A d F o n t e s

(Latin: "to the sources")

My Top Five

Jared Calaway has tagged me with the 5 book meme: the 5 top books that have influenced my thinking the most, whether I actually liked them or not (…and he’s right, I do need a kick in the arse to blog: half the time I forget about this thing; the other half I can’t come up with anything to blog about. I’m not very good at this).

I’m guessing I should probably provide the classicist/roman historian perspective. But I’ve had a really weird journey from biblical studies, to jewish studies, and now to roman history. So I’ll try to chronicle that movement below, even though the books I’m reading right now are influencing me more than the past material. I imagine I’m like everyone else in having the problem of picking and choosing 5 when really there are about 100 that belong on this list in equal measure.

1) James Kugel. I entered to Westminster Seminary (z”l) a conservative evangelical, and reading Kugel’s work on the HB–particularly 2nd temple interp., wisdom lit., and rabbinic exegesis–forced me to reconsider many naive assumptions I had about the ancient world, the bible, and what being a religious thinker must mean (if its to mean anything). He’s impacted me personally as much as academically. Books that come to mind are: Traditions of the Bible, In Potiphar’s House, The Idea of Biblical Poetry, and How to Read the Bible (including the unpublished appendix 1 available here).

2) James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity. This follows on the heels of Kugel. It’s an edited volume on various historical issues related to the history of Jewish messianology, Jesus, and sects. It was my first serious foray into early Jewish history and literature, which I would spend the next several years studying and which would also propel me to study rabbinics at JTS.

3) Former JTS advisor (soon to move to Columbia U.): Seth Schwartz. In my opinion, there is simply no one better at doing ancient Jewish history than Seth. By and large, the history of ancient Judaism has been dominated by textual study. Few have made a serious effort to integrate Judaism into the wider disciplines Hellenistic, Roman, or Babylonian history, art, and archaeology. Jewish history has stood on its own. Seth is one of the major exceptions. It was in his history classes where I was forced to engage scholars like Keith Hopkins, Nicholas Purcell, and Fergus Millar, as well as disciplines like economic history, papyrology, and Roman administrative history. And in fact, it was watching him in action–in addition to William Harris–that persuaded me that I *shouldn’t* do a PhD in ancient Judaism, but something broader like my current program (classical studies–a multidisciplinary history program) would be better preparation. All of Seth’s written work has impacted me variously, though none more than his Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 BCE to 640 CE.

4) My current advisor: William V. Harris, who I might add has a new faculty pic up. Simply one of the smartest, most capable people I’ve ever met; a scholar’s scholar. Every book he’s written has changed the field in some substantial way–whether on Republican Italy, imperialism, literacy. Many of his articles have also had similar impact. He knows ancient data better than anyone I know and continues to know how to ask provocative, poignant questions. Moreover, William has been a dedicated patron, offering mounds of help, funding, and has always been available when I’ve needed him. I’ve been very fortunate. I won’t even bother listing works that have impacted me; just see his bibliography in the link above.

5) Craig Muldrew, The Economy of Obligation: The Culture of Credit and Social Relations in Early Modern England. This is a truly profound book. I’ve been doing a lot of work on the ancient economy this past year and have become convinced that much of the way historians conceive the relationship between coin, kind, and credit are either oversimplistic or entirely mistaken. Muldrew’s book, which has become a standard work in English economic history, is the most deeply thought through book I can ever remember reading, and is constantly a book I come back to as I continue to think through this very issue (despite its applicability to a different period). It will probably be a major foundation for my diss–directly or indirectly–which will be a social history of Roman credit. Muldrew’s work is also what convinced me to do one of my comps exams in medieval commerce rather than something strictly classical.

Anyway, who to tag.
Jenny Labenz, Mark Traphagen, Pete Enns, and I’ll think of the remaining later.

June 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

My Favorite News: Stewart, Colbert

I’m a news junkie. My wife makes fun of me because I’m the only person she knows who will sit through entire hearings on C-Span, most of which are 2-3 hrs long…and I confess, sometimes several times. Each. Most senators won’t even sit through a full one (trust me, I know–ask me about your favorite congressman). Part of the reason is that I simply prefer getting the words from the horses mouth and don’t mind sitting through 3hrs of sheisty grandstanding to form my own opinions. But I also simply care much less for daily news shows like CNN and NBC news: too short, underdeveloped, lop-sided, hypie, no real content, entertainment-oriented, viewer-pleasing, etc. And in my case, as a historian you become all too used to knowing when someone’s doing a shoddy job telling the story, and with shows like that it just gets too exhausting to turn all the filters on. Just not worth it.
By far, however, my favorite news shows are John Stewart’s The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert’s The Colbert Report. This might sound like a contradiction, but it’s really not. They’re funny for sure, but if you’re up on the current issues in news, they show how remarkably informed they are–and worse, just how terrible the other daily news shows are and illustrate with plenty of examples. Especially Stewart: he makes a point in every show to demonstrate just how problematic the daily news shows are. If you listen carefully, both shows good arguments why if you watch the daily news you could end up much more misinformed about your world than if you hadn’t turned them on in the first place, and why .

The older I get, the less I lament the decline of news stations. They did it to themselves. It wouldn’t be so easy for Stewart if they did a better job–it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

June 17, 2009 Posted by | TV | Leave a comment