Thursday, April 30, 2009

Foreskin's Lament

No, not the absolutely hilarious book, Foreskin's Lament, by Shalom Auslander, but a similar issue: to snip or not to snip, that is the question. Whether tis nobler...ok...maybe Shakespeare is a bit overboard (although, not snipped would be my guess in his case). has an interesting article, full with necessary cutting puns, about a documentary on the variety of views on exposed or covered glans:
The great foreskin debate

To snip or not to snip? That was the question facing new parent Danae Elon, who didn't just wrestle with the controversies of circumcision -- she made a documentary about it.
By Joy Press
April 30, 2009 | New parents face an endless barrage of questions: which prenatal tests, what kind of diapers, which nursery school? But one choice is irrevocable: to snip or not to snip? That is the daunting question, one freighted with intense cultural and religious meaning. And yet people often don't give it much thought at all.

For someone like me, a nonpracticing Jew married to a non-Jewish husband, it was a confusing moment. Neither of us had been raised in a religious household, and neither had set foot in a house of worship except to attend the occasional wedding. But I felt myself tempted by the lure of ritual and tradition. Jews consider circumcision a commandment from God, practiced over thousands of years -- who was I to cut my son off from that? My husband, meanwhile, considered it an antiquated ritual lacking sufficient medical justification (an opinion similar to that of the American Academy of Pediatrics). On top of that was the fear of robbing one's child of something -- nerve endings, sexual feeling -- that can never be returned. It's an issue that American couples continue to wrestle with; although the number of boys routinely circumcised in the U.S. has decreased dramatically (one study shows the rate at 57 percent, down from a 1960s circumcision rate of 90 percent), the majority of parents still opt for it.

The documentary based upon this conundrum, "Partly Private" (hmm..what she mean by "partly"?) by Danae Elon is playing at Tribeca.

The part I couldn't get over, and still can't, is what do they do with all those foreskins?
She introduces us to a broad cast of characters, from the mohel (a Jewish specialist who performs the procedure) who keeps all of his clients' foreskins in a jar, to the anti-circumcision activist who expresses his own penile trauma in a children's book, to the employees of a skincare company who use discarded foreskins in their antiaging cream. "Every bottle is not a foreskin," one of them assures the camera.

Wait? The Mohel actually keeps all of a jar!?!?! What?! That's, eh, kind of gross. Does he like to pull them out and look at them from time to time or something? He collects foreskins? So, when he's breaking the ice, and someone asks, "What's your hobbies," he says "collecting foreskins." And which skincare company is this? And what is it about the foreskin that keeps people from aging--noting that the target market for antiaging creams is female. So, think of that next time you use your cream: you are rubbing your face with discarded foreskins. Perhaps check the ingredients on your cream--does it include foreskins?
Elon also ventures further afield, visiting the Italian town that once supposedly housed Jesus' foreskin (it was stolen) as well as a Turkish party hall called Circumcision Palace, where she films dozens of little boys (aged 6 to 9) dressed in white suits going under the knife in front of their families and friends. Finally she journeys to Hebron on the West Bank, looking for the exact spot where Abraham is said to have received the order from God, and finds instead a wasteland decimated by war and religion. As she says in the documentary, "Did he really say to Abraham, 'Cut off the tips of your dicks?' What if we got it all wrong?"

All of this serves as research for Elon's own charged decision, which she has to make not once during the film but twice. When the movie opens, she is pregnant with her first child. Her husband, Philip, a French-Algerian Jew, feels the strong pull of tradition, and she ambivalently goes along with his desire. But when she gets pregnant with another boy after several years of immersion in the topic, she is forced to decide what she really believes is best for her son's penis.

I have heard of the relic of Jesus' foreskin. It's divine, don't you know?

You read the rest of the article on the link above.

Otherwise, for an academic treatment, you might want to check out the provocatively titled, Why Jewish Women Aren't Circumcised by Shaye J.D. Cohen.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dancing in the Dark

...writing a poem you can read to no one
is like dancing in the dark.
(Ovid, Black Sea Letters IV.2.33-4)

"A God's Inside Me": Poetry, Prophecy, Inspiration

Inspired poets' predictions do not fail of fulfillment:
a new laurel-wreath for Jove while the first's still green!
These are now my words you read (I'm away on the Danube,
its waters drink for the ill-pacified Goths):
no, this is the voice of a god, a god's inside me,
it's a god that makes me predict and prophesy!
(Ovid, Black Sea Letters III.4.89-94)

Ovid claims a very literal sense. A spirit is in him, a god's inside him. The god possesses him. Poetic inspiration and prophetic inspiration are inseparable: each divinely inspired, each folding into one another. Inspired speech is heightened speech, poetic speech. They flow from the same source: Apollo.

Ovid's Battered Love

I've been reading Ovid's Tristia and his Black Sea Letters, and this passage struck me in the beauty of its description of Love's decrepitude:

Sleep, that common repose from cares, possessed me,
my slack limbs were sprawled out the length of my bed--
when, suddenly, the air was vibrant with beating pinions,
and the window creaked softly open. In alarm
I started up, propped on my left elbow, slumber
gone, driven clear from my thumping breast.
There stood Love, one hand grasping the maple bedpost,
with a sad expression, not how he used to look,
no neck-chain, no hair-comb, locks in wild disorder,
not neatly pinned back as of old,
but hanging loose around his bristled jawline,
wing-feathers ruffled (or so it seemed to me)
like those on the back of some homing pigeon, fingered
by too many rough hands.
(Ovid, Black Sea Letters III.3.7-20)

His description of sleep as something that possesses rather than a state is what initially drew me into the passage, as if sleep is a spiritual entity, a god, that can possess you. Moreover, in these letters and poems, Ovid complains of chronic insomnia, so the sweet sleep coming over him must have seemed a relief, perhaps something as powerful as possession. Then, he awakes to see the god Love flying through his window; nonetheless, the poetry retains its dreamlike quality. It is like waking up into a dream--something that happens, for example, to Svidrigailov in Crime and Punishment. I find that, in fact, as frustrating as insomnia--to wake up into a dream, to have nested dreams or dreams within dreams within dreams (I think I've had as many as four nested dreams--a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream--before I could get out of them into full consciousness--that is, if this is not also a dream). Ovid has had a long relationship with Love. His description indicates long familiarity--how he knows that Love does not look like his old self. He looks scruffy, feathers drooping, having wild hair, and general unkempt appearance. And what do we make of being "fingered by too many rough hands"? This familiarity, of course, comes from Ovid's famous Art of Love, the series of seductive poems that provided the reasoning (but probably not the true reason) for his exile. Love here mirrors Ovid's own self-descriptions of his own failing, increasingly emaciated appearance in other poems. Love mirrors Ovid, as, in fact, Ovid often equates himself with the books he writes. Is Love, too, in exile? Has Love felt the full force of Caesar's wrath? Been banished from Rome? Or, do we see, as Love awakens Ovid, as an unkempt Love awakens the emaciated Ovid, the source of Ovid's insomnia? If only he hadn't written that poem to provide a pretext for his relegation to Tomis on the Black Sea? Or is Love a prophet (III.83-4)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How (Not) to Write a Thesis?

Passion of the Christ 2

Morton Smith's Translation of Hekhalot Rabbati Online

Jim Davila posts that Morton Smith's translation of Hekhalot Rabbati is available online here. It is in .pdf format.

I have had a copy of this for years; indeed, for years it has circulated among Columbia graduate students. My copy has Alan Segal's marginal corrections. I, of course, made my own marginal notes. A few years ago, however, Alan lost his copy (I think), and so we had to run copies of my copy for a class. And so we sent out copies of Smith's translation with Alan's notes, with my notes on that, and presumably a new set of notes on those notes would be made by students in that class. The whole notes on notes on notes sounds very Rabbinic.

Just So You Know, Women's Studies is NOT, I repeat is NOT, a Religion

From Salon:

Judge: Women's studies isn't a religion

A suit is rejected against Columbia University for offering classes on feminist history.
Tracy Clark-Flory

Apr. 28, 2009 |

Feminist students at Columbia University can breathe a sigh of relief, ready their highlighters and crack the spine of that intimidating Judith Butler tome: A lawsuit against the school for offering women's studies classes has been tossed out.

Self-declared antifeminist lawyer Roy Den Hollander argued that the university was violating the first amendment by teaching a "religionist belief system called feminism." He called the program “a bastion of bigotry against men" and argued that nationwide classes about women's history were “spreading prejudice and fostering animosity and distrust toward men with the result of the wholesale violation of men’s rights due to ignorance, falsehoods and malice.”

As a graduate of a same-sex college, where I took too many women's studies classes to count, I will admit that these courses have their faults. I was often the student in the back of the room squirming in discomfort at statements that lacked intellectual rigor. Any challenges to the party line felt unwelcome. (This led to a rebellious period where I read everything that Camille Paglia had ever written, while scribbling affirmatory, self-justifying exclamation points in the margins.) There was indeed extremist religious fervor in some of the feminist theories we studied -- but, uh, that was also true in my seminar on world religions. And, as any college graduate knows, the truth is that any discipline can be inappropriately politicized or politically correct.

None of that means the subject matter -- in this case, women's and feminist history -- isn't worth studying. If anything, it suggests that the classes should be more daring, and open to disagreement and debate. In short: They need to be better. But Denn Hollander, who has dedicated his legal career to "guys'-rights cases," argues that women's studies classes are, by definition, discriminatory. He might as well argue the same thing about, just for starters, African American, Jewish, Asian and Middle Eastern studies (and perhaps he would if he weren't so consumed by his campaign against feminism).

Luckily, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan wasn't having any of this. In his decision, he rebutted Denn Hollander's "central claim" that "feminism is a religion." He wrote that courses on feminism are "no more a religion than physics" -- or, more relevantly, the study of world religions -- "and at least the core of the complaint therefore is frivolous." Denn Hollander shot back: “The only thing frivolous and absurd is men looking for justice in the courts of America." Yet, somehow, I'm sure we'll see much more frivolity from him in the near future.

-- Tracy Clark-Flory

Or you could turn the argument inside out: everything is religious in a way, particularly secularism (but that secularism and religion are mirrors of each other is old news). Anyway, it is not religion, but is extraordinarily important in religion.

I don't particularly find Judith Butler's writing intimidating; Gender Trouble is fairly concise and clear.

"Defending Academe" against Mark Taylor

David Bell has a rejoinder to Mark Taylor's NYTimes Op-Ed article:
Defending Academe
Is America's system of graduate education really the Detroit of higher learning?

David A. Bell, The New Republic Published: April 28, 2009

Mark C. Taylor's yawp of pain about academia in The New York Times yesterday is a handy compendium of virtually every complaint currently circulating about the American university system. We are, he claims, overspecialized, obsolescent, irrelevant, and rigid. We learn more and more about less and less, while mercilessly exploiting successive generations of graduate students whom we then cast out into unemployment or the wilderness of adjuncting. In short, we stand with the auto manufacturers and (one might add) newspapers in the ranks of ill-adapted social dinosaurs awaiting extinction. "Graduate education is the Detroit of higher learning," writes Taylor, who is a professor of religion at Columbia University. And to deal with this crisis, Taylor calls for a revolution of Jacobin proportions. Abolish tenure! Impose mandatory retirement! Eliminate departments! Introduce new regulations! Above all, replace our current system with a supple, flexible set of interdisciplinary research webs that can be focused on the most pressing problems of the day: Academia 2.0, so to speak. To add insult to injury, Taylor offers as an exemplar of everything that is wrong with Academia 1.0: a graduate student who is apparently writing (please hold your guffaws) a dissertation on the medieval theologian Duns Scotus's use of citations.

It's worth noting a few glaring contradictions in the piece. Taylor calls for bringing representatives of different disciplines to bear on such pressing problems as water supplies, even as he is demanding the elimination of the disciplines themselves. Yet the very word "interdisciplinary" implies a disciplinary base. Presumably Taylor himself would not want academics or policy-makers to address (say) the issue of radical Islam without the sort of knowledge of Islamic history and theology that a Department of Religion is best able to provide. Nor do I think he would want dams constructed by engineers who have degrees in Water, as opposed to Engineering. There is also the problem of simultaneously abolishing tenure and introducing sweeping new external regulatory systems on universities. Might not this combination have a certain, unfortunate effect on academic freedom? But then, academic freedom is a concept that goes singularly unmentioned in Taylor's piece.

More fundamentally, it's worth asking if the American university, and its system of graduate education, is really in quite the dire position that Taylor describes. Highly placed academics do have a tendency these days to decry their own supposed obsolescence. The former president of my own university, William Brody, liked to compare academia to the buggy whip industry. But where, exactly, is the proof of this obsolescence? Admissions to top American universities and college remains as competitive as ever--no matter how much, it seems, tuition rises. Despite an academic job market that has been anemic at best and disastrous at worst for more than 35 years, top Ph.D. programs still receive far more qualified applicants than they can hope to admit, include a rising proportion from overseas. America's position in basic research, as measured in such things as Nobel Prizes, seems unchallenged. European academics generally regard the American academic system with untrammeled envy, while their own university systems go through crises that make ours look minor in comparison. Academia has suffered from the current economic downturn, just like virtually every other sector of the American economy. But this is the sort of "obsolescence" that Chrysler and The New York Times can only dream of.

Yes, the internet is certainly changing the way students learn. But those who prophesize the simple displacement of the university as we know it by online learning often know very little about how online learning actually works. Those of us who actually oversee online learning programs know that when they are done well, they involve just as much faculty effort and expertise per student, and just as much investment per student, as classroom learning. There are no simple economies of scale. So not surprisingly, the institutions leading the way in effective online learning are in fact the traditional universities, and they have, if anything, gained strength from the process, not the reverse. In my own university, these new courses of study generate profits that help to support, yes, traditional forms of graduate education.

As for the argumentum ad Duns Scotus, there are two responses. First, it is absurd to think of academic overspecialization as a peculiarly modern disease, and to conjure up some lost scholarly golden age in which every professor wrote articles of broad sweep and import. The quickest glance through the back issues of any academic journal shows that scholarship has always tended, for better or worse, to advance in slow, methodical increments. Is writing about Duns Scotus's use of citations any worse than writing about the exact placement of a particular regiment at the battle of Fontenoy, or the precise language of a particular medieval capitulary, or any of the other subjects that obsessed earlier generations of scholars? What matter are the overall projects and contexts that a particular piece of scholarship contributes to. Maybe we don't really need to learn more about this particular thinker's use of citations--but perhaps the study will contribute to a larger point about how modern forms of scholarship, verification, and knowledge itself developed, and that would not be so trivial. The historian Anthony Grafton once published a history of the footnote, and a grand (and entertaining) piece of scholarship it was.

It is always easy to take scholarship out of context and mock it as trivial and irrelevant. We could mock Mark Taylor himself just as easily. Here, for instance, is a sentence taken out of context from his book Journeys to Selfhood: "While the interpretation of the discontinuous moment represents an account of the fullness-of-time alternative to Hegel's pregnant present, and the insistence on the irreducibility of the Absolute Paradox is directed against Hegel's implicitly rational Mediator, Kierkegaard develops the notion of contemporaneity to correct what he regards as problematic implications of the Hegelian sociocultural and philosophical mediation of the God-Man's positivity." While certainly ripe for parody, to mock this passage for its obscurity is actually a philistine and ignorant gesture, no better than mocking expressionist painters for their dribs and drabs of paint. Taylor is a serious scholar, whose language here suits the serious philosophical purpose of his book. Perhaps his young Duns Scotus-studying colleague is a serious scholar as well, who doesn't deserve mockery on the op-ed page of The New York Times.

American universities obviously face serious challenges--all the more since the recession began. But to collapse all of those challenges into one single, facile analogy to Detroit does no one any good, except the yahoos on the right who delight in dismissing academia not simply as trivial and obsolescent, but as morally corrupting and unpatriotic. These critics would love not simply to restructure the humanities, but get rid of them altogether. Let's not make their work easier for them.

David A. Bell is a professor at Johns Hopkins University, where he is dean of faculty, and a contributing editor at The New Republic.

As noted in my previous post, Fors Clavigera makes some similar criticisms.

By the way, if you have ever read a late antique or medieval text, citation is extraordinarily important; in fact, it is where most of the creativity lies--if you were presenting a new idea and something insightful, you almost had to bury it in the notes (in fact, it is one of the easiest ways to escape censure other than pseudonymity, the latter on which I believe Taylor wrote his own dissertation). The same holds true for the Enlightenment philosophes: read a section of Diderot's encyclopedia; the footnotes and cross-references are golden, scathing, and hilarious, while the main text is banal. Perhaps, therefore, the newest "zone of interest" (to borrow Taylor's idea) should be on footnotes and citation methods.

"Those Ignorant Atheists"

An article at Salon reviews a new book by Terry Eagleton, in which he throws down with "Ditchkin" (Dawkins and Hitchens), claiming that atheism has gone downhill since the good old days of Nietsche.
April 28, 2009 | Here is how British literary critic Terry Eagleton begins his brisk, funny and challenging new book: "Religion has wrought untold misery in human affairs. For the most part, it has been a squalid tale of bigotry, superstition, wishful thinking, and oppressive ideology." That's quite a start, especially when you consider that the point of Eagleton's "Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate" -- adapted from a series of lectures he delivered at Yale in April 2008 -- is to defend the theory and practice of religion against its most ardent contemporary critics.

But Eagleton, a professor of English literature and cultural theory who divides his time between the University of Lancaster and the National University of Ireland, is determined not to commit the same elementary errors he ascribes to such foes as biologist Richard Dawkins and political journalist Christopher Hitchens. (Those two, collectively dubbed "Ditchkins" by Eagleton, are the self-appointed leaders of public atheism and the authors of bestselling books on the subject, Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and Hitchens' "God Is Not Great.") Atheists of the Ditchkins persuasion have raised valid points about the sordid social and political history of religion, with which Eagleton largely agrees. Yet their arguments are fatally undermined by their own unacknowledged dogmas and doctrines, he goes on to say, and they completely fail to understand Christian faith (or any other kind) except in its stupidest and most literal-minded form.

A few years ago, I read an article by a Roman Catholic theologian who wryly observed that the quality of Western atheism had gone steadily downhill since Nietzsche. Eagleton heartily concurs. He freely admits that what Christian doctrine teaches about the universe and the fate of man may not be true, or even plausible. But as he then puts it, "Critics of the most enduring form of popular culture in human history have a moral obligation to confront that case at its most persuasive, rather than grabbing themselves a victory on the cheap by savaging it as so much garbage and gobbledygook."

As Eagleton ultimately admits, the discount-store atheism of Dawkins and Hitchens is something of a useful straw man, and his real differences with them are, in the main, not theological but political. Still, attacking them in broad and often hilarious strokes -- he depicts Dawkins as a tweedy, cloistered Oxford don sneering at the credulous nature of the common people, and Hitchens as a bootlicking neocon propagandist and secular jihadist -- lends his book considerable entertainment value. More importantly, it also allows him to develop an extended interpretive summary of what he describes as mainstream Christian doctrine, a subject about which (as he repeatedly reminds us) the Ditchkins duo, along with the Western intellectual elite in general, knows almost nothing.

"bootlicking neocon propagandist and secular jihadist"--that's gold!Biologist Stephen
Jay Gould's famous pronouncement that science and religion were "non-overlapping Magisteria" has sometimes been viewed as a cop-out, or as a polite attempt to say that the former is real and the latter imaginary. Whatever Gould's intentions, Eagleton agrees wholeheartedly, and finds this view entirely consonant with Christian theology. Dawkins is making an error of category, he says, in seeing Christian belief as a counter-scientific theory about the creation of the universe. That's like saying that novels are botched and hopelessly unscientific works of sociology, so there's no point in reading Proust.

Christian theology cannot explain the workings of the universe and was never meant to, Eagleton says. Aquinas, like most religious thinkers that came after him, was happy to encompass all sorts of theories about the creation, including the possibility that the universe was infinite and had always existed. Indeed, Aquinas would concur with Dawkins' view that religious faith is irrelevant to scientific inquiry. But there are questions science cannot properly ask, let alone answer, questions about "why there is anything in the first place, or why what we do have is actually intelligible to us." That is where theology begins.

If you haven't read Proust, just fill in your favorite classic author. I found his depiction of U.S. religiosity particularly interesting:
Among the many extraordinary positions Eagleton takes in this book, perhaps nothing is more startling than the highly original claim that the United States of America is not religious enough. All right, I am paraphrasing -- what he actually says is that our nation's nauseating, wall-to-wall public piety is strictly pro forma. It's a kind of ideological window dressing for a social and economic system based on the ruthless exploitation of human beings and natural resources, which is about as far from the teachings of that radical Jewish carpenter from Nazareth as you can possibly get.

In one of Eagleton's most ingenious turns of phrase, he describes contemporary Christian fundamentalists as faithless, because they specifically lack the kind of performative faith mentioned above. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek has described fundamentalism as a species of neurosis, in which a person keeps demanding proof that he is loved and never finds it sufficient. In trying to shoehorn anti-scientific hokum into schoolbooks, or wasting money and time on a "creationist science" that strives to prove that the Grand Canyon is less than 6,000 years old and that Noah, for reasons unknown, kicked T. rex off the ark, fundamentalists have become the mirror image of atheists. Unsatisfied with the transcendent and unknowable nature of the Almighty, they've stuffed and jammed him into a dinosaur diorama.

This is what I have been saying for a while now: militant atheists of the "Ditchkins" variety and fundamentalist christians are merely mirror images of one another. They both read the Bible in a the same, literalist manner, and perform what I tend to call genre misrecognition--most poetry, for example, about the nature is NOT actually scientifically sound, but it was never meant to be. Same with Genesis 1. It is a liturgy; it is a poem.

Now, the kicker: everyone has faith in something, even, shall I say, scientists have to make "assumptions" about the universe and demonstrate a certain degree of faith. But that is nothing compared to the progressivist view of history, often viewed today as naive, demonstrated by "Ditchkins":
Much of the anti-religious fervor of the Ditchkins school, Eagleton says, derives from a high-Victorian idealism, in which humankind rides the upward-bound escalator of progress and civilization, held back only by the forces of unreason and irrationality. Its adherents see an absolute dichotomy between faith and reason, one that lacks any rigorous philosophical underpinning or an understanding of the inescapable relationship between the two. Heidegger, Wittgenstein and Fichte have all observed in different ways that unspoken assumptions about the world around us (that is, faith) are the precondition of all knowledge in the first place. As for the Enlightenment narrative of steady upward progress from superstition to reason, Eagleton is certainly not arguing that the first is superior to the second. He is suggesting, rather, that the escalator can go up and down at the same time.

What the rationalist myth sees in the modern age are the tremendous advances made in curing disease and in increasing agricultural yield, which neither believer nor atheist wants to do without. It views Zyklon-B and the hydrogen bomb as momentary setbacks, if it notices them at all, and it generally avoids comment about the contradictory and confused economic system our allegedly liberal-humanist age has produced. It's a system, as Eagleton sees it, that pretends to be entirely logical but produces a cruel and irrational result: the poor made poorer and the rich much richer. And what are the greenhouse effect and the melting of the glaciers, if not artifacts of the Enlightenment?

We were sent a man who preached a message of love and we killed him; we were given a beautiful blue-green planet to live on and we killed it. What do we do now?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Heavenly Liturgies: Apocalpyse of Abraham

For my chapter on the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, I am revisiting other texts that discuss, depict, or allude to heavenly hymns. Most apocalyptic texts refer to heavenly liturgies sung by heavenly, divine beings (most people call them "angels"), but very rarely tell us what these heavenly beings actually say. When they do report the content of such hymns, they tend to be highly indebted to, or in fact are verbatim quotations of Isaiah 6:1-4:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the hose filled with smoke.

2 Enoch 21:1 (J) repeats this verbatim, but it is being sung by cherubim, seraphim, with six-winged and many-eyed creatures; these creatures’ features can also be found in the adaptation of the holy praises in Rev. 4:8: “And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.’” This passage takes the basic angelic liturgy of the Isaiah excerpt, and combines some terminology from Ezekiel 1 (the “living creatures”) and perhaps gives a referent to the revelation of God’s name in Exodus 3:14: the was, is, and coming one perhaps referring to the LXX translation of “he who is.”

By contrast, the Similitudes of Enoch provide a more unique, but just as brief, window into heavenly speech:
And him, the First Word, they shall bless extol, and glorify with wisdom. They shall be wise in utterance in the spirit of life and in the Lord of the Spirits. He placed the Elect One on the throne of glory; and he shall judge all the works of the holy ones in heaven above, weighing in the balance their deeds. And when he shall lift up his countenance in order to judge the secret ways of theirs, by the word of the name of the Lord of the Spirits, then they shall all speak with one voice, blessing, glorifying, extolling, sanctifying the name of the Lord of the Spirits. And he will summon all the forces of the heavens, and all the holy ones above, and the forces of the Lord—the cherubim, seraphim, ophanim, all the angels of governance, the Elect One, and the other forces on the earth (and) over the water. On that day, they shall lift up in one voice, blessing, glorifying, and extolling in the spirit of faith, in the spirit of wisdom and patience, in the spirit of mercy, in the spirit of justice and peace, and in the spirit of generosity. They shall all say in one voice, “Blessed (is he) and may the name of the Lord of the Spirits be blessed forever and evermore.” All the vigilant ones in heaven shall bless him; all the holy ones who are in heaven shall bless him…. (1 Enoch 61:7-12; trans. F.I. Andersen; OTP)

The text continues in the same manner. This, in fact, sounds much like the compilation of praises found in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, except that it is set as an eschatological future event. The temporal dimension is extraordinarily important, as is the mentioning of an enthroned elect one, which sounds much like a Christian intervention—although, in fact, in the Songs themselves, there is a highly exalted divine being, seemingly second to God, who occupies his own tabernacle; this figure may be Melchizedek (a suggestion tentatively put forward by Jim Davila), although the text is too fragmentary for any sure conclusions, the same figure who in 11Q13 is the eschatological judge. For the Songs, the temporal dimension is also extraordinarily important, but it is not eschatological; it is the Sabbath: the sabbath is the most holy time, and it is when one can evoke the most holy, heavenly sanctuary. In fact, perhaps they also resonate with the Berakhot from Qumran.

All of this, however, is to lead up to a hymn that I actually cannot do much with in terms of my dissertation, but I find interesting nonetheless, from the Apocalypse of Abraham 17:8-21:

Eternal One, Mighty One, Holy El, God autocrat
self-originate, incorruptible, immaculate,
unbegotten, spotless, immortal,
self-protected, self-devised,
without mother, without father, ungenerated,
exalted, fiery,
just, lover of men, benevolent, compassionate, bountiful,
jealous over me, patient one, most merciful.
Eli, eternal, mighty one, holy, Sabaoth,
most glorious El, El, El, El, Iaoel,
you are he my soul has loved, my protector.
Eternal, fiery, shining,
light-giving, thunder-voiced, lightning-visioned, many-eyed,
receiving the petitions of those who honor you
and turning away from the petitions of those who restrain you
by the restraint of their provocations,
redeemer of those who dwell in the midst of the wicked ones,
of those who are dispersed among the just of the world,
in the corruptible age.
Showing forth the age of the just,
you make the light shine
before the morning light upon your creation
from your face
to spend the day on the earth,
and in your heavenly dwelling place
(there is) an inexhaustible light of the invincible dawning
from the light of your face.
Accept my prayer and delight in it,
and (accept) also teh sacrifice which you yourself made
to yourself through me as I searched for you.
Receive me favorably,
teach me, show me, and make known to your servant what you have promised me.
(trans. R. Rubinkiewicz; OTP)

I include this in the discussion of heavenly liturgies because Abraham (being guided around the various firmaments) recites this along with his angelic guide, "And the angel knelt down with me and worshiped" (17:2). The conjoining of human and heavenly worship is not unique to this text: it is suggested already in Jubilees in which Sabbath observance is the response of the angels to God's creation; in turn, they teach this practice to humans. Jubilees 2:17-33 highly emphasizes that humans worshiping God on the Sabbath are doing so in conjunction, together with the angels in heaven. It is as if Jubilees provides an etiology for the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice themselves.

Nonetheless, this hymned prayer stands out from so many others because of its length--it is far longer than the praises found in the other apocalyptic texts, which just tend to riff on the trishagion or qedushah or "three holies" from Isaiah 6. This text looks like it stands somewhere between the later Nag Hammadi texts, particularly at the beginning with all the self-originate language (something that sounds like a lot of the "Sethian" texts, such as the Three Steles of Seth), slowly merging with a good old fashioned Psalm. Is this an Egyptian text? Does it stand somewhere between older Jewish (mixed with Christian) interests and emergent Sethian liturgies? I wonder. This is part of the reason I find this hymn so interesting, although it ended up having little bearing on my current research (it will get a footnote, so don't worry). Just some proof that those studying good Nag Hammadi texts cannot operate in a vacuum, but must consider a wide range of ancient literature, even the admitted messy "pseudepigrapha" with their tortuous transmission histories.

Atheists Coming out of the Closet...So to Speak

The NYTimes has an article on the rise of atheist organizations throughout the U.S.

In keeping with the new generation of atheist evangelists, the Pastafarian leaders say that their goal is not confrontation, or even winning converts, but changing the public’s stereotype of atheists. A favorite Pastafarian activity is to gather at a busy crossroads on campus with a sign offering “Free Hugs” from “Your Friendly Neighborhood Atheist.”

For those in the dark, a "pastafarian" refers to the parodic followers of the flying spaghetti monster: may you, too, be touched by his noodly appendage. I think the name of "atheist evangelists" is quite interesting...quite telling of the orientation of some of the groups. Do click on the hyperlink above: the article shows a rich variety of non-belief.

The End of the University as We Know It

The chair of my department, Mark Taylor, just contributed the following article for the NYTimes about the state of graduate education and the university as a whole and his suggestions for the future (some are radical, others are more easily implemented):

April 27, 2009
End the University as We Know It

GRADUATE education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).

Widespread hiring freezes and layoffs have brought these problems into sharp relief now. But our graduate system has been in crisis for decades, and the seeds of this crisis go as far back as the formation of modern universities. Kant, in his 1798 work “The Conflict of the Faculties,” wrote that universities should “handle the entire content of learning by mass production, so to speak, by a division of labor, so that for every branch of the sciences there would be a public teacher or professor appointed as its trustee.”

Unfortunately this mass-production university model has led to separation where there ought to be collaboration and to ever-increasing specialization. In my own religion department, for example, we have 10 faculty members, working in eight subfields, with little overlap. And as departments fragment, research and publication become more and more about less and less. Each academic becomes the trustee not of a branch of the sciences, but of limited knowledge that all too often is irrelevant for genuinely important problems. A colleague recently boasted to me that his best student was doing his dissertation on how the medieval theologian Duns Scotus used citations.

The emphasis on narrow scholarship also encourages an educational system that has become a process of cloning. Faculty members cultivate those students whose futures they envision as identical to their own pasts, even though their tenures will stand in the way of these students having futures as full professors.

The dirty secret of higher education is that without underpaid graduate students to help in laboratories and with teaching, universities couldn’t conduct research or even instruct their growing undergraduate populations. That’s one of the main reasons we still encourage people to enroll in doctoral programs. It is simply cheaper to provide graduate students with modest stipends and adjuncts with as little as $5,000 a course — with no benefits — than it is to hire full-time professors.

In other words, young people enroll in graduate programs, work hard for subsistence pay and assume huge debt burdens, all because of the illusory promise of faculty appointments. But their economical presence, coupled with the intransigence of tenure, ensures that there will always be too many candidates for too few openings.

The other obstacle to change is that colleges and universities are self-regulating or, in academic parlance, governed by peer review. While trustees and administrations theoretically have some oversight responsibility, in practice, departments operate independently. To complicate matters further, once a faculty member has been granted tenure he is functionally autonomous. Many academics who cry out for the regulation of financial markets vehemently oppose it in their own departments.

If American higher education is to thrive in the 21st century, colleges and universities, like Wall Street and Detroit, must be rigorously regulated and completely restructured. The long process to make higher learning more agile, adaptive and imaginative can begin with six major steps:

1. Restructure the curriculum, beginning with graduate programs and proceeding as quickly as possible to undergraduate programs. The division-of-labor model of separate departments is obsolete and must be replaced with a curriculum structured like a web or complex adaptive network. Responsible teaching and scholarship must become cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural.

Just a few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of political scientists who had gathered to discuss why international relations theory had never considered the role of religion in society. Given the state of the world today, this is a significant oversight. There can be no adequate understanding of the most important issues we face when disciplines are cloistered from one another and operate on their own premises.

It would be far more effective to bring together people working on questions of religion, politics, history, economics, anthropology, sociology, literature, art, religion and philosophy to engage in comparative analysis of common problems. As the curriculum is restructured, fields of inquiry and methods of investigation will be transformed.

2. Abolish permanent departments, even for undergraduate education, and create problem-focused programs. These constantly evolving programs would have sunset clauses, and every seven years each one should be evaluated and either abolished, continued or significantly changed. It is possible to imagine a broad range of topics around which such zones of inquiry could be organized: Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water.

Consider, for example, a Water program. In the coming decades, water will become a more pressing problem than oil, and the quantity, quality and distribution of water will pose significant scientific, technological and ecological difficulties as well as serious political and economic challenges. These vexing practical problems cannot be adequately addressed without also considering important philosophical, religious and ethical issues. After all, beliefs shape practices as much as practices shape beliefs.

A Water program would bring together people in the humanities, arts, social and natural sciences with representatives from professional schools like medicine, law, business, engineering, social work, theology and architecture. Through the intersection of multiple perspectives and approaches, new theoretical insights will develop and unexpected practical solutions will emerge.

3. Increase collaboration among institutions. All institutions do not need to do all things and technology makes it possible for schools to form partnerships to share students and faculty. Institutions will be able to expand while contracting. Let one college have a strong department in French, for example, and the other a strong department in German; through teleconferencing and the Internet both subjects can be taught at both places with half the staff. With these tools, I have already team-taught semester-long seminars in real time at the Universities of Helsinki and Melbourne.

4. Transform the traditional dissertation. In the arts and humanities, where looming cutbacks will be most devastating, there is no longer a market for books modeled on the medieval dissertation, with more footnotes than text. As financial pressures on university presses continue to mount, publication of dissertations, and with it scholarly certification, is almost impossible. (The average university press print run of a dissertation that has been converted into a book is less than 500, and sales are usually considerably lower.) For many years, I have taught undergraduate courses in which students do not write traditional papers but develop analytic treatments in formats from hypertext and Web sites to films and video games. Graduate students should likewise be encouraged to produce “theses” in alternative formats.

5. Expand the range of professional options for graduate students. Most graduate students will never hold the kind of job for which they are being trained. It is, therefore, necessary to help them prepare for work in fields other than higher education. The exposure to new approaches and different cultures and the consideration of real-life issues will prepare students for jobs at businesses and nonprofit organizations. Moreover, the knowledge and skills they will cultivate in the new universities will enable them to adapt to a constantly changing world.

6. Impose mandatory retirement and abolish tenure. Initially intended to protect academic freedom, tenure has resulted in institutions with little turnover and professors impervious to change. After all, once tenure has been granted, there is no leverage to encourage a professor to continue to develop professionally or to require him or her to assume responsibilities like administration and student advising. Tenure should be replaced with seven-year contracts, which, like the programs in which faculty teach, can be terminated or renewed. This policy would enable colleges and universities to reward researchers, scholars and teachers who continue to evolve and remain productive while also making room for young people with new ideas and skills.

For many years, I have told students, “Do not do what I do; rather, take whatever I have to offer and do with it what I could never imagine doing and then come back and tell me about it.” My hope is that colleges and universities will be shaken out of their complacency and will open academia to a future we cannot conceive.

Mark C. Taylor, the chairman of the religion department at Columbia, is the author of the forthcoming “Field Notes From Elsewhere: Reflections on Dying and Living.”

I had not realized what his current research was and dying...huh. He has implemented the "zones of inquiry" already in my department, to bring people from different subfields together on issues such as sacred space, blood, etc., creating reading lists to begin with on how these issues have been dealt theoretically and important works in different religious specializations. I think this makes sense for a religion department especially, and since religion departments are multidisciplinary in themselves it could provide an interesting testing ground for broader implementation in the university.

I do wonder, however, if his proposal of specialization among specific universities--having one be stronger in French, another in German--stands at cross-purposes of his problem with specialization within universities? Nonetheless, I agree that communication between universities (and between departments, programs, or even the "zones of inquiry") needs improvement.

Overall, I think he is right that something needs to change in higher education, whether it includes these proposals or we take whatever he suggests, do with it what he could never imagine, and then tell him about it.

UPDATE: The last I checked, Mark Taylor's article has generated 344 responses, and the editor is not taking any more. Not surprising that such provocative proposals would elicit such a wave.

In addition, see the response by James K.A. Smith at Fors Clavigera.

Freedom of Forbidden Fruit

They wondered why the fruit had been forbidden:
It taught them nothing new. They hid their pride,
But did not listen much when they were chidden:
They knew exactly what to do outside.

They left. Immediately the memory faded
Of all they'd known: they could not understand
The dogs now who before had always aided;
The stream was dumb with whom they'd always planned.

They wept and quarrelled: freedom was so wild.
In front maturity as he ascended
Retired like a horizon from the child,

The dangers and the punishments grew greater,
And the way back by angels was defended
Against the poet and the legislator.

(W.H. Auden, Sonnets from China II)

Friday, April 24, 2009

But Who's the Tyrant?

Epitaph on a Tyrant

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
(W.H. Auden)

My mind automatically wanders to ancient Rome: to Augustus whose pax was really a pacification; to Caligula (but not much a poet); to Nero, who played the part of the poet. Or is it a combination of all of them? A meta-tyrant? It is quite interesting how many dictators are writers: Julius Caesar has his Gallic Wars; Augustus has the Res Gestae; Mand arcus Aurelius wrote his Meditations--that actually would be a good fit for the description. Of course, looking to Auden's own context, Hitler had Mein Kampf; and, for those who didn't know, evidently Saddam Hussein wrote pseudonymous novels, such as Zabibah and the King. Literature written by dictators is now called "dic lit." This little poem captures all of these figures.

Ovidian Odyssey, Odyssean Ovid

of the warlord from Ithaca our educated poets
should write about my misadventures: I've undergone
worse troubles than he did. He wandered for years--but only
on the short haul between Ithaca and Troy;
thrust to the Getic shore by Caesar's wrath, I've traversed
seas lying beneath unknown stars,
whole constellations distant. He had his loyal companions,
his faithful crew: my comrades deserted me
at the time of my banishment. Hew as making for his homeland,
a cheerful victor: I was driven from mine--
fugitive, exile, victim. My home was not some Greek island,
Ithaca, Samos--to leave them is no great loss--
but the City that from its seven hills scans the world's orbit,
Rome, centre of empire, seat of the gods.
He was physically tough, with great stamina, long-enduring;
my strength is slight, a gentle man's. He spent
a lifetime under arms, engaged in savage warfare--
I'm accustomed to quieter pursuits.
I was crushed by a god, with no help in my troubles:
he had that warrior-goddess by his side.
And just as Jove outranks the god of the rough ocean,
so he suffered Neptune's anger, I bear Jove's.
What's more, the bulk of his troubles are fictitious,
whereas mine remain anything but myth!
Finally, he got back to the home of his questing, recovered
the acres he'd sought so long; but I,
unless the injured deity's wrath diminish, am sundered
for everlasting from my native soil!
(Ovid, Tristia 1.5.56-84; trans. Green)

Sing, Muse, of the man of many metamorphoses...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ovid's Tearful (Tristia) Transformation (Metamorphoses)

Ovid, famous in his own day for his Art of Love, but today for his Metamorphoses (Transformations), reflects on his Metamorphoses in his tearful Tristia (Lamentations), which were written after he was banished from Rome, exiled to the Black Sea:

There are also fifteen books of Metamorphoses, worksheets
lately saved from my exequies:
To them I bid you say that the new face of my fortunes
may now be reckoned one more
among their bodily changes: by sudden transformation
what was joyful once is made fit matter for tears.
(Ovid, Tristia, I.1.117-22; trans. Peter Green)

There is a certain painful, sad commentary here. At the end of his Metamorphoses, Ovid basically says that he (and his book--he equates them) is the only thing that will endure, not change. His exile, his separation from all his friends, from his homeland, changes him physically, psychologically, and emotionally, transforming his joy into tears. His persona in the Metamorphoses has, itself, transformed through dislocation. Reports Better-than-Expected Earnings

I would like to think that I have had a hand in helping here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Challenge of a Story

We receive a great gift from storytellers like Boccaccio, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and many others: freedom from mythic rigidities, a vision of a life that fires the imagination, and truths about the civic world and about ourselves. In return, we must open ourselves to truths that often shock and frighten us. (Richard Kuhns, Decameron and the Philosophy of Storytelling: Author as Midwife and Pimp, 139)

Cleopatra VII in the News

NYTimes has an op-ed article on the current dig searching for Cleopatra VII's tomb:

April 22, 2009
Op-Ed Contributor
Who’s Buried in Cleopatra’s Tomb?
WHAT becomes a legend most? If you’re a woman, the formula is straightforward. Your best bets are the three D’s: delusion (Joan of Arc), disability (Helen Keller), death (Sylvia Plath). You get extra points for the savage, sudden or surprising demise, as Evita, Amelia or Diana attests. At the head of the list of untimely self-destructors comes of course Cleopatra VII, for whose tomb a search begins shortly, on an Egyptian hilltop west of Alexandria.

Cleopatra died 2,039 years ago, at the age of 39. Before she was a slot machine, a video game, a cigarette, a condom, a caricature, a cliché or a synonym for Elizabeth Taylor, before she was reincarnated by Shakespeare, Dryden or Shaw, she was a nonfictional Egyptian queen. She ruled for 21 years, mostly alone, which is to say that she was essentially a female king, an incongruity that elicits the kind of double take once reserved for men in drag.

From her point of view there was nothing irregular about the arrangement. Cleopatra arguably had more powerful female role models than any other woman in history. They were not so much paragons of virtue as shrewd political operators. Her antecedents were the rancorous, meddlesome Macedonian queens who routinely poisoned brothers and sent armies against sons. Cleopatra’s great-grandmother waged one civil war against her parents, another against her children. These women were raised to rule.

Cleopatra had a child with Julius Caesar. After his death, she had three more — two sons and a daughter — with his protégé, Marc Antony. Motherhood confirmed her hold on the throne. She was a little bit the reverse of Henry VIII; she too needed a male heir, though she was rather more successful in securing one. Almost certainly Marc Antony and Julius Caesar represent the extent of Cleopatra’s sexual history. She was self-reliant, ingenious and plucky, and for her time and place remarkably well behaved. Having inherited a country in decline, she capably steered it through drought, famine, plague and war.

What good can be said of a woman who sleeps with two of the most powerful men of her age, however? The fathers of Cleopatra’s children were men of voracious and celebrated sexual appetites. Cleopatra has gone down in history as a wanton seductress. She is the original bad girl, the Monica Lewinsky of the ancient world. And all because she turns up at one of the most dangerous intersections in history, that of women and power.

She presides eternally over the chasm between promiscuity and virility, the forest of connotations that separate “adventuress” from “adventurer.” Women schemed while men strategized in the ancient world, too. And female power asserted itself regularly, if more covertly than it had on the Greek stage. In a first century B.C. marriage contract, a woman promises to be faithful and attentive — and to not add love potions to her husband’s food. Clever women, Euripides had already warned, are dangerous women.

Granting that the double standard has outlived Cleopatra by at least 2,000 years, what are we doing today on that Egyptian hill, under the ruins of the temple of Taposiris Magna? “This could be the most important discovery of the 21st century,” says Egypt’s antiquities director, Zahi Hawass, of the dig. Certainly it would be a relief to cross Cleopatra off our list of objects we have lost, or believe we have lost: Atlantis, Jamestown, an entire tribe of Israel, good manners, Jimmy Hoffa.

If we find Cleopatra’s tomb — and certainly we will find something relevant, as Dr. Hawass seems determined to make a discovery to rival the 1922 one of King Tut — we may well be able to solve the mystery of Cleopatra’s death. Surely there will be no asp preserved at her mummified side. It was likely retrofitted to the tale. It’s not difficult to figure out what someone is trying to say when he pairs a lady with a snake.

We may be able to determine if Cleopatra committed suicide or was in fact murdered, however. As a prisoner, she was an embarrassment to the Romans, unsure how to triumph resoundingly yet sympathetically over a woman. They may have beaten her to the punch.

To a great extent her enemies have insured our fascination with Cleopatra. It was the Roman civil war that secured her immortality. And it was Octavian, her nemesis and the future Augustus Caesar, who established her as a femme fatale. He may well have offered up the Classic Comics version of the debauched, duplicitous Egyptian queen and paved the way for Joseph L. Mankiewicz. But he magnified Cleopatra to hyperbolic proportions in the process — so as to do the same with his own victory. Cleopatra’s story differs from most women’s stories in that the men who wrote it, for their own reasons, enlarged rather than erased her role.

Octavian hardly needed to inflate the tale: Here is a royal woman who could be said to have died, after all, for love. Romantic tragedies don’t get any better, which explains why Shakespeare had a difficult time improving on Plutarch. And Cleopatra puts a vintage label on something we have always known existed: mind-altering female sexuality. It’s that love potion again.

She does not so much bump up against a glass ceiling as tumble through a trapdoor, the one that dismisses women by sexualizing them. As Margaret Atwood has written of Jezebel, “The amount of sexual baggage that has accumulated around this figure is astounding, since she doesn’t do anything remotely sexual in the original story, except put on makeup.” In Cleopatra’s case, the sheer absence of truth has guaranteed the legend. Where facts are few, myth rushes in, the kudzu of history.

It would be a relief to settle once and for all the burning question of whether or not Cleopatra was beautiful, though the answer affects next to nothing. Even if she had every aesthetic weapon in her arsenal, we know already the ones she so expertly deployed. “It was impossible to converse with her without being immediately captivated by her,” asserts one of our two best sources. Her voice was velvety; her conversation stimulating; her powers of persuasion matchless; her presence an event, reports the other. None of those commodities is likely to be extracted from Egyptian limestone, to travel on an international tour.

Cleopatra served most effectively as a weapon with which Octavian could club Marc Antony, in a particularly virulent civil war. It was his weakness for a foreign seductress that debased and undid Antony. Will he turn out to have shared a tomb with Cleopatra, as ancient accounts claim? After all it was his request — either real or concocted by Octavian — that he be buried alongside her that cost Antony Rome. Cleopatra is said to have buried him with her own hands, lavishly, royally and feverishly. (She was attempting to starve herself to death at the time.) The quest for his tomb is not the stuff of headlines however. Antony is a bit player in someone else’s story.

The search is, too, a topical one. The Cambridge classicist Mary Beard points out that for many years archaeologists’ Holy Grail was the (still undiscovered) tomb of Alexander the Great. We find ourselves no longer in the market for an imperialistic white male. While this dig will resolve none of the great questions, it could, notes Professor Beard, conceivably offer clues to Cleopatra’s ethnicity. Was she pure Macedonian, or all or part African? (My guess is Macedonian with, possibly, a bit of Persian blood.) Indeed the mixed ancestry question appears to be the issue of the day: A month ago British scientists suggested that they had answered it definitively, producing computer simulations of Cleopatra’s sister, based on a skull found in Turkey.

Here we engage in a familiar exercise: Cleopatra too spent her life trying to reconcile East and West, with as little success as we do today. A Roman could not get past the idea of a civilized, virtuous West and a decadent, opulent East. He could not pry apart the exotic and the erotic. The East was by definition beguiling and voluptuous — like a woman, as it happens. Think of Coffee, that second-act marvel in Balanchine’s “Nutcracker.” She is a sultry, intoxicating presence, too potent for any partner, by no means critical to the story, really there, I have always suspected, to wake up the fathers in the audience.

Of course we mean to resolve the unresolved. We clamor for the black box of history. In some essential way we want confirmation too that we live on the same planet as did the legend that inspired two millenniums of overheated prose, that what feels like myth was really history. We thirst for exactitudes. We want to see and fondle the myth in all its scintillating splendor, forgetting that as we do so it turns back — the reverse Midas touch — into the dross of history. If and when we find Cleopatra, if and when a face can be fitted to her, do we promise to give up Elizabeth Taylor once and for all? Will we opt for the lady or the legend? Is something lost when she is found? Octavian had his agenda, and we have ours.

No matter what the tombs of Taposiris yield, they are unlikely to offer up an answer to the vexed question of women and power. For that we have to dig elsewhere. It may take a little longer.

Stacy Schiff, the author of “A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France and the Birth of America,” is working on a book about Cleopatra.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Question of the Day: David Hume

It seems I have a Scottish theme going today, with the previous post on a lectureship at the University of Glasgow and here a quote, a question from the famed Scottish philosopher, David Hume:

If no camels had been created for the use of man in the sandy deserts of Africa and Arabia, would the world have been dissolved?

(David Hume, Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, Part VIII)

NT Lectureship at University of Glasgow

A friend of mine just forwarded this info to me; I am sure there are many of you out there both qualified and interested in the current academic job climate, or for those of you who always wanted to live in Scotland:

Lecturer in New Testament, University of Glasgow

Reference Number 00024-1
Location Main Campus (Gilmorehill)
Faculty/ Services Faculty of Arts
Department 180 Theology and Religious Studies
Job Family Research & Teaching
Position Type Full Time
Salary Range £31,513 - £35,469 (grade 7)

Job Purpose
To actively contribute to teaching at taught masters and undergraduate level, to supervise postgraduate students and to undertake research and administration as directed by the Head of Department
Main Duties and Responsibilities
1. Contribute to the organisation and delivery of the taught masters and undergraduate programme in New Testament.

2. Maintain and further develop research profile through high quality internationally recognised publications and support the departmental research strategy.

3. Prepare grant applications and secure grant funding in a manner that supports and enhances the academic profile of the Department.

4. Share in the supervision of postgraduate students

5. Supervise individual student projects and assist with difficulties e.g. learning support/problems.

6. Contribute to the development of the curriculum in a manner that supports a research led approach to student learning.

7. Engage in professional development as appropriate

8. Participate fully in the assessment process (using a variety of methods and techniques) and provide effective, timely and appropriate feedback to students to support their learning

9. Undertake departmental administration as requested and supported by the Head of Department.

Knowledge, Qualifications, Skills and Experience
A1 Good first degree and PhD in subject related area.
A2 Excellent emerging research profile
A3 Comprehensive and up to date knowledge of research within subject area
A4 An interdisciplinary approach to research and teaching in biblical studies

B1 Ability to make personal contribution to departmental specialisms in research and teaching. These include: dialogue between religion and contemporary critical theory; religion in relation to literature and the arts; religion and contemporary society.
B2 Be able to contribute to courses in early Christianity

C1 Excellent communication skills both orally and written.
C2 Good interpersonal skills
C3 Time/project management skills
C4 Ability to work as part of a team
C5 Ability to work with little supervision

E1 At least 1-2 years teaching experience at a postdoctoral level
F1 Postgraduate teaching experience

Job Features
Planning and Organising
Reactive - Daily queries from departmental staff/students.
Plan and organise administrative duties on an ongoing basis

Decision Making
Prioritise own work.
Experimental design.
Decide on choice of journal for publication of research and conferences to attend.
Content of course(s)

Internal/External Relationships
Head of Department for exchanging information, research strategy, learning and teaching strategy.
Staff/Research students to advise and motivate.
U/G students for teaching and learning support.
Academic support services for appropriate advice and for exchanging information.
Student support services, to exchange information, refer/support students.
Grant funding bodies (income generation)
Journals (publishing)

Problem Solving
Act as first point of contact for problems/enquiries from students involved with area of teaching/research.
Assist postgraduate students with problems relating to research.

Standard Terms & Conditions
The salary will start at the first point on the Research and Teaching grade, level 7, Scale £30,763 - £34,625 per annum.

The successful applicant (if aged under 60) will be eligible to join the Universities’ Superannuation Scheme. Further information regarding the scheme is available from the Superannuation Officer, who is also prepared to advise on questions relating to the transfer of Superannuation benefits.

All research and related activities, including grants, donations, clinical trials, contract research, consultancy and commercialisation are required to be managed through the University’s relevant processes (e.g. contractual and financial), in accordance with the University Court’s policies.

Probation Period

Lecturers, on appointment, will normally be required to serve a period of probation; exceptionally Senior Lecturers might be required to serve a period of probation, particularly when they have had no previous university experience. The period of probation, which will normally be three years, may be reduced or waived by the Director of Human Resources on the recommendation of the Appointing Committee having regard for the previous experience of the person appointed.

In exceptional circumstances, when an appointee to a Lectureship has no postgraduate degree or has not worked in a lower level academic position the Appointing Committee can recommend that 4 years of probation be completed.

Relocation assistance may be provided where appropriate

Jesus Makin' Out

When YouTube videos come with disclaimers,

This is a satire and IN NO WAY does it portray our feelings about Christianity or any other religion. We respect and admire all people of faith and offer this piece only as a form of entertainment. From one set of Judaeo-Christians to another, we apologize to those that are offended and invite you to comment with your thoughts.

they must be interesting!

Monday, April 20, 2009

One-Liner of the Day: M.M. Bakhtin

Antiquity parodied essentially everything....

(M.M. Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, trans. Caryl Emerson)

Reading Shakespearean Sonnets with Virginia Woolf

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leapt with him;
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
Could make me any summer's story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the lily's white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.
(Shakespeare, Sonnet 98)

"Nor with praise the deep vermilion in the rose," she read, and so reading she was ascending, she felt, on to the top, on to the summit. How satisfying! How restful! All the odds and ends of the day stuck to this magnet; her mind felt swept, felt clean. And then there it was, suddently entire; she held it in her hands, beautiful and reasonable, clear and oomplete, the essence sucked out of life and held rounded here--the sonnet.

But she was becoming conscious of her husband looking at her. He was smiling at her, quizzically, as if he were ridiculing her gently for being asleep in broad daylight, but at the same time he was thinking, Go on reading. You don't look sad now, he thought. And he wondered what she was reading, and exaggerated her ignorance, her simplicity, for he liked to think that she was not clever, not book-learned at all. He wondered if she understood what she was reading. Probably not, he thought. She was astonishingly beautiful. Her beauty seemed to him, if that were possible to increase

Yet seem'd it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play,

she finished.
(Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse I.XIX)

The Life of an Idea

The idea lives not in one person's isolated individual consciousness--if it remains there only, it degenerates and dies. The idea begins to live, that is, to take shape, to develop, to find and renew its verbal expression, to give birth to new ideas, only when it enters into genuine dialogic relationships with other ideas, with the ideas of others. Human thought becomes genuine thought, that is, an idea, only under conditions of living contact with another and alien thought, a thought embodied in someone else's voice, that is, in someone else's consciousness expressed in discourse. At that point of contact between voice-consciousnesses the idea is born and lives. (M.M. Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics; trans. Caryl Emerson; italics original)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Waiting for Godot"

A new production of Samuel Becket's "Waiting for Godot" at Studio 54 in New York stars John Goodman. NYTimes reports, giving insight into Goodman as an actor, his challenges in life and for his role as Pozzo.

Pozzo is the least sympathetic and in some ways the trickiest character in “Godot.” He cruelly mistreats Lucky, and yet he is as lost and vulnerable as all the others. He is “an insecure gasbag who needs to be listened to and have things done for him,” as Mr. Goodman put it.

Anthony Page, the director of the production, said: “ ‘Godot’ is actually a very hard play to learn. Nothing is apparently very logical, and there’s nothing to guide you except the words until you get into it.” As for Pozzo, “It’s a very difficult part to take in if you’re not used to being onstage.”

Mr. Page knew Beckett and worked with him on an early revival of the play at the Royal Court Theater in London in 1964. “Beckett was very precise,” he recalled. “He didn’t want theories or any level of intellectualizing. He paid a lot of attention to the tone of voice and to the relationships among the characters. And he cared a great deal about the silences and the pauses.”

Pointing to the set, a barren, rocky mountain pass designed by Santo Loquasto, he added: “I feel a bit guilty. Beckett’s stage directions call for a bare stage. But I felt that in such a big theater, with such a large stage, we had to have a set. I don’t know whether he would have approved.”

About the cast, he said, he felt more secure. “Beckett was very free about actors,” he said. “And these performances — oh yes, I think he would have approved of them.”

The pregnant silences, the pauses, the absences interest me; I find the extraordinary difficulty of reading absences challenging and rewarding. I have been wanting to read some of Becket's plays lately, but haven't had the time. Maybe I should just go see this one (if I can afford it).

Sontag on Augustine and Montaigne

In my class, the most autobiographical writings we read are Augustine' Confessions and Montaigne's Essays. Their pioneering work of self-reflection, creating particular concepts of a self, of the invention of the "inner self" as the book by Philip Cary argues for Augustine, is where their similarities end. Augustine's vision of the self is quite contained, fixed; Montaigne's, fluid, in flux, always changing. The key, in my opinion, to the Augustinian sense of the self is memory; the key for Montaigne, imagination. One looks back over a life; one looks forward, or, more accurately, always seeks living, thinking, acting in the moment. Montaigne, it seems, in his act of writing tries to catch himself in the moment of thinking. I think I personally prefer Montaigne's vision of the unfinalizable self. Susan Sontag, in her essay "The death of tragedy," has a brief comparative moment, using the difference between Augustine and Montaigne as an analogue to the difference between Becket and Brecht:

Both the Confessions and the Essays are didactic autobiographies; but while the author of Confessions sees his life as a drama illustrating the linear movement of consciousness from egocentricity to theocentricity, the author of the Essays sees his life as a dispassionate, varied exploration of the innumerable styles of being a self.

I largely agree with this view of the Confessions, except that they culminate in these "timeless" reflections on memory, time, and creation. These latter reflections almost force you to reread Confessions with them in mind, and see them throughout. As such, while Confessions has the appearance of such linearity, it really becomes a feedback loop. I have to admit I need to read more of the Essays to get a much better sense of them: they are about 1000 pages or so. But the styles of being a self, as Sontag puts it, are not discretely separate styles. They are organically linked in multiple ongoing microscopic processes of physical and mental transformations of the self, the self in the processes of imaginative possibilities and inevitable decay.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Paul and Raskolnikov

I'm in the middle of teaching Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky at the moment, and Raskolnikov, the protagonist, is a divided character; his consciousness is divided against himself. His very name means "schismatic." In the act of murder, he loses the conscious ability to control his own actions; he acts as if in a dreamlike state, a trance. Moreover, almost every character trait he has, he also exemplifies its opposite. He is schism-made-flesh. His best friend, Razumikhin, whose name means "reason," describes his friend:

What can I tell you? I've known Rodion [Raskolnikov] for a year and a half: sullen, gloomy, arrogant, proud; recently (and maybe much earlier) insecure and hypochondriac. Magnaminous and kind. Doesn't like voicing his feelings, and would rather do something cruel than speak his heart out in words. At times, however, he's not hypochondriac at all, but just inhumanly cold and callous, as if there really were two opposite characters in him, changing places with each other. (trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky)

He is cruel and he is kind. He murders, but he is magnaminous. He calculates and he is spontaneous. He gives freely, but takes as well. He often acts without his will. This self-division reminds me of Paul:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. (Romans 7:15-20)

If there is anything that defines Raskolnikov it is that he does not understand his own actions. Crime and Punishment is a crime novel turned on its head in which the murderer tries to figure out his own motives for murder, and those motives are multifarious. He cannot quite figure out why he does what he does. This passage from Paul, moreover, reminds me of the rants throughout C&P when Raskolnikov talks to himself, wavering back and forth, meditating in a stream-of-consciousness manner on his contradictory actions, thoughts, and motives. The difference, though, is that the division is not between will and actions as with Paul, per se (although this is there), but split within divided will and divided action.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Modern (Bathroom Stall) Confession

Foucault argued (I think in the History of Sexuality--don't ask me which volume off the top of my head) that the medieval Catholic confessional is the predecessor to the psychologist's analysis (I think he was thinking mostly of psychoanalysis of a Freudian bent), but, perhaps, it is also the predecessor of the advice column and even the bathroom graffito confessional in a post-Reformation, Protestant, predominantly Anglophone context (outside of Foucault's France):

For since the British Isles went Protestant
A church confession is too high for most.
But still confession is a human want,
So Englishmen must make theirs now by post
And authors hear them over breakfast toast.
For, failing them, there's nothing but the wall
Of public lavatories on which to scrawl.
(W.H. Auden, "Letter to Lord Byron")

I am beginning to find many of Auden's lines (especially in this particular poem) rather strained, but I like this particular stanza. It just stands out. It is witty, relevant, funny, and relatable. And the lines all work together (other stanzas in this poem have unrelated lines that seem to be there merely to fill out the rhyme scheme). What a thought: restroom graffiti as confessions.

Auden on Austen

I just finished teaching Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and so this excerpt from W.H. Auden's "Letter to Lord Byron" caught my attention:

There is one other author in my pack:
For some time I debated which to write to.
Which would least likely send my letter back?
But I decided that I'd give a fright to
Jane Austen if I wrote when I'd no right to,
And share in her contempt the dreadful fates
Of Crawford, Musgrove, and of Mr Yates.

Then she's a novelist. I don't know whether
You will agree, but novel writing is
A higher art than poetry altogether
In my opinion, and success implies
Both finer character and faculties.
Perhaps that's why real novels are as rare
As winter thunder or a polar bear.

The average poet by comparison
Is unobservant, immature, and lazy.
You must admit, when all is said and done,
His sense of other people's very hazy,
His moral judgments are too often crazy,
A slick and easy generalisation
Appeals too well to his imagination.

I must remember, though, that you were dead
Before the four great Russians lived, who brought
The art of the novel writing to a head;
The Book Society had not been bought.
But now the art for which Jane Austen fought,
Under the right persuasion bravely warms
And is the most prodigious of forms.

She was not an unshockable blue-stocking;
If shades remain the characters they were,
No doubt she still considers you as shocking.
But tell Jane Austen, that is, if you dare,
How much her novels are beloved down here.
She wrote them for posterity, she said;
'Twas rash, but by posterity she's read.

You could not shock her more than she shocks me;
Beside her Joyce seems innocent as grass.
It makes me most uncomfortable to see
An English spinster of middle class
Describe the amorous effect of "brass",
Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety
The economic basis of society.

According to the "letter," Auden is in Iceland and brought two authors with him: Lord Byron and Jane Austen. So, we have a (then) living poet telling a dead poet why novel-writing is a more "prodigious" form, a more insightful form, given to finer detail rather than hazy, vague generalities of the poet.

Cited by Wikipedia

I thought it was strange that I was getting referrals to my website from a wikipedia page. It was somewhat disheartening, however, to discover that I was cited on Wikipedia not for any of my own ideas that I have thrown out on this blog, but for my long quote of a message sent to Jim Davila by Andrei Orlov concerning Coptic fragments of 2 Enoch found here.

So, perhaps the interesting aspect of all of this is that Wikipedia cited someone (me) who was citing someone else (Davila) who was quoting someone else (Orlov)...a citation of a citation of a citation...a citational simulacrum... The trail runs cold there...for now...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"It is a Truth Universally Acknowledged...

...that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." Such are the famous first words to Jane Austen's masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice. But what if they read just slightly differently?

Here is the product description to a new take on the classic masterpiece:

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies -- "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains." So begins Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, an expanded edition of the beloved Jane Austen novel featuring all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton—and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she's soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers—and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield as Elizabeth wages war against hordes of flesh-eating undead. Can she vanquish the spawn of Satan? And overcome the social prejudices of the class-conscious landed gentry? Complete with romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you'd actually want to read.

Jane Austen is the author of Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, and other masterpieces of English literature.

Seth Grahame-Smith once took a class in English literature. He lives in Los Angeles.

I don't know quite what to make of this, but am intrigued enough that I just might read it. The cover is very eerie.

Auden on Luther


With conscience cocked to listen for the thunder,
He saw the Devil busy in the wind,
Over the chiming steeples and then under
The doors of nuns and doctors who had sinned.

What apparatus could stave off disaster
Or cut the brambles of man's error down?
Flesh was a silent dog that bites its master,
World a still pond in which its children drown.

The fuse of Judgement spluttered in his head:
"Lord smoke these honeyed insects from their hives.
All Works, Great Men, Societies are bad.
The Just shall live by Faith..." he cried in dread.

And men and women of the world were glad,
Who'd never cared or trembled in their lives.

I think this poem captures Luther's psychological sensitivities, his general perturbations of mind quite well--his "dread." It makes the final couplet that much more caustic. Luther, whether you like him or not, struggled greatly within his own tormented self to come to his formulation of "by faith alone." But how easy so many follow without experiencing such profound internal struggle. Can those who "never cared or trembled in their lives" really get it? Their being "glad" comes off as flippant, perhaps shallow, juxtaposed to Luther's "dread."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The End of Christian America (Newsweek)

Newsweek has a large article (and a series of smaller discussions) on religion in America, particularly discussing whether America is a "post-Christian" society. This comes on the heels of a particular survey of religious identification in which those who self-identify as Christian has gone down 10%, while those who don't identify with any faith has more than doubled:

According to the American Religious Identification Survey that got Mohler's attention, the percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 percentage points since 1990, from 86 to 76 percent. The Jewish population is 1.2 percent; the Muslim, 0.6 percent. A separate Pew Forum poll echoed the ARIS finding, reporting that the percentage of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith has doubled in recent years, to 16 percent; in terms of voting, this group grew from 5 percent in 1988 to 12 percent in 2008—roughly the same percentage of the electorate as African-Americans. (Seventy-five percent of unaffiliated voters chose Barack Obama, a Christian.) Meanwhile, the number of people willing to describe themselves as atheist or agnostic has increased about fourfold from 1990 to 2009, from 1 million to about 3.6 million. (That is about double the number of, say, Episcopalians in the United States.)

But, as Jon Meacham notes:

Let's be clear: while the percentage of Christians may be shrinking, rumors of the death of Christianity are greatly exaggerated. Being less Christian does not necessarily mean that America is post-Christian. A third of Americans say they are born again; this figure, along with the decline of politically moderate-to liberal mainline Protestants, led the ARIS authors to note that "these trends … suggest a movement towards more conservative beliefs and particularly to a more 'evangelical' outlook among Christians." With rising numbers of Hispanic immigrants bolstering the Roman Catholic Church in America, and given the popularity of Pentecostalism, a rapidly growing Christian milieu in the United States and globally, there is no doubt that the nation remains vibrantly religious—far more so, for instance, than Europe.

Meacham then proceeds to complicate this picture even further (as he always does), creating a rather complex portrait of the American religious landscape. See the whole thing here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Stop All the Clocks...

I thought this poem by Auden, originally entitled "Funeral Blues" but later left untitled, would be appropriate for Good Friday:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack of the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to good.

Now as recited by the actor John Hannah ("Matthew") in the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, which made the poem famous for a broader audience:

2 Enoch in Coptic!

Jim Davila reports message from Andrei Orlov, whose own site on 2 Enoch is here (and on my sidebar):

No longer ‘Slavonic’ only
2 Enoch attested in Coptic from Nubia

During his work preparing the publication of Coptic manuscripts from Qasr Ibrim in Egyptian Nubia, Joost Hagen, doctoral student at Leiden University, The Netherlands, very recently came across some fragments he could identify as part of the text of the so-called ‘Slavonic Enoch’ (2 Enoch), the first time a non-Slavonic manuscript of this intriguing text has been found.

The fragments were discovered at Qasr Ibrim, one of the capital cities of Christian-period Nubia (southern Egypt, northern Sudan, 5th-15th cent. AD), during excavations by the British Egypt Exploration Society (EES) which started in 1963 and have brought to light an astonishing number of finds, textual and other. Joost Hagen has been entrusted by the EES with the edition of the manuscript material in Coptic, the language of Christian Egypt and one of the literary languages used in the Christian kingdoms of Nubia.

The ‘Slavonic Enoch’ fragments, found in 1972, are four in number, most probably remnants of four consecutive leaves of a parchment codex. The fourth fragment is rather small and not yet placed with certainty, also because there is as yet no photograph of it available, only the transcription of its text by one of the excavators. For the other three fragments, both this transcription and two sets of photographs are available. The present location of the pieces themselves is not known, but most probably they are in one of the museums or magazines of the Antiquities Organization in Egypt.

The fragments contain chapters 36-42 of 2 Enoch, probably one of the most interesting parts of the work one could wish for, with the transition between two of its three main parts: Enoch’s heavenly tour and his brief return to earth before the assuming of his task back in heaven. Moreover, they clearly represent a text of the short recension, with chapter 38 and some other parts of the long recension ‘missing’ and chapters 37 and 39 in the order 39 then 37. On top of that, it contains the ‘extra’ material at the end of chapter 36 that is present only in the oldest Slavonic manuscript of the work, U (15th cent.), and in manuscript A (16th cent.), which is closely related to U. For most Coptic texts, a translation from a Greek original is taken for granted and the existence of this Coptic version might well confirm the idea of an original of the Book of the Secrets of Enoch in Greek from Egypt, probably Alexandria.

Archeologically it seems likely that the Coptic manuscript is part of the remains of a church library from before the year 1172, possibly even from before 969, two important dates in the history of Qasr Ibrim; a tentative first look at palaeographical criterea seems to suggest a date in the eighth to ninth, maybe tenth centuries, during Nubia’s early medieval period. This would mean that the fragments predate the accepted date of the translation of 2 Enoch into Slavonic (11th, 12th cent.) and that they are some several hunderd years older than the earliest Slavonic witness, a text with extracts of the ethical passages (14th cent.).

Although this Coptic manuscript is fragmentary, it proved to be possible to reconstruct part of the missing text using (translations of) the Slavonic versions, and several theories formulated about the book of 2 Enoch by Slavists and theologians have already been confirmed or proven wrong. Recently, the priority of the longer recension has been advocated (again). But the discovery of this first non-Slavonic witness, at the same time the oldest manuscript known so far, calls for renewed discussion about this matter. Unless the two recensions had indeed already split up in Greek, the short recension, and the oldest Slavonic manuscript U, have to be taken more seriously from now on.

At the Enoch Seminar in Napels, Joost Hagen hopes to present his recent discovery in the presence of the very people who can hopefully contribute to an answer to these questions.

Mr Joost L. Hagen MA (1978) studied Egyptology at Leiden University, the Netherlands, specializing in Coptic Egypt and with (among others) the following minor subjects: papyrology, biblical and rabbinic Hebrew, modern standard and christian Arabic and Old Nubian. In 2003, his MA thesis, entitled “O LORD, Thou preservest man and beast”: The Encomium for the feast day of the Four Creatures, attributed to John Chrysostom (in Dutch, unpublished), was accepted with the grade 8.5 out of 10.

At the Eighth International Congress of Coptic Studies in Paris, 2004, he presented part of this research, published in 2007 as ‘ “The Great Cherub” and his Brothers: Adam, Enoch and Michael and the names, deeds and faces of the Four Creatures in the Encomium on the Four Creatures, attributed to John Chrysostom’, in N. Bosson and A. Boud’hors (eds.), Actes du huitième congrès international d’études coptes, Paris, 28 juin-3 juillet 2004, Vol. 2, 467-480.

In winter 2004 / 2005 he spent half a year at the Institut für Ägyptologie und Koptologie of the Westfälische Wilhelms-universität Münster, Germany, where he developed an interest in the so- called “Gospel of the Saviour”, about which he also lectured during a 2007 conference on apocryphal gospels in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany: ‘Ein anderer Kontext für die Berliner und Straßburger “Evangelienfragmente”: Das “Evangelium des Erlösers” und andere “Apostelevangelien” in der koptischen Literatur’, article in press).

In September 2005, he started a four-year research project at Leiden University to prepare his doctoral dissertation about the role of Coptic in Christian Nubia, entitled Multilingualism and cultural change in late-antique and medieval Nubia: The evidence of the Coptic texts from Qasr Ibrim. In the course of this research, now in its final stages, he regularly visited the Qasr Ibrim archive in Cambridge, England, and the Egyptian and Coptic Museums in Cairo and the Nubia Museum in Aswan, Egypt.

In 2006, he participated in the first Summer School in Coptic Papyrology in Vienna. He assisted his supervisor, Dr. Jacques van der Vliet, in preparing his Dutch book about the Gospel of Judas (published in 2006), and regularly gives popular lectures about the Gospel of Judas himself. He is a member of the International Society of Nubian Studies (since 2006) and the International Association for Coptic Studies (since 2008).

I guess this means that now I can study 2 Enoch, or at least fragments thereof, myself!