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Open Source Biblical Studies 2005-08-06

Posted by Peter Kirby at 1:02 AM | Permalink

There have been rumblings in the blogosphere lately about "Open Source Biblical Studies." It's an idea that has me excited about the possibilities. See the posts by AKMA, Tim Bulkeley, Mark Goodacre, and Tim Bulkeley.

Tim says that his goals would include:
  • to identify projects that are underway
  • to identify what they need to really take off
  • to see if there are possibilities to rationalise, share or collaborate so that efforts are less dispersed
  • perhaps begin to identify priorities
  • and so, by focusing, to try to get some worthwhile projects really moving
A good outline. I will get the ball rolling by describing some of the projects I have started or have planned, and then I will mention some of the other projects of which I am aware.

My first project that was at all "interactive" is This project allowed visitors to comment on the text. This received a positive response, almost entirely by casual readers instead of scholars or "earnest amateurs." In fact I haven't been able to keep up with the editing duties of screening the comments that are made, so a comment hasn't been published in several months. I would greatly appreciate anyone stepping up to the task of editing comments for me, and I can provide the password and address for the backend comment approval script.

Inspired by that project's success, I plan to do a similar thing for the whole Bible, at, as described in a recent blog entry here at Christian Origins. I would mention that Christian Origins is somewhat "open" in that I accept articles for consideration by anyone for presenting on this site.

Moderately successful has been the TheoWiki project, a Wikipedia-inspired site with the aim of covering religion studies, theology, and biblical scholarship. I knock on wood as I type this, but I haven't run into the vandalism problems predicted for the site very much. The only problem is that the site hasn't gotten as many active users--or users generally--as I would hope it does. Simply getting the word out about this site to profesors and students would be a coup. So I need help promoting the site. If there is to be any talk about a wiki-encyclopedia-style project concerning religion, my hope is that it could be merged with TheoWiki.

Not so successful has been the Open Scrolls Project. I attribute it to the fact that translation is serious work, and those capable of it have insufficient free time. For this reason I have come up with a Plan B, as detailed in a comment to Goodacre's blog. I have contacted someone in my area about doing a new translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls for pay. Unfortunately I am not wealthy enough to do this without eventual compensation in some form, so I plan to put the finished result on the "Early Jewish Writings CD" (first version to be published next month or so) and in paperback form. Depending on the translator's willingness to sign such a contract, I would like to release portions of this new translation to an open source license (free on the 'net) for every few sales of the book or CD-ROM. That way the translator gets paid and the stuff eventually finds its way online. (Stephen King once did something similar with a novel: when enough people had paid a small amount, he released the next chapter for free.)

Early Christian Writings and Early Jewish Writings have been, to my mind, a spectacular success. Which brings I will mention that the most successful projects to date (with the notable exception of and software such as e-Sword) have been the result of yeoman-like efforts by individuals. So that brings me to discuss some of these efforts.

For selfless dedication of time alone, mention must be made of Roger Pearse. For some years now, he has been unassumingly building the largest collection of patristic writings not already found in the ANF/NPNF series here. I have helped him with some texts, as have others, but for the most part it has been his own labors.

I wonder whether the Distributed Proofreaders could be brought in to help with these kinds of efforts. They take the scanned texts provided by individuals, and then (here is the distributed part) have multiple volunteers each edit individual pages with reference to the scanned image. In this way the proofreading is done without a large burden on any one person, and with the final product being public domain. I have every reason to believe that DP would be enthusiastic about helping bring some of the more important books of biblical criticism online. In fact, they saw my Online Books page and contacted me about doing exactly that.

I would like to mention in passing that my planned should have, in addition to the texts themselves and comments from visitors, the texts of public domain commentaries and dictionaries linked to the text of the Bible (eventually anyways).

The Project Gutenberg of theology has long been the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. For those who are interested in bringing old scholarship and translations online, they could provide a home to the finished product. In addition, of course, to Project Gutenberg itself. Mention could also be made here of Religion Online for bringing works to the web.

A good printed source for many of these books, most of them not online, is Good Book Scholarly Reprints. There's also Sola Scriptura Publishing. These are for pay.

In terms of bringing critical editions to light, mention must be made of the TC Ebind Index. Very handy. Now if only that could be transcribed...

I mean, how nice would it be to have a searchable Tischendorf online?

Another important project is The Online Critical Pseudepigrapha.

The two most notable freeware Bible software products are e-Sword and the Online Bible. They are quite popular, and one should consider releasing open source projects made for the web also as modules for these software packages.

Wikibooks could be a good site to use as the workshop for any collaborative efforts on producing a textbook like oh, say, an introduction to the Hebrew Bible (which is needed on the 'net).

Let me finish off this post with a quote from here, "The BTOL [Biophysics Textbook Online] is tied to a Society that already has an established community, regular meetings, newsletters, etc. We tap into all of this structure. For example, when a new article is posted we announce it in the Biophysical Society Newsletter. I would think that other fields might benefit from endorsement by an established society that already serves the field." SBL, are you listening?

That's all for now. If you have a blog, please blog on this subject. It deserves all the exposure it can get.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is this the type of format your looking for?

9:27 AM  
Blogger Peter Kirby said...

Moodle looks good for online courses, but I'm looking for a better-organized and more public publishing format.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Peter Kirby said...

Another project is Zack Hubert's Bible Browser and James Tauber's Morphological Greek NT on which it is based.

best wishes,
Peter Kirby

10:03 AM  
Blogger Peter Kirby said...

Someone comments that it should be called open content biblical studies because "open source" applies only to software.

10:14 AM  
Blogger J. Archer said...

I'm the BronzeArcher guy inquiring @ TWeb. I hope I can help!

3:47 PM  
Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Good post, Peter. I have linked to it from my own blog post stimulated by yours, at url:

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Paul L.McNeely said...

Regarding the open scrolls project, Why not turn it into a a Wiki that why people can edit it at their leisure and such.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thought I'd mention the newly announced Open Content Alliance (as well as the competing Google Print service). via BoingBoing.
- J. J.

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Ulrik Petersen said...

"I mean, how nice would it be to have a searchable Tischendorf online?"

Well, now you do; twice:

It is not the apparatus that's available, but the text of Tischendorf, plus morphology and lemmatization.

The text+analysis comes from over here:


Ulrik Petersen

2:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary seems to have 10 courses online that are free to take ...

Covering OT survey (Pentateuch/Historical books, Prophetical/Wisdom books), Church History (300-1500AD and 1500-present); NT Survey (Gospels&Acts, Epistles); World Missions & Evangelism; Studying the Bible for all Its Worth; Theology Survey I+II.

10:26 AM  
Blogger Live4Christ said...

Great site!!

Visit the Green Pastures

2:01 AM  
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