Tuesday, December 31, 2013

iTunes U: Courses in Classics and Biblical Studies

Every time class registration rolled around I would pore over the course listings for the many different departments at the university, wishing I had an endless amount of electives I could take.  Now with things like iTunes U I can sit in on lectures in some of those classes outside of my major that I just wasn't able to fit into my degree program, whether its psychology, history, or physics.  This interdisciplinary online buffet also includes some good resources in my areas of focus, the ancient world and religious studies.  Below are a few that you might want to check out.  I've broken them down into four categories: (1) Biblical Studies, (2) Ancient Greece, (3) Rome, and (4) Religious Studies.  When you're done with all of these, why not move on to learn about Quantum Mechanics?

Biblical Studies
Christine Hayes
Open Yale course
[Check out Hayes' openyalecourses book Introduction to the Bible)

Shaye J.D. Cohen
Harvard, iTunes U

Dale B. Martin
Open Yale course 
[Check out Martin's openyalecourses book New Testament History and Literature)

Stanford, iTunes U

Steven Schweitzer
AMBS, iTunes U

Daniel B. Wallace
The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, iTunes U

Ancient Greece
Gillian Shepherd
LaTrobe, iTunes U

Gillian Shepherd
LaTrobe, iTunes U

Monday, December 30, 2013

Ancient Handwriting

Medical doctors are not the only ones with bad handwriting.
If you've studied any languages that use a non-roman script, then you may have had your own handwriting let-downs.  You look at the perfectly printed letters in a critical edition or the breathtaking artistry of a scribe in a particularly nice manuscript, and then you go to scribble down a line or two of your own and it looks like -- well, scribbles.

What if we saw learning to write well as part of the process of acquiring an ancient language?  What if we saw it as a way of more fully appreciating the language and perhaps gaining a better understanding of the ancient scribes who copied all of this wonderful stuff for us?

If this is something that interests you, then you might check out The World Encyclopedia of Calligraphy: the Ultimate Compendium on the Art of Fine Writing.  It is an attractive volume with lots of colour photographs.  It offers some introductory information on the art of calligraphy before going into detail on some of the world's most interesting calligraphic traditions.  These include: Roman scripts, Cyrilic, Arabic, Indic scripts, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.  For those who study classics and the Judeo-Christian traditions you might be particularly interested in the sections on: Greek, Ashkenazi Hebrew, Sephardi Hebrew, Dead Sea Scroll Hebrew, Syriac, Georgian, and Armenian.  I picked up the book in a public library in order to learn how to write Ge'ez better.  It does have a section on Ethiopic, although it is quite short (2 pages).  I did learn, however, that to write good Ge'ez your pen angle needs to be anywhere from perfectly flat to 10 degrees, a helpful little tip.

If you come across other resources that might be helpful for those wishing to improve their writing of ancient or medieval scripts, please post them in the comment section below!  Learn World Calligraphy is a title that come up in my searches, but I have not gotten my hands on it yet.

Friday, December 13, 2013

"Deformity and Disability in Greece and Rome."

Nicole Kelley's essay "Deformity and Disability in Greece and Rome," which is part of the edited volume This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities and Biblical Studies, offers an interesting and brief engagement with disabilities and deformities in classical antiquity.  She opens by drawing attention to some of the methodological and definitional problems in trying to understand the historical reality of disabled and deformed persons in the ancient world.  Despite the probability that disability and deformity were very common, the evidence is relatively sparse, and portrayals in art and literature may not always reflect social reality.  The ancients also lacked clearly defined categories like "disabled" or "deformed."  Kelley spends the rest of her essay focusing on two figures from Greek mythology: the god Hephaestus, who is often portrayed as congenitally lame, and Teiresias, the blind prophet.

In her discussion of Hephaestus she gives attention to other sources that address congenital disabilities and deformities, including evidence that idealizes the exposure or elimination of infants who are deemed unfit.  Whether or not these texts reflect actual practice remains an open question.  She also discusses the role of deformed people in entertainment, mentioning, among other things, the evidence that deformed persons were kept as pets in the Roman world and sold in "monster markets."  Kelley's treatment of Hephaestus closes by mentioning the economic prospects of disabled persons, noting that there is evidence that their economic outlook "was not necessarily bleak or characterized by utter dependence on family and friends" (41).      

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Disability and Eschatology: Resources in the Hebrew Prophets

One of the ways that communities can challenge ableism is to self-critically reflect on how disability fits into our conceptions of Utopia.  In our idealized visions of the world, are there persons with disabilities?  How we answer this question can reveal a lot about our attitudes towards disability, and can shape the way we engage related issues in our world.  Recently I have been giving some attention to the issue of disability and eschatology, looking in particular at Judeo-Christian visions of idealized or restored futures from a disability justice perspective.  There are of course plenty of eschatological imaginings, both ancient and modern, which leave no room for disability, but rather envision the elimination of persons with disability or their transformation so that they conform to ableist assumptions about ideal bodies/minds.  From a constructive perspective, I personally think it is important for both secular and religious communities to develop eschatological visions which continue to include persons with disabilities, but have social orders in which all are granted equal access and dignity.  So, one of the things I have been doing is looking for examples, particularly in ancient texts, that can be interacted with in constructing these kinds of eschatologies in western worldviews.  Here are a few interesting examples from the Hebrew prophets:
"Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her who is in travail, together; a great company, they shall return here.  With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born" (Jeremiah 31:8-9).     
"In that day, says the LORD, I will assemble the lame and gather those who have been driven away, and those whom I have afflicted; and the lame I will make the remnant; and those who were cast off, a strong nation; and the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion from this time forth and for evermore" (Micah 4:6-7).

"Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.  At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you together; yea, I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” says the LORD" (Zephaniah 3:19-20).