COMPUTER-GENERATED SCHOLARLY EVIDENCE: THE 1960s AND 1970s
Morton, Andrew Queen and James McLeman. Christianity and the Computer. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1964.
Despite the difficulties involved in encoding the raw data, by the 1960s no one was likely to contemplate a serious concordance publication project without computer assistance. Steady improvements in capability and access options for computers, including stored programs, high-speed magnetic data storage, and on-line transaction processing were all in place by the mid-1960s. Computers became fixtures at universities and other academic centers. All the effort that went into preparing concordances began to provide fodder for other types of research. As early as 1954, John W. Ellison used computers to compare traditions of medieval Gospel manuscripts to identify likely family groups. Others began to apply statistical methods to various texts, including the Bible.
On 3 November 1963, Andrew Queen Morton published an article in the London Observer entitled "A Computer Challenges the Church." In this article he asserted that computer analysis proved that only five of the letters attributed to St. PaulóRomans, Galatians, Philemon, and First and Second Corinthiansócould have been written by the Apostle. The research focused primarily on the use and distribution of the Greek conjunction kai in the relevant epistles. In 1964, following the attention brought by the Observer article, Morton, along with James McLeman, published a short monograph about his work entitled Christianity and the Computer.
Mortonís claims for the consequences of his research were hardly modest:
Theologians all over the Christian world have now to face the implications of this discovery. They must change their view of the life of Paul, they must revise the history of the early Church and they must jettison doctrines that have now been shown to be without foundation (Morton 1963).
A flurry of publications appeared in response to Mortonís claims, most voicing polite but substantial skepticism (e.g., Schippers 1964, Fischer 1970). Many looked askance particularly on the claim that Mortonís techniques were more scientific than other methods and that the resulting evidence was thus unimpeachable. The criticism leveled at Mortonís research is paradigmatic of the ongoing concerns scholars have regarding computer-based studies of biblical and other textual corpora:
Notably, none the respondents to Morton questioned whether computer analysis should be applied to biblical research. It was already taken as a given. By 1970, the Society for New Testament Studies had an advisory Committee on Computer Aids, and the Society of Biblical Literature had established a committee "to stimulate co-operation, avoid reduplication of work, exchange tapes, and promote the standardization of transcription" (Grayston 1971, 480). Through the 1970s, a steady trickle of articles based on computer-assisted textual analysis appeared in scholarly journals.
Literature: Dinwoodie 1965; Ellison 1967; Fischer 1970; Grayston 1971; Herdan 1965; McArthur 1965; Moore 1973; Morris and James 1968; Morton 1963; Schippers 1964.