March 29, 2007

Automator Action for Accordance

If you are familiar with Automator, and if you use it at all, you may be interested in this Automator Action I wrote in XCode to work with Accordance. It receives a text string scripture citation and returns the full scripture text to the next item in the workflow. If you are interested in more information on Automator, start with Apple's site. This will appeal to a limited segment, I know, but for those numbers it will be a welcome tool.
You may get the file here.

March 26, 2007

NeoOffice a great, free Microsoft Office Replacement

I confess it; I've been using Microsoft Word since 1991. I've been cheering on it's replacements. I've bought Mellel, tried out Nisus, and I've especially kept up with Open Source projects, for there is where I've thought the biggest hope lay. But I confess I've never installed Open Office or any of its derivatives. However, we're putting in a computer lab of all iMacs at our church and so have been exploring Open Source solutions for our application needs. And with NeoOffice having a new version this week, I've downloaded it, installed it, and played with it. And I think I may never buy Microsoft Word again.

NeoOffice is a very good, and free open source collection of office applications. It includes word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, and database components. It is the Mac OS X native aqua port of Open Office, and the new version 2.1 is now freely available. It works entirely with Word's .doc format and the new .docx XML format of Word 2007. It includes VBA macro support, so can use those Word Excell macros that the upcoming version of Micro$oft's Mac Office 2008 will lose. Hopefully, support for Writer VBA macros will follow. NeoOffice is completely user-ready. It installs as any commercial app, has a great help system, includes document wizards and templates, runs native on Intel or PPC and has Hebrew right-to-left Unicode support. I think the word-completion system is quite clever.

I'm telling you, I had no idea how well this Office suite had progressed. Here is a Feature Comparison from their web page.

It's not perfect. It has a large RAM requirement, no applescript support and Quicksilver can't grab text selections from it's window, but the VBA support will allow for workarounds for the spreadsheet at least. It may lack some advanced features one may need for book writing... though it contains Indexing functions, Table of Contents, Cross References and more.

Did I mention that this gem is free?

I would say, install it and give it a try, even if you don't need it. It will open your eyes to the incredible possibilities in community-based Open Source model of software development.

Oh, and NeoOffice is a web page creator, including this post.

March 25, 2007

Words have Uses, Not Meanings

Working on the "Reason for speaking in parables" pericope tonight has reiterated for me a realization I made a long time ago:

Words have uses, not meanings.

From The Reason for Speaking in Parables
Mat 13:13
...ὅτι βλέποντες οὐ βλέπουσιν
καὶ ἀκούοντες οὐκ ἀκούουσιν οὐδὲ συνίουσιν,
Mark 4:12
...ἵνα βλέποντες βλέπωσιν καὶ μὴ ἴδωσιν,
καὶ ἀκούοντες ἀκούωσιν καὶ μὴ συνιῶσιν,
Luke 8:10
...ἵνα βλέποντες μὴ βλέπωσιν
καὶ ἀκούοντες μὴ συνιῶσιν.
Mat 13:13
...that seeing they do not perceive
and hearing they do not listen,
Mark 4:12 order that looking they may indeed see, but not perceive,
and that listening they may indeed hear, but not understand,
Luke 8:10 that looking they may not perceive,
and listening they may not understand.
There's nothing inherent between these two words for "seeing" βλέπω and ὀράω that has one mean "see" while the other means to "really see and understand". In fact, Louw & Nida lists both words in section 32 about "Understanding," the same category where we find this other word of distinctive perceiving, συνίημι.

Words have uses, not meanings. I can easily say:
"That's well and good that you're listening, but can you really hear what I'm saying?"
"I know he heard me, but was he listening to me?"

In either case, my point is clear. It is the usage that conveys the meaning, not any inherent denotation.

Just good to remind myself.

March 19, 2007

Review: Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit in Kansas City

The historical, delightful and spacious Union Station in Kansas City makes for a wonderful experience in terms of visiting any exhibit. It made for a good venue for the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit as well. Exposure to and interest in the exhibit in Kansas City has been good. When I took our first church group last Sunday, I had three extra tickets from cancellations when we arrived, and those got swiped up within a minute by folks who showed up at the exhibit only to find the day sold out. Included with your ticket is a standard wand used to follow audio commentary through the exhibit. The commentary is helpful and would appeal to a wide audience, I would think. The narrator often yields to scholars and their sound bites, most commonly Peter Flint and Jodie Magnus. Most of the displays offer an alternative, youth-friendly version of the commentary (eg. Normal commentary #51 has a corresponding youth commentary #1.) This simplified version is more narrative in nature, and hosted by "Jennifer" and "Kirk". It makes every attempt to captivate with humor ("We're really into Archaeology. You could say we dig it!")

The exhibit predictably begins with a 7 minute video that focuses on the discovery story, complete with some well done reenactments (though the stone-throwing Bedouin was a little too Caucasian for my taste). The video begins with a slide show of quotes from a random, if not curious, collection of scholars (James Tabor, Stephen Hodge, Randall Price, ...). I had the impression that the film was partially designed to set the tone: this exhibit is one of historical, scientific discovery and not only religious piety. For instance, the films depicts the creation of the Dead Sea a million years ago as part of continental shift and follows the accompanying fault line down to the origins of humanity in the African continent. The fly-by video segments of the Qumran area, the Dead Sea, and the surrounding region are the highlights of the film.

The first room of the walking exhibit focuses on the discovery of the scrolls. The best feature beyond the wall posters is a nice, life-sized model of a cave (think nook and cranny) with pottery visible deep inside. The room moves into a discussion and depiction of preservation work and the science/art of text identification. There is a very well done Paleography Board activity that includes a slider whereby one participates in the dating of the Isaiah scroll by identifying the forms of ב & מ ל ס by time period. One of the most enjoyable artifacts in the entire exhibit are the first ones encountered--two wonderful, perfectly reformed scroll jars. Curiously, the second piece shown is a replica of the Bronze scroll on the wall. The audio commentary is sufficiently enticing regarding the potential of buried treasure. The "history" lessons end with a wall Timeline spanning from 12th c. BCE to 3rd c. CE. It includes Jewish, Christian, and Chinese significant dates, for which the criterion for inclusion were mysterious enough such that the only two notations for the 3rd c. are Rabbi Judah the Prince editing the Mishnah in 200 CE and Chinese alchemists inventing gunpowder. Before leaving the first room, the wall posters, plaques and audio commentary have convinced the visitor that the exhibit has been expertly displayed and thought through. The information is good, critical information, but still is attentive to its primarily lay audience. For instance, both a wall poster and the end of one audio snippet explains that CE and BCE are "theological and scientific terms adding neutrality" to the BC/AD traditional system of dating.

The next room offers two displays of coins. The first is a table of 30 Tyrian shekels from the famed horde found under a doorway at Qumran. The second coin display is a round table of 12 sections showing 2 coins from as many different regions/time periods. The information plaques display the marking as well as inscription translations and a bit of history. Following the coins and a large goblet, possibly a ritual washing jar, is a Daily Life in Qumran section. The printed and audio commentary is sufficiently tentative in what it asserts regarding the identity of the Qumran community. Josephus is quoted on the Essenes, and the display of textiles and everyday materials makes an impact. The inclusion of a replica of a loom to accompany the embroideries and linens on display was a smart idea. After viewing dozens of oil lamps and pots and plates, an ominous entryway awaits as the lights dim.

Three symbolic texts reside in displays in a small room that serves as a passageway into the central Qumran library archive room. As you approach the three texts, the audio commentary begins with triumphant music appropriate for an Indiana Jones sequel. I got goosebumps as I saw that before me was 4Q41, the oldest copy of the ten commandments which I had seen only once before when in Jerusalem a decade ago. But then I realized it was a facsimile. The three texts in this room were simply information stations to introduce the three types of texts primarily discovered at the Qumran Library--Biblical texts, apocryphal/pseudopigraphical texts, and community texts. On to the main Qumran library.

This central room is clearly the climax of the exhibit, and who you are will determine whether or not it disappoints. It is a hexagonal room with very nice wall displays of 11Q5 (Psalms), 4Q161 (Isaiah commentary), 4Q47 (Joshua), 4Q4 (Genesis), 11Q10 (Job), 4Q258 (Community Rule), and 4Q1 (Genesis-Exodus). Beside each display is a very well done wall poster offering background on the piece, a black and white reproduction of the scroll, the Hebrew transcription (or Aramaic in one case), and an English translation. The references and marking are so helpful, I didn't even need to refer to the (heavy!) lexicon I had bothered to tote throughout the exhibit.
This was the room I had told my church group that was "worth the price of admission". Some gathered around as I read to them from one of the oldest copies of Psalm 135.21 "הַלְלוּ־יָהּ‎" "Praise the Lord!"

I reiterated the point that looking at that tiny piece of Joshua, you're looking at the oldest copy of that book ever discovered. And that is a significant experience. However, a lay viewer, with no preparation will potentially be underwhelmed at the small size and number of the pieces in the primary Qumran library collection. The dim light, which comes on and off inside each display case, makes it very difficult for some visitors to see any writing on the dark papyrus at all in some cases. They will have imagined larger scrolls, and bigger print, and some I've heard from about the exhibit have expressed many of those frustrations.

The final room of the exhibit, not a part of the Dead Sea Scrolls collection, is a lesson on how "the story continues". It includes an assortment of pieces, mostly printed bibles that highlight the progression of the biblical text. I'm not sure the story of manuscript writing was sufficiently told into the 1400's so that the folks would understand why we were suddenly focusing on the mid-fifteenth century. Included in this room are a leaflet from a Guttenberg bible from University of Kansas and version of Luther, Tindale, and King James from the Rawlings Foundation of Kentucky. I thought a nice touch was that the first edition KJV was open to 2 Maccabees.
I was anticipating the presence of an Erasmus text or leaflet and was disappointed in its absence. I did think it was a good touch to draw a connection between these ancient texts and the texts familiar to many of the visitors today. I do not think one can ever overemphasize the significance of the printing press for enabling a theological notion of verbal inspiration that couldn't have existed for the first three-fourths of the church's history. The exhibit empties out into the gift shop. At least three different English translations of the Qumran texts were available for purchase (Martinez; Wise/Abegg/Cook; and Vermes) as well as various secondary literature and museum fare (think "scroll replicas"). Alongside the shop are 4 stations with jigsaw puzzles and activities where folks can gain an appreciation for the magnitude of the task of reconstructing scrolls from thousands of fragments. One activity center offers the opportunity to sort out and identify fragments of the Declaration of Independence. A good choice, I thought.

The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at Union Station in Kansas City is very well done. I would not describe the exhibit as large. You do need an hour and a half minimal to get through, but the actual number of pieces, texts especially, is not impressive. That said, they have done very well with what they have. In my opinion, it should be worth quite a drive and twice the price just to get a look at even one of these four ancient biblical texts. The exhibit is informative, and even entertaining. Much forethought had been given to a varied audience (sitting benches, differing audio commentary in English and Spanish, etc.). The promotion in the KC Metro area has been significant, and I anticipate a resounding conclusion of success when the exhibit moves out of town in May.
If you're interested in more information on the exhibit, go to

March 04, 2007

Talpiot Tomb Show is Frustratingly Laughable

Well, the Discovery Channel show is ending. And I have a clear knee-jerk reaction: I can't believe this. I've been reading, and formulating in my mind, so much of the issues here on the academic level, and this dribble becomes the main proponent for one side? I'm sorry, but any scholar on the team offering sound bites in favor of this ridiculously speculative program should be embarrassed.

The presentation format is right up there with the "Here's Noah's Ark" and Ripley's Believe It Or Not type shows. And it is fantastically done as well, and the commercial sponsors did quite well from it, I'm sure.

The "Jesus Family Tomb" argument in the end seems essentially to consist of the word "could" run amok.

How ever did I suspect there could be a good presentation of a scholarly issue in such a commercial endeavor?

March 01, 2007

Talpiot Tomb Covered by The Daily Show

John Stewart had a great coverage of the "Jesus Family Tomb" story. In addition to the expected gut-busting laughter, he presented the initial story (with sufficient reservation about it as a Hollywood endeavor) and then went straight to archaeologist Joe Zias who as we know counters the claim regarding the sequence of names found as something extraordinary. They have some seriously intelligent, and comical writers on that staff. Look here for highlights tomorrow, plus it's bound to show up on youtube.

Kansas City Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit Popular at our Church

The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at Union Station in Kansas City is in full swing, and it is creating quite a buzz. The Macintosh Biblioblog gets several hits a day from folks looking for info on the KC Qumran exhibit. My church folks are very interested. I just completed leading a three-week study at my church "on the Dead Sea Scrolls". It had 50 attendees and they were all very enthusiastic throughout the discussions. Mostly what I did was survey the history of the finds, show slides of various scrolls/fragments/artifacts and then lead discussion through two main ways in which the finds at Qumran impact us as members of the church. One was as an occasion to explore text critical issues of scripture and the other was an exploration about what we know of 1 c. religiosity in that region.

I'm doing a one hour presentation for a group of 100 in late March as well. I enjoy such discussions and it brings back memories of climbing in the caves at Qumran.

Our church has two group visits to the exhibit at Union Station, 45 folk on March 18 and 64 folk on March 22. I'll post a review of the exhibit once I've been.