Data: Faceless but not Unbiased

Here’s an interesting think piece from Frank Pasquale in Aeon on the nature and role of data in society today.

Regulators want to avoid the irrational or subconscious biases of human decision-makers, but of course human decision-makers devised the algorithms, inflected the data, and influenced its analysis. No ‘code layer’ can create a ‘plug and play’ level playing field. Policy, human judgment, and law will always be needed. Algorithms will never offer an escape from society. . . .

An inference . . . may not be worth much on its own. But once people are so identified, it could easily be combined and recombined with other lists – say, of plus-sized shoppers, or frequent buyers of fast food – that solidify the inference. A new algorithm from Facebook instantly classifies individuals in photographs based on body type or posture. The holy grail of algorithmic reputation is the most complete possible database of each individual, unifying credit, telecom, location, retail and dozens of other data streams into a digital doppelganger.

However certain they may be about our height, or weight, or health status, it suits data gatherers to keep the classifications murky. A person could, in principle, launch a defamation lawsuit against a data broker that falsely asserted the individual concerned was diabetic. But if the broker instead chooses a fuzzier classification, such as ‘member of a diabetic-concerned household’, it looks a lot more like an opinion than a fact to courts. Opinions are much harder to prove defamatory – how might you demonstrate beyond a doubt that your household is not in some way ‘diabetic-concerned’? But the softer classification may lead to exactly the same disadvantageous outcomes as the harder, more factual one.

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Luke Social Network on Terra Biblica

I’m excited to announce that my social network of the Gospel of Luke, which I created as part of my dissertation research, is now online within Terra Biblica, part of the Big Ancient Mediterranean project.

BAM is headed by Paul Dilley, Sarah E. Bond (both of the University of Iowa), and Ryan Horne (UNC-Chapel Hill). You can find out more about the project here.

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Schmid, “The ‘Hellenisation’ of the Nabataeans: A New Approach” (2001)

Stephan G. Schmid, “The ‘Hellenisation’ of the Nabataeans: A New Approach,” Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan 7 (2007): 407-419.

In this article, Schmid “give[s] a short overview on what is known about Nabataean material culture in its best understandable categories today and to look for whether there is any common line of development or even a model that could fit to most of these categories” (407). He notes that, although the Nabataeans are historically attested from 312 BCE, there is no evidence of a Nabataean material culture until around 100 BCE; moreover, when it appears, it is thoroughly Hellenistic. Schmid argues, following Diodorus Siculus, that the Nabataeans were “nomads or semi-nomads frequenting once or twice a year the same place for trade and business” (415) until ca. 100 BCE, after which they sedentarized. Their sedentarization lead them to develop a material culture. In the absence of an existing material culture, the Nabataeans simply “oriented their new material culture according to the mainstreams of the contemporary Hellenistic world in its Near Eastern variant” (415), into which they gradually incorporated Roman and “proper Nabataean” (416) elements.

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Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism (1974)

Martin Hengel’s Judaism and Hellenism: Studies in Their Encounter in Palestine during the Early Hellenistic Period (trans. John Bowden; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974) argues, against the prevailing wisdom, that Palestinian Judaism was as Hellenized as Diaspora Judaism, and that, if a distinction must be drawn, it should be based on linguistic difference, namely that Diaspora Jews spoke Greek while Palestinian Jews spoke Hebrew or Aramaic.

The book has received a good deal of attention from JBL. Kevin G. O’Connell’s 1971 review of the German original and J. K. Aitken’s 2004 retrospective are available together here, and Louis J. Feldman’s review article (“Hengel’s Judaism and Hellenism in Retrospect,” JBL 96 (1977): 371-382) can be found here.

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Horsley and Hanson, Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs (1985)

In Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs: Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus (Minneapolis: Winston, 1985), Richard A. Horsley and John S. Hanson read Josephus to examine the peasant-level revolutionary movements of first-century Palestine. They argue against the idea that a single unified anti-Roman resistance group operated in Palestine at that time, instead showing that Rome, the Jewish elites, and several peasant-level groups were all in conflict.

Marcus Borg has a good synopsis and review of the book in JBL 107 (1988): 135-137.

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Collins (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Apocalyptic Literature (2014)

The Oxford Handbook of Apocalyptic Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014) is John J. Collins’ most recent edited volume dealing with apocalyptic. After Collins’ introductory essay–which more or less summarizes his argument in The Apocalyptic Imagination, with an additional section on modern apocalypticism–the book is divided into five parts:

  1. “The Literary and Phenomenological Context” of apocalyptic
  2. The Social Function of Apocalyptic Literature”
  3. “Literary Features of Apocalyptic Literature”
  4. “Apocalyptic Theology”
  5. “Apocalypse Now”

Paul Foster has a brief review article that focuses mostly on the first and third parts of the book. See Foster, “Unveiling Apocalyptic Literature,” Expository Times 126 (2014): 78-80.

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Gruen, Heritage and Hellenism (1998)

Erich S. Gruen’s Heritage and Hellenism: The Reinvention of Jewish Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998) makes a bold argument, namely that Hellenistic Jewish literature was not written as a pro-Jewish polemic (whether directed at Gentiles or Jews), but rather were written for as entertainment for an audience of Jews who felt totally at home in a Hellenistic environment.

For a favorable synopsis, see Allen Kerkeslager’s review (Shofar 19 (2000): 172-174).

For an extensive, critical review, see Daniel R. Schwartz, “Review Article: How at Home Were the Jews of the Hellenistic Diaspora?,” Classical Philology 95 (2000): 349-357.

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