A gorgeous article at BAR on the Oxyrhynchus papyri

Read it

The remarkable story of Grenfell and Hunt and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri is told by Peter Parsons in a delightful new book, The City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish.2 Parsons, employed since 1960 with cataloging, deciphering and publishing the Oxyrhynchus Papyri under the auspices of the British Academy and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, is just the person to narrate this saga. His assembled chapters explore the workings of the city of Oxyrhynchus, the presence of the empire and the imperial cult, the Nile and its rhythmic effects, economic matters, personal life, the literary predilections of its citizenry, ancient bureaucracy, the use of medicine and magic to cope with accident, disease and distress, and the city’s late-antique Christian legacy. Parsons introduces us to all of it with great erudition and expert commentary and a welcome sense of humor.


TLG has a free improved LSJ and click-through to texts

Tom Schmidt writes:

The TLG added a new free section to their website which contains a updated and digital version of the LSJ a dictionary which supersedes the version available at the Perseus Project. It’s quite good and has all sorts of good hyperlinks for cited authors. I talk about it a bit on my blog.

Have a look at that article, which makes clear just how useful this is, even if you don’t have a TLG subscription.


From my diary

Last night I was reading some Christian blogs and I stumbled on Curious Presbyterian.  The author has run a series of detailed posts about some of the problems Christians are facing in modern Britain, and unlike so many has not minced his words. 

Comments seem to be disabled — at least I couldn’t add comments on any of them.  But other Christian bloggers have written on how the organised haters simply abuse the comment facilities on their blogs to try to start fights and generally wear them down, and this may be the reason why.

There is a disturbing post there about Stephen Green of Christian Voice, from the Daily Mail.  Let us hope that it isn’t true; Stephen has done a great deal to organise Christian action against some of the taunting that goes on. 

Back to ‘real life’, and I’m still reading Eleanor Dickey’s book on the scholia in ancient Greek texts.  It is very dense, but very sound.  With great difficulty I got through the first chapter last night.  It’s not long, but full of good things.

I kept asking myself, “Why has no-one done something similar for the catenas?”  Inevitably it could use some more references at points, tho. 


A new apocryphal gospel in Coptic

I’ve just discovered a blog by Alin Siciu which will be of interest to those interested in papyrology and early Christian texts.  One post caught me eye in particular:

An Unknown “Apocryphal” Text From the White Monastery

I recently edited together with Einar Thomassen a parchment folio owned by the Norwegian collector Martin Schøyen. The Schøyen leaf (MS 1991) was immediately followed in the codex by another dismembered fragment which ended up in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. They seem to belong to an unknown apocryphal writing.

Excerpts from A. Suciu & E. Thomassen, “An Unknown “Apocryphal” Text From the White Monastery,” in P. Buzi & A. Camplani (eds.), Christianity in Egypt: Literary Production and Intellectual Trends in Late Antiquity (Studia Ephemeridis Augustinianum) forthcoming 2011.


The link is to a PDF, which  gives a translation of at least part of it.  I wish the whole article was there! 

If one leaf of the codex is in the Schoyen collection, and another in the BNF, then we are dealing with a find of a codex in Egypt which has passed through the tender hands of the antiquities trade, and been cut up for maximum profit in the process.  One wonders whether any other leaves are out there.

This sort of thing tends to make me annoyed.  A book survives for centuries, only to be ripped apart by greedy men to make a buck.  This sort of thing leads people Paul Barford to demand that the trade is banned.  Barford, indeed, is so vehement on the issue that he sounds rather demented to normal people.  Much of what he says is plainly wrong.  But the sentiment is genuine enough, and arises from a real desire that we don’t destroy our heritage in order to enrich sleazy Swiss or Arab middle-men (no names, no libel actions).

On the other hand, I sometimes reflect, we don’t ever seem to get papyrus discoveries from countries like Morocco and Algeria any more, not since the French handed over these countries to their traditional oppressors.  We do get them from Egypt, a country in which the most ignorant peasant knows that antiquities mean MONEY, and where Cairo dealers keep agents in rural areas.  We get them because only a fool would destroy such a find.  We get them precisely BECAUSE they are worth money to the peasants who find them.

And then we get them cut into pieces, because the middle-men who buy them find that they can get twice the price for two separate leaves, than for one item of two leaves.  We get the awful destruction visited upon the papyrus manuscripts (including the ps.gospel of Judas) left in a moist bank box for twenty years by a Coptic emigre because scholars wouldn’t meet his price.

It’s not at all clear what to do about this.  Stuff that is worth money will be sold.  Stuff that is not worth money will be thrown away or burned.  That’s the way of the world.  That’s human nature. 


Sanity on cuts in the humanities

I don’t work in Higher Education, and, while I try to avoid it, it isn’t quite possible to read history blogs without encountering the discussion about the current climate of cutbacks, particularly in the United Kingdom.  Unfortunately most of that “discussion” consists of ever more strident demands “give us money!” and the sense of entitlement is enough to make any normal person feel sick.  It’s my taxes that they are discussing, after all.  Some of us are net contributors to public funds; most of these people are net gainers, intent on looting funds which they do not supply.

So it was a pleasure to read a piece here by Martin Rundkvist, Hope for the humanities?

Yesterday I had been invited to speak at a seminar organised by the Forum for Heritage Research, a network sponsored by four Swedish organisations in the field. The headline was “Hope for the Humanities”, and I must admit that I gritted my teeth at the idealist, anti-market and downright unrealistic perspective presented in the invitation copy. Here’s a piece based on what I said at the seminar.

Conan the Barbarian, or Aragorn son of Arathorn, or Ronia the Robber’s Daughter all represent something of central importance to the heritage sector and to the humanities in general. At the same time, on the one hand they embody something we must always seek to achieve, that is the wondersome excitement of discovering a fantastic past – and on the other something we must avoid if we are to fill any independent purpose at all, as these characters and the worlds they inhabit are fictional. Historical humanities, excepting the aesthetic disciplines, deal with reality. This is our unique competitive selling point that we must never lose sight of.

“How can humanistic and historical scholarship contribute to a better society?”, asked the seminar’s hosts.

The humanities won’t mend a leaky roof. They won’t put food on the table. They won’t cure polio. They won’t create peace or prosperity. And taxpayers know this perfectly well. For these reasons, I believe that we absolutely cannot market ourselves in terms of any indispensable societally structure-supporting utility. We will only makes fools of ourselves. Because the raison d’être of the historical humanities doesn’t lie in any practical utility, but in their enjoyment potential. In the joy of learning something interesting about the past that is true. In the joy of seeing something for real that has survived since antiquity.

This suggests a kind of punk-rock attitude where a defiant humanities scholar says “I’m not gonna provide anything measurable or manageable or trivial or popular!” And sure, that is up to the individual. But if we are to expect a monthly salary from the taxpayers, then I think we will have to accept that they want to be able to measure and manage our product. How else are they supposed to know if it’s worth it to continue paying our salaries? And they want us to produce stuff that, within the realm of solid real-world humanities scholarship, is at least as much fun as a TV game show or Conan the Barbarian.

Martin goes on to discuss various false justifications, with much acuteness. 

I have written before on how state “funding” is not free.  It is exacted by men in uniforms from ordinary people.  After all, the rich man pays hardly any tax, and the higher the tax rate is, the less he bothers to pay.  The rich will never pay taxes, because all countries are run by rich people and always will be.  Every bit of funding for patristics, therefore, is exacted by force from people who perhaps do not have enough to live on, and most of whom will certainly not have enough to retire on, and who gain no benefit from it.  It means forcing the poor and the powerless to work long hours for no reward, so that some official somewhere can “grant funding” to some academic for some purpose.  I am in favour of patristics.  But … phew!  That’s a lot to justify.  We must always remember that taxes are not a good.  They are a necessary evil.  Every tax diminishes us all, bleeds life from us all.

This does not mean that the humanities must be thrown away.  In war time we did not close down all the orchestras!  But it does mean that the humanities do have to justify their receipt of money exacted from the poor.  It is, admittedly, pleasant to read Aeschylus and to learn to quote Horace.  But at someone else’s expense?  I’m not sure about that.

I think Martin has put his finger on a real truth.  The humanities serve the community.  They are a luxury item.  But the community is glad to contribute something, so long as it gets something.  Indiana Jones is a popular figure.  Archaeology there should be. 

But … the sense of entitlement needs to end.  No society has a duty to support a caste of people contemptuous of those to whom they owe everything and who consider communicating with the public beneath them.

Papyrologists and Coptologists … this means you!  Get out there and start earning your salary by engaging with the public.  After all, if the public love you, the politicians will find a way to keep you going.


Classics for all? Or classics for a few, funded by all?

There is an encouraging post by establishment blogger Mary Beard at the Times website (freely accessible, tho) entitled Classics for all.  She discusses how the tide is now starting to flow in favour of the classics generally.

In fact, so widespread is the feeling in favour of Classics that the rumour is that the Today Programme had to scratch an interview with Classics-fan Bettany Hughes, because they couldn’t find anyone to go on air and dump on the subject.

This is good news, and we must all be glad of it.  The rediscovery of the classics triggered the creation of the modern world, to which all of us owe everything.  When we thank God for modern central heating, warm clothes, medicine, and science, we need to remember the origins of it all in a few enthusiasts excitedly reading the works of Cicero. 

She’s also encouraging a fund-raising campaign:

So far so good. But it is one thing to claim how much you love Latin and Greek; quite another to find the cash so that kids at most schools in the land can actually study them.

That’s where a new campaign called “Classics For All” comes in. … The aim is to raise a large amount of money to support teaching and other classical initiatives in state schools. Classics for All will not be doing the teaching, but administering grants to kick start projects that “will meet or stimulate demand for Classics in a school or area”… from after school clubs, to GCSE classes, using teachers wherever they can be found.

This too is excellent.

But the post ends on a different note, which I found troubling:

There’s a more general point about Humanities funding here. It is much harder for us to get a hearing when the government line is how wonderful History, English, Theology or whatever are… but that sadly (ministerial tear in the eye at this point), when so many people are being asked to tighten their belts, Humanities are realy (sic) not something that can be funded out of public money.

That kind of argument puts us on the back foot. But the truth is that Humanities have never thrived on private enterprise; they have always needed the state, the monarch or the church.  So all power to our students who are having a (peaceful) demonstration in Cambridge tomorrow.

It is certainly the case that the humanities have always relied on the patronage of others.  But … just why should the humanities be exempt from the cutbacks that the state sector now must undergo?

We refer to the “state sector”, but let’s call it what it is: the “parasite sector”.  It is that part of the economy which exists entirely on the back of forced contributions from the rest.  In East Anglia, where I live, 25% of the workforce is employed in the parasite sector, and so paid for by the rest of us.  I’m not enthusiastic about working, not to provide for myself, but to provide for them. 

Most people pay PAYE and NI taxes, which amounts to 46% of any transaction for employment, at basic rate.  Let’s think about what that means.  It means some poor woman who can barely afford to heat her home going out to work for 40 hours a week, and for 18.4 of those hours she earns nothing.  She sells 40 hours of her life, and has to work unpaid for 18.4 of them, in order to fund the parasite sector.

I believe the prophets of biblical times would have something to say about that.

It is morally justifiable for our rulers to raise taxes on us all in order to keep the streets safe from the thug who would prey on us; the country safe from foreigners who would plunder and enslave us; the roads functional, so that we can all earn a living; a small pension to keep the old and the poor from starving; perhaps some form of healthcare, although there are differing views on this; and a range of services of the same, limited kind, which should be freely available to all.  These are essential public services that it makes no sense for anyone else to do, and without which the country could not function.

But these make up a small proportion of the huge spending of a modern European government.  It is not in providing these essentials that one in four East Anglians are employed.

The sense of entitlement among many working in the parasite sector is enormous.  There is no trace, in the article, of any suggestion that money does not fall from the sky.  No, what is needed — applauded — is “protest”.  She applauds those whose response to hard times is demand the money keeps coming, and never mind from where.

Times are hard.  All of us are cutting back our spending.  Except, apparently, people in the humanities?  This will not do.

Is there any pressing reason, for instance, why that poor woman should fund the study of theology?  Let the church fund it, if it is so inclined, would be my own view.  Camouflaging this under “religious studies” does not work for me.  We do not need study of Anglicanism.  We do need study of Islam, because Islam is a danger at present — so let it be funded under the security budget.  We do not need study of Bahai’s.  We do need study of some cults; but again, only for police purposes.

But what about classics?  Who will pay for this?

I am very sympathetic to this.  It is, as I began by saying, a foundational subject for the modern world.  I think that a civilised country must have courses of study in classics.  I believe that the systems of study at Oxford and Cambridge need reform — the laziness of students and dons is legendary –, but I do not dissent from the principle.  Let them be funded, yes. 

But let them recognise, as they would do if a private patron funded them, that it is not by right that they enjoy their privilege.   The real humanists had to depend on patrons.  The state may act as a patron — although surely private patronage would be better — but it should be seen as one. 


Did Hippolytus think Christmas should be on 25th December?

It’s that time of year again.  Over the next few weeks, legions of weenies will excitedly post online various stale old myths about how Christmas is really a pagan festival.  I have already seen one tell me that it must be copied from the Germanic “Yule” and the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, oblivious of the detail that first century Romans did not borrow concepts from 8th century Saxons.  The origins of Christmas will be discussed widely, if not usefully.

Irritating as such nonsense can be, we need to resist the urge to roast those posting it.  Often they are people who mean no harm, and merely repeat what they have been told.  As 19th century evangelist D. L. Moody used to say, “Keep sweet.  You can’t do any good unless you keep sweet.”  With charm and courtesy, and deference to their religious belief that Christianity cannot possibly be true, we may encourage people to take an interest in ancient history.  It’s worth a go.

But Tom Schmidt has been doing something rather more constructive.  After translating the Chronicon and the Commentary on Daniel of Hippolytus, he’s looking at what our 3rd century author has to say on this subject, and has written a useful post on it here,  summarising his own article in PDF form available here.  The latter is very detailed indeed.

He outlines how the scholars have mostly followed the witness of one manuscript of the Commentary on Daniel, plus a quotation in “George of Arabia”.  I don’t know whether the latter is the Syriac author, George, bishop of the Arab tribes, but a reference would be good.  I’d also like to know what the manuscripts’ shelf-marks are.

Unfortunately comments seem to have been disabled on his article – which is unfortunate.


The heresy of orthodoxy

I learn from the blogosphere that an interesting book has been published.  The title is the “Heresy of Orthodoxy”, by Andreas Köstenberger and Michael Kruger, of Wheaton College, published by Crossway. 

Tim Henderson devotes three posts at his blog, Earliest Christianity, to a review, here.  The review gives us quite enough to go on, and makes the book seem interesting indeed.

The authors express unease that the clamour for “diversity” in contemporary society is infecting the study of Christian origins.  In particular they assert that much contemporary scholarship projects a quite spurious diversity onto the first century.  The diversity argument cannot be unfamiliar to any of us.  According to those making it — step forward Bart Ehrman — it’s as if Jesus never taught anything much and as if anyone who ever claimed the name of Christian must indeed be derived from his teaching.  More specifically, they reject the idea that the Fathers actually follow the teaching of the apostles more than anyone else. 

This seems absurd to anyone familiar with the Fathers.  The point about heretics is that they did not try to follow a teaching handed down from Jesus, but instead made up their own from ideas around in contemporary society.  We know how how heretical teaching changed; how the disciples of Valentinus felt no compunction in changing his teachings in whatever way they chose.  We know how Tertullian lists the schools of philosophy that each plundered for ideas, and contemptuously tells them that the teaching from Jerusalem has nothing to do with the Academy or the Stoa.  Quite why we are supposed to believe that those heretics whom we see being careless about transmitting doctrine in the second century were somehow careful when we cannot see them I don’t know.  We know which groups in ancient society cared about being faithful to the teaching once delivered to the saints, and which did not.

Ehrman has also done his bit to convince people that ancient texts are not transmitted to us.  I’ve met his disciples online, and every one of them has been taught to take up an attitude of obscurantism.  It is more than slightly irritating for those of us interested in ancient texts and transmission to learn that funds for textual criticism, to repair damage so that we can consult texts, are funding a man who is preaching that textual criticism is fundamentally an illusion.  Again the authors attack this, and rightly so.

So it is good to see this book being produced, and the arguments made all seem rather sound to me, in as far as I can tell what they are from the reviews.  to read it.

Tony Burke of Apocryphicity also reviews the book here and here from a position of disagreement with their thesis, and their religion!  But he really tries to be fair, despite his evident loathing, which is nice to see. 

UPDATE: I have corrected the publisher details.  And I’ve found that the book can be obtained very cheaply indeed at Amazon US, and also at Amazon UK if you ignore Amazon and go for the other suppliers on the page, so I have ordered a copy.


Hippolytus, Commentary on Daniel, now published

Tom Schmidt writes to say that his translation of the Commentary on Daniel by Hippolytus is now published in book form, and also online:

Wanted to let you know, the commentary is complete and online (and on amazon and createspace.com).  I blogged about it here.  It’s a good feeling to have it done!

Tom has generously made it available to us all, which is very good news!


Did you know it was illegal to burn your own copy of the Koran in England?

No?  Well, until yesterday, neither did I.  But apparently it now is, as of yesterday.  On Thursday 23rd September 2010 it became a crime.  We found this out when six men were arrested for doing so.  No-one knows who decided it was a crime. 

They were charged under “inciting racial hatred”, one of those laws of so very broad interpretation favoured by certain parts of the political spectrum, who know that people of their own persuasion will decide who is to be arrested for doing something no-one knew was a crime, and who can sleep soundly knowing they need not worry, whatever they do.

Duane Smith comments on the constraint of freedom of expression.

I wrote the stuff below a few days ago and for some reason didn’t post it at the time. But the arrest of “[s]ix men from northern England . . . after they filmed themselves burning a copy of the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11 and then posted the footage on YouTube [AOL News]” prompted me to post it this evening. What I wrote then and post now applies by analogy to the UK and any other part of the world that thinks of itself as civilized and moral.

Read it and worry.  Today it is a bunch of Geordies having a lark who find themselves in handcuffs.  Tomorrow, will it be us?