Thursday, May 30, 2013

Roman Weapons and Armour in Water as a Religious Ritual

Classical accounts, the presence of specific water deities, and the archaeology of Celtic groups in Britain and Gaul suggest that soldiers stationed in the western Roman provinces witnessed and eventually adopted a strong religious tradition of water veneration, whereby individuals dedicated valuable military gear in water. Unlike the Celtic material, Roman helmets far exceed swords, and the highest concentration of Roman gear is found along the Rhine River, the frontier between Rome and Germany.

The hybrid Romano-Celtic deities and the similar practices in the deposition of arms and armor in water paints an interesting picture of Roman and Celtic religion and interaction from the first century B.C.E. to first century C.E. The religious practices of the Roman army did not take over and replace native Celtic forms nor did Celtic religion remain the same. The Roman practice of offering military gear in water was a result of Celtic interaction. The purpose and belief systems behind such a tradition varied across time and space. Celtic culture saw water as a life force, key to wellbeing and fertility. It is impossible to determine if Roman soldiers who dedicated their gear perceived water or their newly adopted ritual in the same way. Although generally, in practice, the Roman and Celtic traditions concerning water appears similar, different cultural and ideological backgrounds gave the ritual a distinctively different meaning.     

2011 Brandon Olsen article, Anthrojournal

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A great discussion on the reception history of John 20

Recently, I sailed into a lecture room to do an Adult Education forum in a nearby church on the reception history of John 20 as "Ban and Blessing" continuing their theme of resurrection in the post-Easter season leading up to Pentecost. All the chairs were set up in front of a screen. In the centre of the room stood the LCD projector on a podium with all the connecting cables out and ready for my lap top. They had a Thunderbolt connector which connected to a Thunderbolt port on my MacBook Air. And we had sound through the sound cable connected to two loudspeakers. When the associate priest arrived, I was ready to demonstrate images and sound for the presentation. She introduced me to the IT guy whom I thanked profusely.

This is the way life should be.

I gave an overview of the presentation. How is it, I asked, that in the reception history of John 20, two contrasting strands of ban and blessing emerge: "Do not touch me!" and an encounter with Jesus in the garden?

We begin with a discussion of the composition and motifs of Titian's Noli Me Tangere: Imagine you had never seen this painting before, I suggest, what do you notice? We discuss colors and lines, the tree and the path to the village. We notice the half naked man with an implement in his left hand and the clothed woman reaching towards him. We try to determine if he has any scars from the nails on the cross (the image is small).

Then we go back in time to the Biblia Pauperum of the Middle Ages and discuss this image below with three panels. We discuss typology and prefiguring.

We notice cruciform halos (nimbus) around the head of Christ. And we notice a halo around the head of the woman in the centre panel but not around the head of the woman in the right panel.

We discuss landscapes and buildings, walled gardens, lanterns and jars, gardening implements and facial expressions. And the inscription recording the woman's speech in the right panel: I have found him whom my soul loves; I will hold him and I will not let him go.

Then we discuss the Song of Songs and the use of motifs around searching and finding the beloved in the garden to expand the scene of Jesus and Mary encountering each other in the garden. I play a motet, "Maria Magdalene stabat ad monumentum flores" and we discuss musical interpretations of John 20.

Finally we return to Titian and discuss how this single painting could be seen as blessing and ban at the same time.

This is indeed the way life can be at an adult education forum with good discussions and great energy. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

The relative novelty of the term "man" by Aysa Peraltsvaig

First consider its history merely within English over the past millennium and a half. Today, it is pronounced /mæn/ and means one of two things: either ‘an adult male person’ or ‘a person of either gender’. The latter meaning, however, is considered sexist by many, and is thus falling out of use. Words such as chairmanfisherman, and policeman are thus being replaced by such gender-neutral forms as chairpersonfisher, and police officer, just as mankind is yielding to humankind. But as the gender-neutral meaning of man is still evident in manslaughter and in the phrase no man’s land. As it turns out, the meaning of ‘an adult male’ is relatively new. In Old English (roughly, prior to the Norman invasion of 1066), this word—pronounced then with a vowel articulated further back in the mouth—did not mean a ‘male person’ but had only the gender-neutral sense of ‘a human being, person (male or female)’. The word acquired the sense of ‘adult male’ in Middle English. Prior to that time, an adult male was a wer, as distinguished from a wif, which then meant ‘woman (of any marital status)’, as it still does in idiomatic expressions like old wives’ tale and in the compound midwife, originally meaning ‘with woman (during labor)’. The word wer began to disappear in the late 13the century and was eventually replaced byman, which retained its old, more general meaning as it acquired the new, gender-specific one. (The term wer did survive, however, in such terms as “werewolf,” which make one wonder whether a female lycanthrope should be referred to as “wifwolf”.) Note also that the Old English man had additional meanings besides ‘person’, including ‘servant, vassal’, as in all the king’s horses and all the king’s men (we retain this meaning to this day). Thus, clearly the meanings of even “ultraconserved words” show considerable change over much shorter periods than 15,000 years.
Pronunciations of such core terms change too, as I indicated above with the shift in vowel articulation in man through the history of English. Within the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family, the reflexes of the reconstructed ancestral Proto-Germanic form *manwaz include Old Norse maðr, Danish mand, Gothic manna. In other Indo-European branches we find Sanskrit (Indic) manuh, Avestan (Iranian) manu-, Old Church Slavonic (Slavic) mozi. The latter is related to the Russian form muzh, found in the Russian version of the odd “Stone Age” passage above. This plethora of phonological forms in related languages is a result of sound changes, different in each family.


Now I am on a search to find Old English Bible translations!

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

May is Mary's Month

18. The May Magnificat, Gerard Manly Hopkins
MAY is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
    Her feasts follow reason,
    Dated due to season—
Candlemas, Lady Day;        5
But the Lady Month, May,
    Why fasten that upon her,
    With a feasting in her honour?
Is it only its being brighter
Than the most are must delight her?        10
    Is it opportunest
    And flowers finds soonest?
Ask of her, the mighty mother:
Her reply puts this other
    Question: What is Spring?—        15
    Growth in every thing—
Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together;
    Star-eyed strawberry-breasted
    Throstle above her nested        20
Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within;
    And bird and blossom swell
    In sod or sheath or shell.
All things rising, all things sizing        25
Mary sees, sympathising
    With that world of good,
    Nature’s motherhood.
Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind        30
    How she did in her stored
    Magnify the Lord.
Well but there was more than this:
Spring’s universal bliss
    Much, had much to say        35
    To offering Mary May.
When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
Bloom lights the orchard-apple
    And thicket and thorp are merry
    With silver-surfèd cherry        40
And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
    And magic cuckoocall
    Caps, clears, and clinches all—
This ecstasy all through mothering earth        45
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth
    To remember and exultation
    In God who was her salvation.

3rd Century Prayer
Greek TextEnglish Translation
Ὑπὸ τὴν σὴν εὐσπλαγχνίαν,
καταφεύγομεν, Θεοτόκε.
Τὰς ἡμῶν ἱκεσίας,
μὴ παρίδῃς ἐν περιστάσει,
ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ κινδύνων λύτρωσαι ἡμᾶς,
μόνη Ἁγνή, μόνη εὐλογημένη.
Beneath your compassion,
We take refuge, O Mother of God:
do not despise our petitions in time of trouble:
but rescue us from dangers,
only pure, only blessed one.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Conditions for an excellent presentation

I rejoice in experiences of speaking in churches and synagogues far and near to small and larger gatherings of laity and clergy. It is exciting, honest, and dynamic work.

Now I want to speak to those who invite me. You want the best experience for all present: good pedagogy, good exchanges, and substantial discussion. I want to do everything I can to make that happen. May I say that the only way to ensure an excellent presentation and a great Q&A, is to provide technical support of the best quality? If you invite me to tell you what technology I need for my presentation, and you promise to provide it, and the IT support, please make sure you deliver in advance of the presentation. If necessary, stay to make sure it continues to work.

Here's my point. I need to be in the best possible frame of mind to provide you and those who have taken the time and trouble to come with the best possible event. I need to be alert and yet relaxed; calm and yet fully prepared. If I have to bring my laptop because I am anxious that yours won't be there, or if I arrive at the event well in advance of the starting time only to find that there is no IT person there and no IT equipment in sight, you will not get the best possible presentation. Because now my energy must go into locating the event organisor to find the IT person or equipment in enough time to start the event on schedule. And if equipment appears without IT support, I must now figure out how to make it work. Or, worst case scenario, how to deliver the presentation and engage participants using plan B, C or Z without technology.

I believe myself capable of connecting my laptop to a projector you provide. But I'd prefer not to have to do this right when I need to be concentrating on content and delivery of my presentation particularly if I want to meet any of the participants in the room before the presentation. For pedagogical reasons I'd prefer to focus on them and their interests in being there, not on technology.

Everyone will be happier and the event will be much better if you attend to these details.  

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