‘A Publication History of The Complete Guide to Middle-earth by Robert Foster’

Last year I published a little article, ‘A Publication History of The Complete Guide to Middle-earth by Robert Foster’ (Journal of Tolkien Research, vol. 14, no. 1; available online here). It was quite a fun thing to research and write. It was fascinating to dig into the history of this book, as it intersects with a very interesting episode in the publishing of Tolkien’s works: the 1965 Ace Books affair. There was, in US copyright law at the time, a thing called the ‘manufacturing clause.’ It posited that books not published in the US were therefore not protected by US copyright law. The Ace Books publisher, Donald Walheim, decided that this meant Tolkien’s relatively new The Lord of the Rings was effectively public domain. So he published the three volumes in paperback. This, of course, did not go over well with any number of people, namely Tolkien and his UK and US publishers. But there were a large number of young people—particularly in the US—who had come to an enthusiastic appreciation of Tolkien’s fiction, and Bob Foster, a teenager in New York City at the time, was one of them. His high school friend Dick Plotz founded the first Tolkien Society in the US, and started up the Tolkien Journal, which eventually was absorbed into the journal Mythlore. Bob Foster’s book began in that milieu, with its first entries published in Niekas, a fanzine published by the fascinating Ed Meškys. Eventually, Foster’s book was published in a hardcover edition, then paperback, then a second edition hardcover in 1978 after The Silmarillion was published, and then various editions of that second edition from then until now. Just recently, an edition including illustrations by Ted Nasmith was published by HarperCollins. But just around the turn of the millennium, Foster had dropped out of contact with publishers. I managed to find him and get him back in touch with them. He actually hadn’t known his book was still in print. So, he should be able to buy a couple of cups of coffee with those overdue royalty checks, one should think. Also, he is apparently working on a new edition of his Guide, so that is something to look forward to. Aside from the updating of references in different editions of his book over the years, the definitions themselves have remained the same since 1978. Everything published since then—Unfinished Tales, The History of Middle-earth, and The Children of Húrin, for instance—aren’t represented in The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, so that ‘Complete’ in the title, though accurate for its time, is somewhat misleading today. In any case, his new edition should include more. So, go read my article for more details.

Peshitta Canon Tables with Citations

I’ve worked through Pusey’s Tetravengelium Sanctum juxta Simplicem Syrorum Versionem in order to compile modern book, chapter, verse citations for the Peshitta adaptation of the Eusebian Canon Table system. It’s a more detailed set of sectioning and parallels, a clear improvement on the Eusebian. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t spread to replace the Eusebian system, but instead passed out of use with the Peshitta itself, so intimately integrated as it was with that version, when the Harklean version, preferring the Eusebian apparatus, became the favored Syriac version. Fortunately, many manuscripts of the Peshitta Gospels have survived, so that the system is provided in full in many copies so that its text is well-establishhed. The tables are here .

Eusebian Tables Citations and Index

I have compiled a version of the Eusebian canon tables simply listing all of the parallels by modern book, chapter, and verse citation, here.

In addition, I have compiled a complete index of all of the citations, here. The index is complete, listing every set of parallels by book, chapter, and verse, not simply following the Eusebian tables which privelege one gospel or another in each table. At the end of the index is a complete listing of the Ammonian sections and their corresponding book, chapter, verse citations.

I trust these will be found useful.

Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel, Rembrandt, and Belshazzar’s Feast

The image above of the very well-known painting by Rembrandt van Rijn, Belshazzar’s Feast, completed circa 1635, is probably the most striking depiction of the “writing on the wall” described in the biblical story in chapter 5 of the book of Daniel, with particular reference to verses 8 and 25 to 28. The story has always elicited some puzzlement, as the Chaldean wise men (v. 8) are said to have been unable to read the writing, though Daniel was quickly able to do so (vv. 25 to 28). Various explanations through the centuries (which will not detain us) have been proposed, and one of those came to Rembrandt’s notice, the suggestion that the letters of the words were written vertically. Aside from Rembrandt’s unfamiliarity with Hebrew script (note that the samekh is depicted as a final mem and the last character being written by the mysterious hand, which should be a final nun, instead is a zayin. What should Daniel have made of mene, mene, tekel, upharam yaz? Regardless, the depiction is striking and indicative of a striking connection between Rembrandt and a leading figure in the Jewish community in Amsterdam at the time, namely Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel, who lived within a block or so of Rembrandt at the time.

The life and achievements of Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel are laid out for us in the excellent book by Steven Nadler, Menasseh ben Israel: Rabbi of Amsterdam (Yale University Press, 2018). Rather than recount the details of Rabbi Menasseh’s life, I recommend the book to the interested reader. This man was extraordinary. He was Baruch Spinoza’s teacher, and also responsible for the eventual readmittance of Jews to settle in England, from which they had been banned by royal decree in 1290. Among the writings of Rabbi Menasseh, we find the book De Termino Vitae, published in 1639. On page 160, we find the following illustration:

Note the similarity with Rembrandt’s depiction:

Now, since Rembrandt was living never more than a couple of blocks away from Rabbi Menasseh during the period of 1631 until a couple of years after Rabbi Menasseh died in 1657, and there were various connections in common between the men, some sort of connection between the painter and the rabbi seems certain, particularly in light of the correspondence in rendering the writing in Belshazzar’s Feast and De Termino Vitae. While Nadler (Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel, “Appendix: Menasseh ben Israel and Rembrandt,” pp. 219-229) shows we have no clear evidence of a working relationship between the two men, much less of the close friendship often claimed in less careful writing, the fact that they were friends of friends to one another would seem to have led Rembrandt, likely by recommendation, to seek the well-known and erudite Rabbi Menasseh’s opinion on depicting the mysterious manner of the writing on Belshazzar’s palace wall. Only a few years after Rembrandt had finished the painting in about 1635, Rabbi Menasseh published De Termino Vitae in 1639, providing us with evidence of the very likely, if not certain, connection. One wonders what other source might plausibly be suggested, when an author living a couple of blocks away publishes exactly the same image within a very few years of the painting!

So there we are! Two of the most important personages in the history of Amsterdam show a very particular and somewhat esoteric connection between Rabbinic exegesis and fine art. What a delightful thing that is!

News and Progress

I have left this blog in abeyance for far too long. I always enjoyed blogging, but then, all unwelcome, circumstances distracted me from this pleasure. I neither require nor desire a pity party. I’m simply jumping back in.

Things change, as do people. I removed a number of posts that, in light of that change, I came to find distasteful, and certainly not representative of myself. I regret that some of these also had comments from others; however, it could not be helped. I had always thought I upheld the ideal that one ought never to post online anything that one should come to regret. Well. So. There we are.

In any case, the game is afoot. I am preparing a number of things for posting. My longtime fascination with lectionaries has revived. The earliest form of my website dates to well over twenty years ago, at which time I began sharing my collection and systematization of various, especially ancient, lectionaries, all for the love of it. Right now, I am on a Revised Common Lectionary kick. It has a fascinating history, though some, I find, seem to think of it as something of a stop-gap, an also-ran, or a boring uncle. It is none of these things. Various other lectionaries, somewhat tangential to the RCL itself yet related, will also appear soon. I will also continue with lectionaries from the ancient churches in the east, particularly the Coptic and Ethiopian, which both require some work before they are presentable.

There are other subjects to be touched upon, of course, and I will do so. For the moment, over the past week or so, I have been dealing with lost and corrupted files, and simply getting this website functioning again after a hiatus of unknown duration. I assure you, gentle reader, that more is coming soon, and (hopefully), that flood shall not abate.

Some off the cuff listing of subjects to appear is in order: Hebrew Bible/Septuagint textual criticism, general biblical studies with relation to the ancient near east, helpful hints to students of several languages, some translations, some lectionaries and comments upon their histories, various thoughts on the biblical canon and its relation to apocrypha and pseudepigrapha (and why those terms are so problematic), more poetry (sometimes with commentary, which I have already added to some posts), likely some short book reviews, perhaps some of my drawings, some overviews of the literary development of various writings (biblical and not), certainly some esoterica but certainly no theobabble, and, oh, whatever catches my fancy. Fun and puzzling and interesting and very human things are coming here, truly.

I will leave you, for the moment, with some advice:

Burn bright, Tyger Tyger!

Lectionaries Old and New

Lectionaries are wondrous things. The way that various sections of text are interwoven with others realize in their combination an effect on the hearer that the individual elements would not otherwise exert. The skilful literacy, thoughtfulness, and prayerful attention invested in their creation and elaboration is clear in this effect.

I came to begin collecting these and many other lectionaries (which will eventually be added to this site) out of my curiosity regarding church readings of first the Old Testament, and then the apocrpypha and pseudepigrapha in lectionaries, in order to provide myself with a personal plan of study for those sets of readings. Finding such a variety of lectionaries was a pleasant surprise. The lectionaries that I present here therefore all contain readings of the Old Testament and/or apocrypha.

The “Lectionaries Old and New” menu, above, gives access to some very interesting ones, dating from the fourth through the twentieth centuries.

This is an updating of my original page “Lectionaries Old and New” which I wrote and first put online in 1998, or thereabouts. In putting this site back together, scraping away the accumulations of decades of internetty barnacles, the page was no longer needed. And yet, I like the blurb. So I shall keep it.

Hello again!

After a long hiatus of busyness and ennui, I recommence blogging.  The first step was moving to a new hosting service.

I’ll no longer be writing on particularly religious subjects.

I will, however, continue to write on the Bible and associated literature and subjects.  An especial interest of mine is textual criticism and the interplay of the Hebrew Bible and Greek recensions, so this subject will become more prominent.  Other relatively new writing here will reflect interest in ancient writings in their narrative dimensions

There is also a body of general literature that I continue to appreciate and on which I will post, some names of interest being: Samuel Johnson, Eric Ormsby, Zbignieuw Herbert, Paul Valéry, Guy Davenport, and Michel de Montaigne. Poets, essayists, dramatists, and others are all of interest, as well as subjects of other times and other climes.

I am toying with the idea of doing some housecleaning here on the blog, archiving posts on subjects that no longer interest me and which I find distracting, if not apalling.

I’ll be working through the fine-tuning of the blog in order to repair broken links to images and such.

I apologize for a very long absence.

True criticism

In the end, it’s misleading, and perhaps false, to speak of reviews as ‘negative’ or ‘positive’. A good review should contain both elements, judiciously balanced. We live in an age of shameless puffery. A good critic, a just judge, will resist this. But let’s face it: in the case of poetry (and of the novel, too, I suspect, though I’ve never written one), a wayward element can intervene, in the form of a sudden caprice, an unexpected impulse—perhaps even what Edgar Allen Poe named ‘the imp of the perverse’—and this gratuitous and quite unbidden whim can take a poem in startling directions. It can make a dull poem shine but it can also make a good poem falter. What at first appears queer or off-kilter or even downright loopy may be transformed over time into something unsuspected, unrecognized, before. The critic has to be alert to this possibility, rare as it is; has to allow, that is, that all his fine judgment, his confident logic, his unerring taste, may prove pointless. Our judgments may—and probably will—prove as perishable as the books they judge. This requires a special kind of humility: despite our best efforts, if the work is truly good, something will always elude our analysis. There’s a mystery here I don’t pretend to understand. Perhaps Emily Dickinson expressed it best:

Surgeons must be very careful
When they take the knife!
Underneath their fine incisions
Stirs the Culprit—Life!

Eric Ormsby, from “Fine Incisions: Reflections on Reviewing”, p. 120 in Fine Incisions: Essays on Poetry and Place (The Porcupine’s Quill, 2011)

Capella Romana: Ancient Light

Some of you will be familiar with Capella Romana, an astonishingly good vocal chamber ensemble, about which you may read more here. One of my fellow seminarians here at school, John Boyer, who is a fine friend and chanter, is a member of Capella Romana, which was a pleasant surprise when I first learned it. I’d enjoyed and admired their recordings for some time. In terms of quality of performance and production, I rate them highest, in a league with Chanticleer.

So it is a pleasure to share the news that Capella Romana has a new offering available: Angelic Light: Music from Eastern Cathedrals, a mix of ancient and modern settings of liturgical and paraliturgical chant. Samples of each of the tracks are available there, and one may order the digital edition for immediate download, or the CD, or both, I suppose!

There is even a video available for one of the tracks from the Ancient Light recording.

If you enjoy Byzantine Chant, you’ll enjoy Capella Romana. If you’re new to Byzantine Chant and would like to familiarize yourself with the sound of it, this is also a good reason to listen to Capella Romana. Their performances are accessible in a way that old recordings of classic masters of chant are not, as well as being readily available, which the latter are not.