early church letters

Today I read (and in some cases, re-read, as I’d seen them in other places) Clement’s epistle to the Corinthians, the 7 epistles of Ignatius, Polycarp’s lone epistle and the scribal account of his martyrdom, the anonymous epistle to Diognetus, the wacky epistle of Barnabas, and the Didache.

In terms of citation, which is my main interest, Clement, the fourth bishop of Rome, writing in the mid to late 90’s, loves citing the Septuagint, Isiah for sure, though he does so “from memory,” as more than one translator likes to opine. In modern terms, it’s sloppy citation, though way better than the much later Barnabas, who, in his supposedly pious glee to allegorize the OT, does a good impression of one of my 1020 or 1010 students by over-citing and blowing one direct quotation after another.

The Synoptic parallels are scanty, but very telling when they crop up. I found it fascinating that Ignatius’s epistle to the Smyrneans paraphrases Luke-only material and his letter to Polycarp Matthew-only material. Polycarp certainly knows Matthew, and the Latin part of the letter refers to ‘the Holy Scripture’ and then quotes Ephesians. Ignatius knows of Paul’s letters, but does not speak of them as Scripture.

Clement quotes twice from synoptic sayings but in both cases he appears to have some other parallel gospel that we don’t have in mind. They’re different enough that I don’t think ‘memory’ is sufficient for explanation. He is not in chains, like Ignatius.

Speaking of which, I found Ignatius’s repeated reference to his chains – and Polycarp’s later fascination with them – to be striking, even obsessive. Certainly Ignatius is writing from a strange headspace – on the way to his martyrdom in Rome – and he seems to take some solace in writing these letters, with the one to the church in Rome being a kind of climax, where he positively longs to be ripped to shreds and begs his supporters not to block his martyrdom (which is inconsistent with Matthew’s call to book it to another town when you can – but he may not know Matthew) Maybe there is an article there, if it does not pre-exist, on his use of his chains as a rhetorical figure.

And speaking of climaxes, I could also make a case that Ignatius’ recurrent obsession with being consumed by wild beasts is a fortunate if ironic case of vorarephilia, given a few allusions here and there. If the account of Polycarp’s martyrdom is even half accurate – or of Stephen’s – then extended prayer and the ability to form rather witty, Jesus-worthy comebacks is more typical for soon-to-be martyrs. If you’re sexually aroused by the possibility of martyrdom, then I suppose it would be a tad easier to stroll into the circus.

I’m glad that I haven’t sent out my article on gospel metaphor yet as there is much more evidence here in 1st century writings of food metaphors. Ignatius uses quite a bit, which would make sense, if he is familiar with Luke. And the Didache has a passage that I think is strong evidence the way in which food was thought of metaphorically in the early church, when it is cautioning against false prophets, i.e. clever beggars, that come by and call out ‘in the spirit’ for food and then actually eat it; this presupposes both a literal and spiritual sense of food that is commonly known enough to be exploited.

More reading

I have been unable to finish a book in one sitting for some time now. A part of the problem is that the books are getting longer and more complex. You can’t read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall after dinner. A chapter of Gibbon is quite a bit to digest. If I finish Vol. I by July I’ll be fortunate. I have manged to read the ‘Christian’ chapters, 25 and 26, which form the end of the first volume of the three-volume set I’m working through, as they contained much of what I am interested in; regardless, I am hooked on his crazy footnotes, so I’ll obsessively read it all eventually. The matter is interesting of itself but the sentence rhythm is a joy to behold; it’s the reason I read all of Patrick O’Brian in a matter of months.

Watson and Hauser’s A History of Biblical Interpretation, Vol I is also being stubborn, and as compact as my chair’s copy of Henry Shires’ Finding the Old Testament in the New is, it requires extremely close reading, with a copy of the Greek text and the NRSV on hand to understand his conclusions. I’m favoring the stuff I need for the dissertation first – then I’ll hit the Greeks and Romans, then the composition theory last, I think (a gross oversimplification, it is, to divide what I need to know into only three groups, but that’s how the questions will come in the exams).

Desk copies of much of the historical stuff really helps. It’s one thing to look up Josephus online to settle some point and another to have the text on hand, with the ability to mark up the margins, insert bookmarks, and feel in control of what I’m reading. I like the combination – read in book form but have Google, Wikipedia, library resources on hand to look up unfamiliar things as they come up, rather than have everything online. I can’t read anything but the shortest journal articles online – JSTOR is great but I have to print them out. I kind of prefer hunting them down in the library anyway – as I often read very old, very obscure stuff, it lends a sense of history that reading text from a database simply does not give off.

Also, I like how old books smell. They don’t all smell good – some creaky tomes stink like their last reader died on p. 1 – and often they are tragically water-damaged or abused – but some emit an distinct and pleasant aroma of assured scholarship, as if they can collect the auras of their authors and those that read them and convey it through olfactory means.

I have succeeded in cleaning out the file cabinets in my office and making a large pile of required exam readings about the size and weight of my car’s engine. Looking at it cheers me until I remember it doesn’t include the books.

65 million years, give or take

This article in the NYT about a newly-minted Ph.D in geosciences at the University of Rhode Island who is a creationist really struck me. His dissertation is on marine reptiles from 65 million years ago, which of course is a tad off of his preferred starting date of 10 million years ago.

The politics and validity of evolution aside, and without knowing exactly what’s in his dissertation or what went on during his exams – I have to say this smells funny. If he doesn’t believe in his own research, how can he, in good conscience, publish it? Did he justify what he wrote, I wonder, by claiming it was all just ‘theory’? Just from a rhetorical standpoint, how can another scholar trust the work of an individual who literally does not believe what he or she writes? How can you hold a conversation in the Burkean parlor if everything you say is a lie? Bandying ideas about to generate discussion is one thing, but scholars are expected to rate their ideas, also, for those less familiar with the concepts.

It would seem that this fellow has artificially rated his ideas much, much higher than he really thinks of them, and his committee or chair did not call him on it. I’m really interested as to how he dodged the bullet if he was truly challenged on this matter in his defense. If they were unaware via him keeping his faith and beliefs concealed for professional reasons, that’s not a great model for scholarly behavior either.

I’m agnostic, a religion that does not require or push for missionary work, thankfully, and my take on evolution is similar to Sherlock Holmes’ opinion of the Copernican solar system; but I do view cognitive dissonance, when I detect it in myself, as something that should be interrogated and confronted. From what I can tell of Dr. Ross, he’s setting it aside.


…is a clever duck indeed. Announcing in Lincoln’s town, calling for a date to pull out of Iraq before Hillary does, with the press won over already – I wonder if he can survive, literally and politically, at this rate. The expectations are so high. All the grumbling I read about among black Democrats, that he’s not one of them, will go away, I think, after time – and a perception that he is not owned by anybody can’t hurt overall – but I’m sure there will always be plenty of people willing to shoot him, especially as the primaries heat up and if he gets into a RFK-like position where the nomination is his for the asking. Any Republican candidate is going to be severely handicapped – Mitt Romney keeps cropping up, but as a Mormon he has nearly as high a wall to climb as Obama does.

One of these days, though, I would like to see a strong Democratic candidate that is not a lawyer-senator. I’ve always thought the Presidency needs a little more than that. The position often just gets someone who would make an ok representative or senator, where they couldn’t do much more damage than state-wide; the President needs intangibles that Presidents generally never have.

None of the Presidents in my lifetime, for example, have seemed wise. They don’t look or act like people that possess wisdom. Impressive know-how, perhaps, but not wisdom. Clinton had the gift of charisma but I wouldn’t ask him what the meaning of life was with any great expectations. Lincoln is the only President post-founding that comes off to me as wise, as if he were an timeless alien dropped in to fix the problems of squabbling apes that had stumbled on gunpowder. Hillary has her husband’s charisma – or is it the other way around? – but I don’t get wisdom from her. Perhaps Obama will develop some, or at least he will figure out if it was wise to run for President this early in his career, even in these ideal conditions of a disgraced second term Republican.

Scotland didn’t work out

After discovering that EU3 cripples the technology advancement of the Far East, making it impossible for Japan to compete with Europe even after I conquer half of Asia ‘n the Pacific, I switched to Scotland in 1453.

The Scots didn’t work out that well either but for different reasons. Dislodging the English is impossible and this prevents the Highlanders from ever developing a decent tax base. Conquering Ireland is doable; taking out Brittany is also possible as France kept the Scots as an ace in the hole against England; I also helped the French take out Sweden. But in the end, it was too many little wars for too little territory. My reputation was so bad that Poland, completely landlocked at the time, earnestly declared war on me. I’ll try the Scots again some other time – there has to be a way to take out England.

So I’ve given up on dark horses for now and tried England. Much, much easier. I ended the Hundred Years War ahistorically by grabbing most of Brittany, taking Paris & making France a vassal, overrunning Scotland, and then luring Spain and Aragon into a war so I could seize all of Spain’s colonies in the New World (Spain colonized Manhattan and Delaware first, of all places). I also took all Iroquois lands – all of New England was colonized by 1470. What was left of Scotland and Brittany jumped into the fray, hoping to retake their lands, but I annexed them both and then sued the still formidable Spain and Aragon, who had tried the ol’ Spanish Armada trick and failed miserably, for peace. Unless Germany forms or Austria beats off the Ottomans, I’ll dominate the globe in another hundred years.

Homosexuality in the Bible

H has suggested that I share the little summary I wrote over the Bible’s take on homosexuality. Why not? There is an excellent, neutral overview of the topic online; a biased summary from my cranky perspective follows.

New Testament:

There is nothing conclusive in the gospels or Acts. Paul, in Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6.9-11, alludes to homosexuality being immoral, though there is more of a stress of watching out for general sexual immorality in these places than any specific acts. It is unclear if he is referring to committed, adulterous, or single relationships in Romans, and in 1 Corinthians he could be as easily referring to male prostitutes or masturbating; the translations vary and the NRSV waffles. He is not using the common Greek term, paderast, for male homosexuals, but arsenokoitai, which seems to be a portmanteau that Paul made up after reading Leviticus in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT.

Similar to the Corinthians passage is 1 Timothy 1:9-10, but as that epistle is a 2nd century Pauline forgery, it can be tossed. Also, Jude 1:7 talks about Sodom and Gomorrah but the translation is vague on whether it refers to homosexuality; in any case, Jude is also a 2nd century forgery.

Old Testament:

Genesis 19 is about inhospitality to visitors (in that rape is not very hospitable), not homosexuality. The modern term sodomy is a back-formation from the name of the city Sodom, not the other way around. See Matt 10:14-15 on Jesus’ take on Sodom and Gomorrah, which sets up mere non-raping inhospitality as worse. Also see Judges 19.22, where a similar story is retold but it ends with a heterosexual rape.

Various other bits of Genesis could be used to attack homosexuality but they’re fallacious arguments from silence; only heterosexual relationships, i.e. Adam and Eve, are referred to.

Leviticus 18:22 gets translated so many different ways that it’s difficult to say much about it, save that it is definitely prohibiting some form of male-male intercourse. What form, though, is open to debate. Leviticus 20.13 is more to the point, adding death as punishment. Given the same author wrote both, I’d say the Priestly author (of the well-established JEDP theory) of Leviticus thought those that performed homosexual acts should be killed outright. These seem to be the passages that Paul based his statements in Romans and 1 Corinthians on.

In Deuteronomy 23:17 and a few passages in 1 and 2 Kings there are proscriptions against ‘male cult prostitutes’ that used to be translated as ’sodomites’ in the KJV and other editions. Whether these pagan prostitutes in temples were servicing males or females is unknown.


The Priestly author of Leviticus appears to be the main source of anti-homosexual thought in the Bible, along with such charming directives as casting into exile any couples who have sex during the woman’s period, permission to take non-Israelites as slaves, a ban on haircuts and tattoos, and killing adulterers and kids who insult their parents outright. And they talk of family values today.

Despite Paul never being much for strictly following Mosaic code, he seems to like those lines in Leviticus and recasts the attitude for Christianity – now the kingdom of God is denied instead. The 2nd century forgers followed his example. Paul must have been frustrated. After converting Gentiles without requiring they follow Jewish custom, he found some of his congregations a little more free-spirited than he would personally like.

Jesus is never attributed a position on the matter either way; it’s just not an issue, and if he had been presented with the topic, there are plenty of passages in the gospels where he is depicted, using great rhetorical skill, as wriggling out of strictly following Mosaic law – eating on the Sabbath, for example. And given the more libertine Roman and Greek mores of the times, such an omission is understandable.

Shaughnessy’s Errors & Expectations

Shaughnessy’s 1977 magnum opus on basic writers is a difficult read, but it’s one of the best books on the nitty-gritty of composition I’ve read so far. For some reason I feel a lot more compassion for my students now after reading E&E. It’s hard not to feel like I’ve been relatively merciless before now. I have been in a steady migration toward a more laissez-faire, encouraging model of teaching that assumes I am at fault and not them; E&E is a shove in the same direction.

I like the formal division between BWs, intermediate, and advanced, and I particularly like how she points out that the ‘advanced’ students have their own serious set of errors to overcome. I wish I had read chapters 6 and 7 (along with a host of other works) before I’d written that CE paper, also. It would have been a good example of a book that leaned on Christenson’s levels of generality but never really looks at the paragraph completely, only as lying in a vague territory called ‘beyond the sentence’.

Her mixing of thoughtful, authoritative ‘70esque prose (which dances to and fro around the chapter topics in a typewriter’s brand of waltz, with a good command of metaphor) and endless student examples (in nearly a 50/50 mix) is difficult to argue with. It’s rare that I read a book without disagreeing with it on some major point; Shaughnessy is an exception.

Historically speaking, I suppose this text was a revelation to many concerning some of the problems facing basic writers and how to teach them – in particular, minority students, though Shaughnessy does not dwell on this overly and instead, rightly, I think, concentrates on the universality of the errors.

Of course, I’m fond of her take on summarizing, as she states it is the most practical form students can practice, though it is buried in a later chapter.

Her take on grammar is thankfully missing a lot of the modern-day emphasis on questionable empirical data suggesting grammar at the college level is a waste of time. Some students can improve in a semester, she says, and this is measurable, though not always in numbers; and there is no magical Method that will produce this. In this sense, the book is an exhaustive manual of the problems inherent in teaching composition. I’ll read it again, and probably again and again.

I was struck how she dabbles in templates, which we’ve been encouraged at the UoM to introduce in 1010 through Graff and Birkenstein’s recent They Say I Say. At the same time, though, she confesses some misgivings about imitation being product and not process-oriented – a fear I had last semester. Now I’m less uncomfortable with the notion.

I confess myself to enjoying books that employ old-school footnotes such as hers, though she does not use many; I just bought a copy of the first volume of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall as the library’s best copy with his footnotes in their original form was bound too tightly to read. Connors was right. Gibbon can write beautiful footnotes like lesser folk such as myself write lowly articles. More on him after the few years it will take me to read the damn thing.


I’ve lost all hope for John McCain. Seven years ago he was a potentially bright spot in a very dim presidential campaign, but in the interim I’ve watched him become an opportunistic Bush surrogate. He’s hiring the Swift Boat people and the sharks that gutted him in North Carolina for Bush in 2000 for his 2008 campaign… a good time for it, I suppose, while no one but junkies like myself and the papers are paying any attention. In true Bush form, he’s adding advisors that might elect him, but will definitely overwhelm him. I suppose his lesson learned from 2000 was ‘be more like George W. Bush’.

I hope McCain is trying a strategy similar to how Lincoln formed his Cabinets – freely appointing to high positions his potential rivals and people who helped him get elected, where 1) he could keep an eye on them 2) limit how they could attack him 3) force them to plot against each other to no great effect, and 4) always know the wrong course of action because they would advise it. Now historians think Lincoln wasn’t that great at picking generals, but c’mon – his first choice was Lee.

Europa Universalis 3

There has been a relative rut of good computer games lately, and when one appears to break the drought, it demands a lot of time from me. Europa Universalis 3 is a case in point. The game allows the player to control any nation that existed between 1453 and 1789 – the fall of Constantinople and the French revolution, respectively.

I spent at least an hour trying to decide. I could tell that the game was going to be epic – the task I chose would have to be epic as well.

I decided to play as Japan and start in 1453. Why? Well, I’ve always wondered what would have happened if the Japan had become imperialist before the turn of the 19th century – say, before 1588 when the Tokugawa dynasty begins. What if they had managed to conquer Korea, a dream of many a daimyo without much of a navy, and gone from there?

Right now in the game, it’s 1481. Japans controls Korea, Manchuria, Tibet, and about half of present-day China. A formidable if unstable Ming empire holds out, with southeast Asia and India a maze of little kingdoms (with Birat being the only one that has done anything save lose completely in a war with me). The horde in Mongolia is a vassal. Much of what today would be southern Russia is occupied, and revolting on occasion to no great effect. Taiwan, the Philippines, Guam, and Hawaii are Shinto colonies; California and Oregon are being mined for gold by Japanese settlers – the gold rush started in 1480 instead of 1864. An expedition to the Mississippi has made contact with the Cherokee, and my navy sailed past the Aztecs. I’ve got plans for them.

I played a short game as the Cherokee, too, but discovered that the game makes it virtually impossible for them to develop new government forms or much new tech. I did manage to give them the idea of expansion, and they conquered everything east of the Mississippi, but if I’d kept playing the Brits, the French, or the Spanish would have steamrolled them eventually.

The one thing I really like about EU3, and which makes it also frustrating, is that it is difficult and expensive to do anything worthwhile quickly. Sure, I can know a good course of action for Japan would be to expand aggressively in the Pacific, contain the Ming, and colonize North America before Europe does, but it’s enormously hard to send more than 100 settlers out a year without having inflation explode or getting mired in debt. Colonies aren’t worth much until they have around 1000 inhabitants (at which point they start dribbling taxes). Technology moves at a snail’s pace, and the multitude of small kingdoms makes dominating trade almost impossible.

Burton Mack’s Who Wrote the New Testament

Yet another entry in my reading list hits the dust.

I’m of two minds about Mack’s writing. On one hand he’s clearly brilliant. On the other hand, he’s very sure about things he can’t honestly be sure about.

He dates Luke to 120, for example – and I mean he DATES Luke to 120, not “Most scholars contend that Luke was written around 110-120″, but ‘Somewhere in the Aegean, around the year 120 C.E…” That doesn’t make any sense, especially since he’s a big believer in Q. The farther back one dates Luke, the more likely Luke has a copy of Matthew, which makes Q unnecessary. And he doesn’t say how he arrived at this extremely late date, either, or mention that the consensus is more like 80-90 or 75-95. Luke may have had a copy of Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities (which I am beginning to believe he did, and that Mark possibly had The Jewish Wars, in 75, giving impetus to the composition of ‘historical’ gospels) which would make the date of composition 93+, but why 120? Anyway, my discomfiture probably stems from his reliance on Q, so I’ll go on to the parts I liked.

His picture of the nascent Christian community is very well developed, although of course I wasn’t thrilled with the ‘Q community’ making an appearance. And I liked the idea that Christianity offered a new governmental system, as opposed to three failed systems – the temple-state, the Roman republic/empire, and the Greek city-state, post-Alexander. That dovetails with the Gibbon I’ve managed to get through so far; it is Christianity that sinks the pluralistic Romans (although I’ve always had a soft spot for the crazy theory that Paul was a Roman spy sent to disrupt the Jews by infiltrating one of their sects – it’s a clever explanation for all those weird escapes in Acts).

I also like how Mack treats citation of the OT in the new. First there is a period of largely opportunistic and desperate citing (what we see in the gospels and Paul’s letters) then there is a 2nd century period where apostolic forgeries start cropping up with more elaborate citations. But it is not until Marcion and Valentinus show up that figures like Justin Martyr, Ignatius, and Origen appear and go on the attack with a barrage of citation of the Hebrew scriptures. Where there were simple one-act citations before, now the cited text is transformed into the “Old Testament,” an entirely new text, theologically, creating an incredible compare/contrast pattern that can be used to divine/explain almost anything via cross-reference.

I did that this afternoon, actually. H mentioned the other day that someone had asked her if homosexuality is mentioned in the Bible. I didn’t remember it until today while I was finishing off Mack; then I looked into it. I ended up writing a little monograph just to keep all the citations straight in my head. Depending on what verses you cite, which translation you use, and how you interpret them, one could claim the Bible says all homosexuals should be put to death, or that the Bible has little or nothing to say about homosexuality at all. In this sense, all the textual inconsistencies grant the virtues of ambiguity. What we have is a handy divining pool that can produce whatever answer is needed/wanted – a very useful cultural tool, especially in America’s case.