On behalf of Iraqi Mandaeans

If you haven't already signed the Petition to help the Mandaeans attain refugee status, I urge you to consider doing so now.

You can learn more about the Mandaeans ("the last living Gnostics") of Iraq and their current plight at April DeConick's website on The Mandaeans.

The last I looked (on 12/26/07), 514 persons had signed the online petition so far . . . the goal is 1,000. Please read, and then do.


On the letteral sense of scripture

Over at Ancient Hebrew Poetry, John Hobbins links to a wonderfully outlandish Youtube video of televangelist/radio preacher Larry Ollison's "exegesis" (if that's the right word?) of Genesis 1.1 in the light of John 1.1 and Revelation 1.8, 1.11, and 22.13.

Never mind the impressive frequency of Dr. Ollison's howlers (on the difference between ρημα/rhema and λογος /logos, for example, or how the New Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek, or that no one -- not even ancient Hebrew scribes -- has ever [until now!] had any idea what the Hebrew particle את/et really means)! He declares that the את in the Bible's opening phrase, בראשית ברא אלהים את חשמים/bereshit bara elohim et hashamayim, refers to Jesus, on the grounds that the Greek references to Jesus as the Alpha (Α) and Omega (Ω) in the book of Revelation should be back-transliterated into the Hebrew alphabet's Aleph (א) and Tav (ת) -- not as individual letters, however, but as the word את -- so that the first sentence of the Gospel of John should be read: "In the beginning [of the book of Genesis] was the word [specifically, the word את = Jesus] and the word [את/Jesus] was with God [right there next to the word אלחים/God], and the word was God [because אלחים is, of course, plural]" . . . when, that is, the Bible is read in its (il)literately truthy letteral sense.

Never mind the buckets of egregious misinformation Dr. Ollison spews forth getting there! Never mind that, for this interpretation to work, John the Revelator's blatant misunderstanding of Jesus' words would be forever enshrined in Scripture! This is figural exegesis par excellence, right up there with the Epistle of Barnabas' (9.7-9) brilliantly linguistically inapt understanding of the number of Abraham's men (318 = τιη in Greek) as a reference to the first two letters of Jesus' name (ΙΗσους) and his cross (Τ)! Whatever else one might think of Dr. Ollison and his ministry, this is patristic exegesis at its dazzlingly dizzying Bible-Code-thumping dictation-theory-of-divine-inspiration-on-steroids best. And I mean that in the nicest way, really. Of course Origen could have exegeted circles around this guy with one metaphor after another tied behind his back! But the video is still a gem.

I don't know how much education in the biblical languages Dr. Ollison has actually had . . . and to view it in all its uproariously just-enough-to-be-dangerous glory, you really should take the time to absorb his whole show on The Hebrew Language . . . but the question does underscore the need for (and the timeliness of) a conversation like the one that's been going on lately in Biblioblogland about teaching and learning the biblical languages in seminaries (start here with [again] John Hobbins at Ancient Hebrew Poetry and follow the links there).

My own first advice to anyone contemplating going to seminary (not that anyone's every asked me for it, but if they did it) would be: if you can, get an undergraduate degree (or at least minor) in Greek and Hebrew first, and run ahead of the pack by the time you're in seminary.

Let me put it this way:

  • Beginning biblical Hebrew grammar: $35.
  • Hebrew-English interlinear Old Testament: $75.
  • Seminary education: $45,000.
  • Finding Jesus in the את in Genesis 1.1: priceless.


"All the news that fits"

This might seem a bit off-topic, but since I am currently teaching a course in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and since it is my blog, I'm going to allow it . . .

No doubt you've heard by now the story of British teacher Gillian Gibbons in Sudan who got into trouble for allowing her students to name a Teddy Bear that was the subject of a writing assignment Muhammad. According to the story as it's told here,

A 7-year-old student called Mohammad told Reuters this week he had suggested his own name be used for the bear.

In a writing exercise students were allowed to take the bear home and asked to keep a diary of what they did with the toy. These accounts were put together in a book entitled "My Name is Mohammad".

Never mind that, according to the story as it's told here, the boy "said he was not thinking of Islam’s Prophet when asked to suggest a name, adding most of the class agreed with his choice"; never mind that he also noted that "Gibbons had not discussed religion nor did she mention the Prophet"; it was too much of a coincidence for the protesters in Sudan who, according to the story as it's told here, were calling for her execution. Said local cleric Abdul-Jalil Nazeer al-Karouri, "a well-known hardliner",

This is an arrogant woman who came to our country, cashing her salary in dollars, teaching our children hatred of our Prophet Muhammad.

And she did this, evidently, by not discussing religion and failing to mention the Prophet (PBUH) in her classes in math, English, and spelling! The story goes on to say that

Hard-line clerics who hold considerable influence with Sudan's Islamic government, have sought to whip up public anger over the Gibbons' case, calling her actions part of a Western plot to damage Islam.

Frankly, in my opinion, there's no need for a Western plot to damage Islam; Muslims like these are doing a fine job of that on their own.

This is just one more example of a trend that my students have been discussing lately . . . you never seem to come across positive stories about Islam or Muslims in the news, only negative ones. Of course, part of the reason for that is the inherently negative bias of news media generally: good news is no news, after all. Which is why I was so pleased to see that Reuters, near the end of its report here, added this bit:

"When we heard we wanted to demonstrate immediately but some said we should wait and see what the concerned authorities find out," said Abdallah, a science student.

Shopkeeper Sabir Abdel Karim said that if Gibbons had not intended to insult Islam, an apology to Muslims would be enough to end the problem. "Any one can make a mistake and Muslims are forgivers. She will be forgiven and God will be the judge."

How many times has just this sort of sensible Muslim discourse gone
un(der)reported because it's so, well . . . sensible! . . . and for that very reason that much less newsworthy?


Almost makes me want to switch back to a Mac

In the comments to my post on Migne's Patrologia Graeca series, the following Very Useful Information is provided by Marco V. Fabbri, who writes:

Perhaps you would be interested to know that the Sibylline Oracles are available within the Pseudepigrapha module in the program Accordance for Macintosh. The good news is that they are tagged. The tags include parsing details, so that searches can be performed for uninflected forms, or for grammar details. I wrote the tags, so that I would be interested if you notice mistkaes [sic!] that I should correct.

This is good news for anyone interested in working with the Greek text of the SibOr (or any of the Pseudepigrapha, for that matter) . . . the ones who use a Mac, anyway. Thank you, Marco!


Buy this album . . .

. . . and then Go and Do Something (more) to help end the genocide in Darfur. Start here.


Book notes

Many thanks to rogueclassicism for mentioning, way back in early June, William Slater's (Bryn Mawr Classical) review of Eleanor Dickey's Ancient Greek Scholarship: A Guide to Finding, Reading, and Understanding Scholia, Commentaries, Lexica, and Grammatical Treatises, from Their Beginnings to the Byzantine Period. I bought the book and I have to say . . . for whatever it's worth . . . having seen it for myself now . . . I concur with the reviewer's prediction that "any serious student of Greek will want to possess it". It's the only one of its kind out there, and the materials for original-language reading practice that it includes make it all the more useful.

I was delighted to discover recently that Ernst Sackur's 1898 Sibyllinische Texte und Forschungen: Pseudomethodius, Adso und tiburtinische Sibylle was put back into print last year by Elibron Classics.

The collection of essays from the Third Enoch Seminar, meeting at Camaldoli in Italy two summers ago . . . Enoch and the Messiah Son of Man: Revisiting the Book of Parables, edited by Gabriele Boccaccini . . . is also now available. Given (as Dr. Jim West has already pointed out, and in so many words) that Everyone Who Is Anyone in Enoch studies has contributed to it, this is one book that no one who is at all interested in the question of "Son of Man" as a christological title can afford to ignore.

And I'm still trying to figure out why I could purchase a paperback edition of Peter Toohey's Reading Epic: An Introduction to the Ancient Narratives (London: Routledge, 1992) not all that long ago for a very reasonable $15.95, but I would have to shell out $125 today . . . which I won't, and not next week either . . . for the same author's (better) companion (!) volume Epic Lessons: An Introduction to Ancient Didactic Poetry (London: Routledge, 1996), still (11 years later!) available only in hardback. **Sigh** Go figure . . .


On Sibylline Oracles 1-2 (1)

The first two books in the critical editions of the SibOr are actually unseparated in the manuscripts and constitute a single work, marked in the Φ group of MSS as ἐκ τοῦ πρώτου λόγου/“from the first book” and in MS R of the Ψ group as ἐκ τοῦ δευτέρου λόγου/“from the second book” (since book 8 occupies the first position in Ψ). The critical editions’ reconfiguration of the manuscript tradition extends, in fact, into book 3 as well. “In most manuscripts the present SibOr 3 is introduced as an extract ‘from the second book, about God.’ Before verse 93 three manuscripts in the class Ψ insert the note ‘seek here the remnants of the second book and the beginning of the third’” (Collins, “Sibylline Oracles”, p. 359). Evidently all the MSS descend from a single damaged exemplar that lacked most of the original book 2 and the initial lines of book 3 (see Buitenwerf, Book III, pp. 66-71; Buitenwerf seems to me to go too far, however, when he posits a hypothetical lost original book 1 in place of the MSS’ first book [= the critical editions’ books 1 and 2] . . . but that's a subject for another post). The editors of the standard critical editions have simply perpetuated, for the sake of continuity of reference, the scholarly tradition — initiated by Betuleius in his 1545 editio princeps — of splitting the MSS’ first book into two in order to provide a viable replacement for the MSS’ “lost” second book (see Buitenwerf, Book III, p. 7).

In regard to its history of composition, however, SibOr 1-2 is generally held to have been two books: (1) a Jewish pseudepigraphon thought to have been produced in Phrygia around the turn of the Common Era, and (2) a 2nd-century Christian redaction of the earlier work, presumably also produced somewhere in Asia Minor. The current consensus identifies SibOr 1.1-323, 2.1-33, and 2.154-76 — together, these passages present a ten-part periodization of world history, from creation to the eschatological rule of the Jews — as the minimum amount of material assignable to the original Jewish edition; the rest of book 1 (lines 324-400), on Christ and the Jews, is attributed to the 2nd-century Christian redactor. This much would seem to be reasonably certain. But the precise extent of the Christian redaction of the rest of book 2, everyone agrees, is more difficult to determine and a matter of some debate, even if a number of obviously Christian passages can be discerned in it. According to Collins, the list of Christian passages in book 2 includes 2.45-55, 177-83, 190-2, 238-51, 311-12, and 264. “One passage, 2.154-76, is surely Jewish . . . . The remainder of Sibylline Oracles 2 could have been written by either a Jew or a Christian” (“Sibylline Oracles”, p. 330).

SibOr 1-2 differs from most other SibOr in that it does not present itself as a collection of oracles strung together more or less discontinuously, but as a sustained oracular narrative with close affinities to the historical review type of apocalypse (see e.g. Daniel 7-12, the Animal Apocalypse [= 1 Enoch 83-90], Jubilees 23, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch; on historical review apocalypses see John J. Collins, “Introduction: Towards the Morphology of a Genre” in idem [ed.], Apocalypse: The Morphology of a Genre. Semeia 14 [1979], pp. 1-20: 14, and in the same volume, idem, “The Jewish Apocalypses”, pp. 21-59: 30-6). Here the Sibyl divides universal history into ten γενεαί/“generations” or “races” (or perhaps better, “ages” or “eras”), five from creation to the flood and five from the flood to the eschaton, emphasizing flood and eschaton as parallel times. Although ten-part periodizations do very occasionally occur in early Jewish apocalyptic literature and are especially common in the SibOr (see e.g. the Apocalypse of Weeks [= 1 Enoch 93.1-10; 91.11-17], 11QMelch 7, and SibOr 3.156-61; 4.20, 47, 49-101; 7.97; 8.199.), the one in SibOr 1-2 is unique in its dependence on and doubling of the well-known “five ages of man” passage in Hesiod’s Works and Days 109-201.

The following summary rehearses the contents of SibOr 1-2 and identifies some of the problem areas that have raised dating and provenance issues (to be discussed in more detail in later posts):

Introduction: “Beginning from the first generation of articulate men / down to the last, I will prophesy all in turn, / such things as were before, as are, and as will come upon / the world through the impiety of men.”

Creation of the world and the first human couple, the serpent’s deception, and the expulsion from the garden, summarizing Gen. 2-4.

A catalog of four successively more degenerate generations, followed by a long account of the fifth and worst, the generation of the flood, including Noah’s preaching, the building of the ark, the flood, and the landing on Mount Ararat in Phrygia. The whole section, though summarizing Gen. 5-9, is clearly modeled after the “five ages of man” passage in Hesiod’s Works and Days 109-201.

A catalog of the 6th (Noah’s three sons) and 7th (the Tower of Babel) generations, summarizing Gen. 10-11; also based on Hesiod’s “five ages of man” passage, since the generation of Noah’s sons, in which the Sibyl also situates herself, is characterized as “first” and “golden” (1.284; see Hesiod, Works and Days 109). Evidently, then, the Sibyl is starting over with a second set of five generations, for a total of ten, but the expected 8th and 9th generations are missing. Instead, there follows:

An extensive and strongly anti-Judaic account of Jesus’ ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection, and the consequent fall of Judea to the Romans and exile of the Jews from the land.

Transitional passage: “When indeed God stopped my most perfectly wise song / as I prayed many things, he also again placed in my breast / a delightful utterance of wondrous words. / I will speak the following with my whole person in ecstasy / for I do not know what I say, but God bids me utter each thing.”

The ten-generation scheme resumes with the beginning of a long account of the tenth generation, listing signs of the approaching end, “raging earthquakes / and thunderbolts … destructions of men and bellowing oxen … robbing of temples”, etc. (2.6-7, 9, 14), anticipating the time “when the earth-shaking lightning-giver / will break the glory of idols and shake the people of / seven-hilled Rome” (2.16-18).

A long exhortation to enter the contest (ἀγών) for heavenly rewards that includes in 2.56-148 a recitation of Pseduo-Phocylides (PsPhoc) 5-79, found only in the Ψ group of MSS. Although PsPhoc is a Jewish work, most commentators regard this passage as having been added, as part of the contest section, by the Christian redactor, since 2.45-9, “For holy Christ will make just awards to these / and crown the worthy. But to martyrs he will give / an immortal treasure, to those who pursue the contest even to death. / He will give an imperishable prize from the treasure / to virgins who run well”, is so obviously Christian.

Continuation of the list of signs of the approaching end, beginning with “children born with gray temples from birth” (see Hesiod, Works and Days 181) and ending with the sudden appearance of Elijah. This section includes an evidently Jewish prediction that “the faithful chosen Hebrews will rule over / exceedingly mighty men, having subjected them / as of old, since power will never fail” (2.174-6) and equally evident Christian references to “blessed servants, as many as the master, when he comes, / finds awake” (2.180-1; see Matt. 24.42) and woe “for as many as are found bearing in the womb / on that day, for as many as suckle / infant children” (2.190-2; see Mt. 24.19).

A long account of the destruction of the world by a river of fire, the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment, the fiery punishment of sinners, and the reward of a new life on a purified earth for the righteous, to whom God “will also give / another thing. Whenever they ask the imperishable God / to save men from the raging fire ... he will pick them out again … and send them … to another eternal life with the immortals / in the Elysian plain where he has the long waves / of the deep perennial Acherusian lake” (2.330-8). This section is considered by some commentators to be an obvious summary of Apocalypse of Peter 2-14, and therefore Christian.

Conclusion, in which the Sibyl confesses her sins and prays to be rescued and given “a little rest” from the “holy giver of manna, king of a great kingdom”.


The Bible, Sibylline oracles, and divination

Reading Pieter W. van der Horst's article "Sortes: Sacred Books as Instant Oracles in Late Antiquity"* recently, two thoughts occurred to me:

1. I wonder how many Christians realize that randomly opening your Bible and taking the first verse your eyes happen to light on as a divine response to a problem or question is (a) a practice that is at least as old as Hellenistic times and (b) a form of divination that is not any different, functionally, from inspecting the liver of a sacrifical animal or interpreting the flight of birds or consulting Tarot cards or New Age channellers. Bibliomancy.

2. Although the official Roman collection of Greek Sibylline oracles appears to have functioned in precisely this way, the pseudepigraphic collections of Jewish and Christian Sibylline Oracles that the Church Fathers were familiar with apparently did not.

We are accustomed to referring to Sibylline oracles as unsolicited prophecies because they were not composed in response to a question posed to the prophet(ess) or the god (as, e.g., consultations of the Pythia/Apollo at Delphi). But they weren't read as unsolicited prophecies by their Roman handlers; quite the opposite: they were consulted in order to identify appropriate responses to crises deemed serious enough by the senate to instruct the official board of interpreters (originally duumviri/"2 men" but eventually rising to quindecemviri/"15 men") to approach them with questions.

The precise method of approach employed is never described. For instance, did the duumvirs read through the [Sibylline] books till they came on a significant passage or were they supposed to have an index? Alternatively, did they employ some method like the sortes vergilianae, unrolling the books at random and lighting on a particular passage? (Parke, Sibyls, p. 191).

Either way, though, they were read, against the grain of their composition, as solicited prophecies.

Not so with the Church Fathers' use of Sibylline oracles. (And let me mention in passing that there appears to have been very little overlap [if any] between the Sibylline oracles that made up the official Roman collection and those that the Church Fathers knew.) It was the Hebrew prophets who provided the model for Patristic use of the Sibylline Oracles (among, i.e., those Church Fathers who regarded the Sibylline Oracles as inspired by God . . . not all of them did). Roman reception of Sibylline oracles was anisomorphic with their composition: unsolicited prophecies were read as solicited ones. In contrast, Patristic reception of Sibylline oracles and their (early Jewish and Christian) composition were isomorphic: the Hebrew prophets served as a model for both writing and reading Jewish and Christian Sibylline oracles. Nothing (at least nothing I have come across) suggests that the Jewish and Chrisitian Sibylline oracles were ever actually used for divination by Jews or Christians in late antiquity.

This seems a bit odd to me, given van der Horst's quite detailed catalog of divination-by-scripture among Jews and Christians (as well as Greeks and Romans) in late antiquity. But perhaps, although viewed as inspired by God, they were also perceived as too gentile/pagan to be legitimately consulted; they would, after all, most likely have been read as (religiously) Greek, not Jewish or Christian, compositions. On the other hand, when did a little thing like that ever stop some people?

*Pieter W. van der Horst, "Sortes: Sacred Books as Instant Oracles in Late Antiquity", in L. V. Rutgers et al. (eds.), The Use of Sacred Books in the Ancient World (Leuven: Peeters, 1998) 143-173.


Migne's Patrologia Graeca series and other Very Useful Books

Steven C. Carlson at Hypotyposeis provides links to the places where Mischa Hooker provides links to numerous Very Useful Books for the study of the Bible, Judaism, Christianity via Google Book Search, as well as to Greek and Latin literature generally. Especially nice, from the perspective of this blog, at least, and because I've always had Too Much Trouble locating the volumes I needed, is the convenience provided by the index to Migne's Patrologia Graeca, as well as the several Pseudepigrapha links.

I would like to add . . . links to the full texts of Alexandre's invaluable Excursus ad Sibyllina, and of Geffcken's critical edition of the SibOr.

And many thanks also to Mischa Hooker for the link to Elpenor's elegant pages devoted to texts and translations from Migne's PG.


On the generic diversity of the Sibylline Oracles

The author of the anonymous prologue to the Φ recension of the SibOr writes:

Ἔδοξε . . . κἀμὲ τοὺς ἐπιλεγομένους Σιβυλλιακοὺς χρησμοὺς σποράδην εὑρισκομένους καὶ συγκεχυμένην τὴν τούτων ἀνάγνωσιν καὶ ἐπίγνωσιν ἔχοντας εἰς μίαν συνάφειαν καὶ ἁρμονίαν ἐκθέσθαι τοῦ λόγου, ὡς ἂν εὐσύνοπτοι τοῖς ἀναγιγνώσκουσιν ὄντες τὴν ἐξ αὐτῶν ὠφέλειαν τούτοις ἐπιβραβεύσωσιν.
"Having found them scattered, and reading and knowledge of them in a state of confusion, I was determined to publish the collected Sibylline Oracles in a unified and orderly volume, so that, now that they are readily available to readers, they might get the benefit of them" (SibOr Prologue 8-13).

The unity that the 6th-century CE χρησμολόγος/"oracle-collector" imposed on his σποράδην . . . καὶ συγκεχυμένην/"scattered and confused" materials would seem to consist of little more than his εἰς μίαν συνάφειαν καὶ ἁρμονίαν ἐκθέσθαι τοῦ λόγου/"publishing them in a unified and orderly volume", i.e., (more or less) just as he found them, only now between the two covers of a single codex. At least, (most of) what he archived doesn't appear to be substantially different from what we know Lactantius had been reading nearly two centuries earlier. As Buitenwerf notes, "Each time Lactantius announces that he is going to quote a different Sibyl [than the one(s) he has just previously quoted], the oracle he quotes can indeed be found in another book of the extant [Φ] collection" (Book III, p. 82). Kudos to Φ's nameless Byzantine Christian editor, then, for (evidently) keeping his own finger out of the pie.

Whatever unity the Φ recension of the SibOr might have beyond that, however, it's not generic. Five of its eight constituent λόγοι/"books" (SibOr 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8) could, I suppose, be labeled "oracle collections", but I'm still not convinced that that's a very accurate or helpful descriptor for all of these texts. Some are more coherent and cohesive (and narrative) than others (SibOr 7, little more than a series of not necessarily related fragments, comes closest, IMHO, to deserving the appellation "oracle collection"), and each is at least as different from the others as any five early Jewish and Christian apocalypses, or any five modern American novels, would be from one other. If these are oracle collections, then, like the apocalypse, or the novel, the oracle collection would have to be regarded as an inherently mixed genre, by which I mean both (1) that its incorporation of a variety of genres is basic to its own generic identity, and (2) that any two given examples of the genre may or may not look anything at all like one other. One book in the collection, SibOr 6, is not an oracle collection, but an early Christian hymn. Finally, books 1-2 belong together as a single work, but it isn't an oracle collection either: it's a didactic poem masquerading as a historical review apocalypse disguised as a Sibylline prophecy.

The Φ recension of the SibOr is often mistaken for an oracle collection, but I would argue that it's not . . . in spite of the fact that it was clearly so regarded by its late ancient/early medieval readers . . . rather, it's an anthology that includes oracle collections alongside texts belonging to other genres. (By the same token, are gospels biographies or not? It all depends on what you mean by "biography". It's a similar kind of question about generic classification, here.) Dactylic hexameter verse, figurations of the Sibyl, and archive fever are, inter alia, what hold the gathered materials together, not literary genre.


Moving beyond New Testament Greek

Two new Yahoo! discussion groups that aim to encourage reading Greek outside the New Testament box both look good.

1. From Dr. Jim West I learned of the recent creation of Reading the Apostolic Fathers, whose moderator, David McKay, writes:

This group is for people who would like to expand their facility in reading New Testament Greek by reading through The Apostolic Fathers, whose writings appeared a little after the completion of the New Testament.

And he continues in his inaugural e-mail:

This group is for people who would like to improve their Greek by reading something other than the New Testament, and a few of us hope to read through some of the Apostolic Fathers, commencing with the Didache. I'm up to chapter 3, but the first few chapters are short!

I'm reading from Michael Holmes' Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations, but you can access the Greek text at ccel.org, with the Didache being available at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/apostolicfathers/.

[But the link appears to be bad; it's actually here.]

Why read The Apostolic Fathers? They are an important source of information about the early days of the church immediately following the New Testament period. Some people think they give us insights on how to interpret the New Testament, while others think they show how quickly the church strayed from the path.

Why read them in Greek? There's something about reading a book in its original language, if you are able. Even if you're a beginner, like me, you will gain something you can't get from a translation.

It is hopefully a way to improve your knowledge of Greek and increase your enjoyment of reading the NT in Greek.

. . . and I found what he had to say next a bit shocking . . .

F F Bruce and J I Packer have pointed out there's something odd about thinking you can read Greek, if you can actually only read one book in Greek! Packer is rather scornful of people who translate the NT who have never read anything else in Greek, but he candidly admitted that most of his ESV translation colleagues are in this boat!

I am shocked! just shocked! Evidently the ghost of the idea of Holy Ghost Greek is still roaming the halls . . .

2. From Brandon Wasson at Novum Testamentum I learned of the commencement of Greek Geeks, moderated by Bryan Cox, who writes:

Greek Geeks is a discussions group for those who have learned or are in the process of learning ancient Greek, classical and/or Koine, and would like a place to discuss various aspects of the language. Discussions of any type of ancient Greek works are welcomed and encouraged.

* * *
If you're new to Greek, ask questions and don't be intimidated. If you've been around Greek forever, share a bit of your knowledge and experience by helping to answer some questions. Have an idea for a topic, project, trivia, game, or whatever, then speak up and let us all hear about it!

Good luck and Godspeed to both groups!


4 ways good things come in 3s

(1) The 3 most important factors in real estate: Location, location, location.

(2) The 3 most important faculties of an orator, according to Demosthenes: Delivery, delivery, delivery (ὑπόκρισις, ὑπόκρισις, ὑπόκρισις).

(3) How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

(4) How do you learn a dead language well? Read, read, read.

6 degrees of Homer and Hesiod

As a follow-up to my previous post on the importance of laying a solid foundation in Homeric Greek for reading the SibOr:

(1) I came across an item mentioned briefly in passing by Chris Weimer at Thoughts on Antiquity that led me to

(2) the front page of The BibleWorks Blog where, after a little browsing, I found

(3) an announcement posted by Michael Hanel about a user-database of the entire Homeric/Hesiodic corpus that can be imported into BibleWorks, made possible (and free!) by the generous dedication of

(4) John Jackson at Handheld Classics, who also, incidentally, offers some excellent and compelling 2nd-hand advice on efficient 2nd- (or 3rd- or 4th-)language learning; and not only that, but

(5) a surprisingly wide variety of other user-created BibleWorks files by (no doubt) equally dedicated and generous persons is available here. It all seems too good to be true, and

(6) if this isn't also a shameless plug for BibleWorks, then I don't know what is!


On preliminary studies

It's one thing to read the SibOr in translation, and another thing entirely to read them in Greek, especially if the Greek you're most familiar with is NT/Koine, and prose. That they're composed in dactylic hexameter verse isn't so much of a problem (the metrical conventions are learned easily enough), but the archaic/arcane morphology and vocabulary that come along with it can be daunting.

The best advice I ever got about learning how to read patristic Greek well was: begin by immersing yourself in the great Attic orators. Why? Because they set the lexical, rhetorical, and stylistic standards that so many Church Fathers aspired to emulate, that's all. Similarly, if you want to learn how to read the SibOr well, you should begin by immersing yourself in Homer. Here are three good places to start:

  • Allen Rogers Benner, Selections from Homer's Iliad (New York: Irvington Publishers, 1931).
  • Clyde Pharr, Homeric Greek: A Book for Beginners (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985), rev. John Wright.
  • P. A. Draper, Iliad, Book 1 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002).

Even among the OT Pseudepigrapha, the SibOr are overwhelmingly under-read, and that's surely mostly due to their (actual or perceived) peripherality to biblical studies, more narrowly construed. Still, I wonder how much their marginalization might also be due to the (perceived) difficulty, or at least strangeness, of the kind of Greek they're written in? Form and content would seem to be totally anisomorphic here: God's own Word in truly pagan dress. Are the SibOr too pagan, in language as well as in (ostensible) authorship, to be more than an antiquarian curiosity, a literary/theological dead end? Would the SibOr have more of an audience today if they had only come down to us in more maddeningly fragmentary condition, in more fashionably exotic languages like Ethiopic or Coptic?

If there were a scriptural canon of ancient Greek literature, the Homeric corpus would be its Torah. We might then think of the Jewish and Christian Sibyls as aspiring to be (respectively) its Jeremiah and Matthew. That alone should be worth the price of admission, I'd think.

Ἄγε Ὁμηρίδης ὢν πιστὸς ἀναγίγνωσκε/"Go and read, being a loyal admirer of Homer". You might be surprised at the extent to which facility in reading dactylic hexameter verse can open up new windows on early Jewish and Christian literature.

UPDATE (2.4.07) Also well worth considering are these two recently developed resources for learning Homeric Greek that I came across lately . . .

  • Frank Beetham, Beginning Greek with Homer: An Elementary Course based on Odyssey V (London: Bristol Classical Press, 1996).
  • Raymond V. Schoder, S.J. and Vincent C. Horrigan, S.J., A Reading Course in Homeric Greek, Book 1 (Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing, 2004), revised, with additional materials by Leslie Collins Edwards.

. . . both of which (like the volume by Draper listed above) are designed to function "teacherlessly", if need be.


On Syriac and Arabic Sibylline Oracles

In a comment on my 10.2.07 post, bulbul raises the question of "the transmission of SibOr in Syriac and Arabic Christian milieux". I must confess that this intriguing subject lies outside both my (current) linguistic competence and my present line of inquiry into the Greek SibOr tradition, but here are a couple of leads I've come across in that direction, for anyone who might be interested. And if anyone has anything to add, please do!

  • S. Brock, "A Syriac Collection of Prophecies of the Pagan Philosophers", Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica 14 (1983) 203-46.
  • idem, "Some Syriac Excerpts from Greek Collections of Pagan Prophecies", Vigiliae Christianae 38 (1984) 77-90.
Buitenwerf, Book III (in my "Essential Reading" list, see right) p. 5 n. 1 provides some more references to other non-Greek SibOr, including:
  • M. J. L. Young/R. Y. Ebied, "An Unrecorded Arabic Version of a Sibylline Prophecy", Orientalia Christiana Periodica 43 (1977) 279-307.
For still more such references, see DiTomasso, Bibliography (also in "Essential Reading") pp. 843-4.


This should be good.

James Davila's online Old Testament Pseudepigrapha course is up and running again. Woohoo!


Reading the Sibyl again for the first time

The MS tradition of the Jewish and Christian Sibylline Oracles (SibOr) consists of three interrelated collections, 14 books in all, of unsolicited oracles purportedly uttered by the Sibyls -- legendary prophetesses from the heroic age of Greek mythology -- but actually composed and compiled between the 2nd century BCE and the 7th century CE by an unknown number of anonymous Jewish and Christian "chresmologoi" ("oraclers") who transformed the Greek oracle-collection into a useful vehicle for Jewish and Christian apologetics and polemics.

Unlike most other texts that have come to be categorized as Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (OTP), the Jewish and Christian SibOr are not attributed to a Jewish patriarch or prophet but to a well-known gentile/pagan figure. Aside from these oracles, which have come down to us remarkably intact, all things considered, only fragments are left (mainly quotations in patristic writings) of what must once have been a thriving Jewish literary industry of writing under various Greek pseudonyms: Aristeas, Hecataeus, Hystaspes, Menander, Phocylides, Tages, and of course the great names of the classical tradition, Homer and Hesiod, Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles, etc. Like the other less well-preserved examples of this generically diverse group of texts, the Jewish and Christian SibOr take their stand on the borderlines and at the intersections of Greek, Jewish, and eventually Christian worldviews in late antiquity.

The standard collection of the SibOr derives from three distinct but interrelated MS traditions, conventionally labelled Phi, Psi, and Omega.

1. The Phi MSS contain an anonymous prose prologue and eight books, numbered 1-8.

2. The Psi MSS contain the same eight books, but they lack the prologue and begin with bk. 8, followed by bks. 1-7; in one Psi MS (R) the books are renumbered accordingly (i.e., Psi bk. 1 = Phi bk. 8, Psi bk. 2 = Phi bks. 1-2, Psi bk. 3 = Phi bk. 3, etc.).

3. The Omega MSS contain bks. 9 (= Phi bk. 6; 7.1; 8.218-428) and 10 (= Phi bk. 4) and four new books, 11-14, not included in the other collections.

Because the Omega bks. 9 and 10 are redundant, they are not presented separately in the critical editions, with the result that the standard collection of the SibOr (as represented, e.g., in Geffcken's critical edition and Collins' ET) consists of 12 books numbered 1-8 (in Phi) and 11-14 (in Omega).

Of these 12 books, only three -- SibOr 3, 4, and 5 -- tend to be included in modern collections of the OTP. This is because modern collections of the OTP tend to be conceived as collections of texts for the study of early Judaism, and SibOr 3-5 are the only books of the SibOr that are regarded as originally Jewish compositions, with little or no Christian redaction. (Collins' ET of the complete SibOr in vol. 1 of Charlesworth's OTP is the exception that proves the rule.)

But -- as Davila, de Jonge, Kraft, and others have been arguing for years now -- the reason we have (most of) the OTP in the first place is because Christians (not Jews) thought it was useful to pass them down to us. The category "Old Testament Pseudepigrapha" itself is an overtly Christian category. As far as study of the SibOr, specifically, is concerned, to misconstrue the OTP as a collection of early Jewish literature is to marginalize most of the SibOr as too Christian to be included, even though the earliest extant (Phi) collection of the SibOr (without which we would not have had access to the full text of SibOr 3-5) presents itself to us as a decidedly Christian compilation! As a consequence of this misconstruction of the OTP, most of the SibOr (1-2, 6-8, and 11-14) not only are not as well-known as the "obviously" Jewish SibOr 3-5, they are hardly even noticed at all, and almost might as well not exist, for all the attention that has been paid to them (apart from the famous ICHTHYS acrostic at SibOr 8.217-250, the long shelf life of which, again, only goes to prove the rule).

So the purpose of this weblog is to invite you to explore along with me ways to (1) view the more familiar SibOr 3-5 a bit differently -- as parts of a late antique Christian compilation -- (2) revisit the question of the religious affiliation(s) of some of the other, less familiar SibOr, especially SibOr 1-2 and 8 (since they figure in my forthcoming dissertation on the Jewish and Christian editions of SibOr 1-2), and
(3) expand scholarly (re)construction of the intertextures of the Jewish and Christian SibOr beyond apocalyptic literature (the primary rubric under which they have been studied so far) to include didactic poetry, myths, oracles, paraenesis, philosophy, prophecy, sermons, wisdom literature, etc., as well.


What's been missing from the internet . . .

A weblog devoted to scholarly discussion of the Jewish and Christian Sibylline Oracles and related literature . . . if I ever get a round tuit . . . !