Baker Academic

Thursday, April 3, 2014

ZOMBIES! - A Cultural Advantage that B. F. Westcott Did Not Enjoy

Whenever I want to remind myself of how good I have it, I like to think of the fact that my grandfather dropped out of school in the seventh grade to work in a coal mine. Sometimes I look at family photos of my hobbitlike great grandparents: sub-five-foot Italians. I don't know if their feet were furry, but there is a very good chance of it. By way of gene pool and education, I have advantages that were unimaginable to my grandparents.

I also have advantages that my intellectual forebears did not. C. F. D. Moule and Morna Hooker (the doctoral supervisors of my doctoral supervisors) entered the field without computers or word processors. On one level, this fact is so obvious that it is uninteresting. On another level, it baffles me. How might my brain work differently, more deliberately, more carefully if I didn't have spell check or a backspace key?

Or what about this one: I probably have hundreds of ancient texts and their references committed to memory. I could give you lines from 11Q13 off the top of my head. I could tell you where to find most of Josephus' commentary on exorcism. Daniel 7:13-14, 2 Samuel 7:12-14, Psalm 2, Psalm 110, etc. These are just party tricks I've acquired over the years. This doesn't speak to my intelligence, per se; it just seeps in over time. I have no doubt that my coal-mining grandfather had a similar list of items in his head related to his day-to-day responsibilities. The memory of B. F. Westcott must have included thousands of such details.

I realized yesterday that I needed to refer to Matthew's bizarre account of the tombs opening when Jesus died. I guessed that it would be found somewhere in Matthew 27, but I didn't know exactly. Here is my first point: why would I need to know? I am a fully functioning member of the information age. I have this information at my finger tips.

Call it a crutch, but I use the google search engine several times a day. It is a tool in my belt that B. F. Westcott did not enjoy. Professor Westcott had to keep a vast array of mnemonic networks active in a way that I simply do not. Now, New Testament studies of my generation is much more interdisciplinary than his was, so I have other sorts of mental networks. Moreover, Professor Westcott wouldn't have memorized any of the 11Q texts because they hadn't been discovered yet (alongside a host of other unpublished texts). Even so, that generation was just more impressive than we children of google. We might have folks that are off-the-charts smart (e.g. Ryan Hemmer), but we're not and will never be Morna Hooker.

So I was working toward a deadline yesterday and I wanted to cite Matthew's crazy resurrection story with an exact scriptural address. It took me about three seconds:

I am well-aware that Matthew is illustrating the age of resurrection, not the zombie apocalypse. But I figured there must be about a million The Walking Dead, Shawn of the Dead, Zombieland-obsessed folks on the internet. Moreover, I guessed that some of this zombie zeitgeist had seeped into New Testament-related humor. It didn't take me more than three seconds to guess that "matthew's zombies" would give me the information I needed. In all honesty, I'm not sure how much of this went through my head, I just typed these two words with a specific expectation. Sure enough, this phrase yielded what I needed immediately and (this indeed was surprising) as the first search result. What a strange and wonderful world.

The world wide web has connected networked pop culture to academia in unprecedented ways. But the more important point is this: these networks are vast and labyrinthine. Our basic tools give us access to an ocean of data that would have been unimaginable to B. F. Westcott. It takes a discerning eye, but the benefits are manifold. I can't help but think that we are completely unworthy of this power. As compared to B. F. Westcott's intellectual acumen, we're mindless, glassy-eyed, hungry droolers, wandering the internet reading blogs like this one.



  1. Well there is the quote from Hershel Greene in the Walking Dead: "Christ promised the resurrection of the dead. I just thought he had something a little different in mind."

  2. I have had similar thoughts when I look at .pdfs of the Complutensian Polyglot. The scholars back then who put that amazing work together must have had super powers in my eyes.

  3. I feel this. I am doing a pair of word searches by hand (or eye?) on Hesiod's Theogony this week and the amount of time it is taking me seems astounding compared to my undergrad logos experience. On the flip side, I realized that I didn't know the text as well as I thought I did and it has opened up so many avenues in my mind concerning the formation and function of genealogies. This caused me to really reflect on the pros and cons of instant technology and its ability to do the brunt work for us. Not that it is either bad nor good, just that it has its limitations and you loose something with both (in my case hours).

  4. I typed the final draft of my PhD thesis on a rented IBM Correcting Selectric typewriter. I took that draft to a copy shop for the required copies, and took those to a bindery. With care and judicious application of Whiteout (since I did not have to submit the original), I made the cleanest copies I'd ever seen. IBM and Xerox manufactured my generation's technological marvels.

    At the same time, the old timers (my teachers and my parents) told war stories about typing dissertations on mimeo masters using manual typewriters. My mother remembers submitting hand-written term papers in college because my grandparents were too poor to buy a typewriter.

    Were those people smarter than later technological generations? Probably not. Is this generation dumber because of technological advantages and the wealth of information? Only if you allow yourselves to be.

    scott caulley

    1. Scott,