Saturday, October 26, 2013

A GRE Quantitative Prep Strategy

I have not had time to post much of interest here lately, as I've been using any spare time to study like a madman for the GRE.  But I thought I'd take a very short break to share one of the preparation strategies I have been using, in case others find it helpful.  Even though modern test prep has nothing to do with the ancient world and might be an odd fit for this blog, it is relevant for those of us who want to study the ancient world in graduate programs!

For some of us in the humanities the quantitative reasoning portion of the GRE can pose a challenge, unless you are that rare person who majored in philosophy and minored in mathematics.  Here is a strategy that I have been finding helpful:

(1) Manhattan Prep offers a number of GRE resources, including 6 full online practice tests.  You can take one for free and buying one of their test prep books gives you access to the other 5.  ETS, the company behind the GRE, has two practice tests of their own.  Taking these tests is a great way to get a feel for the kinds of problems that show up on the GRE and the amount of time you have to work through them.  It is also a great way to identify your weaknesses.  After taking these tests I go back through and look at which problems I got wrong, read the explanations, and do them again the right way.

(2) Sometimes I get a quantitative question wrong because of a silly mistake.  But sometimes it is because I am a bit fuzzy on the mathematical concepts needed to answer it.  In these cases I have been making use of Khan Academy.   Several friends recommended I check this site out, and it has proved very helpful.  There are video tutorials on arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and just about anything else you will encounter on the GRE.  If I don't understand a concept that comes up on the practice test I go to Khan, search for the video that addresses it, and then perform the practice problems they provide on the website.

This two phase approach of reviewing missed questions on the practice test followed by some time watching the relevant resources at Khan Academy has helped me bump my quantitative score up a few points in the practice tests.  Consider giving it a try!      

Monday, October 21, 2013

Glottolog: A Great Source for Ancient Language Bibliography

A friend recently brought to my attention.  It is a world language reference website that includes some really helpful bibliographies.  Each language is assigned a unique "glottocode" and is organized according to its language family.  The entries for each glottocode include bibliographies for that language.  A few that might be particularly interesting to you:

geez1241 (Ge'ez)

lati1261 (Latin)

anci1242 (Greek)

anci1244 (Ancient Hebrew)

sama1313 (Samaritan)

ugar1238 (Ugaritic)

aram1259 (Aramaic; with further sub-categories of Eastern Aramaic, Western Aramaic, and Old Aramaic, and those sub-categories are broken down even further into categories like Mandaic)

clas1252 (Classical Syriac)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Review: "Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam."

Since the Torah portion for this week is Lech Lechah, which begins with the calling of Abram, I thought it would be an appropriate time to post a brief review of Jon D. Levenson's fascinating new book on Abraham.  

In an age of ecumenism and interfaith dialogue Abraham is often touted as a source of unity and fraternity among western religions like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all of which are called "Abrahamic faiths."  But while Jews, Christians, and Muslims all cherish father Abraham, they have distinct traditions and sources that they use to understand the patriarch.  Thus Abraham can actually illustrate the differences between the faiths as much as, or perhaps more than, he can serve as a source of unity.  In his Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam Jon D. Levenson questions the idea of Abraham as a unifier by exploring the different ways these western faiths have received and understood the patriarch, with particular attention given to Abraham in the Jewish tradition.  

At its heart Inheriting Abraham is a fascinating work on the history of interpretation that also raises important questions about the nature of religious traditions and contemporary interfaith dialogue.  Levenson gives a good deal of attention to what the book of Genesis tells us about Abraham.  But along the way he emphasizes that the book of Genesis by itself cannot tell us what Abraham has meant and continues to mean for the Abrahamic faith communities.  For Muslims Genesis is not canonical, so it is actually the Qur'an that provides the primary source for understanding Abraham's significance.  While Jews and Christians do consider Genesis canonical, both faiths have additional traditions about the patriarch that shape their understanding.  The Protestant impulses ingrained in our culture might urge us to get behind these traditions to the "real" Abraham, but the figure that we would end up with would not be the Abraham who is meaningful to Jews, Christians, or Muslims.  And how can an Abraham who is foreign to these faith traditions or which privileges one tradition's methods or sources over another foster real unity or dialogue?  In his conclusion Levenson argues: 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Classical Numismatic Group

The Classical Numismatic Group website is a great place to purchase a variety of ancient coins, but it can also be a useful tool for those researching the ancient Greco-Roman world.  The site includes high quality colour photographs of both current and historical auction items, allowing you to get a better look at coins than you often get in coin catalogues.  Because the auction items are searchable, the site can also help you find coins from a particular location or with a particular figure/symbol on them.  The listings naturally give you the information you need to then track the coins down in a catalogue.  In addition to the auction items there are a number of historical articles and some general information on Greek and Roman coins as well as historical coin collecting.   One of the things that I appreciate the most about the site is that it allows you to republish their coin photographs, provided you cite the website as the source.  Their FAQ page states:

Can I use a photograph from CNG's website?
Any of our photographs may be reproduced as long as credit is given to CNG as the source of the photographs. Please include our site's URL,, in any citation. 

I'll give an example of how the website has been useful in my own research.  I'm currently researching boars in Greco-Roman iconography, and wanted to identify Greco-Roman coins with a boar on them.  My friend Ted Erho told me about the CNG website, so I went to check it out.  I used their research page which allows me to search historical auctions.  I typed "boar" in the search field and got 1,543 hits, 6 of which were historical articles.  Not all of these hits were useful for my purposes, but a great deal of them were.  I was able to find some very interesting and helpful specimens, like this beautiful coin from Apulia with a boar on the reverse: