First Person: The American Bible Society’s Electronic Inquisition

From the July/August 2018 Biblical Archaeology Review

As a scholar, editor, and American, I value the rights of free speech afforded me by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. I HATE censorship. Mind you, I’m not a fan of nonsensical, uninformed, illogical, hyperbolic drivel either. I like to see an exchange of ideas—a presentation of evidence—and then use my intellect to decide which argument makes the most sense based on the evidence. What’s more, BAR’s readers have come not only to expect, but to insist on this presentation of the evidence—from both the written records, including the Bible, and the archaeological data—to inform their decisions about history and the claims made by the Bible. This process lies at the heart of BAR.

Then came the internet. One of the internet’s revolutionary aspects was that it democratized information, allowing anyone with a domain name to publish content online. This is not always a good thing. Some sites are full of bad science and false claims, while others are credible sources of reliable information. And while the credible sites gradually separated from the less-than-credible ones, something initially unforeseeable happened: The internet began to run out of practical domain names.

To remedy this problem, ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), which is responsible for overseeing domain names on the internet, decided to expand the list of extensions beyond .COM, .ORG, .NET. The new domain extensions would be more akin to the .EDU, .GOV, and .MIL domains that were reserved for specific types of organizations such as educational institutions, government agencies, and military units.

These new domain extensions included .INFO for information sites, .BIZ for businesses, and .NGO for non-governmental organizations. But the one that has created the most problems for Bible-related academic societies, such as the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and the Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS), is the new .BIBLE domain.

Surprisingly, ICANN delegated the oversight of the .BIBLE domain to the American Bible Society (ABS). And, instead of administering the .BIBLE domain like other generic top-level domain operators that simply make sure those applying are sufficiently related to the category, the American Bible Society pulled a fast one. After they were approved, they incorporated what is essentially a statement of faith into their Acceptable Use Policy. This means that in addition to wanting a website that pertains to the Bible, and agreeing to refrain from the usual prohibitions (disseminating pornography, selling drugs, and inciting the violent overthrow of the government), anyone signing up for a .BIBLE domain must also agree to various confessional regulations established by the American Bible Society!

The religion section of most bookstores includes an amazing array of Bibles. In our free eBook The Holy Bible: A Buyer’s Guide, prominent Biblical scholars Leonard Greenspoon and Harvey Minkoff expertly guide you through 21 different Bible translations (or versions) and address their content, text, style and religious orientation.

Some of these stipulations are highly suspect. For instance, rule 4.2.B reads, “A Registrant shall not use or permit its Domain Name(s) to be used in any manner that would encourage or contribute to disrespect for the Bible or the Bible community.” Remember, the ABS gets to decide what is “disrespectful.” Thus, if BAR were to publish (on a theoretical .BIBLE site) an article in which the author claims there is no archaeological evidence for the Exodus, this might be considered “disrespectful,” and we could be banned.

Three rules under section “5.4: Prohibited Content” are even more problematic. The ABS says they will ban: “(A) Any content that communicates disrespect for God as He is revealed in the Bible. (B) Any content that communicates disrespect for the Bible, or for any doctrine, symbol or principles of faith derived from the Bible. (C) Any content that communicates disrespect for the Jewish faith or the orthodox Christian faith in any of their historic expressions, or that advocates belief in any religious or faith tradition other than orthodox Christianity or Judaism” (italics mine)!

In fact, according to section 5.4.C, one must advocate only “orthodox Christianity or Judaism” or else fear the digital wrath of ABS’s electronic inquisition. Setting aside ABS’s wholly problematic invocation of “orthodox Christianity or Judaism”—seriously, there are multiple problems with this, including ABS’s apparent ignorance of Orthodox Christianity, and whether they also meant Orthodox Judaism, or just Judaism in general—the insistence that only confessional orthodox Christians and Jews can study the Bible and voice their opinions about faith on a .BIBLE website is diametrically opposed to any serious learned society, including BAS and SBL.

Furthermore, the Biblical Archaeology Society is proudly a non-denominational and non-sectarian organization. And yet, “Biblical” is in our title! The Bible is central to our mission! BAR is committed to following archaeological and Biblical research wherever it may lead, and we do not censor the views of scholars, authors, or readers just because they may not subscribe to “orthodox Christianity or Judaism” as their religious tradition of choice.

Perhaps most tellingly, ABS demonstrates the insecurity of their own position in rule 5.4.I, which lists “holding of the ABS (including its affiliates), its employees, donors, ministry partners or the Bible up to public scorn” or “ridicule” as grounds for banishment, prohibiting also “any content that may harm the reputation of ABS or the .BIBLE domain name space.” Any organization that bans criticism of itself is not off to a good start and is the antithesis of scholarly.

No one “owns” the Bible, and no one should have to submit to the American Bible Society’s ill-conceived holiness code in order to register a .BIBLE domain name. ABS should not be able to deny a .BIBLE domain name because it feels a website does not revere the name of God enough—or because it dares not endorse “orthodox Christianity.” How ICANN ever allowed this is beyond belief!

No one gets to say what is, and what is not, worthy of association with, study of, or applicable to the Bible—that is the judgment of each individual who freely chooses to read the Bible and dares to ask questions of it. Readers of BAR have been doing just that for 43 years. In an effort to continue this tradition, BAR will not be registering a .BIBLE domain any time soon. BAR values scholarship, free thought, and freedom of religion—not the requirement of any author or subscriber to believe in anything other than a love of history, of archaeology, and that the Bible is a book worth studying.

And if you need one more reason to eschew the .BIBLE domain, archaeology.BIBLE is available, but costs $5,900 to register for one year. For comparison, most .COM domains cost about $12 for one year. So, ABS wants exorbitant money and to dictate what you can say and believe. Thus, the .BIBLE domain is well on its way to becoming the internet’s equivalent of televangelism.


“First Person: The American Bible Society’s Electronic Inquisition” by Robert R. Cargill originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

The religion section of most bookstores includes an amazing array of Bibles. In our free eBook The Holy Bible: A Buyer’s Guide, prominent Biblical scholars Leonard Greenspoon and Harvey Minkoff expertly guide you through 21 different Bible translations (or versions) and address their content, text, style and religious orientation.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Digital Humanities and the Ancient World

Defining Biblical Hermeneutics

The “Original” Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Laughter in the Bible? Absolutely! by Robin Gallaher Branch


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  • Kelvin says

    ABS is likely not profiting from the reported high price for (and, by the way, when I just checked with a registrar, the price quoted was $150/yr, not $5900). The author is apparently unfamiliar with the practice of cyber-squatting, purchasing a presumed desirable web address and holding it out for sale. That’s not done by the registrars, but by anyone and everyone trying to make a buck. Many of the issues mentioned in this article are legitimate concerns, but this is not one of them.

  • Wes says

    In principle, I agree. In reviewing this domain decision and the declaration, you can see the host of problems associated with it. But also, whatever Dr. Cargill’s personal religious beliefs are, I have faith that the BAR is in good hands with such a statement of principles: all serious or amateur students of the Bible and archeology are welcome here where issues are still open to examination, study and debate. This does not preclude that they agree on all counts with ABS – or not, among the many possible outcomes.

    As far as drawing an analogy to televangelism: only so much as it is using a communications medium, the internet, to propagate a particular belief.

    Just hope that the domain issue itself turns into a storm in a teapot.

  • John says are not available.

  • Rob says would look classier, if not taken. After all a “com” is just a cheap, monetary-oriented business site, definitely lower class.

  • Rich says

    You can get for $12? Buy it right now!

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