Rick Brannan (6/07)

Blogger of the Month for June 2007

Brandon Wason Interviews Rick Brannan

Editorial Note: Rick Brannan authors both Ricoblog and PastoralEpistles.com, and writes for the Logos Bible Software blog.

BW: Thank you for agreeing to do this interview, Rick. I look forward to reading your responses.

RB: You’re welcome, Brandon. As they say, “It’s an honor to even be considered.”

BW: Tell our readers a little about yourself. Where were you raised and where did you attend school?

RB: I grew up in Oak Harbor, Washington. Historically, it’s a Dutch town and today there’s a Naval Air Station there (NAS Whidbey). Since my Dad was in the Navy, and my Mom was a local Dutch girl, it seemed the place to be. I did elementary and secondary schooling in Oak Harbor. I went to college atNorthwestern College in Orange City, IA (Go Raiders!) where I majored in Economics, of all things.

BW: How did you get interested in Biblical Studies?

RB: I mentioned I was an Econ major, and that’s true. But I completed most of my major requirements before my senior year; so that’s when I took my electives. I took a year of Classical (Attic) Greek and several extra Bible classes (NWC is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America and it has a fairly strong religion department). After the year of Greek, I was hooked. Working at Logos solidified my interest.

BW: How did you become involved with technology and programming?

RB: Well, as I said, my major requirements were done early. In my junior year I started taking computer science classes as well. But the interest really goes back to, oh, sixth grade, when I wrote a very crude version of Space Invaders to run on the school’s TRS-80’s — you know, those monolithic gray monitor + keyboard boxes from the early 80’s? Or was it the fifth grade when a friend and I wrote a text-based-adventure game for the TI-99/4a? We mapped the whole thing out on graph paper and then wrote a bunch of print and goto statements that sort of did the job. That was probably the one that hooked me.

BW: Where do you work, and what does your job typically entail (besides cooking chili)?

RB: I am an “Information Architect” for Logos Bible Software. My focus is on the development and implementation of Greek-language databases (that is, NT/Hellenistic Greek). I don’t do the actual creation (annotation) of the data, but I do write tools to help in the tagging of data and then process the data so that it is usable inside of Logos Bible Software. So I work with morphological databases of the Greek New Testament, of course. But I also work with several other morphological databases, like the Logos version of the Apostolic Fathers in Greek (which was just released). We’ve released a version of Philo in Greek as well and are working on others (Josephus, for one, comes to mind).

We’ve also implemented a linguistic annotation of the Greek NT at the phrase and clause level (the OpenText.org Syntactically Analyzed Greek New Testament) and a more traditional syntactic analysis (The Lexham Syntactic Greek New Testament) [info on both]. I was able to work on implementation of these sorts of databases as well, which was both fun and very educational.

So my day usually involves writing programs to munge data of some sort, usually having to do with the Greek New Testament or some other Greek corpus. And then it involves finding bugs, shaking my head in disgust wondering how I could’ve made such a horrible error, fixing them, and moving on. There is also some research, reading and prototyping to understand datasets under development.

And it involves writing the occasional article or capturing the occasional video for the Logos Bible Software blog. And, as you mentioned, making curry or chili for a company cook-off.

BW: How is your own exegetical work influenced by technology?

RB: Because of having to consider and implement phrase-level and clause-level analyses of the Greek NT, I’m much more sensitive to clause-level and even discourse-level analysis as I read and study the New Testament. And I’m more interested in how words (and groups of words) found in the NT are used outside of the NT (which is one of the reasons for my series on the use of the Pastoral Epistles in the Apostolic Fathers over on PastoralEpistles.com).

Technology makes it easier to jump from corpus to corpus, and it makes it possible to do take advantage of analysis above the word level. And because of that — at least for me — that helps me get a better understanding of the word of God, which I love and which is very important to me.

BW: What technological development would you like to see in the near future with respect to Biblical Studies?

RB: There are a few, but if tell you all of them I’ll spill the beans on the next version of Logos!

I think the syntactic annotations we’ve released are important because they begin to annotate above the word level, showing relationships between words and even relationships between groups of words; allowing those relationships to be searched/queried. You can find what words are the explicit subject of, say, a?apa? based on an annotation and not based on patching together proximity searches relying on verb tense and noun case instances within so many words of each other. A better example would be searching for arthrous or anarthrous instances of a particular substantive, relying on the relationship between the article and substantive, not on case agreement and word proximity (or non-occurrence within N words) which can only approximate the relationship.

I’d like to see more building of that sort of thing — keeping data accessible at the foundational level of morphology which we have, know and love; but providing further analysis at the phrase, clause and even at the discourse level of the text. Sure, aspects of this stuff can be subjective, but that’s why there shouldn’t be just one database; there should be a bevy of them that can be consulted, contrasted and compared.

BW: What area of Biblical Studies fascinates you the most?

RB: Is that a trick question? Why, it is the Pastoral Epistles, of course.

Because I’m very interested in those three letters, they are usually my testing ground for aspects of Biblical Studies I’m interested in. Right now that involves stuff like textual criticism (specifically comparison of printed editions of the Greek NT), syntactic studies, and the like. I’m also interested in the area of style, partly for authorship attribution reasons though my interest in that angle is waning. I think there is much work to be done in “style” (whatever that is) where the discussion isn’t centered around trying to absolutely determine who wrote what, but more focused on how information is conveyed.

Honestly, the area that fascinates me at a given point in time is usually tied to whatever books I’m reading. Right now, one is Caragounis’ Development of NT Greek; so that means I’m interested in what he’s written about development of syntactic phenomenon (and locating instances of such in the NT) and about text-critical stuff he discusses.

And I’ve also been interested in Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses; particularly in the syntactic phenomenon he calls the “plural to singular narrative device”. I have submitted a paper for the ETS meeting in San Diego on that topic; I’m still waiting to hear if it has been accepted.

BW: Why did you start a blog, and why the name “ricoblog”? What has been your experience with blogging and the differences between the blogs for which you write?

RB: The blog originally started as an internal blog at Logos where I commented on things technical, but soon I found I was posting less about stuff helpful to working at Logos and more about general Biblical Studies stuff. So I dumped the internal blog and went public in August 2005.

The name “ricoblog” has to do with a nickname at Logos. When working on some Spanish-language products for Logos, some folks started calling me “Rico”. When it came time to name a blog, “Rick’s Blog” seemed passe and boring, but “ricoblog” seemed filled with excitement and promise! (yes, that’s sarcasm). But I had to type *something* in that blasted “blog title” box, and that’s what it was. So that’s what has stuck.

My experience with blogging has been (and still is) very positive. I’ve found that most bloggers (even my friend Jim West!) are cordial, helpful and interested if you are genuine and courteous. Some bloggers — I’m thinking of Stephen Carlson particularly — are very helpful in answering questions posed on the blog, either through comments or through personal email. That is one of the best aspects of blogging, at least for me.

I write at three blogs. There’s my personal blog, ricoblog, which is much more eclectic though usually dealing with the Greek New Testament, with the Apostolic Fathers, and with whatever I notice and want to link to or write about. There’s the group blog, PastoralEpistles.com, where I’ll write if I’m writing something to do with that set of letters. That’s really a great group of folks who know *a lot* about the Pastoral Epistles (much more than me) and I’m looking forward to seeing how the blog develops. And there’s the Logos Bible Software Blog, also a group blog, where I usually write how-to articles (or record how-to videos) having to do with using the Greek Syntactic database tools in Logos Bible Software.

BW: What are your thoughts about the current state of blogging? Where is blogging headed? Is it in a good direction?

RB: Generally I think blogging (and here I mean Biblical Studies blogging) is in good shape. As many have said, there are too many interesting blogs to follow these days. I know there is good stuff I’m missing because one person can’t read it all. It’s obvious, but the blogs that post good stuff frequently are the ones that eventually get the traffic. The best blogs are somewhat eclectic (cf. Tyler Williams on Scrolls, Christian kitsch, and going potty) but still interesting. I think that means that newer bloggers have a better chance of building something up if they group-blog instead of solo-blog. A group blog, where the contributors blog at regular intervals, is more likely to be regularly interesting and thought provoking, and that’s what’ll make it stick in today’s all-you-can-eat blog buffet.

It will be interesting to see how the marketplace of blog-readers (are there really people who just read blogs and don’t blog at all?) responds to the increasing supply. Say’s Law (supply creates its own demand) has long been held untenable. Because I write something doesn’t mean that someone will read it. “If you build it, he will come” only works in the movies.

I think the supply of blogs that are actually aggregated and read will shrink as blog-readers reach their consumption limit. They’ll focus back on the blogs regularly posted with articles that provoke thought, and some of the excess blogs will either stagnate in-place or go away — which is why I think good group blogs have the best chance in the longer run.

And I think that’s a good direction, overall.

BW: Since you are newly married and have a child on the way, this question probably makes little sense, but I’ll ask it anyway. What do you do with your free time?

RB: Married in July, baby on the way in late May. When this interview is published I’ll likely be a Dad! And I’m sure that my free time will disappear.

Typically, my ‘free’ time is spent with Amy, either at home, on walks, or whatever. I also like to read, so I usually spend some time in a book. I’m working on a paper for International SBL with Randall Tan (though I won’t be in Vienna; Randall will present the paper) so that takes some time. I’m involved in the local church I attend here in Bellingham and will likely teach a home Bible study on First Timothy in the Fall or Winter, so I have begun to think about preparation for that. And I’m still working on writing a commentary of sorts on First Timothy; I’ve been doing that since 2004, I think. Just need to get through that last half of chapter 6 …

Those types of things are usually the source of blog posts as well. In addition to all of that, I love to grill. Any type of meat, any time. Veggies are good too (particularly red/orange/yellow bell peppers!). If there are any of you readers in South Africa who can get me some Kudu to grill, I’d love to talk to you.

Outside of work at Logos (which is a dream and usually feels like spending ‘free time’ doing really cool stuff), that’s about it.

BW: Do you have any unusual hobbies or talents that our readers might not know about?

RB: Well, a few years back I built my own sea kayak. It’s a 18 foot, cedar stripGuillemot-L built from western red cedar and alaskan yellow cedar. I took notes and photos of the whole process and it is all online. In hindsight I realized that I was blogging (and photo-blogging at that!) about the sea kayak before blogging was cool.

I can also juggle, but that’s not so unusual now, is it?

Here I was, all set to answer the “tell our readers some little-known fact about yourself” question with how I drove a minivan in a Presidential motorcade (Bush 40) in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1992. Oh well. :)

BW: Most important of all, when are you sending me that complimentary copy of Logos?

RB: Hey, I’m in product development, not marketing!

BW: Thank you again for your participation, Rick. I am sure that our readers will enjoy learning more about you and your blog. Keep up the good work!

RB: And thanks Brandon and Jim for your work on Biblioblogs.com. I look forward to reading the interviews every month and learning more about the people whose blogs I read. See you at SBL in San Diego!

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