The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

May 3, 2014

The Himes (partial) guide to serious Bible research from the comfort of your home

Since the golden age of Alexandria, a good library has been an indispensable part of academic research. Sadly, many of those interested in Biblical studies may not have access to decent-sized repositories of paper-bound information. There’s good news, however: with the advent of both the digital age and incredible library networking, you may not need more than your local city library to help you study whatever your heart desires, whether for personal enrichment or ministry.

One caveat, however: books will still be difficult to acquire copies of, unless they’re in the public domain. Articles may be printed out and distributed for various purposes (under the rules of “fair use”), but for obvious reasons books are a different breed of animal altogether. Having said that, inter-library loan at your local library may or may not be able to help (as I write this, I am planning an experiment which should be done by the time I’m finished with this blog post).

There are three phases to academic research (at least, the way I do it): 1. Finding what sources you need, 2. Actually reading/studying those sources, and 3. Putting your findings into a coherent frame of an argument (this all precedes the actual task of writing a paper or article). This blog post will try to help you with the first part of this process.

To begin with, finding primary resources (e.g., Josephus, Plutarch, Dead Sea scrolls) is fairly easy. At the moment of writing this, I am going to look online for Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities. And, there! http://sacred-texts.com/jud/josephus/ant-1.htm
In less than a minute I have access to a primary source. Since primary sources like Josephus are public domain, you should have no problem (never underestimate the power of the Google!!!!). The more obscures source the more difficulty you have, but you never know. [note to students: your instructor might prefer you use a published, physical copy of a primary source; check first. For Ph.D. students, you need to be citing the original language of a primary source if at all possible. See if your schools has a subscription to the on-line Thesauras Linguae Graecae, which has been incredibly helpful to my own research--I have my own subscription].

For secondary sources, including journal articles by top Bible scholars, join a public library. Seriously, a public library membership will give you access to powerful search engines such as Ebsco (thanks to my buddy Alex, soon-to-be NC State engineering graduate, for pointing this out to me). So, with my membership in the Wake County Public Libraries system, I go to their website, log in with card number and pin number (no, you can’t have mine! It only takes a couple minutes to get your own library membership). Then I click on “OneSearch,” and then (this is very important), I click on the link to “Academic Search Career” which will take you to Ebsco; searching for a term just by clicking on a box is virtually worthless for some reason—you need Ebsco’s own search engine.

Now that I'm on Ebsco, I just do a simple search by typing in “Atonement” at the top and hitting “enter.” Immediately I have a ton of articles to look at, some of which I can download the full text. For example, at the very top, we have “Tertullian and Penal Substitutionary Atonement” by Peter Ensor in the most recent edition of Evangelical Quarterly, and you can download the full text. In other words, with just a simple membership in a local (non-academic) library, you have access to the full text of a recent scholarly article in one of the top evangelical journals. For those articles that you don’t have access to, at least you know that they’re out there and you can explore options for inter-library loans (this may very from library to library). One very important caveat: Ebsco through this particular local library will not yield the same range of results that Ebsco through a full theological library will (for example: I can access articles from the Journal of Biblical Literature but not Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society in the Ebsco database for Wake County. Utilizing Ebsco at Southeastern's library has a much better list of results since it utilizes different databases).

Once you have access to Ebsco, play around a bit with the search parameters and explore its potential. One problem I had early in my doctoral studies is that I kept getting numerous “hits” for book reviews on the same book when all I was interested in was journal articles. Consequently, I had to learn how to limit my results to exclude book reviews.

Now let’s have a little experiment. There’s a book, an expensive monograph, that I desperately want to take a look at for an article (hopefully!) that I’m writing on the meaning of a particular word in the Pastoral Epistles. The book I need is Claire Smith, Pauline Communities as “Scholastic Communities”: A Study of the Vocabulary of “Teaching” in 1 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. The book is not available at Southeastern’s library (a 20 minute drive for me), and since I graduated from there I no longer have inter-library lone privileges at SEBTS (though I can still check stuff out). It is, however, at Duke Divinity’s library (about a 30-minute drive for me); since it is not currently checked out, so we’ll call that “Plan B.” For “Plan A,” I want to see if I can get it via inter-library loan at my local public library. I do not know the results of the experiment, which I am starting . . . now.

Update! And I have indeed acquired a copy of Claire Smith's very thorough and expensive book Pauline Communities as "Scholastic Communities"! Utilizing the "WorldCat" database at my local library's website, I was able to request this expensive and technical monograph via inter-library loan, and I picked up it up about a week and a half after I ordered. Kudos to the Wake County library system!

One final note: if you just want some commentaries or something and don’t care how old they are, “Google Books” may have what you’re looking for. For instance, I can read a significant number of pages in Colin Kruse’s commentary on John by going here. You may or may not get the part of the book that you need, but obviously if this is something that you’ll be using often, just buy it.
Furthermore, even for more recent and expensive books, “Google Books” will have a limited number of pages available for free viewing.  For instance, if I go here, Ican read a surprisingly large number of the pages in Andreas K√∂stenberger’s essay “The Destruction of the Second Temple and the Composition of the Fourth Gospel” in what would otherwise be a difficult-to-acquire book of essays (Amazon list price for the book Challenging Perspectives on the Gospel of John is $100+). It’s a bit “hit-and-miss” with what you can read on Google Books, but it may cause otherwise un-acquirable resources to become accessible (at least partially).

One other final note: as I’ve pointed out before (here , here , and here), a lot of academic journals are accessible for free on-line, so make use of that resource as needed.