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!

Some more book notes

I have received a copy of The Philokalia: A Second Volume of Selected Readings, the continuation of the translation of Constantine Cavarnos. As in the case of the previous volume, the translation style is lucid and yet solid. The texts included come from the first, second, and fifth volumes of the Greek Philokalia. The texts included here are:

St Mark the Ascetic: Epistle to Nicholas the Monk (the translation of the brief biography of this Saint, which was written by St Nikodemos, is included in the first volume of Dr Cavarnos’ translations)
St Neilos the Ascetic: Brief biography; One Hundred and Fifty-Three Sections Concerning Prayer; Ascetical Discourse
St Theodore of Edessa: Brief biography; One Hundred Exceedingly Edifying Texts; Theoretikon
Abba Philemon: Brief biography; An Exceedingly Profitable Discourse Concerning Abba Philemon
Philotheos of Sinai: Brief biography; Forty Texts on Inner Watchfulness
Elias Ekdikos: Brief biography; Gnomic Anthology; Texts of Spiritual Wisdom
St Symeon of Thessaloniki: On the Holy and Deifying Prayer; That All Christians Ought to Pray in the Name of Jesus Christ
Anonymous Saint: A Wonderful Discourse Concerning the Words of the Divine Prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy Upon Me”; An Interpretation of “Lord, Have Mercy”
St Symeon the New Theologian: A Discourse Concerning Faith and Teaching; A Discourse on the Three Modes of Prayer
St Gregory the Sinaite: On How Each Should Say the Jesus Prayer; From the Life of Maximos Kapsokalyves
St Gregory Palamas: From the Life of St Gregory Palamas: That All Christians in General Ought to Pray Unceasingly

The volume was edited by Hieromonk Patapios, Archbishop Chrysostomos (who also wrote the very useful and edifying introduction to this volume) and Father Asterios Gerostergios. It is published in paperback by The Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies (the Institute’s website now takes online orders: hooray!).

Another book arrived in the package with my copy of the above-mentioned book: An Explorer of Realms of Art, Life, and Thought: A Survey of the Works of Philosopher and Theologian Constantine Cavarnos, by John Rexine, also published by the Institute. This was a gift from Fr Asterios, to my great delight. In thirty-three short chapters, Rexine provides a combination appreciation and précis for thirty-three of Dr Cavarnos’ books published in Greek and/or English, these having been between 1949 and 1985. The frontispiece to each book illustrates the beginning of each chapter, and there are other illustrations peppered throughout the book. This paperback book is printed in the same manner as most of the books of the Institute, on the thick creamy paper with heavy boards. The books of the Institute are consistently as satisfying to the hand and eye as they are to the soul and mind.

The following book has yet to be widely released: Homilies on the Book of the Revelation: Volume One, by Archimandrite Athanasios Mitilinaios, translated by Constantine Zalalas, with a Foreword and Notes by the same. This is published by St Nicodemos Publications in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The page for this book is here. This volume covers the homilies of the Blessed Elder Athanasios given on the Book of the Apocalypse, from 1:1 to 3:22. Further volumes are obviously forthcoming. I recommend to the reader the introduction to the St Nicodemoos Publications website, also written by Constantine Zalalas. He and I and many others are in perfect agreement. There are numerous recordings of Elder Athanasios available in Greek, and translations of those into English, as well, though I’m not quite clear on where those are available. I’ve only heard about them. The publishers should have this book available through Amazon soon.

I was going to write more, but I’m having some inexplicable computer crashes. Sorry to post and run!

Happy reading!

Book Notes

I’ve been very busy, but even so, I apologize for not keeping up with posting here. Blogs have their (hopefully temporary) lulls from time to time.

My break was, however, remarkably productive. I have left a mere 143 pages of checking and indexing OTP citations. Woo. Hoo.

Yet I have been onlinely slack! Not only have I been a good boy in curtailing online excursions other than those required for citation-checking (Google Books and Archive.org have been remarkably helpful in this, as have, of course, the University of California at Berkeley’s Library and Interlibrary Loan Department), but I have been, most exotically, reading off-line, and unfortunately neglecting the keeping up of the annotation of books I’ve been going through in my “Currently Reading” spot chez biblicalia. So, this is a catching up post.

In roughly chronological order, I have read or am reading the following (readers may recall some of these titles from my List of Shame!:

Peter Der Manuelian, Studies in the Reign of Amenophis II. Hildesheimer Ägyptologische Beiträge 26 (Gerstenbeg Verlag, 1987). Although I am happy to be corrected, I believe this is the only monography dedicated to Amenhotep II, son of Thutmose III the Great. Good luck finding a copy. I would recommend that one be both persistent and patient in looking. Probably half the book was taken up with issues of chronology, on some points of which I was left wondering how well the author’s positions have held up in the more than twenty years since publication. I was hoping for much more coverage of the Canaanite campaigns, but was disappointed. Overall, I gained the impression that this volume is rather dated. The anticipation was better than the reading, in the end. I’ll revisit it after re-reading some books on chronology, particularly the Paul Aström edited High, Middle, or Low? volumes, especially Kenneth Kitchen’s contribution on Egyptian chronology therein. I’m sure that Donald Reford’s beautifully produced volume The Wars in Syria and Palestine of Thutmose III (Brill, 2003), will clear up many questions, too.

Herb Basser’s The Mind behind the Gospels: A Commentary to Mathew 1 – 14 (Academic Studies Press [scroll down for the book listing], 2009). This is an extraordinary book, but one that is hard to categorize (which is not necessarily a bad thing). I do know that I’d like to see and read more books like this one. As the title states, it is a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 1-14. For commentary on the remaining chapters of Matthew, Basser refers the reader to others of his publications, namely some articles and his very interesting looking Studies in Exegesis: Christian Critiques of Jewish Law and Rabbinic Responses 70-300 C.E. (Brill, 2000; available in paperback). Basser reads the Gospel as one who is giving free reign to calling up associations and resonances throughout Jewish literature, neither restricting himself by genre nor period. The results are striking, refreshing, and welcome. Eschewing the nitpicky issues of language and such that have been done to death over the last hundred years (what new is really being said with most commentaries?), Basser brings us back to reading Matthew as Jewish literature: as it was written, so should we read it. I look forward to reading this one again. I’m very happy that Herb Basser wrote to me and recommended it. I enjoyed it very much, and will certainly enjoy it further in the future.

Mafred Bietak, Avaris: The Capital of the Hyksos: Recent Excavations at Tell el-Dabʿa (The British Museum, 1995). I have a thing for Egypt’s Eighteenth Dynasty, one might have already figured out. This was the most fantastically accomplished, wealthiest, and most intriguing period of Egyptian history. Ramesses II wished he was a Thutmose III! Anyhow, immediately before the Eighteenth Dynasty, Egypt was divided. The Delta was ruled from Memphis and Avaris by a class of Canaanite/Syrian overlords, commonly referred to as “the Hyksos” kings, which comprised several of the dynasties of the Second Intermediate Period. Middle Egypt and the Thebaid was ruled from Thebes by the Seventeenth Dynasty, a native Egyptian dynasty. The south was under the control or at least strong influence of Kush. The founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty, Ahmose, managed to expel the Hyksos ruling class, and thus retook and reunited Upper and Lower Egypt under one native Pharaoh. The ruins of Avaris, the capital of the Hyksos and likewise the site of a major palace and fortress in the early to mid Eighteenth Dynasty (in the Nineteenth Period to experience another, final revival as Pi-Ramesses), have been under excavation by Manfred Bietak since the late 1970s (as memory serves). Much of the area is now devoted to agriculture, and some is built over, so the areas available for excavation may not be ideal, but much has been found. Minoan plaster decoration appears in fragmentary condition in the Eighteenth Dynasty palace at Avaris, and numerous other surprising goodies, showing far-flung trading connections that continued from the Hyksos period into the Eighteenth Dynasty. Very interesting.

Grant Frame’s Babylonia 689-627 B.C.: A Political History (Netherlands Institute for the Near East, 2007). Assyrian and Babylonian history intersect in this period as in no other. The book covers the period from the utter destruction of Babylon by the Assyrians to the collapse of the Assyrian Empire strongly due to their overextension in Babylonian wars. One thing that was surprising, even shocking, is how very little information there is on this period. Frame presents it all, if only in summary. But the charts counting numbers of tablets dated to various years and reigns are telling: this was a period of general uncertainty, and not a little fear on the part of both Babylonians and Assyrians both.

Bernard Levinson’s Legal Revision and Religious Renewal in Ancient Israel (Cambridge, 2008). This is a very short book (and far too expensive at list price, which is dismaying to Levinson), but it packs a wallop. Bernard Levinson wrote to me and recommended it during the period I was reading and writing on Anders Gerdmar’s Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism (Brill, 2009), particularly to recommend his extensively annotated bibliography in chapter six, I think the number was. I have a number of questions and comments that I need to send to him before I post too much on this book, but a quick synopsis is in order. Essentially, he traces diachronically the adaptation or amelioration of various Biblical laws or themes, in one case, the procedure of effecting a levirate marriage, in the other, the theme of transgenerational punishment. This process of adaptation or amelioration he has coined inner-biblical exegesis. As with Herb Basser’s book above, it is refreshing to see a new viewpoint, a perspective taken which is innovative yet not wacky, and one which immediately yields as many interesting answers as it does provoke thoughtful questions. The focus of much of Hebrew Bible studies on source criticism has impoverished the field, plainly. Such perspectives as Levinson’s, which deal with the canonical form of the text and then wrestle with why the text says what it says as it is are more to be expected in the future, as the past focus on atomization of the text seems to have run its course, and no longer generates much interest (nor is the strong philological training necessary to properly accomplish such things apparently available anymore).

Mordechai Cogan and Dan’el Kahn, eds., Treasures on Camel Humps: Historical and Literary Studies from the Ancient Near East Presented to Israel Eph‘al (Magnes Press, 2008). As usual with these kinds of things, and without pointing any fingers, this volume was a mixed bag. It’s obvious that (like my own!) Eph`al’s interests were all over the place, and so various friends and students contributed article-chapters touching on various of those subjects, but the quality was a bit uneven. I was expecting the majority of articles to be on the subject of ancient warfare, really, and so was disappointed by the variety. But the mix of articles is a good one. As a not entirely unrelated aside, while reading this, I found myself to have become irritated with the way that it seems no one is writing monographs anymore, but rather it seems everything is collections of articles. I’m really tired of it. I’m going to move away from devoting resources and taking up shelf space with volumes that are less than 25% of interest to me!

Robert Daly, ed. Apocalyptic Thought in Early Christianity (Baker, 2009). (I posted a list of the contributors and their articles here.) Now, although this is also a collection of articles, the papers of a symposium, actually, I found it to be an extremely tight collection, more focused and more even in quality than the previous title. My favorite of these articles is that by Hieromonk Alexander Golitzin, who displays erudition, wit, and joy througout the course of the article. I kid you not. And there was the absolutely fascinating article by Nancy Patterson Ševčenko on the iconography of the Second Coming and Last Judgment, which I had always tried to figure out, but which she makes quick sense of. I would have liked the illustrations in her chapter especially to have been larger, and a few pages in color would really have been nice, but that’s just quibbling. This is an excellent book for anyone interested in the subject. Really, I’m sure it’s going to be considered a necessary one, as necessary as Brian Daley’s The Hope of the Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology (Hendrickson, 2003) [sadly OP: publication details are available at Amazon] and Charles Hill’s Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity (Eerdmans, 2001), both of which are quoted often in the pages of this volume.

Jacob Neusner, A History of the Jews in Babylonia, volume 1: The Parthian Period (Brill, 1965). This is only the first of five volumes of Neusner’s A History of the Jews in Babylonia, covering the scanty evidence of the Parthian Period. Do you know that if it weren’t for Greek and Roman records and the Rabbinic writings, we would have “next to nothing” instead of “very, very little” data on the Parthians? The other volumes will have more information, but this period is one in which there is little certain information to be obtained from the Rabbinic writings, and very little from anywhere else on Parthia, so there is not much to be said. Still, Neusner is, as always, erudite and diligent in presenting and commenting on what remains to us. This five volume series has not been replaced by a similar treatment by anyone else. A companion volume, Aphrahat and Judaism, provides translations and commentary on those of Aphrahat’s Demonstrations that deal with Judaism, giving evidence of fourth century Persian Christian trends in at least literary expression of the relationship between Jews and Christians in the Sassanid Empire.

Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (volumes 1,2, and 3.1 [OP] and 3.2) (2nd ed., Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar, and Matthew Black, eds. T & T Clark, 1973). Neusner recommended this to me when I’d asked him for a recommendation of precisely such a detailed history, and then I bought it, though I’d known of it for ages. I’m right in the middle of volume two now. The first volume was especially fascinating, as it dealt, in extraordinary (if sometimes excruciating) detail with the history proper of the period from about 200 BC to 150 AD, including discussion of sources, extensive quotations in Greek and Latin, and a wealth of reference to publications of primary material (some of which is now dated; for instance, Menahem Stern’s Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism was not yet published, though it was mentioned as in preparation; also, numerous excavations throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and especial Israel have brought to light helpful data). The second volume discusses the social setting, the priesthood in Jerusalem, its organization, etc, so far as I’ve seen. I had to go to bed just as I reached the chapter on Gentile participation in the cult at Jerusalem. I know (from tantalizing references!) that there will be a discussion of literature in part one of the third volume. Part two, volume three, a separate book, is mostly the indexes. I’m very impressed by the depth of coverage and the judicious investigation of sources. The organization of the work preserves Schürer’s original organization, though much of the text has of course not only been translated but edited, whether adapted or replaced. There is a truly nineteenth century comprehensiveness about this book that makes me appreciate why it is still recommended. It is, despite being thirty years old in this edition, still very useful, particularly in the exhaustive treatment of primary sources, chief of which is, not surprisingly, Josephus. Back when I was looking for a set of these, I asked Continuum/T & T Clark about the availability of the volumes, and they told me they were moving this title to print-on-demand. The set I ended up getting was used, a copy inscribed by editor Fergus Millar for a well-known Classicist (whose name escapes me, Steven something), which is pretty neat.

Tim Vivian and Augustine Cassaday, Mark the Monk: Counsels on the Spiritual Life (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009). I’ve just started this one, and am only in the introduction. This is two volumes in one physical book, containing a translation of all the works attributed to St Mark the Ascetic (as I’ve usually seen him named), who has maintained a consistent popularity amongst ascetics throughout Eastern Christian history since his day. “Sell all and buy Mark” is an old monastic saw, but one that should not be ignored. Yet you won’t have to sell all to afford this volume. If the writings of St Mark the Ascetic were good enough to receive the approbation of St Isaac the Syrian and St Nicodemus the Hagiorite, then they’re good enough for you.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Gorgias Press Sale

Gorgias Press, publisher and distributor of innumerable titles related to Syriac and Eastern Christian studies, is having another Gorgias BiblioPerks sale through the end of 2009: 40% off! This is the same discount they offer to authors.

This is a very welcome sale, as there are many great things available from Gorgias, and they do wonderful work.

Note especially the new A Syriac Lexicon by Michael Sokoloff: every little scholarly boy’s dream present for 2009!

Happy shopping!

My Little Green Shakespeare

I have this great little volume of Shakespeare that I got for six bucks years ago, volume 12 of a set of The Works of Shakespeare, edited by Israel Gollancz, published in London by J. M. Dent & Co. in 1900. This volume includes Annals of the Life of Shakespeare, the King’s License to Shakespeare to hold plays, Shakespeare’s Will, Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, A Lover’s Complaint, The Phoenix and Turtle, a Glossary to the foregoing works, a Preface to the Sonnets, the Sonnets themselves (the reason I bought this lovely little volume), and a separate Glossary for the Sonnets. A small note at the beginning of the volume indicates that it uses the Cambridge text, with annotations indicating the differences in the then-contemporary Temple Shakespeare. When I first bought this volume, most of the pages were uncut! I now wish I’d bought the remaining volumes that were available, even though the set was incomplete. The paper is very thick, with a heavy rag content, and the printing is two color (red and black). You can see and feel the imprint of the type in every page. There are numerous illustrations in the Annals, and frontispiece plate of an engraving by T. Trotter of the Felton Portrait. There is a red silk register (bound-in bookmark), and the cover is olive green buckram with gilt imprint, and the upper edge of the pages are also gilt. It’s small, too, which was another reason I picked it up, roughly the size of a common paperback (about 5.25 x 7.5 x 1.25 in, 14 x 19 x 3 cm).

Though I do love My Little Green Shakespeare, my “reading Shakespeare” is now a set that a friend recommended to me, The World of Shakespeare, published by Penguin Books using the Pelican Shakespeare text edited by Stephen Orgel and A. R. Braunmuller, a set of 38 small hardbacks that I picked up on sale for just under $60! Unfrortunately the set is now more than four times as expensive, so my recommendation is not as ecstatic. These are nice little hardcovers, mostly one play per volume, a volume for the Sonnets, and some doubling up. They’re very nicely made, and it’s nice to have something small for a vade mecum Shakespeare. Each volume is smallish (about 5.75 x 8.5 x .5 in. or 14 x 21.5 x 1.5), hardcover, blue cloth with silver imprint, each with a blue satin register, and the paper is matte, but thick, and the type is Garamond, one of my favorites. (See the pictures at Amazon.) They’re quite nice. But, in the end they’re not as nice as My Little Green Shakespeare!

Anyhow, the following is from the Annals of the Life of Shakespeare in My Little Green Shakespeare, author unknown, though perhaps Mr Israel Gollancz, dating to 1900 or before. It is the entry for 1613.

1613. On February 4 Shakespeare’s third brother Richard was buried in the parish church, Stratford-upon-Avon. Soon afterwards Shakespeare was in London, and purchased a house, as an investment, in Blackfriars. The purchase-deed, dated March 10, with the poet’s signature, is preserved in the Guildhall Library, London. Next day a mortgage-deed relating to the purchase was signed : this is also extant, and is now in the British Museum.

To this year, July 15, belongs an entry by the Registrar of the Ecclesiastical Court of Worcester, concering an action for slander brought by Shakespeare’s eldest daughter, Susanna Hall, against a person of the name of Lane. Robert Whatcott, Shakespeare’s friend, was the chief witness on behalf of the plaintiff, whose character was vindicated, and the defendant who did not appear in court was excommunicated.

The Tempest, one of a series of nineteen plays, was performed at the festivities in celebration of the marriage of Princess Elizabeth with the Elector Frederick.

Besides The Tempest, six more of Shakespeare’s plays were produced on this occasion:—Much Ado, Tempest, Winter’s Tale, Sir John Falstaff, (i.e., Merry Wives), Othello, Julius Caesar, and Hotspur (probably I Henry IV).

In the same list occurs the lost play of cardenno or cardenna, which on September 9, 1653, was entered on the “Stationers’ Registers” as “by Fletcher and Shakespeare,” but was never published.

On June 29th of this year the Globe Theater was burned down during the performance of a play on the subject of Henry VIII (cp. Preface).

A Sonnet upon the pitiful burning of the Globe playhouse in London” was composed by one who was well acquainted with the details of the fire:—

“Now sit ye down, Melpomene,
Wrapt in a sea-cole robe,
And tell the doleful tragedy,
That late was played at Globe ;
For no man that can sing and say
Was sacred on St. Peter’s daye.
     Oh sorrow, pitiful sorrow, and yet all this is true.

     .     .     .

Out run the knights, out run the lords,
And there was great ado ;
Some lost their hats and some their swords,
E’en out-run Burbidge too ;
The reprobates though drunk on Monday,
Prayed for the fool and Henry Condye.
     Oh sorrow, pitiful sorrow, and yet all this is true.

The perriwigs and drum-heads fry,
Like to a butter firkin,
A woeful burning did betide
To many a good buff jerkin.
Then with swoll’n eyes, like drunken Flemminges,
Distressed stood old stuttering Hemminges.
     Oh sorrow, pitiful sorrow, and yet all this is true.

And I’ll leave you with (rather than the above dreck) my favorite of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, the one hundred and ninth:
O, never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seem’d my flame to qualify.
As easy might I from myself depart
As from my soul, which in thy breast doth lie :
That is my home of love : if I have ranged,
Like him that travels, I return again ;
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged,
So that myself bring water for my stain.
Never believe, though in my nature reign’d
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stain’d,
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good ;
     For nothing this wide universe I call,
     Save thou, my rose; in it thou art my all.

Yea, verily, Magister Duffy doth rock

There’s a new one out from Eamon Duffy: Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor (Yale, 2009). This be ye blurbe:

The reign of Mary Tudor has been remembered as an era of sterile repression, when a reactionary monarch launched a doomed attempt to reimpose Catholicism on an unwilling nation. Above all, the burning alive of more than 280 men and women for their religious beliefs seared the rule of “Bloody Mary” into the protestant imagination as an alien aberration in the onward and upward march of the English-speaking peoples.

In this controversial reassessment, the renowned reformation historian Eamon Duffy argues that Mary’s regime was neither inept nor backward looking. Led by the queen’s cousin, Cardinal Reginald Pole, Mary’s church dramatically reversed the religious revolution imposed under the child king Edward VI. Inspired by the values of the European Counter-Reformation, the cardinal and the queen reinstated the papacy and launched an effective propaganda campaign through pulpit and press.

Even the most notorious aspect of the regime, the burnings, proved devastatingly effective. Only the death of the childless queen and her cardinal on the same day in November 1558 brought the protestant Elizabeth to the throne, thereby changing the course of English history.

I also noticed that Eamon Duffy contributed to the catalogue of the ongoing British Library exhibition Henry VIII: Man and Monster. Oops. That should read “Man and Monarch.” Silly me. The exhibition catalogue is avaialble from the British Library Store.

I shall now exhibit (I hope) some self-control and prevent myself from purchasing those two delectable items until I have finished reading the three Eamon Duffy books that I already have: The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village (Yale, 2003), The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400–1580 (Yale, Second Edition 2005), and Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers, 1240-1570 (Yale, 2006). The latter is profusely illustrated with beautiful images of pre-Protestant English prayer books. Duffy’s work is a corrective to that triumphalistic Protestant propaganda which, ever since the Deformation reared its misbegotten head, has depicted every populace as eager to get out from under the heel of Papistry and the rule of the Whore of Babylon, yadda, yadda, yadda. In truth, it was a step further away from truth, and has made an irremedial mess of things—extremely well-played by the father of lies. In any case, Duffy does well to show up the truth of the situation.

Taking the plunge

Well. So, I’ve finally bought a copy of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the 50th anniversary edition. I’ve never read it, actually. (No teasing!) I read The Hobbit back in high school, and The Silmarillion recently on the recommendation of a friend, but that’s been the limit of the relationship between me and Professor Tolkien’s “sub-creation” up to now.

And since I’m no longer a teenager with too much time on my hands and thus able to read and re-read many times a single book in order to figure out its details, and don’t relish the idea of therefore being lost in the welter of invented languages, weird but vaguely familiar names, and imagined histories, I’ve also picked up a copy of The J. R. R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Reader’s Guide by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond, and have ordered a copy of the same authors’ The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion. These, particularly the latter which is a very helpful-sounding commentary, will undoubtedly be very helpful. The former is, as the title connotes, a more wide-ranging reference work on J. R. R. Tolkien’s vast and (to me) bewildering body of work. I’m sure it will make sense of it all. I have not picked up a copy of the companion volume to the Reader’s Guide, which is primarily a detailed chronology of Tokien’s life. That’s a bit out of my interest range, though I’m impressed by its level of detail and the usefulness of such a work for those whose field of study is Tolkieniana.

The 50th anniversary edition of The Lord of the Rings is a very nice piece of bookmaking, though my copy is slightly marred by some stray spots of glue on the cover—an annoyance, but not severe enough to warrant a return. (I approach it this way: my copy came with pre-added character!) It’s a grayish-black leather hardcover, with slipcase, register (the bound-in ribbon marker), gilt page edges, two bound-in maps (these are bound in a little awkwardly, and my thus suffer tearing as I’ll undoubtedly need to consult them; unbound maps in a pocket would have been a better option), a few color illustrations, and two color text (red and black). I figured that if I’m going to read this book, I may as well have a nice copy of it! And it is indeed quite nice. It is also a corrected text, and one of the editions to which the references in the Reader’s Companion is keyed, so that will be very helpful.

I’m thoroughly impressed by the Tolkien scholarship that I’ve seen. I really didn’t know anything about it beyond a few weeks ago, when I read through the blog (Wormtalk and Slugspeak) of the fascinating and funny Professor Michael D. C. Drout of Wheaton College. With his Tolkien hat on, he is editor of The J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, co-editor of the journal Tolkien Studies (available online at Project Muse, for those with access), author of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Beowulf and the Critics. With his Anglo-Saxon hat on, he is author of How Tradition Works: A Meme-Based Cultural Poetics of the Anglo-Saxon Tenth Century, and has produced recordings of his readings of Anglo Saxon texts (available at Anglo-Saxon Aloud, Beowulf Aloud, and Ango-Saxon Aloud: Greatest Hits). It’s particularly in the book reviews included in the various issues of Tolkien Studies that I’ve found such help in selecting the useful reference works I mentioned above. The various articles are quite interesting, as well. From the most recent issue: “‘A Kind of Elvish Craft’: Tolkien as Literary Craftsman” by John D. Rateliff, “Talk to the Dragon: Tolkien as Translator” by Ármann Jakobsson, and “The Music and the Task: Fate and Free Will in Middle-earth” by Verlyn Flieger are just three that are intriguinginly titled, and that I’ll be reading through soon. Very interesting!

I’m also impressed by the dedication and deep knowledge of his father’s work displayed in Christopher Tolkien’s editorial work on his father’s (fortunately vast) corpus of notes, drafts, art, and so on. It’s absolutely amazing what he’s accomplished in that regard. I first became aware of the important role he played in this regard in reading the preface to The Silmarillion (the second, corrected edition). I look forward to enjoying more of his work. The History of The Hobbit is a critical edition including drafts and a detailed investigation into the writing of The Hobbit [my mistake; this one is actually by John Rateliff, incorporating Tolkien’s drafts and such]. I’ll certainly be reading that. His [Christopher Tolkien’s] massive Complete History of Middle Earth, looks like a great read, actually. I’ll probably pick that up, too. I’ve also heard very good things about The Children of Húrin. His latest is a presentation of his father’s The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, an original English version of the old Norse tale, and not one of the Middle Earth books.

How very intersting!

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.