Monthly Archives: January 2014

Destroying History.

Yesterday a bomb fell on the Islamic Museum of Cairo:

“They’re estimating that 20 to 30 percent of the artifacts will need restoration,” she said. “The Fatimid ceramics right near the entrance are happily intact, but at least three of the glass mosque lamps were destroyed.” (The Fatimid Caliphate ruled much of northern Africa from 909 to 1171.)

I know this is a bit of a side note to the usual content of my blog, but I just can’t resist sharing my sorrow and outrage.  I can not imagine any ideology important enough to necessitate destroying the shared history of humanity, whether it’s this, the Al Qaeda destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, the Nazi destruction of Jewish synagogues, Torahs, and Talmuds, or Bedouins damaging and hoarding early Dead Sea Scroll finds through ignorance and greed.  Just the other day in class we learned about Alexander the Great’s destruction of the Persian palace at Persopolis, a palace that would surely yield great artistic finds were it left to be destroyed only by the forces of nature.  And that was 2,000+ years ago!

The gates to the palace at Persopolis.  Source:

The gates to the palace at Persopolis. Source:

Of course, it is only expected that there are major cultural differences in how history is treated.  I remember being very surprised at the way the Boudhanath Stupa was interacted with by the local Nepali and Tibetan Buddhists.  They used it: walking around and on it, doing prostrations on it, giving flower offerings on it.  I remember thinking that if it were in America we would more likely put a rope around it and block access.  Here in California, we have the Spanish missions, which are educational to schoolchildren and sordid memories to Native Americans. Like the stupa, most (I think all) of them are still used as houses of worship and tourist attractions.  As far as I know, no Native American group has lobbied for their destruction.

This has been a bit rambly.  Mostly, I hope nothing too valuable was destroyed, and that nothing was destroyed beyond repair.  Our history is what makes us human, separates us from animals with no sense of culture or group identity.  Without it we are just stuck in the present.

A brief update and some links.

This quarter has really hit me hard.  Oof.  I hope all you out there on the blogsphere are also keeping yourselves blessfully busy!

This weekend I hope to have a post on Homeric Greek.  I am also learning a bit about Middle English in my Chaucer class.  Something I have noticed: there is nothing like a language class to make you feel comfortable with making stupid mistakes in front of intellectual peers.

In the meantime, some great links:

Joel Hoffman describes his work translating Jewish pseudepigrapha.

N.T. Wright on improving one’s New Testament Greek: “Read the text, read the text, read the text.”

Jacob Cerone commenting on Jerome commenting on Jonah.

Book review: A Natural History of Latin

9780191622656_p0_v1_s260x420When describing Pliny’s Naturalis historia, Janson admits:

The title of the book you are reading is of course adapted from Pliny’s famous work, in the hope that it will provide a suitable blend of useful information and entertaining anecdote, just as his volumes do. (65)

Janson’s short (176 p.) succeeds at that task rather admirably.  He charts the history of the Latin language from the first inscription 2500 to its present survival in etymology, medicine, and all European languages.  He does so by anecdote and story rather than analysis.

The saga of Latin is difficult to date, but one plausible beginning is the Lapis Niger, a fifth-century inscription in archaic letters dedicating a shrine to the king and cursing anyone who defiles it.


 One thing I always like knowing about an ancient language is what sorts of texts we have in it.  Janson describes different genres and their famous writers in Classical Latin: the histories of Livy and Tacitus, the drama of Plautus, the oratory of Cicero, the philosophy of Lucretius and Seneca, the poetry and myth of Horace, Virgil, and Ovid.  These descriptions would be a useful guide to a beginning Latin student seeking a goal.  Personally I’d want to read Ovid and Virgil.

Although Classical Latin gets the most attention, far more manuscripts are from the medieval church, one of the few institutions that still uses Latin.  Janson describes the Christianization of Latin:

The word confiteri means ‘confess’ and is in origin a term used in court, but among the Christians it acquires the meaning ‘to confess one’s faith in,’ and the related noun confessio in turn comes to mean ‘a confession of one’s faith.’ … The Latin language did not have any terms for the core Christian concepts, so they had to be created either by giving old words new meanings, as in the example we have just seen, or else simply by borrowing words from Greek. (79)

Medieval Latin flourished and diminished at various times and in various places, following the fortunes of Christian rulers who promoted Latin (Charlemagne) or energetic clergy (Alcuin, Cassiodorus).  Much of it is bible commentary, not very interesting today.  But other genres and authors enjoy more popularity: hagiographies, hymns, histories, sermons, theological treatises, and decidedly non-Church works such as the Carmina Burana and the love letters of Abelard and Heloise.  I began Latin seeking to read these works, and in my quest for resources I have run up against what Janson describes:

Thanks to the work of many generations of paleographers and textual critics we now have all the ancient texts in printed editions which are both easy to read and more correct than any of the surviving manuscripts. This is not, however, the case with texts from the Middle Ages, since there are many more of them and they have attracted much less interest from Latin specialists. … Many more texts have not been published at all, but are waiting in libraries for someone to read them and prepare an edition. There is a limitless amount of valuable work waiting to be done by those who would like to devote themselves to Latin and the Middle Ages. (122)

In our time we often make fun of the middle ages as a backward and ignorant time, but Janson is sympathetic to its literary giants.

7th-century English Book of Durrow: the Gospel of Mark.  Source:

7th-century English Book of Durrow: the Gospel of Mark. Source:

Latin is often deemed a ‘dead’ language.  Janson (and I) take exception to this; Latin is very much alive!  That said, Janson describes several points at which Latin fell out of particular uses. If Latin died, when did it happen?  Perhaps it was when Latin died out as a spoken language in late antiquity.  Or was it at some point in Latin’s transformation into French, Spanish, and Italian?  Perhaps it was in the sixteenth century when theologians and poets (e.g. Luther, Milton) began writing in their vernacular.  Or in the seventeenth century when scientists began shedding Latin, most notably Galileo.  Or in the twentieth century, when Latin was dropped as a prerequisite for high culture and university degrees.  Latin’s decline has been gradual, in stages, not a one-time event.

Still, the lingua latina lives on, whether in classics departments or medical and biological taxonomy.  My favorite part of this book is the appendix of famous aphorisms.  Caveat lector (let the reader beware), this is an engrossing book for anyone interested in Latin.

The Good, the Bad, and the Preaching of Christ: Philippians 1:15-20.

Hope this new year is going well for all of you.  I am sad, because I know that this Philippians series will have to wait until the summer to get finished.  But Monday I begin my odyssey into the Odyssey.  But for now, Paul marches on:

15 Τινὲς μὲν καὶ διὰ φθόνον καὶ ἔριν, τινὲς δὲ καὶ δι᾽ εὐδοκίαν τὸν Χριστὸν κηρύσσουσιν·

16 οἱ μὲν ἐξ ἀγάπης, εἰδότες ὅτι εἰς ἀπολογίαν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου κεῖμαι,

17 οἱ δὲ ἐξ ἐριθείας τὸν Χριστὸν καταγγέλλουσιν, οὐχ ἁγνῶς, οἰόμενοι θλῖψιν ἐγείρειν τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου.

18 τί γάρ; πλὴν ὅτι παντὶ τρόπῳ, εἴτε προφάσει εἴτε ἀληθείᾳ, Χριστὸς καταγγέλλεται, καὶ ἐν τούτῳ χαίρω. ἀλλὰ καὶ χαρήσομαι,

19 οἶδα γὰρ ὅτι τοῦτό μοι ἀποβήσεται εἰς σωτηρίαν διὰ τῆς ὑμῶν δεήσεως καὶ ἐπιχορηγίας τοῦ πνεύματος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

20 κατὰ τὴν ἀποκαραδοκίαν καὶ ἐλπίδα μου, ὅτι ἐν οὐδενὶ αἰσχυνθήσομαι ἀλλ᾽ ἐν πάσῃ παρρησίᾳ ὡς πάντοτε καὶ νῦν μεγαλυνθήσεται Χριστὸς ἐν τῷ σώματί μου, εἴτε διὰ ζωῆς εἴτε διὰ θανάτου.

In English:

15 While some preach Christ by envy and strife, others do through goodwill;

16 Some from love, knowing that I am appointed to defense of the gospel,

17 and others from strife proclaim Christ not from pure motives, thinking they will increase the affliction of my bonds.

18 What of this?  But in every manner, whether in pretext or in truth, Christ is preached, and in that I rejoice.  And I will continue to rejoice,

19 for I know that this will turn out for salvation, through your prayers and the assistance of the spirit of Jesus Christ,

20 in accord with my eager expectation and hope, that I may in nothing be ashamed but in all boldness, as always and now, Christ will be exalted through my body, whether through life or through death.

Today I’ll focus on the term φθόνον (phthonon, or phthonos in the nominative).

Phthonos most directly translates to “jealousy” or “envy.”  Sumney explains that this is an uncommon term in the NT, appearing only nine times, three of which are in lists of vices.  Reumann notes two things about this word: it’s a “thoroughly Greek term, in classical sources,” and it is always a bad thing.  Phthonos is a vice, whether it’s envy of friends, political leaders, or the gods.  First Clement gives a short history of jealousy and envy, deeming its cause to be outside God’s order, and implicated jealousy in the sins of Cain, David, and Israel itself.

Yet we have also just read a passage from Exodus where the Lord famous says, “I am a jealous [qana’] God.”  Is God supposed to be petty and envious?  TWOT tells us that qana’ is a vice for humans in the Hebrew worldview, but not for God:

On the other hand the divine action accomplished with “jealousy” may result in good and salvation.  Thus this arduous love effected the return (Isa 42:13). … The word is used to denote a passionate, consuming “zeal” focused on God that results in the doing of his will and the maintaining of his honor in the face of the ungodly acts of men and nations.

So phthonos is bad, but qana’ is not necessarily so.  Propp even notes that qana’ carries connotations of sexual jealousy and possession.  The Septuagint seems to catch this nuance.  The Greek renders qana’ not as phthonos, but as ζηλωτής (zēlōtēs), meaning “loyal,” “zealous,” “enthusiastically adherent,” or “patriotic.”  Yet English translations often fail to make this distinction, rendering both in the same way.  The NIV, NRSV, and NAB all have “envy” (Phil 1:15) and “jealous” (Exodus 20:5).

So perhaps Exodus should not state that God is jealous, but that God is zealous or impassioned, as Propp suggests.  To me this makes more sense, and erases this odd anthropomorphism that the KJV and subsequent translations introduce.

Happy New Year!

Greetings!  I’ve been away for a few days ringing in the new year.  In the meantime I’ve got some exciting links for y’all, especially from the December 2013 Biblical Studies carnival.  Also check out the Septuagint Soirée.

One great blog I’ve recently discovered is that of Jacob Cerone, a grad student studying the Septuagint.  See his post on the literary complexity of Jonah 1:4c, the phrase where “the ship thought it would break up,” linked to on his best of 2013 post.

I had always wondered what the “Nestle/Aland” on Greek New Testaments referred to.  Now I know.

A new website with scans of ancient and medieval manuscripts of the Book of Ben Sira.  Even if you don’t know Hebrew, these are cool to look at!

Finally, BLT has a post on abusive theologians.  How do we make sense of great thinkers who were mean, sexist, petty, or otherwise not so holy?

In my class on the History of Systematic Theology, my classmates and I were shocked to learn from our professor (not from any of our books) that Paul Tillich had extramarital affairs, including sexual contacts with his students which certainly today would be considered sexual harassment at best, abusive at worst. It generated an important discussion about the extent to which we could rely on the intellectual work of a theologian whose life showed such serious failings in his ability to “walk the talk,” on the one hand; and the extent to which all of us are sinners, and thus all theologians are sinners, so why do we expect anything different, on the other.

This is a perfect reflection as I begin my winter quarter study of Jerome’s translation of the Old Testament into the Vulgate.  It’s not a secret that Jerome was irascible, short-tempered, satirical, sarcastic, and just plain uncharitable to any who criticized him.  Including Augustine.  More to come later.