Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Aramaic Wordplay in Luke 14:5?

I'm still plugging along in Casey's Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel. I observe that he approves (p. 30) of Matthew Black's hypothesis of Aramaic wordplay at the origin of Luke 14:5. Here's the text of the NIV with the proposed Aramaic originals in parentheses: “If one of you has a son (bar) or an ox (be'ir) that falls into a well (ber) on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?”

Casey calls this "perfectly plausible." There are at least two problems with this theory. One is that be'ir (בעיר) is not the Aramaic word for "ox," which is tor (תור). Be'ir just means "livestock, large domestic animal," and could include other animals as well as oxen. One of Casey's methodological principles is that one should not just translate backwards to get at the original Aramaic, but also ask how a suggested Aramaic original would have likely been translated. In this case, I think that be'ir would surely have been rendered as ktenos, not as bous, which is what the Lukan text has. Bous most reasonably points back to tor, and that dissolves the wordplay.

That's one problem. Another one is the textual problem in this verse. For "son" (huios) in the Nestle-Aland critical text, the Textus Receptus has "ass" (onos), which is supported by Sinaiticus, among others. "Son" looks to be better attested; on the other hand, "son" spoils the a fortiori argument apparently used by Christ in this verse (compare the similar story in Matt. 12:9-13): If animal, why not human? On the other hand, perhaps the argument is not a fortiori, but a maiori ad minus; since the custom allows the greater breach of Sabbath law, it should allow the lesser: If lifting, why not healing? It's a toss-up, and the textual decision is interwoven with the exegetical choice.

A remote possibility is that the original Aramaic (if there was such a thing) read bar torin, calf, literally, "son of oxen," and that this somehow made it into the Gospel as "son or ox" (bar o tor). I doubt that's what happened, but I mention it for the sake of completeness.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Weekend Reading

Jim Davila discusses the "Ink and Blood" exhibit, which has been mentioned on "Ralph" previously ... An interesting discussion on the meaning of "War of the Worlds" at Siris ... Robin at Beth Turnip talks about the commercialization of the church ... Byzantium Shores says something many of us we can agree with: "I think the real media bias is not to the liberal or to the conservative, but to the stupid." No argument here.

Congrats to the San Antonio Spurs for winning the NBA championship. But the real MVP was 'Nu, not Timid Tim. (Does this mean that basketball is yielding to foreign players? I don't know. Did jazz become French because of Django Reinhardt? As long as basketball thrives, who cares?)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Rasheed Wallace and the Synoptic Problem

The always stimulating Language Log provides more grist at this post. Mark Liberman is interested there in possible collocations in English, but his post interested me as an example of the problem of written transmission of oral sources. The quotes in the following are taken from that post, but are put to a different use.

Rasheed Wallace, the great forward for the Detroit Pistons, arguably let his team down in Game 5 of the NBA Finals when he left his counterpart on the Spurs, Robert Horry, unguarded to make the winning 3-pointer. After Game 6, which Rasheed helped his team win, he was asked in the pool press conference what made the difference between his Game 5 and Game 6 performances. These are the reported replies:

New York Times: "I just made a bonehead play the other night," said Wallace, who finished with 16 points. "I had to put it behind me, it was over with and I had to come to play tonight."

Philadelphia Inquirer: "Even though I did a bonehead play the other night, I just had to put it behind me," Wallace said.

Houston Chronicle: "I did a bonehead play the other night," he said. "I had to put it behind me. It was over with. It was no pressure. I don't feel pressure. I had to do the things I needed to do."

Toronto Sun: "I did a bonehead play the other night (leaving the Spurs' Robert Horry open for the winning shot in Game 5), but I had to put it behind me," Wallace said.

Obviously the same utterance is being reported, but the words are slightly different. Everyone has the phrase "bonehead play," but only the Times says he "made" it, not "did" it. The Times also says he "just" made the play, while the Inquirer says he "just" put it behind him. The Chronicle and the Sun don't have "just" at all. The Inquirer puts the bonehead play in a subordinate clause ("even though..."), while the others don't. The Chronicle has a sequence the others don't, about "pressure." The papers also differ on what Rasheed felt he "had to" do. The Times has two things he had to do: put it behind him, and come to play. The Inquirer and the Sun just have the first one, while the Chronicle agrees he had to do two things, but they are put it behind him, and "do the things I needed to do."

Now all these guys were listening to the same press conference and, I assume, were taking notes by hand. If they recorded the utterance, they still had to write/type it out by hand. Even so, they were unable to agree on the ipsissima verba Rasheedi, although, arguably, one can hear in their stories the ipsissima vox Rasheedi.

As it happens, there is a transcript of the press conference, and we have the verbatim utterance of Rasheed:
Just went at it as another good game. Even though I did a bonehead play the other night, had to put it behind me. It was over with, just came out and had to play tonight.
Now compare the "real" thing with the reports. The Times and Inquirer writers did hear "just" (twice), but inserted it at the wrong places. The Inquirer was right about the subordinate clause. The Times and the Chronicle were right about the two "had to"'s, but were wrong about the second one: he "had to play," not "had to come to play" (Times) or "do the things I needed to do" (Chronicle — what was this guy smoking?). None of them reproduce the introductory remark about "another good game." The Sun and the Inquirer abridge the whole utterance. And he "did" the play, not "made" it.

All of these differences — revision, reordering, abridgement, etc. — are paralleled in the Synoptic Gospels. What interests me is that the results from this little real-life sample are not unlike the results gained elsewhere from studies of oral transmission and written transmission, especially the very interesting article by Robert McIver and Marie Carroll in JBL 121 (see below). They performed experiments to test the reliability of oral transmission and written transmission, but they didn't test the reliability of written notes on an oral utterance. I've always thought it was highly possible that the first auditors of Jesus (or of the apostles, if that makes you more comfortable) took notes, a perfectly normal thing to do in antiquity. But — if the "Rasheed test" is typical — even that does not guarantee any kind of verbatim record. As for me, I'm satisfied with the ipsissima vox. (Note to self: also relevant for comparison of Targumim.)

In conclusion, I'll give another example from the same Language Log post. In this case, we don't have a transcript, so you'll have to use your critical faculties to decide which is closest to the "living voice." The speaker is A. J. Feeley, backup quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. A. J., are you going to reward your offensive line by taking them out to dinner? The Synoptic response:

"On my salary, I'll take them out to Wendy's for a cheeseburger," Feeley said. "Make it a limit of one." (Philadelphia Inquirer)

"With my salary, I'll take 'em out to Wendy's for a cheeseburger," Feeley said, flashing his perfect smile for the cameras. "And they get limited to one...the Happy Meal." (New York Daily News)

"With my salary," he said, "I can take them all out to Wendy's for dinner. Limit them each to one cheeseburger." (New York Times)

My guess is that the "Markan" redaction is found in the Daily News. It's all there, the vernacular language ("take 'em"), the personal detail (the smile), and the vivid lifestyle reference (the Happy Meal). The "Matthean" redaction is the Inquirer, which abridges the statement, omits the smile and the Happy Meal, and cleans up the language. The New York Times is the "Lukan" representative, who also leaves out the smile and the Happy Meal, eliminates all traces of colloquialism ("I can take them all out" for "I'll take 'em out"), and introduces a reference to "dinner," moving "cheeseburger" to the end of the pericope.

Who says sports and scholarship don't mix?

BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. McIver and M. Carroll, "Experiments to Develop Criteria for Determining the Existence of Written Sources, and Their Potential Implications for the Synoptic Problem," Journal of Biblical Literature 121 (2002): 667-687.

UPDATE (6/24): Mark Liberman responds and includes a more exact transcript of the Rasheed pericope.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

CBS and the Junkumentary

Last night, whenever there was a timeout during the Pistons-Spurs game, I switched over to the "100 Greatest Movie Quotes" show on CBS. It was clear from this limited exposure that the networks have no idea of how to make junkumentaries (my word, as far as I know). VH1 churns these things out by the truckload, and they're fun (100 Greatest Metal Moments, etc.) as long as the brain is disengaged. But VH1 knows what to do with talking heads; have them on for five seconds, then go back to the clips. CBS thinks it has to move up really close to them, vary the angle and lighting, and in general treat the heads like the Delphic oracle. I think they were trying to fool us into thinking this was a real, critical look at film instead of the quickie junk it actually was. ("We're CBS! We're not cable!")

As for the quotes? The usual suspects, as far as I could tell. My own quotes would have been dramatically different. Here's a selection off the top of my head:

"I caught you a delicious bass." (Napoleon Dynamite)

"Do the chickens have large talons?" (Napoleon Dynamite)

"Back off man, I'm a scientist." (Ghostbusters)

"Whassup?" (A Night at the Roxbury)

"Max, are we going through plutonium?" (Annie Hall)

Rebels are we,
Born to be free,
Just like the fish in the sea.
(Bananas and Sleeper)

SONIA: Boris, let me show you how absurd your position is. All right, let's say that there is no God and each man is free to do exactly as he chooses. Well, what prevents you from murdering somebody?
BORIS: Well, murder is immoral.
SONIA: Immorality is subjective.
BORIS: But subjectivity is objective.
SONIA: Not in any rational scheme of perception.
BORIS: Perception is irrational. It implies immanence.
SONIA: The judgment of any system or a priori relation of phenomena exists in any rational or metaphysical or at least epistemological contradiction to an abstract and empirical concept such as being, or to be, or to occur, in the thing itself or of the thing itself.
BORIS: Yeah, I've said that many times.
(Love and Death)

Monday, June 20, 2005

Some Movies

I saw some movies this past weekend. Everyone seems to be blogging about "Batman Begins," and I saw it, so I'll join in. It was OK. It was good, in a summer-blockbuster-y kind of way: lots of explosions, gadgets, iron-jawed heroes, slimy villains, last second escapes. The usual stuff. Was it great? No. Actually pretty formulaic. The script didn't make a whole lot of sense. (Why didn't Bats bring the antidote with him in one of his gazillion pockets instead of having to schlepp whats-her-name back to the Batcave to save her sanity? Just so they could have a Race Against Time?)

I might have liked it better if, the day before, I hadn't seen "Howl's Moving Castle." Truly amazing. I have no idea why, in Cincinnati, this movie is tucked away in the local art-house cinematheque instead of being out there at the Jumboplex where America's kiddoes can see it in droves. It had all the excitement of "Batman" — no, make that twice the excitement — and a ton of imagination, of which "Batman" had zero. Some of the visuals had the quality of dreams, and the characters all had character. Three cheers for Miyazaki.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Date of C.S. Lewis's Conversion(s)

When I was growing up as a Southern Baptist, I was told many times that if you can't name the very year, month, and day — nay, even the hour — that you became a Christian, your claim to be saved was in serious doubt. I've come to doubt this punctiliar understanding of conversion; I've encountered too many godly people who have "always been Christians" or whose conversion occurred (or is occurring) in increments or installments. This is not to say that the dramatic crisis-conversion is not valid either, but it's not the only way to go.

A case in point is perhaps the most famous conversion in 20th century English-speaking Christianity, that of C. S. Lewis. Not only is there some doubt among his biographers as to the exact date of the conversion, there seems to be some vagueness in Lewis's own writings on the subject.

Readers of Lewis will recall that his conversion took place in two stages. The first was his conversion from a pantheistic Absolute Idealism to Theism. This process is described in some detail in his memoir Surprised by Joy (1955), but the date is not given, beyond "the Trinity Term of 1929." The Trinity Term lasts, I gather, from about mid-April to about mid-June. It is therefore only a slight inaccuracy when Humphrey Carpenter in his book The Inklings refers to CSL's conversion in "the summer of 1929."

Unfortunately, there is no reference in any of Lewis's letters of 1929 to this event. The editor of the Collected Letters, Walter Hooper, guesses that the night when Lewis knelt down in his rooms at Magdalen and admitted "that God was God" was sometime in May 1929. But CSL does not refer to any spiritual change in himself until Jan. 1930 in a letter to Arthur Greeves, in which he refers to his renewed efforts to live a moral life and his afternoon "meditations" — but his language still implies a pantheistic, not a theistic, understanding of God.

And, in a letter that is assigned by the editor to Feb. 1930, Lewis writes to Owen Barfield that "the Spirit ... is showing an alarming tendency to become much more personal and is taking the offensive and behaving just like God." Hooper rightly notes that this experience is also described in Surprised by Joy ch. 14: "Idealism ... cannot be lived. It became patently absurd to go on thinking of 'Spirit' as either ignorant of, or passive to, my approaches." But this realization, as Lewis describes it in the memoir, came before the Trinity Term of 1929. This is impossible. The 1929 date must be incorrect.

Lewis also tells us in SBJ that "as soon as I became a Theist I started attending my parish church on Sundays and my college chapel on weekdays." It is not until Oct. 1930 that Lewis writes to Greeves that "I have started going to morning Chapel at 8." Although one cannot be sure when this habit began, it's unlikely that a man who had been going to chapel for over a year would write in this way.

I've therefore become convinced that Lewis misremembered the date of his conversion to Theism, and that it was very likely the Trinity Term (or even later) of 1930, not 1929, that saw the crucial change from Pantheism to Theism.

But is it conceivable that Lewis himself could have gotten this date wrong? He was notoriously vague about dates. We find him writing in July 1939 to a correspondent that "though I'm 40 years old as a man I'm only about 12 as a Christian." "About 12" would place his conversion to Christianity (which came in 1931) around 1927, which is too early on any reckoning. In Feb. 1946 he tells another correspondent that "my beliefs continued to be agnostic, with fluctuation towards pantheism ... till I was about 29." "About 29" would be in the year 1927 or 1928 (Lewis was born Nov. 29, 1898); again too early, on the evidence of the letters. Lewis's own recollection was too vague to be relied upon.

Oddly enough, we are in better shape concerning the second stage of his conversion, when he accepted Christianity. I say "oddly" because Lewis admits in SBJ that he himself remembered little about it. His letters from the time, however, fill in the blanks of the memoir. On Sept. 19, 1931, Lewis had a long discussion with J. R. R. Tolkien and H. V. Dyson in which his last objections to Christianity were overcome; the details are given in several letters to Greeves.

On Oct. 1, 1931, Lewis tells Greeves "I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ — in Christianity.... My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it." The conversation is not described in SBJ, and he does not mention in this letter the trip to the zoo he describes in SBJ:
I know very well when ... the final step was taken. I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.
There seems to be no documentation of exactly what day this was. Hooper states that it was Sept. 28, 1931, while George Sayer in his biography of Lewis says that it was Sept. 22. All we know for certain is that it had to take place between Sept. 19 (the date of the Tolkien-Dyson conversation) and Oct. 1 (the date of the letter to Greeves).

Well, what is the upshot of all this? Simply that Lewis's (and our) uncertainty surrounding the exact dates of his conversion(s) are not, in the final analysis, all that important. As he himself said: "As for what we commonly call Will, and what we commonly call Emotion, I fancy these usually talk too loud, protest too much, to be quite believed, and we have a secret suspicion that the great passion or the iron resolution is partly a put-up job." It is not Lewis's (or our) remembered decisions or emotions that finally tell the story of conversion; the true story, the important details, of all our biographies, can only be told from the perspective of Heaven. We are all unreliable narrators; but — "there is One Who is reliable."

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Dylan and the Bleeding Tree

In Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" (1963), the narrator speaks of a series of frightening and ominous things that he encountered on his journey, all of them heavily loaded with symbolism. One of them is this:
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin'
I've always been intrigued by the possibility that Dylan was influenced by a scene in Dante's Inferno when writing this line. In the seventh circle (Canto 13), Virgil leads Dante through the Wood of Suicides, where Dante breaks off a twig from one of the trees:
Then I stretched my hand a little forward and plucked a branchlet from a great thorn-bush, and its trunk cried out, "Why dost thou rend me?" When it had become dark with blood it began again to cry, "Why dost thou tear me? hast thou not any spirit of pity? Men we were, and now we are become stocks; truly thy hand ought to be more pitiful had we been the souls of serpents." (tr. Charles Eliot Norton)
As all the commentators note, Dante in turn is influenced by a scene in Virgil's Aeneid (Book 3):

There, while I went to crop the sylvan scenes,
And shade our altar with their leafy greens,
I pull'd a plant- with horror I relate
A prodigy so strange and full of fate.
The rooted fibers rose, and from the wound
Black bloody drops distill'd upon the ground.
(John Dryden translation)

In the 16th century, Spenser used the same image in The Faerie Queene:

And thinking of those braunches greene to frame
A girlond for her dainty forehead fit,
He pluckt a bough; out of whose rift there came
Small drops of gory bloud, that trickled downe the same.

In all these cases the tree is in fact a human being; but only in Dante's case is the arborification of the human a punishment for a specific sin, namely suicide. (The human trees in Virgil and Spenser just happened to fall afoul of the wrong god or witch.) This fits well in the context of Dylan's song, where the images in the catalog all have some kind of moral resonance.

And we now know that Dylan in the early '60's was reading The Inferno. He mentions it in his memoir Chronicles Volume One.

Still, even after all this source hunting, I remain uncertain. It recently struck me that an equally good source (if we must have a source) is the anti-lynching protest song "Strange Fruit" made famous by Billie Holliday:

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root

"Strange Fruit" was written by a Jewish songwriter (Abel Meeropol) under a different name (Lewis Allan). Meeropol was also known for having adopted the children of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg after their execution. It seems likely to me that Dylan, who was active in New York leftist circles in the early '60's, might have been attracted to this song for many reasons. ("Strange Fruit" is also mentioned in Chronicles.)

Sunday, June 12, 2005

WAC and the Sicarii

Danny Zacharias at deinde.org has been reading Wise-Abegg-Cook:

My sense is that it was probably Michael Wise who wrote the essay proposing that the Qumran sect was Sicarii in orientation. It was an interesting read, and I am curious to hear what others think of it. Ultimately I was unconvinced, but his noting of texts also found at Masada, as well as his explanation for the existence of 4Q448 (In Praise of King Jonathan) at Qumran was interesting. I am wondering what other readers or bloggers think about it. Perhaps Ed Cook would have time to blog about, since his name is technically attached to the proposal.

In fact, the introduction to Wise-Abegg-Cook (up to page 35) was drafted by me and then revised by both Marty and Mike. Therefore my name is more than "technically attached" to it.

Danny, if you will re-read the introduction with more care, you will see that there is no proposal that "the Qumran sect was Sicarii in orientation." The key sentence is found at the top of page 33, "After the Romans came to power, the situation changed." Our model sees the proper background for the Qumran scrolls in the internecine strife in the Hasmonean state of the first half of the first century BCE. The sect, broadly speaking, chose the anti-Pharisaic side in this dispute; the Sicarii did not yet exist. There are no specifically sectarian texts that seemed to have been composed after the Romans came to power; but, in the first century CE, sectarian compositions (War Scroll, 1QS, etc.) seem to have influenced and been adopted by other, "carrier" groups that may, or may not, have descended directly from the first century BCE group that composed the sectarian texts. One of these groups may have been the Essenes as Josephus describes them; there is strong evidence that another such group was the Sicarii. Therefore it would have been more accurate to say that "the Sicarii were 'Qumranian' in orientation" than the other way around.

I have previously blogged about the dating of the Scrolls here and here.

The revision has been completed for the second edition of Wise-Abegg-Cook; hopefully it will be in print by November and available at SBL.

A picture of the three of us at our last editorial meeting can be seen here; I'm on the left.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Ancient Stench and Corpse Removal

My "research" into the stench of ancient cities has thrown some light on a couple of passages in Jewish literature that always puzzled me. The ancients seemed to take a remarkably laid-back attitude to corpse removal, as this quote from Suetonius shows:
During Vespasian's aedileship, the Emperor Caligula, furious because Vespasian had not kept the streets clean, as was his duty, ordered some soldiers to load him with mud; they obeyed by stuffing into the fold of his senatorial gown as much as it could hold ... Then a stray dog picked up a human hand at the crossroads, which it brought into the room where Vespasian was breakfasting and dropped it under the table. (HT: David Noy).
My guess is that the corpses that tended to accumulate in the open were those of foreign travelers, slaves, criminals, or other pariah groups. This explains, I think, why Tobit was able to keep pretty busy at his avocation of burying fellow Jews:
If I saw the dead body of any of my people thrown out behind the wall of Nineveh, I would bury it. (Tobit 1:17) [Tobias said]: “Look, father, one of our own people has been murdered and thrown into the market place, and now he lies there strangled.” (2:3)
And lastly, the Mishnah quotes a saying of Hillel (Pirke Aboth 2:7):
One time he saw a skull (or: head) floating on the waters, he said to it: Because you drowned others, they drowned you; in the end, those who drowned you will drown.
I always thought the occasion for this saying was strange; how likely was it that someone would see a human skull in the water? But now I can see that it would not have been that unusual.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Aramaic Wordplay in Matt. 3:9 par.?

I've been reading Maurice Casey's Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel, and so far (I haven't read much) it's good, especially on the methodological side.

I have some quibbles with the Aramaic, though. For instance: Casey discusses A. Meyer's idea that there is an underlying Aramaic wordplay at Matt. 3:9 || Luke 3:8: "God is able of these stones (Gk. lithon = Aram. abnayya ) to raise up children (Gk. tekna = Aram. benayya) unto Abraham." This suggestion has made its way into many a commentary.

But Casey says:
That is not unreasonable, but it does involve the selection of benayya, which might well have been translated huious, rather than ynqyn, which was bound to be rendered tekna. (p. 13)
Casey's point, and it is well taken, is that you can't just translate the Greek backwards into Aramaic to find wordplays and such; you have to imagine how a translator would most likely have rendered any putative Aramaic original. He thinks that benayya would most likely have been rendered "sons," not "children"; yanqin is the Aramaic word most likely to have been rendered "children."

However, this clashes with another one of Casey's methodological points, and that is that the words of a putative Aramaic original have to be attested from the Aramaic of the right period. And the word yaneq, plural yanqin, is not attested in Qumran Aramaic or other Palestinian sources of this period. Not only that but semantically yaneq (etymologically "suckling") focuses on the youth of the person designated, not on their biological descent. Therefore in different dialects, yaneq can mean "boy" (Targum Onkelos), "infant" (Targum Neofiti) or just "young one" (Elephantine papyri). The best Greek equivalent for yaneq in the New Testament period would have been paidarion or nepios, not teknon.

Plus, teknon is well-established in the LXX as a translation of Hebrew ben, "son, child" (e.g. Gen. 22:7). Therefore, I conclude that Casey's critique falls to the ground.

That does not mean that there really was a wordplay in Matt. 3:9||Luke 3:8, though. For the wordplay to work, both "stones" and "children" have to be in the emphatic state, equivalent to the Greek article. But in the Greek, "these stones" has the article, but "children" does not. Therefore, if there is an Aramaic original underlying this saying, "these stones" would have been abnayya illen, and "children" would have been just benin, not benayya as Meyer thought. Not much of a pun. Therefore, IMHO, there was no Aramaic wordplay present in Matt. 3:9||Luke 3:8.

UPDATE (6/7): Ken Penner rightly asks in a comment below whether the wordplay might be better in Hebrew, rather than in Aramaic. Yes, it might. Delitzsch, for instance, in his Hebrew New Testament, translates min ha-abanim ha-elleh yakhol ha-elohim le-haqim banim le-abraham. It is also undoubtedly true that in some instances Hebrew is just as good a candidate for the substratum of the Gospels as Aramaic, since we now know that Hebrew was by no means a dead language in the first century CE.

Nevertheless, this has to be weighed against the preponderance of evidence showing that Jesus taught in Aramaic and that the early church was Aramaic-speaking. Not only that, but the Hebrew back-translation is more vulnerable to Casey's critique than the Aramaic one, because, while tekna might be a perfectly good translation of Hebrew banim, it also might render Hebrew yeled, pl. yeladim, which, like teknon, is related to a root meaning "to beget." (See Gen 33:6 LXX.) (Now that I think of it, the Aramaic cognate yelad, yaldin would also fit.) Therefore, I think strong evidence is lacking for Hebrew or Aramaic wordplay in this pericope (which does not mean I think there is no evidence for a Semitic substratum in the Gospels).

UPDATE (6/10): Mark Goodacre comments here. Jim Davila comments as follows:
I think Casey's methodology is weak. His discussions of translation theory and bilingualism don't feed directly into the rest of the book in any way that is clear to me. And he neglects or ignores a considerable secondary literature on problems with retroversion of Hebrew and Aramaic from Greek (Beyer, Maloney, Martin, Fitzmyer, Barr, Tov, Wright, etc.).
I don't necessarily disagree with Jim, as I haven't read more than about 20 pages of Casey at this point, and haven't gotten past Casey's review of past literature. If what Jim says is true, then what is (in my opinion) the book's good beginning methodologically goes downhill. I'll let you know what I think.

I will say this: Based on some casual glances at Casey's retroversions later in the book, I would say that his grasp of Aramaic is weak and is not up to the task of retroversion (whether that task is worthwhile or not). That sounds terrible, I know, and I hope to back up that opinion later on with some examples. (In the meantime, see Randy Buth's comment below.) But it is a fatal weakness for such a book on such a topic.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Ararat, Urartu, Lubar, Kardu

Apparently they are still looking for Noah's ark on "Mount Ararat," also known as Agri Dagi.

I suppose it is worth repeating that the biblical text does not mention a particular peak where Noah landed, but refers to the "mountainS of Ararat." Ararat was not a mountain, but a kingdom — the ancient name is Urartu — in the vicinity of Lake Van in modern-day Turkey. I don't know whether its borders extended as far north as the location of Agri Dagi, in the northeast of Turkey next to Armenia.

The Book of Jubilees (2nd century BCE?) named the mountain as "Mount Lubar." The Targum and Peshitta designated the area as "Kardu" or Cordyene, now known as Kurdistan. Jerome translated the key phrase as super montes Armeniae. Apparently the idea that Agri Dagi was the site of the ark's landing dates only from the 11th-12th centuries CE.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Lloyd Bailey, "Ararat," Anchor Bible Dictionary I:351-353.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Sith Happens: Thoughts on Episode III

(Caution: spoilers ahead.)

This past weekend I finally saw Revenge of the Sith. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as I have all of the "Star Wars" movies (even the hapless Episode I — Jar Jar reminds me of a dog I used to have). Amy didn't; she had problems with the script. The Lad went with us; it was his third viewing, although the first one experienced with full sentience, since his first two were late-night outings.

I said just now that I enjoyed it, and I'll stand by that. It was a visual feast, with the full complement of space battles (with physically impossible sounds in the vacuum of space), gloriously impractical machines (tanks with legs?), and the spectacularly creepy General Grievous — a character that ignites all our subconscious fears of spiders, skeletons, sharp objects, and physical deformity in one wonderful design.

(Speaking of design, the Jedi archives look exactly like the Long Room in Trinity College, Dublin, as this site shows. Apparently Lucasfilm has denied any borrowing.)

Not only that, there were some scenes of great mythical power, especially when the Emperor descends to the banks of the lava rivers of Hell (also known as Mustafar) and retrieves the battered husk that is Anakin, to restore him to a tortured existence as Darth Vader. It is a hideous parody of the Resurrection, with a little Frankenstein thrown in.

However, the mythic power is often undermined by intrusions into the script from the Zeitgeist. At some point, Obi-Wan says, "Only the Sith deal in absolutes." Huh? So that would make the Jedi ... relativists? Post-modernists? Obviously the whole story falls to the ground unless the Emperor and the Dark Side are evil and the Jedi good, and those, folks, are absolutes. Seems to me like the line should have been, "Only the Sith believe in situation ethics"; or, "Only the Sith try to make evil seem like good." Especially given this exchange:
OBI-WAN: Anakin, Chancellor Palpatine is evil.

ANAKIN: From the Jedi point of view! From my point of view, the Jedi are evil.
But in the 21st-century USA, believing in absolutes is Bad, and suddenly we are not in a galaxy far, far away anymore. Boo, George Lucas!

There is also a scene of toe-curling badness, where Yoda is counseling Anakin; it needs only Anakin on a couch and Yoda with a notepad to make it a complete parallel to psychotherapy. Anakin is afraid Padme will die in childbirth:
YODA: Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them, do not. Miss them, do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is.

ANAKIN: What must I do, Master Yoda?

YODA: Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.

Eww. No, Master Yoda, that won't work, especially when it is Anakin's re-awakened love for his son (in "Return of the Jedi") that leads to his redemption.

So: Revenge of the Sith is not a deep movie, although it tries to be; the best things in it, as in its five predecessors, are the scenes that use, and revitalize, the most basic components of a half-century of pulp sci-fi and fantasy: spaceships, robots, desert planets, weird creatures, good guys and bad, true love triumphant, swords, sorcery, princesses, emperors, magic, treachery, loss, recovery, hidden saviors, secret identities, and ray-guns. When Lucas sticks close to these things, he can't be beat. His fanboy subconscious is mightier than his all-too-modern conscious. Use the Force, George! Thankfully, he did. Most of the time.