Sonnets to The Unseen

I would approach You, Lord, but don’t know how.
Whatever stepping stones I once discerned
(Cool in the footloose morning, oh how they burned!)
Are well below my touching, lost to me now.
This layered-over life does not allow
For boyish ease forever, I have learned.
And so this crust of soil must now be turned;
The shining task will need a manly plow.
But where to set the blade? where begin?
I cast my eyes to heaven’s nowhere space,
But skyward, Lord, I cannot hope to trace
My way to You. The tilling goes too thin.
Like a plow, a prayer should leave a mark.
I look for You on earth and in the dark.

This is the first sonnet from the Prologue in Christopher Fitzgerald’s Sonnets to the Unseen: A Life of Christ (my copy was published by the author, 2001; it is apparently now published by World Library Publications, but their site is malfunctioning at the moment so I can’t give a link right now; it is available in many places on the web). If I remember correctly, I was originally drawn to this smart little book by the chance reading of an article about the author, in some local paper’s website, covering him as a cancer-survivor who’d written a history of Christ in sonnet format. As Shakespeare’s Sonnets are some of my favorite reading, I sent off an order for the book right away, back in 2001. Now, a meditation on the life of Christ in sonnet form may seem unbearable to some, but it’s really quite effective, being occasionally quirky, and often wondrous. Sometimes it seems we’re eavesdropping on a conversation between God and the author, which is always a delight when it’s done well, as it certainly is here! All this is accomplished with the firm-footed balance of a seemingly newly-gained true maturity (that clarity from illness I mentioned yesterday, perhaps?) that hasn’t yet forgotten the wonder of youth and yet which thankfully doesn’t insist on a false, pretentious, and inappropriate youthfulness, which is unfortunately common trait in literature these days (e.g. the explosion of novelistic solipsism — barf!). And such subject matter he has chosen! Mr. Fitzgerald’s sonnets are a delight to read. I’ll leave you with another, from page 5, in which the playful rhyme belies the serious theme:

Created in Your image? How is that?
We mortals truly are of foolish stuff,
Engaged in one great game of blind man’s buff.
What image is there here worth looking at?
What god equates with bone and body fat,
Which come to nothing, given time enough,
As we our mortal coil ingloriously slough
On taking leave of this our habitat.
If we on earth are in Your image made,
What does that say of You? Forgive me, Lord.
My doubts are such they cannot be ignored.
Because of what I’ve seen of man’s parade
Through each day’s version of the evening news,
This “image” talk serves only to confuse.

The Face of the Deep

If thou canst dive, bring up pearls. If thou canst not dive, collect amber. Though I fail to identify Paradisiacal “bdellium,” I still may hope to search out beauties of the “onyx stone.”

A dear saint—I speak under correction of the Judgment of the Great Day, yet think not then to have my word corrected—this dear person once pointed out to me Patience as our lesson in the Book of Revelations.

Following the clue thus afforded me, I seek and hope to find Patience in this Book of awful import. Patience, at the least: and along with that grace whatever treasures beside God may vouchsafe me. Bearing meanwhile in mind how “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”

Now if any deign to seek Patience in my company, I pray them to remember that One high above me in the Kingdom of Heaven heads our pilgrim caravan.

O, ye who love to-day,
Turn away
From Patience with her silver ray :
For Patience shows a twilight face,
Like a half-lighted moon
When daylight dies apace.

But ye who love to-morrow,
Beg or borrow
To-day some bitterness of sorrow :
For Patience shows a lustrous face
In depth of night her noon ;
Then to her the sun gives place

Thus writes Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894) in the “Prefatory Note” to her verse-by-verse commentary, the first ever such from the pen of a woman (so I’ve read, though I’m not entirely sure this is so), on the Book of Revelation, titled The Face of the Deep: A Devotional Commentary on The Apocalypse (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1892). Christina was the sister (and often the model for) her perhaps more well-known brother, the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, also no mean shakes at the pen. Something that is often neglected in appreciation of the Pre-Raphaelites is their deep Christian faith, which found expression in their artworks. Christina was the most devout of the bunch. Throughout her life, she suffered from various illnesses, including Grave’s Disease, and eventually succumbed to cancer. Yet from the midst of such lifelong suffering came some of the finest poetry in the English language. Would we have had the same poetry had she been healthy all her life? I doubt it. For those faithful Christians who have suffered and who do suffer from life-threatening illnesses can tell you of the astonishing efficacy of such a furnace as deathly illness in refining one’s perceptions and intentions, in burning away the dross of concern for unimportant matters and in stoking a faith to burn fully aflame that in health was only an expiring ember in ash.

I intend to present here the entirety of Christina Rossetti’s The Face of the Deep: A Devotional Commentary on The Apocalypse, section by section, perhaps one per week. Most are on a single verse, so this will be a long-term serial presentation. I’ll present the first section, covering Apoc 1.1-2 sometime later this week.

I very much enjoy Christina’s poetry, as readers might have realized from my earlier presentation of one of her poems. Reading her, I hear my own voice as often as not, which is peculiar and comforting at the same time, and which is something that really only the very best of poetry can do to us. It’s hard to describe! Anyhow, she created quite a number of short poems as part of this commentary, where it works with her prose to illuminate the text of the Apocalypse. Her prose and poetry are organically intertwined here, just as you see in the preface above: who would understand the crucial referent of “Patience” in the poem once it were ripped from its moorings there in the Prefatory Note? Christina was also quite well aware of the importance of the imagery of “the face of the deep” particularly in reference to the Apocalypse and the text’s “surface” and “depth.” See particularly Kevin Mills, “Pearl-Divers of the Apocalypse—Christina Rossetti’s The Face of the Deep.” Literature and Theology 2001 15.1:25-39. This is the article which led me to hunt down my copy of The Face of the Deep, which happily for me turned out to be a first edition, though a somewhat battered copy. The Face of the Deep has only recently been reprinted as volume four of Prose Works of Christina Rossetti (Bristol, UK: Thoemmes Continuum, 2003).

Christina Georgina Rossetti has accomplished with this work, The Face of the Deep, something that I would like to see more of from the hands of truly great artists: a work of great Christian faith, of impeccable artistic quality, with a focus on the devotional rather than the academic or worldly. Sadly, these days, it seems none of these three are often accomplished in tandem.

If thou canst dive, bring up pearls. If thou canst not dive, collect amber.


Some Outlook Files

I’ve just created three different files that are designed to be imported into Outlook. They may work with other programs as well, with a little tweaking, which you’re certainly welcome to do, but I don’t plan on creating a bunch of files for different calendaring programs.

The three files are based on a couple different web pages of mine:
1.) a file detailing the daily Psalm readings according to the traditional monastic pattern of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The web page describing this system is here. By importing this file into Outlook, every day in 2006 will have the appropriate Psalm reading according to this system.

2.) a file that imports to each day of 2006 the Bible readings required to make it through the entire NRSV with Apocrypha in one year (typically 4 chapters a day). This file will lead you through the books in the order in which they’re included in the NRSV with Apocrypha.

3.) a file which is like number 2, above, except that the Old Testaement readings essentially follow the traditional Eastern Orthodox Septuagintal order, which differs from the Hebrew and usual English Bible order, and from the presentation in Rahlfs’ edition to the extent that 2 Esdras is included in the position it occurs in Russian Bibles as 3 Ezra, and 4 Maccabees is at the end of the Old Testament readings, as though it were in an appendix. The NT books are in the same order as in the NRSV, though I did toy with the idea of placing the Catholic Epistles before Paul’s. I may make that change in the future, however.

The web page describing the two NRSV reading plans is here.

If you want to import them, click the above links and save the files.
Then open Outlook and go to the calendar (these instructions are correct for Outlook 2003, but may not be exactly the same for earlier versions).
Click File, then Import and Export.
Click “Import from another program or file”, the click Next.
Click “Microsoft Excel”, then click Next.
Click the Browse button to select the file where you saved it, and, just to be safe, Click “Do not import duplicate items” and then click Next.
Click Calendar and click Next.
You’ll see a checkmark next to “Import “import” into folder: Calendar”, and then you click the Finish button. It does the import and then you’re done.

I made the readings listings the same as holiday notices, so that they don’t actually have a time associated with them, and they don’t cause indications in the weekly/monthly views that those days have appointments on them if they’re the only things on that particular day. They show up at the top of the single day view. Double-click the “Daily Bible Reading” or “Psalm Reading” heading, which will open the usual appointment window. In the Description, you’ll find the citation of what to read. (A version with the readings included would be both enormous and a copyright violation, so I haven’t done that with the NRSV, though I may do it in the future with some other text, either Brenton’s, revised, or the upcoming Orthodox Study Bible LXX translation.)

So, if you’re an Outlook user, and you find these interesting, give them a try. Also, if anyone has trouble importing the files, email me, and I can help you out.

Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh

I’ve just been to the new de Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to see the soon-closing exhibit Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh. The exhibit closes here 5 February, moving to The Met in New York (21 March-9 July) and finally the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth (27 August-10 December 2006). Rather than a strict focus on Hatshepsut, the artifacts included in the exhibit date to the early Eighteenth Dynasty in general, down into the sole reign of Thutmose III, with a majority of non-royal items. There were some huge statues, at least twice life-size, included, but the vast majority of items were small, and therefore difficult to enjoy or even to see due to the crush of the crowd (never go to the museum on the weekend!). The catalog is quite fine, and nearly a steal at under $30 for the softcover (only $35 for the hardcover), which you can, for now, purchase online here (in the past, Fine Art Museums of San Francisco website links to such have been temporary, so I don’t expect this link to be valid for too much longer). In any case, if you have a chance to see the exhibit in SF, New York, or Fort Worth, it’s well worth the effort if you can avoid the crush. There are items in the catalog that I didn’t see at all in the museum due to the number of people in the way. I’ll probably make a morning visit during the week, which I had intended to do last week, but it was too busy a week. Note to all potential patrons of any museum: when you want to know the least crowded time to go, ask a docent sometime, and then go only at their recommended times. Again: never go to a major museum on the weekend if you actually intend on having a remotely pleasant visit. I should’ve known better. Still, I did have a very nice rainy day’s walk through Golden Gate Park, which is almost always nice.

Since the de Young just reopened in November (the original museum was severely damaged in the 1989 earthquake, closed in 2000, torn down, and this new museum constructed), part of the interest for me today was in seeing the new museum, as I was rather fond of the old building, never having thought it so ugly as some say it was. Well, it’s different, of course, and will take some getting used to, like any new building. I don’t think the new tower is ever going to grow on me, as it resembles too strongly an air traffic control tower. The exterior of the museum is sheathed in beaten copper, which, now that it’s taking on a patina, is actually quite nice (by all accounts it was quite ugly when new and shiny). The landscaping is still in progress, and as it was raining today with just a little too much wind as I was leaving, a stroll through the sculpture garden was not on my list, but it looks like a nice thing for more pleasant weather. Unfortunately, across the way from the de Young, the California Academy of Sciences is now closed and being reconstructed, with a re-opening date of “late 2008,” so there’s going to be construction going on for a while right there.

Anyhow, if you have a chance, see the Hatshepsut exhibit. It’s well worth your time, just for the indescribable serenity of line and form that Egyptian art possesses and the calm that this distinctively beautiful tradition of art instills.

OTP Works by Date

I’ve just uploaded a new page to my website which is a list of the works included in the two volumes of Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha arranged in order of the date given by the translators. It’s pretty handy. I thought I’d put it up some time ago, but just realized it was missing. Enjoy!

Book-related Email Lists

There are a number of various quite interesting email lists out there covering many various subjects, as I’m sure you’re all aware. I’d like to mention a few that are directly related to books.

Everyone with interests like those shared in this blog should receive the Eisenbrauns Book News newsletter, which you sign up for here. Each newsletter lists a number of items on sale, new books arrived, and reminders of sales in progress. It’s very helpful and quite civilized! Every bookstore should do this.

Dove Booksellers also has a list, which you can sign up for here. Like Eisenbrauns, there are a number of sales which come up, and Dove also manages to come into possession of various scholarly libraries, so you might find some really excellent used items, too.

A catalogue that is only in paper format still, but which I feel compelled to mention, is one that I always enjoy receiving. It’s from Eighth Day Books, and you can sign up for it here. Theirs is an “eclectic but orthodox” bookstore, with a wide range of excellent Christian books. See their own description for further details, including the reference in the name.

Lastly, another list that doesn’t directly deal with the purchase of books, but which can certainly have an effect on which books you’ll buy, is the Review of Biblical Literature Newsletter. Instructions for subscribing are here. The newsletter includes links whenever there’s a batch of new reviews posted to the RBL site. I’d much rather have people informed about this newsletter rather than post all or some of the links to the reviews here on the blog. In addition to the fact that it seems twenty other guys are doing exactly the same thing in posting such, it’s become not only simply unoriginal, but tedious.

So, if you aren’t receiving these, go sign up for them all! You won’t regret it.

Daniel 2 and the Empires

Typically Nebuchadnezzar’s dream image of the statue in Daniel 2 has been looked at in a four kingdom framework, beginning with the neo-Babylonian, followed by the Median, the Persian, and then the Greek empires (see J.J. Collins excursus on The Four Kingdoms in his Hermeneia commentary, pp 166-170). The problem with this interpretation is that it is based not upon the understanding of history held by the author of Daniel, but on that of Greek sources, in which the schema is the Assyrian empire followed by the Median, followed by the Persian, followed by the Greek. The Greek evidence is interesting, but irrelevant. We have examples of the historical understanding of the author of Daniel from other parts of the book, namely chapters 7 and 11, which in conjunction with chapter 2, indicate a different solution to the interpretation of the procession of empire as depicted by the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.

Firstly, in chapter 7, we have a creature with ten horns, three of which are plucked out and replaced by another horn. Here are the historical characters involved here:
          1.) Seleucus I Nicator 305-281
          2.) Antiochus I Soter 281-261
          3.) Antiochus II Theos 261-246
          4.) Seleucus II Callinicus 246-226
          5.) Seleucus III Soter Ceraunos 226-223
          6.) Antiochus III the Great 223-187
          7.) Seleucus IV Philopator 187-175
1/      8.) Antiochus, younger son of Sel.IV
                 (killed by Antiochus IV)
2/     9.) Demetrius I, prisoner in Rome, displaced by Ant.IV
3/    10.) Heliodorus killed Sel.IV and thought to rule through
                his son Antiochus (8, above); H. was killed by Ant.IV
          Little horn: Antiochus IV Epiphanes 175-164
Notice that the three horns (indicated by 1/, 2/, 3/) represented three persons, two of whom were killed and one of whom was kept from the throne for a time, by the “little horn” Antiochus IV Epiphanes. We see here that the author is quite well informed not only of the regicide and attempted usurpation by Heliodorus at the Seleucid court, but quite succinctly summarized the intrigues at this point in Seleucid history with his uprooted horns metaphor.

Daniel 11 presents us with quite a nice summary of relations between the Seleucids and Ptolemids. The below identifies the various personages:
11.1: First year of Darius the Mede=first year of Cyrus the Great
11.2: Three more kings: Cambyses (530-522), Bardiya (522), Darius I (521-486); fourth king: Xerxes (486-465) [the rest of the Achaemenids are ignored, as they are irrelevant]
11.3: Mighty king: Alexander (336-323); split to the four winds: the Diadochoi
11.5-6a: King of the South: Ptolemy I Soter (323-282); Commander: Seleucus I Nicator (312-281) [Notice that Antiochus I Soter is passed over here]
11.6b: King of South: Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246); King of North: Antiochus II Theos (261-246)
11.7: Woman’s offspring: Ptolemy III Euergetes (246-221); King of North: Seleucus II Callinicus (246-225)
11.10: Sons: Seleucus III Soter (225-223) and Antiochus III
11.11: King of North: Antiochus III the Great(223-187); King of South: Ptolemy IV Philopator (221-204)
11.14: King of South: Ptolemy V Epiphanes (204-180)
11.17: Woman: Cleopatra
11.18: Commander: Lucius Cornelius Scipio
11.20: One to arise: Seleucus IV Philopator (187-175); official: Heliodorus
11.21: contemptible person: Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164)
11.30: ships of Kittim: under the command of the Roman Popilius Laenas
Following the flow of chapter 11 and focusing on those who are depicted explicitly as ruling, we end up with twelve rulers total depicted here, six from the Seleucids and six from the Ptolemids, interestingly enough, which are depicted as either strong or weak.

Taking the information above, I suggest the following interpretation of the Nebuchadnezzar dream statue in Daniel 2:
Head of gold: Nebuchadnezzar [the rest of the neo-Babylonians are ignored]
Chest/arms of Silver: The Medes and Persians, as there are two arms
Belly/thighs of bronze: Alexander the Great, who strode across west and east
Iron legs: Ptolemy I Soter and Seleucus I Nicator, one per leg
Feet of mixed clay and iron: Specifically I think the imagery is related to the ten toes, some of which are intended to be iron and some clay:
One foot, Kings of the South:
     Ptolemy II Philadelphus: clay
     Ptolemy III Euergetes: iron
     Ptolemy IV Philopator: iron
     Ptolemy V Epiphanes: clay
     Ptolemy VI Philometor: clay
The other foot, Kings of the North:
     Antiochus II Theos: clay
     Seleucus II Callinicus: clay
     Antiochus III the Great: iron
     Seleucus IV Philopator: clay
     Antiochus IV Epiphanes: iron

There are several implications here. Firstly, this interpretation, which fits so well with the evidence, would indicate that the materials in Daniel chapter 2 and chapter 11 are obviously related and belong to the same time period. Secondly, we find important evidence concerning the different mindset regarding history held by the author of these depictions: when one or another ruler is omitted, this shows us that the historical information is being selectively utilized in order to fit the particular prophetic structure being depicted. Thirdly, and I think most interestingly, the depiction of sometimes kings and sometimes empires in the image (see 2.38) shows that the consistency which we expect as moderns (which has before always led us to read all the elements as empires) was not something shared by the ancients. Lastly, the sophistication of detail in combining the utilization of the various metals and clay with the various body parts of the image as a presentation of unfolding history and the quality of kings is, so far as I know, unique. It is certainly quite striking.

Biblical Studies Carnival II

Tyler at Codex will be hosting the next Biblical Studies Carnival. Though he’d prefer to focus on related blog posts from January 2006, since it is the case that the last Biblical Studies Carnival was in April 2005, essentially any relevant post since then is fair game for nomination/submission in the category of a roundup of 2005 (including anything found on this blog, which only began in late November 2005). I won’t nominate anything of my own, so if anyone wanted to do that, please feel free. I would, however like to nominate some blog posts that I found particularly informative and well-written, and which I find to be particularly fine examples of using the format of the blog as a succinct and efficient method of the dissemination of knowledge.

Tyler’s own post A Step-by-Step Reconstruction of the New Leviticus Fragments was beautifully done, showing how far we have come in being able to produce some greatly helpful reconstructions with computer resources available at home. See especially the images he produced showing a reconstruction of the columns of Eshel’s Leviticus fragment. Very nice!

Joe Cathey (lū šalmāta!) has a post that I found very helpful regarding some things I’d been looking into recently: Tel Dan – A Response, among a series of other posts discussing the Tel Dan Stela specifically and historiographic issues generally. (Please note that unfortunately all the links mentioned in those posts to Jim West’s Biblical Theology blog are no longer active, as he recently deleted that blog, so we now have only half of the conversation in the case of some posts.) Joe is also a very supportive and encouraging person, and could use such support and encouragment right about now. Remember him for the betterment of his and his daughter’s health in your prayers, whatever form they may take. (Yes, that is an imperative verb.)

Chris Heard’s Ah, Merneptah! is a very nice summary of a multi-contributor series of posts dealing with ways to read the Merneptah Stela, with Chris’ important and insightful rejoinders. This type of post is something that he is especially good at.

Last but not least, Phil Harland’s fascinating and enjoyable History of Satan is yet another excellent series of posts on his very, very useful, and highly informative blog. He covers various forerunners/contributors to the depiction of the character Satan throughout literary history, with the glaring, yet understandable, ommission of my 7th grade physical education teacher….

I’ll be sending at least those in, if not also a few others. It could be seen as quite distressing that I can only recall these as really striking posts and they all date from within the last few months. On the contrary, I tend to think of it as quality overload. The blogs I regularly read are so consistently filled with quality posts, I find that choosing the “best of” is rather akin to having to choose one’s favorite child. Keep up the good work, gentlemen!

Beautiful Bookmarks

If you’re someone who loves books, thoroughly enjoys the act of reading, and would like to honor that pastime with accoutrements of a bit more quality than perhaps you have in the past, consider treating yourself to these woven silk bookmarks. Each is in the traditional style of a rug from long ago and far away.

Not only will they add a level of dignity to your act of reading, much more than a torn slip from the newspaper or the envelope of an old bill would do, they also make very well-appreciated gifts. One friend of mine uses hers in her Bible, where the intricate patterns peeking out from between the pages are enhanced by the beautiful glow from the gold of those gilt-edged pages themselves. Another friend’s five year old daughter treasures hers, using it to mark her place in her nighttime storybook.

It’s much more pleasing to see these little fringed beauties gently drooping from out of the books rather than the rigidly jutting dog-eared paper stock bookmarks that come gratis from the booksellers’ counters, a torn corner of notebook paper, a used bus transfer or train ticket, or any of the other detritus that I’ve used in the past to mark my place in a book. With reading being such an integral part of the process of learning, it deserves a better than occasional amount of respect.

Treat yourself! You won’t regret it!

New email address

I’ve changed my email address in order to get away from all the spam I was getting on that one. The new one is kevin <at> bombaxo <dot> com. I’ve changed the reminder in the right column, as well.

If some little mini-hippy wannabe environmentalist comes begging at the door for money and asks you to contribute or at least sign up for an email list, do one of the following: 1.) pay him money and don’t give him your email, or 2.) slam the door in his face.

Pardon me while I geek out for a bit.

There is one sure way to remain spam-free, according to a recent study (which of course I can’t find now!) by someone here at Berkeley. The trick is to have at least two email accounts and the ability to enable/disable them. When the spam comes often to your address A, switch temporarily to address B for a period of six months for best results. When the spammers have their mails bouncing back to them, they’ll start taking your email address A off of their lists, so the longer you’re using address B, the better. After a time, you can switch back to using address A, and then disable address B, which will probably have begun receiving spam by that point, unfortunately. This way, you’ll never end up in a position of having most of your mail traffic on any given email address consisting of spam. And as long as you have other ways of notifying people of your address (like posting it on your blog or website), then you won’t really need to worry about losing touch with anyone.

Another trick that I realized was necessary to counteract the ability of some fairly common software to do “screen scraping.” You’ll have noticed on this blog and others that there’s a verification feature with a kind of all twisty word you have to type before leaving a comment. This is to avoid a screen-scraping robot from spamming you with comment mail. So, what I’ve done on my contact page on my website is designed to also defeat a screen-scraper, using a colored gif image of the address instead of straight text. The variety of colors and tones will make the text which comprises my email address appear to be a graphic of some sort to the screen-scraper, not text. It won’t be able to read it as text. I formerly had a plain black-text-on-white-background image there, but that might not have been enough, as I’ve heard that such is now ineffective. Anyhow, that’s the theory. We’ll see if it works. In the meantime, it’s just groovy anyway! Far out!

Probably the best thing to keep in mind to avoid spam is to never give your email address to anyone who doesn’t have a need for it: bands you see while out drinking who have a mailing list, the bars you were drinking at who have a mailing list, acquaintances you make at those bars, email petitions, your congressman or senator (because their staff may be evil!), mini-hippy wannabe environmentalists at your door, and anything else with a high “sketch factor” as I call it. You’ll find you never get any email from them, but you sure are suddenly getting a whole lot more spam after you gave your email address to them.

So, this, my anti-spam experiment begins now with a change of address. I’ll let everyone know how it goes.