Emory Report

March 23, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 25

Blumenthal finds technology
fits nicely with tradition

David Blumenthal has found a way to capture the imagination of students, scholars and online buffs who visit his award-winning web site. While on sabbatical last year, the Cohen Professor of Judaic Studies began creating a site that adapts a centuries-old tradition of studying religious texts into a new form ideally suited to the web. Its major feature is the creative use of hypertext linking, in which more than one text is "present" to the reader at any one time.

"The idea of putting multiple commentaries on a page is an old, old tradition both in Judaism and in Christianity," said Blumenthal. The advantage of this intellectual approach is "that more than one voice can be seen or heard at once; indeed, contradictory voices can fight for attention," he said.

Blumenthal first experimented with the multitext sources and voices in his 1993 book, Facing the Abusing God. The second half of the book contains the main text in the middle of the page with commentaries in different voices surrounding it. Having different texts from multiple voices on the same page was a difficult printing problem, said Blumenthal. Even using sophisticated page layout programs, the book still required special typesetting by a firm in Colorado.

Then Blumethal discovered hypertext. After writing an article called "Reading Creation" that contained nine voices, he realized he had "exceeded the capacity of my word processing program" and decided to give hypertext a try. When he began working on "Meditations on the Ashrei (Psalm 145)," Blumenthal realized he needed embedded cartoons to demonstrate mystical techniques and hypertext to present "all the commentaries that clamored for attention when studying the psalm in its liturgical context."

Inspired by the success of these efforts, he created two articles specifically for the web, "Reading Genesis" and "Praying Ashrei (Meditations on Psalm 145)," each of which are commentaries containing as many as five or six layers of intertexting grouped around a central text.

Blumenthal says the site has become a great teaching resource, that he gets messages from people across the country praising its content and usefulness. He has put a precis of his next book on the web, is encouraging students to write "multivocal" texts and is planning to create space on the web for student work. Next fall he plans to include a session on writing in hypertext and using Internet resources in his master's level Judaic studies methodology course.

Blumenthal can be reached at <reldrb@emory. edu> or by phone at 404-727-7545. His site address is http://www.emory.edu/UDR/BLUMENTHAL/index.html.

-Elaine Justice

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