Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Ether Project

Posted by Matthew on October 14, 2012

I am excited to share some information related to a current project on our wiki site. For the rest of this month we will be focusing on improving the content around Ether ahead of the Sunday School lesson. Kurt has written a lot of content including an overview page here. Jenny, Jim F, Karen and Rob (who are contributors here at the blog) have each agreed to edit part of the Ether content.  Though they are signed up to help in a specific way for this project, you are invited to help as well. (If you would like to take a more active role in a future project, we’d love to hear it–leave a comment below about your interest.)

We are going to start by focusing on the Ether overview page. If you have small improvements to make to that page, feel free to make the changes directly. If you aren’t sure how to do that look at this help page. Feel free to post questions back here as well if you get stuck.

If you have suggested changes that are more substantial, you should leave a comment on this post so they can be discussed.

Thanks everyone for all your help.

34 Responses to “Ether Project”

  1. Kim Berkey said

    Sign me up for a more active role in the future! I likely won’t have time to contribute to this project, but thank you for the reminders about the wiki, Matthew. I like this method of improving content. Great idea!

  2. kirkcaudle said

    I’m not sure that I will have time to do anything on the Wiki, but I really appreciate all you that put time into it. I use it every now and again and I always find great stuff there.

  3. Matthew said

    Karen asked about the fact that the pages are divided differently in Ether. Instead of the five verse divisions I used originally across the wiki, we have things divided into pages covering varying number of verses (larger than 5 verse sections). My comment is my own thoughts on her question (originally put to me in e-mail).

    My view is that it is a good thing to divide things up into more natural passages than the arbitrary 5 verse divisions I began the wiki with. This assumes that we can get to some agreement about what the right divisions should be for a book, chapter etc. And I think that is a good assumption. Where there is disagreement, my own leaning would be toward smaller divisions vs larger ones.

    The biggest downside to changing the passage divisions is the amount of work it takes to get it right. Kurt has been willing to do that work to achieve the divisions he thinks work best. If someone else wants to change the divisions anywhere else in the scriptures, I think that is fine too so long as they are also willing to take on the work to complete the task. That means not only changing the page name but also going through all the “what links here” links and editing all of them so they point to the new page. If someone isn’t willing to do that work then it is better to stick with the original, arbitrary divisions.

    Also, though normally I support people just making the changes they think are right (because it is so easy to undo a change if others disagree), I think changing the passage divisions is different because it is so much work to change back. This is especially true if you change things into larger divisions and then others want it changed back into smaller divisions. If you are thinking of changing things in a way you expect others may object, it would be best to engage with those ahead of time and agree as to the best approach rather than pressing forward.

  4. Matthew said

    I am addressing the separate question of page structure in a separate comment so people can respond to each separately in a threaded manner if they wish.

    The original page structure I put for commentary pages on the wiki is: Questions, Lexical Notes, Exegesis & Related Links. There was substantial discussion at one point about adding in additional sections.

    I think consistency across the site is important, so I appreciate the question. In the large amount of work Kurt has done over the last few months on the wiki, he has found the original sections somewhat limiting and has proposed the following structure (Kurt feel free to correct me if I get this wrong): Outline & brief summary, Detailed discussion, Questions for further study and reflection, Footnotes, and Additional resources. Kurt and I discussed this. And one of the things I’d like to vet as part of this Ether project is that these sections work well and whether they should be the go-forward standard for the wiki.

    What are people’s thoughts?

    • joespencer said

      I think these new divisions would work well. I’m left, though, with two questions.

      First, the purpose of the questions and lexical notes sections has to this point been to allow contributors to add just a few preliminary thoughts on a passage, leaving to subsequent contributors to transform those into actual exegesis. I’m a little worried that the new format will be too intimidating to new contributors, etc., especially because it will look like the task is to produce a finished product.

      Second, with footnotes coming into the picture (and I love the idea of there being footnotes), are we nixing the guideline that there shouldn’t be external references in the exegesis (or, now, “detailed discussion”)?

      • Matthew said

        You make a good point on the purpose of questions and lexical notes. I’m interested in hearing what others think on that topic.

        On the second point, what do you (and others) think of the policy that footnotes should be reserved for factual stuff (e.g. origin of a word, historical information etc) and leave off footnotes for interpretive stuff. My fear on footnotes for interpretive stuff is that it takes us down a path that I think isn’t the thing we are really aiming for. I think the focus should be on what the scriptures say not accurately stating who thought what about them when.

      • joespencer said

        So long as the wiki doesn’t become a history of interpretation, I say footnotes are fine for interpretive points. That is, I wouldn’t mind it if there are some footnotes to sources who provide several different (live) options for interpretation of a passage. But I don’t want a lit review, myself.

      • Jim F said

        Quotation of others can be a very good thing, though (as you agree in your note, below), linking to footnotes on another page or to the sources themselves is a probably a better way to cite them.

        But also in quoting from others we have to be attentive to the danger that we will make the site unwelcoming to those who are not themselves scholars. I think that is a danger that we have to keep constantly in mind. It’s a trap that is easy to fall into.

  5. Matthew said

    Kurt (and all), one thing I’d like to discuss is related to the divisions of Ether. My specific concern relates to including any passage out of order in the divisions. Unless there is some historical evidence that something is out of order, I don’t see the point of this. I see the point of the outline as to show how different parts of the text relate to each other. If we also have the ability to change the order of parts of the passage and then show how the reorder parts relate I feel a little lost. I’m lost because then I feel like we have two ways of accomplishing the same thing. So then I’m not sure when I should show through the outline how different passages (though separate in the text) are related vs when I should reorder them to put them together. It could be I’m being too formal in my analysis and just need to let it be a bit more squishy depending on what seems to work best. My bias though is to not mix it up like this.

    Specifically in this example, my preference would be to leave chapter 6 as a separate passage rather than having a single passage that includes part of chapter 1, all of chapter 2 and then all of chapter 6 (as it is now).

    That said, I do see how the current way it is done allows a discussion of the narrative which crosses these three chapters to be on a single page ( http://www.feastupontheword.org/Ether_1-2,6 ). Maybe we can think of alternative ways though of accomplishing that.

    Thoughts?

  6. Matthew said

    As you can see I’m trying to get some discussion going here :)

    I suggest the following for the “Brief outline and summary section” of the overview page. Left align everything. Change the roman numeral beside “Coriantumr & Ether” to a III. My thinking here is that the outline shows a great summary of the book. And if I just read the words of that summary it seems very helpful. I also like how it identifies three broad divisions with bullets underneath. Beyond that I think it is adding more complication–a sort of looking for more structure than seems to me to be shown in the text.

    Thoughts from others?

    • jennywebb said

      Matthew, I think Kurt’s outlining format is meant to foreground chiastic structures, or at least echoes, in the text? That said, I am not certain that this is something readily accessible to readers, at least without it being explicitly stated as such.

  7. Jim F said

    I think that the lexical notes are perhaps the most important thing in the wiki commentary. They are the basis for many of the questions and much of the discussion, and they usually have more of an objective basis than do the following discussions. So I would be opposed to eliminating them or even to moving them down the list of things very far. Keeping them at the top is a way of reminding both those making comments and those reading the commentary that the text is the thing we are focusing on rather than our speculations about or deductions from the text.

    Because of that, I suggest something like this for the order: Outline & brief summary (I like this because there are many places, particularly with the KJV language, where it is difficult for most readers to know what is going on in the text), Lexical Notes, Detailed discussion, Questions for further study and reflection, Additional resources, Footnotes.

    I’m less enthusiastic about footnotes than Joe is. My fear is that by using them we may turn what would be a useful commentary for members of the Church either studying the scriptures on their own or preparing a lesson on the scriptures into a scholarly commentary that is useful to no one outside the few of us who are interested in scholarly commentary.

    There’s nothing to frighten off an intelligent, educated, thoughtful nonscholarly reader like a bunch of footnotes. They often make such a person feel like he or she can’t understand what is going on in the wiki–or in the scriptures–without being a scholar. It would be shameful for us to create that impression. If we do include footnotes, I hope they don’t appear directly on the commentary page. A link to them would be the way to make them available rather than a section devoted to them on the page of commentary itself.

    • joespencer said

      Hmmm. These are good points, Jim. Mostly I was excited about the freedom to quote something in the body of the discussion. But even this could be done better through links than through footnotes. So I think I’m with you on this.

  8. Kurt E said

    I have tried to keep a low profile and not influence how people react to things with fresh sets of eyes, but Matthew has asked me to go ahead and chime in. These comments are lengthy, but that does not mean that I am necessarily right about anything. This is after all a wiki project. Some of the comments below are things I feel strongly about, while others are just explanations of why we settled on doing something the best way we could figure out at the time.

    VERSE GROUPINGS.

    There will be verse groupings. The question is simply how intelligent we allow the system to be. There is broad scholarly agreement agreement on how the 87 verses of Malachi should be grouped into six disputation speeches. One dissertation I read early this year even said “it is axiomatic” that those are the main units of thought. So it seems silly to handicap the discussion and not use that information to group verses intelligently. This may not matter so much if we just go from verse to verse in a linear fashion. But once we start talking about larger units of thought in a hierarchical way with discussion on pages at the level of books and chapters, it really helps to discuss verses in logical groupings.

    I understand that there will often be disagreement about what verses should be grouped together. I have done the verse groupings for the second half of D&C 88, but I did not at that time see the groupings in the first half as clearly and so left them in the default five verse groupings. I may go back and do it, and I may get it wrong. But the fact that we will often want to go back and improve things does not stop me from wanting to do the best we can. To me the three great strengths of a wiki are: (1) the ability to always go back and refine, (2) the ability to work in tiny increments that eventually add up, and (3) the ability to let others do the parts you don’t get to. I think all three of those strengths play into working up verse groupings.

    Many of the pages on which I have regrouped verses include much more than five verses. Usually this is no big deal because even the regrouped pages are often pretty short. The entire 167 verses of Esther are currently covered on only six wiki pages, and yet two of those pages are still completely devoid of any content. I consolidated down from more than 30 five-verse pages because I felt they turned Esther into a barren desert where new visitors to the site would have to go through blank page after blank page looking for occasional tidbits and would likely decide there was not enough content to warrant returning. That violated the rule of website design that users should be able to get to the content they want, or at least be able to see that they are close, in three clicks or less. I likewise think that splitting the content of Ether 1:1-33 back out among six separate pages would be counterproductive at this point. That opinion would change, however, if enough content got posted on the currently consolidated page.

    Page length IS currently a problem on the first regrouped page in Moroni 7, and even after editing through some of the longer contributions it may still need to be split into subpages. One of the tools pages on the wiki site lists pages in order of length. That may be a good thing to police periodically.

    I have approached this issue as an art rather than a science.

    KEEPING PAGE GROUPINGS IN STRICT SCRIPTURAL ORDER.

    I agree with the comment that Ether 1b-2, 6, which has a hole in the middle, creates a problem. Since I made that problem, I will go back and fix it this week.

    CONTENT HEADINGS FOR PAGE SECTIONS.

    I have made a distinction between the front page for a book or a D&C section and the subpages that depend from it. I will discuss subpages first. When thinking about these headings, think about: (1) the content of the heading, (2) the choice of words in the heading, and (3) the sequence of the headings.

    OUTLINE AND BRIEF SUMMARY. This is something wikipedia does right, and I thought it would orient unsophisticated readers to the content of the “Detailed discussion” before just dropping them into it. This section would usually not have any footnotes, since anything it asserted would be restated below in even more detail. I don’t know that I yet have the hang of writing this section, but before too long I plan to start working on it en masse for the D&C.

    On the page for Ether 7-11, I put too much into the summary section, and most of it should probably just get moved as a group to the “Detailed discussion.”

    My primary interest in this project is helping people get to the point where they are comfortable with each book of scripture and no longer feel lost when reading them. I think this is where the Mormon bibliography has usually been the weakest.

    A good commentary will not just help you to understand individual verses, it will help you to understand the overall book. I cannot tell you how many times in the decade following my mission I would read an LDS commentary, and at the end I still did not understand the logic of the author’s train of thought any better than before. I would like for this wiki to avoid that deficiency by providing discussion on a front page for each book as well as overview headings on all subpages. This is why I put in outlines to the extent I can discern them.

    I would also like this wiki to be accessible to a college freshman at BYU who is for the first time in their life interested in understanding the scriptures. That does not mean they have to be able yet to understand every contribution on every single verse of Leviticus. But it should be easy for them to locate parts that do add to their understanding, and we should edit with them in mind. This frame of reference explains what I am trying to do on the resource pages for each of the standard works, for example the Old Testament resource page on the twelve tribes of Israel, which is pretty basic.

    I have no problem with people trying to dig deep on the wiki. But there are also a lot of people who still just need help bridging over to the point where they are comfortable participating in those deeper discussions.

    DETAILED DISCUSSION. This incorporates what was previously divided up as “Lexical notes” and “Exegesis.”

    I was afraid that the titles “Lexical notes” and “Exegesis” would be intimidating and signal to people that “this is over my head and I don’t belong here.” I have been reading from the libraries at theological seminaries for over two decades, and I still had to stop and think about the scope of those terms. It is like when I took a course on Communist economic theory and had to get comfortable with the jargon word “dialectics” when “sincere rational discussion” would have served just as well.

    As for merging the two former headings, the thought was that there are actually a whole host of things people might bring to a discussion of a particular verse, with lexical notes and exegesis being only two of them. (I came up with a good list of about eight items last May but cannot quickly locate that email). Anyway, the point was that a person would have to look under multiple headings to be sure they got the entire discussion of a verse, which is even less user friendly on a screen than on paper, and also makes it difficult to integrate the scattered comments into a single coherent discussion of the verse. In addition, one cannot always know in advance the most logical order in which to consider each of those approaches to a verse, so permanently fixing the same sequence in advance for all verses on a page (or the entire wiki) is again not the best way to get an integrated discussion of a particular verse. The heading “Detailed discussion” is an invitation to say everything in a single integrated discussion that you think informs the understanding of a particular passage without making the reader hunt in multiple locations and integrate multiple discussions.

    The current heading for related scriptures on the front page for each book or section, and for parallel passages in particular, violates much of what I have just said. The thinking was that putting them all together made it easier to tell whether a serious effort had been made to identify them, that a blank heading on a lowest level page could mean either that no one has bothered looking, or that people have found lots for adjacent verses but none for that particular verse. It may still be better to push this down to lower level pages. Or maybe it should just go in the detailed discussion. But on pages for the Bible, for example, there needs to be a clear statement identifying all JST changes . It is so easy for one person to just to go through and do it all once, and people ought to have a way of knowing that they do not have to repeat that work. So I am not even sure what I think about this. Thoughts?

    QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY AND REFLECTION. The heading “Questions” used to be first. My thought was that people probably come to the site more often looking for answers rather than questions. By starting with questions people would encounter confusion rather than answers — especially when they went to the first page for the Book of Mormon, 1 Ne 1:1-5, a page they had expected to understand, and found that the lead question used linguistics jargon to invoke Hugh Nibley.

    There was also a hope that starting with answers would point people’s questions in more useful directions.

    The double heading for “further study” and “reflection” reflects the two kinds of questions I think we are looking for: (1) after reading the detailed discussion, what do we still need to figure out next, and (2) how can I apply this in my life. This is only about the third version of the heading, so feel free to suggest a couple more until we get it right.

    FOOTNOTES. This heading is new. See my discussion below about footnotes generally. This is last, except that you won’t have footnotes in the “Resources” heading, but you might have a short form footnote with a long form citation below it under “Resources.” I initially had only long form footnotes in Nahum and found that it looked more involved and intimidating than the current short form footnotes.

    ADDITIONAL RESOURCES. Maybe this should just be “Resources.” It seems logical to put this last.

    As I started working on the front pages for D&C sections, I realized it was more user friendly to move some resources up from the bottom of the page to a part of the discussion where they directly relate – in that case where to go for more historical background. Leaving those links at the bottom of the page felt like hiding them where they would not be seen until five minutes after the reader had left that topic at the top of the page and started down other mental trails. I think we still need this heading to catch a lot of things, but I don’t feel at all strict about putting links only here at the bottom of the page if it makes more sense or is more user friendly to put them elsewhere.

    If a concept is addressed in the detailed discussion of a verse, then it seems that the link to a blog post on the same subject ought to go right there at the end of that discussion instead of making people always go look in a separate location at the bottom of the page to see if there is more elsewhere. A person shouldn’t have to keep checking the bottom of the page before they actually get there.

    I don’t see any reason to prefer content based solely on whether it is hosted on this site or another site. I think it is truly amazing on the wiki page for D&C 1 how you can click on links that instantly send you to relevant pages at the Joseph Smith Papers, or even to an old edition of the D&C on Google books. I would think that links to the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies or Religious Educator are just as helpful as blog posts contributed by whoever signs up and manages to not forfeit their account. I would also think that the links to those articles should go on whatever page makes sense, and in whatever part of the discussion on that page makes sense.

    One advantage of an electronic publication is the ability to not segregate content by its type. For example, if reading a paper commentary on D&C 52 (in which several elders were instructed to go on missions from Ohio to Missouri), you might also get out an atlas with maps, a set of short biographies of those elders, and a book of church history pictures. An electronic commentary, in contrast, can put all those links not only on a single page, but at the very places on that page where they are most useful or accessible — unless we have artificial rules about where links of various types are allowed to appear on a page.

    I have been putting these same five headings on every subpage I edit throughout the wiki. (Except for Daniel and the minor prophets, which I have not yet gotten back through again.) In addition, if a heading on the front page gets too long, such as parallel passages in D&C 1, then I may split up the content and move it to the appropriate subpages.

    As for front pages, I am using three different templates, one for the Bible (Nahum), one for the Book of Mormon (Ether), and one for the Doctrine & Covenants (D&C 1). Each of these three templates has additional items that I think are helpful for that book, though perhaps not in other books. Please look at all three pages just to get a sense of what I have done so think about and comment on all three.

    FOOTNOTES.

    My thought is: Assertions of fact need to be documented. Insights do not.

    In other words, if the only way to know something is correct is that someone authoritative said so, then it ought to have a footnote. This is more of an issue with the Bible and Doctrine & Covenants than it is with Ether simply because there are more footnotable facts in existence that influence one’s understanding of them. Before I argue for the importance of footnoting facts, let me repeat that I think insights rarely benefit from footnoting.

    I believe that a collaborative wiki like this will, over the next ten years or so, become the first place that a large share of church members turn to for help in understanding the scriptures. That is why I have spent so much time on architectural issues relative to content.

    I see no reason for there to ever be more than one collaborative wiki like this within a single community of shared beliefs. And since I trust the current stewardship of the wiki with regard to those beliefs, I have jumped in with both feet to contribute. But I also believe that no wiki will long fill the role I envision unless it has footnotes. Footnoting improves content in multiple ways. As a contributor, it prevents me from being sloppy since it forces me to look at the cited pages of my sources and only repeat what they actually say instead of what I remember them saying. As a reader, it increases my confidence in the material if authors give people a reasonable chance of verifying what is asserted. As a reader, it also helps me to assess the reliability of a factual assertion if I can identify the contributor’s source. I personally make a point of including both the ISBN and library cataloging number on all sources whenever available so people can actually find the books I cite, whether to check my assertions or to learn more from a source they might be interested in because I cited it as being authoritative. Footnoting reduces the number of times that a verified fact will be unreasonably embellished or overwritten by an urban legend. And over the long run footnoting just helps in general to weed out urban legends, bad amateur Hebrew, etc. that will cost the wiki in both usefulness and confidence. I believe that a wiki without footnotes will eventually, and with good reason, draw a competitor that does have footnotes, and it would be a shame to split the community’s efforts in that way.

    Having said that, I do not mind if people fail to footnote when they really ought to, just as long as somebody else has the ability to go back and add the footnotes later on. If someone posts an assertion that ought to be footnoted without any indication that there ought to be a cite, that is okay. An editor will eventually come along and put (CITE) or something like it where there ought to be a cite. If someone posts a bunch of text with the notation (CITE) everywhere there ought to be footnotes, that is also okay. Two good things have still occurred: the effort of typing the concepts into words has at least happened, and readers are put on notice that this fact is not yet documented.

    I can only think of two kinds of information to footnote (maybe I have missed another). First, as I said above, is if the only way you can know a fact is because somebody authoritative said so. One example is the date on which the temple of Solomon was destroyed. We weren’t there and need someone to research it for us. Another example is Joseph Smith’s interpretation of the parables in Matthew 13 as pertaining to the apostasy and restoration. Unlike most other quotes, this one only matters because of who said it.

    The other type of information that you might footnote is if you want to give someone credit for writing up an idea. If I footnote that type of information, my practice has been to write up the idea how I want and then drop a footnote saying that so-and-so discusses parts of this concept at a certain location. That way the concept can be endlessly edited, improved and expanded on the wiki without worrying about whether the new text is still a fair representation of what was said in the footnoted source. I think this resolves the concern about the wiki turning into a history of exegesis rather than simply being good exegesis.

    Again, footnoting is a much bigger deal with regard to the Bible and the Doctrine & Covenants. On the front page of Nahum I have footnoted assertions about the historical setting, the use of Hebrew grammar, and transmission of the text. Those are facts that, if I cannot back them up, then you should not believe them. It would be possible to footnote the assertion that minor prophets tend to end with prophecies of restoration rather than woe, but to me that is an insight readers are capable of evaluating for themselves once it is pointed out, so I do not intend to footnote it. On the front page of D&C 1 I have dropped footnotes for assertions of historical fact, but not much else.

    A couple other pages to look at and think about. At one extreme is the resource page I did for the Old Testament on the twelve tribes of Israel. That page does not have a single footnote because its purpose is not to persuade the reader that the information is true, but simply to point out the key elements of a framework within which readers will better understand what they read. At the other extreme, I am done with the first and last thirds of a resource page on Old Testament History. It shares the same purpose. But it also has a second purpose to provide factual information in a fairly definitive form that can be relied upon as true. Thus the page has more than fifty footnotes, some quite extensive. A high school student should be able to read and understand the text, while a returned missionary might be interested in following up the footnotes to really internalize the material for themself.

    TOO POLISHED.

    I had not thought of this, but I can see how improvements in content and editing might might make the wiki sufficiently polished that it intimidates readers away from contributing. (I have been more worried about the opposite, desert effect making people think it was pointless). So do we intentionally leave a few orphaned bullet points here and there? I don’t know.

    I have a list of points to include on a “Contributing” page once the home page is revamped. I don’t know if that will be too out of the way to do any good.

    These are the principles I have been working from. People are welcome both to comment on those principles and to question their application to any particular page.

    • Jim F. said

      I have only a few brief responses:

      1. It is true that people are at first often put off by having questions first. But the truth is that questions are more helpful for scripture study than are answers. Part of what the wiki should do is help people learn to study scripture, not just provide them interesting reading. I’m not at all opposed to referring to scholarly material, but as I’ve understood it, the wiki’s purpose wasn’t to provide a compendium of scholarly material on a particular verse or set of verses. It was to provide an incentive for going further with scripture study (partly by helping readers see the kinds of questions that they could ask as they study) and to provide them some tools for doing so. Perhaps it would help to change that section to “Question for thought” or, as suggested “Questions for further study,” though I like that less because, with the footnotes, etc., it may appear to mean that these are questions one could do further research on, when the intent of the section was to raise questions that one could think more about, usually without doing further research.

      Note: For some time I’ve wished I had time to go back and edit Joe’s work on 1 Nephi. I think it was extremely helpful to him as he thought through those verses, but it is an example of the kind of thing that is likely to seriously intimidate the readers we are hoping to reach with the wiki. So I don’t disagree that the example you give needs to be revised, but that’s because the example in question isn’t an example of what the questions were supposed to be in the first place.

      2. I see the point about the words “lexical” and “exegesis.” But the problem with each is relatively easy to solve: “Notes on words and grammar” and “Interpretation.” Both of those are more descriptive than “Detailed discussion.”

      3. Of course footnotes should refer only to factual material that needs to be cited. I hope no one would disagree with that. And I have no problem with footnotes that do so. My problem is with what the reader sees on getting to a passage. Those seeing heavily footnoted material may well be intimidated. That has certainly been my experience with students over the last 37 years: material with lots of footnotes is perceived as more difficult than the same material without them. The solution is to “hide” the footnotes. Make them available, but not immediately visible on the page.

      • jennywebb said

        Jim, I think changing “lexical” and “exegesis” to “Notes on words and grammar” and “Interpretation” would be a good idea, especially in terms of making the wiki more approachable to non-scholarly readers/participants.

    • Karen said

      I like the idea of incorporating as much of the resources (lexical notes, historical notes, other factual information, etc) into the detailed discussion as possible and not having to look all over the page just in case something else bore on the verse you came to look at.

      I see several other potential problems with the subsections. First, it seems like it’s important to really address the information in the subsections in the commentary itself so that it doesn’t make the information seem superfluous or too scholarly. If someone thought the information was important enough to add to the site in the first place, there must have been some reason why it affected those verses and we ought to make sure that it gets into the commentary.

      Second, when the information isn’t incorporated it makes the page feel disjointed. When I came to the site for the first time, I assumed that those lexical notes had been put there to help me understand the commentary (especially because they came before the commentary). I also had that reaction to the questions the first time I came to the site. Rather than seeing them as questions I could help answer, I thought they were guiding questions that were answered in the commentary. Now I see that having multiple sections was meant to allow multiple kinds of contribution, but it wasn’t obvious to me at first. It was only after I read some commentary and happened to revisit the lexical notes and questions at the top that I realized they were written at different times and by different people.

      Third, having information separated but not incorporated also makes it feel like we’re piling up different interpretations without wanting to decide what should go in the commentary. For example, sometimes there are links to blog posts that someone found interesting enough to put in the links, but the commentary says something very different without even acknowledging the position in the blog post. (Same with the lexical notes and questions.) I know for myself, often it’s easier to add a link rather than rework someone else’s work (whether because I don’t want to offend, or because I just don’t have the time). But the more that we just add to the sections we like best, the more we’ll end up with different opinions in the commentary, the lexical notes, the links, and even the questions.

      This isn’t a problem at all the pages obviously but I know I’ve been guilty of this myself quite often. I think the subsections are helpful, but maybe there is a way to avoid some of these problems? I think adding the questions, or other resources, to the bottom does help some. Perhaps there is a way to word it so that others coming can know that this further information (lexical notes, historical notes, insights, links, questions, etc) are there for anyone to take up and see if it changes the commentary or not?

      (I have another note on questions down below. I like the “ask a question” idea too.)

    • jennywebb said

      Kurt, I really appreciate your enthusiasm and commitment to the wiki. And I think you’re right to have us considering structural issues with an eye toward future wiki use. I’ve included a few (belated) comments below.
      Verse Groupings: I’m split on this. The literary side of me wants flexibility in the groupings. But I wonder if they are ultimately more user friendly. The question seems to be: do we want to emphasize accessibility (consistent verse groupings makes it very simple to navigate) or do we want to emphasize the use experience itself (flexible verse groupings make for a simpler study experience).
      Resources: I agree that the wiki experience should take advantage of linking resources as they occur naturally in the discussion. However, I also think that including a resources section is a good idea; sometimes there are resources someone might want to include without necessarily integrating them into the commentary.
      Footnotes: I tend to agree with Jim that footnotes in and of themselves discourage people from using and participating on the wiki. In my ideal wiki, anything able to be linked would be (rather than footnoted). References able to be included in text would be. I wonder if it would help visually for any necessary footnotes to be included rather as links to a separate notes page? (The link could just be imbedded in a key term or phrase?) Or if it would help simply to change Footnotes to Notes? They may be inevitable, but I think with certain parameters in place they needn’t be the first or default choice.

  9. Matthew said

    I’ve been thinking of something related to what Joe said in response to #4. I’m changing his words slightly to focus on the point I want to respond to: the purpose of the questions section has been to allow contributors to add just a few preliminary thoughts on a passage.” This makes me think of the following scenario. Someone is reading a verse in the scriptures. They have a question about what they are reading. They go to the wiki to find out the answer. Their question isn’t answered. What do they do next? [Though Joe's point was larger than this...I think it includes this type of scenario.]

    To me this is THE MOST BASIC scenario for the wiki and, unfortunately, it doesn’t support it very well at all. So that’s a problem.

    I’d like the answer to be: (1) the user clicks on “ask a question about this verse” (2) they write their question in a text box and click submit. That’s it. Then their question would show on the page in sort of a Q&A or Discussion section. And hopefully someone else would be monitoring those questions and respond to them.

    So I’m not really sure whether the new format is worse or better for this scenario, but I think in any case since both are so far from the ideal, I’m not too concerned. So what does it take to get to the ideal and when should we aim to get their?

    Unfortunately I don’t have a good answer to that. I think a key criteria is that people don’t have to know markup. A user doesn’t have to know markup to leave a comment on a blog. A user doesn’t have to know markup participate in a forum. The ideal site would have a wiki section and a comments/discussion section and for the wiki section you have to know markup but for the discussion section you wouldn’t, because I’d like the participation in the discussion/comments section to be large and I feel that the requirement to know markup scares a way too many people (despite the obvious counter-example: wikipedia).

    So right now I don’t know the best way to implement this. I may be that the right answer is to change platforms (e.g. move from mediawiki to drupal). If we go that direction though it isn’t a small task. If someone has some ideas/suggestions on this front, let me know.

    • Jim F. said

      I don’t have the slightest idea of what to do about the technical questions relevant to what you ask here. But I like the idea of having an “I have a question” section as part of the page for each set of verses. Though I want the questions section to point us away from merely scholarship to thought and meditation on the scriptures, I also think there is an important place for responding to people’s question, even if only to say, “Here’s a way to think about that issue.”

      • jennywebb said

        Jim, I think it would be important to distinguish the “I have a question” sections from the “Questions for further reflection” sections because they would serve different purposes. The first (in my mind) would contain a place for answers; the second (deliberately) wouldn’t.

    • joespencer said

      I really like the idea of having an “I have a question” section for each page. That might be the most effective thing we can do to get some actual interaction, and to help newcomers feel like they can contribute something.

      And, frankly, I’d be quite likely to watch that sort of thing closely.

    • Karen said

      I agree with the “Ask a question” idea, too.

      I have been thinking about the possibility of having tabs at the top of each section of verses for some of the things we have been talking about. For example, there could be a tab called “Submit a question” or “Discussion Board” or whatever name would be most inviting. There could also be a tab for “Further Reading” or “Related books, articles, and blog posts” – a sort of bibliography of recommended reading for those verses. Maybe even a tab for historical notes? I suppose I see the point in wanting to have something simple and fresh ready for a reader, but also somehow have a place for more detailed, footnoted, careful work too. Would having multiple tabs help store that information for those who want it, but not scare away those coming for a quick look? The main page (tab) for each set of verses could have a link – and invitation – to the questions page (tab), an overview, and the main commentary (currently being referred to here as “detailed discussion.”) Things that would be overwhelming to a newcomer (too long, too scholarly, etc.) could be put on another page (tab). Is this idea of multiple tabs in itself too overwhelming, though?

      • jennywebb said

        Karen, I like the idea of tabs. I don’t know the technical difficulties of implementing such an idea, but in terms of providing a readily understood visual cue that would give even casual visitors a quick overview (sans scrolling) of what’s available on a page they’re great.

      • Matthew said

        the short answer is that we cannot do “ask a question” or “tabs” with the current software without some pretty big changes. Still I think it is useful for us to think about. and I hope that at some point we will get to the point we can make changes that will significantly enhance the experience for the user even if they are more difficult to make, like the ones we are discussing here.

    • jennywebb said

      Matthew, yes to the “Submit a question” feature. I think that would be fantastic as a way to invite people to participate.

  10. KurtElieson said

    I will try to keep the ball rolling by synthesizing the comments so far into a proposal for revised headings. This proposal is biased toward my personal preferences, so feel free both to critique and to suggest alternatives. I will first add my two cents on some concepts and then at te end propose new headings.

    I HAVE A QUESTION

    I like the idea of “I have a question.” Matt mentioned to me, but I had forgotten, the concept that stupid questions reveal where the discussion has skipped over points that more advanced contributors take for granted but that need to be explained for less advanced readers such as recent converts. I would be okay with explaining some of this in the “I have a question” section itself. I have proposed explanatory language for this as well as other headings below.

    I am proposing that this simply be a section on the page since I dislike having to look at additional pages for anything routine, especially if it is hesitant users we are targeting for this section. But a new tab would have the advantage of presenting a page with little if any markup beyond starting each paragraph with a “*”. That benefit also exists if they click on the “[edit]” link too the right, but not if they click the “Edit” tab at the top of the page.

    I foresee confusion if we have a section on the main page for “Questions” as well as another section or a tab that is also called “Questions.” So I suggest renaming the current heading “Questions for further study and reflection” to something else like “Suggestions for further study and reflection” or “Points to ponder and pursue”. I am just brainstorming here.

    As for a mechanism that allows people to add something as limited as a single bullet point, I don’t see why that should be limited to a “Questions” section. I had always assumed that short bullet point contributions could be made directly to the “Discussion” section even if not written in complete sentences.

    Again, I see the point about discouraging contributions if content gets too polished, so I have also addressed that in the explanatory language proposed below.

    FOOTNOTES

    As strongly as I feel that footnotes need to be available, I think it would be fine if there was a way to toggle them on and off, with the default being that they are toggled off. Much like you can do with the notes to the LDS edition scriptures on the Church’s website. I have no idea if this is possible with the current software.

    I don’t see that turning footnotes into links that go to a separate footnotes page will address the concern about intimidation. I think the intimidation factor will be the same whether that footnote-looking thingy is a link to a footnote at the bottom of the page or a link to a different page. If it looks like a footnote, it will affect people like a footnote.

    VERSE GROUPINGS

    At the risk of sounding overbearing, let me revisit the issue of verse groupings and suggest some passages to think about with regard to how they would be adversely affected if verse groupings are forced to remain in multiples of five. D&C 30:1-4, 5-8, 9-11 consists of three separate revelations to three of the Whitmer brothers that were not even printed as a single section in the initial 1833 edition. Haggai 1:1-11; 1:12-15; 2:1-9; 2:10-19; 2:20-23 consists of five separate and again clearly identifiable revelations given either on different days or to different audiences. Finally, Esther has a lot of verses and almost no content, so you would end up with a lot of barren desert pages.

    As for ease of navigation, I think people get to the discussion of a verse either: (1) by clicking on the hierarchical links, and I do not think this is any more difficult where the groupings vary from the default five-verse groupings, or else (2) by typing in a verse reference, which will still take you directly to the lowest level page discussing that verse. So I don’t see ease of navigation as an issue affecting user-friendliness.

    I can, however, see how variable verse groupings might be less user-friendly because they appear intimidating, especially where they cross chapter boundaries, because readers might perceive that the discussion is based on groupings they had no idea existed and thus presupposes understanding that is way over their heads. I hope/think this concern is adequately addressed at the top of the page in a brief, user-friendly summary and perhaps also an outline where the description of each grouping precedes the verse numbers. More importantly, I don’t see an equally successful work-around for exploring the content of a single thought-unit across multiple pages that have different beginning and ending points than that unit of thought.

    OUTLINES

    It is suggested that some of the outlines I have posted are intended to highlight chiasms. That is not wrong, but it is incomplete. I would say more broadly that what I am trying to outline is the author’s train of thought as reflected by his “literary structure” (my favorite term for this stuff). Often that structure is chiastic, but often it is not. To me, chiasmus, or inverted parallelism, is merely one of the four types of parallelism often found in the scriptures:

    * Parallel lines (aa-bb-cc-…): Good examples are Isaiah 2:2-4 and D&C 112:8-10.

    * Direct parallelism (abc-abc-abc): A great example on the wiki is Amos 1-2 where the same verbal pattern is obviously used eight times in a row to clearly identify the boundaries and relationship between those eight passages as well as the boundaries of the larger overall unit of thought. The logical arrangement of those eight units, however, is a linear progression from nations not related to Israel right up to the Northern Kingdom of Israel itself.

    * Chiasmus, or inverted parallelism (abc-cba): The example most often pointed out is Alma 36. I stumbled on that one myself during my mission before I had ever heard of chiasmus, and I still had no idea for another two years afterward that this was a pattern followed anywhere else in the scriptures.

    * Inclusion (a-bcd-a): An example that everyone recognizes subconsciously is D&C 121:34-40 “Behold many are called but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? … Hence many are called but few are chosen.”

    So there are many types of parallelism besides just chiasmus that can reflect the logical organization of an author’s train of thought. And then again, even parallelism is only one form of organizing an outline. For example, see D&C 1 where the opening and closing units of thought cover many similar concepts in about the same sequence, while the three middle units are talking about something else. The logic of the argument in each of those three middle units is organized along the same general pattern, but that pattern within each is not chiastic, and I cannot say that the three units together form a chiasm either. But I can say that the text is logically organized in a way that is easy to represent visually, so I have posted that visual representation.

    Or as another example, consider Ether 7-11 where I do not pretend to be able to represent visually how the train of thought progresses through the four units, and so I just use four sequential bullet points. But it is possible to at least identify those four units and then explain to the reader Ether’s logic that each of those four bullet points shows how society can survive fights over the throne but will not survive when secret combinations are allowed to flourish. So I do want to visually represent at least that much of the logic.

    It is important to me that individual verses and other units of thought be placed within the literary context of larger passages. When I first read Lectures on Faith 3-4, I wondered why two lectures in a row hit the same concept and had not been merged into a single lecture. I eventually realized that one said that in order to have complete faith in God you had to know that he did not have external constraints on his behavior (omnipotent, etc), and the other said that he did have to have internal constraints (merciful, just, etc). Only after I comprehended the overall outline of the author’s work could I clearly see what the constituent parts were intended to mean. Posting this type of outline on the wiki requires the contributor to not only recognize a main point or two, but to explain how the author develops those main points throughout the course of a text. And posting a summary on the wiki requires the contributor to not only say something about each group of verses, but to synthesize that outline into a coherent and logical message. So, I care about outlining not just to highlight cool chiasms when they exist, but to visually represent the logic of the text regardless of the pattern.

    We live in a Greek logic society and generally expect that logic will look like syllogisms: if A and if B, then C logically follows. But that logic does not explain things, indeed it looks ridiculous, when you try to apply it to much of the Jewish scriptures. Try to make Lehi’s logic in 2 Nephi 2 fit into Greek syllogisms and you will end up wondering how logic with holes that big got to be one of the highlights of revealed scripture. But when you recognize that the persuasive method is not syllogistic, but is instead a series of testimonial exhortations made in patterned repetitions, then Lehi looks a lot smarter. I think that visually representing patterns of repetition, when it exists, is especially important in helping readers learn how to get the logic of Jewish scripture in general.

    REVISED HEADINGS

    So, with all of that said, here is my latest proposal for section headings on all but the front pages of each book or D&C section. I am suggesting that the supplemental explanations be included.

    * Summary
    ::This section should remain brief and may include an outline of the passage.

    * Discussion
    ::This section is for detailed discussion of all or part of a passage. Discussion may include such items as the meaning of a particular word, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout the passage, ideas for further exploration, and other items. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS theology.

    * Points to ponder
    ::This section is for prompts that lead people to reflect on ways this passage can influence their lives.

    * I have a question
    ::This section is for unanswered questions and is an important part of the continual effort to improve the quality of this wiki. Please do not be shy, as even a basic or “stupid” question can identify something that needs to be improved in the discussion section above.

    * Resources
    ::This section is for listing links and print resources, including those cited in the notes. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful.

    * Notes
    ::Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that an average reader cannot easily evaluate for themself, such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word. Insights, on the other hand, rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources are preferable to footnotes.

    end

    • Kurt E said

      I have gone ahead and implemented these revised headings, with minor tweaks, on the five pages of Nahum in the Old Testament. You can go there to see what they look like in actual practice to help you decide what you do and do not like about them.

  11. robf said

    Guys, maybe its me, but I’m struggling with this new format as I work on my Ether 7-11 assignment. Some initial thoughts:

    1) The new sections are too long. For whatever the problems there might have been of chunking the scriptures into 5 verse segments, my own approach was to really dig into each verse. Five verses was a good number to tackle at a time. If I’ve got a section of 20 or more verses, and I want to go through it verse by verse, that’s going to be very unwieldy on the page.

    2)Outline and summary–isn’t this redundant with the chapter headings we already have in the standard works? Also, I’m wondering if this section makes it seem like we know more than we really do about what is going on in the narrative or discussion in question. I’m afraid of our summaries becoming reified, when I wonder if it shouldn’t be more open to exploration.

    3) Questions–from my perspective, this was my favorite section. I’m less comfortable telling anyone what a verse of scripture means, but rather suggesting ways to approach the verse through questions. When I teach, I try to teach by asking questions (when I don’t get carried away with my own thoughts!) and I like asking the questions and letting readers here come up with their own answers, while maybe providing some provisional answers in what used to be the exegesis section. BTW, I’m happy to rename the sections so they make more sense to non-scholars (lexical, exegesis, etc. maybe were a bit off-putting).

    I’m looking forward to tackling Ether 7-11, but I’m a bit hesitant.

    • Karen said

      1) New page formats: I’m struggling a bit working with the new pages as well. I like the idea of having Ether 13:1-12 together, since that is a natural break in the text. I’m not sure I like the 13b-15 page, though. If something needs to be explained that crosses over chapters, that seems to me to be better put on the Ether overview page. I like the individual pages being focused on the verses themselves.

      2) Outlines and summaries: It seems like those summaries will either be very short, in which case they do seem redundant with the scripture chapter headings, or, quite long and detailed, in which case it takes away from the simple, accessible feel of the page. I realize there are some passages that will be much clearer with an outline available to the reader, but it seems to me that the content of those outlines/overviews should be on the overview page and not the individual pages. When it seems especially crucial that a reader refer to that information before approaching the verse-by-verse commentary, then a note with a link to the overview page should do. (And I agree with robf’s points about the summaries appearing more solidified than they should)

  12. Matthew said

    It seems like this project is getting bogged down in a couple of questions:
    1) verse groupings.

    I propose that if someone wants to split something into smaller groupings than are currently there that they feel free to do that in the text of the page itself.

    Take Karen’s example of 13b-15. On the one page 13b-15, Karen could create a page for the verses in 13, chapter 14 and then chapter 15 just as she would want those pages to look–without worrying about the navigation links (e.g. next page, previous page stuff) at the top and bottom of the page.

    Once she tries to do that she will find either she has sufficient content for the audience to justify this division, or she doesn’t. And if she does, then my bias would be towards splitting them apart. At some point I will post a page on how to do that as it is a bit tricky. For now, I’m happy to do it myself.

    The only reason not to keep splitting things into smaller and smaller sections that I see is that we don’t want to loose our audience. When exegesis gets to the point that it would be intimidating to the user who comes to the site trying to understand some scriptures, then, in my view, it would be best for that exegesis to be put on the blog and linked to it from the wiki. With this in mind, I think it would be rare to have a single page devoted to less than 3 verses.

    Aside from that caveat, I favor splitting into smaller verse groupings where someone wants to do that and has the content to justify that.

    2) tabs vs all in one page. Great discussion. For now, we don’t have the technical capability to do tabs so let’s move forward without them. (I do want to reconsider this question in the future.)

    3) section headings and order.

    This is the hardest one to resolve I think. And I think the fact that it is not resolved has derailed the project timeline we aimed at for this project. I’m okay with that. we need to figure this stuff out and get it right. Maybe we stop, think about it some, try to get resolution on this point over the next two weeks, and then move forward with the next project?

  13. KurtElieson said

    Just ran across a nice phrase. Would a variant of this be a good idea at the top of each page?

    This page will hopefully always be under construction. You are more than welcome to add valuable information that you find to be currently missing!

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