Perhaps you’re deep into cryptocurrency and blockchain technology and know exactly what a non-fungible token is. Or maybe you, like me, barely know what any of those words mean, but have a vague sense that dudes in a certain kind of bar love to talk your ear off about bitcoin and that NFTs are some kind of digital art. Maybe you saw the headlines when one NFT, by an artist known as Beeple, sold for $69 million.
Either way, you can now buy bible verses as NFTs, thanks to the four-month-old Israeli company CryptoVerses, which just announced that it sold a set of four consecutive verses in Exodus dealing with Shabbat, the shmita year and idolatry for a bit less than half a coin of the cryptocurrency Ethereum, or equivalent to $1,500. Their first sale was in August for 3.5 Ethereum, now worth around $14,000, and the encrypted verses offer both the original Hebrew and the Jewish Publication Society’s 1917 English translation.
The prices are a bit less than $69 million, but still a lot for something that you can read for free online – including on CryptoVerses’ own website. After NFT verses are encrypted into blockchain, which makes them impossible to alter, and purchased, they remain free to view and read on the CryptoVerses site. Cryptoverses even says that owning their bible NFTs is not owning the verse itself, since the bible is public domain; in a press release, they compared owning their NFTs to owning a “medallion, where the purchaser becomes the owner of the medallion but not the owner of the verse written on it.”
This is actually not unusual in the world of NFTs; that $69 million piece by Beeple is available to not only see but also download for free, and it remains a mystery to me why someone paid millions for it. In fact, you can screenshot or download or otherwise access just about any NFT for free, even if you don’t officially own it. Some argue that easy access to NFT content increases the value of the artwork by increasing its popularity and renown and who knows – maybe that’s true. Isn’t all value basically a made-up social agreement? Hell, that’s basically our unspoken societal agreement about the green pieces of paper we carry around in our wallets.
Proponents of NFTs say they’re the future of art collecting and will empower artists, giving them more financial control and a new audience hungry for digital art. But the CryptoVerses project, given its extremely famous and extremely accessible content, highlights a relevant question: what does it mean to own something everyone can access for free?
Yonatan Bendahan, Cryptoverses’ co-founder, likened their NFTs to owning the first printed bible – you don’t own the content, but you own a groundbreaking version of it, an object that is in itself worth something, “like holding a valuable piece of rare Judaica,” he said in an email.
Bendahan also emphasized the potential preservation aspects of the project; because of the unique technology blockchain uses to store data, once a dataset is input, it cannot be changed. “Once the verse is encrypted no one, even us, can delete or alter it,” he said. “So just like the printing press revolutionized the spread and conservation of the Bible, so will the blockchain.”
On the other hand, when I explained the project to a friend who actually understands some things about the world of crypto and blockchain, he pointed out that the public domain nature of the bible means anyone could create the exact same thing, though Cryptoverses will always have the status of being the first do to so.
Sure, anyone can copy most NFTs, but they’re designed to prove that ownership belongs only to one person, perhaps comparable to owning an original artwork even when prints and posters of it are widely available. (Of course, this is an imperfect metaphor when both original and print are identical digital pieces, instead of one being oil on canvas and the other being laser-printed on cardstock.) But because the source material for Cryptoverses’ project is public domain, you could truly make and own your own original NFT that would be, at least in content, identical, and you’d hold its official ownership, though it might lack the Cryptoverses branding and whatever cachet that confers.
But maybe that’s where the real value comes in. Ownership of some NFTs, such as those from the Bored Ape Yacht Club collection, come with perks, such as being invited to fancy parties, and a big part of the whole NFT world seems to be hype, bragging rights and a certain cliqueiness you get access to when you buy in, something particularly emphasized by the blockchain technology, which creates a public record of ownership – so everyone can see that you’re the owner of a hyped-up piece by Beeple. Value is relative, and pedigree has always been important in the art world; if anything, NFTs have simply boiled down the complex mathematics to pure prestige.
So maybe, in a certain crowd, it’s cool to say you own a part of the bible in NFT form, and that alone is worth thousands of dollars.
You can now buy the bible in NFT form. But why would you want to?
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