A d F o n t e s

(Latin: "to the sources")

Britainization of Justin, pt. 2

Oxford_2008029 If Oxford University has a main drag, this is it:  Cornmarket Street.  I live about a block from this intersection.  You can see in the distance Christ Church; its campus is gargantuan.  A significant number of the stores on this street and its side-streets are pretty posh–so for instance, I found some shoe stores selling selling dress shoes for the meager sum of 360 pounds; watches for 1200 pounds, etc.  Nice stuff (!!) though–my favorite was the Whiskey Shop on Turl st.  There are only 2 disappointing things about this street:  First, there are 2 Starbucks, a Mickey D’s, Burger King, and KFC.  The first in that list is particularly detestable since I’m firmly convinced that the spread of Starbucks in the US has single handedly kept Americans from appreciating good espresso drinks (yes I’m disgruntled).  So I’ve had this nascent fear that the arrival of Starbucks might signal the decline in “taste” (ridiculous, I know, but that’s the fear it conjured).  But still all 4 are pretty tasteless, and as an American it makes me pretty embarrassed, guilty.  Second, Cornmarket is suprisingly more crowded than Time Square during the week days; having come from NYC this isn’t so bad, though I was hoping for a bit of a break from the urban grind.  It can also be quite noisy at night.  All that said, I have to say I really like the neighborhood.  I like it even more when I visit my colleagues north of the university in Jericho though–things are cheaper, it’s a bit homier, kinda reminds me of West Philly actually. 

Having a great time.  My research this week took an unexpected turn.  I’ve actually been focusing my work on landholding distribution and relative size of various districts of the Hermopolite nome in Egypt, which are really demography issues more than agriculture ones.  There is a large set of debates about how many people lived in Egypt, what the population density was, how much agricultural produce could it yield and (therefore) what as the aggregate wealth of the province and the wealth distribution among its inhabitants.  The reason so many of us are interested in this debate is that above any other region of the Graeco-Roman world, Egypt has plentiful data to really give us a flavor for what “life” was like.  

This has basically meant I’ve been following through many calculations of important articles to understand the math and assumptions scholars make, and consequently where improvement needs to be made.  It’s basically meant that I’ve had to start learning stats and macroeconomics in a much more serious way than I ever have and trying to give serious consideration to what are most reliable data is and why.  It’s been quite fruitful in many ways.  What’s been particularly illuminating to me has been how fragile our calculations are of so many figures, even our best estimates.   I’ve encountered few estimates for which one couldn’t fairly argue +/- 20%, which is a lot.  That’s pretty dissatisfying.  Previously I’ve thought that for better or for worse our best socio-economic models would have to be built from the ground up rather than the top down–that is, from the data itself rather than theoretical concepts about ancient demography and economics–; though given the size of this margin of error, I’m starting to look for top-down ideas that might give us better ground to stand on. 


July 16, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Britainization of Justin

Oxford_2008008 The title of this post is borrowed from the blog of Mark Goodacre’s wife Emily; it was started when Mark acquired his NT position at Duke, having left the University of Birmingham.  My situation only resembles theirs:  I, being a Classical Studies graduate student at Columbia University in NY, have begun a long-term project based at Oxford University.  But mine is only a research affiliation that is likely to last the next several years; it’s not a “job.”  In any event, as such I’m here staying at Braesenose College (or, it’s annex actually, Frewin Court) for this month of July. 

In any event, I’ve decided to chronicle my time here via this ill-updated blog.  I intend to drop a few lines from time to time on my reactions to this new environment, as well as my research.  Incidentally, I count this as my first real “trip” to Europe.  I’ve visited the airports of Milan and Madrid, and even spent several days on the European side of Istanbul, but (obviously) they don’t exactly count. 

As a first note, I suppose, a little about my research:  The Oxford Roman Economy Project (or OXREP as we call it) intends to do a semi-comprehensive analysis of the Roman economy of the whole Roman empire in the span of six years, with a different topic each year.  This year is year two and the topic is agriculture; last year it was demography.  As for me, my own work, generally speaking, has started with the desire to mathematically quantify and model agricultural trade within Egypt.  I’ve been researching a new branch of modern economics called New Economic Geography, hoping that it might offer some insight on related questions.  We’ll see what we learn. 

July 16, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Bush on Masada

bush During his visit to Israel, on May 15th President Bush gave a speech honoring the nation’s 60th birthday.

In this speech, however, I was struck by this awkward line:

“Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again….”

Um…unless I’m missing something, Masada is still kinda fallen….

May 15, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Alan Watson’s *Justinian’s Digest* Back In Print

I’ve been off the blogosphere for virtually all term (classes have been rough), but now that it’s nearly over I thought I would inaugurate my re-entrance with the re-emergence of a new book.

Mommsen’s edition of the legal codices of Justinian and Theodosius are depressingly expensive–the latter is currently going for ~250 Euros last I checked, which is ghastly.

Fortunately, Alan Watson’s Latin-English edition of the Justinian’s Digest just returned to print (and is available w/ a %5 discount from Amazon.com). The translation is good, includes Mommsen’s edition of the Latin, and is organized with Latin and English pages facing.

It’s currently selling for $35/vol (4 vols) in paperback, which is quite a steal, and I fully expect the price to jump to ~$50/vol. So get it while you can.

May 6, 2008 Posted by | Books, Miscellaneous | 1 Comment

…And Neusner Responds.

image One of the most common rumors about Jacob Neusner–quite possibly the most prolific scholar ever in any discipline–is that his graduate students do the lion’s share of his work, and that the reason he has published over 600 books is that most are recycled anyway.  Until now, I’ve only ever heard one scholar come to Neusner’s defense on this this charge:  once a student in Seth Schwartz’s survey course on ancient Judaism laid it, and Schwartz said said it was untrue. 

This rumor was once again reitterated concerning Neusner’s latest translation of a Bavli tractate (Bava Batra) over on Biblicalia. Yet here in the comments Neusner himself defends–and it’s pretty amusing.  He lists what he translates and delineates it from where he received aid from students.  Check it out. 

For my own part, I’ve generally been a Neusner supporter.  The man really is brilliant.  Sometimes I’ve wished he’d slow down because it would improve his work.  But the man has to be credited for making such a large volume of rabbinic literature accessible in English.  His method of breaking down the Bavli into dialog format, I think, was a great idea.  Anyone who’s studied it before for the first time knows how difficult it can be to figure out when a discussion begins, ends, and where speakers change from one to another.  Having it broken down in English is a real help.  It’s better than Soncino.  And all this aside from starting a major revolution in rabbinic studies in his work on the Mishnah. 

February 17, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The "First Temple Seal" is Probably Not

image See the post here by Jim West for the details.  Initially, Eilat Mazar suggested the name on the seal was “Temech,” a name also mentioned among the returned exiles in Nehemiah, therefore linking the seal to the 1st Temple Period. 

That would be nice.  However, some scholars think this is a misreading:  the script is tough, but it is said that it’s clearly not t-m-ch, but probably sh-l-m-t.  That is, Shulamit, or Shelamit, or Sh’lomot, or something (impossible to tell and we don’t know the range of possibilities for Hebrew names).   

There is another option though.  In my novice opinion (I don’t do Hebrew inscriptions of this era), Temech pretty clearly seems wrong. “טמח” only works if you read the lettering backwards, which for a Hebrew seal is right to left, not the other way around.  Since it’s a seal to be impressed upon wax or some other substance, in order for the impression to look right, the letters must be carved from left to right, and in mirror-image of what they should look like.  Take a look at the following Paleo-Hebrew chart: 


Image courtesy of Omniglot.com


In order from left to right, the first letter appears to be a het (h) or shin/sin (s) depending on whether that vertical line on the right is part of the first letter or is a second letter; if the latter, then it is unlike any of our options (which prb. makes a het more likely) and therefore could be one of several things: lamed (l), vav (w), peh (p), gimel (g), yodh (y), kaf (k), but not ecessarily a lamed; the next is clearly a mem (m); the last is clearly a tav (t); so either we have חמת (i.e. what Mazar’s suggestion should’ve been–Chamat or something) or ש–מת.  Whatever it is, it’s not Temech. 

The icon is also being interpreted to suggest the individual was a priest–namely because it looks like the two individuals are beside an altar.  But the image is a bit vague:  I’m not certain what that object is or why those people have their hands raised.  Seems to me there could be other options. 

Nevertheless, as West points out, this is another one of those over-zealous interpretations that got ahead of the data. 

So as for date?  I don’t know how you date seals, but I can tell you that Paleo-Hebrew was used consistently on coins up until the Herodian dynasty.  So at least on that point it certainly need not be 1TP. 

January 19, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Paul Helm vs. Peter Enns, (Re)redux

image I recently learned that Paul Helm, prof of history, religion, and philosophy at King’s College (London) wrote a response to Pete Enns’ response to Pete’s book, Inspiration and Incarnation

I have to admit, I’m a bit tired of the fuss over this little book.  There are a couple of reasons.  First, it’s not academic.  It’s pop.  And rather than engage it as pop, folks engage it as though it’s academic, with a full-on frontal assault.  And rather than try to engage the issues that Enns does–which are real–, whether to disagree or offer viable alternatives, most whip out the gattling guns and try to rip it to shreds as though it’s solutions were life-threatening.  Some good points are raised–I agree with some of the criticisms of Pete’s “incarnational analogy”–but an awful lot of wilful misreading, rhetoric, silly criticisms, and few real alternatives for dealing with the issues Pete tries to address.  I’m not opposed to disagreement, including on Pete’s book about of which I have my own–its part academic progress–but not like this. 

Helm’s 2nd piece isn’t all that different.  It’s more respectful than his last one, for which I think he deserves credit.  And he acknowledges that he’s not an OT scholar and tries to sidestep that fact by focusing instead on “(theological) method”: since it is logically prior to interpretation, he can do that without actually touching the issues.  (which sounds like getting your cart before your horse to me)

I think a paragraph that encapsulates what I find problematic in Helm’s response is the following: 

The Church holds fast to the divinely-breathed character of Scripture while recognising its all too obvious human properties. The books are breathed by God and authored by men. Such a confession throws up difficulties; hermeneutical difficulties, including those difficulties to which Professor Enns is at pains to draw our attention, those posed by the awareness of non-biblical data on our understanding of Scripture, and the New Testament’s use of the Old. But – if we are to be consistently and thoroughly Christian – these difficulties may perplex us but we should patiently await their resolution in a way that is consistent with the Christian view of Holy Scripture, the teaching of Christ and the Apostles, while all the while holding fast to that doctrine. Difficulties drawn from extra-biblical parallels should not lead us to stress the human character of Scripture at the expense of the divine – indeed we must especially be on our guard not to do this – any more than in our doctrine of providence moral and other difficulties ought to make us flinch from confessing that the Lord works all things after the counsel of his own will.

A few reflections: 

(1) “But–if we are to be consistently and thoroughly Christian–…we should patiently await their resolution in a way that is consistent with the Christian view of Holy Scripture…”  OK, this is patently circular.  Helm has a priori decided on a particular doctrine of scripture–which in theory he should derive from scripture–before he reads the Bible; he wants to read through his doctrine the very things that should inform it.  It’s not surprising, then, that the historical problems are at variance with Helm’s doctrine:  he hasn’t integrated all the data, something Enns is trying to do (confessedly, as a Bible-believing Christian).  Those difficulties are things that inform what doctrine of scripture you have; they’re not things to be resolved by imposing an already assumed doctrine on it.  In my opinion, Helm’s view is therefore rather un-protestant. 

(2) “…should not lead us to stress the human character of scripture at the expense of the divine…”  This criticism–which others have raised too–presumes that the Bible has “divine” and “human” characteristics that are isolatable from each other, such that one could emphasize one aspect over another–as though “language” were human but “truth” were divine or something.  This is wrong.  Every aspect of the Bible that is human is simultaneously divine as well (which one area where the incarnation works as an analogy).  Rather than say the Bible is “divine and human” it is probably more helpful to say it’s “divine-human.”  Similarly, those difficulties that individuals like Helm find disturbing are just as much part of the human character of the Bible as they are part of the divine character.  In other words, emphasizing one at the expense of the other is a logical impossibility that misunderstands the Bible’s divine-human makeup; to stress one, by definition, is to stress the other. Studying how they work in historical context (e.g. in terms of parallels, ancient interpretive practices) is, therefore, asking simultaneously a divine-and-human question:  what was God doing when he used people, their thoughts, their conventions, their texts, to communicate a message in their words? 

(3) Like others, Helm offers no alternative for dealing with the issues.  He encourages patience; but “patience” means that scholars need to work to find viable answers to make sense of the data, which is what Pete is doing.  Answers are not going to materialize on their own.  And as of now, as far as I can tell, Enns has the only viable option–that is, apart from unbelief.  (Though I’m not entirely satisfied with his option, but for very different reasons than Helm)

(4) I seriously wonder whether the “human properties” of the Bible are “all too obvious” to Helm.  In my opinion, it seems to me that some of the issues are so glaring now in the 21st c.–e.g. synoptic problems, historical errors, the development of the canon and OT texts, the involvement of church/Jewish tradition–it would also be obvious that many solutions Protestant theologians have offered for centuries are simply not viable.  I would think that if they were really “obvious,” Prof. Helm would welcome Enns’ attempts to deal with them Christianly and join the effort to find a workable Christian answer using his own expertise–or at very least, would be much more charitable and sympathetic to Enns’ concerns as an OT scholar in whose face the issues stare daily. 

January 18, 2008 Posted by | Bible, Books, Miscellaneous, Theology | 1 Comment

Io Saturnalia!

image In honor of Christmas, I write this post about the ancient holiday it replaced:  the Saturnalia

The Saturnalia was an ancient Roman holiday that celebrated the god Saturn on the Winter Solstice.  It was held on December 17th (=Dec 25 on the Julian calendar), until its duration was extended to 3 days under Augustus and 5 days under Caligula. I’m not sure when the festival was founded, though I know it was celebrated in the republican era. It may be that we don’t know at all (anyone out there know?). 

The festival was celebrated at Rome, and in addition to regular religious rites offered to Saturn–sacrifices, prayers, etc.–there was a general upheaval of society for the time.  Slaves were granted temporary freedom, were exempt from work, and were even allowed to insult their masters.  People gambled.  Within a family, a “Lord of Mis-rule” was chosen.  According to Catullus, it was the “best of days.”  Throughout the city there was heavy gambling, drinking, carousing, appointing of random kings, singing naked, and, of course, gift-giving.  It was a big party. 

The Saturnalia was eventually replaced by Christmas under the Christian emperors–perhaps under the Constantine after his conversion (it’s not clear under whom).  It occurred to me that there is something interesting to note with gift-giving in this connection, something I hadn’t recognized before.  When we think about the origins of gift-giving in Christmas, most people I know trace it back to the (Three) Wise Men in Matthew’s Gospel (“three” is in parentheses b/c contrary to popular belief, Luke doesn’t say there were three wise men–only 3 gifts).  This is probably not true.  It seems most likely that gift-giving at Christmas was a hold-over from the holiday it overtook.  The inclusion of the tree for Christmas celebration, on the other hand, was a later development. 

December 31, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments


image Old Testament Prof. Peter Enns of Westminster Theological Seminary has, with the help of some dedicated friends, started a new blog / website

Pete is a friend and former professor who has been an influence on me in more ways than I’m probably aware (or than he might want to admit).  In many respects he’s also responsible for me being where I am today (…I feel this urge to emphasize “but all beliefs herein espoused are entirely my own responsibility…”–ὁ ἀκούων, οὗτὸς ἀκούετω). 

Already Pete has a few posts up, so you can bet it will be better maintained than my miserable blog (though the semester’s over and I have some free time). 

So have a look–particularly if you’re an evangelical interested in thinking through different alternatives of negotiating faith with contemporary issues in biblical studies.  Welcome to the web, Pete–looking forward to what you have to share. 

December 24, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Did Romulus and Remus Exist?


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Ancient Nursery?

…or rather, did the Romans have a shrine wherein they were venerated?  It’s disappointing that this discovery took two years to be released to the world, but apparently Italian archaeologists have discovered a subterranean shrine located on the Palatine near the palace of Augustus, Rome’s first emperor, who is likely responsible for its creation. 

Apparently, the entrance has yet to be discovered:  they’ve only been able to lower a camera to catch a glimpse of what lay inside, which is responsible for the picture of the ceiling mosaic above. 

You can see some short video descriptions here and here

Here’s also a link to an article. 

They’re intimating that this may have been the cave where Romulus and Remus were nursed by the shewolf (…or rather, where the Romans thought they were).  It’s certainly possible, though I’m curious what about the cave would lead specialists to think so.  Makes much better sense to me as yet another example of Augustan power solidification. 

November 24, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment