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Tertullian On and Off the Internet
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Journal of Early Christian Studies 8.4 (2000) 579-585



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Tertullian On and Off the Internet

Ian L.S. Balfour


In the five centuries since Tertullian's Apologeticum was printed at Venice in 1483, 1 more than 2000 scholarly works have been published with Tertullian's name in their title; 2 within six years of the World Wide Web "taking off" in 1994, 3 nearly half that number of webpages have been created with Tertullian's name in their abstract--at least 921 and probably more. 4 This paper stems from my concern that students, to whom I teach Early Church History, are increasingly fulfilling their assignments by surfing the Internet instead of reading scholarly works in the excellent College library. Taking Tertullian as an example (after Augustine and Ambrose he is the most written-about Western Father) I found that less than 3 percent of the published work on Tertullian (apart from his own works) has made its way onto the Internet. The overlap between the Net and the bookshelf is therefore minimal, and students who tackle their assignments largely through their personal computers may form a very different view of their subject than those who read the printed page. Does it matter? This short paper looks at the issue under three heads:

Analysis of material on the Web and on the bookshelf.
The languages used in each medium.
Open-access and academic standards. [End Page 579]

All three are addressed by comparing the printed works with Tertullian's name in their title and the webpages mentioning Tertullian in their abstract. While that does not take into account general printed works like Quasten's Patrology, which has about 100 pages on Tertullian, 5 and while it excludes webpages which bring up Tertullian under "additional reading," 6 it provides a manageable starting-point for comparing "Tertullian on and off the Internet."

Analysis of Material on the Web and on the Bookshelf

Webpages on Tertullian may be divided into five broad categories:

1. Text. Tertullian's thirty-one extant works are available in Latin or in English translation on no less than 446 webpages--but that figure needs to be explained. Copying has always been part of the Internet culture, and all thirty-one of Tertullian's works in the Ante-Nicene Fathers translation 7 have been copied to at least eleven sites, 8 some with commentary, some with footnotes, and some with plain text, so two volumes of one monograph have spawned 341 webpages (31 x 11). The other 105 pages give either a selection of Tertullian's works or one work in full or in part. Only seven of his works are available in full text in Latin free of charge on the Internet, because access to the only complete corpus, in the electronic version of Migne's Patrologia Latina, requires a hefty annual subscription. 9

2. New scholarly work. Extended research not published elsewhere (12 items), together with briefer material prepared especially for the Internet (149 items), is [End Page 580] the next largest category. One hundred and fifteen of the latter (77 percent) are the work of one person, an English computer scientist, Roger Pearse, who modestly describes himself as an amateur historian, but Revue d'Études Augustiniennes has warmly applauded his initiative. 10 He continues to add new material monthly at www.tertullian.org.

3. Previous scholarly work. Eighty-three existing encyclopedia entries or periodical articles and sixteen excerpts from monographs have been digitized onto the Web 11 and the Ecole Initiative (Early Church On-Line Encyclopedia) is adding further material as authors make it available. 12 The Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Tertullian, published in 1913 and running to six thousand words, was completed in 1999 and the article from the Biographisch-Bibliographischen Kirchenlexikons is double that length. 13 The Bibliographical Information Base in Patristics (BIBP) is impressive, searching 325 journals and bringing up references to 255 articles on Tertullian, followed by an abstract of the article but not the text. 14 The full text is offered by the search-engine Northern Light, 15 which collects...