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To collaborate or compete? — and a brief update.

Graduate school is starting to hike up the stress.  Part of the stress is not about academics much at all — it’s about the social life.  In E.O. Wilson’s The Social Conquest of Earth, he spends a lot of time talking about the delicate balance between collaboration and competition that any species must engage in to survive.  So every individual organism is focused on perpetuating its genes, helping its family survive.

Thinking about this delicate balance is helping me understand graduate school a lot better.  In seminar we are supposed to appreciate the differing backgrounds of our colleagues.  I feel this strongly in my rabbinic literature class.  The class is housed at the Center for Jewish Studies, and most of the students are in the Jewish Studies program, with only two of us in biblical studies.  So I learn a lot from the other students in the class, because many of them are thinking about Jewish life today or applying this to their studies of modern Judaism.  It means I do not always get the conversations going on, but I much prefer learning about rabbinics in this way than from a Christian professor with a bunch of Christian students.

Still, even though I appreciate what I learn from colleagues, I also feel pressure to compete, to make intelligent points and impress the professor and our fellow students.  We can’t only listen and appreciate.  We must critique and, to a certain extent, self-promote.  Finding that balance is hard.  You want to come off as competent but not an asshole.

I’m finding that the solution to this is just knowing my strengths and weaknesses.  This is very different from being an undergraduate.  As an undergraduate, we are bigger fish in smaller ponds, and being “the best” in our department or major is actually an attainable goal.  As graduate students, we are not supposed to be “the best.”  If we try, we burn out, or become insufferable assholes who mansplain other peoples’ areas of expertise to them because we think we know everything.

Rather, we are supposed to be the best at what we want to be.

Let me explain that.

Nobody can do everything.  Even in a field as specialized as biblical studies, nobody understands everything.  We build niches.  Early on in our careers, we are siphoned off into Hebrew Bible or New Testament.  Then we are trained in particular methodologies: text-criticism, linguistics, archaeology, literary criticism, historical study, etc.  If one goes outside studying the biblical texts themselves, you can get into the worlds of Second Temple Jewish literature (including Dead Sea Scrolls), apocryphal early Christian literature (e.g. Gnostics), rabbinic literature, reception studies, and then the many contemporary methodologies such as feminist criticism, postcolonial criticism, etc.  Though most who become professors will have to be able to teach these things, nobody knows them well enough to publish in all of them.  (This is not to say that scholars don’t develop new areas of expertise over the course of their career. Many do.  One of my professors was trained in Hebrew Bible and became a Darwin scholar mid-career.  That’s a bit of a leap, but you get the idea.)

Right now I am focused on connections between the Bible and Qur’an.  I am not hoping to focus on either Hebrew Bible or New Testament because I hope to know both well enough to work with them.  But this does mean I don’t need to become an expert in Leviticus, or master literary criticism of biblical narratives, to name some things my fellow students specialize in.  I can turn to them when I have questions on these things.  That’s a freeing thought: I don’t have to do everything!

But knowing what direction I want to move into, and knowing my strengths and weaknesses, does mean I have to become an expert in things my fellow students don’t.  Like learning Arabic.  (Yikes.)  And learning the language and literature of Syriac Christians.  And Islamic traditions of tafsir, Qur’an exegesis.  These are all things I know only a little about.  (Double yikes.)

So in the first month of graduate school, I really am finding it’s a different game.  It’s not about being the best.  It’s about knowing what you want to do and focusing on doing that the best that you can.  And when you know what are you good at, what you are an expert in, and what you not good at or knowledgeable in, means that you can engage in that dynamic dance of collaboration and competition, of being both humble enough to learn from colleagues and competent enough that you have something to teach them too.  That is not a model I understood as an undergraduate (which likely says more about me than about my mentors).


In other news, I have gone twice now to the Muslim Community Association, the mosque near my apartment.  I really like the vibe of the community.  When I went there the first time two weekends ago, for an educational event on Islamophobia, I felt a strong sense of calling to that community.  I’m hoping to go back and learn from them.  I want my studies to be rooted in a real dialogue with real people about what texts mean today, not just a classroom exercise.


This weekend I’m headed to the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City.  Wow.  Then I come back home for two days and immediately head out on a family trip with my mom.  Thankfully we GTU students get a week off late October for reading week, so I can go on this trip and only miss two days of school.  It’ll be interesting balancing the relaxation of a family trip with the anti-relaxation of impending paper deadlines.





Graduate school: the madness has begun.

Three weeks in and graduate school is so far going swimmingly.  The classes are easier than I thought they would be; my fellow students are a diverse, intelligent, and friendly bunch; and my professors are helpful.  Also, after three years of the frantic quarter system, it is so nice to be back on the semester system!

I elected to take a language-heavy term this semester.  Thankfully I got much of my biblical languages work done as an undergraduate, but I believe there is always more to learn.  So I am taking Dead Sea Scrolls, Muslim-Christian Dialogue, Intro to Rabbinic Literature, and Northwest Semitic Epigraphy.   That last class is basically Hebrew inscriptions from the 10th to 6th centuries BCE, which is often harder to make out than it is to actually parse and understand.  The Dead Sea Scrolls class also has a Hebrew reading section so I am getting practice on unpointed texts.

After going to an undergrad school where the student body was rather, well, monochromatic, the diversity of the Graduate Theological Union is a breath of fresh air.  The GTU is a consortium of seminaries and institutes, both ecumenical and interreligious.  Biblical Studies students (that is, me) get to cross-register with UC Berkeley’s Classics and Near Eastern Studies departments, which opens doors into Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Akkadian, Sumerian, Egyptian, Aramaic, Ugaritic, and, most important for later, Arabic.

The school I affiliate with, the Jesuit School of Theology, is also a part of Santa Clara University (my undergrad school). This means I get to keep my SCU student job working in Archives and Special Collections.  My main task in that department is showing off the Saint John’s Bible, which we have a Heritage Edition (high-quality facsimile) of.  Today I gave presentations on Science and Religion in the Saint John’s Bible to two sections of a freshman religious studies class.  This was my first time presenting the SJB to a class, and it was a very gratifying experience.  My next class visit is Friday, and then I am doing two more in November.

A few other things I have been pondering lately.

First, the other day I was riding BART home and praying/discerning what my next step will be in graduate school.  I have the kind of scholarly temperament where I like to make broad connections.  I like doing things not many others have looked at.  I have the heart that wants to change the world now, and a head that enjoys being an antiquarian and a philologist.

So it hit me, while I was riding the train and listening to Surah ar-Rahman, that I should move into the connections between Qur’an and Bible.   A few of my professors assured me that yes, this is a thing, and it seems it is a hot thing in biblical studies these days.  Though I have taken classes on the Qur’an and dabbled ever-so-slightly in Qur’anic Arabic, it has never occurred to me that this might be my calling.

Mostly, I want Christians to be aware that we are all part of one spiritual heritage, that Muslims are not some terrifying collective stranger to be feared.  Our scriptures have more in common than we think.

And I guess being married (coming up on one month now) has made me more settled in general.  I dabbled a lot as an undergraduate, and that dabbling made me a stronger graduate student, but I am at a point now where I must focus my interest in a sustained research direction.  And thankfully my languages are strong enough that I don’t need to choose Tanakh or New Testament to focus on, but can maybe work across both.

Major point: marriage has changed the way I think.  I like who I am as a married man.  And of course, I love the woman I married.

I promised one last point.  I really liked Jamie Holmes’ piece in the New York Times, “The Case for Teaching Ignorance.”  In it she focuses on teaching ignorance in the science curriculum.  But why not the humanities?

When I am in class decoding an ancient inscription, pondering the nature of the sectarian community at Qumran, or theorizing about the beginnings of rabbinic Judaism, it is very obvious that we antiquarians know very little.  But for at least a year now I have thought we could convey this better to the public.

So what about this book idea: an anthology on what we don’t know about the ancient world.  Each chapter would be written by an esteemed expert in a given field.  So a Homer expert could write about what we don’t know about Homer, a Qumran expert on what we don’t know about Qumran, and so forth.  And each chapter would have to answer the question of what one find would answer the most questions about that area.  From classical antiquity we have many writings we know only by name, since all copies are lost to us.  But if we found the epic that narrates the time gap between the Iliad and the Odyssey, what might we answer?  If we found the lost parts of Aeschylus’ Prometheus trilogy, what might we discover?  So the title of this might be “Missing Manuscripts.”  Or something like that.

Just a thought.  Signing out for now.

On Greco-Roman religion.

A few weeks ago I concluded my summer reading group on Greco-Roman religion.  When I realized over spring break that I was meant to be a biblical scholar, I waltzed into my professor’s office the first week of classes and asked if he would be my guide to the religions of Greece and Rome.  I am grateful for his patience with my seemingly last-minute whimsy — especially because this is such a vital topic for understanding early Christianity.  We continued through the summer.

What did we read?

  1. Georg Luck, Arcana Mundi
  2. Jon Mikalson, Ancient Greek Religion
  3. Mary Beard, Religions of Rome, Volume I: A History
  4. Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, Book I
  5. Simon Price, The Imperial Cult in Asia Minor
  6. R. Gordon Wasson, The Road to Eleusis
  7. Catherine Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice
  8. Fritz Graf and Sarah Iles Johnston, Ritual Texts for the Afterlife: Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets
  9. Apolostos Athanasakkis, The Orphic Hymns
  10. W.K.C. Guthrie, Orpheus and Greek Religion
  11. E.R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational
  12. Chris Faraone, Ancient Greek Love Magic

What did I get out of the reading group?

My professor defined Greek religion as “approaching the gods with respect and knowledge that they are more powerful.”  The religion of the Greeks involved piety, which is knowing your place in the universe.  It involved satisfying various psychological and cultural needs: love, food, the security of the state, etc., all of which required the help of the gods to keep going.  From those premises, we went on to look at the functions Greek and Roman religions served for their practitioners, and tried to draw connections to modern times.

First, I was reminded how difficult it is to really compare religions.  It’s very easy to forget that there is no such thing as a “religion,” that it’s a made-up construct.  It is useful for explaining some things but we must not take it too seriously.

It is hard to compare religions because any religious tradition sufficiently broad has both sides of many of the binaries members or scholars of that religion construct to simplify it.  These binaries are usually created for some kind of apologetic purpose, and I tend not to trust them.

So for example, it might be easy to say that Greco-Roman polytheism was just empty ritual, done more for the purpose of social cohesion than for any kind of individual, powerful relationship with a deity.  But then we look at the Dionysiac cult, or the Orphic cult, or any number of the mystery religions that sprung up during the Hellenistic era.  Even the “empty ritual” of the imperial cult could be heartfelt devotion, as Simon Price demonstrated in The Imperial Cult in Asia Minor.

One reason some study Greco-Roman religions is to better understand why early Christianity was so successful.   One is tempted to ask: what was Greco-Roman religion missing?  I’m not sure that is even a valid question.  I’m still figuring it out.  But understanding that classical paganism was very multi-faceted defeats means we can’t seek facile answers to the question above.  The minute we think something was missing, it turns out it was there, but in a form we may not recognize.  For example, Matthew Ferguson at Adversus Apologetica argues that there was a concept of “sacred text” in Greek polytheism.  (His essay is long but worth checking out!)

Second, if religion is in part about getting what one needs from the gods, it only makes sense that religious syncretism is a practice of those who need the help of the gods most.  In other words, if you need all the help you can get, you will request it from all the gods you can get.  So the evidence on magical papyri and mystery cults, both practices associated with the socially marginalized, show influences from all over the Mediterranean.  Some of the liturgies of mystery cults quoted in Marvin Meyer’s sourcebook quote from Greek, Jewish, Persian, and several other pantheons and cults.

These syncretistic practices, because they come from the marginalized, represented a threat to the elites who write most of what we know about them.  Just witness the Mother Cybele or the cult of Dionysus in Rome!

Third, at the end of the term I had to revise my professor’s definition.  I would say that Greek religion is requesting favors of the gods with respect and knowledge that they are more powerful.”  From this perspective, religion is a tool for getting what we need from the gods, whether or not you believe those gods and their myths are real and true.

Just some thoughts.  Summer is winding down for me — I get married this Saturday, have a honeymoon for one week, then immediately start my MA program.  Yikes.  So this week is the calm before the storm.

A little update…

It’s been a little while!  As they say in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “I’m not dead yet!”

Seriously, though, this has been a crazy August for three reasons:

  1. I have been editing the selected writings of my late friend and mentor, Fr. George Kennard. George was a Jesuit for 76 years, most of them spent teaching philosophy at UC Berkeley, the Marianist Chaminade University of Honolulu, and of course, three different Jesuit institutions.  I met him after he had retired from teaching at age 89.  (As an alumnus of a Jesuit university myself, I can’t say this is too abnormal — I’ve never seen any of them at my school retire under age 75.)  George was very intelligent, always interested in new ideas, and for that reason never published any of the material he wanted the world to see.  I (along with a few of his friends) am publishing an edited volume of some of his writings: a conference presentation, small articles he hoped to integrate into his book, several homilies, etc.  I think it’s a fitting tribute to a man who devoted his life to thinking for the Church and the World.

    I got my part of the book done: collecting the writings, deciding what would be included and what left out of the book, obtaining copyright permissions, formatting a nice manuscript.  Now I have sent all of my work off to the publisher, a small press run by one of his friends.  I feel very relieved to have gotten my part done — for now.

  2. I am currently condensing my senior thesis on Herakles in Gandharan art into an article for The Silk Road, a journal for the general public on issues of the Silk Road.  Yes, this may seem like an odd choice of venues for a budding biblical scholar.  But I spent months on my senior thesis, and I don’t want my work to go to waste.  Plus, two scholars of Indian Buddhism told me they thought I had come up with some interesting and original ideas, so I have at least a little confidence in my work.

    Reworking this into an article has not only been good writing practice, but it is pushing me to think more broadly about the spread of Greek culture in the Hellenistic world.  That will be a big topic for me as I take a class on the Dead Sea Scrolls and Intertestamental Literature this fall.  Sometimes what seems unrelated can actually be very useful.

  3. Also, I am getting married in 16 days.  So I’m trying to get #2 done by the end of next week so I can devote the week before the wedding purely to last minute details.


July update.

Well, I’m supposed to post my “state of the projects” here, but my summer plans have been mostly upended.  So I’ll just share a little about the progress I have made.  This is partly for your entertainment (hah!) and partly to keep me honest.

Writing Projects

These have been entirely dormant.  I make time to write almost every day, but book reviews and blogging take up a lot of that time.

The Matthew frontispiece from Saint John's Bible.

The Matthew frontispiece from Saint John’s Bible.

Probably the most exciting surprise of my summer has been writing about the Saint John’s Bible.  Commissioned in 1998 and completed in 2011, the Saint John’s Bible is a modern illuminated manuscript of the Bible, executed by some of the best calligraphers and illuminators alive today.  My university library’s archives and special collections department, where I work, has one of the high-quality “Heritage edition” facsimiles of this seven-volume set.  I’ve been assigned the task of writing blurbs for the illuminations throughout the text.  Basically I get to write about Scripture.  And I get paid.  Those things have to go in bold because they are so exciting.


This summer I am learning German with the help of two Germanophile friends and April Wilson’s German Quickly.  I’m mainly doing this for my modern research language.  (German is really important in biblical studies.)  I can’t say I’m as far as I hoped to be.  Right now I’m in chapter five, part two.  That said, Wilson’s book is really fun, in the same way Wheelock’s is: the exercises are witty proverbs or funny stories rather than bland pedagogical exercises.


This summer I am reading some Homer with my friend Brian (check out his blog!).  We are working through parts of Steadman’s glossed reader of Odyssey books 9-12.  So far we’ve gotten through almost 200 lines after two meetings.  I think that’s progress.

I’m also getting adjusted to Koine Greek with the help of Rodney Decker‘s Koine Greek Reader and Seumas (aka The Patrologist).  The language is easy, but Seumas is helping me get some of the distinctive idioms and usages of Koine Greek.  I’m really liking Decker’s reader because he includes not only New Testament, but also Septuagint and non-canonical early Christian literature in the reader.  So far we’ve done eight readings.

Reading Challenge

As for my summer reading challenge, I’m going slower than I wanted to … however this is in part because of other reading I am doing, such as a reading group with a professor on Greco-Roman religion.  (We just finished reading about Orphism: Guthrie’s classic book, the Orphic Hymns, the golden funerary tablets, and the Derveni Papyrus.)  I’m shifting gears away from the Greco-Roman material and into biblical material more directly.  Honestly though, I’m happy to not get all the reading done.  Even doing some of it will be helpful as I begin graduate school in biblical studies.

Onward and upward!

Conferences and Reflections, part two.

Continuing my last post on some of the conferences I’ve attended and talks I’ve heard recently…

Between Two Worlds: Syncretism and Alterity in Art (San Jose State Art History Symposium)

On April 18, I had the opportunity to present my ongoing research on Herakles in Gandharan art to an audience of art history graduate students and the public.  This was my first experience presenting at a graduate symposium.  Given the call for papers, I thought I would be the token antiquarian, but in fact 2/6 of the talks and the keynote address were all on ancient or medieval art.  Three of the talks stuck with me.


Yours truly with the ponytail.

The first, “Princesses from the Land of Porcelain: Gender, Culture, and ‘Other’ Issues in the 19th-century Japonaiserie,” was given by Darlene Martin, an art history PhD student at UW.  She described several French painters who eroticized and exoticized the image of the geisha in Romantic art.  Collections of Japanese objects, such as the kimono and tea ceremony paraphernalia, became popular subjects of art.  One of her conclusions was that these European men were projecting an idealized femininity — passive, quiet, subservient, sexualized — onto Japan, a femininity they in fact wanted in their own lands.  I’m always interested in Western fictions about the “Orient” so this talk was really interesting to me.

The keynote speaker, Maria Evangelatou, is a professor of Byzantine art at UCSC.  She spoke on “From iconoclasm to iconogenesis: religious conflict and visual syncretism in the Late Antique and Medieval Mediterranean,” providing case studies of visual and religious syncretism in Byzantine art.  I was able to follow her erudite talk in large part because I took a class on the topic last year.  She spent much time responding to Thomas Mathews’ The Clash of Gods:  a Reinterpretation of Early Christian Art, a book that shook up the whole field by reinterpreting much early Christian art not in the framework of Roman imperial iconography, but Roman pagan iconography.  Evangelatou found that in fact, both types of iconography are present in early Christian art.  She also looked at later examples of Christian-Muslim syncretism in late antiquity and the early medieval era.  Syncretism, she concluded, is never one-dimensional, and presupposes and maintains alterity.  I’m still thinking about that last point.

After lunch, Ema Kubo Thomas, a graduate student from SFSU, spoke on “Living Images of Early Modern Japan: The Japanese Catholic Adaption of Buddhist Icons.”  She found parallels between the art of the hidden Christians of Japan and art of Amida Buddha, the central figure of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan.  Not only were the styles of art similar, but their ritual uses were similar, including rituals of blessing and the deity entering the the icon for religious use.  She concluded that these images display Christian contents with a Buddhist visual lexicon.  Given the hidden Christians’ complete lack of contact with the outside world, it makes sense that they developed such a distinct style of art.

I was totally exhausted the day of the symposium.  Thankfully it was local, so I went home and slept immediately afterwards!  I’m glad I was able to give the speech extemporaneously, rather than reading off of a paper as is common in academic venues.  I don’t get the perfect phrasing I would reading a prepared speech, but I think I engage the audience more by walking around and speaking in a more conversation style.  I always worry I sound less professional, but after the symposium, other speakers commented that they really appreciated how I spoke.  A small victory.

Between Constantinople and Rome: An Illuminated Byzantine Gospel Book (Paris gr. 54) and the Union of Churches, Kathleen Maxwell at SCU

Last spring I took Byzantine art at SCU with Kathleen Maxwell, who specialized in Byzantine illuminated manuscripts.  She has been studying one complex ms. for 30 years, and has just released her massive book on it (reviews here and here), discussed also at Evangelical Textual Criticism.  Eta Sigma Phi, the classics honors society at my college, talked her into coming and speaking on this ridiculously complex text.

This manuscript of the four gospels has several weird features:

  1. It is huge — 30% bigger than most Byzantine mss.
  2. It is bilingual — Greek and Latin.
  3. The illuminations and the Latin text are both unfinished.
  4. The Latin text does not sync up with the Greek text.  The Latin writer often put in nonsense words (“mamamamama”) to make it look like the two columns were in sync.
  5. The illuminations and the text come from different sources — Athos Iviron 5 and Princeton Garrett 3.
  6. The text is polychromatic, i.e. the author uses different colors for different speakers in the gospels.

Maxwell first tackled this manuscript for her 1986 PhD, which was more from an art-historical angle focusing on the illuminations.  She described how she branched out into different fields after her dissertation, including textual criticism to find the source of the Greek text and Byzantine history to locate the text.  She traces the text to the reign of Michael VII Paleologus (1261-1282), who sought to reunify the Greek and Latin churches.  This seems to have been a gift for Pope Gregory X to help the process.  The process failed and Michael VII was excommunicated, hence the unfinished state of the manuscript.

One comment that Maxwell made really sticks with me.  She mentioned that text critics ignore the illuminations, and art historians ignore the text in favor of the illuminations, but she has found that she needed to understand both to fully study the text.  I really like how she moved out of her own training into text criticism and ecclesiastical history to understand this text from multiple angles.  Sometimes we need a reminder that our disciplinary boundaries don’t exist for the materials we study.  Map is not territory.  Those creating illuminated manuscripts integrated them as art and text — it is only our modern scholarship that divides the two.

Onwards and upwards!


Conferences and Reflections, part one.

This past month and a half, I haven’t had time to breathe, let alone blog.  Before it all slips from my mind, I wanted to jot down some of the talks and conferences I’ve been to and what I got out of them.

Medieval Association of the Pacific

This conference, which took place in Reno about a month ago, let me present my research on Francis to an audience of historians rather than theologians.  Since my research encompasses both, I enjoyed getting a more historical focus.  The first talk I went to, “Criseyde Becomes Cresseid Becomes Criseyde: Chaucer’s, Henryson’s, and 16th-century English Printers’ Negotiation of Shared Literary Space,” was given by Jacquelyn Hendricks, my own Chaucer professor at SCU.  She spoke on how Scottish retellings of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde fashioned his language in a more Scottish colloquial English.  I hadn’t learned much about Middle English dialectical variations, so that was interesting.  UNR’s Special Collections also had an exhibit for all the antiquarians and bibliophiles in town.IMG_7588They passed around several leafs of medieval manuscripts, but the jewel of the collection was the Hughes Breviary, a 15th-century breviary and psalter.  (More on it here.)


That afternoon, I lucked out since one of the speakers in my session failed to appear.  So the other presenter and I had a lot more time for questions and discussion.  The other presenter, Doaa Omran, is an Egyptian-born student of medieval European literature at UNM.  She spoke on parallels between the European and Arabic medieval tales on King Arthur.  I didn’t even know that was a thing.  The Arabic King Arthur (his Arabic name now slips my mind) lived in the 500s, and he united Arab tribes against invading Christians.  Like the European King Arthur, the Arab one is the product of a long oral tradition, culminating in a 14th-century epic poem about the nationalist hero.  If that isn’t cool enough, the story also includes a prophecy about Muhammad’s birth.  However, none of the Lancelot/Guinevere stuff made its way into the Arab version.

My talk went very well.  The toughest question I was asked in my Q&A: was Francis unique for his time in how he approached other religions?  My preliminary answer is no.  But it was one of those obvious questions that I hadn’t even thought about.  Duh.

The evening plenary by Teo Ruiz, “Peasant Resistance in Late Medieval Castile,” probably would have been better for my fiance (the Spanish history buff) than for me.  But Ruiz was funny and really interesting.  He mentioned living as a peasant in a Spanish village for a year when he was writing a book on peasants in Spain; he wanted to feel what a peasant’s life was like.  Wow.

A month later, two talks from Saturday still stand out in my mind.  One is Leslie Ross‘ “Elegant to Enigmatic: Text and Image in Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts.”  I met Leslie and her friend, Becket scholar Kay Slocum, at the banquet on Friday evening, and she said I should come hear her talk.  She spoke on the complex interplay between text and image in illuminated manuscripts, how image did far more than simply ornament or illustrate, and that the two are often not separate at all.  For example, what about the ornate capital letters that open many medieval manuscripts?  Those are both art and image.  She showed examples of decorative letters that seemed to have no meaning at all.

The evening plenary, “By That Fatal Fire: Manuscripts in the Aftermath of Destruction,” was given by Sian Echard, a professor at UBC.  She examined several cases where we do not have originals of a particular document, but copies, copies that are always distorting and miss something of the original.  We know what gets lost in translation, but what gets lots in transcription?  Even today, she pointed out, digitization techniques distort the original colors of medieval manuscripts.  All copies are interpretations or encounters.  If we forget this, we mistake the mirror for the reality.

As a last note, I met a real live Viking Archaeologist at the conference.  Now there’s a sexy research area if I ever heard of one.  Check out her blog.

I’m glad I went to the MAP, because it exposed me to a lot of ideas and thinkers I really knew nothing about.  For any academic field, there are always the core conferences where we go are in our comfort zone.  For me that would be SBL.  But there is also a value and vulnerability in going to a place where I am an outsider and an amateur rather than an expert.  I hope to keep that a habit.


State of the Projects, May 2015.

As I entered the spring quarter of my senior year, I thought this would be a light quarter.  I expected I would take a semester off and apply to start graduate school next January.

At the start of the quarter, I spoke with the director of the graduate program to which I am applying and was informed that I should apply NOW, as the program might be restructured or even eliminated this fall.  Yikes!  Between that and the wedding planning, this quarter has turned out to be the maddest I’ve had.  So much for senior year relaxation.

Either way, my application for the MA in Biblical Languages at the Jesuit School of Theology/Graduate Theological Union is in!

Another thing that took more time than I thought this quarter were the public speaking engagements I signed up for.  From February through May, I have given nine talks at various venues, including three academic conferences and a local graduate symposium.  Probably the most exciting was getting to give a keynote speech for the Bay Area Honors Symposium, a research conference for community college students in honors programs.  I spoke on my experience as a community college honors student to over 100 people!  This has been great for public speaking skills, but whew!  I am wiped out.

Francis and the Sultan

This past Monday I turned in my senior paper on Francis and the Sultan, and presented it to my university’s Medieval and Renaissance Studies program.  It feels good to be done.  This summer I am hoping to revise it into a journal article for Spiritus.


I have been surprisingly productive on this project!  I’ve found at least one hour a week to work on this research assistant job.  Right now I am compiling a chart of citations of or allusions to the Book of the Twelve in all Qumran literature.  Tedious work, but given that our project charts textual variants in the Book of the Twelve at Qumran, we want to see how the book varies among Qumran texts.  Yesterday my professor, Catherine Murphy, and I presented the fruits of our labor to the classics department.


Sadly, I’m not getting much Hebrew practice this quarter.  But in my second quarter of studying Homer, my facility and fluidity with Homeric Greek is really growing.  We just finished Book I of the Iliad and are now moving rapidly through Book IX.  Despite three years of Greek, I’ve done almost no Koine Greek, I’ve also arranged to receive some Koine tutoring this summer from The Patrologist.

One month out from graduation!  People tell me they look forward to me walking the stage, but I think at this pace I’ll be crawling!

State of the Projects, April 2015.

Well, I just got a contract for my first book with Oxford University Press.  This book, based on my years of independent research on Jesus’ tour of India and Tibet as a young man, unearths evidence that Jesus also went to China and met the Han dynasty emperor of his day.  I have also just sold the newly-uncovered scrolls that support my theory to the Smithsonian.

Happy April Fool’s Day!

Francis and the Sultan

This last month has been a success for my Francis research.  I presented my paper at the American Academy of Religion, Western Region, and got some great feedback.  April is going to be the “dead month” for this thesis.  I am presenting it at the Medieval Association of the Pacific in Reno next weekend, and May 4 I am presenting it on campus.  I hope to have it submitted the first week of May.


I may have mentioned here my work as a research assistant on a critical edition of 4QXIIg, a particularly messy Qumran scrolls of the Minor Prophets.  This last month I have gotten almost nothing done on that project, so this spring quarter I am hoping to log at least 3-4 hours per week.  Also, while I was at the AAR-PNW, I saw on the book display table Erik Reymond’s Qumran Hebrew: An Overview of Orthography, Phonology, and Morphology.  Seeing that gave me the idea to write a paper on the Hebrew variants in 4QXIIg.  This side project would be helpful to our text-critical notes, and I could present it at a regional SBL next year.  This would help me as I progress toward becoming a biblical scholar.


March was a good month for languages.  Between finishing Plato and writing a paper on idolatry and religious alterity in Deuteronomy that required me to translate Deuteronomistic passages, I got a lot of good practice in.  The Plato course in particular refreshed me on a lot of syntax I had forgotten, especially conditionals.  This spring quarter, which just started, I am studying Homer’s Iliad.  This will be my second quarter studying Homer in Greek.

This month I will also be presenting my Gandharan art research at the San Jose State University Art History Symposium, “Between Two Worlds: Syncretism and Alterity in Art.”  Between that and Reno I have an exhausting month ahead.

Onward and upward!

Epiphanies, Rabbis, Theses, and Winter Quarter 2015.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here.  It doesn’t hurt that this has probably been my most active quarter at Santa Clara University.  What have I been up to?

  1. I got my first peer-reviewed article published.bcs29
    In January I was told that my work on Buddhist-Christian dual belonging was accepted for publication in Buddhist-Christian Studies.  As an undergraduate this is quite exciting.  It won’t be released until this fall, but you can read the paper online.
  2. I gave two talks on campus.
    The first was a talk to my department on my dual belonging research.  The talk went well and the Q&A afterward was even better — a conversation that went in many interesting directions, as post-talk discussions should.  I later presented a five-minute version of my talk to parents and students at my university’s Family Weekend to about 50 people.
  3. I finally finished my thesis for Classics.
    I started work on what would become “When Herakles Went to India: The Transformation of a Greco-Roman Hero-God in Buddhist Art” a year ago.

    Fragmentary Relief: Vajrapani, Prince, and Monks, 2nd-3rd century CE, Gandhara.  Phylite, 53.9 x 25 x 6 cm.  British Museum, London.  Published: Ancient India and Iran Trust, The Crossroads of Asia: Transformation in Image and Symbol (Cambridge: Ancient India and Iran Trust, 1992), fig. 134.

    Fragmentary Relief: Vajrapani, Prince, and Monks, 2nd-3rd century CE, Gandhara. Notice the guy in the front with the lion skin and the vajra?  That’s what Herakles became.

    I’m glad to have it done, but after 70 pages of writing, I was left with the feeling that there was a lot more to cover.  The best part was my advisor’s handshake the day I handed him the print copy.  After spending an hour on the phone with one of the few scholars in the country who studies this school of Buddhist art, I am inspired to continue this topic.  We often think that encounter between “East” and “West” only began in the modern era, but this research has persuaded me that it goes back way further than that. Graduate school awaits…

  4. I got engaged.
    …To Michelle, my Spanish-speaking, Sephardic Jew-studying now-fiancé.
  5. I met a major worldwide religious leader.
    papa-levara-rabino-e-muculmano-em-viagem-a-terra-santa-Abraham Skorka, “the Pope’s rabbi,” came to campus and spoke on Interfaith Leadership.  I was part of a group of students who had lunch with him.  I sat right next to him — very exciting.  And my fiancé gave two talks on campus on Jewish-Catholic relations in Argentina to contextualize his presence.


I think I can justify feeling tired at the end of this quarter.