When I pick up a dictionary and look up a word I usually end up jumping from one entry to another and what should take twenty seconds becomes five or ten minutes. Usually another word will catch my eye, I will read the definition, and then think of something else to look up. This was especially fun when I was growing up because our house had an old Webster’s with a “Pronouncing Gazetteer” as well as a “Historical People” (or something like that) section – you have no idea how much fun this was for an only child who loved to read. Nowadays I mostly look up words online. My Nook Color even has a feature where I can press a word and I have the option of looking it up in a dictionary or on Wikipedia.
Wikipedia is far from perfect, but it is a good jumping off point for things and I do find it useful. The internet as a whole is great for the kind of adventures I would have with a dictionary, and Wikipedia is no exception. I was reading the epistles of John and Jude today (I am catching up on my 2011 New Testament Challenge reading) and I got to wondering which epistle was the shortest book in the Bible – clearly it was II or III John. Well, I immediately looked it up on Wikipedia. III John has the fewest words while II John has the fewest verses. I will go with III John as the winner. My ramblings took me to this cool page – non-canonical books referenced in the Bible. Great stuff.
I should add a corollary to the above. Books that never made it into the Bible and that sort of thing are fascinating and have much to offer but I always encourage people to resist the fascination until they are fully familiar with the Bible, which we as Orthodox Christians should know inside and out. This came up when The Da Vinci Code was a best-seller. I had many people asking me about other Gospel narratives and that sort of thing. That stuff is great if you are already familiar with scripture – we need a reference point. I say the same to people who approach me with an interest in the Qur’an – get your Bible down and then knock yourself out. Incidentally, the short Johannine epistles got me to thinking of the short passages in the Qur’an. The Islamic holy book is set up from longest sura to shortest, with the shortest being only about three lines. You can read about it here (I prefer the Yusuf Ali translation both in this case and in general – for my M.Div. thesis I did my own translations that largely mirrored Ali’s).