Welcome to the Opencourseware “Bible and digital humanities” from the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium). With the support of Professor Régis Burnet, academic referent, this online course was created thanks to a 2023 grant from the UCLouvain Digital University project, in partnership with two researchers from the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, Claire Clivaz and Elisa Nury. They wrote and built the content, in French and English. This course is aimed at all interested audiences, from students to experienced researchers. It will introduce you to digital humanities in relation to the Bible and provide references for further reading.

1. Presentation of the Opencourseware

This Opencourseware consists of five modules. Would you like to know where does the name "digital humanities" comes from, and what role the biblical field has played in its creation? This first introductory module will guide you through this topic, following the general presentation of the course.
Would you like to explore for yourself the manuscripts behind your favorite New Testament pericope, and immerse yourself in the issues involved in digital publishing of this corpus? Then the second module is for you.
If you're in the starting blocks for encoding your first biblical, apocryphal, or patristic passage, the third module will introduce you to the subject of electronic encoding, in TEI/XML or HTML.
If you like fundamental reflection and wonder about the future of the status of Scriptures in digital culture, choose the fourth module without hesitation. In 2017, the first monograph devoted to this theme appeared, from the pen of Jeffrey S. Siker, entitled Liquid Scriptures: the tone is set.
Finally, if you're interested in understanding the evolution of the transmission of biblical texts in a digital culture that combines text, image, and sound, the fifth module will provide you with some of the keys. It should be emphasized that this Opencourseware presents the two authors' favorite subjects in relation to the biblical corpus and does not claim to cover all the major themes of digital humanities. We're sure it will inspire you to discover more!
This training takes the form of eTalks. If you'd like to find out how an eTalk works, you can watch a short video via the link at the bottom of your screen. You can also consult a series of eTalks on the last chapter of Mark's Gospel or refer to the application code available as open source on GitHub. The eTalk is fully citable in detail through the url linked to each part. At the end of each eTalk, you'll find the bibliography cited to help you go further.
All the data from these eTalks - texts, slides, and audios - are freely accessible, under CC BY-SA license, on the Nakala open data repository (CNRS, Huma-Num). This project is driven by the conviction that open science is a key driver for the future of scholarly research and teaching.

2. The emergence of the so-called “digital humanities”

It was not before the beginning of the 21st century that the expression “digital humanities” appeared, first in academic debates, then in the title of the Companion to Digital Humanities, first published in 2004. In French, this expression is sometimes translated as “humanités numériques”, sometimes as “humanités digitales”, acknowledging that it comes from elsewhere. But before this recent linguistic creation, the humanities had gradually encountered and tamed computing under a label indicating the face-off that lasted for almost two generations: humanities and computing.
Emblematically, one of the oldest departments in the digital humanities - King's College London, whose beginnings date back to the 1970s - was originally called the Center for the Computing in the Humanities when it was founded in 1992 and has been renamed the Department of Digital Humanities in 2011. The fruitful and varied encounter between the humanities and computer science thus began under a double name, or rather with a name that evolved over the first decade of our century. Let's take a closer look.
The humanities needed time to realize what their union with computing meant. The first generation saw computers as a kind of super-writing machine, just faster and more powerful. This was the position adopted by the great Latin manuscript specialist Bonifatius Fischer, who wrote an article as early as 1970 questioning the possible role of computers in exegesis, and clearly felt that computers could neither understand, nor interpret (p. 299-300). He does concede, however, that there is one area "where the computer is of great importance to the student of the New Testament, indeed where it opens up a new dimension and makes possible what hitherto the scholar had not even dared to dream of: that is, in textual criticism" (p. 304). In the second module, we'll see just how much the approach to New Testament manuscripts has been transformed by computer technology.
Kurt Aland, editor of the Greek New Testament, had also foreseen that the computer would be called upon to put the variants of the new critical edition of the New Testament in order. In 1970, the same year as Fischer, he pointed out that “the computer is nothing more than a tool. It can only do what it is asked to do. [...] The use of the computer does not mean mechanization of New Testament textual criticism, it only provides it with tools for its work which simplify it and give it a previously impossible intensity and extensiveness, provided that they are used correctly» (p. 175-176). Although Fischer and Aland were curious about computers before many other researchers, they were convinced in 1970 that no fundamental epistemological or heuristic transformation was going to take place with this tool.
Representative of many humanities researchers of the last century, these two authors help us to understand why, for almost two generations, we preferred to refer to interdisciplinarity between the humanities and computer science as a face-to-face, rather than transforming the name of the humanities into the digital humanities. It took sixty years for this awareness to materialize in the biblical field: while the first biblical computer tool was published by the Reverend John W. Ellison in 1957, the first monograph to analyze the digital transformation of the biblical text appeared only sixty years later, in 2017, under the pen of Siker. The fourth module will reflect on the epistemological implications of this transformation and the possible reasons for such a time lag between the first tool and the reflection on the influence of this tool for the biblical field.
The first decade of the 21st century will see the reclassification of the humanities as the “digital humanities”. As French researcher Aurélien Berra noted as a precursor in 2012, the roots of the expression “faire ses humanités” lie in Renaissance humanism: “from humanities to ‘humanités’, we’re obviously not referring to the same thing: the disciplinary divisions are different. According to CNRS categories, humanités correspond to the humanities and social sciences, i.e., a broad grouping that does not overlap with what exists in other cultural, academic, and school traditions. In this way, we move away from the reference to established disciplines, to name a complex phenomenon” (§3).
Eleven years later, European research infrastructures are moving in the direction Berra had discerned: the humanities and social sciences have given themselves a common face in the SSHOC association, born this spring 2023, after leading a project of the same name.
Far from the big maneuvers of research institutions and infrastructures, there was much discussion in the French-speaking world about the comparative merits of “digital” humanities from 2010 (see Clivaz, 2017). Should we retain the English referent of numbers, of the computing sphere, and validate “digital humanities”? Or accept the more hybrid “digital humanities” to include finger and flesh?
Franck Cormerais and Jacques-Antoine Gilbert argue in favor of embodied meaning: “We see this ambivalence between carnality and calculation as the most appropriate expression of the tension that runs through the whole of digital studies. Digital studies can be reduced neither to code, nor to the disciplines that make up the humanities” (p. 14).
Our personal position is that the adjective that requalifies the humanities as digital should eventually fall, precisely when these humanities have been digitized, an inevitable or desirable phenomenon, depending on one's point of view. This is what happened to the computer itself, even if we've forgotten it: after the analog era, the digitized computer was briefly called the digital computer, before the adjective faded away, having become redundant as a matter of course (Clivaz, 2019, p. 60).
We might then recall that in the Renaissance, the term humanities in the plural could itself refer to the body or human nature, as in this example by Rabelais: « Pourquoy plus toust ne transportons nous nos humanitez en belle cuisine de Dieu ? ». Computer culture, by digitizing our knowledge, has thus given us back the plural term humanities, bodies included, and in so doing undoubtedly signals a reconfiguration of knowledge. Biblical scholars and theologians enter this reflection through their own field, and that's just as well, because Bible and theology have played a key role in the advent of the digital humanities from the outset, as presented in the last part of this module.

3. The Bible and theology at the cradle of the digital humanities

If you read the preface to the first edition of the aforementioned Companion to Digital Humanities, you'll find a text by Roberto Busa, an Italian Jesuit Father recognized as one of the founding figures of digital humanities. Already 91 in 2004 - and due to pass away in the summer of 2011 - Busa has lost none of his enthusiasm for what he helped launch and exclaims in this preface: “Digitus Dei est hic! The finger of God is here!”
Such enthusiasm for the computer is not the exclusive signal of the religious function of Busa. In the 1950s, the computer was a source of high esteem and ambitious aspirations. It's still surprising to read how, in 1955, Jacques Perret, a fine Latinist from the Sorbonne, explains his choice of ordinateur to translate computer to the president of IBM: “Dear Sir, what would you say about ordinateur? It’s a well-formed word, even found in the Littré as an adjective for God who puts order into the world. A word of this kind has the advantage of easily yielding a verb, ordiner, and a noun for action, ordination. The disadvantage is that ordination designates a religious ceremony; but the two fields of meaning (religion and accounting) are so far apart, and the ordination ceremony known, I believe, to so few people, that the disadvantage is perhaps minor”. Distant or not, computers and ordination were from then on linked by Jacques Perret. We can only call for in-depth research into the uses of religious vocabulary in the digital world, starting with the cloud, whose very name makes us forget the hyper-materialization of the digital world, its cables, and its carbon, to turn our gaze unduly towards possible clouds.
The beginning of the face-to-face between the humanities and computer science is usually traced back to Roberto Busa’s emblematic 1949 visit to the president of IBM, described by Domenico Fiormonte as “the foundation of the discipline of Humanities and Computing” (p. 30).
But in 2016, Steven E. Jones delivered a rich and balanced survey of Busa’s role, pointing out that “IBM’s interests in 1949-1952 surely included shoring up postwar diplomatic relations with the Vatican, Italy, and Europe as a whole just at the advent of its World Trade Corporation” (p. 97). This context of intertwined commercial and political interests was not out of the mind of Roberto Busa, who, in a private letter of 1960, wondered whether cooperation between a businessman and a priest was blessed by God, and concluded that it was (Jones, p. 97)!
Thanks to Busa’s intellectual curiosity, the first digital humanities tool was created in the post-war period and is still online, updated of course: the index to Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica. The thousand-year-old knowledge of the humanities encountered digital materiality via this text. Although Busa also worked on the Dead Sea scrolls, he never attempted to link the biblical text itself to computer technology. It was a Protestant who made the first computerized tool for the Bible: in 1957, John W. Ellison published a Bible concordance with the IBM tool UNIVAC, still recorded on magnetic tape (Jones, p. 100), as we saw in Section 2 above.
The first list of electronic literary works was created in 1966, as described by Gustav Carlson in 1967. Also of note at this time was the creation of the Belgian project Bible informatique de l'Abbaye de Maredsous (1965), under the lead of Father Reginald-Ferdinand Poswick. This digital bible is still online and is referred to as the «Fonds Informatique Pionnière en Belgique».
The Biblia patristica, also created in the sixties, has evolved, and become BiblIndex in Lyon, a much-appreciated tool.
With Busa, Ellison and these French-language tools, we can see that the Bible and theology have played an important role in the computational approach to the human sciences from the outset. However, one had to wait until the second decade of the 21st century to see the emergence of reflections on the transformation of the biblical field by digital technology, and to move beyond the perception of an essentially mechanical use of this informatics. Module 4 will present the results of these recent reflections, after modules 2 and 3 have given two overviews of the concrete work of digital humanities, in textual criticism and in the electronic encoding of texts.
This final slide provides you with the references quoted in this module 1.