Monday, June 28, 2010

SBL and AAR Making Up

After a nasty break-up and trial separation, it seems the SBL and AAR have decided they want to be together after all. As a member of both organizations, I am happy to see this. This next year is going to be particularly ridiculous, since they are meeting in the same city--Atlanta--just a few weeks apart. We were already to meet together in San Francisco next year, but now we will also be meeting the following years in Chicago and Baltimore, which will be cold!

Here is the joint letter from Kent Richards and Jack Fitzmier, the presidents of the two organizations:

June 28, 2010

We are pleased to announce that on June 10, 2010, the Society of
Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion signed a Letter
of Intent that outlines an agreement to hold concurrent Annual
Meetings beginning in San Francisco in the fall of 2011. These
meetings will

Occur in the same city—though the venue will change from year to year;
Occur at the same time—the weekend before the US Thanksgiving holiday;
Feature a single, jointly managed Publishers/Software/Book Exhibit;
Feature a single, jointly managed Employment Center;
Feature distinct and separate AAR and SBL programs planned with open
communication between the organizations;
Encourage the organizations’ members to attend each other’s programs
and events at no additional cost;
Allow the organizations to pursue their unique, if sometimes
overlapping, missions;
Enhance cooperation, not competition, between the organizations.

The advertising for these conventions will use the city name, the
year, and will identify the SBL and AAR as hosts. For example, the
first of these meetings will be known as “Annual Meetings 2011 San
Francisco, hosted by the American Academy of Religion and the Society
of Biblical Literature.” This name will appear on the registration
gateway, on signage at the meetings, on promotional materials, and on
other common elements.

A Conventions Management Committee, consisting of the Executive
Directors and staff members from each organization, is developing
operating policies and procedures that expand on the considerable
detail that already exists in the Letter of Intent. Each year the
Committee will review the most recent meetings with an eye toward
making improvements in subsequent gatherings. Nine concurrent meetings
are being planned for 2011 through 2019. Beginning in 2013 the
organizations will begin operating on a seven-year planning horizon
that includes a mechanism by which the organizations can, on an annual
basis, extend the seven-year agreement for an additional year. Dates
and venues of the first three concurrent Annual Meetings are as

November 19-22, 2011 San Francisco
November 17-20, 2012 Chicago
November 23-26, 2013 Baltimore

We believe that concurrent meetings will serve the interests of our
members, will help to advance the many disciplines and areas of study
we represent, and will maintain and advance the critical inquiry that
characterizes the work of our societies. We invite you to join us in
building this exciting new future.


Jack Fitzmier
American Academy of Religion

Kent Richards
Society of Biblical Literature

Now we can be one of the largest conferences in the U.S. again behind the MLA.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hyksos in the News

It isn't everyday that the Hyksos, the foreign invading group that ruled ancient Egypt for a time makes the news, but there is an article in the Guardian about possibly finding their capital in Egypt using radar imaging:

An Austrian archaeological team has used radar imaging to determine the extent of the ruins of the 3,500-year-old one-time capital of Egypt's foreign occupiers, according to the country's antiquities department.

Egypt was ruled for a century from 1664-1569 BC by the Hyksos, a group of warriors from Asia – possibly Semitic in origin – whose summer capital, Avaris, was in the northern Delta area.

See the rest here.

Oldest Images of the Apostles Found in Rome

From BBC News:

Art restorers in Italy have discovered what are believed to be the oldest paintings of some of Jesus Christ's apostles.

The faces of Apostles Andrew, John, Peter and Paul were uncovered using new laser technology in a catacomb in Rome.

The paintings date from the second half of the 4th Century or the early 5th Century, the restorers and Vatican officials believe.

The images may have influenced later depictions of Christ's early followers.

Friday, June 18, 2010

In the Mail

Today I received a copy of Amanda H. Podany's Brotherhood of Kings: How International Relations Shapes the Ancient Near East from Oxford University Press.

Here is the product description:

Amanda Podany here takes readers on a vivid tour through a thousand years of ancient Near Eastern history, from 2300 to 1300 BCE, paying particular attention to the lively interactions that took place between the great kings of the day.

Allowing them to speak in their own words, Podany reveals how these leaders and their ambassadors devised a remarkably sophisticated system of diplomacy and trade. What the kings forged, as they saw it, was a relationship of friends-brothers-across hundreds of miles. Over centuries they worked out ways for their ambassadors to travel safely to one another's capitals, they created formal rules of interaction and ways to work out disagreements, they agreed to treaties and abided by them, and their efforts had paid off with the exchange of luxury goods that each country wanted from the other. Tied to one another through peace treaties and powerful obligations, they were also often bound together as in-laws, as a result of marrying one another's daughters. These rulers had almost never met one another in person, but they felt a strong connection--a real brotherhood--which gradually made wars between them less common. Indeed, any one of the great powers of the time could have tried to take over the others through warfare, but diplomacy usually prevailed and provided a respite from bloodshed. Instead of fighting, the kings learned from one another, and cooperated in peace.

A remarkable account of a pivotal moment in world history--the establishment of international diplomacy thousands of years before the United Nations--Brotherhood of Kings offers a vibrantly written history of the region often known as the "cradle of civilization."

I was attracted to it because I am interested in reading about ancient, particularly Bronze Age through Late Antiquity, relations, particularly trade routes, but diplomatic relations would also show up on my radar. The reason behind my interest is to consider the world of trade, diplomacy, etc., alongside the adaptation of particular stories or types of narratives from group to group, to see if there is a social and material underpinning to the circulation of stories. Of course, given that I am finishing up my dissertation this summer and preparing for three courses in the fall, I unfortunately will not be able to get to this book soon. But check back in around December or January and perhaps I'll have some thoughts on it then.

My Return to Illinois

Today I received my contract, and so can officially announce that I have received a visiting position at my alma mater, Illinois Wesleyan University. The wheel has come full circle: I left a student and will return a teacher. I will be there for a year. So, for those of you in the midwest, come stop by while you can!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Temple of Living Pillars


La Nature est un temple où de vivant piliers
Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
L'homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers.

Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent
Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité,
Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté,
Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.

Il est des parfums frais comme des chairs d'enfants,
Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,
-Et d'autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,

Ayant l'expansion des choses infinies,
Comme l'ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l'encens,
Qui chantent les transports de l'esprit et des sens.

(Charles Baudelaire, "Correspondences," Les Fleurs du Mal)

This fantastic poem incites all of the senses, but perhaps mostly the most potent, memorable, and evanescent one of all: smell. It ranges from such sensuous activation to the rapture of the soul (les transports de l'esprit et des sens), all within the temple of living pillars that is nature. This temple is confusing (de confuses paroles) and dark (dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité), and yet familiar (regards familiers). It is beyond confusion and clarity, beyond light and darkness, encompassing them both (comme la nuit et comme la clarté). It is dense (des forêts de symboles) and vast, infinitesimal and infinite (ayant l'expansion des choses infinies). The second line, by the way, is where Victor Turner got the title for his book Forest of Symbols. Baudelaire's words, themselves, permeate like a sweet perfume in this natural temple, in this forest of symbols.

Monday, June 14, 2010

To Live in the Shadowy Realm of Dreams

All would be well
Could we but give us wholly to the dreams,
And get into their world that to the sense
Is shadow, and not linger wretchedly
Among substantial things; for it is dreams
That lift us to the flowing, changing world
That the heart longs for. What is love itself,
Even though it be the lightest of light above,
But dreams that hurry from beyond the world
To make low laughter more than meat and drink,
Though it but set us sighing? Fellow-wanderer,
Could we but mix ourselves into a dream,
Not in its image on the mirror!

(W.B. Yeats, The Shadowy Waters 177-89; 1906)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Standing in God's Holy Fire

Sailing to Byzantium


O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.


(W.B. Yeats, "Sailing to Byzantium," The Tower, 1928)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Slouching towards Bethlehem

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

(W.B. Yeats, "The Second Coming," Michael Robartes and the Dancer, 1921)

I really do not have much to say to this amazing poem. The centrifugal force of the first stanza of the doubly turning gyre, the falcon flying from the falconer loosened from its earthly tether, anarchy, blood-dimmed tide that drowns all innocence, are all best encapsulated, I think, in the line: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." The center spins and all spin chaotically away.

This stanza of chaos invokes a cosmic storm; the apocalyptic storm of the Second Coming. It is a chaos that seeks meaning; a chaos that seeks revelation. Even if that revelation is death and destruction, it is foreseen death and destruction in the sight of eternity--the divine plan of the Second Coming. That the Egyptian sphinx is the spirit of the world would indeed be a vexing image. It is a vexing figure: the sphinx who tells riddles is itself a riddle. This makes the world itself a riddle, but it also makes this world a ruin. A ruin has two sides: it is incomplete due to the ravages of time, but it also has endured the ravages of time. The sphinx as the world spirit is an enduring image that counterposes the instability of the first stanza. Both, however, are unsettled as a new beast slouches toward Bethlehem. The new beast born in Jesus' birthplace. A nightmare to be brought up. A violent thing that has taken its time to come to its consummation. Slouching may be slovenly, but it is also unhurried. The rough beast will work at its own pace to bring a violent end to the chaos by chaos.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Clouds about the Fallen Sun

These are the Clouds

These are the clouds about the fallen sun,
The majesty that shuts his burning eye:
The weak lay hand on what the strong has done,
Till that be tumbled that was lifted high
And discord follow upon unison,
And all things at one common level lie.
And therefore, friend, if your great race were run
And these things came, so much the more thereby
Have you made greatness your companion,
Although it be for children that you sigh:
These are the clouds about the fallen sun,
The majesty that shuts his burning eye.

(W. B. Yeats, "These are the Clouds," The Green Helmet and Other Poems, 1910)

I don't know why, but I found this poem particularly beautiful. Published in 1910 it anticipates the sense of brokenness and fallenness to permeate literature and philosophy after World War I (see, e.g., Woolf and Proust) and especially World War II (do I need to say more than Paul Celan?). Yet as an Irish poet, Yeats acutely sensed imposition from foreign powers, living in a country without self-governance but with great local ferment (to understate). But such historical circumstances may or may not have prompted this sense of brokenness, which, with all great and insightful works, speak beyond the moment of their writing.

First there is a poignancy in the opening couplet. There is an ominous tone with clouds gathering about the sun, as one slips into grayness and darkness when light should have been possible. There is not a full storm at play, but the gathering clouds simply shut out the light and who knows when the sun will shine through again, when the sun shall re-open his burning eye and bring light back to us. The repetition of the couplet at the end of the poem creates a sense of sadness, the end of poem, at first reading, shows no progress from the beginning. The clouds gather; the sun's eye is shut; there is no light. Its return is left for the future, but "although it be for children that you sigh" somberly indicates that the end of the darkness is not in sight for one's own and even for one's children's lifetimes. It seems endless.

I have difficulty reading the middle portion's tone. The weak lay hand on what the strong has done bringing it tumbling down. Is this the clouds? Is the "majesty" of the sun the equivalent of the strong? The clouds and weak then associated with discord and the majestic sun and strong associated with the previous (but now lost) unison? It seems so. Thus sun=strength=unity and clouds=weak=discord. It is with the next lines that difficulties really come in my mind. Since now that the strong's achievements have been brought down and the sun's majesty is shaded, "all things at one common level lie." This line seems to prompt eulogy: "And therefore, friend, if your great race were run / And these things came, so much the more thereby / Have you made greatness your companion." Vocatively addressing "friend," who has run his "great race" and these things came--these things being the breaking down of the strong and the hiding of the sun and the sowing of discord and the destruction of unity--his friend has made "greatness" is companion. How is this so? If the weak has brought down the strong and all things at common level lie, is it that the weak is now strong, the last shall now be first--or to be totally without hierarchy the weak now has access to greatness. The tumbling of the edifice of the strong that leads to temporary discord (and one whose end is not quite in sight) is also a moment of opportunity. In this second thought, the friend who has achieved greatness does not sigh from the grief of the children's grim future, but his current "sigh" represents the great effort and race that secures their future by gathering the clouds and forcing the majestic sun (cipher for monarchy?) to turn its scorching heat elsewhere. As such, while at first glance the gathering clouds seem somber and sad, it is rather hopeful at the same time if those clouds provide shade from debilitating heat and if WE are those clouds. Even though Yeats has given the exact same couplet at the beginning and end, by the end it has acquired a very different (even opposing) valuation and feeling.