A heartbreaking waking

I had a beautiful dream this morning. I was visiting a huge gathering of my family for a Thanksgiving, and seeing people I hadn’t seen since I was a child. At one point, I left with my paternal grandparents to drive to the farmhouse where they lived when I was a child, and where we often visited them. We talked on the drive and once we got to the house. They were so interested in what I was doing and so proud of me. I showed them pictures of Berkeley and the Bay Area. We were so happy to see one another and talk. I could see that they were about to move, as the living room was empty and there were boxes piled up. We were just about to go upstairs to have a last look around the rest of the house, and a sudden noise from a housemate woke me.

My guardian angel (who takes me by my wretched outstretched hand to lead me to repentance) but no mortal ear aside from my own heard the most plaintive cry from me on waking this morning back to the world. My grandparents died nearly twenty years ago.

At last!

Yesterday, Sunday 29 August 2010, at 3:21pm, I finally completed my work in compiling and checking all the citations of ancients texts in the apparatuses of James Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha volumes, in prepration for the publication of a full index to the OTP, co-authored with Charlesworth. I had started on 16 September 2007, according to my notes, so it took almost three years. I’ve compiled 66 handwritten pages of corrections, and my notes and the index raw data have filled two and a half lab books (of quarter-inch gridline paper, my favorite for the smaller lines; the corrigenda are on 8.5×11, quarter-inch gridline paper, as well).

My process was this, for each page:
1.) If the page is of introductory material, read it closely and carefully, checking every citation to an ancient work in an edition of that ancient work.
2.) On the pages of translations:
a.) check the sources noted in the marginal citations
b.) check the sources noted in the footnotes
3.) When a mismatch occurs, figure it out:
a.) mix the numbers around a bit, assuming it’s a typo (often the case)
b.) otherwise, find the most likely edition used by the translator/annotator and check it for a variant versification (this was the case in a number of instances)
c.) search an online (usually TLG) text for one or more key words of the verse in the translation, and see where that leads (this happened quite a bit, too)
d.) If none are found, then note the parallel as unfindable and omit it from the index as a too-badly garbled mistake (there are very few of these, probably fewer than ten).

Having access to the best available online resources through the University of California, and to its library resources (including interlibrary loan) made the completion of this project possible in the relatively short time it has taken. No one could have done this without such resources.

Yes, I checked every single reference, whether to the books in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, the Deuterocanonical books, the Pseudepigrapha/Apocrypha (OT or NT), classical texts, and Rabbinic texts. That pretty well covers the range of things which will be included in the full index. All references to the works included in the OTP volumes themselves have been adjusted to the versification used in those volumes. Others have been adjusted to the NRSV (for those books included in it) or to the Rahlfs Septuagint (where applicable). I did have the NETS from almost the beginning of this project, and considered using it as the LXX reference, but it follows the Göttingen Septuaginta versification, which differs in places from Rahlfs, which is still the most commonly available and cited LXX text. So, I stuck with Rahlfs where these differ. That may change, of course. Classical texts follow the Loeb Classical Library versification generally. I also used the magnificent TLG regularly. This typically includes texts with the Loeb numbering. Where they differ, I followed whichever had the more structure. For the Rabbinic corpus, I’ve included not simply the standard page+recto/verso indication, but the outline indicators included in Neusner’s translations, as these will help readers to find exactly the point in question. Not many texts are still limited to simply page numbers in an edition, but this was the case with those works included in the Bet ha-Midrash collection, and a handful of others.

Now comes the typing. Ugh. Then I’ll have to proof it all against my handwritten notes. This is probably a couple of months of work in itself. But it’s exciting, all the same.

My next OTP-related project will also be published with Charlesworth as co-author: scanning and proofing all the translations, and then producing a full concordance to the translations included in the OTP, along with referring entries (“See also A,B,C.”) for common names in their various versions throughout all the texts. That will take about a minute a page in scanning time (I’ve timed it!) totalling roughly 30 hours scanning, and then a few minutes per page in proofreading (which, unlike the indexing/checking, I’ll be able to do anywhere, so I won’t have to be tied to the computer and surrounded by reference books at hand). Running the prepared text through the concordancing software takes only seconds. Preparing the text is what takes time and what matters. One thing I do is run a flat word list of a text being concordanced and then read through the entire list, noting anomalies of spelling and hyphenation and such, and then correcting the text. A few rounds of that results in a relatively perfect text. And in that process, I do expect to find further errors in the translations themselves (I’ve already noted some during the indexing project). So, by the end of my two projects, all of the text of the OTP, from the top to the bottom of every page, will have received close examination and correction where necessary. I expect this concordancing project to take only a few months, like just the rest of this year.

Before the OTP scanning, etc, I intend to finish up the blind entries (which are already well underway) for an otherwise complete concordance to the NETS (which incorporates corrections to the NETS translation provided by Pietersma). “Blind entries” are those like “Abraham, see Abraam.” The NRSV is the source of the first, and the usage in NETS is the second. This will assist users greatly. As this one is so far advanced, I figure it’ll be best to just get it done and out of the way.

So, that was fun! And is fun! And will be fun! I’m having fun!

O lucky me!

Tonight I was the recipient of two thoughtful and very much appreciated gifts:

The Penguin Classics edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English. This will pair excellently with the unabridged translation by Burton Raffel that I picked up last year.


The Baronius Press edition of the Catena Aurea by St Thomas Aquinas. This is a beautiful (and hefty!) four volume set of hardcovers, leather bound. Each volume has two registers (ribbon markers) and gilt pages. (The set is much more handsome than in the publisher’s picture.)

Both of these were on my list of books to buy. I am very happy to have both!

Thank you very much, my generous friend!

Prayer Before Reading Scripture

Father of Christ, all-seeing, hear our prayers;
Look kindly on your servant’s solemn song.
He turns his footsteps down a godly path,
Who knows, while living, the ingenerate God,
And Christ, the king who bans all mortal ills.
Once, out of pity for our hard-pressed race,
Freely conforming to the Father’s will,
He changed his form, taking our mortal frame
Though he was God immortal, freeing us all
From Tartarus’s bondage by his blood.
Come now, refresh this soul of yours with words—
Pure, godly sayings from this sacred book;
Gaze here upon the servants of your Truth
Proclaiming life in voices echoing heaven!

St Gregory the Theologian. Translation by Brian Daley (Gregory of Nazianzus, 168-169)

More summer reading reviewlets

Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950, Mark Mazower (Knopf, 2004). Aaron Taylor, who lived for a time in Thessaloniki, recommended this book to me. As the title implies, it’s a history of the city from 1430 until approximately 1950. What we have here is not just the tale of some kind of Oriental Everytown, though some aspects of this apply, but the tale of a city of remarkable communities of people who managed to coexist and thrive until outsiders in the twentieth century ruined everything. The Germans, as usual, had a hand in this, not least of which was their nearly complete extermination of the entire Jewish population, a Jewish population that had been the pride of the city and of the entire Jewish world. Likewise, in the name of “progress”, the striking old city of so many minarets and courtyarded, tiled houses, has given way to a city that is a gigantic grid of ugly apartment blocks. How all this comes to be is related in sufficient detail by Mazower. And while he shows perhaps a bit too much sympathy for the Turkish Muslim perspective, this doesn’t affect the historical account. It’s a very good read, very relaxing.

The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, Edward Luttwak (Harvard University Press, 2009). Luttwak is the author of the magisterial The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: From the First Century A.D. to the Third (Johns Hopkins, 1979). This volume might even be seen as more of a second volume to that than a separate work, as it immediately follows upon the heels of the last, and picks up the history of strategy in the fourth century, going until the end of the Empire in the fifteenth. Luttwak is a brilliant and engaging writer. I’ve never read such a thoughtful and stimulating book on military history and strategy before. Luttwak clearly admires the “grand strategy” of the Byzantine Empire (which he rightly recognizes as the Roman Empire, continuing after the loss of the West to the various barbarians), and suggests that we might find their strategy useful even today. Considering its remarkable success, I would agree. One wonders: was the vivid Orthodoxy of the Byzantines part of the explanation for their so very different strategy? At least in part it must be. Their adaptability and intelligence were legendary, contrary to the slanders of powdered, atavistic barbarians like Gibbon. This book merits rereading soon, I think.

Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism, Paula Fredriksen (Doubleday, 2008). This is a remarkable book, one which has given me a new sympathy for St Augustine. Fredriksen provides a remarkable summary account of the evolution of Hellenistic and Graeco-Roman society as a setting for her detailed discussion on Augustine’s writings. She goes directly to the heart of the matter: the educational system of rhetoric, classical paidea, is crucial to an understanding of not just Augustine’s, but all writing of the time. Most people miss this, almost always pulling quotes out and presenting them as something or other that the author “believed” or “felt.” Baloney. Rhetoric was about winning. And if winning your audience over meant some over-the-top insults toward absent friends or foes, then so be it. Rhetoric was always a tool to a higher purpose, and Augustine clearly had higher purposes in mind than scoring cheap shots at his fellow citizens. As with other Church Fathers, his most vividly awful rhetoric regarding Jews is found in those orations which are attacking heretics, where these “Jews” are a standard trope standing in as an image of the heretics themselves (to quite drastically simplify!). In Augustine’s remarkable work Against Faustus, however, he develops a theology of the Jews that is actually quite positive: they exist as a separate entity from Christians because God wills it so, and those who would attempt for forcibly convert them work against the will of God. The Jews likewise are a help to Christians for their holy books, which are (essentially) those of the Christians also, and which therefore serve as a witness to pagans of the antiquity of the message. I really sped through this book, it was so enjoyable. Fredriksen put many years of work into this book, which shows in its smoothly flowing argumentation, and especially in the extraordinary presentation of helpful background material for those unfamiliar with the period. In future, I am going to recommend this book to those who need an introduction to the rhetoric of the Patristic period. It is excellent!

Thus endeth the lesson on the lessons of ye summer.