From my diary

This evening I had an email from Matti Mousa, who has translated the whole of Michael the Syrian’s enormous Chronicle from Syriac into English, and is now revising it.  He very kindly condescended to ask if I had any suggestions about what should go into the introduction.  Well, I always have opinions!  So I offered mine, and I hope that wasn’t far too much! 

Meanwhile I was wrestling with the British Museum database of objects, when I came across a set of wax tablets.  They were excavated at Hawara in Egypt in 1888, and date from the Graeco-Roman period.  The tablets are of wood, and have a recess into which wax was placed.  The wax was written on, with a hard point.  The other end of the stylus was flat, and could be used to erase the marks in the wax, so the tablet could be reused.  Careless users tended to scratch the wood, by writing too deeply in the wax.

Here’s the image.  What a pity that the catalogue does not mention what the inscription on the tablets is!

Graeco-Roman wax tablets



Christianity — the only belief you can censor?

My attention was drawn by eChurch blog to a rather worrying report, on the threat of anti-Christian censorship on new media platforms.  The report on Internet censorship is by the  National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) and the American Center for Law and Justice and is entitled: An Examination of the Threat of Anti-Christian Censorship and Other Viewpoint Discrimination on New Media Platforms.  The report is a sober, and rather worrying document.

The report is US-based, but a major example happened in the UK.  I excerpt some key findings:

Apple has twice removed applications that contained Christian content from its iTunes App Store. In both instances, Apple admitted that these apps were denied access because it considered the orthodox Christian viewpoints expressed in those applications to be “offensive.” One app had expressed the traditional, heterosexual view of marriage as set forth in the Bible; the other had stated the view that homosexuality is inappropriate conduct that can be changed through a Christ-centered spiritual transformation. Of the 425,000 apps available on Apple’s iPhone, the only ones censored by Apple for expressing otherwise lawful viewpoints have been apps with Christian content.

The search engine giant Google has committed past practices of anti-religious censorship. For content reasons, it refused to accept a pro-life advertisement from a Christian organization, an issue that prompted litigation in England. Google is also alleged to have blocked a website in America that had conservative Christian content. It had blacklisted certain religious terminology on its China-based Internet service, and in the United States it bowed to questionable copyright infringement threats from one religious sect, which had complained when a blog site criticizing it had quoted from the sect’s materials. Google blocked that blog site on alleged copyright violation grounds, disregarding the obvious “fair use” provisions of copyright law. Such a practice could block the ability of Christian “apologetics” ministries to quote from primary source materials when using Google platforms to educate the public on the teachings of certain religious groups. Also, in March of 2011, Google established new guidelines for its “Google for Non-Profits,” a special web tool program, but specifically excluded churches and other faith groups, including organizations that take into consideration religion or sexual orientation in hiring practices.

Facebook has partnered with gay rights advocates to halt content on its social networking site deemed to be “anti-homosexual,” and it is participating in gay-awareness programs, all of which suggest that Christian content critical of homosexuality, same-sex marriage, or similar practices will be at risk of censorship.

The underlying attitude of those in power in our days is mildly but profoundly hostile to Christianity.  It has been made socially acceptable to say almost anything about Christians, however negative or unfair; and socially unacceptable and risky to object to it.   The general urge towards censorship in our days will impact Christians badly, therefore.


A little plank of wood

Here’s an epigram of Martial, that caught my eye, as I was reading it this evening (book 7, no.19):

The fragment that you regard as cheap and useless wood,
This was the first keel to stem the unknown sea.
What the clash of the azure rocks could not shatter of old,
Nor the wrath, more dread, of Scythia’s ocean,
The ages have overcome. Yet however much it has submitted to time,
More sacred is this small plank than a whole ship unscathed.

The poet imagines that a stray bit of wood, perhaps from a beach, is in fact a piece of the Argo.

The Loeb edition, from which I amend this, suggests that perhaps the legend of the Clashing Rocks records some early Greek experience of icebergs, since they were traditionally located at the entrance to the Bosphorus.


More Coptica at the British Museum

I tried searching their new database for “codex”.  The results were interesting.  You have to get past some tosh about Mexican materials first.

Here is a parchment sheet from a codex, with two columns of Coptic on either side.  It is largely complete, and should certainly be readable to those with the language skills (are you listening, Alin Suciu?)

Then there are several leaves, which look to me as if they all come from one codex, here, here, here and here and here.

Papyrus codex leaf bearing Sahidic script on recto and verso. The text contains a narration of miracles attributed to Shenoute.

Interestingly the first one does NOT appear if you tick “images”.

I then did a search on Syriac.  This did not bring up such interesting items for primary research, but did provide a bust of William Cureton!

Revd William Cureton, Assistant Keeper of Oriental Manuscripts at the British Library

Cureton was in charge of the oriental manuscripts when the manuscripts from the Nitrian desert arrived.  It is melancholy to record that he promptly allocated the publication of those he thought most interesting to himself, thereby forcing scholars to wait 15 years to access them.  I doubt his modern successors at the British Library would do differently, sadly.


Eight Evil Thoughts

An incoming link drew my attention to a wonderful series at Patristics and Philosophy, entitled Eight Evil Thoughts.  The summaries of each Evil Thought are marvellous!  The material is drawn from Evagrius.

Particularly interesting to me was the Sixth Evil Thought.  It is:

…a type of restlessness that comes upon the monk around noon. What generally happens is this. First, the monk begins to feel that the day is just dragging along or that the task set before him is too difficult. Then, the monk searches to see if any of the other monks are coming to visit him. If not, he returns to his task. However, soon there grows dissatisfaction with where he is at in his life and that none of the other monks care about him. If anyone has done him wrong, he begins to think on that which then leads to anger. Since where he is at now is so terrible, he dwells on thoughts of foreign places and thinks about how wonderful they would be. He then begins to rationalize the need to leave his current location…

I was tempted to replace the word “monk” with “programmer”.  I’ve worked in places like that, in truth!

One of the very nice elements of the series is the references, which include “ET” (which I think means “English translation”).  Far more blog posts should have these.  It is, in my opinion, a failing of WordPress and other blogging software that it is actually rather awkward to add footnotes. 

Returning to the subject, however, I think we need to be a little wary.  Asceticism is not the way that Christ preached, but is really borrowed from the world, I think.  But there is much practical wisdom to be found in these ideas for the Christian.

And for the programmer.


John the Lydian on September and October

The translations of John the Lydian’s comments on September and October in book IV of his On the Roman Months have arrived, and are very good as always from this translator.  One needs a footnote finishing, but otherwise they are done.  Once they are complete (and after I have paid for them!) then I will place them online and into the public domain so that we can all do with them as we wish.

I’ve asked my friend if he would consider doing the next five pages also, which covers November!


Don’t deal with Libreria Ancora Roma

I’m getting rather impatient with an Italian bookshop who ordered a copy of my book back in July and still haven’t paid for it.   The name of the firm is “Libreria Ancora Roma”, who are in the via della conciliazione. 

Libreria Ancora — “Ancora International Bookshop”, as they called themselves — ordered it on 22 July, and I sent the order to the printer on 29 July, with an invoice. 

A month later, I emailed Libreria Ancora again on 29 August, reminding them that the invoice had not been paid.  I got an immediate reply: “we didn’t receive the invoice, therefore we couldn’t pay”.   Apparently they couldn’t chase up the non-receipt of an invoice either.

Then I emailed Libreria Ancora a second copy on 30th, with a link to Paypal.  But this time there was no reply.

On 31st, hearing nothing, I emailed again, asking if they had received the invoice.  On 1 September I got back “yes, we received the invoice, our account dept in Milano is going to pay”. 

I waited a further week and heard nothing.  So I emailed Libreria Ancora yet again on 8 September asking when they would pay.  From that day to this I have heard nothing.  Somehow I suspect that I won’t, either. 

Fortunately it is only a paperback.  I can stand the loss.  But I must admit that I had not expected it. 

But the lesson I shall learn is not to accept purchase orders.  Instead I think that I shall insist on payment in advance in future.  It makes life rather simpler all round.

UPDATE (3rd October 2011): a letter arrived today from my bank, informing me that a telegraphic transfer had been made by Libreria Ancora to my account on 29th September.  So they did pay in the end.


Cheap desktop multi-spectral imaging

Via Apocryphicity I learn that a multi-spectral imaging scanner is due to hit the market which should be affordable by everyone.  Oxford University have developed it, and gone into partnership with a Chinese company to exploit.  Tony Burke’s explanation is to the point:

Oxford University has developed a portable multi-spectral scanner that is inexpensive enough to be purchased by both institutions and individuals. I don’t know what the exact cost is, or whether it is available for purchase yet, but Dr. Obbink said it was in the price range “of a high-end laptop computer.” See HERE for their info page.

There is a picture of the unit at the OU site.

Let us hope that greed does not price this unit out of the range of normal people, for this could be the greatest innovation in manuscript studies for many years.


Papyri in the British Museum database

A link from Alin Suciu’s blog drew my attention to a discovery: that the British Museum (not the British Library) searchable database of its holdings also includes papyri.  A search on “coptic” lists quite a number; and if you search for just images, you get back a goodly quantity of papyri. 

Dr Suciu has already discussed the first of these, which is a portion of Jeremiah in Coptic.  I see that there is a “Please contact us” link at the foot of each page, for additions and corrections, and I hope Dr. S. points them to his blog entry.

There are some six pages of fragments and leaves online.  I think we can leave it to Dr Suciu to evaluate these.  Let us hope that the BM put more images online!

If you search for “greek papyrus”, then you also get results.  They seem to be documentary texts, not unnaturally enough.  But I did find one of the Greek magical papyri here, mixed with Demotic spells.

PGM LXI, lines 1-38

Athanasius on the cult of the martyrs

Skimming through the Coptic letters of Athanasius in my last post but one, I came across this interesting letter (letter 41, p.41f.) from 369 AD discussing the habit of digging up the bodies of the martyrs to create cult objects.  Considering that the Coptic church was to do a lot of this, Athanasius’ remarks are interesting.  (I have translated the French of Lefort).

In fact they [the Meletians] don’t leave the bodies of the martyrs, who fought nobly, in the earth, but they have begun to place them on beds and trestles, so that any who wish to do so may contemplate them.  They do this ostensibly to honour the martyrs, but in reality it is an insult; and they do it for despicable purposes.  Although they possess no body of a martyr in their own town, and not knowing what a martyr is, they have plotted to steal their bodies and remove them from the cemetaries to catholic churches.  In fact, when the reproach of having denied … [some kind of typo here].  They beg the bodies of the martyrs and confessors from those who come to bury them, they move them so that, even with their bodies, they have the means to deceive those whom they mislead.  But “error is not the part of Israel” and our Fathers have not handed down such a custom; on the contrary, they consider that such a practice is illegitimate.

Superstition, it seems, is a powerful force in the 4th century, after the legalisation of Christianity.  It is telling that Athanasius believes that the Fathers condemned such practices.