Friday, April 15, 2016

"Pergamon & the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

A new exhibit opens this coming Monday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City: "Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World."

Here's a preview from the Museum. The New York Times reviewed the exhibit today. An article in the Wall Street Journal makes it clear that the loan of 73 pieces from the Pergamon altar in the Berlin Museum that houses the Pergamon altar was occasioned by the necessary restoration of that Museum.

“This won’t happen again,” said Carlos A. Pic√≥n, the curator in charge of the Greek and Roman Art department at the Met. “Once the museum reopens, they won’t send one-third of its collection here.”

The Berlin press laments the (temporary) closing of the museum.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Oxyrhynchus! Time to brush up your translation skills.

Oxyrhynchus, site of a large and significant papyrus discovery as yet not entirely public, is a significant site in the ancient world.
It's basically the closest thing we have to discovering the Library of Alexandria in a landfill. Academics familiar with it throw around terms like "unparalleled importance" and "holy grail" and aren't trying to be hyperbolic. It contained a lot of other ancient literature that would otherwise be totally lost–most famously a Sophocles comedy and the poetry of Sappho–not to mention extensive details about everyday life in Egypt, Greece, and Rome. It also held the biggest cache of early Christian manuscripts ever discovered.
Oxyrhynchus was the site where a Greek fragment of the Gospel of Thomas was found. Here's a link to P.Oxy.1, P.Oxy. 654, and P. Oxy. 655 the Greek fragments of the Gospel of Thomas at Oxyrhynchus. The translation is an older one.

To accelerate translation of the materials, Oxford University in the UK recruited more than 250,000 volunteers who were willing to learn the ancient Greek alphabet and decipher the texts online. Now, they’re making their way through hundreds of thousands of them.
"By allowing public access to one of the largest unfinished archaeological projects in the world, we have been able to move beyond one scholar with a papyrus and a magnifying glass, to transcribe between 100,000 and 200,000 more texts - some of which had been partially eaten by worms, or used to wrap fish, or worse," Obbink told Adam Lusher at The Independent
Launched in 2014, the Ancient Lives Project gives anyone with a basic understanding of the ancient Greek alphabet the opportunity to access these texts online and try deciphering them. The transcripts are then cross-checked using software that draws data from existing texts and transcripts to verify the translation. 
"Even school children who have simply been taught the letters of the Greek alphabet can do it," Obbink told The Australian.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

First Printed Bible in 1535 annotated the Latin text in English so that Latin and English speakers could read it

England's first printed Bible was published in 1535:

"We know virtually nothing about this unique Bible - whose preface was written by Henry himself - outside of the surviving copies. At first, the Lambeth copy first appeared completely 'clean'. But upon closer inspection I noticed that heavy paper had been pasted over blank parts of the book. The challenge was how to uncover the  without damaging the book" said Dr Poleg.

Dr Poleg sought the assistance of Dr Graham Davis, a specialist in 3D X-ray imaging at QMUL's School of Dentistry. Using a light sheet, which was slid beneath the pages, they took two images in long exposure - one with the light sheet on and one with it off.
The first image showed all the annotations, scrambled with the printed text. The second picture showed only the printed text. Dr Davis then wrote a novel piece of software to subtract the second image from the first, leaving a clear picture of the annotations.
The annotations are copied from the famous 'Great Bible' of Thomas Cromwell, seen as the epitome of the English Reformation. Written between 1539 and 1549, they were covered and disguised with thick paper in 1600. They remained hidden until their discovery this year. According to Dr Poleg, their presence supports the idea that the Reformation was a gradual process rather than a single, transformative event.
"Until recently, it was widely assumed that the Reformation caused a complete break, a Rubicon moment when people stopped being Catholics and accepted Protestantism, rejected saints, and replaced Latin with English. This Bible is a unique witness to a time when the conservative Latin and the reformist English were used together, showing that the Reformation was a slow, complex, and gradual process."
The annotations were written during the most tumultuous years of Henry's reign. The period included the move away from the Church of Rome, The Act of Supremacy, the suppression of the monasteries, and the executions of Anne Boleyn, Thomas More, and John Fisher, as well as the Pilgrimage of Grace, which moved Henry to a more cautious approach.
Dr Poleg was also able to trace the subsequent life of the book, after the point at which Latin Bibles had definitively fallen out of use. On the back page he uncovered a hidden, handwritten transaction between two men: Mr William Cheffyn of Calais, and Mr James Elys Cutpurse of London. Cutpurse, in medieval English jargon, means pickpocket. The transaction states that Cutpurse promised to pay 20 shillings to Cheffyn, or would go to Marshalsea, a notorious prison in Southwark. In subsequent archival research, Dr Poleg found that Mr Cutpurse was hanged in Tybourn in July 1552.

Read more at:

Read more at:

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Coming up this Thursday at 9.00am BBC Radio 4 In Our Time on Mary Magdalene

This coming Thursday Feb 25th at 9.00am UK time is the latest programme of "In Our Time" on Mary Magdalene with

Joanne Anderson, lecturer in Art History at the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of London; Eamon Duffy, Emeritus Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Cambridge; and Joan Taylor, Professor of Christian Origins and Second Temple Judaism at Kings College London.

On the left is Titian's Noli Me Tangere (1541) in the National Gallery. Titian's picture centers on the interaction of the two figures. Mary's hand reaches towards Christ. The curve of Christ's body leans towards Mary as one hand holds back the clothing.[1] A gardening implement frames and curtails what might be an upward movement of ascension echoed by the tree hemming in the two figures.

[1]   David Brown, Sylvia Ferrino Pagden, Jaynie Anderson, Bellini, Giorgione, Titian and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2006) p.128 report that x-rays of the painting show that the figure of Christ changed from moving left stiffly to the present dynamic spiral motion.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Lucy Allen: On Medieval Women

Dr Lucy Allen, Lecturer at Kings College Cambridge, gives a talk on BBC Radio 4 on transgressing in the senior common room in the college after dinner into a conversation about whether violence against women in the series "Game of Thrones" is in fact realistic since, the argument goes, it reflects violence against medieval women in the 15th C Wars of the Roses. Yes, there is profound violence, she argues, but people then are "hugely concerned" about it. Medieval society seems both conflicted and concerned. In the medieval copied text, illustrations made by Jeanne de Monbaston for Roman de la Rose, show an image of a nun next to the text picking fruit aka penises from a penis tree. In this image, women seem to be having a joke at the expense of misogynists.

The Alliterative Mord d'Arthure, a middle English literary poem of 1400, describes the hero meeting a woman sitting beside a newly made grave: the text shows, and even breaks off her broken account indicating she can hardly describe that her foster daughter has been raped and murdered: the broken text reflects the aftermath of trauma. In this narrative, violence against women is shown as a trauma. Thus, women are finding spaces to oppose misogynist culture in the margins and the narrative of texts.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Greek Manuscript Treasures in the Vatican Library

Four minutes on the Greek manuscript treasures in the Vatican Library - expertly narrated by Dr. Timothy Janz, Scriptor Graecus at the Vatican Library

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

How Do the Magi Receive Revelation (from Episcopal Cafe 2013)

How do the Magi receive revelation?

by Deirdre Good with help from Julian Sheffield
Today’s gospel for the feast of the Epiphany is Matthew’s account of the journey of the Magi to the house wherein Jesus was born. Led by a star, they travelled from further east to Jerusalem where they inquired of Herod, client king of Rome, “Where is the child born king of the Jews, for we have seen his star at it’s rising and have come to worship him?” (Matthew 2:2). Much of the chapter is about discernment: how do the Magi determine that following a star from their place of origin will lead them to a child born to be King? How does Herod determine the degree of threat posed by the existence of such a child? How do those in Herod’s realm respond to the quest of the Magi? How does Joseph manage the threat Herod poses against the child in his care? It’s a question that interests all religious people.
But through these questions lie larger ones about determining the significance of the child for the Magi, for Herod, for the kingdom of Judea, for Israel. Matthew does not describe the process of discernment each character in the narrative undergoes so much as the outcome: the Magi tenaciously follow the star over long distances in order to worship this child; Herod reacts in fear and then stealth, then anger and retaliation, as he copes with news of the child’s birth and the implications of the child; all Jerusalem reacts in much the same way as Herod to the query of the Magi; Joseph simply does what an angel tells him and thus saves the child and his mother by taking them to Egypt. Since the focus of Matthew’s narrative is on Herod and not the Magi, readers of Matthew see how a client king of Rome is undone by news of a potential rival’s birth. Herod is a king out of control, not one who rules by self-control. He is the anti-type of a self-possessed ruler of the age.
So what are the means of discernment the narrative ascribes to each character? The Magi follow a star. When it stops over the place where the child is born, they enter the house in great joy. They are also guided by dreams that warn them to depart for their own country another way and not return to Herod and his cruel intentions towards children. Herod’s chief priests and scribes in Jerusalem read prophetic scripture that indicates that the child will be born in Bethlehem. Herod seeks human advice: there is no suggestion that he has access to divine guidance. Joseph receives and heeds a warning dream from an angel.
There are three mediums for discerning divine revelation in Matthew 2 : a star, dreams and prophecy. Each medium is particular to the receiver: for the foreign Magi astronomy, not scripture, provides authoritative revelation; Herod’s advisors consult their scriptures, not the heavens; while Joseph, a righteous man and a devout Jew, is visited with dreams bearing an angel. The stars, the scriptures, the dreams all speak joy, life and triumph for the child and his mother, to those who would receive that message. Herod, seeking his own security and power, receives from divine revelation fear, deceit, stealth and murderous rage.
Throughout its length, the Hebrew Bible demonstrates that God speaks to individuals and nations through dreams and prophetic scripture. Where Matthew breaks new ground is in asserting that the same God of Biblical revelation is also the source of astrological revelation to the Magi that brought them out from a different culture and civilization across many miles with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the child born King of the Jews. We don’t know what happens when they go home. We don’t know how they deal with knowledge of the child. But we do know that God works through their lives and the lives of those with whom they come into contact. This is the Epiphany of Matthew’s Magi for ancient and modern readers.
Dr. Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary, specializing in the Synoptic Gospels, Christian Origins, Noncanonical writings and biblical languages. Her blog is called On Not Being a Sausage. Julian Sheffield is the business manager of Brooklyn Youth Chorus and
a cradle Episcopalian.