About this blog
Welcome to my blog! I’m interested in the ancient world, and the early Christians within it; in the ancient texts and the manuscripts in which these reach us; in the free circulation of information, and therefore inevitably in freedom of speech online.
Back in 1997 I started the Tertullian Project website. While compiling this, I kept coming across English translations of works by the early Christians which were not already online. I reasoned that no-one would scan them unless I did; and so I became the editor of the Additional Fathers collection.
In many cases, I was led to search out the full text by the use of “quotations” in anti-Christian polemic online. This has often tried to show that the Fathers advocated something or other which sounds damaging, using selective (mis)quotation. This encouraged me to scan complete texts and place them online.
In the last couple of years, Google Books and Archive.org have altered the situation greatly. I no longer scan so much material. Instead I have concentrated on material where no English translation exists, and on finding ways to make or to commission such translations. I am translating some material which exists in French translations into English, as quite a lot of people do not know French. I have translated various texts from Latin, and I am working on Greek using the letters of Isidore of Pelusium.
Among the translation commissions in progress is one of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Tough questions about the Gospels (Quaestiones ad Stephanum / Marinum), which is a fascinating 4th century discussion of various “difficulties” in the Gospels. Another work is Cyril of Alexandria’s explanation of himself, the Apologeticus ad imperatorem, written after the Council of Ephesus where even his friends said that he had behaved like a jerk. Many of Cyril’s works are untranslated. I hope to remedy this (although I don’t find him very congenial) because of his historical importance.
There are also texts which only exist in the obscure Oriental languages like Armenian, Coptic, Syriac, Arabic, etc. Few look at these, but precious snippets about antiquity survive in them. So someone like myself can help to open up these fields.
When looking at a new language group, what I want to see is the histories of themselves, and any bibliographical works they have written about themselves. These are like a high road through an unexplored land, and once you have these guides, you can fit every other bit of literature in that language into that framework.
There are various areas of scholarship where the simplest things have not been done. In Syriac studies, there is no modern translation of Bar Hebraeus Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, which is a list of all the important Syriac people! But I find it hard to hire translators for Syriac.
Arabic Christian studies is in a worse state, yet we find “quotes” which get used for anti-Christian polemic that derive from it, at many removes. One that has interested me is ”Mithras said that he who does not eat my body and drink my blood will not know salvation, so this proves Mithras = Jesus”. Looking into this one has involved commissioning translations of Arabic and Karshuni texts. People talk about the Testimonium Flavianum of Agapius. Yet the big five histories — Agapius, Eutychius, Bar Hebraeus Book of the dynasties, al-Makin, and … I can’t even remember the other one! … do not exist in English. When I look at Agapius, I don’t actually find any Testimonium! al-Makin doesn’t even exist in print in any language, not even in Arabic. So I am translating a French translation of Agapius, to make people look at it, and have started to commission work on al-Makin.
While looking at these obscure writings, I became interested in the question of how ancient texts physically reach us, in surviving ancient and medieval hand-written copies — manuscripts. I have compiled notes on what manuscripts exist for various ancient texts here.
For unpublished texts, I have to try to get hold of copies of manuscripts. The misery and expense in dealing with the archives that hold them — especially the never-to-be-sufficiently-cursed British Library — is the subject of a good few blog posts! Consequently I blog on issues around information access by ordinary people like you and I.
I am a committed Christian. I make the occasional post here on contemporary Christian issues, particularly where I see Christians being maltreated in the real world. This maltreatment is sadly on the increase. As a rule I have little original to say about the Lord and his people, so I don’t say it. Issues of apologetics that relate to ancient history are always interesting, and have led me to research some obscure corners of knowledge.
One problem that we all face today is the increasing attempts to censor the internet, to stifle what we can say, to make each of us look over our shoulder before posting. I therefore also blog a little on issues surrounding free speech online, to the extent that this doesn’t interfere with the main focus of the blog.
I believe in the right of ordinary people to say things that others may find stupid or nasty on “sensitive” subjects, so long as they don’t do it on my private property or against the rules set by owners of such. The property point means that you don’t have the right to paint slogans on my house, or to demand that I pay your blog fees, or turn over the blog that I pay for to you.
There is also a series of posts “From my diary”, which gives a picture of things that I am doing connected with the topics of this blog. If I think it would be of general interest, I blog about it.
I hesitated a long time on what to call my blog. In the end I chose simply to give it my name. After all, what other common thread is there? It records things that I found of interest, and what I am doing. I hope that you will find some of this interesting too. I hope to promote learning and knowledge, to leave the world a little better than I found it, to open up areas of learning which receive insufficient attention, and to let us all access them! I hope to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in so doing.
Now let me finish with a word about comments policy.
On many blogs, comments are really not moderated much, and the ranting and raving in them is not of any importance. But on this blog the comments often add extra information, or offer additional discussion.
Comments are always welcome! They don’t have to be incredibly erudite. Talk to me there, why don’t you?
The comments that I like are (e.g.) those that encourage me in what I am doing, or inform me or others, or are otherwise interesting. The comments that I don’t like are trolls or from quarrelsome people. I prefer comments to be on-topic, broadly. But if in doubt … please go ahead! I would ask that commenters remember that this is my personal blog, not a public forum? – You have no right to expect that I publish whatever you send.
The way I think of comments here is this: Think of your comment as if you were leaning over my shoulder and writing in the margin of my diary. I won’t let people scribble stuff in the margin that doesn’t add anything, or, worse, annoys me. And … if you really badly want to say something which doesn’t fall within these limits, about me or anything else, then why not start your own blog? WordPress.com or Blogger.com will allow you to set up your own blog for free!