatell, Kris Udd, and Todd Bolen who have provided most of the photos and commentary. According to the introduction:
The Photo Companion to the Bible is an image-rich resource for Bible students, teachers, and researchers. Just as a librarian stocks the shelves with as many relevant materials as possible, so we have tried to provide a broad selection of images. Our goal is that you will find in this “library” whatever it is you are looking for. 
The volume is organized into 28 PowerPoints, one for each chapter of Acts. This makes it convenient to search for images connected to a chapter in Acts. Further, each of the images in the PowerPoint is labeled with a verse number and order sequentially. There is a variety of images included: photographs of sites, artifacts, historic photographs, aerial views, and maps. Where it would be helpful, some photographs are duplicated and include an overlay labeling notable features. (Many images come from BiblePlaces’ Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.) Each slide includes the portion of the verse to which it relates, the chapter:verse reference, and a descriptive caption. In the comments section of the PowerPoint, additional information is provided.
There are over 4000 images in the Acts collection, and the 28 PowerPoints take up about 1.6GB of storage. There are between 65 and 250 slides for each chapter. The maps provided by A.D. Riddle are very nice, and most of the pictures are of high quality. As for permissions, it states, “The purchaser is granted permission to use this work in face-to-face teaching, video-recorded sermons, class notes, church newsletters, and like contexts.” Any other use would require specific permission.

This resource will certainly be useful to anyone teaching or studying Acts and looking for visuals. Whether it is a location (e.g., Capernaum), topic (e.g., Baptism), or reference (e.g., “times or seasons”), there are multiple images that can be used. To have everything organized by specific Bible reference simply makes things much easier to access. Some items are very loosely connected with the text, and there are a few identifications or comments with which I might quibble, but overall this is a fantastic and immensely helpful resource.

The list price is $149, but the introductory sale price is $89 which includes free shipping in the US as well as immediate download. For a sample of what this outstanding collection is like, you can download for free the PowerPoint for Acts 18.

Disclaimer: I provided a couple pictures of a memorial to Paul at Apollonia for which Bolen provided me this volume for free.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

All you wanted to know about the great polyglot Bibles

London Polyglot of 1657

The Newberry Library in Chicago has recently created a website (actually just a page with popups) that provides excellent visuals and descriptions of three of the great polyglot Bibles of the 16th and 17th centuries: the Complutensian (1517), Antwerp (1571), and London (1657). The goal of the site is not to provide access to the texts (you cannot look up passages) but to provide an overview of the layouts of the Bibles. It explains not only what is in each section of a page spread but also why it was included. It's a great way to see what was going on with these "Cathedrals of Print." It reminds me of a few hours I spent back in the day when I was working on my dissertation on Psalm 22 and perused the 1645 Paris Polyglot in the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale. These Bibles were certainly magnificent publications, and the amount of work required to print them is staggering. We have so much in digital formats these days, and we can be thankful for the much broader access provided, but we can be grateful for the work that preceded it.
HT: John Linebarger in Anglican Biblical and Theological Languages Forum on FB with a HT to Peter Gurry at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog