Reliving a biblical journey

A CD-ROM has done what the Bible has not: provided people with images of what Abraham might have encountered on his famous journey from Ur down to Canaan.

A new CD-ROM, Abraham’s Journey, not only takes viewers through helicopter video clips of the geography of the land, but also provides them with 3-D reconstructions of ancient temples, the city of ancient Megiddo and several houses. It also allows them to examine ancient pottery vessels from the same time period of Abraham, around 2000 B.C.

“We’re not trying to take any theological position or anything,” James Strange, a professor of religious studies at USF, said. “We just want to be able to put together archaeology and biblical studies.”

Strange played a fundamental role in creating the CD-ROM. As an archeologist, Strange worked with artist Rich Whitaker on a weekly basis and advised him on how the images should look and where things should be placed. Strange said he has been excavating sites in Israel since 1969.

“I just continuously consulted with the artist who is doing the 3-D drawing because this is quite demanding,” Strange said. “The artist has to draw a 3-D space, and what he’s actually assembling on the screen looks for all the world like chicken wire. So, from time to time he has to cover it up with a kind of neutral gray so it looks like a solid. And then you can say the foundation needs to be higher here. The stones are too large.”

Working with the artist proved to be the biggest challenge for Strange in the 18-monthlong project.

Strange compared the process of making the CD-ROM to writing a book.

“It’s really like writing a book because there’s so much research that has to be done,” Strange said. “The artist is fundamentally ignorant. So, I have to teach him everything from the beginning. Now he knows an enormous amount.”

Strange wrote the topographical lectures that the viewer reads on the screen. Viewers can also see and hear Strange describing Abraham’s journey.

The CD-ROM provides an interactive experience for the viewer when examining the ancient pottery. The viewer can move the objects to better look at them. The viewer may also read about or listen to information about the pottery.

Even though the CD-ROM focuses on Abraham’s journey, Abraham does not appear anywhere in the CD-ROM.

Several people are scattered throughout the program, but they are stationary. This in part has do with the fact that creating a person takes up an enormous amount of memory, and making a person move would naturally require even more memory.

“We have made some other scenes of which we have people coming down the steps, but they’re stills,” Strange said. “Because if it’s interactive with human beings it crashes the machine.”Strange incorporates the CD-ROM in his class, Biblical Archaeology. Thus far he says he has received positive feedback from the students on Abraham’s Journey as a whole except for the accompanying music.

“The feedback on the music has been polarized,” Strange said. “People love it. People hate it. Nobody says I don’t care.”Strange prefers the more interactive aspects of the CD-ROM to the journey of Abraham where students look at video footage of Abraham’s travels and a corresponding, map and listen to an audible lecture.

“As an educator I don’t like people just sitting passively looking at this,” Strange said. “But the feedback we get from students is that they just love it.”

“The part I enjoy the most is the reconstruction … because it’s kind of nice to see finally some representation of that which I’ve seen in piecemeal for a hundred years. We knew what a house looked like, but there’s not a house from 2000 B.C. anywhere left. So you build it up from the foundations,” Strange said.

“Well, I hope they’ll be able to get some accurate information about the biblical world and how it’s put together and what a costume looks like and what the topography is like,” Strange said.Although Abraham’s Journey has biblical undertones, it is not religiously oriented.

“We’re not telling them what to believe or anything about the Bible,” Strange said. “But we’re giving them a context in history or a possible one. We’ll always have to revise this. We’ll always learn something else and we’ll have to change then.”

Strange is currently working on a new CD-ROM program titled Jesus on the Shores of Galilee. He said, eventually, future endeavors will probably entail producing the programs on DVDs.

“Somewhere down the way we’re going to have to start producing these as DVDs because about 20 percent of the American public who have CDs have DVD readers,” Strange said. “That’s not yet enough to go to all the expense to make a DVD. But the nice thing about using a DVD is that it holds so much. You can get a DVD that can hold a hundred CDs.”