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.

Something Greek -- Spend 2016 with Homer
It's often been said that Homer was the Bible of the Greeks.  The epics bearing his name, the Iliad and the Odyssey were towering works in the ancient world, and are foundational for western culture and the western literary tradition.  If you've never touched Homer, 2016 is a great year to give him a try.  And if you've already read him once or a hundred times, the blind bard always has fresh gifts to give his readers/listeners.  The bibliography for Homer is overwhelming . . . so for reading companions I have just included a couple resources.  The bibliographies in Kahane and Finkelberg can provide you with more titles for whatever theme or direction interests you the most. 

The Texts
Homer, The Iliad (I like Richmond Lattimore's translation) 

Reading Companions

I've posted a few resources relevant for the study of Homer in the past.  You can peruse them here.

Something Roman -- Spend 2016 with Ovid
Is 2016 the year you've decided to learn Latin for the first time, or resurrect all that Latin you've forgotten?  There are some cool resources that use the poet Ovid to help you do that.  My first encounter with Latin in university was with the Latin Via Ovid textbook, and I loved it!  For those who are intermediate/advanced, there is also a recent Ovid reader from Carole Newlands.  And of course, one can skip the Latin and just read about myth and love in English translation.

The Texts and Language Learning/Reading Companions

Something Jewish -- Spend 2016 with the "Apocrypha"
Scholars routinely complain about the terms "apocrypha" and "pseudepigrapha" with good reason.  The "Old Testament Apocrypha" or "Deuterocanonical" books are those writings that are part of the Catholic and/or Eastern Orthodox Bibles/canons of scripture, but are not in the Jewish Tanakh or Protestant Old Testament.  The category is therefore based on the reception and place of these writings in later Christian and Jewish tradition.  Still, for those interested in exploring some interesting early Jewish writings, the Apocrypha can be a nice place to start.  The texts are easy and cheap to get your hands on and they're incredibly fascinating to read.  Among the Apocrypha one finds wonderful histories, novellas, and wisdom texts.  

The Texts
You can find most of the Apocrypha in any Roman Catholic edition of the Bible.  There are several editions of the NRSV that also contain the Apocrypha.  My personal recommendation is the The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha.  There is also a shorter volume, The New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha, that just has the Apocrypha.  The NOAA is great because it offers good introductions and notes, and because it contains a few texts that one will not find in a Roman Catholic Bible.  Feel free to check out some of our earlier blog posts on the Apocrypha, like the one on Tobit in Rilke's Duino Elegies, the one on the influence of Homer on Ben Sira, or if you're Mennonite or Menno-curious the one on Anabaptists and the Apocrypha.

Reading Companions

Bible Odyssey has lots of interesting relevant dictionary entries.  For example: "Judith in Art," Diane Apostolos-Cappadona.

A truly great reference work to have on your shelf: Collins & Harlowe, The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism.  

Something Christian -- Spend 2016 with Peter and Jude
1-2 Peter and Jude are among some of the New Testament writings that have been most neglected by scholarship (of course in New Testament studies "neglected" means there are only 10 monographs on each verse, rather than 50).  Nevertheless, these short writings offer a fascinating and unique contribution to early Christian literature.  Tradition attributes these writings to Jesus' famous disciple/the first pope, St. Peter, and to Jesus' half-brother Jude.  However, the letters may actually be pseudonymous, and they give us more insights into how Christianity developed in the late-first and early-second centuries than they do into the person of Jesus.  Particularly interesting, from my perspective, is the influence of early Jewish writings like the Enochic Book of the Watchers on these texts, and Peter and Jude's roles in the beginnings of heresiology.

The Texts
1-2 Peter; Jude; available in any copy of the New Testament

Reading Companions

Something Islamic -- Spend 2016 with the Quran
The Quran is the sacred text of Islam, a collection of 114 chapters of differing length that tradition attributes to the founder of Islam, the prophet Muhammed.  For Muslims the value of studying the Quran is obvious.  For non-Muslims, reading the Quran as literature can be incredibly rewarding.  It offers something for those interested in history, in literature, in the western religious traditions, and in the history of biblical interpretation (much of the Quran consists of retellings of biblical themes and stories).  For those interested in intelligent and healthy inter-religious dialogue in the midst of our current complicated global conflicts, engaging the Quran is essential.  Fortunately, 2015 saw the publication of The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary, which is going to make the riches of the Quran much more accessible in the English-speaking world!

The Text

Reading Companions
The Study Quran has plenty of notes and introductory materials.  If you want some more books though, a couple you could check out:

Kecia Ali, The Lives of Muhammed (not really about the Quran, but an interesting read)



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