The domain name “.BIBLE” has essentially been hijacked by the American Bible Society (ABS). This problem is not just a technical issue of interest only to people who care about the Bible; it touches on how the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) assigns domain names, how the designated organizations manage the signing process and, most importantly, how the assigning of .BIBLE affects faith communities and learned societies that study the Bible from a scholarly, intellectual perspective, a perspective that may not necessarily fit a certain narrow definition of “orthodoxy.”
Robert R. Cargill, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, informed readers in the July/August 2018 edition that “the American Bible Society pulled a fast one.” “After they were approved [to manage .BIBLE], they incorporated what is essentially a statement of faith into their Acceptable Use Policy.” As Cargill notes, Section 5.4 of the policy, Prohibited Content, basically constitutes a faith-based stranglehold on internet content:
“The following prohibitions apply to all content published in conjunction with any .BIBLE domain or approved subdomain, as well as any linkage in any .BIBLE domain or approved subdomain to external content that would violate these prohibitions.
“(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.”
There does not seem to be a paragraph (D) listed (hmmm…), but section (E) can also be added to this problematic list:
“(E) Use of a Domain Name to point to or publish any type of obscenity or pornography, irrespective of whether such pornography is legal or illegal.”
Notably, these are updated guidelines, following criticism leveled against ABS early in the process.
The Society of Biblical Literature is “the oldest and largest learned society devoted to the critical investigation of the Bible, with about 8,500 members, mostly scholars.” Its executive director, John Kutsko, weighed in on additional problems with .BIBLE. “The internet is public space,” he explained. “It’s our understanding that .bible was registered to be public space and not have the kind of restrictions that you would expect of a domain that was proprietary or brand-oriented.”
Here are a few examples of what the ABS might consider “prohibited content:”
- Any article that discusses a feminine image of God – that might refer to God or the Divine as “she” and thus supposedly “disrespects” God.
- An “article in which the author claims there is no archaeological evidence for the Exodus” (Cargill).
- Any article that discusses Christian movements in antiquity that are considered heretical, even though scholars have maintained for at least two generations that Christianity was highly diverse in the first few centuries.
- Any article that questions the historical reality and salvific nature of the resurrection.
- Any article that maintains that St. Paul advocated the suppression of women, despite a great deal of scholarly evidence to the contrary. This could be construed as contrary to “orthodox” Christian belief.
- Any article that discusses nude statues from antiquity, which could be viewed by the ABS as “pornographic.”
- Any article that describes the pagan roots of Christian symbols, such as the cross.
What’s more, Cargill points out that, while “most .COM domains cost about $12 for one year,” the .BIBLE domain costs $5,900 for a year. Cargill states, “ABS wants exorbitant money and to dictate what you can say and believe.”
The role of ICANN can be questioned. Its stated policy mentions openness, transparency, well-informed decisions, expert advice and collaboration: “We employ open and transparent policy development mechanisms that promote well-informed decisions based on expert advice, and in collaboration with entities most affected by policy development.” Yet the assigning of .BIBLE to ABS seems far removed from these qualities. What went into ICANN’s decision to select ABS? How many other organizations did they consider? Were the ICANN decision-makers victims of religious illiteracy? That is, did ICANN choose ABS as the domain manager for .BIBLE primarily because it has a long history and has “Bible” in its name? The main goal of ABS has always been to distribute Bibles as widely as possible; there is little in their mission to study the many texts of and context around Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament, which is the stated goals of many other organizations that might well have been chosen to host the domain name. Did ICANN realize this?
For the general public – for those people who might want to explore the Bible from a scholarly and/or non-faith perspective – the .BIBLE domain is totally unhelpful, indeed irresponsible. Seekers will not find many scholarly or fact-based resources, since it is unlikely that these organizations will choose to use .BIBLE. None of those who’ve registered so far – sites like translation.bible, search.bible, leadership.bible, kingjames.bible, and mlk.bible – are scholarly, professional societies. Further, googling .BIBLE results in an irresponsible claim – “for all things Bible online;” one can legitimately argue that this is false advertising.
In a March 2018 op-ed for the Religion News Service, Marc Zvi Brettler, professor of Jewish studies at Duke University and professor emeritus of biblical studies at Brandeis University, pointed out some disturbing aspects of this situation and lobbed a challenge to both ABS and ICANN.
“[T]he ABS seems not to understand that there is no consensus among Protestants, Roman Catholics, Eastern Catholics and Jews on what constitutes the Bible, nor is there a single model for the Bible’s origin, authority and interpretation. It would be wrong for a single ideologically driven firm to control the new domain name .law. It is far more wrong for .bible to be controlled by any group interested in promoting a single notion of what the Bible is and how it should be interpreted. ⁋ The American Bible Society should again revisit and further broaden its acceptable-use policy for .bible, fulfilling the purpose of its original application. If the society cannot greatly expand its vision for .bible, then the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, which manages global domain names, must revoke the society’s sole control over that name.”
Abrahamsen, Valerie A. Goddess and God: A Holy Tension in the First Christian Centuries. Marco Polo Monographs 10. Warren Center, PA: Shangri-La Publications, 2006.
Abrahamsen, Valerie. “The Jesus Myth According to Barbara Walker,” Journal of Higher Criticism, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Fall 1998) 188-202.
Bauer, Walter. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. Ed. Robert A. Kraft and Gerhard Krodel; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971; German original, Rechtglaubigkeit und Ketzerei im altesten Christentum. Tubingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1934.
Cargill, Robert R. “The American Bible Society’s Electronic Inquisition,” Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 44, No. 4 (July/August 2018) 6, 62.