Tag Archives: Bible

Here I Stand

Revd Guntars Reboks

We are delighted to welcome the Abbey’s very own Revd Guntars Reboks, himself a priest of the Latvian Lutheran Evangelical Church Overseas, to explore with us the contribution of Lutheranism to Global Church.

On the 31st of October 1517 a German monk and theologian named Martin Luther pinned a document to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg protesting against the abuse of indulgences in the teaching and practice of the Church of his day. Within just a few weeks, an obscure Augustinian monk in a backwater university town had become a household name and was the subject of chatter from Lisbon to Lithuania.

Luther could never have imagined the outcome of his protest and the church which arose from the heat of the dispute remains one of the strongest Protestant denominations with about 75 million members worldwide. Our own Church of England emerged from the same crucible fired with reforming zeal.

But what does Lutheranism bring to the global church in the 21st century? Where now stands the protestant in the wider context of the church? Come and find out.

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Learn to Read New Testament Greek

Sarum CollegeOur partnership with Sarum College, begun in 2015 continues into 2016 with another opportunity for those who wish to study New Testament Greek at Sarum College with Jon Riding.

Last year’s course won many plaudits from its attendees including: “a great week, thank you!” and “I wish this course had been available when I was preparing for ordination!”. Open to all with no prerequisites other than a copy of the course book and a commitment to learn the alphabet before the start of the course.

Booking will be via the Sarum College website: http://www.sarum.ac.uk/event/2016-new-testament-greek-in-a-week. For more information contact Alison Ogden at Sarum College on +44 (0)1722 424826 or at the email address below.

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Digital Bibles, Notes and Memories

Jon Riding

One of the exciting things of recent years has been the growth of mobile phone technologies. Smart phones are now endemic in society, not just in the West but in the developing world where their ability to operate without expensive and difficult to maintain infrastructure (like telegraph poles) makes them a very attractive option for all and sundry. The popularity of apps like YouVersion, now up to 200,000,000 downloads, is clear evidence for how many are choosing to interact with scripture on a handheld device. United Bible Societies has responded by creating the Digital Bible Library within which it is hoped to store each new Bible translation and where potential publishers of a text may apply for a licence to publish it. All of this seems a good thing. The more widely the Bible is disseminated the more it will be read and the greater is the opportunity for the reader to encounter God in Christ through its narrative.

But a Canadian colleague has raised a question and I think it is an important one. He quotes two authorsi in the US who are asking what difference the medium might make make to the message and what changes the rise of digital texts is making to the way our brains assimilate information. I ordered copies of the books he recommended but books, not kindle editions. I have an iPad and I use it daily, mostly for FB and Twitter. It’s a communication tool, not a reading centre. The price of the books (even 2nd hand) would have had to have been a lot higher than the kindle price for me to have considered an electric option. And I am asking myself, why?

I think it is because I read with a pencil in my hand (and if the content is particularly important to me, with a notebook in front of me – I call this ‘active reading’ and I encourage my students to do it. I read: I forget; I make notes: I remember). It is a habit I picked up after first visiting the Gladstone Library at St Deiniol’s in Hawarden in the 1990s where I discovered not only William Gladstone’s vast collection of books but that each one carried annotations in his own hand. This struck me as a wise move (pace antiquarian book collectors). When I see something I’m interested in, I mark it on the page (I like books with wide margins) and add the page number and a brief note to a list I make on the back flyleaf. This list becomes in effect my index to the text. (If I have my notebook open I add an entry to my notes on the text under the relevant page number). This way I have my notes about the text alongside the text and, just as important, they are real notes, drawn by hand.

The way I write something contributes to my memory of it and helps me to recover the fulness of the initial discovery. As I write, I am recalling a fascinating week spent at the Univ. of Marrakech in 2006 and I’m going over to my study bookshelves and getting my (handwritten) commonplace book for 2006 to refresh my memory. The focus for the conference was type-setting Arabic. Two presentations have stuck in my mind ever since. The first was by a scholar from the Islamic Univ. in Cairo.ii With the aid of a calligrapher he explained how the manner in which a stroke is drawn in a classical Arabic text affects the meaning. In fact I see from my notes that the subsequent discussion concluded that it ‘effects’ the meaning. In the West we commonly assume this kind of thing, (in Arabic ‘kashida’) to be little more than a way of justifying text across a block in an artistic fashion. He challenged us to demonstrate how a computer could have the awareness to imitate a calligrapher’s understanding, expressed in his art.

The person who came closest to answering the challenge was Yannis Haralambous, then a Prof. at Brest University. He presented his work on ‘textemes’, a way of recording not just a glyph but its ‘enactment context’iii (my expression). In short, Yannis observed that the way we interact with an item in text stream is conditioned by the events prior to that encounter and by the general context we bring to the text as a whole – i.e. who we are and what we have done and seen. The calligrapher expresses all these things in a moment of creation. The printed book can only approximate this kind of encoding but does offer me the opportunity to add this kind of dynamic via my own notes on the page. When a text becomes a digital text we are changing its nature insofar as we are, necessarily, limiting the potential for this kind of interaction. One of the outcomes of the digital format is, in fact, to limit the reader’s response to what can be encoded.

Now I can hear a number voices telling me that I can make notes on an electric book reading app.. I hear you, but the examples of this I have seen don’t even approach the breadth of interaction a paper page gives me. Had I been making notes on a computing device in 2006 I wonder a) what format they might have been in, b) whether they would have survived until today as my commonplace book has and c) if they would have brought back my memories of the event so richly. (I’m looking at example glyphs drawn by the calligrapher for me in my notebook).

There is also on my study bookshelves an old UBS Gk NT (3rd ed.) which I’ve had since about 1988. It has recently been rebound for me (at a cost far in excess of the purchase of a new copy) after the duct tape that was holding the covers together finally tore through and the spine collapsed irrecoverably. Every page is covered in notes which I couldn’t bear the thought of losing (and which I am certain I shall never commit to the cloud alone). These notes are not just textual annotations, they are memories of encounters with the text and those with whom I shared those encounters. A few are in the hand of a colleague, now dead, who in fits of excitement would occasionally pick up my NT instead of his and write on it. I treasure these particularly.

Memory is not abstract but deeply connected to the physical reality which generates it and which is so often the means of its recall. The physicality of a book connects to this in a way that is, I think, more difficult for a digital text. As I flick through the pages of my NT I am, unconsciously, absorbing the wider context of a pericope enriched by my notes. It’s not just the particular reference that matters it’s how I arrive at it. For me there are connections here with Jeff Hawkins’s theory of cognition. In his book ‘On Intelligence’,iv Hawkins observed that the thing missing from so many of our cognitive models is the dimension of time. Nothing in this world exists apart from time. The physicality of a book places its text and our memories of that text into that event stream in a way which it is very hard for a digital text to emulate.

Does any of this matter? I don’t know. I feel it does but that may be just me and the way I look at the world. It matters to me that I am part of a narrative, personally, globally and cosmically. Whilst abstractions are useful ways to think about complex issues it is the daily physical encounter that, more than anything else, makes connections for me and shows me new things. How does that work with a digital text? Does the message become the medium, ephemeral and transitory on the one hand and locked within the limits of an encoding on the other? Clearly the possibilities for sharing and building common understandings are greater but what happens to the dissonant voices?

IMG_3598The medium is always, to some degree, the message. We need look no further than the incarnation for evidence of that: the ultimate inculturation but through a profoundly counter-cultural life. The digital texts we download to our phones and tablets offer us massively greater connectivity. The breadth of digital data available to us is truly breath taking and yet, at the same time, we are being drawn into a limited world bounded by shared understandings mediated by our devices, platforms and encodings. What do we stand to gain and what might we be in danger of losing?

For me physical books remain very important. They record not only the text but the process by which I continue to interact with it and so the peoples and places that have been part of that engagement. Given that my day job is to lead a research team working in computational linguistics I feel I should be a stronger of advocate for digital texts but in the end my sympathies are with St Paul, imploring Timothy to come quickly and bring not just the books but his notes as well (2 Tim 4.13). Then again, I am about to commit this article to a blog, out there on the cloud…

Jon Riding is the Director of the Sherborne Abbey Insight Programme, an Associate Lecturer in Theology at Sarum College and the leader of the United Bible Societies Glossing Technologies Project.

  • i Carr, N (2011) The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember, Atlantic Books, London.
  • Carr, N (2016) The Glass Cage: Who Needs Humans Anyway, Penguin Random House, London.
  • Turkle, S (2012) Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, Basic Books, New York.
  • iv Hawkins, J and Blakeslee, S (2005) On Intelligence, Times Books, New York.
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Why translate the Bible ?

 Human language is a very fascinating thing. We use it to pass on information, to express our deepest emotions, to pray, to praise, to encourage and, sadly, sometimes to denigrate. The conduit for all these is language, spoken and written. Language defines who we are, preselects our friends, links us with our heritage and sets our expectations.

Not only do we shape language, language shapes us. Different languages can make a dramatic difference to our understanding of a particular event or story. Recently, researchers in Germany assembled three groups of people, one group were monoglot English speakers, another monoglot German speakers and the third were bilingual between English and German. They showed each person a photograph of a woman walking across a street in a city. Those that spoke only English described the scene as ‘there is a woman crossing a street’. The monoglot German speakers saw ‘a woman walking towards a building’. Most interestingly, the bilinguals fell into two groups. Those that had been given a text in English to read before being shown the photograph saw it as the English speakers had read it, those who were give a German text to read saw what the German speakers had perceived.

11 years ago, I was present in St Paul’s Cathedral in London for a service to celebrate 200 years since the founding of the Bible Society movement. The speaker was Rowan Williams, then the Archbishop of Canterbury. He had some interesting things to say about language and translation:

“Of all the great world religions, it is Christianity that has the most obvious and pervasive investment in translation. We do not have a sacred language; from the very first, Christians have been convinced that every human language can become the bearer of scriptural revelation. The words in which revelation is first expressed are not solid, impenetrable containers of the mystery; they are living realities which spark recognition across even the deepest of gulfs between cultures, and generate new words native to diverse cultures which will in turn become alive and prompt fresh surprise and recognition.
Biblical translation represents an enormous act of faith – the faith that what is given by God in one context is capable of being equally transfiguring and authoritative in all other human environments. Jesus speaks Greek and Aramaic; but the whole narrative of his words and work, his ministry and death and resurrection, is such that he can speak to call, to judge, to forgive and to bless in every human language that has been or will be”.

Now if this is so, the task of translating the Bible is foundational for the mission of the church all over the world. Through scripture Christ is welcomed into every language, culture and experience. But this remains a hope, not a reality. There are about 7,000 active languages in the world today. Only about 500 have a translation of the whole Bible. A further 1,300 languages have a NT translation and another 1,000 languages have a translation of at least one book of the Bible. That leaves more than 4,000 languages without a translation of even a part of the Bible. True, the major international lingua franca of our times all have a translation of the Bible and by this measure between 4 and 5 of the 7 billion souls on earth have access to a translation of scripture they can understand, at least to some degree. But this is not the same as hearing God speak in the language we learned as a child. Language is formative. To encounter God within the culture and language that made us who we are is transformative.

When a translation is completed the whole community gathers to celebrate. Copies of the new scripture are distributed and eager eyes scan the pages. “Now!”, they say, “now we know that God is one of us, that he understands us and shares our lives”! That’s a powerful thing. But perhaps the most exciting thing is that, just as the English and German speakers saw different things in the photograph of the woman walking across a street, so too in their new translation a community may discover things about God that you and I may not have seen through our Bibles.
The lady on the right is holding the first book of the Bible to be translated into her language – Ikoma. Waikoma live in Tanzania close to the Ngorongoro crater.

“We have a gospel to proclaim”, says the hymn; but so too does God and one of the ways we can help that happen is through translating the story of a radical Creator whose extravagant love led him to gibbet outside Jerusalem and whose gospel continues to transform lives all over the world as more and more of his people encounter him through his word in their language.

That’s why we do this.

Jon Riding
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Beginning Biblical Hebrew

If you have ever wondered about learning to read Biblical Hebrew, but have perhaps been discouraged by the difficulties of script and general strangeness of the language this course could be for you.

We spend three days learning the basics of reading biblical Hebrew by the end of which we are ready to tackle short passages of scripture. If you want to know if learning Hebrew might be for you there is no better way to find out.

The course is residential at Hilfield Friary where we share the life of the community during our stay. The residential cost is £180, £110 for non-residential students.

Course Brochure.

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Cancelled – Reading in St Mark & St John

COURSE CANCELLED

Advance bookings have been too few to make this course viable so we have had to cancel. With apologies to those who hoped to book at a later date.

This course is ideal for anyone who has completed an intensive NT Greek in a Week or finished our course of evening classes in NT Greek. Beginning with straightforward passages from St Mark and St John it is the perfect way to begin reading the NT text in Greek.

The course is residential but students who live locally are very welcome to join the course as non-residents at a reduced fee: Residential £180, non-residential £110.

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NT Greek in a Week – Hilfield Friary – COURSE FULL

Booking for this course is now closed.

The same study programme is available at Sarum College from 27th Jul – 1st Aug 2015.

Hilfield friary is set in the rolling hills of Dorset a few miles to the south of Sherborne. It is a beautiful and tranquil place and we are delighted to be able to offer biblical language tuition in association with the Friary.

The course fee is £380, (£220 non-residential) with a £50 deposit payable on booking and the rest due by 10th August 2015.

During our stay we shall be very much part of the community, sharing meals with them in the refectory and with the opportunity to join them for the morning and evening office if desired.

There is ample opportunity during the extended lunch break to explore the countryside around on foot or to enjoy the peace of the library and common room.

Course Brochure.

 

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Revelations in Context

Tradition has it that St John the Evangelist, also known as St John the Divine or St John Theologian, composed the book of Revelation in a cave on the island of Patmos whilst in exile. Much of the book of Revelation has puzzled much of the church for much of that last 2,000 years.

The dramatised reading of Revelation, Coming Soon, which was performed in the Abbey last year drew many appreciative comments and not a few questions about the book. In this Study Dr Rich Wyld and Dr Christina Lemoignan will show us how to approach the Book of Revelation and understand how this text spoke to its first readers in the early church and what it might have to say to us today.

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NT Greek in a Week – Sarum College

SarumColl-360We are delighted to be able to offer our 6-day intensive ‘NT Greek in a Week’ course this summer in association with Sarum College.

Situated in The Close at Salisbury under the shadow of the cathedral spire Sarum College is an ideal venue. Rooms are en suite and there is ample opportunity to explore Salisbury during the extended lunch breaks.

Booking for this course is through Sarum College via their website at: http://www.sarum.ac.uk/event/new-testament-greek-in-a-week.

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Evening Class – Learn Biblical Hebrew

Study Programme 2014-2015BibLang-Brochure-RollFold_2015_01

• Beginning Biblical Hebrew, 9th Sept – 7th Oct & 28th Oct – 25th Nov.
A ten week course covering the basics of beginning to read Biblical Hebrew.

• Prerequisites:

• To have a copy of Learn Biblical Hebrew (2nd ed.) by John Dobson
• To have learnt the Hebrew alphabet before the first session.

• More Biblical Hebrew, 8th Jan – 5th Feb & 26th Feb – 26th Mar.
Builds on Beginning NT Greek.

• Prerequisites:

• To have a copy of Learn Biblical Hebrew (2nd ed.) by John Dobson
• To have completed Beginning Biblical Hebrew.

• Reading Biblical Hebrew, 28th Apr – 26th May & 16th Jun – 7th July (dates TBC)
The final ten week term equipping the student to begin reading the NT itself.

• Prerequisites:

• To have a copy of Learn Biblical Hebrew (2nd ed.) by John Dobson
• To have completed More Biblical Hebrew.

BookOnlineButton1-300x115Subsidised cost: £95. Book online.

 

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