Happy new homes for lovely new books

At long last, I am the happy owner of a copy of Menachem Stern’s Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism (Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1974). My years of patience paid off, and I have a beautiful, like new set of the volumes that were also not exorbitantly priced.

For those unfamiliar with this resource, Stern collected every mention of the Jews and Judaism in direct and indirect quotations from Classical authors, providing the original texts, translations, and introductions. He begins with Herodotus in the fifth century BC and ends with Simplicius in the first half of the sixth century AD. The slender third volume (the first two are quite hefty) includes a number of “problematic” quotations, as well as the appendices and indices. The volumes are hardback, of course, bound in dark green cloth, with bright gold stamping on the front cover and spine. The paper is thick and a comfortable, creamy off-white. They’re beautifully made books.

Here’s a random excerpt:

The pilot enters uncompelled when the seed-power advances into light with its fruit. Certainly I saw that those who play Prometheus in the theatre are compelled to make the soul enter the body of the just-formed man lying on the ground. However, perhaps the ancients did not want to establish by the myth that the entry of the soul is compulsory but only to show that the animation takes place after the conception and formation of the body. The theologian of the Hebrews also seems to signify this when he says that when the human body was formed, and had received all of its bodily workmanship, God breathed the spirit into it to act as a living soul.
Text 466: Porphyry, Ad Gaurum, 11.

This will be an extremely interesting read, and a permanently useful reference too, as well.

Another new goody is The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories, edited by Robert B. Strassler, new translation by Andrea L. Parvis, and Introduction by Rosalind Thomas (Pantheon Books, 2007). For whatever reason, I’d heard only of the Landmark Thucydides. As soon as I saw there was a Landmark Herodotus, I got it. This edition of Herodotus is richly annotated, with many very helpful maps, and a few illustrations. Herodotus is such a fun read, but it really is helpful to have the annotation to explain some of the more peculiar bits. I myself get bored of the Persian War stuff and want to get back to some juicy “digressions” most of the time. It’s kind of a big hardcover volume, though, roughly 9 x 12″, so it’s not as good as a vade mecum book like my older and smaller hardback of the Oxford edition translated by Robin Waterfield, sized about 5 x 9″, which was new when I got it in 1998 yet the pages are already browning, oddly enough. It’s also annotated, but uses endnotes, which I detest. The Landmark Herodotus uses footnotes, thankfully. It also includes section headings and suggested/known dates in the margins, which is very helpful. Best of all, the footnotes are quite sparse, most often giving reference to one of the included maps for whichever city, region, or event is mentioned. I say “best of all,” because the meat of the annotation is provided in Appendices A through U! So, while the Oxford provides notes incidentally, here the annotation has been systematized into appendices, and parcelled out to different scholars. There are, for example, Appendix A: The Athenian Government in Herodotus by Peter Krentz of Davidson College; Appendix G: The Continuity of Steppe Culture by Everett L. Wheeler of Duke University; and Appendix U: On Women and Marriage in Herodotus by Carolyn Dewald of Bard College. These take up only just over 110 pages. The Oxford had 140 pages of endnotes, but then that edition included nothing in the margins and no small footnotes, and the pages are much smaller, so the annotation coverage is roughly equivalent, I’d say. The thinner paper (not quite so thin as Bible paper, but nearly so) in the Landmark Herodotus keeps the book from being too massive, as well. It’s over 950 pages, but only a couple inches thick. As a reference, I’d say the Landmark Herodotus is excellent. Here’s a sampling of the two translations for 3.107:

Then again, Arabia is the most southerly inhabited land, and it is the only place in the world which produces frankincense, myrrh, cassia, cinnamon, and rock-rose resin. None of these are easy for the Arabians to get, except myrrh. They collect frankincense by burning storax resin, which Phoenicians export to Greece. Gathering frankincense requires the burning of storax because every single frankincense-producing tree is guarded by large numbers of tiny, dappled, winged snakes (these are the snakes which invade Egypt), and only the smoke of burning storax resin drives them away from the trees.

And again, at the southern edge of the inhabited world lies Arabia, which is the only place on earth where frankincense grows; the other rare crops found there are myrrh, cassia, cinnamon, and ledanon. All these, except myrrh, are very difficult for the Arabians to gather. They collect frankincense by burning styrax, which the Phoenicians export to Hellas. It is only by burning this substance that they can gather the frankincense, since great numbers of winged serpents which are small and have variegated markings—the very same serpents that go out to invade Egypt—carefully guard each tree. Only the smoke from burning styrax will drive them away from these trees.

Πρὸς δ’ αὖ μεσαμβρίης ἐσχάτη Ἀραβίη τῶν οἰκεομένων χωρέων ἐστί· ἐν δὲ ταύτῃ λιβανωτός τέ ἐστι μούνῃ χωρέων πασέων φυόμενος καὶ σμύρνη καὶ κασίη καὶ κινάμωμον καὶ λήδανον. Ταῦτα πάντα πλὴν τῆς σμύρνης δυσπετέως κτῶνται οἱ Ἀράβιοι. Τὸν μέν γε λιβανωτὸν συλλέγουσι τὴν στύρακα θυμιῶντες, τὴν ἐς Ἕλληνας φοίνικες ἐξάγουσι, ταύτην θυμιῶντες [λαμβάνουσι]· τὰ γὰρ δένδρεα ταῦτα τὰ λιβανωτοφόρα ὄφιες ὑπόπτεροι, σμικροὶ τὰ μεγάθεα, ποικίλοι τὰ εἴδεα, φυλάσσουσι πλήθεϊ πολλοὶ περὶ δένδρον ἕκαστον, οὗτοι οἵ περ ἐπ’ Αἴγυπτον ἐπιστρατεύονται· οὐδενὶ δὲ ἄλλῳ ἀπελαύνονται ἀπὸ τῶν δενδρέων ἢ τῆς στύρακος τῷ καπνῷ.

Along with its size, I’d say the Waterfield is still the more readable, even if for simply forsaking scholarly fussiness (note the “rock-rose resin” in Waterfield and the “ledanon” in Parvis for the original’s λήδανον: both unknown, but one is at least in English). If you’re out under a tree somewhere, reading along in your little Oxford Herodotus, you don’t reall need to be inundated with things that you feel a need to look up later. Just enjoy the story. For that the Waterfield is good. But as a reference, or for reading at home, the Landmark is better. It’s good to see Herodotus getting a better reputation these days, as he does in the Oxford introductory material and to an even greater degree in the Landmark. It wasn’t too long ago, after all, that you’d hear him called “Father of Lies” as often as “Father of History.”

Anyhow, I recommend all of the above.

A neologism

introsuction, n.

1. A book introduction that is so well-written and fascinating that it sucks one into reading the book immediately.

2. The introduction to a book that sucks.

The List of Shame!

Below is a list of some of my recent and fairly recent book acquisitions (in no particular order), some of which, when I look at them, I feel guilty for not already having read them through. But as I’m currently involved in other guilt management catchup reading, there is no escape!

Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.

Michael Gorman, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology

Bishop AUGOUSTINOS (Kantiotes), A Panoramic View of Holy Scripture. (Two volumes, one each for OT and NT. His Grace provides short introductions to all the books of Scripture, including the anaginōskómena, the “apocrypha”.)

Fr Eugen Pentiuc, Long-Suffering Love: A Commentary on Hosea with Patristic Annotations. (Recommended by our beloved Esteban.)

Grant Frame, Babylonia 689-627 B.C.: A Political History

G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

Donald B. Redford, The Wars in Syria and Palestine of Thutmose III

James K. Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible

Mafred Bietak, Avaris: The Capital of the Hyksos: Recent Excavations at Tell el-Dabʿa

Mordechai Cogan and Dan’el Kahn, Treasures on Camel Humps: Historical and Literary Studies from the Ancient Near East Presented to Israel Eph‘al

Peter Der Manuelian, Studies in the Reign of Amenophis II

Jacob Neusner, A History of the Jews in Babylonia (five volumes), with the companion volume Aphrahat and Judaism: The Christian-Jewish Argument in Fourth-Century Iran, The Transformation of Judaism: From Philosophy to Religion and its companion volume Sources of the Transformation of Judaism: From Philosophy to Religion in the Classics of Judaism, and The Theology of the Halakhah

Rabbi Nosson Dovid Rabinowich (translator/editor), The Iggeres of Rav Sherira Gaon

Susannah Heschel, The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany

Paula Fredricksen, Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism

Huub van de Sandt and Jürgen Zangenberg, Matthew, James, and Didache: Three Related Documents in Their Jewish and Christian Settings

M. A. Knibb, The Septuagint and Messianism

Eamon Duffy, The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village, Marking the Hours: English People and their Prayers 1240-1570, and, of course, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580

Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform: 1250-1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe

Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Tobit (from the DeGruyter Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature)

Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization

Adrian Murdoch, Rome’s Greatest Defeat: Massacre in the Teutoberg Forest, and The Last Roman: Romulus Augustulus and the Decline of the West

C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (the new, unabridged translation by Burton Raffel)

Henry David Thoreau, Walden (the annotated and illustrated edition edited by Jeffrey S. Cramer)

Eric Ormsby, Facsimiles of Time, and Time’s Covenant

D. J. Enright, Collected Poems 1948-1998

Zbignieuw Herbert, The Collected Poems 1956-1998

If someone would invent a pill that would safely remove my need for sleep with no deleterious effect on reading capability, I would very much appreciate it.

In my defense, I will say that I have always made it a habit to read, at the very least, the preface and introduction of every book that comes my way. And in several of the above-mentioned books I have made substantial, if only occasional, progress. I have always preferred to read my books straight through. Perhaps I am now in a period of transition, and am becoming one of those people who reads a number of books at a time. It seems that way.

In any case, from the parts of the books above that I have read, I can recommend them all, with greater or lesser enthusiasm depending upon the title.

Books on the Holy Family in Egypt

I recently picked up a couple of stunningly beautiful books, “coffee table books” as they say, and wanted to recommend them to others.

For the Biblically illiterate, the Gospel According to Matthew describes that, after the birth of our Lord Jesus in Bethlehem, St Joseph is warned to take Mary the Theotokos and the infant Lord Jesus to Egypt to escape the murderous intent of King Herod (unfathomably called “the Great”). Coptic tradition has the Holy Family wandering through the country for a period of three and a half years, during which they made their way as far south as Assiut. An angel told Joseph when it was safe to return to the Land of Israel, specifically to Galilee, and Joseph then took the family to Nazareth, out of the territory of Herod’s equally brutal son Archelaus. The two books are related to the traditions of the Holy Family in Egypt.

The first is one that I’d heard of from several sources, but it was Gina at Book Dust who really inspired me to pick up a copy after her post on it. She was fortunate enough to attend a presentation of the book by the editor. The book is The Churches of Egypt: From the Journey of the Holy Family to the Present Day, by Gawdat Gabra and Gertrud J. M. van Loon with Darlene L. Brooks Hedstrom, edited by Carolyn Ludwig (who Gina heard), and photographs by Sherif Sonbol. It’s a Ludwig Publishing Edition, of The American University of Cairo Press, 2007. In 328 pages, a vast number of ancient and modern churches in Egypt are described and, most strikingly, beautifully illustrated in full color by Mr Sonbol’s beautiful photography. The volume is actually heavier on the photography than on the text, but believe me, that is no problem at all. There are some stunningly beautiful churches in Egypt, from the ancient mudbrick chapels of an ancient monastery to great Patriarchal cathedrals with towering columns. Amazon is currently offering this book at a substantial discount.

The second book is one that I hunted down after having devoured this first one. Be Thou There: The Holy Family’s Journey in Egypt is edited by Gawdat Gabra, with chapters written by William Lyster, Cornelis Hulsman, and Stephen J. Davis. The photography in this volume, also stunning, is by Norbert Schiller. This is a 164 page description of various sites associated with the journey of the the Holy Family into Egypt. (Also availabe at a discount at Amazon.) For centuries there were was only a general itinerary, mentioning a few places, but as time went on, villages and towns and cities along these routes would claim to have been passed through by the Holy Family, often with miraculous wells or trees associated with the various stops. Many of these appear in the book, without its trying to establish a precise itinerary. A more precise “official” itinerary was established by the Coptic Orthodox Church for the year 2000 celebrations. This book includes descriptions of the route and the traditionally associated pilgrim sites. There’s a very interesting appendix describing the development of the itinerary through the ages, and its development and validation not just through oral tradition, but through visions, whether ancient (like the Vision of Patriarch Theophilus of the fourth century) or more recent (visions of the Holy Virgin Mary at Assiut in 2000).

What I found very interesting about the official itinerary is that it appears to actually follow some ancient roads, and that many of the various towns or cities passed through were certainly around in the very late first century B.C. For this, one may refer to the beautiful maps of The Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World (see also here). I’ll post more on this in the future, particularly in order to provide the ancient names for the various sites in the itinerary, which are not always obvious when they differ greatly from their modern names. It’s a fun project, one I’d like to incorporate much of the traditional material into. We’ll see how that turns out.

Anyhow, I wanted to bring attention to these two beautiful and edifying books. You may justify the expense in that they are less expensive than a tour of Egypt! Give your eyes a rest from reading words, and enjoy the beautiful photography of these books. And meditate on the travels of the Holy Family, and on the faith of the Copts, who have kept alive the tradition of the sanctification of their entire ancient homeland by the visit of our Lord up and down the Nile.

Foreign, limp, dangerous

Wherein the author principally discourseth upon the moral turpitude of those Bibles softly bound in limp foreign leathers so-called.

“If his Bible be spineless, is it any wonder, brothers, that the man himself is spineless also?”

Only one book saved!

I’ve been tagged again. This one involves this scenario: if your house were burning down (God forbid!) and you could only save one book, which would it be?

Of course, there’s always this proviso these days “aside from the Bible.” But I very likely would grab one of my Bibles which was extremely expensive several years ago and difficult to find: a New Internation Version Pulpit/Lectern Bible, for which there’s a little, not very good picture here. It’s heavy, thick, and got a fantastically beautiful font. It’s also entirely out of print and still in demand. I’d have trouble replacing it.

If I really had to play along, and not grab at least one of my Bibles (why? because the fire would make me insane?), I’d probably grab one of the following: my beautiful edition of Christina Georgina Rossetti’s Complete Poetical Works which formerly belonged to famed New York book collector George Zabriskie, a gold-tooled butterscotch marbled leather with gilded pages; my second edition parts one and two of Sefer ha-Aggadah, printed in Odessa, 1912, before Ravnitsky and Bialik emigrated to Israel; or my first edition (a second is supposed to be out this year) of the Ash Tree Press collection A Pleasing Terror, the annotated ghost stories of Montague Rhodes James, which also commands a high price these days.

But, in the end, I suppose I’d grab the notebook in which is my work for a complete scriptural index and concordance to Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha volumes. And a folder in which I keep the handwritten list of errata (24 pages so far, kids, and that’s not even the entire first volume). That’s for all the time involved, as I would never, ever want to go through this kind of project again, being heartily sick of the tedium of it. And if some guy is standing by the door to make sure I can only take one, I’d punch his clock and use him to beat off the flames so I could save the other books listed above, and then some. So there.

Plato: Complete Works

Have you been looking for a complete set of the works of Plato in a modern translation? I had been for a long time, and somehow had not run across Plato: Complete Works, edited by John M. Cooper, with associate editor D. S. Hutchinson, from Hackett Publishing Company. I managed to run across it in a real bookstore, in person! This hefty tome of over 1800 pages includes all the authentic and spurious works organized according to the canon established by Thrasyllus of Alexandria. That is, the works that Thrasyllus considered canonical are arranged in nine tetralogies (groups of four), with a further eight dialogues (Definitions, On Justice, On Virtue, Demodocus, Sisyphus, Halcyon, Eryxias, Axiochus; all of which Thrasyllus considered spurious) and a set of epigrams outside the number. Of course, several of the dialogues included within Thrasyllus’ canonical tetralogies are now recognized as spurious, and other dialogues have their authorship by Plato under discussion. The Letters and Epigrams are of similarly mixed authenticity. (As an aside, the nine tetralogies make me wonder if their number nine was the source for Plotinus’ Ennead, with Plotinus drawing an even greater import from this peculiar arrangement of Plato’s works than is intended. It’s a possibility anyway.)

In any case, this is a nice volume to have, particularly when running across an obscure reference to one of the very hard to find spurious works. The translations are perhaps a little too contemporary for my taste, but they’re effective for reading and getting the gist of the Greek, which is notoriously difficult but rewardingly beautiful with Plato. The footnotes are clear and not too digressive, clarifying quotations and allusions to other works of the period, which is very helpful. This is something that has been restricted to the more expensive editions, so it’s quite nice to have it all at hand in one book. And though the book is too large for reading without a desk, it’s well-bound, using “Bible paper” which is sufficiently opaque to avoid bleed-through and its consequent eye strain. The only thing I found lacking in this volume was an alphabetical list of the works. The Thrasyllan canon’s order is not one that I suspect most people are familiar with, so having an alphabetical table of contents in addition to the regular one would’ve been nice. I put one together myself in a few minutes anyway, so it wasn’t that big a deal.

Anyhow, I recommend the volume. It was a work of love by those involved at Hackett Publishing, the publisher of earlier more extensively introduced editions of most of the translations included in this volume. We should all thank them for their dedication and consideration in putting together such a very useful volume.