The Electronic Labyrinth

The Electronic Bible

There is no escaping The Bible. It was the first printed book and perhaps the first electronic book. A transcription of the entire King James Bible was one of the earliest items circulated as what is called shareware. According to the supervisors of the public domain software archive known as the PC-SIG Library, it is not known who typed the entire King James Bible into a series of ASCII files; like the word of God itself, it appears to have emanated from no fixed source.

Franklin Products produced "[t]he world's first electronic Holy Bible." Packaged as a pocket-book sized computer complete with keyboard and a four line LCD screen, the Franklin Bible allows the reader to either scroll through the text of the King James version page by page or to use its search mechanism to locate a specific string of text. With the Franklin Bible, language skills no longer stand between the believer and the Word of God. It features "phonetic spelling technology" (so "Fare-A-Seas" will still get you to "Pharisees"), a pronunciation guide and word usage notes. There's even a thesaurus in case you can't quite remember whether it was the Sermon on the Hillock or some other inclined landmass.

Significantly, the Bible is now used as a unit of measure. Franklin Products promotes their Digital Book reader thus: "Stores two Digital Books, each containing up to 45 megabytes of data (the equivalent of 10 Bibles)." The Bible thus replaces the standard unit of measure of manuscript production, the Sheep. Parchment was produced from the skin of sheep, each animal providing the skin for one large quarto page of text. A one hundred and sixty page book would then be referred to as a forty sheep book.

When used with a text retrieval program, the public domain Bible (like its Franklin counterpart) is a simple hypertext, revealing again that The Book and hypertext are not antithetical but implicated in each other. Glowing with the inner light of the illuminated manuscripts, and open to multiple readings, hypertext releases the open-ended freeplay latent in the Bible; the insistent drive of biblical narrative toward closure finds itself giving way to new spaces, new perspectives, and new books.

© 1993-2000 Christopher Keep, Tim McLaughlin, Robin Parmar.
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