Friday, October 28, 2011

Ancient Zombies

As everyone begins preparations for the most important religious holiday of the year--Halloween (what else would it be? Yom Kippur? Easter? Diwali? Ramadan?)--I thought I would provide some seasonal cheer for your undead pleasure.

 While the jury is still out on whether or not Jesus was a zombie, who did come from the dead and encourage us to drink blood and eat flesh (although drinking blood lends itself to a more vampiric reading), zombies appear to be as old as civilization itself. The earliest reference I know of occurs in Mesopotamian stories of the Descent of Ishtar and, perhaps a bit more well-known, the Epic of Gilgamesh.

In the latter, Ishtar threatens:
"Father, please give me the Bull of Heaven, and let me strike Gilgamesh down!
Let me...Gilgamesh in his dwelling!
If you don't give me the Bull of Heaven,
I shall strike (?) [                                     ]
I shall set my face towards the infernal regions,
I shall raise up the dead,
and they will eat the living,
I shall make the dead outnumber the living." (trans. Stephanie Dalley)

This is paralleled in the Descent of Ishtar, she makes the same threat to the gatekeeper of the underworld, which is the realm of her sister, Ereshkigal.  So here's to the Queen of the Living Dead!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Taking a Stroll with Paul of Tarsus

I just finished reading The Gospel according to Paul by Robin Griffith-Jones. Although a lengthy book at just over 500 pages, it was an enjoyable read. Griffith-Jones clearly explicates many of the crucial issues in Paul's letters as he slowly strolls through each letter. Many of his conclusions are fairly idiosyncratic, but he elucidates some of the aspects of Paul that can be understood in the context of late antique Jewish traditions of ascent, the merkavah, and the heavenly temple, a topic that interested my own late mentor, Alan Segal in his book Paul the Convert. This is a book for a general reader, but many may encounter its pacing and its style congenial as one takes a guided tour through the unweeded garden of Paul's writings.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Smelling God, Tasting God

As I am revising my dissertation into a book for publication, I was thinking about smells and taste, especially smelling and tasting God. The Epistle to the Hebrews uses "taste" to describe salvific experience: "For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy..." (Hebrews 5:4-6a; RSV). Tasting and partaking are, in fact, strong indicators of proximity to God throughout ancient Jewish and Christian literature. There is the famous Psalm that says "taste and see that the LORD is good" (Ps. 34:8). But olfactory language is vibrant whether interpreted metaphorically or more literally. Most analyses of Jewish and Christian mysticism focus primarily on vision and audition, and rightfully so since these are the primary senses discussed in the literature. But smells and tastes are also prominent features of theophany and ritual encounters with the sacred. For example, what might the incense on the Day of Atonement have smelled like? How might this incense have affected portrayals of and journeys to the heavenly temple? And so on? Smell and taste, in fact, feature prominently in depictions of the afterlife whether in positive or negative fashions. I know there have been a couple new books on olfactory language in early Christianity, etc., and I wonder if it might be interesting to explore the development of smelling and tasting God in early Christianity and ancient Judaism in the broader Mediterranean context more fully with people of different specialties contributing. I wonder if anyone would be interested in a project in conference form, perhaps as a panel, or as an interactive online discussion?

Andrew George's "Score" of Gilgamesh Online

One can download the pdf version of Andrew George's "score" of the Epic of Gilgamesh. It is the reconstruction and transliteration of the Standard Babylonian version of the epic, which is the best known version. Find it here. I know I want to check a couple sections of it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Amarna Project Online

Amarna, other than being a site of Egyptian religion revolution--which was then forgotten, is also an invaluable resource for understanding diplomatic relations and the landscape of the ancient Near East, including the region of Canaan, etc. Now there is an online resource for Amarna's archaeology, artifacts, and archives here. Here is their basic info:
The Official Website of the Amarna Project The ancient Egyptian city of Tell el-Amarna (or simply Amarna) was the short-lived capital built by the ‘heretic’ Pharaoh Akhenaten and abandoned shortly after his death (c. 1332 BCE). It was here that he pursued his vision of a society dedicated to the cult of one god, the power of the sun (the Aten). As well as this historic interest Amarna remains the largest readily accessible living-site from ancient Egypt. It is thus simultaneously the key to a chapter in the history of religious experience and to a fuller understanding of what it was like to be an ancient Egyptian. There is no other site like it. Mission Statement Working with the agreement and co-operation of the Egyptian government, and in particular the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the Amarna Project seeks to: Explore by archaeology the ancient city of Amarna and its historical context Preserve what is left of the ancient city Promote study and recording of the history, archaeology and traditional life and crafts of the surrounding region Increase public knowledge, at all levels, of the city of Amarna and of the surrounding region