3:16

3:16: Bible Texts Illuminated, by Donald Knuth

Starting Oct 2, I will begin a second time around teaching a 1-quarter adult Sunday-school class based on Donald Knuth’s quirky book 3:16: Bible Texts Illuminated. Knuth, the world’s most eminent living computer scientist, is an unlikely candidate for writing a book about scripture and art (click here for a wonderful article about Knuth’s career and personality). But his development of metafont and TEX software for typesetting put him in touch with font designers and calligraphers from around the world; that together with a Sunday school class that he developed to statistically study the whole Bible with stratified random sampling, turned into 3:16. For the 16th verse after 3:1 in each book of the bible (thus, for instance, 1 Thess 4:3), 3:16 has 4 pages:

  • 1 page overview of the book
  • 1 page calligraphic illumination of the verse (in Knuth’s own translation)
  • 2 page commentary of the verse

The class will include elements of

  • Bible study (including — but not restricted to — Knuth’s commentary)
  • Memorization
  • Translation
  • Illumination
  • Behind-the-scenes info from Things A Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About

The syllabus (click for PDF) includes the ESV for each verse, which we will be memorizing. The schedule below includes links to the translation worksheets (also PDF):

10/2 Introduction OT 3:16s
10/9 Matt 3:16 Luke 3:16
10/16 Mark 3:16 Acts 3:16
10/23 Rom 3:16 1 Cor 3:16
10/30 2 Cor 3:16 Gal 3:16
11/6 Eph 3:16 Phil 3:16
11/13 Col 3:16 1 Thess 4:3
11/20 2 Thess 3:16 1 Tim 3:16
11/27 2 Tim 3:16 Heb 3:16
12/4 Jam 3:16 1 Pet 3:16
12/11 2 Pet 3:16 Rev 3:16
12/18 John 3:16 1 John 3:16
12/25 Overflow Review/Reflect

The raw source for the translation worksheets has apparently fallen out the bottom of the intertubes (but it used to be at at this link). Fortunately, I still have my copy (so I can make worksheets for any N.T. passage, if you’re interested just ask!), as well as a cheat-sheet for the grammatical notation. Note that the verbs all come with two Strong’s numbers: one for the verb, and one for the tense/mood/voice.

[Update: 11/20] As requested, here is my scan of the alternate versions of II Sam 3:16. Also, here are the scans from 1 Tim: letter, original, worse (published), and best. Even better, I found (in the errata part of Knuth’s 3:16 page), the promised downloadable corrected version (eps, jpg). Also, I found that the artist for Lev 3:16 posted his work on his website.

7 Responses

  1. Looks wonderful :) Wish we could join you. The weakest link in the chain at our much-loved new church is its Adult Ed. Maybe we just haven’t figured it out yet. As for M/C Dialogue, I am waiting for the newly configured Neighborhood Bible Study folk (now called Q-Place) to decide whether they are going to publish it. The new CEO likes it very much and wants to add some outreach type targeted studies to their collection, but she sent it out to be reviewed by various and sundry in January and I haven’t heard back from her yet. Waiting too on Calvin’s decision re my Jan. term proposal for a course in Muslim-American fiction. I’ll just have to remember the snail named Herbert…..

  2. How’d wk 1 go.

  3. The small audience (about 10) seemed receptive. But pretty much all the time was spent by me lecturing on the methodology. The proof will be in the pudding next week, when we actually dive into Matt, Luke 3:16.

  4. Update: for anybody interested, I have updated all of the .pdf translation worksheets to actually put a line above an o, instead of just printing “overlineo”. I have also included the name of the book, before, you had to do the translation to solve the puzzle of which book it was from!

  5. [...] (Note also the conclusion on the chalkboard (), a reference to Logic’s fundamental Law of Non-Contradiction (which I was just able to mathematically typeset right there using WordPress’s native ability to compile — which is a typesetting system created by Donald Knuth! His involvement in the typesetting community led to this interdisciplinary work.) [...]

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