Friday, September 26, 2008

Jargon: Between Economy and Snobbery

Every particular academic discipline is its own sub-culture, operating with its own scholarly language. This language is a necessary thing, allowing scholars to speak to one another without having to go over the preliminaries time and time again. It's useful. However, my question is: when does the technical language of a particular field cease to be a matter of economy and start being an occassion for snobbery? When does the field stop conveying information and start clouding it?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Translating back into Greek

Today in Greek class we had to prepare our translations for another section of Philostratus' Life of Apollonius. However, our professor had in mind a little something different. We had to give a simplified English translation of what was going on, then go back and re-translate it into Greek. This was honestly one of my favorite activities. I give a huge thanks to David Alan Black and his "Learn to Read New Testament Greek" along with my Greek professor at Southeastern - memorizing paradigms made this exercise significantly easier.

Without any accents or breathing marks (can someone point me to a tutorial on how to type those out?) here's what we wrote for one part:

εστι πηγη Διος εγγυς τη Τυανα, και καλουσι αυτο Ασβαμαιον. αυτη μεν εστι ψυχρα,
παφλαζει δε. ιαοται μεν ευορκους, βλαπτει δε επιορκους. υδωρ ποιει τους νοσμους
τοισισδε και ομολογουσι.

Free high five to anyone who can translate that without all the accents and such.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Making too much of a word

As we were translating more of Philostratus' Life of Apollonius I came across this sentence:

παρ' ων υπαρχει μαθειν, ως υποθειζων την φιλοσοφιαν εγενετο.

Which is:

From which it is possible to learn how divinely inspired a philosopher he was.

I asked my Greek professor why Philostratus used εγενετο when he could've just used ην (I apologize for the lack of accents/breathing marks/etc - I haven't figured out how to do them yet), and if his choosing εγενετο was to indicate that Apollonius was born a divinely inspired philosopher, not just that he was one. My professor said that, unfortunately, εγενετο is simply one of those words that one has to make a judgment on nearly every time they come across it and that he wouldn't build too much of an argument for anything based on a single word. I said that's because he's not a New Testament scholar. Oh, kidding.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

James Crossley, William Lane Craig, and Ghosts

I suppose since I've taken this title for my blog, I should actually blog about the NT from time to time. I was watching James Crossley's debate with William Lane Craig over on Mike Bird's and Joel Willitts' blog and I heard Dr. Crossley say something interesting about the disciples seeing Jesus and thinking he was a ghost (Mk 6:49-50), not someone who was walking around bodily. This was by no means the crux of his argument - he mentioned it once or twice and moved on to other evidence for his position.

All the same, I had just read Jason Robert Combs' (of Yale Div) article in RBL titled, "A Ghost on the Water? An Absurdity in Mark 6:49-50."(1) Combs' argument is that Mark uses this story to show that Jesus is not, in fact, just a ghost by virtue of the fact that he's on the water. Combs goes through primary sources from antiquity showing that it was a common belief that ghosts could not walk upon water.

Mark's "ghost sighting" is characteristic of ancient ghosts stories in three ways:

1) It occurs at night (6:48 - τεταρτην φυλαχην της νυχτος) during the fourth watch, which allowed for there to be some early morning light - (2)which was thought to be necessary to see ghosts, as the ancients did not share our sentiment that spirits luminesce. And 3) it caused the disciples fear.

However, Mark departs drastically from the typical ghost story by having Jesus appear on the water. Combs gives the rhetorical reasoning:
"The disciples' lack of understanding has long been recognized as a Markan theme that appears throughout the Gospel. Here it forms a striking narrative portrayal of cognitive dissonance: the disciples clearly want Jesus to be something that he is not, to the point that they are willing to believe the absurd (JM: That Jesus is a ghost) when Jesus approaches them as something much grander than they had imagined. Gods and divine men walk on water; ghosts do not. But when the disciples see Jesus walking on water, they believe the impossible rather thant he obvious. Mark's insertion of this absurdity, "because they saw him walking on the sea they thought he was a ghost" (6:49), emphasizes in dramatic fashion the discpiles' misconstrual of Jesus' messiahship."

(1)Journal of Biblical Literature; Summer2008, Vol. 127 Issue 2, p345-358.

Oh for the love of academia!

I have to ask you professor types out there - is it not the most frustrating thing in the world when students do not do even the most preliminary research before coming to class? Well, rest assured, it is equally frustrating for those of us who actually did it but have to waste time in class listening to you answer all the silly questions.

In my Classical Islam class we've had such stellar questions as:

So....wait......was the Qu'ran written before the New Testament? Yes, absolutely. Did you not see the bit in there about a time machine?

So do Muslims pray to Muhammad or Allah? And who is the sacrifice for their sins? - The most staunchly monotheistic religion on the face of the planet figured it needed some intermediaries, so please - go ahead and pray to Muhammad.

After the Professor spoke about the importance of the Ka'ba, not to mention its location in Mecca:
Isn't the Ka'ba near the wailing wall? - ............

Now, the second question up there has more to do with students not understanding that there isn't a 1:1 correspondence within religion. There is nobody like the Jesus of Christianity in Islam for the fact that the concept of sin is completely different (seen as more of an issue of ignorance). How frustrating it must be to have to go over such silly things (that could be found on a Wikipedia page - sorry, Jim).

April DeConick has written a blog post concerning "weighing in on Avalos and Koester." She hits on something that I think is relevant here - that some students aren't willing to think outside of their own religious paradigm or they're unaware of the fact that they aren't doing it. I've decided if I'm ever afforded the chance to live out my dream as a professor in a religion department, the first thing I will talk about is trying to see things through different "lenses."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Just go see it here.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Umbrellas in Antiquity

As I was translating over the weekend, I encountered this little bit about Anaxagoras (forgive me for not being able to do accents and iota-subscripts - I haven't figured out how yet):

καιτοι τισ ουκ οιδε τον Αναξαγοραν Ολυμπιασι μεν, οποτε ηκιστα υε, παρελθοντα υπο κωδιω (should be an iota-subscript there)ες το σταδιον επι προρρησει ομβρου.

Which is something along the lines of:

And further, who does not know that Anaxagoras at Olympia, when the least rains fell, came under a sheepskin into the stadium/race course...

For one, I know that I didn't translate the μεν because it corresponds with a τε later on, but I don't feel like translating everything here because it doesn't really have to do with my question.

My question is: Were sheepskins used as ancient umbrellas, or is Philostratus trying to make Anaxagoras look ridiculous here? Does anyone even know about umbrellas in antiquity? To be sure there has to be some unfortunate Ph.D student writing their dissertation on accessories in the ancient world.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Pope's Cologne

Although this has already been pointed out on other blogs, the comments on this blog are hilarious. Can Bibliobloggers come up with better captions?

"Frankensensantional" is easily my favorite thus far.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Who you gonna call?

Archimedes and Ευρηκα

In his Learn to Read New Testament Greek David Alan Black tells the story of the Greek philosopher Archimedes and his discovery of the law of buoyancy while taking a bath. Dr. Black says, "...he is reported to have scampered (without his clothes) through the streets of Athens shouting, ευρηκα, ευρηκα, 'I have found it, I have found it!' What Archimedes apparently meant by the use of ευρηκα (the perfect of ευρισκω) was that his discovery had become part of his intellectual awareness. If, on the other hand, he had found a drachma on the street and then lost it before he got home, he probably would've used the aorist ευρον, "I found it," which says nothing about the existing state of affairs."

Hurtado's Lord Jesus Christ

Now that I'm back at school I have a bit more free time to get some reading done. One thing I had not yet read and knew I needed to is Larry Hurtado's Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. I had read his The Earliest Christian Artifacts awhile ago and really enjoyed his style, so I knew I'd like this one.

I've just read through the first chapter and there are some interesting points. For one, his emphasis on liturgical practice as a lense through which we can see the theology/ies of the christian community is really convincing. I think (and this may be departing from Hurtado) that the NT documents are primarily focused on orthopraxy, particularly within the setting of liturgy, more than theological orthodoxy. Now, this is not imposing an either or - obviously the NT is concerned with both, but I think the NT has put the accent on the liturigcal syllable more than its concern with doing theology (particularly concerning Christology). Some things that have led me to this have been Scott Hahn's book, The Lamb's Supper which is a wonderful little gem, and taking the class on Hebrews with Fr. James Swetnam, SJ. At any rate, I think Hurtado's emphasis on looking at the historic practices will help us to discern their underlying theologies. Even if they aren't articulated with the precise theological language of later eras, the theology within the liturgy is of utmost importance in understanding the earliest christian communities.

This is probably totally obvious to everyone (or totally bogus) - either way, I felt like this was a cap on an "aha" moment.

SBL Boston - wicked awesome

It is official - I've booked my flight, registered for the conference, and have even found lodging (I'll be staying with Douglas Mangum of Biblia Hebraica fame). I'm extremely excited as this will be my first SBL. I'm trying to figure out which papers I want to go see, what pubs I want to go drink at afterwards, etc. I'm definitely going to visit the Cathedral while there (it's only about a mile away from the hotel).

Monday, September 1, 2008

Oh Classical Greek, why do you hurt so good?

At East Carolina I'm taking a class on Classical Greek and basically our whole class is translating Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana. If you're unfamiliar, Apollonius was a charismatic miracle-worker from the first century CE who lived in Cappadocia. Philostratus wrote his biography of Apollonius in the early/mid 3rd century. I believe this is the largest surviving biography from antiquity.

What am I learning? That Classical Greek writers anticipated students later translating their works and figured they'd use the most obscure forms of nouns that they could dig up. I'm sure of it. On top of that, they use the wildest verbs I've ever seen. I've been reassured by my professor that the first part of any text from antiquity is always the most difficult to read. Lets hope chapter 2 proves to be easier.