Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween: Baudelaire's "Vampire"

So last year to wish all a happy All Hallow's Eve, I posted the earliest reference to a zombie in the world.  So this year I thought I would post on a rather recent poem on my favorite undead creature, the vampire:

The Vampire
Sudden as a knife you thrust
into my sorry heart
and strong as a host of demons come,
gaudy and libertine,

to make in my corrupted mind
your bed and bedlam there;
--Beast, who bind me to you close
as convict to his chains,

as gambler to his winning streak,
as drunkard to his wine,
close as the carrion to its worms--
I curse you!  Be accursed!

I begged the sword by one swift stroke
to grant me liberty;
nor did my cowardice disdain
less clear-cut remedies.

Poison and steel, as with one voice,
contemptuously refused;
"You are not worthy to be free
of your enslavement, fool!

Suppose we saved you, even now,
from her supremacy--
your kisses would resuscitate
your vampire's waiting corpse!"

(Baudelaire, "The Vampire," The Flowers of Evil; trans. Richard Howard; Photo: 19th Century Engraving)

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Smelling as Superior Discernment in Hebrew Bible: God and the Senses (8)

I am thinking of compiling some bibliography for my "God and the Senses" series.  And to start things off, I just read the following article:  Arie Shifman, "'A Scent' of the Spirit:  Exegesis of an Enigmatic Verse (Isaiah 11:3)," JBL 131:2 (2012):  241-9.  In it, he discusses whether an enigmatic word should be read as "spirit" (רוח) or "scent" (ריח), noting that though most commentators either omit translating completely to avoid the issue or prefer "spirit," while "scent" would complete a highly sensual passage that also refers to sight and sound.  If "spirit," it is noteworthy that this word actually appears in verb form as a hiphil, and that would make it a hapax legomenon.  On the other hand, the hiphil of "scent" is well-attested. 

In any case, whether or not breath/spirit or inhalation through the nose is what is being captured in this verse, what caught my attention in the reading was how smelling was often used as the higher sense of discernment over sight and sound: 

"Why should the sense of smell be superior to sight and sound?  Once explanation is that in the Bible divine reaction to human behavior is often described in terms of acceptance of the "sweet savor" (ריח ניחוח; e.g., Gen. 8:21; Lev 4:31; Ezek 6:13; 16:19; 20:41).  Other interpretations relate to the odor of anointing oil, which symbolizes kingship (e.g. 1 Sam 10:1; 16:13; 1 kgs 1:39; 2 Kgs 9:3) or wisdom.  Talmudic lore teaches that, unlike the other senses, smelling a pleasant fragrance deserves a prayer of thanksgiving:  'What is it that the soul enjoys but the body does not?  It is the sense of smell" (b. ber. 43b)."

And he keeps going on with further examples all the way to W.H. Auden.  I should note that smelliness seems to pervade much of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, I think due to the mixture of spices mentioned in Exodus 30:34-36.  I refer to this in my work as the scent of the most holy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

RIP Frank Moore Cross

I just saw the Frank Moore Cross died.  As anyone even barely acquainted with biblical studies knows, he was a giant in the field.  While he specialized in Hebrew Bible, his influence rippled and reverberated throughout biblical studies.  My copy of Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, which has become a classic in the field, is so worn out that the cover has fallen off.  I remember the first time I read his analysis of the "Song at the Sea," I was mesmerized.

Jim Davila, who was Cross's student, has a nice reminiscence here.

The New York Times also has an obituary here.

Photo from HDS.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Death of "Rabbinics"?

Michael Satlow has an interesting idea for those who study Rabbinics:  to kill it.  He writes:
The fundamental problem is that “rabbinics” implies both a body of literature and a distinctive methodology or approach to that literature.  In some quarters in Israel this perhaps accurately describes, for good or bad, how rabbinic literature is studied (e.g., philologically in a “department” of Talmud).  In the American academy, however, “rabbinics” is not a discipline.  Those of us who primarily use rabbinic literature are situated in departments of religious studies (most frequently), language and culture, and history.  We are scholars trained in a particular discipline who use rabbinic texts for our data.  I do not “do rabbinics.”  I “do” Jewish history in antiquity, using rabbinic texts as one (even if it is the primary) set of sources.
From there, he thinks Rabbinics scholars could take a lesson from scholars of Christianity in late antiquity--that is, those who used to call themselves "Patristics."  Check out his full discussion here.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

More on the Recent Coptic Fragment

There may be more evidence pointing to the Coptic fragment concerning "Jesus' wife," that it is a forgery.  And what gave it away?  I rare transcription error found in the first line that otherwise only occurs in a modern interlinear edition of the Gospel of Thomas.  See discussion by Mark Goodacre here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

New Codex Tchacos Fragments

Alin Suciu reports on newly found Coptic fragments that appear to belong to Codex Tchacos, especially its Allogenes!  (or the "other" Allogenes).  This is exciting because, in my opinion, that treatise is by far the most interesting from Codex Tchacos.  The Gospel of Judas is ok, but when I first read the published codex, I was enthralled by this Book of Allogenes.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

New Nestle-Aland (28)

Larry Hurtado has posted that he has received the newest Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament--now the 28th edition.  While, it seems, the number of textual emendations are minimal except for the catholic epistles, the critical textual apparatus and the marginal cross-references have been revised.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bibliothèque Copte de Nag Hammadi

I just saw this website by Laval in Quebec for the study of the Nag Hammadi Library. 
Begun in 1974 at Université Laval (Quebec, Canada), the project of editing the Nag Hammadi Coptic library is the only important francophone initiative devoted to these manuscripts; its goal is to produce critical editions of these texts, accompanied with French translations and explanatory commentaries. The manuscripts, which are kept at the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo, are available in a photographic edition produced under the authority of UNESCO and of the Antiquities Service of the Arab Republic of Egypt; this edition reproduces the papyrus leaves as they are. In order for these texts to be used with profit, specialists must first provide critical editions of them, where possible restoring damaged passages, as well as providing a translation into a modern language accompanied with an explanatory commentary.
I have also posted this resource on the side column under "Coptic Resources." 

Tasting the Heavenly Gift in Hebrews: God and the Senses (7)

While I will return, as promised, to the full exposition of the sensuous language in the Gospel of Philip, I just came across this rather succinct note on the sensuous language in the Epistle to the Hebrews by Luke Timothy Johnson in his commentary on Hebrews:

Readers quickly become aware of Hebrews' appeal to the senses of readers/auditors.  The smell of sacrifices is only implied (13:16), touch appears by way of contrast (12:18, 20), and taste is metaphorical (6:5).  But the author constantly appeals to the hearing of his listeners (2:1; 3:7; 4:7; 5:11; 12:19).  Most of all, the sense of sight is invoked, as the readers are asked to "behold," "consider,"  and "see" what the author seeks to convey (2:9; 3:1; 7:4; 12:3; 12:21).  Using oral discourse to portray visual scenes (in "word-pictures") is a common rhetorical technique (ekphrasis), and Hebrews uses it effectively, especially in 9:1-5 and 12:18-24. (8-9)
I had been slowly compiling a list from Hebrews for my "God and the Senses" series, but, thanks to Luke Timothy Johnson, it appears there is no need.  Tasting also shows up in terms of Jesus "tasting" death.  I might also note that touch works almost in an opposite means as in Augustine (where one moves from anesthesia to full feeling), since the contrast is that we have come not to something that can be touched (Sinai) but to the heavenly Jerusalem (which transcends touch--and sight, as many commentators note).  Taste, however metaphorical, works the other way:  one tastes the heavenly gift (6:4-5)--that which is transcendent.  Taste is transcendent, while touch and sight are transcended.  Speech works differently, however, since creation and destruction of the world occur through divine speech and and voice respectively.  Orality is the glue that holds it all together, quite appropriately for such a highly rhetorical work.  Overall, the activation of the senses whether literally or metaphorically, important for engaging one's audience in rhetorical performances, has not seemed to have gotten its due for Hebrews, even if Hebrews engages the senses only to transcend them in the end.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Transformation in the Gospel of Philip: God and the Senses (6a: Sources)

In my next installment(s) of the God and the Senses series, I will be taking a look at the emergent Christian text, the Gospel of Philip.  I do not have the time, at the moment, to work through all of it because emphases on different senses and using the senses as a means of spiritual transformation, permeates throughout the Gospel.  For now, therefore, I will list the sources where you can find them if anyone would like to look them up, and I will begin to work through the different senses as I find time. 

1.  Taste and Transformation (Sayings 21, 73, 81, 82)

2.  Vision and Transformation (Sayings 23, 38; cf. 59, 90, 107)

3.  Touching/Kissing (27, 48)

4.  Smelling (94)

5  Hearing (and Naming?) (7, 8, 9, 17, 29, 40, 42, 46, 51)

From the listing, at least, it appears that hearing receives the most attention of all of the senses in Philip.  The passages on vision are themselves also quite stunning--which would come as no surprise to anyone who has studied the text.  Smelling and Touching receive rather momentary glances.  But perhaps the biggest surprise is the number of mentions of tasting.  It is with taste that I plan to begin in the next installment.  If anyone finds an additional sensuous saying not covered, please send it along.