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Kalamazoo 2015 Saturday Update and Wrap-up

Well, Saturday was another warm one but absent the rain for the most part. I went to the first two sets of sessions and took the third one off for a nap. This wasn’t so much to make it through the rest of the day but so I could drive home today(more on that later). Once I got up and cleaned up I hit the mead tasting, grabbed my two display copies of books, and headed to the Pseudo Session.

I don’t review the Pseudo Session – I mean, you have to be there, right? I believe this may be the best session I’ve ever been to for overall quality of “papers.” I’d rate two as outstanding – worth being on my list of all-time greats. The other two were very good though you did have to really follow along for one of them as it was a textual analysis. Besides, learning more about the Vikings, IKEA, Petrarch, King John and Anselm is always useful. I should note that after however long he’s had the job – he was doing this at my first Kalamazoo in 2000 or 2001 (I forget) – Richard Ring is stepping down as the organizer of the Pseudo Society Sessions. He’s put a lot of work into this for a lot of years and the program always delivers. There are some folks taking over but we’ll all be sad to see him go (though I really think he needs to give a paper next year).

I did make it to the dance but didn’t hang around long, really for two main reasons. First I was bored and didn’t work very hard at not being bored – you get out of things what you put into them and I didn’t put much into it. Second, my back was bothering me. As you age, you’d think you’d want to be sedentary and sit around. For me it’s the opposite. If I sit much over multiple days my back tells me it doesn’t appreciate it and by Saturday night I’d sat a LOT. I don’t know if dancing would have helped or hurt things and didn’t want to chance it so I headed back to the dorm and went to sleep.

Which brings me to why I’m posting at about 10 a.m. Sunday. What! you may ask – does Kalamazoo not last through Sunday? Do they not have sessions? It does and they do. I was planning to attend an 8:30 but not a 10:30 session as I didn’t see one which really interested me and that would get me on the road sooner. Well, I woke up this morning – wide awake with my brain not giving any hint that sleep might return any time soon. This was at 4 a.m. So after thinking on it a bit I decided that I might as well put wheels on the road which I did and I got home right about when the first sessions would have been starting, around 8:30.

I don’t have a long wrap-up. I enjoyed it as always. I appreciated having the chance to talk to several medievalists, particularly Guy Halsall and Cullen Chandler, more extensively than in the past. As always, I like interacting with grad students. I really appreciate their enthusiasm and it always fires me up too, a little. There are worthwhile things going on and a lot of good, young people involved in doing them. I enjoy this when it’s in agriculture and I enjoy it here too. Plus while everyone is a discoverer in life, quite often I find myself more on a par with grad students when it comes to where they are on the voyage, at least when it comes to history. I’m afraid in my field I must come across as an old fogy.

I’m a bit surprised how many people recognize this blog, which also means I’m feeling guilty for not posting more often over the past year or so. The sessions were good but it surprised me that it took me a couple to really get in the flow of following arguments. I don’t recall that from the past few times I’ve attended so evidently a gap of one year between hearing papers isn’t enough to atrophy my brain but three years is. We’ll see how that works when I get to session summaries. Medievalists construct arguments differently from what I’m accustomed to plus it’s largely textual where I’m used to charts, graphs and numbers. I know in general I think a bit differently from historians, at least when it comes to looking at evidence and this was another reminder.

And finally, we should talk books. I ended up with 21. That visit to Powell’s sent me above my goal of 20. I was right on target until, while making a last scan, I spotted a translation of, On Anatomical Procedures by Galen for $10. My shopping was very different this year. I only visited about 8 booths, those where I have historically bought a lot in the past. It helped me to keep from getting tripped up though I had to work very hard to stay out of Brepols. Love their stuff but I don’t need to be buying high end monographs right now. If you’re interested in seeing the damage, you can check out my LibraryThing account for books tagged, “ICMS 2015.” Hopefully the link works.

I’m glad I had the chance to meet and talk with some of you. For those I didn’t see, maybe next year. Something could always come up but as of now there’s nothing on the horizon which should keep me away in 2016.

I’ll close with an image which you’re welcome to take a look at any time you start to miss Kalamazoo.Bilbos

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2015 in Books, Conferences

 

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Taking Stock on Early Christianity Reading Progress

Ever have one of those moments when you look at where you’ve been and where you have yet to go and wonder what in the world you’ve gotten yourself into? Most of us probably have at one time or another. As I’m about to start reading on Origen, I took a look at my to read bookcase (a few years ago this was a single shelf, now it has 236 books on it) to get an idea of what Early Christianity books I have left.

This was a mistake. Over two years ago when I first started reading on Early Christianity I had 37 books on my Late Antiquity/Christianity shelf (books on Christianity to about the year 700). I’ve been reading on this for 25 months. During that time I’ve read 85 books on this or related topics, not to mention however many sources I’ve gone through from the Ante-Nicene Fathers Series along with a few things I’ve found online.

Here I am two years later and I have 90 books on the shelves, though to be fair five are actually about Neoplatonism (still need to be read). I should not have counted. I really thought I was making progress. With Origen I’m approaching the middle of the 3rd century. I thought I’d read up to Nicaea, fill in a few gaps on the 4th century Cappadocians, get to Jerome and Augustine, read a bit on the development of monasticism and then turn to the Carolingians (27 books on them) followed by the Anglo-Saxons (21 books). I thought I’d be done with my intensive Early Christianity reading by early summer. On counting books, I honestly have no idea how long it’ll take. And I have no illusions on my not buying a few more books to add to the pile.

I’m stubborn so I’ll finish this up. I just had no idea that I had this much material to go through. Crazy. I think I need to have an electrode plugged into my brain so whenever I start thinking about buying books I’m shocked back to my senses.

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2013 in Blogology, Books, Religion

 

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Book Buying IV: This is how I get in Trouble

I received an e-mail from Barnes and Noble with a 20% off one item offer, good through the end of today (Sunday, August 18, 2013 for anyone who may stumble across this in the future). Now ordinarily a 20% off deal isn’t enough for me to pull out the credit card. But as I’ve been reading ancient Christianity sources I keep finding myself wanting to pick up a modern book or two on a particular author, mainly as a check on myself to make sure I’m not completely misreading what the source material says. 1 As an example of this, as I began reading Clement of Alexandria I picked up Clement of Alexandria by Eric Osborn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2005). ISBN: 978-0-521-09081-0.

As I’m coming to the third-century I thought this offer would be a good chance to pick up something I’m pretty sure I’ll want when reading those authors, all while saving a few bucks. Makes sense, right? So I started working through my wishlisted Christianity books on Library Thing to see what I should order.

I came up with two books:
Allen Brent, Cyprian and Roman Carthage, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2010). ISBN: 978-0-521-51547-4 and
Peter Martens, Origen and Scripture: The Contours of the Exegetical Life, Oxford: Oxford University Press (2012). ISBN: 978-0-199-63955-7

However, in the same category in Library Thing was; Anthony Briggman, Irenaeus of Lyons and the Theology of the Holy Spirit, Oxford: Oxford University Press (2012). ISBN: 978-0-199-64153-6

When I’m looking for information on books I typically go to Amazon. I’m familiar with how their book pages are laid out and it gives me the information I want for the spreadsheet I keep where I list the books I own and those I want (this is my backup to Library Thing). Whenever possible, I buy books from someone else. I don’t have an Amazon boycott or anything but I’ve had some negative experiences with them and am not completely thrilled with some of the labor practices they’ve adopted as they’ve transitioned from a small virtual bookseller to the online version of WalMart. If I can find a book for close to the same price elsewhere, I buy from elsewhere.

Anyway, the Martens book was around $100 at Amazon (unless I want to rent it, WTF is that about? is Amazon trying to compete with libraries or end Inter-Library Loans?). It was higher at B&N so that went off the list. However Brent was under $70 so with 20% off it’s reasonable. Except at B&N it’s also at about 100. Briggman was a bit under 80 at Amazon but around $120 at B&N.

That ended my use of the 20% off. (I also checked publisher prices BTW). You’d think this meant I didn’t buy something, right? Well, you only think that if you don’t know me very well. By this time I was infected as visions of a shiny new book on a topic I’m interested in were running through my head. The addiction had kicked in; I needed my fix.

My opposition to Amazon isn’t on the same scale as, say, Nike due to their labor practices. So it came down to a choice between Briggman and Brent from Amazon. I’ve complained rather frequently that if I do what I want to do which is really dive into early Christianity (I’ve now been reading on it for 20 months so I’m beginning to question my use of “really dive into”) I’ll never get back to the 4th-6th centuries. This means leaving my knowledge level below my inclinations. I’ve already read Irenaeus and bought one modern book about him. And I’ve started my Irenaeus posts on this blog. So I should buy a book on Cyprian, right? Wrong.

Irenaeus_Briggman_Cover

Subsequent posts on Irenaeus will have to wait until I finish Briggman, despite my being over a thousand words into one. The interesting thing is that Irenaeus’ theology related to the nature of God and Christ wasn’t one of the major points I was going to be talking about. I was going to mention it as he writes in Trinitarian terms and explicitly states that Christ was begotten which indicates a progression from Justin Martyr, however his thinking is not yet refined to that displayed during the Nicaean-Arian conflict of the Fourth Century. But I expect Briggman will discuss more than just this.

Instead I’ll be following with some interesting issues discussed by Christian writers from the first and second centuries. I suspect some of these continued into the 3rd and even the early fourth but I’d hate to not post for another month while I finish this book. And there are a couple of interesting things in Clement of Alexandria which I think would make good posts.

When I started this whole Christianity thing I had a plan. I seem to be having trouble keeping to it. There’s just way too much interesting stuff to look into. At some point I need to quit complaining about this though. I think it’s just my nature.

1 As I’ve stated before, a huge weakness for me is that I don’t read Greek or Latin, though I am capable enough in the latter to parse through it and determine if a translation means what the English version says. However the Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers Series’ I’m using are a) old (though generally considered OK despite being written in Victorian English) and b) not accompanied by the Latin or Greek originals. So reading modern books, among other things, is a way to make sure that what I’m seeing in a translated source isn’t due to a misinterpretation/mistranslation. To date this has happened occasionally though not related to what I’d consider a major issue.

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2013 in Books, Religion

 

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Book Buying III

I’ve been good lately. The only books I’ve bought over the past couple of months were from Notre Dame University Press’s Overstock Sale. Part of the reason is that I’ve been very busy at work and haven’t had the chance to read much lately. If you want to know more about what’s taken up most of my recent time you can take a look at this post from my work blog. This activity, along with a new national working group that developed out of an Agrosecurity Conference I was involved with, was a major contributor to my absence from Kalamazoo this year.

So, partly in honor of all of you who are currently surrounded by all those books at Leeds (if I ever attend I’ll need to very carefully check out international shipping rates) and even more because it’s a US holiday and I have time, I decided to spend some money.

As usual, nothing ever goes quite according to plan. I’d bought a few books and decided to check my e-mail – I check my home e-mail rarely, usually only on weekends. In it was an announcement of Oxford University Press’s Summer Sale. You can guess what happened then.

Once the keyboard quit smoking I’d done the following damage (I’m not giving full citations here):


  • Ayres, Lewis, Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology

  • Connolly, Hugh, Didascalia Apostolorum. There’s a Brepols edition of this by Alistair Stewart-Sykes which looks like it offers superior commentary but it’s also 4 times the price.

  • Hunt, Emily, Christianity in the Second Century: The Case of Tatian

  • Moreira, Isabel, Heaven’s Purge: Purgatory in Late Antiquity

  • Morgan, Gwyn, 69 A.D.: The Year of Four Emperors

  • Osiek, Carolyn, A Woman’s Place: House Churches In Earliest Christianity

  • Parvis, Sara, Irenaeus: Life, Scripture, Legacy

  • Peters, F.E., Jesus and Muhammad: Parallel Tracks, Parallel Lives

The danger’s not entirely over. I have an e-mail from David Brown(Oxbow) books about new book bargains. I haven’t clicked on the link yet. I suppose that compared with what I usually pull off at Kalamazoo this is pretty mild.

Hopefully a post on Irenaeus is forthcoming. I’ve started it but am struggling with keeping it to a reasonable length.

EDIT: Guess I should have waited to post this. Anyway, I added four more from David Brown.


  • Elliott, J.K., The Apocryphal Jesus: Legends of the Early Church

  • Otto of Freising, Charles Mierow, trans., The Two Cities

  • Pestell, Tim, Landscapes of Monastic Foundation: The Establishment of Religious Houses in East Anglia, c.650-1200

  • Wilson, Stephen, Leaving the Fold: Apostates and Defectors in Antiquity

I think I’m calling it a day, at least for buying books.

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2013 in Books

 

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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.

Marginalia

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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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.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2013 in Books, Conferences

 

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Kalamazoo Page Update and a Now Familiar Problem With Books

I just updated my Kalamazoo Page to add all of my 2012 posts under one roof.

I also bought a couple more books on 1st-century Christianity. This stuff’s interesting. I’m gonna have to work at tearing myself away from it. I have half a dozen or so volumes on this and you’d think that would be enough but evidently it isn’t.

In order to remind myself of what I’m really into, I have an idea for a post about Visigothic Churches, based on a Journal of Early Christian Studies article. But I overdid it shoveling snow the other day so it’ll have to wait a bit while I spend most of today lying down with a heating pad on my back. Getting old sucks, but it beats the alternative.

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2012 in Books, Conferences

 

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Book Review: The Historical Jesus in Context

The Review

Before I get to the review for this book I want to throw in a few quick comments (click on the above link if you want to skip this). First, it has been over a year since I posted a review. The reason for this is fairly simple. Ever since I began a concerted effort to read about Early Christianity I have largely encountered books I feel unqualified to write a review of. I’ve offered comments as something has caught my attention but for the most part I haven’t felt myself able to give an opinion on the quality of a book.1

Second, more related to the review which will follow is that I have never doubted the existence of a historical Jesus. My reasons, not being a Biblical scholar or even highly familiar with first century AD religion or source material discussions, have centered around one basic fact. He is too frequently mentioned in sources dating from a period too close to his death for him to not have existed. I have read/heard arguments such as, “We have nothing he wrote himself,” or, “There are no monuments or inscriptions dating from when he was alive with his name on them,” or even, “Nothing was written about him by someone who knew him personally.” This last is more debatable but it’s generally believed that the Gospel and other source authors were not among Jesus’ disciples.2

These are unrealistic standards. If we were to judge the existence of all people mentioned in source material similarly, history would be an empty thing. Non-elites didn’t write, or have monuments built to them. If we need to strike Jesus from history as someone who actually lived, then history will need to be rewritten in terms that will eliminate the existence of most non-elite individuals, and many elites. By the standards used to judge the probability of someone’s existence, there is plenty of evidence that a man named Jesus, a traveling teacher/preacher/rabbi in Judea, existed near the beginning of the first century. Within 10-15 years of his death, accounts of Jesus were told to large numbers of people who would have had every reason to be skeptical of this individual’s existence if they had not been pretty certain that he had lived. From a historical perspective, there are literally buckets of references to Jesus, chronologically close enough to when he lived to make his existence highly probable.

This does not mean that he is identical to the person we meet through the Gospels. As with any other source of that period, particularly written several decades after the subject lived, we have almost certainly been presented with an idealized Jesus(though I don’t buy arguments that he didn’t at all resemble this portrayal). The Gospel authors had their biases and must be evaluated with this in mind. Much of what is included in them is likely based on oral traditions which are generally less reliable (though numerous oral traditions that generally agree with one another should be viewed as another factor in favor of his having lived). Individuals in the 2nd or 3rd centuries may have redacted the Gospels to add additional details. And I have never had any urge to publicly debate the miracle stories. If you were to ask me if it is possible for a person to walk on water, feed thousands of people from a few loaves of bread and a couple of little fish, heal people without ever meeting them, or rise from the dead I would say no. I would also say I have no problem with anyone who wants to believe these things(and for all you know I may believe these things). Those are matters of faith and I try very hard never to argue with someone over faith, except very close friends.

When it comes to Jesus, I find myself more interested in questions such as whether he actually ran the moneylenders and shopkeepers out of the Temple (let’s face it – he did something to piss the establishment off, to the extent that they executed him). How radical was he, with his devaluation of some matters of Jewish Law? And I enjoy discussions of how apocalyptic Jesus was or whether much of this was entered into his life by the authors of the Gospels, writing as they did (likely) shortly following the destruction of the Temple by Roman authorities.

So with all that out of the way, let’s get to the review.

The Review

His_Jesus

Levine, Amy-Jill, Allison, Dale C. Jr. and Crossan, John Dominic, eds., The Historical Jesus in Context, Princeton, Princeton University Press (2006). ISBN: 978-0-69100-992-9.

This is a collection of 28 essays designed to, as the title says, provide a context for Jesus’ life. As Levine says in her introduction, this book, “… provides information on cultural contexts within which Jesus was understood and perhaps even understood himself.” (1) How does Jesus, the man, teacher, rabbi and messiah fit into first-century Jewish and Roman society? Is he a radical outlier or can parallels be drawn between him and others of his time? How do the concepts, themes and ideas found in the Gospels compare with prominent themes from Jesus’ period? Where might some of these concepts, themes and ideas have originated from?

The essays in this volume are as follows:

  • Introduction by Amy-Jill Levine
  • 1. “Archaeological Contributions to the Study of Jesus and the Gospels,” Jonathan L. Reed
  • 2. “Josephus on John the Baptist and Other Jewish Prophets of Deliverance,” Craig A. Evans
  • 3. “Abba and Father: Imperial Theology in the Contexts of Jesus and the Gospels,” Mary Rose D’Angelo
  • 4. “Miraculous Conceptions and Births in Mediterranean Antiquity,” Charles H. Talbert
  • 5. “First and Second Enoch: A Cry Against Oppression and the Promise of Deliverance,” George W. E. Nickelsburg
  • 6. “Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Peter Flint
  • 7. “The Chreia,” David B. Gowler
  • 8. “The Galilean Charismatic and Rabbinic Piety: The Holy Man in the Talmudic Literature,” Alan J. Avery-Peck
  • 9. “Miracle Stories: The God Asclepius, the Pythagorean Philosophers, and the Roman Rulers,” Wendy Cotter, C.S.J.
  • 10. “The Mithras Liturgy,” Marvin Meyer
  • 11. “Apuleius of Madauros,” Ian H. Henderson
  • 12. “The Parable in the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic Literature,” Gary G. Porton
  • 13. “The Aesop Tradition,” Lawrence M. Wills
  • 14. “Targum, Jesus, and the Gospels,” Bruce Chilton
  • 15. “The Psalms of Solomon,” Joseph L. Trafton
  • 16. “Moral and Ritual Piety,” Jonathan Klawans
  • 17. “Gospel and Talmud,” Herbert W. Basser
  • 18. “Philo of Alexandria,” Gregory E. Sterling
  • 19. “The Law of Roman Divorce in the Time of Christ,” Thomas A. J. McGinn
  • 20. “Associations in the Ancient World,” John S. Kloppenborg
  • 21. “Anointing Traditions,” Teresa J. Hornsby
  • 22. “The Passover Haggadah,” Calum Carmichael
  • 23. “Joseph and Aseneth: Food as an Identity Marker,” Randall D. Chesnutt
  • 24. “The Pliny and Trajan Correspondence,” Bradley M. Peper and Mark DelCogliano
  • 25. “Imitations of Greek Epic in the Gospels,” Dennis R. MacDonald
  • 26. “Narratives of Noble Death,” Robert Doran
  • 27. “Isiah 53:1-12 (Septuagint),” Ben Witherington III
  • 28. “Thallus on the Crucifixion,” Dale C. Allison Jr.

Each chapter follows a similar pattern. It discusses a particular facet of ancient Jewish or Roman life, talks about source material related to that facet, and then provides translated sources demonstrating what was discussed. Occasionally these may be full sources but more often they are a selection. These materials are then compared and contrasted with how Jesus was portrayed, primarily in the Gospels.

The book is not what I’d call a popular history but it is written at a fairly basic level. I don’t know for sure but it looks like something designed for use in an introductory undergraduate course on source and textual analysis in Early Christianity. A negative of this book is it’s not footnoted though most sources are referenced in the text. As I do not intend to deeply explore issues related to this topic, this was less of a negative for me than it would be for some books.

As can be seen from the Table of Contents, the breadth of topics is considerable. The portrayal of Christ as a messianic figure, his use of parables as teaching tools, comparing his miracle stories with others of the period, exploring Jesus’ knowledge of Jewish scriptures and how he uses them, and discussions of his lack of concern with Jewish ritual impurity (compared with moral impurity) are covered, as well as other topics. I will briefly touch on some of the topics and essays which were of most interest to me.

Craig Evans analyzed the writings of Josephus to determine how prominently messianic figures appear in first-century Jewish culture. Josephus is negatively disposed to these individuals however he mentions several of them and, in contrast, he discusses John the Baptist in favorable terms. In essence, Jesus as a messiah is not out of place during this time and place.

Charles Talbert’s chapter was one of my favorites. He discusses multiple cases of miraculous conception in ancient literature, some of them fairly prominent such as Achilles as the son of the God Thetis and Hercules as the son of Zeus. Of more interest, and possibly more applicable to the portrayal of Jesus, are figures such as Pythagorus, Alexander the Great, and Plato. Talbert spends some time discussing how divine begetting was often attributed to an individual who had lived a particularly notable life. Arrian, in Anabasis 7.30 says of Alexander, “And so not even I can suppose that a man quite beyond all other men was born without some divine influence.” (84) In discussing a passage from Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 3.45 Talbert says, “One could not do what Plato did had he not been the offspring of a God! One reason the ancients used stories of miraculous conceptions and births was as an explanation of the superiority of the individual.” (85) For me, while I was certainly aware of miraculous conceptions in ancient literature, I had never grouped the birth of Christ with these.

Peter Flint compares how Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels with passages found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Essenes had several messianic figures and in many ways their lives parallel the account of Jesus. However they differ in a couple of key points and Flint disagrees with prior analyses which describe an Essene precedent for either a killed Messiah or a sacrificial crucifixion to redeem man from sins.

Gary Porton, Bruce Chilton and Herbert Basser discuss prominent Jewish literature elements and their use by Jesus in the Gospels. Porton discusses parables found in rabbinic literature and believes that, “… one would expect the ‘historical’ Jesus to have taught throughout his life by parables.” (209). Chilton talks about a type of literature known as Targum. These are scriptural paraphrases where the general meaning of Hebrew scripture is rendered into the Aramaic most commonly in use in first-century scripture. He demonstrates that Jesus was well aware of and extensively used this literary form, indicating an extensive knowledge of Hebrew scripture. He also discusses one particular instance where the Greek translation provided by Luke misrepresents the Aramaic original. In Luke 4:16-30 Jesus is nearly stoned after speaking in a synagogue. Based on Luke, Jesus appears to provide a fairly traditional interpretation of Isiah however based on pronoun confusion, he is actually proclaiming himself not just as a divinely inspired preacher but as a full-on messiah who will personally see to the redemption of the souls of men from captivity. (252-4) Interestingly, Chilton describes a Jesus who knew and used Targum however he almost never used identical language and how he used scripture, “… shows that an innovative tendency is characteristic of his style of teaching.” (252) Basser describes how Jesus followed talmudic and rabbinic forms of teaching and argument, however his message in the Gospels is different from Judaic teachings.

A very useful chapter for me was authored by Jonathan Klawans. He discusses the difference between ritual purity and moral purity and how Jesus emphasized the importance of the latter but was not as concerned with the former. Ritual impurities are those which do not represent sin. For example, a woman is ritually impure during menstruation, however this does not demonstrate sin, just that she should avoid the temple during these times (interestingly, male genital emissions are also considered ritually impure). An individual who helped bury someone is ritually impure but not sinful – the dead must be cared for and buried – he or she must ritually cleanse him- or herself before entering the temple. In contrast, moral impurity such as sexual transgressions, bloodshed, and idolatry are sinful and result in long-lasting defilement which may not be removed simply by a ritual cleansing. Throughout the Gospels, Christ expresses little concern for ritual impurity. He and his disciples eat without first washing their hands, heal on the Sabbath and gather grain to eat on the Sabbath, all items prohibited under Jewish Law. Yet he is very concerned with greed, murder, adultery, etc. Klawans provides a useful analysis of Mark 7:1-23 in discussing this.

There were a few essays I considered less useful. I found Dennis MacDonald’s argument that the Gospels made extensive use of Greek epics unconvincing. The fact that Hector and Christ both died is certainly true however I do not see where the denial by Achilles to grant Priam his body resembles the account of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, similarly the death of Turnus in the Aenid. Marvin Meyer’s discussion and translation of the Mithras Liturgy was interesting, however he failed to adequately connect it to first-century Judaism which left me wondering what the point of the chapter was.

This is a good book. For me, it did what it was intended to do – provide me a contextual basis from which I could draw more insight into Jesus’ life, or at least his life as it is portrayed in the Gospels. Jesus comes across as a man of his times, a preacher/teacher who uses traditional Jewish literature, teaching methods, and whose messages are, in many cases, traditional. However he also comes across as a remarkable individual, even accounting for possible later redactions of the Gospels. While he uses traditional methods, much of his message is innovative. While bathing to remove ritual impurity is an every day aspect of Jewish life, the Gospel accounts provide a new, one-time-only, “baptism for life” for the remission of sins. Jesus breaks with Jewish authorities on what constitutes impurity. Once one recalls that in Rome, Emperors were commonly worshiped as deities, Jesus’ famous “Render unto God what is God and unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” becomes a subversive denial of the Emperor’s divinity. Christ, depending on your viewpoint, was either an innovator or a radical, perhaps both. He was enough of each to earn the enmity of the Jewish establishment to the point of being executed.

There are areas left unexamined. In particular, I would have appreciated an account of Roman judicial practice in Judea during the period and an examination of how Christ’s trial, sentence and execution compared with normal judicial procedures. I have read where the trial and sentence is considered to have taken place very quickly and would have enjoyed a discussion of this. I would have also enjoyed more discussions such as Bruce Chilton’s discussing Aramaic/Greek translations and how this impacts determining the origin of Gospel accounts.3

This book will be valuable for a person who is just beginning his or her examination of first-century Christianity. My one recommendation is that you first read the canonical Gospels. These are frequently referred to and the Gospel accounts are compared and contrasted with other examples of ancient literature throughout.

1 It’s sheer coincidence that I’m posting something about Jesus on Christmas Day. I happened to finish this book over the weekend. Funny how that works out.

2 This is the biggest change in my preconceptions; that the Gospel authors were not Jesus’ companions. In essence, while some believe that Mark (considered the earliest Gospel) may have been written around 50 AD, most place it closer to about 70. The real disqualifier is that the Gospels were written in fairly high quality Greek. Jesus’ companions are unlikely to have known Greek and even more unlikely to have been able to write it.

3 One of the ways historians try to figure out when something in a Gospel account originated is by trying to reverse translate it from Greek into Aramaic. There are passages in the Greek which make no sense in Aramaic demonstrating, probably, something which was added a bit later, up to when the Gospel was written (later redactions are an entirely different matter). And there are stories which appear to make much more sense in Aramaic, indicating a fairly early origin. Of course most make sense both ways. And quite often the Gospels and Paul retain an original Aramaic word or phrase.

 
 

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Thursday at Kalamazoo: Books, Sessions and Bloggers

Before I get started I want to mention that if anyone happens to read these and feels that I’ve been inaccurate, please either e-mail me or comment. I’ve been corrected plenty of times. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Thursday morning I went to breakfast and ran into a friend who was among a group of people Paul Gans first dragged to Kalamazoo over ten years ago. By 8:00, as has been the case for every Kalamazoo since I began attending, I was at the doorway of the exhibit area. I don’t have any cute stories about hunting for specific books like last year. I did meet an individual who I’d interacted with on Library Thing, David Kathman. Of course I then had to inform him that as he was talking about the 14th century I wouldn’t be hearing his paper in favor of a session organized by Ralph Mathisen. Somehow Dave managed to go on living (I know this because I saw him again Sunday).

After the usual perusal of half-price Ashgates, $5 Penguins, etc., I walked up to the Bernhard Center for Session 43, “Medieval Environments I: Food Shortage and Subsistence Crises in Medieval Europe”, which has also been discussed by Michelle Ziegler. Choosing sessions is always interesting. In picking where I was going pre-conf, I had thought I might not go to a Thursday morning session as nothing seemed that interesting to me. More time for books, right? But the night before, as I was marking my brand new program book, I found this one and wondered why I wouldn’t have wanted to attend it. I just pulled out my original book and I hadn’t identified this as a possibility. I have no idea why.

Kathy Pearson of Old Dominion opened with, “After the ‘Fall’: Feeding Rome in the Early Middle Ages.” This was a discussion of the food supply for the city of Rome in the 6th and 7th centuries. She discussed how, while Rome’s population from the period of Justinian’s Gothic Wars was radically reduced from that of the Empire, it was still substantial. With an estimated population of 25,000 to 40,000 it was the largest city in Western Europe at the time, and periodically it would swell significantly due to pilgrims and refugees. She discussed evidence of trade networks (diminished but still present) such as from North Africa and Sicily, the existence of papal estates, demolition of buildings within the walls in favor of arable ground, and crop yield estimates. This paper was heavy with information. Ultimately, Pearson believes that it is likely that as much as half of the land area within the walls was used for agricultural production. If this is the case she believes that if the population of the city was 25,000, then the city (this includes the surrounding countryside) would have been nearly self-sufficient, however with a population of 40,000 Rome would have needed to rely on larger networks.

From Tim Newfield of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor we received a new look at the Carolingians in “Shortages and Population Trends in Carolingian Europe, ca. 750-c.950.” Newfield believes that theories describing a fairly steady population growth during the Carolingian period should be regarded with caution. His main thesis is that the Carolingian Empire was subject to fairly regular and significant food shortages, which he divided into two categories; famines and lesser shortages. I won’t include all of his information however he identified 10 famines from 762/4-939/44 and 12 lesser shortages from 752-919, usually the result of unfavorable weather. He believes that these food crises would have generated in a strong demographic response, likely in the range of a 5-20% population reduction, and that while a post-shortage baby boom was likely, population recovery would have required twice the duration of the shortage (for a 2-year shortage it would take 4 years to regain the lost population). He believes that in order for relatively continuous growth to have taken place shortages must have occurred a minimum of 5-9 years apart while he believes it is very likely that they were more frequent. This was an interesting paper. There seems to be a growing body of evidence which shows that things may not have been quite as good during the Carolingian period as has sometimes been argued. I’m hopeful that a form of this paper shows up in EME or another journal where he can provide more details. The validity of this paper hinges on the quality of its information, particularly regarding the shortages, which there’s little time to explore in a 20-25 minute paper.

I can’t help wondering if the later time period for the final paper was the cause of my not identifying this as a session to attend. In any case, Philip Slavin of McGill University took us into the later Middle Ages with, “Alternative Consumption: Fodder and Fodder Resources in Late Medieval English Economy, ca. 1250-1450.” Slavin examined the use of fodder in feeding draft animals, how these changed over time, and what these changes may indicate. He divided fodder into two categories; grassland, consisting of pasture and meadow hay and; crops, consisting of oats, legumes and straw. 1 There are some interesting changes which took place during this period which he discussed with the help of some useful charts and graphs. One of these was that in 1300 over 2/3 of all fodder was sold by Lords with the remainder being fed while by 1400 roughly half was sold. He believes this points to a decline in the demesne economy and a possible increase in peasant wealth. Between 1300 and 1400 the percentage of oats in rations declined radically while pasturage and hay fed increased, indicating a shift of land from arable to pasturage, possibly due to a labor shortage. As a result of the reduction in the level of oats fed, animals became weaker, something he believes is supported by archaeological evidence from Wharram-Percy as this has revealed skeletal pathologies in animals including lesions and weakened bones.

This was a very good session and made my forgetting my program book well worth the trouble. This session was sponsored by the Environmental History Network for the Middle Ages (ENFORMA), a group I may have to keep an eye on. They sponsored several other sessions during Congress though this is the only one I made.

Following this session I headed back to the Exhibit area to resume my prowl through the books. I found that in addition to Ashgate and Cambridge selling books at 50% off, Brill had the same discount for its display copies, resulting in me finally owning one of their volumes. Yes, I have indeed arrived. I made it through a bit less than half the exhibit and decided Loome might take too much time so I returned to Bernhard, had some lunch and headed to Session 95, “The Ties That Bound I: Early Medieval Prosopography”.

Unfortunately only one of the three presenters made it to this session. However the one paper, “Becoming Barbarian: An Examination of Stilicho in Fifth-Century Latin Sources” by Deanna Forsman of North Hennepin Community College was very good and made the walk worthwhile. She discussed source mentions and descriptions of Stilicho to assess his historical portrayal as a barbarian rather than as a Roman. A portion of this was a comparative analysis of Stilicho and Aetius. She had a really good slide which showed substantial parallels between the two, yet Aetius is generally referred to as a Roman while Stilicho is not. In examining the literature, Forsman found that source material is generally positive about Stilicho and almost all refer to him as a Roman. The only negative depictions come after Stilicho’s death and of those, only Orosius refers to him as a barbarian and he is the sole source for his being considered half Vandal. 2 Forsman believes that Jerome’s reference should be interpreted as Stilicho being called semi-barbarian, like a barbarian, or even equating to “barbarian-lover”, not that he was half barbarian as this has commonly been interpreted as. 3 Even Rutilius Namatianus, in a vituperative condemnation, doesn’t refer to Stilicho as anything but Roman.

Ultimately Forsman does not believe it likely that Stilicho was referred to as a barbarian while alive and that his being half Vandal is somewhere between unproven and unlikely. Stilicho certainly thought of himself as Roman and the bulk of the sources seem to support him. Good paper and Forsman gave an excellent presentation. There is a followup question of why, with so little evidence for this, did Stilicho come to be known as a barbarian? I can make a couple of conjectures (for example, Orosius wrote his Historiarum Adversum Paganos Libri septem at the request of Augustine who may have helped disseminate this) but nothing concrete.

Next I looked outside, didn’t see a shuttle and set out for Valley III for my next session. I think this was the trek which woke my hip up. I can walk a long time with no trouble at an amble but when I need to push the pace a little it doesn’t take long for it to start speaking to me. I went to a four-paper session and I only have notes which would allow me to post a coherent summary of one of these. I have a bunch of data points but not much in the way of the overall themes or messages of the presentations. This was a 3:30 session which is a low energy time for me, at least when I’m short of sleep but I don’t recall dozing off or even having a hard time concentrating (as opposed to a session Saturday – not sure if I’ll mention that when I get to it). However I’m afraid I can’t offer much in the way of useful summaries so I’ll just leave this one alone entirely.

In any case, once the session ended I dropped my notepad in my room and headed to the Valley III registration area for the Blogger Meet-up. We hung around in the lobby for a bit before heading to the room. I’ve previously mentioned the Bloggers who were there but I think I left out one. At least I think Lisa Carnell has a blog, titled The View from Kalamazoo.

Several folks who don’t (but should) blog were in attendance. I’m not sure on the protocol for this so I’ll leave them unmentioned but I did appreciate meeting them. ADM did a nice job organizing this. Good snacks, a couple of wine selections and a variety of beer choices. We hung around, told stories/lies and I started to trot out what would become my 2012 Kalamazoo conversational theme, a combination of, “How I go about doing my job is very different from you,” with a liberal dose of, “My University doesn’t expect me to know how to write.” This last isn’t completely true but we have communications people who review our more formal pieces before they are unleashed on the general public. I only thought of this because at the time I thought I was meeting with my Comm. staff person and a graphics designer on the Tuesday after K’zoo (said meeting has been pushed back to this coming Friday) about a publication I’m currently working on.

There were also some creative ideas for new blogs which I shall allow to remain in the room for the time being. However Vaulting had a really good one which I think she should have a go at. We had a bit more time than at last year’s meetup, or at least this seemed to be the case. Afterwards several folks headed for Postmedieval’s “Burn After Reading” session which I had originally intended to make but following a couple of beers and with my hip making a bit of a commotion I decided to head for my room instead where, after putting together a quick update post, I went to bed.

1. I was surprised that oats were considered fodder as today they are classified as feed concentrates as opposed to roughages such as hay, pasture and silage.

2. I was unprepared when I first read Orosius on Stilicho (I believe this wasn’t long after reading Claudian so that may be the reason) but in 7.38 of his Seven Books of History Against the Pagans he comes down on him hard, accusing him of using Alaric and other barbarians as a tool to terrify Rome and of plotting to place his son on the throne and restore paganism (a bit contradictory re Namatianus accusing him of destroying the Sybilline Books). At one time up to 8-10 years ago I had this half-formed notion that if Stilicho hadn’t been assassinated the Roman Empire would likely have survived. I have since reformed my thinking (though if he actually had killed Honorius and been successful in placing himself or his son on the throne the possibilities remain interesting to think about).

3 This is in Jerome’s letter 123.17, where he asks Ageruchia, a wealthy widow, to not remarry. My version is from the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers Second Series, Philip Schaff, ed., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson (2012) and says, “This humiliation [payment to Alaric’s Goths] has been brought upon her [Rome] not by the fault of her Emperors who are both most religious men, but by the crime of a half-barbarian traitor who with our money has armed our foes against us.” Unfortunately this does not have an accompanying Latin original (the Loeb editon of selected letters didn’t select this one). I’ve found myself increasingly wanting to check translations against the original and this is one of several Congress papers which sent me looking.

 

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Brief Kalamazoo 2012 Thoughts

I don’t have a lot of gas left in the tank but I suppose I have enough for a few brief thoughts.

First, going back to my book-buying planSUCCESS!!! I bought 39 books this year. For me, this is sanity. And of those, 21 had been on my wishlist and most of the others were fairly inexpensive. I mean, $5 Penguins? Not gonna pass that up. I also now own a book from Brill so that’s another milestone reached. Their display copies were 50% off. I just wish they’d brought their Transformations of Late Antiquity (or whatever that’s precisely called) collection. Of course then my total wouldn’t have been in the 30’s. I’m not gonna bother with a picture since it doesn’t come close to last year’s. I also only bought one Carolingian book so I was mostly successful there, but there was a copy of Dumbarton Oaks Charlemagne’s Survey of the Holy Land by Michael McCormick, trans & ed., which was priced to where I decided not to pass it up.

Of course such discipline on my part deserves a reward doesn’t it? So I just ordered the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Series 2 14-volume set. No, this was NOT a Kalamazoo purchase so my total of books bought is NOT actually 53. No, really. 1

Note to self: Buy new bookcase.

I had a much better time at Kalamazoo this year than last. Unlike last year I was able to be a social person, chat with folks, grab some drinks occasionally and even eat pizza with grad students. Being a recluse may have been fine for some fifth century folks in the desert but it’s not for me. But I still didn’t go to the dance.

I went to some really good sessions this year. I have a list of sources to look through(or for) to check some things out that people were talking about. I’ll fill everyone in when I do my reports. I’m not positive how I’ll do those. At the moment, I think I’m going to mostly do the daily reports but there were some really good sessions which I may feature in standalone posts, so it’ll be somewhere between what I did last year and for 2010.

Appreciated seeing everyone this year, even those I only saw once or twice. Every year there are people I seem to run into all the time, seemingly at random. This year the two were Larry Swain (though we didn’t get to spend much time together, we just kept walking past each other) and Cullen Chandler, with an option on Steve Muhlberger. Then there are folks I was told were there who I never saw. And then there’s Michelle Ziegler who I saw at three sessions I was in and the most we communicated was with a wave – Michelle, I promise I wasn’t ignoring you.

More on Kalamazoo to follow – likely more than anyone wants to read. Right now I have books to shelve.

1 If you want to see what I picked up, go to my Library Thing Page and select the tag, ICMS 2012.

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2012 in Books, Conferences

 

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