Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Read Pericope 6: The angel Gabriel promises the birth of John to Zechariah.

Almost everything we know about the time before Jesus' birth comes from Luke's gospel. Gabriel's words here define the future role of John the Baptist as a great prophet, filled with the Holy Spirit, who will prepare the way of the Lord through calling for repentence.

Pericope note: the last two verses should probably be a separate pericope, since they don't deal with Zechariah, and their temporal setting is after Gabriel's visit. 

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Read Pericope 5: Luke's purpose in writing.

Luke's introduction clearly states his purpose: to bring together the eyewitness testimonies of the life of Jesus into an "orderly account." The writers of antiquity were no less aware than we are today of the tendency toward exaggeration, hearsay, or the pruning of unflattering details, in recounting history. Luke's intent is clear: to record the truth.

Pericope note: this kind of meta-narrative doesn't really fit into any particular sequence, since it's not tied to events. This is one example illustrating that the overall sequencing of the pericopes is only approximate (really, it's a partial ordering, but let's not geek out).

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Read Pericope 4: Jesus' ancestry from Abraham.

Unlike Luke, Matthew's genealogy starts from the central Old Testament figure of Abraham and traces his lineage forward to Jesus. Though women were typically not included in genealogies, Matthew includes Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah's wife Bathsheba (though she is not mentioned by name), most if not all of them Gentiles rather than "the matriarchs prominent in Jewish tradition" (Craig Keener, IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament). In this way his account of Jesus' descent looks forward to the open offer of the Gospel to all peoples.

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Eric Sowell shares his thoughts about on-line collaboration for Biblical studies. While there's no argument against the personal value of free resources, i see another key benefit: free data (like free software) can be repurposed. There's no way i myself can anticipate all the possibilities inherent in Bible data: but if i make it freely available, others can take it further. This had been a fundamental principle behind both the growth of the Web and the blogging community: sharing unleashes tremendous potential.

A great example in my main technical field of computational linguistics is the Linguistic Data Consortium at the University of Pennsylvania, which has enabled fundamental progress in the field by publishing resources which are widely used. There are several key benefits of this kind of approach:

  • it provides shared standards and vocabulary for workers in the field
  • common data defines a gold standard for quantitative measurement of progress. Rather than argue through papers, as in the old days, people now argue through results
  • even though different technical approaches are used, a common focus results from common attention to common data

This model of shared data is what drives my vision of what SemanticBible might become. Though i suspect it's well beyond the scope of my remaining work years, and therefore collaboration is a must, there's a lot to be said for focusing on something that's bigger than you are (a point Tim Bray recently made in the context of Wikipedia and his experience with the Oxford English Dictionary and other reference works). Bottom line for me is that even if you can't be fully control the quality, there's a power in shared data that far exceeds its downsides.

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