May 23, 2013
in ME Studies. See if YOU qualify.
May 16, 2013
Considering how long it has taken for this paper to see the light of day, I’m grateful that some life altering event like tenure did not depend on its timeliness. Still, it is great to see it out.
Here is the paper’s abstract,
Drawing on the Akkadian omen series Šumma Ālu and its predecessors, this essay argue for a Mesopotamian origin of Homeric bird-divination. Against the suggestion of Högemann and Oettinger that Greek bird-divination has its closest parallels with Hittite bird-divination, I argue that both in its function as a tool for divination and in its specific content, Homeric bird divination, if not all such ancient Greek divination, finds much closer parallels in Mesopotamian divination traditions than it does in Anatolian traditions. I suggest that the late 8th century B.C.E. and the decades before and after 1200 B.C.E. represent two periods when conditions were particularly ripe for the introduction of Mesopotamian bird-divination into the Aegean and that itinerant diviners, perhaps in the employment of armies, were the most likely conveyors of this particular form of divination.
Those abnormal readers who see the ancient world largely from the perspective of the Hebrew Bible may wonder what this has to do with our shared corner of that world. On the one hand, despite the fact that I cite the story of Noah releasing birds in a footnote, this paper has little to do with the Hebrew Bible. On the other hand, in the context of the larger issue of cultural diffusion in the Ancient Near East and the eastern Mediterranean in the Iron Age (or is it in this case perhaps the Bronze Age?), I think this paper has a lot to say. If I am correct, a tradition of divination traveled from its Mesopotamian home across Syria or perhaps southern Anatolia arriving in Ionia no later than 7th century BCE and likely earlier. It is not at all difficult to image that this or similar traditions were available to the Biblical authors. But that question must wait for my paper on the snake in Genesis 3 to appear. I am in the process of consulting snakes and birds to determine just how long that will take.
May 14, 2013
The Duluth News Tribute reports,
Two adult bald eagles made an unplanned landing on the tarmac at the Duluth International Airport on Sunday.
The two birds had locked talons in mid-air and couldn’t get separated before they crashed to the concrete, said Randy Hanzal, a conservation officer with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
In Odyssey 2:146-54 two eagles tear into each other above the assembled suitors.
[Zeus] sent forth two eagles, flying from on high, from a mountain peak. For a time they flew swift as the blasts of the wind side by side with wings outspread; but when they reached the middle of the many-voiced assembly, then they wheeled about, flapping their wings rapidly, and down on the heads of all they looked, and death was in their glare. Then they tore with their talons one another's cheeks and necks on either side, and darted away to the right across the houses and the city of the men.
Despite its lacunose nature, an Old Babylonian tablet from Ur published by Weisberg may reflect a similar motif.
šum-ma ši-[na] e-ru-ú
a-[x]-ma a-na pa-ni [ṣa-bi-im]
[x x]-lu-ma an-a [x x]
[ṣa-bu]-um a-šar il-li-ku
If two eagles [. . .] before the [army . . .] advance against(?), [. . .] the ar[my] will return safely whence it marched. (ii 36-41)
Based on other omens, Weisberg’s 90, 97, reconstruction of [ṣa-bi-im], “army,” is all but certain; less certain is the verb [it-]te-eš-ru from ešēru(?), “to make towards”; other lacunae totally resist reconstruction.
The Homeric two eagle omen has a positive portent while the Old Babylonian omen has a negative one. I suppose the Duluth airport omen turns out to be positive - both birds survived.
Via The Huffington Post.
Weisberg, D. B., 1969. “An Old Babylonian Forerunner of Šumma Alu,” HUCA, 40-41 (1969-70), 87-104.
May 3, 2013
Schwarzwalder quotes Leiter almost correctly, “[N]o one has been able to articulate a credible principled argument for tolerating religion qua religion - that is, an argument that would explain why, as a matter of moral principle, we ought to accord special legal and moral [treatment - sic] to religious practices” (p.7).” Schwarzwalder omitted the rather important word “treatment.” After a little history lesson on the “oppression of Christians, “ Schwarzwalder responds, “The assertion that a ‘principled’ case for religious liberty remains unmade is so striking in its ignorance that it invites the derision a serious academic should find embarrassing [highlight added -des].” Leirter worries about religions toleration; Schwarzwalder worries about “religious liberty” throughout his review. They are not the same thing.
I don’t know either Bruce Leiter or Rob Schwarzwalder (I've exchanged an email or two with Leiter over the years) but I do know that Leiter wouldn’t just flat out change the subject and pretend that he didn’t. From reading Leiter’s philosophy blog I’m pretty sure he would be against “the persecution of the early church, the Inquisition, anti-Catholic violence, or the Holocaust” - part of Schwarzwalder irrelevant history lesson. I’m also pretty sure Leiter is well aware of “the Judeo-Christian intellectual tradition and its contribution to the foundations of liberal democracy.” The quotation here is part of a more extended quotation from Joe Loconte in Schwarzwalder's review. That there is an important and influential “Judeo-Christian intellectual tradition” is beyond question (I do worry about what is exactly meant by “Judeo-Christian . . . tradition” but that’s another question.) I even think that one can make a strong case that the Enlightenment came out of that tradition. But the foundation of liberal democracy is a child of the Enlightenment and at the very best a grandchild of our western religious traditions.
I’ve read a draft paper that I think Leiter expanded into his book (while I've started reading his book, to my regret I haven't finishing it). This paper and what I've read of the book speak to quite different issues than Schwarzwalder seems to think the book does. He only speaks to Leiter 's book; he may not know the paper. It makes me wonder if he has really even read the book. On the one hand, Leiter addresses what Mark Twain was getting at when Paine quoted him as saying,
So much blood has been shed by the Church because of an omission from the Gospel: "Ye shall be indifferent as to what your neighbor's religion is." Not merely tolerant of it, but indifferent to it. Divinity is claimed for many religions; but no religion is great enough or divine enough to add that new law to its code. apud Paine, Mark Twain: a Biography
On the other hand, Leiter’s paper and his book (or as much as I've read of it) speaks to policy questions that would (and should) arise if we were to practice religions indifference rather than merely religious toleration. Leiter’s position has nothing to do with religious liberty as Schwarzwalder seems to wish it did. Leiter and, for that matter, I may well question the intellectual basis for religious beliefs but I'm rather sure that neither one of us would even be indifferent to the loss of religious liberty. I don’t know about Leiter, but I'm fearful about what might replace it. It might be Schwarzwalder's brand religion!
For another take on Why Tolerate Religion? check out R. C. Robinson at Choice Reviews Online.
De Gruyter has introduced their new Journal of Ancient History with a free online version. The free online version will not last long. I found several of the articles abnormally interesting - none more interesting than Marc Van de Mieroop’s, "Recent Trends in the Study of Ancient Near Eastern History: Some Reflections," Journal of Ancient History, 1:1, (May 2013 Online), 83–98. Here’s a sample.
There is thus an intimate connection between philology and history, which affects the practices and presentation of ancient Near Eastern history. On the one hand historical analyses regularly appear in what are primarily text editions. For example, the re-edition of the royal correspondence of Babylonian kings of the twenty-first century includes a radical reinterpretation of the role of Syrian nomads in the overthrow of their dynasty around 2000 BCE (Michalowski, Correspondence 2011). On the other hand, studies that present themselves as historical analyses habitually include philological editions of primary sources (e.g., Kleber 2008). This practice can impede communication between specialists on the ancient Near East and scholars of other periods of history. Because of the relatively small community of ancient Near East historians there are fewer syntheses of their scholarship than for other areas of ancient history and they have been less successful at passing on their new insights to a broader readership. The unfortunate effect is that when generalizing studies of topics in ancient history or world history appear, the information presented on the ancient Near East is often outdated.
April 25, 2013
Last night Shirley and I were watching a lecture on Stravinsky's "The Rite of Sprint" by Robert Greenberg. Greenberg mentioned Debussy's rather sarcastic comment on the Rite, "If you like it, it's primitive music with every modern convenience." Debussy's comment struck me as an apt metaphor for much that passes for Biblical interpretation. It is primitive, both as anachronistic and as uninformed. Still, it has all the modern conveniences. Like Stravinsky's Rite, much modern Biblical interpretation, nearly all of it that passes as hermeneutics, is detached from its ancient roots to make modern if misguided points.
No, I don't need to defend this. One, this is a blog. Two, look at any attempt to find guidance in the Bible as a whole or in any passage or set of passages with regard to some modern issue or moral dilemma.
April 6, 2013
My underlying question in this post is how much of the context supporting one portion of a word's semantic range is normally carried over into another context where the word has a somewhat different meaning. Note I am talking about one context of meaning being imposed, however slightly, on another context. If I say "Joe plays the piano" to what extent am also raising of the possibility that Joe might play football? When I use the word "play" to what extend am I drawing some relationship between making music and contact sports. Many punning jokes work by imposing of one linguistic context on another by way of a single word shared word.
Now for my real problem: In lines 12Sum and 12Akk of the bilingual treatise which Sjöberg called “In Praise of the Scribal Art” we read in Sumerian (12Sum) nam-dub-sar-ra dur-da-gan-KA-[x x] x nun me [x x x] which is rendered in Akkadian (12Akk) ṭupšarrūtu markas kulla[t x x] x i me [x x], “The scribal art is the bond of all of (markas kullat) [. . .]." It would be nice to know what was in the lacunae at the end of the lines. It is possible but only barely possible that the ME in both lines should be read "heaven," šamê in Akkadian (see MLS 14 91:71:7; CAD Š1, 339). But the fuller Sumerian nun me is more likely part (or all) of some kind of professional designation. Perhaps here it stands for a sage, a priest or an exorcist, an apkallu, but several other options cannot be ruled out. Neither the traces of the Sumerian or the Akkadian lines reasonably support reading an-ki / šamê u erṣetim, "universe / heavens and earth," in the lacunae, by the way, a reading I would very much like. Even so, Akkadian markasu (mundanely "rope") often signifies a link, an axis mundi, between the heaven and the underworld or between heaven and earth (CAD M1 283, K 505). While the lacunose ends of both lines 12Sum and 12Akk cannot be reconstructed in this way, the learned author of “In Praise of the Scribal Art” was certainly conscious at some level of the full semantic range of markasu.
My guess is that line 12 of "In Praise of the Scribal Art” should be understood as saying that the scribal art is the bond, the markasu, that binds together all the other professions. But who knows?
Sjöberg, Å W., “In Praise of the Scribal Art,” JCS, 24 (1972), 126-131.
March 23, 2013
Tomorrow and Monday I will be attending the Pacific Coast regional meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. I’m not giving a paper this year so I will be able to throw tomatoes without fear of reprisal. My tomatoes are rotting nicely and should be well fermented should they be needed.
There are several abnormally interesting things on the program. Brad Kelle’s session, Neo-Assyrian Insights on Ancient Israel and the Hebrew Bible, is always interesting, made more so this year by the participation of Norman Gottwald. Gottwald is also participating in a “Scholar Roundtable” tomorrow evening. I’m looking forward to seeing Chris Heard and sitting in on his three Hebrew Bible sessions. Several of the papers seem abnormally interesting but I will have my tomatoes at the ready just in case.
March 12, 2013
With these words my little research project on the meaning of SAL.É/KID.KAR comes to a cross roads. “. . .est confirmée par collation” is what Sylvie Lackenbacher wrote to justify reading SAL.KID.KAR at the end of RS 8.208 line 6. What this means is that she looked at the actual tablet and believes she saw SAL.KID.KAR rather than SAL.É.KAR as Thureau-Dangin and Nougayrol thought they saw. My working thesis requires that the tablet read SAL.É.KAR.
If you have really abnormal interests and are not sure what this is all about check out my posts on the Akkadian tablet RS 8.208 from Ugarit. At the time I wrote those posts I hadn’t read Sylvie Lackenbacher or Enst Kutsch’s translations and discussions of the tablet as a whole or these three signs in particular. I’ve now read them. Kutsch appears to be the first to suggest SAL.KID.KAR. Lackenbacher and the CAD lexicographers follow him.
Without actually seeing the tablet there is no way I can argue against something that “est confirmée par collation.”
So I now have a new set of questions. Do I believe strongly enough in my thesis to justify a trip to Paris (or maybe to Syria!) for the evidence in the clay. Or is there a high resolution photograph of RS 8.208 that will serve my purposes? While I’m sure Shirley would be happy to join me in Paris, I’m not so sure about Syria. I will try to look into the question of a high resolution photograph first. My total research budget for this project is the cost of a trip to Paris short of the cost of a trip to Paris.
But this is how research goes. I always learn more from the journey than from the destination. This little experience also shows the importance of a literature search.
I may have some more to say on all this and prostitution in an upcoming post.
Lackenbacher, Sylvie, Textes akkadiens d’ Ugarit: textes provenant des vingt-cinq premières campagnes Littératures anciennes du Proche-Orient, 1 (Littératures anciennes du Proche-Orient, 20; Paris: Cerf, 2002), 332-34.
Nougayrol, Jean, “Textes Accadiens et Hourrites des Archives est, ouest et Centrales,” Claude Schaeffer ed., PRU III (Mission de Ras Shamra, VI ; Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1995) 110-11.
Thureau-Dangin, F., “Trois Contrats de Ras-Shamra,” Syria, 18:3 (1937), 245-255
March 7, 2013
If a physicist runs a complicated new experiment and concludes that the results support the Theory of General Relativity, she will not be called backward-looking and traditional. It will be seen as yet another piece of important support for an already robust theory. But to many colleagues in the humanities, “cutting edge” means “in line with trendy theoretical works”. I don’t care about trendy theory. – Martin Rundkvist at Aardvarchaeology
In his penultimate sentence Rundkvist says, “I think any academic subject that can’t establish solid consensus and move on to new questions should be defunded. That’s not science / Wissenschaft / vetenskap, that’s art criticism, aesthetics.” What he doesn’t say, is that it’s also theology.
I think there is a place for art criticism, aesthetics, and even theology among the academic subjects. But that place is as meta-study. Why do people hold this or that opinion? How do (did) they come to have such an opinion? What is the history of such an opinion?
By the way, I wonder from time to time if there is an objective, if biological, basis for opinions concerning the beautiful. The same has been posited for opinions about god(s) and religious practice in some generalized sense. There are worthy academic subjects in these areas too - areas of inquire in which consensus is at least in principle possible.