Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Lexicon Linguae Aethiopicae

Perhaps it was there before and I didn't notice it until now, but on Ran HaCohen's excellent website, which contains electronic versions of the Ge'ez Old and New Testaments, there is a copy of Dillmann's monumental Lexicon Linguae Aethiopicae.  PDFs of this lexicon are available for download on the Internet but I've found the large PDF slow and difficult to navigate.  Ran HaCohen's version is easier to navigate, with links to take you to each major section.  The Latin index is particularly nice if you're looking to back translate and find out what the Ethiopic word for something is.

Of course Leslau's lexicons (the big one and the concise one) are my first resources, but sometimes it's helpful to consult Dillmann!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Ancient Labor Laws

In honor of the American holiday of Labor Day, here are just two examples of ancient labor laws from the Hebrew Bible:

Sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)
Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to theLord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you.15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

Many are more familiar with the sabbath rationale given in the Exodus 20 version of the ten commandments and the famous seven day creation story in Genesis 1.  But Deuteronomy gives a different reason for observing the sabbath: because the Israelites knew what it was like to be exploited laborers.  Notice that sabbath is to be observed by the whole household, including slaves and animals.

Pay Up! (Leviticus 19:13 and Deuteronomy 24:14-15)
". . . you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning."

"You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns.You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt."

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Medieval Interpretations of Genesis

Eerdword, the Eerdman's blog just posted something by Joy Schroeder on her book The Book of Genesis, a new volume in The Bible in Medieval Tradition series.  Schroeder has translated major excerpts from seven different medieval Christian commentators on the Book of Genesis, many (most?) of which have not been published in English translation before.

Be sure to check out her post by clicking here, and consider buying the book!  It appears to be available in Kindle edition now and paperback at the end of the month.  

As someone who studies the interpretation of Genesis in ancient Judaism, I am very excited to take a look at this resource and get a better sense of how the book was interpreted by medieval Christians.  The history of interpretation is fascinating in its own right, but it also gives us important and often revealing insights into our own modern assumptions about text, meaning, and interpretation.
Some other works that also take us into the world of the historical interpretation of Genesis:

Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, by Jon D. Levenson.

The Bible as it Was, by James Kugel.

In Potiphar's House: The Interpretive Life of Biblical Texts, by James Kugel.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Eagle and Eaglets: The Gospel of John and the Letters

I enjoyed this quotation from R. Alan Culpepper and Paul Anderson in the introduction to their edited volume, Communities in Dispute: Current Scholarship on the Johannine Epistles:

"As Raymond Brown has made us aware, while the Johannine "eagle," representing the elevated perspective of the Fourth Gospel, soars above the ground it surveys, the Johannine Epistles betray eaglets fighting over their place in the nest, with schisms, rejections, embraces, and invective language -- all showing a far less tidy portraiture of early Christianity than more romanticized views have allowed" (2).

Raymond Brown, a towering figure in the study of the Gospel and Letters of John, understood the letters of 1-3 John to be evidence of conflict and schism in the communities that received the Gospel of John.  He also argued that the Gospel of John itself reflects a community history of conflict with different groups.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Ethiopic Enoch Reading Guide: Chapters 1-5

I've put together and posted another Ethiopic reading guide, this one for the first five chapters of 1 Enoch.  The first six pages include a transcription of Charles' Ethiopic text with plenty of space between lines and a large margin for taking notes.  The remaining pages have an alphabetical vocabulary list with English glosses, a list of verses where the words occur in these chapters, and a page number for the entry in Leslau's concise lexicon.

1 Enoch 1-5 is an interesting unit of the text that serves as an introduction to the Book of the Watchers and the corpus as a whole.  Lots of theophany language -- if you've ever wanted to know how to talk about mountains melting and shaking in Ge'ez, this is the text for you.

You can download the reading guide here.

You can also download two other Ethiopic reading guides for the Book of Jubilees on my Academia.edu page.

Happy translating!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Gird up the Loins of your Mind

English translations of ancient texts often conceal interesting expressions in the original languages.  A nice example of this is I encountered recently is 1 Peter 1:13.  In the NIV we read:

"Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming."

The NRSV renders it:

"Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed."

The Greek phrase behind "with minds that are alert" or "prepare your minds for action" is: anazōsamenoi tas osphuas tēs dianoias humōn.  We could more literally translate this as "girding up the loins/waist of your mind."

The "girding of loins" might be familiar to some Bible readers.  We see it as part of the Passover instructions (Exodus 12:11), it is something Elijah does before running (1 Kings 18:46), and God tells Job to "gird up now thy loins like a man" in the little heart to heart they have at the end of the book (Job 38:3; 40:7).  Other examples: 2 Kings 4:29; 2 Kings 9:1; Jeremiah 1:17; Luke 12:35; Ephesians 6:14 (and this is only some of the "girding" that happens in the Bible).

The general idea is that when you're wearing flowing clothing that covers your legs, like different kinds of skirts or robes, it can be hard to run or engage in other movements (which is why Elijah does it before running).  So, tying your clothing up around your waist area frees up your movement.  This Huffington Post article features some visuals of what this process might look like.  

Peter is using this image metaphorically: gird up the loins of your mind.  The sense is probably to prepare one's mind, perhaps, as the NRSV suggests, for some kind of action.  Or, it may just communicate, as the NIV suggests, a level of alertness.  It's an interesting image, and one which we would entirely miss if we only relied on some of these translations!  A few English translations have brought the phrase out in different ways.  The KJV rendered it literally:

"Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

The Message, which is a radical paraphrase, offers this:

"So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that's coming when Jesus arrives."

I particularly like what the Message does, because it translates the language into an image that makes more sense to many of us in English.  This example serves as a good reminder to use as many different translations as you can, and another good reason to learn the original language of ancient texts you like to read!

Something I am left curious about is questions of gender and this expression.  Is "girding up one's loins" masculine?  A lot of interpreters explain the phrase as meaning "man up" (check out the use in Job).  Would this have been a masculine image for Peter?  Would ancient women also have had the experience of needing to tie up some forms of clothing to increase mobility? (See line 286 of Atrahasis).

Monday, August 3, 2015

Using Book Reviews

As a student I have found academic book reviews to be a really helpful resource.  Academic book reviews are just what they sound like: reviews of academic books often found in academic journals.  Academic books go through a peer review process before they are published and hit the shelves to help ensure their quality, but book reviews provide an opportunity for the academic community to begin publicly assessing these works.

As I student, I have found book reviews to be useful in a couple ways:

(1) As companions to a book you're working through.  By reading reviews of a book you're engaging you can get some insights into how the work has been received, and can also find some helpful analysis and critiques of the argument.  In working on my thesis I interacted with a lot of Dennis Macdonald's work on the influence of Homer on the New Testament and other early Jewish and Christian texts.  Book reviews (and MacDonald's response to some of those reviews) were helpful for me, as they alerted me to some of the aspects of MacDonald's work that had not been well received by some scholars.  Since I was making positive use of some of MacDonald's work this allowed me to address some of the criticisms of his work and draw distinctions between what he had argued and the argument I was making.
I have found book reviews to be especially helpful when I am working through a book that is outside of my field.  When you're reading within your field you are better able to critically engage a book.  Sometimes when a work is outside your field you don't really have the background information to weigh the merits of an author's arguments.  And in some cases, you don't have the time to familiarize yourself with a wide range of literature and opinions in that field.  In this case book reviews can alert you to different perspectives on the topic or potential weaknesses in the author's argument (although it seems some reviewers are sheepish about offering criticisms).  They can help you from being unduly influenced by a single work.

(2) As a way of taking the pulse of scholarship and staying abreast of developments.  Book reviews are nice and short.  Reading them is a great way to stay familiar with what is being published, what kinds of arguments are being made and what kind of work is being done.  I find this can be really helpful when it comes to cognate disciplines, for which you don't have the time to read lots of books, but you'd still like to keep an eye on what's going on.

(3) Research paper ideas.  When you're trying to develop a topic for a research paper book reviews can be a helpful source of inspiration.

(4) Finding stuff to read!  One of the big reasons book reviews of all kinds exist is to help people decide what to read.  With so many books and so little time book reviews can help you sift through the many options and decide which books to add to your list.

How to find them: You can look through print journals in your library.  But the best way to find them is to use your library's full text databases.  Your librarian can help you find the right database for what you're looking for.  The databases I use give you the option to limit your search results to book reviews.  If you have a particular book you'd like to read reviews on, you can just search for the title.  If you're looking for reviews on a particular subject, you can enter your search terms and narrow the results to reviews.  So, I am currently doing some research on the Book of Jude: I simply typed "Jude" in the search field and narrowed the results to book reviews.

For the areas this website focuses on, two great, free, online sources for book reviews are the Society of Biblical Literature's Review of Biblical Literature and the Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"The End of All Things"

Did Frodo quote the Apostle Peter (or whoever wrote in his name)?

In 1 Peter 4:7 we read:
"But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer" (KJV).

Near the end of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, while Frodo and Sam are at Mount Doom, we read:

"'Yes,' said Frodo.  'But do you remember Gandalf's words: Even Gollum may have something yet to do?  But for him, Sam, I could not have destroyed the Ring.  The Quest would have been in vain, even at the bitter end.  So let us forgive him!  For the Quest is achieved, and now all is over.  I am glad you are here with me.  Here at the end of all things, Sam'" (926).

And again a little later:

"'I am glad that you are here with me,' said Frodo.  'Here at the end of all things, Sam'" (929).

Was Tolkien drawing on a biblical phrase, or is this just coincidence?  Tolkien's work was indebted to biblical apocalypticism, and I suspect he was consciously drawing on 1 Peter.  Whatever the case, Peter's phrase is potent and memorable.  The film version of the "end of all things" is currently viewable here.  And the song from Howard Shore's Return of the King soundtrack bearing the same name can be listened to here.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Tobit in the Duino Elegies

In reading Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies I came across a reference to the Deuterocanonical/Apocryphal book of Tobit.  While their canonical status has been debated since late antiquity, the Old Testament Apocrypha have left their imprint on western art and literature.  The passage from Rilke:

"Jeder Engel ist schrecklich.  Und dennoch, weh mir,
ansing ich euch, fast tödliche Vögel der Seele,
wissend um euch.  Wohin sind die Tage Tobiae,
da der Strahlendsten einer stand an der einfachen Haustür,
zur Reise ein wenig verkleidet und schon nicht mehr
(Jüngling dem Jüngling, wie er neugierig hinaussah).
Träte der Erzengel jetzt, der gefährliche, hinter den Sternen
eines Schrittes nur nieder und herwärts: hochaufschlagend
erschlüg uns das eigene Herz.  Wer seid ihr?" (from the Second Elegy)

"Every angel is terrifying.  And yet, alas,
I invoke you, almost deadly birds of the soul,
knowing about you.  Where are the days of Tobias,
when one of you, veiling his radiance, stood at the front
slightly disguised for the journey, no longer appalling;
(a young man like the one who curiously peeked through the
But if the archangel now, perilous, from behind the stars
took even one step down toward us: our own heart, beating
higher and higher, would beat us to death.  Who are you?" (trans. Stephen Mitchell)

The reference ("one of you") is to the angel Raphael in the book of Tobit, who disguises himself as a human and serves as a guide for Tobit's son Tobias in his journey.  In the end he reveals his true identity to Tobit and Tobias and they fall on their faces in fear (12:6).

For Rilke, angels are creatures that inspire holy terror: "Jeder Engel ist schrecklich."  He draws on the ancient theme of a direct, unmediated experience of divine/heavenly beings causing fear and even death and contrasts this with the veiled presence of Raphael in the story of Tobit.  Back in those days a human could rub shoulders with a disguised Raphael, but now if he were to emerge from behind the stars and approach humanity our own hearts would "beat us to death."

If you've never read Tobit, check it out!    

Monday, April 20, 2015

Scripture in the Mishnah

An excellent resource for those interested in early Jewish interpretation of scripture is Alexander Samely's Midrashic Units in the Mishnah.  The website is a companion to his fascinating work Rabbinic Interpretation of Scripture in the Mishnah (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).  Find it in a library here, or purchase it here

The website has a database and accompanying resources for all of the examples of biblical interpretation in the Mishnah with the exception of Avot (which the author indicates will be added in the future).  Samely has provided an English translation of each Midrashic unit and an analysis/commentary that uses the categories and terms he developed in his book.

You can search by tractate, biblical book, the code/category, the rabbi, formal features, or use a search term field.

This is a fantastic online resource for those interested in early scriptural interpretation and Rabbinic literature.  

A good summary quote from chapter 2 of Samely's book:

"Mishnaic interpretations do not target the whole of Scripture, or any one of its larger parts, but rather segments approximately of sentence length.  The hermeneutic licence to cut the text into small units which can be interpreted as if they stood alone creates a wide hermeneutic choice.  Its fundamental effect is that the segment, taken in isolation, is less determined in topic, reference, or meaning than as part of a Scriptural environment (co-text).  The Mishnah, in surrounding the segment with different co-text, can thus appoint a fresh topic, reference, or meaning for the biblical words" (31).

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"Maimonides and Slavery: Rambam's approach to human dignity" [Video]

Chabad.org has a video lecture by Joshua Getzler entitled "Maimonides and Slavery: Rambam's approach to human dignity."  The first sixteen or seventeen minutes give a nice little overview of his life and works, and the remainder focuses on the specific issue of slavery.  If you register with the website you can download an MP3 of the talk.

You can see manuscript images of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, mentioned in the video, here.

This video is one of the many fun resources we'll be exploring in our upcoming Ancient Bookshelf online course, Slavery as Moral Problem in the Bible.