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Biblical Hermeneutics is one of the most popular Stack Exchange sites to be still in its 'Beta' phase. Our stats as a network (as of 28-Mar-2016) are as follows:

BH.SE Stats

Whilst we're great in the majority of the criteria, our 'questions per day' is a quarter of what is considered healthy for SE, and that's after four and a half years in use. Our current scope is described as follows:

current scope

It would seem that as large and complex as the Bible is, new non-repeating questions in the scope as currently defined may not be sustainable at a healthy enough rate to ever be viable as a full SE.

Is this a fair analysis? Is the current scope too narrow to ever graduate to a full Stack Exchange site?

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    Worth noting that success and graduation are not the same thing. These are good things to consider even so. – Susan Mar 28 '16 at 12:02
  • @Susan - spot on, most of our other stats are excellent which suggests that we're 'successful' nonetheless. However, as time goes on it will likely be increasingly difficult to create new, non-repeating questions given the scope of the site. It would be interesting to get a trend of how many questions the site has gotten per per day over its lifetime versus active users - that would probably help make the case one way or the other. – Steve Taylor Mar 28 '16 at 12:09
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    You're suggesting because we deal with a fixed set of texts, that we will eventually run out of questions? I admit to having had the same thought, but I think it's not the reason we're a small site. In addition to being nowhere near that hypothetical endpoint (IMO), witness the academic field of Biblical Studies, which keeps churning out new material as knowledge of linguistics and understanding of the ancient world develops. All of this presents additional fodder for questions. It's just that the pool of people who care is small. Which is OK. – Susan Mar 28 '16 at 12:17
  • @Susan - Right enough, if the stated intention of the site is to cater towards professors, doctoral students, theologians etc then we are nowhere near the hypothetical endpoint, and the subject itself literally never really ends for all sorts of reasons. But that must create an interesting situation where the 'average question' must become increasingly specific and nuanced in order to survive. In which case the average 'avid user' probably becomes more specialised in order to ask or understand current questions. In which case it would never manifest as a sudden stop, but a slow decline? – Steve Taylor Mar 28 '16 at 12:27
  • Interesting. But doesn't any site necessarily develop toward the increasingly specific and nuanced (arguably, a better fit for SE format anyway)? Perhaps not the programming sites, where the field changes so quickly, but in other areas, the easy/obvious questions get asked first, and then people move on. – Susan Mar 28 '16 at 12:35
  • Again, true - many popular subjects are technically somewhat finite, and it is always possible to discuss something or Q&A it at a faster rate than new material develops, and so that curve will take effect depending on the number of users and the scope of the topic. For a given rate of interest, the scope determines how quickly viable discussion can really continue. But essentially that 2.4 questions per day is likely to slowly tend downward as things develop, so if we're happy that is a healthy rate then the scope is probably fine. If it is too small, then the scope is too narrow. – Steve Taylor Mar 28 '16 at 12:44
  • @SteveTaylor - Following Susan's comment: A.) I had no idea the target audience was doctoral students and theologians; B.) But, I feel that equipping others who are not is a necessary component of scholarly research; C.) I am obviously not a doctoral student, or theologian - and likely will never be at that level - but I enjoy learning from you all; D.) HOWEVER - Hermeneutics and Philology are inseparable. You cannot narrowly limit the scope of texts - and expect great results; E.) And, facilitating more intra-religious dialogue would be incredibly insightful! – elika kohen Mar 31 '16 at 22:28
  • @SteveTaylor ... Just wondering why the site would want to avoid non-repeating questions? If duplicate questions get deleted or 'frozen' (?) so that no one can answer the second time round, this assumes that the answers given the first time the question was asked were the correct answers, or that there's no more to be said about the subject! People are more likely to type in their question than go looking to see if it's been asked before, and if a new set of eyes see the duplicate question, perhaps it's likely to get an additional take on it, providing further insight into the subject? – Marisa Apr 9 '16 at 10:31
  • @Marisa - I didn't say the site would want to avoid non-repeating questions, it's more the opposite problem - that there are inevitably fewer remaining questions to ask as time goes on. Such a 'curve' is inevitable regardless of the scope, but as per my last question I'm mainly taking issue with whether our current curve is really the best way to go, or whether it would be worth extending it by broadening the scope somewhat. – Steve Taylor Apr 14 '16 at 8:25
  • As of 1/24/2018, questions per day are up 50% (now 3.6), total users has almost doubled (now 11.3k), avid users is up 30%, and visits/day are up 30% (now 9.9k). So progress is being made. We're on track to hit minimum SE questions per day standards sometime in 2020 :) – user33515 Jan 24 '18 at 21:35
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The Stats Reflect the Topic and Approach

The requirements for moving out of Beta are, to some extent, arbitrarily set based on some SE model that said 'X' is good for each category to advance out of Beta.

But note the two non-excellent areas for BH.SE are the "Questions per Day" and the "Answer Ratio," and I believe there is a relationship between those with respect to the topic, and a healthy relationship with respect to this particular site. That is, I do not think BH.SE quite fits in the basic SE model parameters. Here is why:

  • The topic is of a narrow focus, so the target audience is smaller to begin with.
  • A good BH.SE answer is not one that comes off the top of the head in 3.2 seconds. We are seeking academically sound answers, which means either sourcing (which requires extra-bibilical research) or strong showing of argument and logic from the Scripture itself (which requires personal Bible research and organized presentation). I have numerous answers on BH.SE that took me well over 20+ hours of work to produce. Many people do not want to devote that time to answering, but that is why the answer ratio is (and probably should be) a bit low.
  • Because of the above, a good answer requires a level of expertise that is not held by the average person who might ask a question, and so the pool of question answerers is smaller still than the pool of question askers.
  • Because a good answer can (and often should) take so much time and the pool of potential askers is larger than answerers, it is better if not too many questions a day get asked, as we would end up either (a) with our answer ratio dropping severely (no more a 94% excellent rating) or (b) the quality of the answers severely suffering as answers are allowed that do not meet site specifications.

So the BH.SE model does not quite fit, I think, the typical SE ideal for those two stat categories that are low.

Room to Broaden?

So I think BH.SE is healthy, despite the low stats in the two categories. But can the scope still broaden? Or maybe not just scope, but user interpretation of the scope broaden. Perhaps. Specifically, I see room for broadening in these points.

First, there are a number of questions that get closed because users deem it too "doctrine" related. Some of these questions, to me, should not be closed because the doctrinal relation:

  1. relates more directly to the text interpretation itself, i.e., the doctrine would be arising from that text, so the interpretation of that text relates directly to that doctrine, or
  2. the hermeneutical approach is founded upon a particular doctrine (e.g., inspiration) and so that area of doctrine should be viable for some level of inclusion in questions related to the text, hermeneutics, and interpretation, or
  3. an interpretation of a text in some hermeneutical approaches depends upon a doctrine presupposed for proper understanding of the text in question, i.e., in some hermeneutics, previous doctrines in Scripture are foundational to understanding later Scripture, so that level of doctrine should be allowed.

Now to some extent, some questions get through in those areas, while others do not, all depending upon the make-up of the current users of BH.SE at the time (and how the on/off topic information is worded at that time in BH.SE history). In general, there is just a bit too much "doctrinal phobia" on the site (in my opinion), which ignores the fact that any interpretation of a text is coming from some doctrinal viewpoint it presupposes already, and is creating doctrine (i.e. teaching) from that text through the interpretation, so doctrine is there, whether one wants to admit it or not.

So some broadening in that area seems appropriate to me, assuming the questions still relate to interpretation of the text, historical context of a text, or discussion of hermeneutic approaches themselves. I do realize there has always been a certain tension in that the "doctrinal" questions go to Christianity.SE or Mi Yodeya

Second, I think we could/should clarify that we accept Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic based questions assuming they are related to a specific text. We do not desire to be a source of "basic language" questions that one should learn by taking a course in that language, but we have proved that we delve into depth in linguistic aspects related to specific interpretation of a text. So wording our on/off topic listing a bit more precisely in that area may be useful to increasing some specific language questions related to specific texts. But it may not increase questions, as simply asking about the interpretation of a word in a particular text is common, and tends to lead to some type of language based answer.

Conclusion

In my opinion, scope may still need tweaking, but a low question count and bit lower answer ratio is probably a healthier position for BH.SE than not, even if that does not match the ideal generic SE model.

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    On Christianity.SE questions have to be labeled with their denominational starting point all the time (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or even more specific like JW, LDS, Baptist, Pentecostal, etc) So I've never seen why well defined theological frameworks can't be worked into deeper interpretational questions. Also, I was recently reminded that SE has no Greek site, so questions on Koine Greek (still as related to translation of a text, but maybe more detailed translation theory) would be nice to allow. So I fully agree with this answer. – Joshua Mar 28 '16 at 19:51
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    I up-voted because I agree with most of this, although I find Room > First > 1,2,3 somewhat muddling. @JoshuaBigbee re. "working in theological frameworks", the "modes of discourse" framework (both with respect to consistency and preferred "modes" on BH.SE) has made the most sense to me. – Susan Mar 28 '16 at 20:39
  • Thanks. I'm heart-and-soul in agreement with this answer and the question. I also thought that "Room > First > 1,2,3" section was a little confusing. Perhaps "questions, to me, should not be closed when ..." is closer to what you mean? – C. Kelly Mar 28 '16 at 22:14
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    We've always allowed questions on Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, haven't we? It's just that they must be hermeneutical questions, not grammar, learning, or definitional questions. – curiousdannii Mar 28 '16 at 23:02
  • I agree totally with this answer! This site suffers from too narrow of focus based on the 'comfortableness' of the permissible spectrum of study and the timidity of approaching anything remotely resembling any sort of theological challenge. It has been my stated opinion over a considerable course of time that if this site ONLY solicits "college professors, theologians, or doctrinal candidates", it will suffer a slow, agonizing, painful death. They have far too little time, and far too many alternatives to trifle with a site such as this. – Tau Mar 29 '16 at 13:50
  • (Cont.) The overwhelmingly vast majority of users are folks who for whatever reason have picked up a bible and want to know what it says....if only to understand a particular sermon or teaching they heard, or ammunition to whack a coworker or annoying relative. The streams of inquiry are vast but the gate is small, and if it remains that way the process at best will be 'truncated', ensuring a much longer Beta period. The "solution" of course is to 'widen' the gate and encourage experts who have a passion for the topic to 'relinquish' their time to answer. But this will stir controversy..... – Tau Mar 29 '16 at 14:06
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    @Tau It seems to me you're conflating the scope issue (the boundary/intersection of Biblical studies and "doctrine", however defined) and the expertise issue (the extent to which we insist upon a certain level of scholarly rigor). – Susan Mar 30 '16 at 3:30
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    @Susan I believe they are complementary, not conflating. The fact that 'experts' haven't revealed themselves(or gained acceptance) means narrowness and rigidity in our scope-lest we enter waters we ourselves haven't fathomed. The scholarly rigor isn't the issue; we are a 'knowledge based, not opinion based source', and as such we must stand the test of rigor. But when topics veer ever so slightly in the direction of 'theology', we immediately sound the alarm and head back into a 'academically neutral' zone-even though such a zone doesn't exist. (cont.) – Tau Mar 30 '16 at 3:57
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    @Susan(cont.) There are experts who will answer to the challenges of rigor-if we allow them. But we have to 'get beyond' the "one thing we do well" and allow herneneutical questions that border on theology to have their say. I don't believe we have to change our Site Directives to do this; we just simply have to allow our perspective of what constitutes "On Topic" to embrace them. They must have a scriptural and hermeneutical basis-we aren't entertaining 'specious' anomalies. But they would open the doors of interest to an otherwise uninterested public-and garner more favorable reviews. – Tau Mar 30 '16 at 4:07
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Perhaps the daily number of new questions is more related to our small target audience, rather than our scope. BH.SE identifies its target audience as academics and those interested in the academic side of religion. Of course we get questions from non-academics, but they do tend to be quality questions that would interest members of our target audience. As long as our target audience is small, we will tend to get a smaller daily number of questions.

Widening the scope certainly could result in more questions being asked, but anything we do about scope should be intended to create questions from our target audience.

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  • I'm not so sure about whether that is a fair description of the target audience, though - if we were truly targeting all who are academics or who have an academic interest in religion, that would include issues like patristics and doctrinal development as they relate to biblical hermeneutics. I think our scope (and each instantaneous interpretation of it) correlates with a target audience, but is more largely defined by the current community and by boundary-setting against the other two related SE's. – Steve Taylor Apr 18 '16 at 17:45
  • @SteveTaylor: by 'academic' I was summarising "Q&A for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts." I was not proposing we target all who are academics or who have an academic interest in religion, merely stating those whom we say we currently target. – Dick Harfield Apr 18 '16 at 21:11
  • @SteveTaylor I also agree with you that we are limited by boundaries against other SE's, but again I do not here propose that we widen our target audience. – Dick Harfield Apr 18 '16 at 21:12
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    What could be useful in increasing our Q per day is to involve the members of our target more fully, presumably by making our site more relevant to them. – Dick Harfield Apr 18 '16 at 21:14
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1. Question Restatement:

Is the current scope too narrow to ever graduate to a full Stack Exchange site?


2. Quick Answer:

The current Scope is WAY too Narrow - and Solicits Primarily Christian Doctrines and Traditions.

AND - precludes general questions which could help equip researches to become better at Hermeneutics.

But - I feel that we should certainly maintain "objectivity" and "scholarship" as "our brand" - in order to avoid dogmatism and traditional presuppositions.


3. Allow Generalized Hermeneutic Questions:

Allow Systematic Biblical Language questions: How to Research, Hermeneutic Fallacies, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Chaldean, Mishnaic Hebrew, Coptic, whatever - as long as it is relevant and can contribute value to "Biblical Hermeneutics".

Example: In Gen. 6:3, Eccl. 2:4, and Psalms 68:18: The Hebrew, the LXX Greek, the Aramaic Targums Yonatan and Onkelos - all - translate "For Adam" differently - But, do these contexts favor one particular translation over others?

Note: I would also like Systematic Theology questions to be allowed, but moderated - ensuring that the Systematic Theology is expressed in terms of a specific Text.


4. Moderate Opinion Based Answers - Especially Answers from Religious Commentaries:

Although ancient opinions have incredible Historical Value, especially how things had been interpreted in the past - they should not be relied upon as "conclusive".

For example, this question, rewarded a bounty for an answer based exclusively from a commentary - which is heavily dependent on presupposed Christian traditions and doctrines - and excludes all contemporary Greek and Jewish literature.

In that case I would have loved to see more answers providing linguistic analysis, contemporary literary examples, or even extra-biblical examples from Jewish, Greek, and Christian liturgies.

But, that motivation is removed - because the bounty clearly affirmed the type of Answer being sought, (from tradition and Christian doctrine).


5. Expand to "Biblical Humanities":

Personally, I would love to see St. John of the Cross' mysticism tied in with Job, or Hildegard of Bingen in the context of Daniel. Reconciling a Papal Bull, or ruling with Scripture. Martin Luther's 99 theses in view of Biblical Literature. How the Books of Enoch, Sefer Raziel, etc, and the connection to the Babylon Exile. Astrology and Jacob's blessing - Israel's encampment mirroring the Kodiak. How Zoroastrian theology is seen in Messianic prophecies or Temple worship. Gilgamesh and Noah. Babylonian theology and Israel, (and the Pharasaic movement post-Ezra), and so on.


6. That can all be accomplished by a friendly reminder above the "Answer Box":

Answers Must Cite and Rely Upon an Attainable Authority;

Answers Must Avoid Personal Opinions - and even Reliance on the Opinions of Others should point to their underlying evidences;

Note: Obviously exceptions exist and should be managed organically.

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  • (+1) Thanks @ElikaKohen - I really like your approach to this. I think we do miss a step when we only process hermeneutics in a cold, mechanical, Western way, and this excludes a great number of Christian perspectives on the texts. This sort of approach would exclude the majority of the New Testament writers and Apostolic Fathers in the way they approached the texts, and so it's odd if we only examine the scriptures in the narrow way which academic circles have begun to do this past century. – Steve Taylor Mar 29 '16 at 8:22
  • @SteveTaylor - A,) To be clear, I certainly believe we should maintain "objectivity" through scholarship and valid exegesis. B.) However, I believe we should step away from the "narrowness" that we currently have. C.) I think objectivity, and scholarship should be dominate here, "our Brand" - in order to promote a constructive "sandbox" to research in - without being overwhelmed by tradition and dogmatism - as in other opinion-based sites. – elika kohen Mar 29 '16 at 8:34
  • FYI, That answer which received a bounty, mentioned above, came entirely from a conservative sermon, in which the preacher quoted a liberal commentary. The poster felt that this analysis was fair and balanced, some of the finest hermeneutical work (on the part of MLJ, Sanday and Hedlam) ever expended on the question at hand, and a useful contribution. The person awarding the bounty seems to have agreed. For what it's worth, the poster also felt bad for being given credit for mere research. But this, too, is part of the work of a hermeneutical scholar. – C. Kelly Mar 30 '16 at 0:13
  • Also, @elikakohen, the statement "which is heavily dependent on presupposed Christian traditions and doctrines - and excludes all contemporary Greek and Jewish literature" is itself a presupposition, I suppose, that the New Testament texts, which were so heavily quoted and exegeted so logically by MLJ, are neither Greek nor Jewish literature. This baffles me beyond anything else you have written to date! – C. Kelly Mar 30 '16 at 1:17
  • @C.Kelly - A.) That post was logical? Really? Its conclusion appeals to a bandwagon fallacy: "Now isn't it extraordinary that, on - a flimsy basis - modern translators - go against what has been believed throughout the - centuries." B.) And then it devolves into ad-hominem - anyone who disagrees is essentially "anti-christ": "There is something in them - jumps at the opportunity - to detract from - Jesus"; C.) You may have missed the point: regardless of any merit - the answer was completely invalidated by the post's "religious" bias - We should expect better; – elika kohen Mar 30 '16 at 1:55
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    If agreeing with a large amount of sources is bandwagon fallacy then how can you simultaneously demand citations of attainable authority? Who decides what or who is an authority and not an opinion? I'm all for opening things up but it must be with clear labeling AND moderators must be ready to allow maybe a wider range of answer than we(and you) are now comfortable with. For example, the very Q&A you reference. Your bias led you to believe that modern linguistic analysis is superior to tradition. C.Kelly's bias led him to give precedence to tradition. Who's to say which bias is wrong or right? – Joshua Mar 30 '16 at 4:05
  • I do not believe either of the charges of fallacy by @elikakohen on that answer are accurate, as I note in comments on the answer itself. – ScottS Mar 30 '16 at 4:23
  • @ScottS To be fair, at least here, he is speaking of bandwagon bias, not fallacy. Appeal to authority or common belief would be close I suppose. It would be easier if only he was accusing a logical fallacy as one could say it was right or wrong. But when you start calling out biases one opens the door to having your own biases called out. It becomes less about hermeneutics in my mind at that point and becomes epistemology. (this is not directed to the ad hominem part of course, but the bandwagon and religious bias parts) – Joshua Mar 30 '16 at 11:39
  • @JoshuaBigbee: The term "fallacy" was used of the bandwagon statement in the comment above, even if "bias" is intended. That is what I was addressing and clarifying that a broad consensus from evidence in a conclusion is different than a fallacious bandwagon argument, where one is appealing to the mass popularity as a reason itself to go along. However, I agree wholly with your point about biases. We all have them. No one is objective; nor, IMO, should we be, since I believe we should be biased in an alignment with God's revealed worldview in order to see things clearly and truly. – ScottS Mar 30 '16 at 15:19
  • @JoshuaBigbee - Whoa all ... A.) The issue here was the appeal to christian tradition and doctrine, (and the ad-hominem attack). B.) Sure, the bandwagon is muddled with appeal to authority - but it's not the point - C.) hermeneutics.stack, (if I recall correctly) wasn't supposed to be a "Christian" site, maybe not even theistic. D.) Appealing to religious authority, God, etc - as proof - isn't hermeneutic linguistics. It's not scholarly - there are other sites that are better for that - like the christianity or judaism Stacks ... – elika kohen Mar 30 '16 at 17:23
  • @elikakohen who exactly are the scholarly authorities from the 3rd and 4th centuries who's hermeneutic of the original languages we are allowed to appeal to? They are all Christian religious authorities...The referenced answer gives an impressive list of early church names who translated and/or interpreted the Romans verse to mean the same thing. If we rule them out as religious authorities I'm afraid we're left with little to no historical interpretations to work with and have only modern work. Do you think only newer scholarly work by atheists is acceptable? (hyperbole is to make the point) – Joshua Mar 30 '16 at 17:49
  • @elikakohen Also, understand, I am not interested in debating that other Q&A, everything I am saying is in the context of this Q&A using the issues of the other question as a case example of working through the implications of your answer here. Ironically, as far as I can perceive, your responses on and about the other question actually work against your answer here. That's why I'm replying strongly, not because I want to debate the other question, but because of the repercussions of your Sections 3, 4 & 6 if you going to be biased against historical interpretations (tradition). – Joshua Mar 30 '16 at 18:01
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    @elikakohen - could you please move sections 3-6 into a few new Meta Questions? I think it would be good to talk about them individually and reason them out to see which make the most sense and get the most support. I'd concur with the other guys that including discussion of 'hermeneutic fallacies' might be relevant, but would invite a few black hole questions... this comment thread kinda proves the point. – Steve Taylor Mar 31 '16 at 9:12
  • @JoshuaBigbee - A.) It is a misrepresentation to say I am biased against historical interpretations - I rely on them all the time; B.) I am against the idea of encouraging answers that appeal to the authority of religious doctrine; C.) Perfectly valid in Hermeneutics: "Interpretation X, does not have a Christianity Bias - because Jewish Rabbi R. and Greek Historian H. all translate it the same way"; D.) But, This is not valid: "There is no better conclusion - because a lot of Christians throughout History said so"; E.) Hermeneutics is NOT a Democracy. – elika kohen Mar 31 '16 at 9:23

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