The albatross is among the largest of flying birds, capable of soaring across vast expanses of ocean. But thanks to Coleridge’s famous Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the albatross has also become symbolic of heavy burdens which are difficult to escape. In that poem, an albatross begins following a ship across the sea—an event regarded by mariners as a good omen. But the poem’s main character shoots the albatross with a crossbow, and the ship’s good fortune dies with the hapless bird. In an attempt to atone for what they believe to be a curse for killing the albatross, the crew hangs the body of the dead bird around the neck of the sailor who killed it. It is a heavy burden which encumbers the mariner’s body and soul.
For far more time than I care to admit, my inescapable burden has been developing the Accordance edition of the Journal of Biblical Literature, or JBL. JBL is the flagship journal of the Society of Biblical Literature, and I was tasked with converting more than 100 issues spanning 26 years and filling nearly 20,000 pages into an Accordance module.
Scholarly journals tend to be among the more difficult modules to produce, simply because they feature highly detailed articles on a wide variety of subjects. That is even more true of JBL than of many other journals. JBL is part technical commentary in that it features articles which delve into the meaning of various Biblical passages. JBL is part textual apparatus in that it addresses text-critical issues. JBL features articles on theological questions, historical problems, grammatical controversies, Ancient Near Eastern practices, apocryphal literature, and on and on and on. It’s a bit of everything related to Biblical studies, and when it covers a topic, it covers it in exacting detail.
For the hapless module developer like myself, all that complexity presented numerous challenges. Yet bringing JBL to Accordance was fraught with other difficulties beside the complexity of all that material. I’ll spare you all the gory details, but suffice it to say that JBL has been by far the most challenging module I’ve ever worked on—so much so that I jokingly began referring to it as my JBL-batross. At times I wondered if I would ever completely remove it from my neck and place it into the hands of the many Accordance users who have been waiting for it.
I am therefore very pleased to announce that the Journal of Biblical Literature is now—at long last—available for purchase and Easy Install. What has heretofore been a great burden to me can now help your own studies take flight in new and exciting ways. JBL features articles by some of the most renowned religious scholars of the last quarter century, and those scholars approach the text of the Bible from an incredibly diverse set of perspectives. That diversity of perspective lends itself to lively and interesting debates within the pages of the journal itself, enabling you to weigh the relative merits of each side.
As I was working through this treasure trove of material, I saw first hand just how helpful it can be. For example, consider the puzzling story of Noah’s nakedness and his cursing of Ham’s son, Canaan in Genesis 9. A search for “nakedness” in JBL’s Titles field turns up two interesting articles which help to shed light on that episode. One surveys “Jewish Constructions of Nakedness in Late Antiquity,” showing how ancient rabbis tended to understand the nature of Ham’s sin as something more than merely seeing his father in a state of undress. Another article, “Noah’s Nakedness and the Curse on Canaan,” argues that Ham’s sin was actually not mere voyeurism or even paternal incest, but maternal incest. You’ll have to evaluate the merits of this argument yourself, but Noah’s curse on Canaan does seem much less arbitrary if one understands Canaan to have been a child born of incest between Ham and his mother.
At this point, I’ve just searched for those articles with the word “nakedness” in the title. A search of JBL’s Scripture field for Genesis 9:20-27 turns up other interesting articles with titles like, “In the Beginning: Myth and History in Genesis and Exodus,” “Biblical Poetics and Sexual Politics: From Reading to Counterreading,” “Vineyard, Farm, and Garden: The Drunkenness of Noah in the Context of Primeval History,” and more. With a few simple searches I’ve found a wealth of material and a broad range of interpretive perspectives on this one passage, and this is just one example of how useful a journal of JBL’s depth and scope can really be.
Up until now, I’ve worn JBL like an albatross around my neck, desperately wanting to get this wealth of material into your hands while also trying to deliver the quality and added value you expect from an Accordance resource. Unlike the ancient mariner, my JBL-batross is ready to spring to life and soar great distances. Hitch a ride on its outstretched wings, and you’ll be carried further in your studies than you ever thought possible.