Chapter 4 aims to evaluate the consequences of the hypothesis of Chapter 3 with respect to digital Scriptures: if digital writing is participating in the emergence of a new relationship between the human body and machines, what does this mean for digital Scriptures? The Bible is indeed a text corpus par excellence, but this is a notion that is evolving when it comes to digital versions – and this is a focus of this chapter. The first section below presents an overview of research on the Bible in digital culture and the status of its text within these developments. The second section develops the notions of text – and biblical – corpus, leading to the conclusion that multimodality is the space where digital Scriptures can develop a new relationship to the body.
1 The Status of the Bible and Texts in Digital Culture: Overview
1.1 The Early Biblical Studies Interest in Computing
In the first German overview article on Digital Humanities and New Testament studies, Juan Garcés and Jan Heilmann demonstrate the early biblical studies interest in computing in comparison to other humanities fields1. This point of view is shared by Heidi Campbell and Stephen Garner in their monograph Networked Theology 2. By seeking to enlarge this inquiry, section 1.1 reminds us that the first biblical computing tool was made in 1957 by the Reverend John W. Ellison3. Furthermore, NTTC has been present in these developments turn from a very early stage, as articles by Kurt Aland and Bonifatius Fischer illustrate4. One should note here the general lack of attention given to French-language DH projects in English-language overviews, for example: La Bible informatique de l’Abbaye de Maredsous or La Bible en ses traditions, or BiblIndex, the latter first in Strasbourg, then in Lyon5. Further there are points missing in the analysis of Garcés and Heilmann such as the emergence of recent Greek New Testament editions in 2005, 2010 and 20176, the phylogenetic edition and interdisciplinary input. The article indirectly points out that the status of the biblical text could become increasingly flexible in digital culture7 but this topic is not approached in an explicit manner.
The general absence of discussion on the status of the digital biblical text within NTTC scholarship could explain why the first monograph focusing on the Bible in digital culture was only published in 20178. This provides evidence that it has been a somewhat lengthy process, beginning with the creation of the first digital biblical tool, to finally realizing the importance of this epistemological turn in biblical studies. Sections 1.2 and 1.4 provide an overview of questions raised by the interaction between the Bible and computing, both in relation to the status of the digital biblical text in NTTC (1.2) and in wider theological discourse (1.4). Section 1.3 focuses on digital editions from a broader Humanities perspective.
1.2 When the Status of Biblical Texts is Unquestioned
At the turn of the 1970s, articles by Aland and Fischer outlined the general concept of the first ECM version that would benefit from computing. It is fascinating to read these texts today since they signaled a turning-point at the intersection of NTTC and computing while simultaneously presenting a discourse undermining the capacities of computers. Both authors consider computers as only capable of performing what they are commanded to do9, as seen in the following quotation from Fischer:
We must be clear then in principle that the computer can only recognize signs and their succession, compare them with one another, and perform various related operations, in an external way: it has no understanding of the meaning or context either of individual words or of sentences. Likewise the translation machines of which we have heard and read have no understanding of language10.
Comparing this stance to Lovelace’s earlier point of view11, Fischer and Aland have a far narrower perception of the computer’s future potential. Contemporary scholarship has completely revised this reticence: the importance of the computing turn in various fields has been clearly demonstrated. This is true for scholars such as Liv Ingeborg Lied12 and Hugh Houghton for whom we face a “fundamental change in creating edition”13. In his article, Houghton provides a fundamental compass to understanding what is at stake in digitizing the field of NTTC by describing the new digital apparatus and other important features14.
Much like Houghton, Tommy Wasserman and Peter Gurry collaborate on an ECM edition and maintain a grounded approach based on stemmatology: the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM) as presented in a helpful introduction15. According to these scholars, the computing transformation wave is leading the charge when it comes to the abandonment of the big text-types and this is especially clear in those using CBGM16.
Furthermore, Garrick Allen describes the CBGM in a recent collection of essays, The Moving Text: “In the third phase of the [ECM] project (2017-2020) the material will be submitted to analysis using the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM), a stemmatic method for evaluating and plotting the textual genetics of the tradition in an effort to create the oldest attainable text in each variation unit”17. Even if Allen adds the possibility of flexible traditions to the work of David Parker and David Brown18, CBGM fundamental approach remains anchored in a written and printed literacy culture19. The fact that nearly all NTTC scholars share these assumptions might explain why there is little attempt to extend the analysis to include the status of the biblical text in digital culture. Such an interrogation is offered by other theologians, as we will see in point 1.4. Before that, however, point 1.3 will overview the topic as discussed presently by DH authors.
1.3 Interdisciplinary Insights into the Status of the Text in Digital Culture
Roger Chartier and Umberto Eco put forth strong statements expressing how textuality “floats” in digital culture; Eco goes so far as to claim that even the notion of an “original text” would “certainly disappear”20. In the face of this challenge, digital philologists and editors are testing new paths: Ernst Thoutenhoofd proposes joining social sciences and philology21 while Elena Pierazzo underlines the emergent role of crowdsourced editing22. Scholarly crowdsourced editing is effectively mobilized in the New Testament Virtual Room of Manuscripts (NTVRM)23, but this discussion is unfortunately omitted by Pierazzo. However, she clearly describes the fundamental change in the status of the text in digital editing:
As a matter of fact, the very distinction between editorial work and editorial product is now being challenged, as the same tools used by editors for their editorial work are themselves being made available to the users: this is what Greg Crane defines as “ePhilology”, where the editorial function is shared by editors and users, and where text is decomposed, analysed and processed algorithmically24.
Moreover, Wido van Peursen announced a general move from text to document25. One can observe this in the editing and valorization of individual manuscripts in diverse projects such as the Homer Multitext and the Codex Sinaiticus 26. Section 1.3 thus presents a phylogenetic approach based on the point of view of Odd Einar Haugen, Daniel Apollon, and Pierazzo. Used by some Patristic and New Testament scholars27, the approach does not sound very effective28. Perhaps more intriguing is the way in which Haugen and Apollon, in their overview article on digital editing, describe “the nature of writing itself [:] writing – or script – is inherently two-dimensions, linear, and sequential. […] In all cases writing remains linear: it has a starting point and an end point (however, reading may become highly nonlinear)”29. It is worth noting that multimodal digital writing is not in evidence in the description from Haugen and Apollon, but it is mentioned in the introduction to the collected essays to which this very article belongs30.
We touch here on a sensitive question: how can scholars, even those totally embedded in digital research, be attentive to all the multivalent aspects of the digital wave? Our conviction is that symbolic representations are necessary to understand more deeply the transformation of digital textuality and editing. In a stimulating article31, Charlotte Touati reminds us that already in 1976, Deleuze and Guattari had proposed the metaphor of the rhizome instead of the stemma tree to understand the relationship between text32. Another possible representation has been proposed by Will Derks to describe the complex phenomenon of Indonesian literature, which is deeply intertwined with orality: a mushroom, the mycelium. Indeed,
the use of the metaphor of the mycelium not only has the advantage of accounting for the multi-centeredness of Indonesian literatures in Malay, it also emphasises the conviction that this literature should be seen as a living system: a pulsating, breathing continuum of transience in terms of which literary life may mushroom in various places and by means of a great variety of literary activities that all somehow reflect a strong oral orientation33.
There are many such quests to find new metaphors to describe textuality: a Swiss writer like Baptiste Gaillard offers another way to describe the text as a “vast mutation fabric”34. Section 1.3 can be concluded by suggesting the metaphor of the “blob”35 to express the novelties we discover in the digital textual world. Whatever the case, biblical scholars are not alone on this quest: looking at the field of the life sciences, even DNA might require new metaphors to describe its complexity, as doctor Bernard Kiefer proposes36.
1.4 Discussing the Status of the Biblical Text in Digital Culture
These products offer extensive libraries, with audio and multi-media options and thousands of texts to choose from, but their portfolios are not infinite. Contents are carefully chosen, as are the user’s options for navigation through the library. At times, as indicated above, the digital product can even go against the user’s independence, offering advice, reprimanding the wayward, and using the techniques of persuasive technology to form new habits of textual engagement. […] My evidence demonstrates that the funders, designers, and marketers of some digital Bibles are trying hard to promote a traditional Evangelical attitude to the Bible, but further research will be needed to evaluate the consequences of widespread adoption of digital text within religious communities41.
Such an analysis has not yet been widely received and it is not included in Jeffrey Siker’s monograph, Liquid Scripture. Section 1.4 presents and discusses this very point by highlighting the fear of the possible “liquefaction” of Scripture. For example: “The unbound Bible on a screen does not lend itself to an immediate awareness of any particular shape of the Bible, canonical or otherwise. From this perspective skimming the Bible on screens would necessarily seem to undermine understanding the Bible in its canonical frame”42.
At the same time, Siker remains convinced that the Bible is “not just a unified book, but the Book of all books. It is no wonder that the Bible continues to be the best-selling book of all time, year after year, version after version, translation after translation”43. Consequently, his monograph does not discuss possible transformations of Scripture as text corpus. In order to raise the issue, section 2 will first consider the question of the text corpus and what it becomes in digital editing (2.1). This leads to the debate about the categories of ancient Christian texts against our present cultural background (2.2). Finally the section concludes with the following proposal: at a time when the notion of text corpus is progressively replaced by the notion of digital collection, digital writing and digital Scriptures will develop new relationships to the body through multimodality (2.3).
2 Body and Text Corpus
2.1 From Text Corpus to Digital Collection
Point 2.1 demonstrates that the notion of text corpus is evolving towards the notion of digital collection. Elena Pierazzo underlines that a digital edition “firstly is a website, a digital and physical artefact which is infinitely extensible”; secondly, a digital edition is characterized by “its collaborative nature”44, both elements of this definition can be seen, for example, in the European project SAWS45. As Sarah Mombert suggests, time and financial resources frame the new limits of such collections46. Alongside such an evolution, the centuries old representation of the manuscript lost and found47 and of the status of the fragment48 will have to be completely reshaped. Indeed, Mombert points to the general effect of “decanonization” in digital collections:
From the viewpoint of non-canonical texts (e.g., documents that until now had been deemed not worthy of reeditions with a critical apparatus and were kept out of the traditional circuit of learned books) […] digital technology represents not only the opportunity of being salvaged from the ravage of time but also the end of a marginal editorial status49.
I add to this conversation the notion of “defragmentation”, using computing vocabulary50: texts and fragments are reshaped in new formats, which Franz Fischer calls an open-ended “encyclopedic knowledge”51. Consequently, we need a new terminology, and with Mombert I use “collection”, which she defines in this way:
The term “collection” has the advantage of being historically linked to the domains concerned with critical edition: culture and science. […] In the digital edition domain, where the use of the term “collection” is still not fixed, I would propose this minimal definition: a potentially evolutionary set of interlinked digital objects, with the intention of producing some meaning52.
Last but not least, Mombert points to the “relation between texts and images” as one of the most important elements in this transformation53. Sounds and multimodal material should also be considered here, of course, and so we face again the important topic of multimodality, which I introduce in 2.3.2, and which is then developed in Chapter 354.
2.2 Christianity and text corpus
As we have seen in points 1.1, 1.2 and 1.4 of this chapter, the question of the status of the biblical text in digital culture is not really considered by NTTC scholars, but such issues are at stake for other theologians, particularly those with a concern for the canonicity of the Bible in this new material context. Point 2.1 has underlined with Mombert that a “decanonization” effect is present in digital editing, notably by the constitution of digital collections, which can also integrate multimodal material. With these observations in mind, point 2.2 will revisit some arguments in the longstanding debate about the categories of Ancient Christian texts in our present cultural context (2.2.1), to demonstrate that the writing materiality is a determinant factor in the perception of these categories by scholars throughout history, and particularly in the present day (2.2.2)55.
2.2.1 The Present Debate about the Categorization of Ancient Christian Texts in its Cultural Context
As François Bovon has expressed it, the debate about the categories of Ancient Christian texts is influenced, at least in the context of the United States, by confessional parameters56; he recognized himself his Reformed colors57 by proposing a third category, at the same time historical and spiritual texts which are “useful for the soul”, ψυχωφελῆς:
I believe there was a third destiny: some books were neither rejected as apocryphal nor admitted as canonical but were considered useful and profitable for the soul (ψυχωφελῆς), for private or public devotion […]. Some of those profitable books were just old apocryphal stories revisited to make them salonfähig, as we would say in German – that is, decent, acceptable, readable, politically correct – if not in church then at least in the refectory of monaste-ries58.
The comparison of the prefaces of the two French volumes in the La Pléaide collection Ecrits apocryphes chrétiens confirms that present Western scholarship appreciates in diverse ways the impact of Christian apocryphal texts, from a feeling of transgression– to dare editing and publishing Christian apocryphal texts59 – to a clearly enthusiastic point of view60. The new title of the German collection of apocryphal Christian texts, Antike christiliche Apokryphen 61, illustrates also the evolution of the debate, presented in 2.2.1. But in all the discussions, the question of the impact of the writing materiality is missing: the point of view of Roger Chartier is not considered. The concept of “digital collection”, presented in 2.1, could be usefully applied to the topic, since Eric Junod was already in 1992 considering the apocryphal Christian texts as an open-ended collection62.
2.2.2 The Writing Material and the Categories of Ancient Christian Texts
Comparing the viewpoints of Lefèvres d’Etaples and J. A. Fabricius concerning apocryphal Christian texts63 presents us with an historical reflection about the constitution of the categories of Ancient Christian texts. Multiple digital collections allow one to compare and analyze the concrete impact of writing material, as seen in the collections put online by the Center for the Study of the New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM), Paratexts of the Bible or Shâmila 64. The evolution of the categories of Ancient Christian texts in digital collections remains an open question in ongoing projects65.
2.3 Bodies, Texts and Digital Multimodality
2.3.1 Body and Text, a Long Cultural History
As has been highlighted in previous chapters, there is a long and diverse history of mixed metaphors bringing together body and text, including Lyotard commenting on Rev 6:14 and Augustine’s comparison of a scroll to the skin66, or the use of the “Book of Life” metaphor (Rev 3,5 and 20,15) in the current discourse surrounding genomics67. Further examples include the animal veins one can see in some folios of the Codex Sinaiticus68, the logion 5 of the Gospel of Thomas on an Antique shroud69, or the “little bodies”, little books written by Melania the Young70. New Testament passages like Heb 9,19-20 can of course be considered. When one looks at all the NT occurrences about writing materials, an important observation is raised: the “book” in the NT text corpus is a scroll71.
Keeping this important element in mind, point 2.3.1 inquiries into the emergence of the expression “religion of the book” in the second half of the 19th century, notably boosted by a Friedrich Max Müller lecture in 1870:
With these eight religions the library of the Sacred Books of the whole human race is complete, and an accurate study of these eight codes, written in Sanskrit, Pâli, and Zend, in Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic, lastly in Chinese, might in itself not seem too formidable an undertaking for a single scholar72.
Quickly adopted by certain German Protestant theologians73, the notoriety of this notion can clearly be related to the high point of print culture74. This historical relativisation of the notion of “religion of the book” allows us to consider the adequacy of the concept in a digital culture where the collection is overcoming the text corpus, and to join the SEK report Sola Scriptura in its reaffirmation that “das Christentum ist keine Buchreligion”75. Or at least not always, not in all historical periods, and not in all places.
2.3.2 Digital Writing, Digital Scriptures and Multimodality: towards a New Relationship with the Body
This final point begins by exploring innovative cultural metaphors to consider the new relationship between writing, technologies and body. The artistic performance of Edouardo Kac in 1999, Genesis 76, is notably meaningful in this quest of metaphors:
Genesis is a transgenic artwork that explores the intricate relationship between biology, belief systems, information technology, dialogical interaction, ethics, and the Internet. The key element of the work is an “artist’s gene”, a synthetic gene that was created by Kac by translating a sentence from the biblical book of Genesis into Morse Code, and converting the Morse Code into DNA base pairs according to a conversion principle specially developed by the artist for this work. […] After the show, the DNA of the bacteria was translated back into Morse code, and then back into English. The mutation that took place in the DNA had changed the original sentence from the Bible. The mutated sentence was posted on the Genesis web site. In the context of the work, the ability to change the sentence is a symbolic gesture: it means that we do not accept its meaning in the form we inherited it, and that new meanings emerge as we seek to change it77.
To conclude this chapter with the representation of a bacteria modifying the Adam dominion logion (Gn 1,26)78 is of course not without irony. But such an artistic experiment moves us deeply, helping us to feel in the heart of our cultural consciousness what it means to leave the text corpus and the protection of the cover of the book, to let technologies develop a new relationship between the writing and the living matter.
In this transformation, it is no wonder that multimodal knowledge announces a significant turning-point: the voice, the body and the visual have made a dramatic return in our knowledge production, a recurring topic in this volume79. Point 2.3.2 summarizes its main contributions and underlines that, whether it is digital writing or digital Scriptures, writing and Scriptures are now embedded in digital materiality, for better or for worse. For the Christian communities, for theologians, it means a return from book culture to that of communities, in the spirit of Karl Barth, towards unsichtbare Gemeinschaft 80. It means becoming the living chapters of the Scriptures, like the fireman Montag, hero of Fahrenheit 451: