Monthly Archives: February 2013

Repost: Marginalia; An Online Review Journal

There may be a way to do a full repost in WordPress but evidently I haven’t figured it out yet(I knew how in Blogger). Anyway, I read this on The Heroic Age and thought it sounded excellent. Then I clicked on the link for the current issue and thought it was even better. Thanks to Larry Swain for the original post.


Dear Colleagues,
I am writing to proudly announce the launch of Marginalia: A Review of Books in History, Theology and Religion. As publicity assistant to the Editorial Board at Marginalia, I would be grateful if you could pass along this notification to your institution’s press department and / or mailing list, as it will doubtless be of immense interest to students and academics across the disciplines of history, theology and religion. I also attach our latest press release.

Marginalia is an international review of academic literature from a range of disciplines along the nexus of history, theology and religion, providing timely, open-access reviews of the highest scholarly calibre. We hope to raise the standard of the academic book review, publishing only the most incisive and thoughtful reviews. Reviewers should expect their reviews in Marginalia to be easily discoverable by Google and other search engines, and so to have more visibility and accessibility than in some traditional print-based journals. We encourage reviewers to give careful thought not only to the content but also to the presentation of the review, and hope to see the academic review in theology and religion move closer to the standard of the Times Literary Supplement or the New York Review of Books.

Since Marginalia is a wholly devoted to the review of academic literature, we would also like to make a call for future contributions, the guidelines for which can be found here.

Finally, a walk-through of the website and introductions to our fine editorial board can be found on our Youtube channel.

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Posted by on February 11, 2013 in Books, Other Blogs


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Reading Christianity Interregnum Number 1: Yup, I was wrong

This isn’t much of an admission as I’m frequently wrong. However in this case I have achieved two different levels of wrongness. One is that what I knew ain’t so. I’m OK with this. I even made a subtle reference to this when I started a concerted effort to learn more about early Christianity. I’m accustomed to wrongness when it comes to history. If I knew everything that would take the fun out of it. I’ll get to that part of the post in a minute.

From a blogging perspective I’ve also been wrong. In my opening Apocrypha post on The Acts of Peter I included several qualifiers. However I left out an essential one. In order to truly study Apocrypha, they should first be examined separate from other evidence. I’ve mentioned before that something I read in Guy Halsall’s Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568 had a large influence on me. This particular passage emphasized the need for each piece of historical evidence to be examined on its own terms, without consideration of or being influenced by other evidence. Only then should you begin to compare and contrast it with other evidence.

I knew this when I started my Acts of Peter post but neglected to mention it. From a historical methodology perspective, how I made, and will continue to make, my Apocrypha posts is wrong. In each of those posts I deliberately compared and contrasted the apocryphal accounts with canonical texts as well as what came to be viewed as Orthodox Christian belief. I’m not going to apologize for this. One of the goals of blogging is to make posts interesting and one way to do this is to relate what I post about to something the reader will be familiar with. These posts are targeted for those of you who have not extensively read up on Apocrypha to try to help you learn a bit about them and, possibly, read up on a few yourself. Most of you will be familiar with the New Testament canon and Orthodox Christianity to some extent. I also enjoy relating things I learn which surprise me and the content of some of the Apocrypha does this, quite often when I think of how different what they say is from Orthodoxy (or what would become Orthodoxy). I have and will continue to compare and contrast Apocrypha with Orthodoxy and Canonical Scripture; I think it makes the posts more interesting. However I should have included this qualifier in my initial post.

Now to return to my first, and less objectionable, level of wrongness. One of the reasons I wrote that massive Early Christianity Reading post was so I could recall what I thought when I started this and hold myself accountable for areas where what I believed initially was incorrect. In this case, I’m going to focus on this statement from that post:

Prior to 300 the Church, starting out as an underground sect of a minority religion, was a collection of fairly loosely organized, related groups geographically located primarily in urban clusters throughout the Empire. While most of these clusters did communicate with one another, the lack of any sort of rigid social structure and hierarchy meant that Christian worship looked very different from one place to another, a situation which would cause a great deal of conflict later.

This is either wrong, or woefully incomplete.

The implication from this statement is that of a common, shared beginning for Christianity. From an inspirational perspective this is very broadly true. Any group which might be considered Christian – believing in a divine or divinely-inspired Jesus – had as its origins the life of Jesus. Or what they believed about the life of Jesus. The problem is that in a fragmented society 2000 years ago, the various beliefs about the life of Jesus and what it meant were so diverse as to be virtually unrelated. To illustrates this, in one belief system Jesus is God who suffered and died for the sins of mankind while in another Christ is a divine spirit who never physically existed on Earth and in fact is seen disembodied and laughing during the crucifixion. And it’s become apparent to me that these non-Orthodox belief systems did not necessarily develop as offshoots of what would become mainstream Christianity (the Pauline-Clement-Ignatius-Polycarp-Irenaeus-Origen tradition) but originated on their own based on very different stories of, and/or understanding of what those stories meant, regarding Jesus’ life. These were often parallel, unrelated developments. We’re not left with a single trunk of a tree with multiple branches but with several trees, most of which later died (and many of these trees developed their own branches which in some cases later merged with the mainstream tree).

The situation from my initial post did exist. Groups which started out in the “proto-Orthodox” camp may have developed different belief systems partly due to geographic distance and a lack of organizational coherence. But it’s far from the whole, much more complex, story. Various groups, some of which I intend to talk about in future posts, appear to have originated independent of mainstream (or what would become mainstream) influence. Some of these derived their inspiration, or at least part of it, from non-canonical texts which may have been written as early as the Gospel accounts or even Paul’s letters. Other groups based their belief systems on different interpretations of Canonical texts. Some used a combination of the two. Then you have other factors such as existing belief systems, outside influences, contemporary local situations that can often only be hypothesized – I could go on. The origin of Early Christian thought is a complex and diverse topic. And very interesting. There’s a reason I’m spending far more time on this than I originally thought I would.

I’ve also allowed myself to forget one additional caution from my Influential Books Post. Chris Wickham in Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800 talks about the need to examine developments on a local geographic basis rather than making broad statements such as I did above. This gets very difficult as the surviving evidence for how various geographic areas developed Christian thought, at least through the third century, isn’t very good. However research in Early Christianity has started to increasingly focus on epigraphic evidence (inscriptions). These survive more frequently than texts and were less susceptible to later redactions, burning (didn’t happen as often as some folks think but it did happen), or simply a failure to copy them so that they survived.

This is good as I’ve learned something important – essential really – about Early Christianity. I’ll expand on these origins as I make additional posts but I wanted to throw in this addition to my initial set of qualifiers and it serves as a nice opportunity to talk about something I’ve learned.

Halsall, Guy, Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2008). ISBN: 9-780521-435437.

Wickham, Chris, Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2006). ISBN: 9-780199-212965.


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That Dead Richard III Fellow in a Parking Lot

Or Car Park, whatever that is exactly.

I wasn’t going to post on Richard III. What do I know about him other than that the date of his death has sometimes been used, erroneously, as the dividing line between the Medieval and Early-Modern periods? 1 He’s 800-1200 years later than my period and other than knowing Laura Blanchard, former head of the US branch of the Richard III Society(shameless name-dropping here), from usenet I have next to nothing to offer. But there’s just too much entertainment going on with this and I want to get in on the fun.

The kicker was when I started asking myself, “What does this discovery tell us, historically?” I mean, yeah, his bones have been found so you can confirm he’s dead but since he was born 560 years ago I think we knew that already, without physical proof.

Richard III is ALL dead, unlike the middle guy in this picture

OK, his skeleton shows a spinal curvature but not so much as to call him a hunchback but from what I’ve read on him (admittedly not much) historians had pretty much figured out that he wasn’t the withered cripple portrayed by Shakespeare. It would have been tough for a guy who was that messed up to have ridden into battle and almost gotten within striking distance of Henry Tudor.


 Richard III, portrayed on stage by Steven Weingartner. As he died in his early 30’s, based on this picture he must have led a hard life.

His height was about 5’8″ which doesn’t make him a giant but does put him above average for the period. I think the analysis of his bones to determine his diet is interesting but mostly confirms what everyone already knows; that kings ate better (if by better we mean a diet higher in total calories and saturated fats) than the bulk of the population.

His remains showed that he died violently. Not quite the dream of dying in bed surrounded by grandchildren but far better than Edward II’s (reputed) sorry end. His corpse was somewhat abused after his death and unceremoniously buried. Again, this could have been worse; at least pieces of his body weren’t sent to various places to be hung on posts which has been known to happen to deposed monarchs. It confirms that his body wasn’t thrown in a river but from my limited reading, all this seems to have been deduced by historians already.

It doesn’t shed any light on what happened to the princes in the tower, or explain why, if he didn’t kill them, he didn’t parade them around to demonstrate his innocence when rumors of their deaths started to circulate. It doesn’t tell what kind of man he was, how he was viewed publicly, or much of anything that people didn’t already know. But it has provided a great deal of humor, as the links at the bottom of this post by Historian on the Edge indicate. Katy Meyers at Bones Don’t Lie has one of the funny car park images in a recent post. I’ve seen others and won’t post them here though I think my favorite is the one of the reenactors at the site with a dialogue script, “I think we left him around here somewhere.”

And I can’t believe nobody’s done this yet (maybe they have but I haven’t run across it) so I’ll present my own offering:
For want of a nail …
I had to find a new place to park my car which made me late for work so you see why this really shouldn’t go on my performance evaluation, right?

The most significant aspect of the find, to me, is that it creates interest in the period, in history, in how the Tudors demonized Richard III to legitimize their claim, and in how Shakespeare picked up on this a century later and thought it would make a cool play. This find may result in a new movie about him. We’ll have to see if it’s historical, historically based, or ends up being something which, other than using his name, is so distanced from reality as to only be incidentally related to history. Whatever it does, it’ll need to fill seats.

There are all kinds of uses of this including showing what archaeology can and can’t do, providing a further example of how care needs to be used in interpreting sources (what’s nice in this case is that the examples are so obvious which provides a good teaching point for beginners – and then you can compare this with more subtle examples). But from a historical perspective re adding to what was already known, I’m not seeing a lot. Still, it’s interesting and people are having a bit of fun with it.

1 OK, maybe 1485 makes as much sense as any other date. I’ve commonly gone with 1517 and Martin Luther nailing some complaints against The Church on the door of a church in Wittenberg (or not doing so since said nailing is in question). Any of these arbitrary dates are mostly useful as discussion points. I’ve just tended to date my Medieval period as from 312 to 1517 as an era of a single Christian religious institution which was, IMO, the most influential social movement of the era. Of course Christianity really didn’t become the official religion until 380 and it was another decade or so before Luther’s movement resulted in another church – I’ve gone with the symbolic rather than the actual here. And now I’m arguing with myself. In a footnote.


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2013 Congress Registration Up and Book Buying II

I really must update my Book Buying Posts. I’ve made way more than two of these but didn’t decide to number them until recently.

In any case, the first part of this post is to mention that the online registration for the 2013 International Congress on Medieval Studies to be held May 9-12 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, is now open. And yes, I was almost weepy when I saw this. Chances are good I won’t make it this year. I won’t know for sure until April and my attendance is possible, but unlikely. Still, I’ve had a run of 4 years straight, the best I’ve done since I started attending back in 2001.

In order to make this up to myself I just bought six books from an Oxford University Press Sale. Only one of those was something I’d previously wishlisted but I bought all of them at 50% or 65% off. Not bad.

Here’s the list:

  • Architects of Piety: The Cappadocian Fathers and the Cult of the Martyrs by Vasiliki Limberis (this was my wishlisted book)
  • Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium by Bart D. Ehrman
  • Foreign Cults in Rome: Creating a Roman Empire by Eric Orlin
  • The Stabilization of Rabbinic Culture, 100 C.E. – 350 C.E.: Texts on Education and Their Late Antique Context by Marc Hirshman
  • The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship: Sources and Methods for the Study of Early Liturgy by Paul F. Bradshaw
  • Perfect Martyr: The Stoning of Stephen and the Construction of Christian Identity by Shelly Matthews

My version of comfort food.


Posted by on February 3, 2013 in Books, Conferences


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