They walk among us

Yesterday the removal men emptied my old house and brought all the contents to the new.  This included many bags full of books.  My library is not that large, and most of it is novels.  For I usually prefer to have scholarly materials in PDF form.

On seeing the shelves set up to receive them, one of the men said, rather than asked, “You haven’t read all these books, have you.”

I told him that indeed I had, and more than once.  I do not keep books that I will never read again.

He said nothing, but disbelief emanated from him.  Later I heard one of his workmates ask him if he had ever read a book, and he freely admitted that he never had.

So much that we take for granted is not true.  We live, surrounded by a vast number of people for whom the life of the mind is not merely something that they do not participate in, but it is something that they do not even believe in, or believe that anybody else does.  It’s just a way of showing off, or something.

Such people are very many in number, and probably the overwhelming majority of those whom we meet in life.

Are we perhaps the aliens, then?


From my diary

It is day 14 of my house move, but I am still busy moving the accumulation of 24 years.  Most of my books are still at the old house, and 5 big book cases that I made when I was young.  I was busy removing books from the shelves yesterday.  Today my back has informed me that I won’t be doing any more of that for a while!   But I have bowed to the inevitable and asked a firm to quote for packing and moving everything still left in the house.  Nor will that be the end of the matter, since the old house must then be readied for letting, with various necessary works.  So my time is  more than fully occupied.

Looking through the books, pulling off the shelves and into bags, is an interesting process.  Do I still need this book?  Or this one?  The 14 volumes of the Wheel of Time novels – will I ever reread these?  What about this three-volume history of the Church of England?  I doubt that I will ever read the Three Musketeers again – but that copy came from my grandmother.  I never read any C. S. Lewis these days – his work has entered into my soul forever – but those little yellow paperbacks I bought at university from my slender grant money.  How can I let those go?  Will I return to Arabic Christian studies?  If not, do I need that five-volume copy of Graf, obtained at some cost and labour?

The question of what to do with the books is one that confronts every reading man on his retirement.  Doubtless I shall keep too many, and, when I die, my executor will call a house-clearance company and they will go off to a charity shop.

Yet I don’t really want to get rid of books.  I just wish they could vanish into some null-space area until called for, rather than occupying floor and wall space.  If Doctor Who ever decides to monetise his Tardis, I guarantee that a few of us will be very interested in this “larger on the inside” technology!

In a way, Kindle allows us to do that.  I have a library of novels on my smartphone, so I do not need to have them in physical form.

But I don’t really like Kindle.  Legally you don’t own your e-books.  Amazon take the high-handed stance that, on your death, you can’t bequeath them.  So really you just have a lease.  In fact I don’t trust our tech corporations one bit.  They could delete the book.  They could “suspend” access, as a means of political control.  This may sound paranoid, but I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more.

Even worse, electronic materials can be altered silently.  What if I go to read a book and find that it has been bowdlerised, not of obscenity but of truth?

Only yesterday I came across an example, when I consulted the NRSV of 1 Cor. 6:9-10 on the mighty Bible Gateway website and found that it had changed.  The text did not read as I remembered.

On investigation, I found that it really had changed. The NRSV is not public property, as bible translations should be.  It is owned by some group of decaying churches who have decided to remove the biblical condemnation of a certain vice.  And so it has come to pass!  The text is changed, a cynical footnote, “Meaning of Gk uncertain” is added, and that is that.  The bible websites have already been updated.  No-one can see what the old text was.  No doubt the other versions will be altered also, to conform.  Oldies will marvel, but young folk will not know that it ever said anything different.

The “KJV-only” cranks always claimed that the modern versions were deliberately corrupted.  It is sobering to see a text-book example, proving them right.

The next question that springs to mind is even worse. Is this just the start, or is this rather the endpoint of a long process of deliberate interference?

How far back does this go?  For some years Bible versions have been translating “ἀδελφοί” as “brothers and sisters” instead of brethren.  We’ve been lectured how this is an improvement.  This is not translation, but paraphrase, of course.  But now that we know for certain that bible translators are making changes to the bible text purely because they don’t like what it says, why would we believe them?

How far back does this really go?  All the modern versions prefer to render “αἱρετικὸν ἄνθρωπον” as “divisive person”, faithfully reflecting the liberal and ecumenical movement of the twentieth century, where the KJV renders it plainly as “heretic”.

I was rather dubious about the need for the ESV.  But how right they were, to establish the new version at that time, before the pressure was on.

Now if this can be done to the bible, it can be done to any book.  If all we have is kindle, then will we even know when things change?

Sobering stuff.

Meanwhile summer has arrived here with a vengeance, and we’ve just passed through some exceedingly hot days.  Luckily my mobile air-conditioning unit was one of the things that I brought over first!  But it’s like flying to the middle east – the first couple of days is just too hot to do much.  Let us lie back and enjoy it!


The July Poems in the Chronography of 354

The image for July is preserved once again only in a single manuscript of the Chronography, MS Vienna 3146, which never contains the text of the poems, only the pictures. So for the text of the poems, once again we are reliant on other, unillustrated, manuscripts, or the indirect tradition.

Here is the 4-line poem (tetrastich), with the draft translation that I made earlier in the year.  Comments are always welcome!

Ecce coloratos ostentat Julius artus
crines cui rutilos spicea serta ligat.
Morus sanguineos praebet gravidata racemos,
Quae medio cancri sidere laeta viret.

Look! July shows off his tanned limbs,
Whose reddish hair a garland of corn ties.
His reddish hair, to which he ties a garland of corn.
The glad mulberry, loaded down with fruit, offers blood-red berries,
It flourishes with joy  to hang down in the middle of the summer heat.
It is green in the middle star of Cancer.

I.e. in the heat of summer.

The 2-line verse (distich) is as follows:

Quam bene, Quintilis, mutasti nomen! honori
Caesareo, Juli, te pia causa dedit.

How rightly, Quintilis, you changed your name!
A pious motive assigned you to the honour of Caesar.
The honour of Caesar, O July, gives you a pious motive.

I can’t work out the syntax for the second line: honori is dative, of course, not nominative.  The sense is that the motive for the change of name is to honour Caesar.

Again the image is only preserved in the 16th century Vienna manuscript 3416, folio 27 (online here):

As usual with this manuscript, the image is in the style of the renaissance, not antiquity.  But probably the layout is much the same as the original.  From Divjak and Wischmeyer, I learn that the depiction shows a naked young man – an image of summer, holding a bag in his right hand with extra long tassels.  In his left hand he holds a flat round basket containing three bunches of fruit with leaves, perhaps mulberries.  By his right foot is some kind of vessel – a money bag? – filled with coins marked with crosses and other symbols.  Two conical vessels stand by his left foot.  The whole picture is of a good harvest with the resulting wealth.

(For more information on this series of posts, please see the Introduction to the Poems of the Chronography of 354).

UPDATE: Many thanks to those who sent in corrections!


From my diary

It’s been a busy couple of weeks.  I’ve been moving house, for the first time in 24 years.  I made the decision less than three weeks ago, the let of the property was only agreed about 10 days ago, and I took possession 5 days ago.  Today they installed an internet connection, which  took most of the day, and means that now I can connect properly to the web once more.

Of course I have had no time to pack, or do anything than the most immediate tasks.  A man in a van transported some basic furniture to the new house.

In fact I have only two books, which happened to be in my bedside cabinet at the moment of impact.  These are my bible, and a copy of Per Beskow’s Strange Tales About Jesus.

This slim volume consists of a series of chapters, each dealing with some specimen of “modern apocrypha”.  The term was coined by E. J. Goodspeed, who published two volumes of the same kind dealing with mainly American examples of the genre.  Beskow is Swedish, and discusses a few more.

Modern apocrypha are pretended books of the bible which were in fact composed in modern times.  Invariably they were composed in English, or the language of the country in which they circulate, for each country has its own stable of these things.  For the most part they are ignored by scholarship.

I’m not going to discuss the modern apocrypha here, however.  I am very tired and merely offering a few idle thoughts.  Concentrating on the frauds and follies of mankind is a narrowing experience anyway.  We are not the intended audience for “Jesus in India” and other such things.

The middle-aged engineer who came to install my broadband proved talkative, and it came out that he was fascinated by ancient Egypt and longed to travel there.  “I wish I had travelled more when I was younger,” he said.  He knew very little, but I found genuine enthusiasm.  He had been ensnared a bit by “how could the Egyptians have built the pyramids” stuff.  Of course I didn’t rain on his parade: only an oaf would have tried to correct his mistakes.  Instead I nodded along.

It is so important that we never crush the budding enthusiasm of others.  It can be hard to tell where the balance lies.  In person his sincerity was obvious.  Online, it might be mistaken for wrongheadedness.

Over the next month I hope to get my books over here, and get things set up.  It is very much quieter here, and such a blessing.  God leads us into things, and it seems that a new season is underway in my life too.

I’ll get blogging again once things settle down.