Ask a Biblical Scholar Anything

This is an idea about which I could not be more enthused (hat tip to Pharyngula).[1] Ten biologists collaborate together to answer any questions that a layperson might pose them. The front page provides some relevant caveats; for example, if the question is quite basic, they might gently point a reader to the standard textbooks, rather than be roped into doing someone’s homework for them.

I especially like that the site builds a searchable growing repository of questions already answered. This should be a helpful resource, not only for inquirers, but for the team members to consult when dealing with new questions.

The idea of a similar, “Ask a Biblical Scholar Anything,” site has seized my imagination. In my experience, answering questions about the Bible and biblical studies for genuinely curious laypeople is a delight. Part of that delight comes from my sense that only a few people have a resource in their lives to field such questions; when I make new acquaintances, they often have a short list of questions about the Bible that they’ve waited to unload, or that they’ve bounced off of others without receiving satisfying responses.

Some desiderata that come to mind are:

  • As with AaBA, there would need to be a fairly large team: at least eight, I think. The good news is, I suspect recruiting new team members wouldn’t be all that hard, such that the team could grow (or shrink) according to traffic. The idea is that nobody should have to spend more time on it than they want to, with a very low minimum expected commitment.
  • Team members should have terminal degrees in biblical studies, or else be candidates in a terminal degree program.
  • The team members would have to have a shared understanding that “biblical studies” is a non-confessional literary and historical enterprise, relying for its claims on the shared public evidence of the biblical texts and such extra-biblical evidence as variant manuscripts, ancient Near Eastern texts, material remains, and so on (rather than on private revelation and confessional dogma). Theologically, it’s about the theology in the texts rather than one’s theology of the Bible. This understanding would need to be communicated on the front page of the site.
  • There would have to be a standard rubric for recognizing and dealing with poor-faith inquiries coming out of the culture wars. This would, at the same time, have to allow for good-faith inquiries coming from those whose frame of reference has been distorted by the culture wars. (In English: What about spamming inquiries from folks like Answers in Genesis? What about well-meaning inquiries from folks whose minds have already been addled by AiG?)

I’m not in any hurry on this—believe me!—and it is the very beginning of the school year, with all its busy-ness. Still, if anyone who meets the second criterion above would be interested, let me know, and we can begin to look into it. If enough scholars were interested that the work load were low, it could be a real service.

BACK TO POST By the way, P.Z. has been having a hell of a time. He won’t be grateful for your prayers, but if you’re in a position to give to Red Cross, donate blood, or otherwise render service to heart patients, he’d be pleased.

[Ask a Biblical Scholar Anything was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/08/26. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

13 Responses

  1. Sounds like a great idea! I would be up for it!

  2. Sounds like a wiki project.

  3. count me in!

  4. Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant
    Here’s a question – how useful are word patterns in the analysis or determination of coherence? E.g. chiasm, recurrence, etc. Are they revealing or subjective, deliberate or accidental? An example here

  5. Great idea. Count me in too. Could easily point people to relevant material on the web too.

  6. That sounds like a great idea. I’d be interested, but I’m just a lowly (second) masters student.

  7. Sounds like a great idea! I would be up for it!

  8. Where is the verse that says that our prayers are protected from Satan’s hearing? Old Testament: thought it was by being surrounded by an angel.

  9. I asked this on my blog but no one talks to me.
    Where does the phrase tikkun olam come from? I thought it would come from כון but in Genesis, the KJV uses ‘establish’ with ‘covenant’ 11 times – and the Hebrew word is קוּם for which I would prefer the gloss, rise or arise. Surprise! So is it tiqun olam or tikkun olam? (olam is easy – age, world, etc). My guess is that the establish would have been derived from כון as in Psalm 48:8
    אֱלֹהִים יְכוֹנְנֶהָ עַד עוֹלָם
    And still this is not the ‘meaning’ that many associate with the phrase. A common gloss is ‘healing the world’. Healing – Rafa – that’s tennis. Google translate gives
    מרפא העולם.
    What’s your explanation of the derivation of this phrase? Modern Hebrew seems to prefer the derivation from קוּם and would use כּוּן for preparing.

  10. found it – sorry for the bother – must be תִּקֵּן as in Ecclesiastes 12:9

    • Hey, Bob! I wanted to wait until I could get into the office and look in Jastrow. Like you, I had always mentally “heard” it as a noun built on √כון rather than as √תקן. But yes, Jastrow has it as a qittul (piʿʿul) noun. Funny how even “getting it wrong” provides the correct sense that the connotations of “healing” derive from “setting up (rightly),” “establishing (well).”

      This is the first time I’ve had good reason for looking into my own copy of Jastrow: I had always relied on the library, but jumped on one of those Eisenbraun “Deals of the Day” recently to get my own. 🙂

  11. I found this post hoping that “ask a Bible scholar” was something that had already happened. I do have a question I would like an answer to. If anyone is reading this, my email is
    I need an answer stripped as much as possible from interpretation of a verse but simply what a Greek phrase could or might mean. It comes down to the difference between words such as “in” and “for.”
    Please email me if you have expertise in Biblical Greek. Thank you,

  12. Worthless. No Bible scholar ever responded. Why set up this website if there’s no follow-up?

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