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From Ancient Scrolls To The Internet
Scriptural Scholars Go Online

November 7, 2002-- Think of Biblical scholars, and images come to mind of rabbis poring over ancient scrolls or monks huddled around illuminated manuscripts. Centuries after the religious texts were written, scholars still debate their meaning. But now they’re doing it over the Internet.

Peter Ochs, professor of modern Judaism, has arranged for the University of Virginia to publish five electronic journals relating to religious studies. In collaboration with the University Library’s Electronic Text Center, Ochs has co-founded two journals and moved a third one here. Two more are waiting in the wings.

“There has been an explosion of activity in religious studies in the past few years, especially in studies of the three Abrahamic traditions: Jewish, Christian and Muslim,” Ochs said. “Electronic journals are becoming an important means of communication among religious scholars around the world.”

Written for scholars, the e-journals don’t require subscriptions, but are available to anyone as a public service of the U.Va. Library. Since 1992, the library’s E-Text Center has built collections of texts and images and made them available to the public over the Internet. The center also supports user communities connected with its collections.

The oldest of the five religious electronic publications, the Journal of Textual Reasoning, is a 12-year-old journal of Jewish studies that moved last summer to its new home at U.Va. from Boston University. The journal brings together scholars from all the denominations of Judaism and from the diverse fields of philosophy, history and literary studies to seek text-based answers to contemporary problems, Ochs said.

One of the new journals is the Journal of Scriptural Reasoning, which Ochs co-founded in September 2001. The board of editors includes Christian, Jewish and Muslim theologians from all over the world. The journal, which is refereed, exists only virtually.

According to Kris Lindbeck, a scholar at Trinity University in Houston, Texas, scriptural reasoning implies two things:

“First… it is scriptural, drawing subject matter and techniques of reasoning from the revealed texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and from their traditional commentaries and methods of interpretation, and…accepting the concept of historical and ongoing revelation….Second, [it]…is reasoning; it does not pretend that revealed texts or traditional commentaries are transparent…and recognizes as well that sacred texts can be perverted to serve causes of hatred and death. Hence scriptural reasoning is necessarily an ethical endeavor, both in seeking to celebrate the religious insight of participants [and]…in attempting to gather old and new religious tools to address the suffering and evil present within the world and within each community of faith.”

Another new e-periodical is La Pensee Juive de Langue Francaise, a journal of Jewish thought published in French. In addition to Ochs, the U.Va.-based co-editors are Eleanor Kaufman, assistant professor of English, and Rocco Gangle, a graduate student of religious studies. Associate editors in France and Israel eventually will take over editing of the publication, which will continue to be hosted by the library’s E-Text Center, Ochs said.

Scholars in Paris and Jerusalem are working actively in the fields of Jewish thought and textual studies, and often take non-traditional, even radical philosophical and literary approaches to the texts, Ochs said. But until now, francophone scholars of recent Jewish philosophy haven’t had a journal to call their own. Pensee Juive de Langue Francaise should rectify that, he said.

Looking ahead, U.Va.’s E-Text Center plans to publish two more journals in the field. The E-Text Center has acquired the German-language journal, TR-Deutsch, in which Jewish and Christian scholars from Germany discuss Jewish text traditions. And it plans to publish an e-journal in English for the Institute for Quranic Reasoning, which was founded by Moslem
scholar Basut Koshul, formerly a doctoral candidate in religious studies at U.Va. and now on the faculty at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. The Institute for Quranic Reasoning moved to Concordia this fall with Koshul where it fosters the study of Islam through religious texts.

Ochs admits the journals’ debates are pitched to religious scholars. “We publish academic journals using academic language and academic tools to understand the truth of our religions as shown in the way people live their lives,” he said.

Still, the journals challenge stereotypes of religious study, especially the idea that religion is best studied by people who are secular, rather than religious, Ochs said.

“We represent intense Abrahamic religions and in some ways we have more to share because of our intensity,” he said. “One who most understands religion is a religious person, whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian. Our studies are performed by traditionally disciplined religious practitioners of these faiths.”

Over the centuries, civilizations have changed and technology has changed. But many of the problems that people deal with in life have remained the same.

“The ancients used their technology, and we use ours,” Ochs said. “But we’re still looking at the same scriptures. All the words are there. All the Abrahamic religions – all our e-journals – share the ancient texts that are still useful and relevant in guiding our modern-day lives.

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For more information, call Peter Ochs at (434) 924-6718, or contact him by email at pwo3v@virginia.edu. Visit the journal Web sites:
Journal of Textual Reasoning: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/journals/tr/
Journal of Scriptural Reasoning: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/journals/ssr/
Le Pensee Juive de Langue Francaise: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/journals/ssr/French/vol1/

Media contact: Charlotte Crystal, (434) 924-6858

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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