Saturday, December 17, 2016

Which chapters do scriptural commentaries focus on? Ethiopic Commentary on Daniel

Sometimes us ancient and religious studies folks get to play with charts and graphs too. Here is a graph I put together for an upcoming Kolloquium presentation on my dissertation project (which I explained in an earlier post). I'm working on an edition and translation of the Ethiopic commentary materials on the Book of Daniel. One of the important questions we can ask when studying scriptural commentaries is: which parts of the scriptural text receive the most attention and commentary? Ancient and medieval commentaries can be fairly uneven in their treatment of the text, offering long discourses on a handful of key verses while glossing over larger blocks of text.
I've done some Ethiopic word counts of my transcription of the Daniel Commentary, and this chart shows both the number of words for each chapter in its version of Daniel and the number of words in the commentary on that chapter. The disparities are significant. Chapters eleven, seven, twelve, and three are the ones that attract the most commentary. This is not too surprising. Daniel 7 and 12 have been significant texts for Christian eschatology and Christology. For commentaries with an interest in historical questions, Daniel 11, with its extensive descriptions of events from the Hellenistic era, gives opportunity for lots of explication. Daniel 3 has an important place in Christian lectionaries.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hipster Nativity

You may have already seen pictures of the 2016 Hipster Nativity Scene floating around the web. For a mere $130 you can replace your traditional Nativity set with something a little more modern:

This is a fun contemporary example of the visual reception history of the Nativity. If you're leading any discussions in the classroom or the church on the birth of Jesus this Advent season, I suspect this could create some interesting discussion.

As tempting as it is, I think if I'm going to dish out $130 on a Nativity set it'll be for something a little more traditional. Or, more likely, I'll use it as a down payment on a Brill book 😜

A couple more resources:
A short bibliography from the Glencairn Museum.

"The Nativity in Art" at Bible Odyssey, by Robin M. Jensen.

The Nativity, by Jeremy Wood.

Illuminating Luke: The Infancy Narrative in Italian Renaissance Painting, by Heidi J. Hornik and Mikeal Carl Parsons.

Who Staged the First Nativity Scene? by L.V. Anderson.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Chung Hyun Kyung Resources

A little bit of bibliographic information I put together for those interested in learning more about salimist theologian Chung Hyun Kyung:

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Live Long and Prosper -- in Ethiopic

A little something in honor of Star Trek's big anniversary.
What if when the crew of the Enterprise traveled back in time they ended up in late antique Aksum, rather than 1980s San Francisco? If they wanted to Vulcan salute the locals, how might they say that in Ge'ez/classical Ethiopic?

The original Vulcan expression is dif-tor heh smusma, expressed in English as "live long and prosper."  This gives us some opportunity to play around with the imperative, which "ist der Befehls-und Wunschmodus der 2. Person" (Tropper, 196). The imperative form can only be used for positive expressions. If you want to tell someone not to do something, you have to use a negated subjunctive form.  The imperative form reflects both gender and number, so the form is different if you're speaking to one male, one female, an all male/mixed group, or a group of women. So, if you're addressing the Vulcan salute to an individual male, it might sound like this:

ሕየው ፡ ጕንዱየ ፡ ወሥራሕ ። 
ḥeyaw gwenduya wašerāḥ   
Live a long time and prosper/be successful!  

But what does it really mean to prosper? Are the Vulcans the original supporters of the prosperity gospel? Another verb we could consider using is ጥዕየ which Leslau also glosses with "prosper," but it has the sense of being healthy.

ሕየው ፡ ጕንዱየ ፡ ወጠዐይ ።
ḥeyaw gwenduya waṭa'ay   
Live a long time and be healthy/prosper!

One of the things I learned watching the news here in Germany (which didn't let Star Trek's anniversary slip by without notice), is that the Germans translate "live long and prosper" as "Lebe lang und in Frieden", which means "live long and in peace." As a Mennonite I like that better, and for all I know, it might be a more accurate translation of dif-tor heh smusma (finding a class to learn Vulcan is harder than finding a class for Ge'ez).  So what might the German version look like in Ge'ez?

ሕየው ፡ ጕንዱየ ፡ ወበሰላም ።
ḥeyaw gwenduya wabasalām 
Live a long time and in peace!

I've been working on learning Italian, so I was curious how the Italians might translate this expression from vulcaniano into italiano? Come si dice "dif-tor heh smusma" in italiano? The most accepted translation seems to be: lunga vita e prosperità! The next time you're toasting with some Italian wine, consider using this expression.

Translating things like this into Ge'ez may seem silly, but I find it's a helpful way to learn old languages. Often when we learn "dead" languages it is a totally passive process. When you have to compose something in the language or translate something into the language it forces you to engage grammar and syntax in a more active way. How might you translate this into Ge'ez, or any other ancient or medieval (or modern!) language?

P.S. If you're interested in the Jewish origins of the Vulcan salute, here's an old post. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ge'ez in Munich this Fall

Despite its importance for fields of research ranging from Second Temple Judaism to African Studies, it's a real challenge to find university courses in Ge'ez, the classical language of Ethiopia and Eritrea. There are a handful of universities where it's on the books (University of Chicago, Catholic University of America, and University of Washington, for example), but it's not an annual offering.

So it's exciting that this Autumn an introductory Ge'ez course is being offered once again in Munich at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München by Professor Loren Stuckenbruck.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Assumption of Mary

One of the interesting things about living in Bavaria, a traditional Catholic region of Germany, is that we have a handful of state-recognized religious holidays.  So today, for example, the libraries and university and stores are all closed in honour of Mariä Himmelfahrt -- the Assumption of Mary.

Traditions about the end of Mary's earthly sojourn are of course important for the Catholic and Orthodox faithful, but they're also fascinating to those of us who study the history of religion.  A resource to check out, if you're interested in digging a little deeper into the Assumption or Dormition of Mary, is Stephen J. Shoemaker's Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary's Dormition and Assumption (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). Shoemaker discusses the earliest traditions and provides translations of some of the earliest texts.

The Book.

The BMCR review from Adam H. Becker.

The author's website and site.

On a side note, this is another example of why Ge'ez and other eastern Christian languages are so important to scholarship on Judaism and Christianity in antiquity, as many of the texts dealing with the Dormition and Assumption of Mary are in these languages.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


Addis Ababa; WikiCommons
Amharic is one of the semitic languages of Ethiopia, and is currently the second most spoken semitic language in the world (Arabic is #1).  Over 20 million people speak Amharic, and it currently serves as the official language of Ethiopia.

We don't have any ancient writings in Amharic, with our earliest extant Amharic texts possibly coming out of the 14th century.  So in a sense it might be an odd language to feature on this blog.  Nevertheless, there are several good reasons to learn some Amharic:

  • It's a fascinating and beautiful language spoken by over 20 million people.
  • As a Semitic language it is relevant for those with an interest in comparative semitics.  
  • It is relevant for those who work with Ge'ez, as we can identify Amharic influences on the Ge'ez language and literature.
  • For those, like myself, who have interest in the history of scriptural interpretation in the Ethiopian tradition, Amharic is significant as the language of the andemta commentaries.
  • It's way more interesting than learning French.

Unfortunately it is not easy to find courses in Amharic.  CARLA lists the following institutions that offer Amharic in North America: Foreign Service Institute, Harvard U, Michigan State U, U of Florida, Boston U, National Foreign Affairs Training Center, Stanford U, U of Kansas, U of Pennsylvania, New School University, and World Mentoring Academy.

As far as scholarship goes, there is a plethora of resources on Amharic.  Here I just offer a few resources that might be helpful:

Ethnologue entry.

OLAC Resources in and about the Amharic Language.

Selected Annotated Bibliography on Amharic from Grover Hudson (MSU).

Isenberg, Charles William.  Dictionary of the Amharic Language. [downloadable]

Amharic course from the Foreign Service Institute.   [follow the link to Indiana University for the remaining audio files.  The audio files can be found a few other places on the web too].

Appleyard, David. Colloquial Amharic. [the audio files can be downloaded for free]

Amharic at Deutsche Welle.

National Bibliography of Ethiopia.

Meyer, Ronny.  "Amharic."  Pages 1178-1211 in The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook.  Edited by Stegan Weninger et al.

Writing the Amharic Script.

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Critical Edition and English Translation of the Classical Ethiopic Commentary Materials on the Book of Daniel

"Habakkuk and the Angel" (Bernini)
For my dissertation at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München I am preparing a critical edition of the Ge'ez commentary materials on the Book of Daniel. A little bit about the project:
The significance of Second Temple Judaism for religious scholarship lies partly in its influence on later religious movements and traditions.  The literature, institutions, and ideas that emerged during the time of the Second Temple, both in the Persian and Greco-Roman periods, were foundational for Rabbinic Judaism, early Christianity, and Islam.  To appreciate Second Temple literature in all of its richness we must give attention not only to the texts in their earliest contexts, but also to their reception histories.  While the study of the influence and reception of Second Temple texts will naturally include the antique and medieval Hebrew, Greek, and Latin traditions, it must also include the “oriental” traditions, which have to this point not been adequately examined by modern western scholarship.  

Among these traditions the classical Ethiopic corpus is quite significant, as it preserves texts like 1 Enoch and Jubilees that are not fully extant in their original languages or in any of their other versions.  These Ethiopic versions are indispensable for the study of these important Second Temple texts (fortunately, a new edition and translation of Ethiopic 1 Enoch is currently underway).  The Ethiopic tradition also contains versions of early Jewish texts for which the original language(s) manuscripts and other versions do exist, such as the Wisdom of Solomon or the Book of Daniel.  While their value as text-critical witnesses to the “original” text or earlier versions is open for debate, these versions are at the very least valuable for reception-oriented text-critical work that aims to understand and appreciate the textual development of a composition as a worthy pursuit in its own right.  In addition to versions of Second Temple texts, which can be studied from the perspective of reception history, the Ethiopic tradition also preserves interpretations of and commentaries on some of these texts.  While many of these works are in Amharic and are part of the andemta tradition, some are extant in classical Ethiopic/Ge'ez.  These are helpful for understanding the reception history of Second Temple literature in late antiquity and the medieval period.

The objective of my research is to contribute to the study of the reception of Second Temple Jewish literature in the classical Ethiopic tradition by offering a critical edition, English translation, and analysis of the Ge'ez Tergwāmē materials on the Book of Daniel, which contain both Ge'ez versions of the text of Daniel as well as commentary on the book.  Manuscripts of these materials have been known to western scholarship for some time, and the text of Daniel in one of the manuscripts was even collated by Oscar Löfgren in his critical edition of Ethiopic Daniel.  However, no one has yet published, critically edited, or translated these commentary materials.  My dissertation is an attempt to fill that lacuna.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Names of Ge'ez / Ethiopic Letters

So you've learned the 100+ forms of the Ge'ez script, but you're still wondering what to call all those letters?  If you're like me, you might find yourself using the names of Hebrew or other semitic letters, but in European scholarship they have their very own names.  I've compiled a list of these names as presented in several of the major grammars, that you can download as a PDF here.

Of course you don't need to learn 100+ names -- just the name of each consonant, and from there you can refer to its different forms by their order.  So, "that's a third order hoy" or a "sixth order gaml." [P.S. "The Sixth Order of Hoy = a great name for your next secret society].

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Interpreting women out of the New Testament?

There are a handful of spots in the New Testament where interpreters have debated whether or not a woman is being referred to.  Perhaps the most well-known example is 2 John, which opens like this: “The elder to the elect lady and her children . . .” (1).  The author addresses this “lady” again in verse 5, and closes with a greeting from “the children of your elect sister” (13).  Interpreters debate whether we encounter here a female personification of Christian communities, or whether the text is talking about an individual female leader.  This discussion goes back to the early church. 

Check out:
Anderson, Paul.  “Second John and Women.”

Another interesting example is the identity of Junia, who is mentioned in the closing greetings of Paul’s letter to the Romans: “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was” (16:7; NRSV).  In some Bible translations you’ll find “Junias” instead of “Junia.”  This reflects debate over whether this figure is female (“Junia”) or male (“Junias”).  The evidence supports understanding this as a reference to a woman named “Junia.”  But, the gender identity of Junia continues to be a hot topic in some circles, specifically within those church traditions where the ordination of women is still an open question. Naturally, the idea that Paul mentions a woman apostle has some relevance for the discussion . . .

Check out:
Brooten, Bernadette J.  “‘Junia . . . Outstanding among the Apostles’ (Romans 16:7).”  Pages 141-144 in 
Women Priests: A Catholic Commentary on the Vatican Declaration.  Edited by Arlene Swinder and Leonard Swindler.  New York: Paulist Press, 1977.  Readable online!

Epp, Eldon Jay.  Junia: the first woman apostle. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005.

Fàbrega, Valentin.  “War Junia(s), der hervorragende Apostel (Röm 16,7), eine Frau?” Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 27/28 (1984/85): 47-64.

Wolters, Al.  “IOUNIAN (Romans 16:7) and the Hebrew name Yeḥunī.” Journal of Biblical Literature 2 (2008): 397-408.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

1 Enoch Reading Guide (15:1-16:4)

I've posted another Ethiopic reading guide, this time for 1 Enoch 15:1-16:4, a particularly interesting portion of the Book of the Watchers.  Enoch and other Second Temple Jewish texts are of course worthy subjects of study in their own right, but this particular text might be especially relevant for understanding some bits of the New Testament, for example offering a possible answer to the question "who in the world are those demons and why do they keep trying to possess human bodies?" or providing some background for Luke's version of Jesus' response to the Sadducees (Luke 20:34-36).

You can download the reading guide here.

Or if you're not too interested in Ge'ez and want to take a peek at an English translation, you can go here.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Ethiopic Jubilees Reading Guide: The Creation, Part I

I've added another reading/vocabulary guide for Ethiopic Jubilees, based on the data from the concordance I'm creating for the book (which is coming along!).  You can download it here.  From my profile you can also download two other Jubilees reading guides and one for Ethiopic 1 Enoch.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Akedah on the Radio

I heard this song from Nova Scotian folk musician Ben Caplan on the radio today, which references the Akedah, or Near-Sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22: "Birds with Broken Wings."

The story of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son, Abraham's obedience, and a last minute divine intervention to prevent Abe from following through is well-known in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions (check out Levenson's Inheriting Abraham).  It has appeared throughout western history in art and music, and over the past several years has popped up at least a few times on the radio.  In addition to the Ben Caplan song, Arcade Fire's "Abraham's Daughter" showed up in the Hunger Games soundtrack, and a bit further back we heard Sufjan Stevens' "Abraham."

Caplan and Arcade Fire both tap into the highly disturbing nature of the Akedah.  For many of us today, someone who is willing to sacrifice their son because they believe a deity told them to do it is not really a hero.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Spend 2016 with Judith. Or Achilles. Or Muhammed.

Welcome to 2016!  Perhaps one of your New Year's resolutions is: "I'd really like to spend more time reading interesting ancient and medieval literature."  Such a resolution probably won't extend your life the way a quit-smoking resolution will, but it will certainly make 2016 more interesting and enjoyable.

"Judith mit dem Haupt des Holofernes"
(Lucas Cranach)
One nice approach to building a 2016 reading list is to focus on a particular author, text, or corpus.  This gives you the opportunity to really explore a few primary sources in a focused way, with a handful of interesting and helpful secondary sources as your travel companions.  The examples below reflect my personal research interests and tastes, and perhaps they aren't your cup of tea.  If you come up with your own "spend 2016 with an ancient/medieval author/text" list I'd love to see it!  Feel free to post it in the comments section at the bottom.  I've listed five categories -- Greek, Roman, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic -- but there are naturally other fun categories one could build a reading list around.