First Person: The American Bible Society’s Electronic Inquisition

From the July/August 2018 Biblical Archaeology Review

Robert CargillAs 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


27 Responses

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. John Holecek says: are not available.

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

  5. Rich Shipe says:

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

  6. Jolynn says:

    I wonder how many people here actually went to the ABS website and looked at the site before commenting on this article. A 200 year old 501c organization primarily devoted to Bible translation and distribution, mostly in the third world it looks like, whose motto appears to be “Giving People Access to the Life-changing Message of God’s Word.”

    Dogmatic? Certainly. Dangerous cult? Hardly.
    An “Inquisition”? Seriously??
    Seeking to “control the Internet”? Please. Boycott? They don’t sell any products.

    “…ignorance of Orthodox Christianity.” I see the CIO of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese is on their Board of Directors, along with a Jesuit priest, an advisor to Queen Elizabeth II, MBAs, JDs, and numerous graduate degrees from Harvard, Yale, UVA, TA&M, a former Commandant of the Army Chaplain Corp, a former chief officer with the US Dept of Treasury, and others with equally impressive resumes and backgrounds in various nonprofits. Hardly a crazed cult.

    “No one owns the Bible..” No, but they do own the .Bible domain name. Will they publish an article that says the exodus isn’t true? I doubt it, given what they say on their site. The New Covenant is dependent on the Original Covenant being true. Should .Atheist be required to publish articles on creationism and Bible studies or risk being called an inquisition or a closed minded cult? Internet neutrality means you can purchase your own domain and publish what you want, not that you can commandeer someone else’s name and publish things that oppose their mission.

    I think BAR just doesn’t like them because they are religious conservatives. I see in my July /August 2018 print BAR a number of reasons to suspect that, but because I’m interested in biblical archaeology I am willing to wait and see. Many thanks for the work that BAR does.
    Here’s their site.

  7. Jimmy says:

    I’m orthodox in my beliefs and screw the ABS!

  8. Gary Nolan says:

    Dear Robert:

    Thank you for the article and opening our eyes to the dogmatism shown by the ABS. I have worked extensively with those abused by cults, sects, dogmatic preachers, and self-righteous churches. One of their activities is total adherence to their self-righteousness, right or wrong, and the silencing of anything that they don’t agree with. And believe me, they are often wrong. This is where and how abuse takes place. Of course, the dogmatic are always right being placed there by God, so how can we argue.

    I think it is a sad day for the Internet, free speech, and living with a Christian conscience.


  9. rogerh30 says:

    Will BAR be required to use this new domain name, or will you be able to retain the .org now used? I agree that the requirements of the new domain are restrictive, it would seem that these requirements would only be a problem if organizations such as BAR were required to use the new domain.

  10. robis says:

    “the internet’s equivalent of televangelism”???

    I think not. BAR is in a pickle. But I think a doman with the sort of name specified here should at least be one that is “on the up and up” about the book it is proclaiming. Not selling sexy lingerie.BIBLE or any other sort of thing. Televangelism does the sort of thing BAR is here decrying, so I am not sure why BAR is upset that someone has set a standard (which would thus guarantee orthodoxy not sideshows and {oresumably} hucksters).

  11. marys136 says:

    I heartily concur! I enjoy the articles and thought-provoking commentary provided by BAR and hope they continue for many years to come. We have far too many would-be thought police in this country already. We do NOT need more as guardians of a so-called information website about the bible.

  12. Robert E. Martin says:

    Dr. Gargill:
    If you had actually researched the history of the American Bible Society, you would know that it only recently has decided to return to its original mission statement after compromising for years by allowing liberal theological infiltration and employing personnel who were consciously violating the Biblical commandments the organization was established to uphold. You are comparing apples to oranges. You’re basically insisting that conservative scholars grant a priori assent to the presuppositions of worldviews which are contradictory to their own before you will grant them imprimatur to discuss Biblical topics. Demanding that our opinions always be in agreement with the current state of “the evidence” is absurd. As C. S. Lewis observed in “The Abolition of Man”:
    “An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut.”
    Robert E. Martin, PhD

  13. Donna Nussenblatt says:

    OK, Mr. Cargill, I totally agree with you. I’m tired of people trying to convert me to their own version of religion simply by emphasizing one bit of Scripture, and excluding everything else, including archaeology. That’s why I read BAR. So what are we to do? Who do we complain to? The Internet must remain a free exchange point for all ideas, even the ones we don’t necessarily agree with.

  14. Tyler S says:

    I’m not sure I understand the concern. Are there many people trying to register .BIBLE domains and getting turned away because they’re not sufficiently in step with the ABS vision? No examples of ABS discrimination are offered in this column, unless it is to be inferred that BAR explored the possibility of registering a .BIBLE domain. Also, the comparison to televangelism at the end threw me for a loop. Does anybody honestly expect that .BIBLE domains will boom on a scale as big as televangelism before going bust? Much more likely IMO that .BIBLE domains will fizzle from the outset.

    1. Helen Spalding says:

      Well, for one, the cost to register your site is discriminatory.

      I can understand the ABS wanting to keep its own site in accord with its own viewpoint, but to bar others is not really in keeping with the openness of the internet. I support the ABS and its valuable ministry. However a “neutral” party should have the speaking rights over the domain region for .BIBLE. The guidelines for .BIBLE should be open to all who use the Bible as a touchstone, even those w/whom I or someone else may disagree.

      Either that or create an area called .REL for all religions to park their domains.

  15. Grant Alford says:

    This is what I have given as my personal comment when I shared this article to my Facebook page:

    “Friends: This is terrible news concerning the American Bible Society and their dictatorship position. Excuse me but they begin to sound like an extension of Trumpism, or maybe it is the other way around and they are but another voice of Republican Evangelical Fundamentalism that is finding its expression through Trumpism.

    If the allegations given in this article are true then I would be the first to suggest, (well maybe not the first but certainly a vocal supporter of the idea of) a boycott. This proposition or control that ABS seeks to establish is nothing short of cultic or the founding of their own cult.”

  16. Kim J Boland says:

    “the Church”. This is just the issue. The ABS defining the grounds for the use of the name will restrict it to beliefs they approve. This will exclude minority but Bible based organisations. Why should it be the “American” bible society – the world is (despite Mr. Trumps views) than the USA. The British Bible Society and CSM have done a lot of good.
    How can the .BIBLE domain belong to “THE church”. Which of the 100’s of denominations is that? What authority does the ABS have. This is a decsion made by people who do not understand the issues and the environment of biblical related studies.

  17. I think that a .Bible domain reasonably would be expected to be faith based, and Judeo- Christian at that. Since BAR does not ascribe to faith as a fundamental precept, and in fact frequently publishes opinions contrary to faith matters, it properly should remain on secular domains. This hardly is censorship or restriction of free speech.

  18. Bud Walters says:

    The American Bible Society is not “The Church”, indeed, it is not ANY church. It’s a non-denominational organization run by a rotating board of managers. Any Theology or dogma they promote can only be considered the representative consensus of that board and their leadership, whoever they are.
    And, what is “The Church”, anyway? It’s been historically used to refer to the Roman Catholics, but there’s a bunch of Baptists that would go to the mat about that! Is it the Baptists? American, Full Gospel, or Southern? What do the Presbyterians, Methodists, Pentecostalists, or Lutherans have to say about it? Messianic Jews would actually be the original “Church” (“Jews for Jesus, around since Year 33!”)
    Remember, every single one of the denominations and splinter groups in the world believes that they are right, and all others are wrong, even if it’s just by a “jot or tittle”

  19. Dan Bruce says:

    The American Bible Society standards are no more extreme than those found, and more importantly practiced, in many top-name university departments of biblical studies/religion. For instance, a person who writes a paper or publishes a book based on the author’s belief that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and that it is accurate and trustworthy in its details for research, is quite often considered inferior in scholarship to those who rely mainly on secular data. It’s essentially the same kind of censorship that ABS is doing, but in reverse.

  20. Jo says:

    I, for one, am happy to hear that the ABS intends for the .BIBLE domain name to belong to the church. I just do not see any censorship; there are plenty of places for skeptics to publish their ideas and ABS is not interfering with that in any way. There may even be a domain name .SKEPTIC for those who want to propose challenging viewpoints.

  21. Luz M Rydalch (San Diego, California) says:

    “ Whereas you, Galileo…”
    1630 all over again?

  22. Luz M Rydalch (San Diego, California) says:

    Wow! Pretty scary!
    Thank you for the eye opening article.

  23. Annoyed reader says:

    I fully agree with you-no-one ‘owns’ the Bible, and no-one should have the right to dictate how others should understand it.
    The attitude of ICANN is unbelievably stupid, and the arrogance of ABS is breathtaking.
    Is there nothing that can be done to rectify this situation ?
    Can ICANN not remove the domain from ABS control ?

    Shame on you both, ICANN and ABS.

  24. alexanderm16 says:

    Fully agree! The reference to Orthodox Christianity in this context is especially ridiculous.

  25. Dear B,
    Instead of wasting ink implying your the great fighter against censorship why don’t you just buy your own domain. I’m offended.

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