Friday, June 29, 2007

Brown Watch: The Distancing Begins

Gordon Brown, the new British PM, appointed several people of various degrees of opposition to the Iraq War to his cabinet. This distances Brown from both Blair and Bush (btw, it seems that lately you need to have "B" name to be the leader of an English-speaking country--the 2008 election should break that current trend), although it is a bit less of a subtle move than I had expected. This will make Brown's first diplomatic meeting with Bush very interesting indeed. Of course, they may just look for common ground in areas like troops in Afghanistan, but the message is clear: the UK under Brown's leadership is no longer going to be the US's closest ally in Iraq. But, in an undertoned manner, Brown has only verbally indicated that he would examine Britain's role in Iraq.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Queen Hatshepsut

Zahi Hawass, the Egyptologist and secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo (but you probably know him as that guy who is on every single television special about ancient Egypt), believes that a DNA analysis of a tooth proves that a particular "obese" female mummy found in the Valley of the Kings a hundred years ago is Queen Hatshepsut (r. 15th Century BCE), one of the most powerful Queens of ancient Egypt. The DNA analysis shows genetic similarities with the mummy of Ahmose Nefertari, the matriarch of the 18th Dynasty. I think the Discovery Channel will be covering this.

Changing of the Guard

I am sure almost everyone who would be reading this blog (unless you accidentally stumbled upon it), knows that Tony Blair steps down today and his successor, Gordon Brown, becomes PM. He wanted to be PM ten years ago, but Blair beat him to the punch. From what information I have garnered, Brown is more intelligent than Blair, but, as I saw him give a speech on CSpan, he definitely lacks Blair's charisma, which has been so useful in foreign relations. Speaking of which, Brown's foreign relations policy seems to be pretty much the same as Blair's, at least, as pertains to Afghanistan and Iraq. I do not think there is much perceptible difference in domestic issues either, although I am not sure here. For the differences between the two, the New York Times reports (for entire article, hit the hyperlink on "Tony Blair"): "The new Prime Minister has promised accelerated domestic reform on schools, housing and public health and changes in the way Britain goes to war, giving parliament more of a say. In a series of written responses published in The Independent newspaper today, Mr. Brown acknowledged that “mistakes were made in our planning for what happened after the removal of Saddam and I think it’s important to learn the lessons and to go forward.”" I do recall all of these issues arising from his speech when he gained leadership of the Labour Party. Let's see what speeches today brings.

Brown, though, has a tough sell in the next few months. He must appear different than Blair, he must be something new or bring something new to the table, but he cannot be too critical of Blair. So, we have a person whose policies are basically the same as Blair's, but he lacks Blair's baggage and his charisma. On the other hand, personality-wise, he seems like a person who is not going to be subservient to Bush (Blair is called "Bush's Poodle" in the UK). Here's the question of the day: how long will Brown last? Or, in other words, since I cannot file this post under religion or antiquity, should I put it with phenomena or ephemera (I am leaning towards the latter).

Friday, June 22, 2007

Coptic Resources

Because I have been engrossed in Coptic language, including the gritty text-critical issues, etc., for the past year, I have decided to add a few online sites (which I lifted from "Forbidden Gospels") to my sidebar. So, for all the aspiring Coptologists out there, check these sites out, and if you know of any more, please send them to me!

The Search for Lost Causes

Last night I watched a PBS special on the search for Atlantis, that ultimate ancient place older than Egypt that was supposedly highly advanced, often used to illustrate the possibilities and ultimate failure of an aggressive utopia. Of course, the special was not all bad, because you get to see amazing past societies in the Mediterranean and S. America, what technologies we know they had, and speculation about why they could not sustain themselves (natural disasters, disease, etc.).

I thought that was the end of the search for lost causes, until I started reading the blogs today. Paleojudaica has posted that someone thinks they know where the Holy Grail, the cup used by Jesus as the Last Supper, is. According to telegraph.co.uk, Alfredo Barbagallo, an Italian archaeologist, claims that it is buried under the sixth-century Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura, one of the seven major churches pilgrims used to visit when coming to Rome. Let's not all hold our breath, though, because the Vatican Commission of Sacred Theology still has to determine whether they will open the catacombs where the holy cup is supposedly buried. (Of course, even if they find a cup down there, it still will take a LOT of ingenuity to convince the world it is, indeed, the Holy Grail.) Maybe they ought to pray to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes and things despaired of.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Happy Summer Solstice!

Today is the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere! Not that it has 25 hours instead of 24, of course, but the most daylight of any day of the year (for those of lucky enough to have good weather as we happen to be having in NYC). Such an event is also an important religious holiday, especially, it seems, in the ever overcast environs of northern Europe. In case you do not know, thousands of people gather every year for the summer solstice at Stonehenge (note for full disclosure, I pulled this link off of Paleojudaica's posting), the famous stone-age site that remains a riddle to this day. So, happy summer solstice! Let's all find a way to celebrate the sun in our own ways. (I do seem to recall that "Paideia" held a winter solstice party a few years back.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Rosebud

Because I love watching movies, I watched AFI's top 100 movies tonight on CBS. The American Film Institute first uncovered what it perceived as the top 100 movies 10 years ago. Of the top ten, only one movie has retained its original position from ten years ago: Citizen Kane remains number 1. In case you were wondering, the first Godfather is number 2 and Casablanca is number 3 (ten years ago Casablanca was 2 and Godfather, 3), and the most recent addition to the top 100 list is the Lord of the Rings trilogy (although not even close to top ten), largely due, I think, to its use of special effects.

Wipf and Stock

Wipf & Stock has unveiled a new design for its website, one that is more user-friendly. W & S does a wonderful service to the academic community by reprinting out-of-print titles (for the most part, biblical studies, ancient near east, some Jewish studies, and Christian history and theology). As "Forbidden Gospels" has already noted, it is the only place to get the old Crum Coptic Dictionary. Perhaps even more significantly or at least more broadly applicable is that they will do custom reprints if you can generate a demand of at least 20 copies--something to think about if there is an out-of-print book you want to use for a class (and if the class has an enrollment of twenty people or more).

Saturday, June 16, 2007

In Lumine Tuo Videbimus Lumen

What an odd thing a diploma is! I just received my diploma in the mail (b/c Columbia does not give it to you on the actual day of graduation--not that I actually attended graduation anyway), and I have found several aspects of it perplexing. For instance, the entire thing reads as follows: "The trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York to all persons to whom these presents ma come greeting be it known that Jared C. Calaway having completed the studies and satisfied the requirements for the degree of master of philosophy has accordingly been admitted to that degree with all the rights privileges and immunities thereunto appertaining in witness whereof we have cause our corporate seal to be here affixed in the city of New York on the sixteenth day of May in the year two thousand and seven" Other than the complete lack of punctuation (do commas and periods make it look less formal?), I am wondering what exact immunities I now have. For that matter, what privileges. I understand the privileges of a BA, and MA, and even a PhD, but what are the privileges of an MPhil? Finally, I must admit that I have never looked at the school seal very closely before, but it, too, is very curious. Most of it is in Latin, but there are a few parts of it in Hebrew. If your Latin is a bit shaky, the motto on the seal (which is the title of this posting), translates as "In your light we see light." In case there is any mistake concerning whose light this is, in Hebrew one sees at the very apex of the seal the tetragrammatron, YHWH, and proceeding from this tetragrammatron are rays of light. I am guessing that this light represents knowledge/scientia/gnosis. But, also relying upon a very important tradition in Jewish and Christian literature, often characteried as mystical, what if we represented the apex as a dark cloud of unknowing?

Italia


I have spent the past few weeks in the gastronomic paradise of Italia. I do not want to eat any more pasta for the next six months--enough is enough. But I do not think I could ever tire of gelato. I think my favorite combination (b/c I always ate gelato with at least two flavors) was chocolate and raspberry, which, incidentally, was the very first combination I tried. Perhaps some of the best food was in Bologna, the least touristy place I went and the city that boasts the first university in Europe (a close second goes to the University of Paris). The lasagna here was absolutely fantastic. Throughout Italy, there always seemed to be plenty of artichokes and zucchine, which, for me, was heaven since I love both. And, I have to say, the award for best olives in Italy has to go to the South (the area around Naples, the originator of pizza), but I must note that no place even approximated the olives I had in Greece. And, of course, I had the pizza.

Whenever you travel in space, you inevitably travel in time, whether looking at the ancient forum, the Colosseum, or even St Peter's Basilica in Rome, the medieval town of Siena, Renaissance art in Florence (especially wonderful in this regard are Fra Angelico's works in San Marco), or the former naval empire of Venice with its numerous canals (and no cars!). But one senses it most potently in the southern city of Pompei, an entire city eerily and perhaps frighteningly preserved due to a disastrous volcanic eruption of Mt Vesuvius in the first century. The streets are crowded (except the one shown here) with mobs of tourists and the inevitable ghosts of 2000 years ago, whether one goes to the ancient forum, the best preserved and oldest known amphitheater, the baker's shop, the ancient brothel, or the numerous private homes that one can now wander through. It is a city frozen in time in which perhaps the real ghosts (or phantoms of some presence out of place and in the wrong time) are us. Perhaps in two thousand years people will be wandering through my former haunts, taking pictures, analyzing them for research, or putting them on their walls, or posting them on their futuristic blogs. Tourists will come in droves and scholars will examine every nook and cranny to try to understand everyday life in hoary antiquity. Or, like most people and places in far-off times, we will be forgotten. Which is worse--to be exploited for knowledge or irrecoverably lost?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Genesis

In the face of beginning to dissertate this year, I have decided to join the world of bloggers in order to remain connected to the outside world. The name of my blog reflects a combination of interests. I study antiquity, but I am also fascinated by the construction of ideal alternate realities, usually referred to as heaven or utopia, alongside their inverse, hell or dystopia. I am particularly interested in how these constructions of heaven and hell interface with claims of religious experiences, such as with religious visions and auditions and so forth. So, welcome to antiquitopia, a "no place" in time--whether it is utopic or dystopic, of course, depends upon your perspective.