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Monday, July 20th, 2009
12:12 am - A Swedish Bible!
My father-in-law gave me a Swedish Bible! That's so cool! (No, I don't read Swedish, but I still think it's cool.)

While perusing the book to see what else is in it, I came across something that didn't fit my list of common Bible addenda (table of weights and measures, maps, glossaries, etc.). It was entitled Kristi lidandes historia, utdragen ur alla evangelisternas skrifter. Now, I don't read Swedish, so I typed it into an online Swedish to English translater, and between the Swedish, the computer translation, and my knowledge of German, I would translated it "The story of Christ's sufferings, selected from the writings of all the evangelists." The translation given by the software, however, is funnier as it stands: "Crystal sufferings stories, abstracts from all evangelisternas scripts."

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Sunday, May 31st, 2009
1:42 pm - History in the churches
I can grant that not everyone needs to be deeply interested in history...Collapse )

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Thursday, May 14th, 2009
11:20 am - passed
I have passed my general exams. They are over, and I am grateful.

More details on the shape of the exam are behind the lj-cut...Collapse )

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Sunday, May 3rd, 2009
5:54 pm - the end is nigh
I have not posted since September, and have only really read the posts on one occasion since the last post, because I have been Studying For Generals. (Okay, last term I also had to take a last class, so I took "Introduction to the Islamic Scholarly Tradition," also known as reading Arabic Muslim scholarship from the Middle Ages to the present; it was great, but really hard.)

My general exams start tomorrow. One week take-home written exam (9am Monday to 3pm Friday) followed by a two-hour oral exam (the following Thursday). I will be examined in three fields (which I devised with my examiners):
  • Religious Communities in the Mongol Empire, from Chinggis Khan to Timur Lenk, 1206-1405 (with special reference to the Ilkhanate of Persia)
  • The Byzantine Church, 1204-1453 (also known as Greek Orthodoxy from the Fourth Crusade to the Ottoman capture of Constantinople)
  • Reformation and Counter-Reformation in the Sixteenth Century

It's been a lot of fun studying for them, and I now know more about Chinggis Khan's personal life than I ever thought I'd have to. (Chinggis is better known in English under the form Genghis). But I am ready to be done, and in eleven days I'll be free! (Then on to that little matter called the dissertation...)

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Monday, September 8th, 2008
10:51 am - Arianism
(N.B. This post has nothing to do with Aryan anything, Hitler, white supremacy, or other such topics, but rather with the fourth-century heresy.)

So I had an interesting conversation yesterday...Collapse )

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Monday, September 1st, 2008
1:26 pm - British mss
More manuscripts!Collapse )

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Friday, August 29th, 2008
3:04 pm - Paris mss
Now that I'm back, here are more highlights of playing with manuscripts.
I disclaim all responsibility for mental aberrations derived from reading about Syriac manuscripts...Collapse )

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Sunday, August 24th, 2008
9:41 pm - More manuscript blathering
Warning: Severe manuscript nerdiness ahead! Enter at your own risk!Collapse )

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5:21 pm - hello from Oxford
So, we've spent one night in Oxford, seven in Berlin, four in Paris, seven in Cambridge, and now we're back in Oxford until returning home this week. I've obtained reader cards to two new libraries, and renewed my reader cards to two other libraries. We've stayed in a shiny modern hotel (Berlin), a quaint old hotel (Paris), a 16th C college guest-room (with a four-poster bed! Trinity College, Cambridge), a 20th C college flat (Clare Hall, Cambridge), and a row house (Oxford). It's been fun.

I'll have to post more about it in the future, but I have been very successful, finding about 70 pages of Syriac text (if you count a few translations into English) in notes and colophons, telling me some real juicy details (such as the fact that a New Testament was pillaged by a raiding party from a local monastery, and purchased back for the sum of five tanga, however much that is), and I have been able to play with some very pretty texts.

A brief report on some of the Berlin mss:

  • One of the manuscripts I hoped to see is now in the Jagiellonian Library in Krakow Poland, so I was unable to consult it. I'll order reproductions, and perhaps in a summer or two plan a trip to Poland.
  • Another manuscript was a collection of Greek philosophy (in Syriac translation) copied in 1260, which had an ownership note for a Catholicos Patriarch in the early 16th C. So one of the patriarchs read philosophy? It also contained what the cataloguer reported as an Arabic receipt for the purchase of some "digestion-aiding figs"!
  • One of the manuscripts, copied around 1900, was unlike any other East Syrian manuscript I've seen: it was on very thin European paper (not thick Middle Eastern paper), its strokes looked like the writing of a ball-point pen, and in place of the red ink which sets off titles and headings, it used lavender ink! That was bizarre. But it was copied from a manuscript which dates from the 15th C and it appears to reproduce the colophon of the older manuscript, so I copied it.
  • My last day I remembered two other manuscripts I wanted to consult. One was a 15th C liturgical book, which was in Marburg during the division of Germany, but was now in the Stadtsbibliothek in Berlin, which was more convenient than going to Marburg, and the other was the previously mentioned manuscript with purple ink.


More to come later!

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Sunday, July 27th, 2008
5:34 pm - Peter, Popes, Churches, and the Church
Okay, I do have a bit of time, so here is a sketch. I could add more exegetical detail, but if I did, I wouldn't finish until after I returned from Europe, if ever.

So for those who are interested: Read about my views of Peter, popes, churches, and the ChurchCollapse )

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5:02 pm - a month later
It's amazing how rarely I find time to read LJ, much less to post. In this case, I have the excuse that I spent two weeks in Seattle. But in a week's time I'll be flying to Europe to hunt Syriac manuscripts. (Shsh, be vewy vewy quiet! I'm huntin' manuscwipts...) Most of what I've done since returning from Seattle is try to get as much done with the reproductions I have before going to see the originals, to make the visit with the originals more worthwhile.

On the other hand, I've had some interesting discussions with a friend about becoming Roman Catholic, as he is seriously contemplating, and yesterday he arranged for me to meet a traditional Catholic friend of his to discuss papal infallibility, which of course is the one of the greatest issues. It was a very interesting discussion. I think I persuaded the Catholic that I don't hate Catholics (which is true), and desire the Catholic Church to prosper in the love and grace of God, but I certainly didn't persuade him that papal infallibility is false (I didn't expect to). One of the greatest benefits, I think, beyond a clearer appreciation of one particular traditional Catholic position, is that engaging with his views on papal primacy prompted me to develop some of my own thoughts on the role of the papacy in God's plan for His Church, which I may post here if I get the time. It was a very interesting exploration.

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Friday, June 27th, 2008
12:05 am - what's happened
A lot has happened, but I haven't had much time for lj. So here's the summary.Collapse )

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Monday, June 9th, 2008
5:12 pm - Accomplishment
Deleting 854 of 939 messages = 90.95% from Inbox. That was overdue.

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Sunday, June 8th, 2008
8:30 pm - Summer has begun
I finished my last paper (a review of 15th C European travel accounts which mention Trebizond) on Friday and turned it in, so my summer has begun! And the weather reflects it: yesterday, today, tomorrow, and the next day are all in the mid to upper 90s F. Ick. We bought a small air conditioner Friday and installed it in our bedroom, so at least we can retreat to a cool place. We did spend a surprizing amount of this afternoon in the bedroom...

What "let the summer begin" really means: now I can start comparing my digital text of various 15th C texts to manuscripts (or at least reproductions of manuscripts).

And a theological question. In Sunday school class we had a racing review of (Western) Christian theology from Justin Martyr (died c. 165) to Immanuel Kant (d. 1824). The overview will include a few 19th C and 20th C theologians next week, but we ran out of time today. But the pastor made an interesting comment: because Kant regarded all human knowledge as "phenomena," i.e. propositions which can be verified on the basis of observation, which is a mutually exclusive category (from Kant's perspective) from "noumena," i.e. all propositions which can be understood but not observationally verified (including all statements about God, for instance), all subsequent theology has consisted in attempts to "rescue" Christianity from the conclusion that agnosticism is inescapable, i.e. that we really can't know anything about God at all. How would my various readers respond to the charge? Anyone want to say "Amen"? Anyone want to quarrel with this, and if so, how? I have a possible answer of my own, which I may share if I remember, but I'm curious if any of you have ideas before I trot out my own response.

Next week, however, we'll be camping in Minnesota with my older brother (it's his birthday), so hopefully it will be cooler in the great Midwest. The forecast is saying 70s, and I'm looking forward to it!

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Sunday, May 18th, 2008
7:14 pm - Gardening, and a question of approximate theology
Yesterday my wife persuaded me to go with her to our little garden plot (in the community garden a block away) and help her transplant a few things she had sprouted indoors. The garden has, so far, largely been her interest, because she really likes green growing things, and I think it's kinda neat to have a bit of produce once in a while, but not enough to do a garden. But we like spending time together. The only problem was that she hadn't been out to the garden in a week, and so before transplanting there was a lot of weeding that needed to be done. Note to self: different activities use different sets of muscles. My thighs and lower back are sore from standing bent over or crouching for two hours weeding. She, however, is used to this, and was surprized at my comments about how much exercise one can get weeding! It was good fun, though, just a bit more of a workout than I expected for my lazy behind.

I was also thinking today (it happens sometimes) about approximate theology. You see, some people are much more comfortable than others saying, "God did this," or, "God thinks this," or "God desires this." I used to be very comfortable with saying this, but have found myself getting more reticent about such things. I justified it by appealing to how awful it would be to be wrong, to be attributing something to God which is not in fact true. And of course there are abuses, and anyone who uses "God wants this" as a code for "I want this" which persuades other people to do it is an awful abuser. And yet, people who attribute good things to God are not wrong ("Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of Lights..."), and if they are sometimes mistaken about what is in fact good, at least they remember the more important truth that God is good and gives all good things, and delights to give good things to people, as opposed to falling into the mire of ignoring God because one can never entirely be sure that one is thinking the right thing about God. What do people think? Is sincerely ascribing what one thinks to be good things to God better than avoiding making any mis-statements about God at the cost of typically making no statements about God at all? Is approximate theology better than no theology?

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Monday, May 12th, 2008
5:48 am - being an academic screws with your priorities
(I don't think there are any mothers who read by journal, but in case there are, Happy Mother's Day to all of you.)

I've discovered that being an academic can screw with your priorities. For instance, I'm working on my term paper for one of my classes, and at one point I found myself really glad because a town named Thiave in Numidia was Donatist within recent memory of 430.

Background: Numidia was a region of North Africa, part of the coast of modern Algeria. Thiave was a bishopric in the larger diocese of Hippo, and so the bishop of Thiave answered to Augustine. Donatism was a major ecclesiastical controversy in the fourth and fifth centuries, over whether the sacraments performed by an immoral priest or bishop were valid or not (Donatists, who sometimes formed the majority in some parts of Africa, said they were not, while Catholics said they were). The Donatist schism was officially ended at a council in 411 when the Imperial official condemned the Donatists as schismatic and ordered them to rejoin the Catholic church - many did but of course some did not. For my paper, I want to argue that a letter that Augustine wrote to the bishop of Thiave around 429, although it doesn't mention Donatists, has Donatists in mind, and so to discovery that Thiave was "only recently Catholic" according to a letter of Augustine around 405 makes my thesis more likely. But man, to subject the well-being of the people of Thiave to utility for my term paper...

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Thursday, April 10th, 2008
10:31 pm - Easter
Okay, so I know I'm over a month since the last post, and almost a month past Easter, but I've been thinking. (Well, and taking classes, learning some middle Iranian languages over spring break, preparing conference papers and giving one of them, hosting my sister-in-law and her husband, and other good but time-consuming activities.)

This was my seventh Easter as a Christian. Holy Week coincided with Spring Break, which meant I had an unusual mix of having people over for dinner, studying Iranian linguistics in an informal Spring Break class, and prayer. The last several years, I've read through the passion narratives in time with the events, starting from Thursday evening, in order to psychologically (in a way) re-live the events. This year I forgot until Friday morning, and had to cram my readings around class sessions. I read a passage for the University Chapel's Tenebrae service, which was very different from the Tenebrae services at seminary. At Trinity, we had to have the Tenebrae service in the middle of the day, so I always came out of a completely dark chapel into the glaring light of noon, wanting to chide the sun for its brightness. Here, it was dark out, but the lights never went completely out in the chapel, and they came up fully when the service was over, and people were talking as they went out, which was all very strange.

So, questions: how do you live Holy Week? Is it helpful to identify with the Passion accounts, and if so with what should we identify? Is it dangerous to re-live the Passion, or when is it dangerous? (You can probably guess that I haven't gotten myself crucified, although some people do.) Is it possible to be too psychologically well-adjusted as a Christian / should some things continually shock us (and if so, what)? These questions aren't very coherent, but I'm still thinking. I just wanted to post something before everyone thought I had moved up a mountain. There aren't any tall enough mountains in my vicinity.

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Sunday, March 2nd, 2008
2:47 pm - school again
Okay, so it's been a while since I've posted, but I can plead having a friend come visit us (which was very great fun, but did mean no lj for me) and then my wife's birthday. Yeah. That's my excuse...

Read about my semester...Collapse )

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Thursday, February 7th, 2008
9:49 pm - A new semester
So, my semester started officially on Monday. I was still working on my last paper for last semester, and on Friday in fact I was practicing my German by reading an old book related to my subject (I was basically done with the essay), and I discovered there were two sources (one unedited, one edited but never translated out of Armenian) mentioned in this old book which were *very* relevant to my essay but which no other scholar has cited! Arg. But I just didn't have access to them, and that's that. So I cited what I could from the German book (my German is so weak), finished up the paper on Monday evening late, and turned it in on Tuesday.

I had two classes on Tuesday. The first was Peter Brown's "The Origins of the Middle Ages," which he has subtitled "Varieties of Religious Experience in the Age of Augustine." It will be interesting. He's a lot of fun, with a great imagination, even if he did shoot down my paper idea when I presented it to him (I've been wanting to learn whatever we know about the later history of the Novatianist church, which split from the rest of the Church in the 250s and lasted at least until the 420s, but I haven't had the time, so I thought of doing it as the class essay for him, but he said my essay really needed to come out of the course material and that wasn't sufficiently close).

My second class was Maria Mavroudi's introduction to Byzantine studies (7th - 15th C). It sounds like it will be a very good overview, largely chronological and including a basic narrative (I'm so excited, it's depressing).

My third class is comparative (Latin & Hebrew) exegesis in Western Medieval Europe (mostly Andrew of St. Victor and Rashi), so I get to try to read as much medieval Hebrew as I can learn how to, and fast. My classmate (the only other one in that class, who designed it with the professor) is loaning me a 1279 Hebrew version of the Arthurian romance so that I can practice (and in it Lancelot's name is abbreviated to "Lance," amusingly).

Other than that, I have up to two conference papers to write (if my proposals are accepted), a spring break informal class on Middle Persian linguistics, and a Georgian friend (i.e. from the Caucasus) who is offering to teach a group of us a bit of Georgian in exchange for coffee.

That and real life is never just academic. I hope you all have a good Lent!

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Thursday, January 24th, 2008
9:16 pm - Patristic plants
So my wife planted some herbs in little yogurt containers inside, for starters. A few tulip and crocus bulbs, some parsley, and some basil. Well, when she spotted the first sprout, I heard her address it as "little Basil," and so I joked that if a second one comes up we should name it Gregory. And so there are five sprouts: one Basil the Great, one Gregory of Nyssa (they share one yogurt cup), another Gregory of Nazianzus, one Athanasius of Alexandria (all basil plants so far), and a tulip bulb named Augustine of Hippo.

But apparently Augustine hasn't been doing very well...

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