Monthly Archives: September 2012

Forthcoming: vHMML: An Online Environment for Manuscript Studies

The Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML) at Saint John’s University, in Collegeville, Minnesota, has received a grant to create vHMML, “an online environment for manuscript studies.” From the announcement:

vHMML will consist of six closely-linked, interoperable, and mutually-reinforcing online components:

1. School: instructional material in various formats for teaching the paleography and codicology for languages/cultures represented in HMML’s collections (Latin, Syriac, Ge‘ez, Christian Arabic, Armenian);

2. Scriptorium: a sophisticated collaborative workspace able to support a variety of manuscript-related projects using manuscript images from HMML’s collection and imported from other sources, and providing tools for studying their form and content;

3. Lexicon: a crowd-sourced glossary for manuscript studies inclusive of western and non-western manuscripts;

4. Folio Collection: thickly-described sample manuscript folios from HMML’s collections, supplemented by images supplied by other institutions or individuals, which will illustrate the chronological and regional development of writing styles;

5. Library: other HMML digital resources supportive of manuscript study such as classic works on paleography, manuscript catalogs, and videos;

6. Blog: a central point for communication and feedback gathering about vHMML.

It looks like a really good project to me, and I’m excited to see it when it’s done!

(via Reddit)

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Two Definitions of “Evolutionist” and a Way Forward

Lately, I’ve become interested in evolutionary studies in fields other than the natural sciences — evolutionary linguistics, evolutionary cultural studies, evolutionary religious studies — and, as I’ve been reading the literature, I’ve noticed a definition of “evolutionist” that I was previously unfamiliar with, one that is purely descriptive, in contrast to the polemical sense I had known previously.

I had previously only heard the term used in the sense of “someone who believes in evolution, rather than divine creation of the earth,” often with the connotation of “someone who is non- or anti-Christian, and who holds a religious, or near-religious, belief in science.” In this sense, it is mostly a polemical term: evolutionist in contrast with creationist. Here’s an example of evolutionist used in this sense:

In the secular media, for instance, the debate is often described as “creationism vs. evolution,” as if the “ism” should not apply to “evolution.” This is not accurate, because believing in evolution, like believing in creation, requires acceptance of a certain presuppositional dogma and requires placing one’s faith in a story about the unrepeatable past. …

Also, the term “religion” must be defined clearly. While beliefs and worship practices, procedures, and conduct are involved in religion, any belief system that purports to be a total explanation of reality is more-or-less religion. Thus, insofar as it is an attempt to explain why the world is the way it is, held to with ardor and faith, Darwinian evolution can thus be considered religion. …

Authors should be more precise when they—using a qualification—inform the reader of any assumed vertical change (when one kind of living thing is changed into another kind, as Darwinian evolutionists believe has happened regularly throughout life’s history, yet has not been shown).

Creationism vs. Evolutionism: And Attention to Word Meaning,” Answers in Genesis.

However, I’ve recently come across the term in a completely different context: evolutionist as “someone who studies the process of evolution from a scientific standpoint” or “someone who studies a phenomenon using the evolutionary process.” In this sense, the term carries no connotation of belief or disbelief in any faith. It is also a descriptive term; the -ist ending merely describes the person’s object of study, like in chemist, geologistlinguist, etc. For instance:

Early evolutionists could not resist proposing terms such as “savagery,” “barbarism,” and “civilization” for stages of sociocultural development — terms that would not survive the advent of professional anthropology. A second wave of evolutionists . . . could base their controlled comparisons on richer and more systematically collected ethnographic data. …

In its latest incarnation, evolution is seen as multilinear and can even be divided into topics such as cultural evolution, social evolution, and ethnogenesis. …

When general evolutionists need to ensure that their controlled comparisons and contrasts are being carried out on societies of the same level of complexity or sociopolitical integration, they have tended to create shorthand terms for different social forms or types.

Joyce Marcus, “The Archaeological Evidence for Social Evolution,” Annual Review of Anthropology 37 (2008): 251-266. Quote from 252.


On doing a bit more research, it turns out that both senses of evolutionist are very old. The OED cites the Methodist 1866 Ladies’ repository, and gatherings of the West as an example of the term in its polemical sense. It also cites the 6th edition of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species as an example of the descriptive sense. It is worth noting, though somewhat unsurprising, that the polemical sense has mostly shown up in Christian literature, while the descriptive sense is more or less contained to scientific literature.

One wonders whether the difference in definitions is a contributing factor to strife between non-evolutionist Christians and non-Christian evolutionists. On the surface, they seem to be using the same terminology, but they have loaded the words with two completely different connotations. Maybe a first step to mutual understanding and acceptance would be for the two groups (or representatives thereof) to sit down, unpack the terms from each side’s viewpoints, and hammer out a single definition that both can agree on.

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A New Way to Learn Paleography

Yesterday, I found out about InScribe, a new digital humanities tool from the University of London and King’s College, London designed to help teach paleography online. Here are some excerpts from the announcement:

Our aim is to provide effective distance training in the various areas attached to Manuscript Studies; to complement (not replace) traditional teaching methodologies; to make a wide range of digital tools and resources available to those members of the public with an interest in the field; and to provide carefully selected bibliographies for each subsection within the module. . . .

The module, delivered through Moodle, will go live by the end of October and it will include a number of new learning materials developed in-house. Among these there will be podcasts and clips of academics discussing relevant topics and items, often with the primary sources in front of them. The module will also feature a newly-developed transcription tool, which will allow them to acquire transcription practice before undertaking the assessment at the end of each unit.

A good portion of the site will be free and open to anyone; however — and this is the one downside, I think — some of the advanced units require users to pay before being able to use them. Nonetheless, I’m very excited about InScribe, and I’m looking forward to checking it out when it goes live.

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“It would seem that the Lord God is gently nudging man toward taking the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.” (Gen 3)

One of the textbooks for my “Judaism, Christianity, and Islam” class has this quote on the moral of the Garden story in Genesis 3. It’s long, but it’s good, and I thought it was worth sharing.


Who or what is responsible for man’s expulsion from Eden? In order for man and woman to be responsible for their behavior they would have to be free both to abstain from eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and to understand the consequences of eating from it. Man surely was not without all knowledge before he partook of the Tree of the Knowledge. He knew enough, for instance, to name the beasts which the Lord God paraded before him. He certainly knew that the woman was “bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.” But did the man (and woman) understand what was entailed in taking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge? The logic of the story dictates that man and woman both had a choice and understood the consequences of their choice. The Lord God holds them responsible and presumably He was in a position to know whether and to what extent the first human couple was responsible. And Adam and Eve do not deny responsibility so much as they indicate that the Lord God Himself wanted them to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.

If one looks at some of the details provided by the narrator it seems that man and woman make a valid point. Consider the following:

  • The Lord God placed the Tree of Knowledge in the middle of the garden and within man’s reach;
  • the Tree of Knowledge “. . . was good for eating and a delight to the eyes . . . and the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom.”;
  • moreover, it is the Lord God who decides that it is not good for man to be alone, and who extracts the woman from the man. It is, of course, the woman whom the snake approaches. And the snake’s shrewdness is traced by the narrator to God. [Gen 3:1: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.”]

It would seem that the Lord God is gently nudging man toward taking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. However that may be, one should not refer simply to what happens to man and woman as a result of their acquisition of the Tree of Knowledge as a “fall.” For according to the Lord God (Who, be it noted, thereby corroborates part of what the serpent had told Eve), man has become in some sense divine by virtue of having eaten of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. This godlike capacity, as we have seen, will enable man to create his destiny outside of Eden.

We can conclude that the first man and first woman, with a little help from God, found the lack of meaningful choices in Eden unendurable. Adam and Eve willingly chose the dynamism of life outside of Eden even though that choice carried with it not only the ability to create but also pain, suffering, and death.

[Jay A Holstein, The Jewish Experience (4th ed.; Boston: Pearson Custom, 2002),  88-90.]


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More on Mark 7:24-30

The neuter gender of κυνάριον in Mark 7:27-28 does not stop it from applying to the Syro-Phoenician woman as an insult. Per Smyth (197 b):

Exceptions to the Rule of Natural Gender. — Diminutives in -ιον are neuter (199 d), as τὸ ἀνθρώπιον manikin (ὁ ἄνθρωπος man), τὸ παιδίον little child (ὁ or ἡ παῖς child), τὸ γύναιον little woman (ἡ γυνή woman). Also the words τέκνον, τέκος child (strictly ‘”thing born”), ἀνδράποδον captive.

So, even though κυνάριον is neuter and the woman is feminine, that shouldn’t throw us off. The word is still a very pointed insult, directed straight at the woman.

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Adversative καί, Emphatic ἀλλά, and Other Miscellanies (Mark 7:24-30)

Mark 7:24-30 (the story of Jesus’ interaction with the Syro-Phoenician woman) has some really interesting grammatical stuff going on, which we’ll look at after the jump. First, the text:

24 Ἐκεῖθεν δὲ ἀναστὰς ἀπῆλθεν εἰς τὰ ὅρια Τύρου. Καὶ εἰσελθὼν εἰς οἰκίαν οὐδένα ἤθελεν γνῶναι, καὶ οὐκ ἠδυνήθη λαθεῖν· 25 ἀλλ᾿ εὐθὺς ἀκούσασα γυνὴ περὶ αὐτοῦ, ἧς εἶχεν τὸ θυγάτριον αὐτῆς πνεῦμα ἀκάθαρτον, ἐλθοῦσα προσέπεσεν πρὸς τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ· 26 ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ἦν Ἑλληνίς, Συροφοινίκισσα τῷ γένει· καὶ ἠρώτα αὐτὸν ἵνα τὸ δαιμόνιον ἐκβάλῃ ἐκ τῆς θυγατρὸς αὐτῆς. 27 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτῇ· ἄφες πρῶτον χορτασθῆναι τὰ τέκνα, οὐ γάρ ἐστιν καλὸν λαβεῖν τὸν ἄρτον τῶν τέκνων καὶ τοῖς κυναρίοις βαλεῖν. 28 ἡ δὲ ἀπεκρίθη καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· κύριε· καὶ τὰ κυνάρια ὑποκάτω τῆς τραπέζης ἐσθίουσιν ἀπὸ τῶν ψιχίων τῶν παιδίων. 29 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῇ· διὰ τοῦτον τὸν λόγον ὕπαγε, ἐξελήλυθεν ἐκ τῆς θυγατρός σου τὸ δαιμόνιον. 30 καὶ ἀπελθοῦσα εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτῆς εὗρεν τὸ παιδίον βεβλημένον ἐπὶ τὴν κλίνην καὶ τὸ δαιμόνιον ἐξεληλυθός.

24 He got up from there and went to the coasts of Tyre. And as he entered the house he did not want anyone to know he was there, but he could not be hidden. 25 In fact, right away, a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him, came into the house, and fell at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she asked him to cast the demon out from her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, because it’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 She answered him, “Sir — the dogs under the table also eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 He said to her, “On those grounds, go; the demon has gone out from your daughter.” 30 And when she went away to her house, she found her child lying on the couch and the demon gone.

The interesting stuff:

  • Verse 24 has an adversative καί (καὶ οὐκ ἠδυνήθη λαθεῖν, “but he could not be hidden”). The adversative καί is sort of like a tiger; you’ve read about them in books, you’ve seen pictures of them in their natural habitat, maybe even seen a few in a zoo, but when you come across one in your neighborhood, you’re very surprised (to say the least!).
  • Verse 25 has an emphatic ἀλλά (ἀλλ᾿ εὐθὺς ἀκούσασα γυνὴ περὶ αὐτοῦ, “In fact, right away, a woman heard about him”). It’s like the ἀλλά and the  καί here have switched roles — ἀλλά, normally an adversative conjunction, takes on the role of an emphatic connective, while καί, which is normally a connective, functions as an adversative in v. 24.
  • In verse 27, Jesus makes a pun on the woman’s request. The woman asks Jesus to “cast out” (ἐκβάλλω) the demon from her daughter, while Jesus remarks about how unseemly it is to take the children’s food and “throw” (βάλλω) it to the dogs.
  • Verses 27 and 28: κυνάριον. Louw and Nida have this entry for κυνάριον: “(diminutive of κύωνa ‘dog,’ 4.34, but in the NT the diminutive force may have become lost, though a component of emotive attachment or affection is no doubt retained and thus the reference is presumably to a house dog) — ‘house dog, little dog.’” I think they’re incorrect — the word does retain its diminutive force, but it doesn’t carry a sense of affection. Instead, the diminutive here is a diminutive of insult. Κύων can carry the sense of “a word of reproach, freq. in Hom. of women, to denote shamelessness or audacity” (LSJ s.v., II), and the woman in this passage is both shameless and audacious, (a dirty Gentile asking the Jewish messiah for help? Puh-leeze!), so this reading of κυνάριον makes a lot of sense.

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Three New Online Resources from Oxford UP

I’m very excited about these new online resources from Oxford University Press. One of them is online now, and the other two will be released very soon. Check them out!

1. Oxford Scholarly Editions

The first new resource from Oxford is Oxford Scholarly Editions. The blurb from their website:

Available for the first time online, Oxford’s scholarly editions provide trustworthy, annotated texts of writing worth reading. Overseen by a prestigious editorial boardOxford Scholarly Editions Online is a collection of these highly sought after editions, making them more accessible and searchable than ever before. The launch content on the site includes hundreds of poems, plays, and prose works, written by writers active between 1485 and 1660.

Check out the authors list and the works list. It’s impressive! It’s also quite useful for studying religion from the time period given above; they have, for instance, letters from Richard Baxter, several works by John Donne, letters from Erasmus, several works by George Herbert, letters from Henry More to Anne Conway, poems by Robert Southwell, and Holy Living and Holy Dying by Jeremy Taylor.

2. Oxford Reference

The second exciting thing from Oxford is Oxford Reference. The blurb:

Oxford Reference is the home of Oxford’s quality reference publishing, bringing together over 2 million entries, many of which are illustrated, into a single cross-searchable resource.  Newly relaunched with a brand new look and feel, and specifically designed to meet the needs and expectations of reference users, Oxford Reference provides quality, up-to-date reference content at the click of a button. Made up of two main collections, both fully integrated and cross-searchable, Oxford Reference couples Oxford’s trusted A-Z reference material with an intuitive design to deliver a discoverable, up-to-date, and expanding reference resource.

The site is a combination of Oxford Reference Online and the Oxford Digital Reference Shelf. It’s set to launch on September 19, which is not so far away. And, not surprisingly, it will have a lot of good resources relating to Biblical Studies and Religious Studies. They’ll have sources on Archaeology, Art & Architecture, Classics, History, Linguistics, Literature, Philosophy, Religion, Science & Technology, Social Science, and Society & Culture. They’ll also have bilingual dictionaries in a myriad of languages, which in itself will be fantastically handy.

3. Oxford Handbooks Online

The final bit of news is an upcoming update to Oxford Handbooks Online. Again, from their website:

Oxford University Press is pleased to announce that Oxford Handbooks Online will relaunch in 2012. The site will feature the same analytical and authoritative review articles currently available through Oxford Handbooks Online, but with expanded coverage and with new articles added on a monthly basis. Coverage will expand to fourteen disciplines: Archaeology, Business and Management, Classics, Criminology, Economics, History, Law, Linguistics, Literature, Music, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, and Religion.

The relaunch of Oxford Handbooks Online represents a transition from an e-book database, to a dynamic article-delivery service featuring handbook chapters in advance of their print publication, ensuring the scholarship’s currency and reliability. Handbook chapters will appear alongside articles commissioned exclusively for Oxford Handbooks Online to provide comprehensive coverage of the discipline. Each subject area will be overseen by an Editor in Chief and Editorial Board of subject experts who will guide editorial development and insure the scholarship meets high standards for academic quality.

I’m pretty excited about this update. Right now, all they have online are digital versions of the handbooks from four different disciplines (Business & Management, Political Science, Philosophy, and Religion). But with the update will come ten new disciplines, including several with clear ties to Biblical Studies and Religious Studies: Archaeology, Classics, History, Linguistics, and Literature.

(HT: The Hindu Business Line)

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Goat Demons and She-Devils in Edom (Isaiah 34:14)

Isaiah 34, talking about the desolation of Edom, contains this fascinating strophe:

And thorns will grow up over her citadels,
A thistle and a brier in her fortresses.
And she will be a dwelling for jackals,
A haunt for the daughters of desolation.
And the desert criers will meet with the howlers,
And the goat demon will cry out to his companion.
Indeed, Lilith is at repose there
And finds rest for herself.
There the arrow snake nests
And lays [her eggs] and hatches [her young] and gathers them in her shadow.
Indeed, there the vultures gather,
Each one with her companion.

(Isa 34:13-15)

Things that are noteworthy:

  • “Daughters of desolation” (line 4) are ostriches, whose cries sound like wailing among the ruins. Together with “jackals” (line 3), “desert criers” (line 5), “howlers” (line 5), and “the goat demon [crying] out to his companion” (line 6), the image is that of a region, completely desolate, filled with ceaseless, mournful howling.
  • “Desert criers” (line 5) are some sort of wild animal, but it is not certain what animal they are exactly. The typical translation of “wild animals” (ESV, NET), “desert creatures” (NIV), etc., just doesn’t really capture the image of vicious animals wailing in the wilderness. It’s the same with “the howlers”: they could be hyenas, they could be owls (no one seems to know for sure), but the point is not their actual identity so much as the sound they make.
  • Edom, having been completely laid to waste, is filled not only with wild animals, but also with demons. These demons howl to each other, as in the case of the “goat demon” (line 6), or they lie down in quiet, waiting for a chance to attack, like with “Lilith … at repose there” (line 7). The constant, mournful howling from the desert creatures thus takes on a sinister edge, which intensifies the image of desolation.
  • When Isaiah mentions demons, it makes a pretty clear point: for the ancient Israelites, demons were quite real and quite powerful. Some even had cultic practices devoted to them, both acceptable (like sacrificing goats to Azazel in Lev 16:8-10) and unacceptable (like the cult of the goat demons in Lev 17:7 and 2 Chron 11:15).

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