Saturday, December 18, 2004

THE "HOW TO READ A SCHOLARLY PAPER" DISCUSSION has been going on among Bibl- ..., uh, bibli- ..., er, you know, those guys, for some time. Mark Goodacre has a detailed roundup with lots of good links and thoughts. I keep meaning to write up a brief guide for our postgraduates on how to read a conference paper. Maybe if I ever get around to it I'll post it online. Here are a few random thoughts, some of which may already have been said, since I haven't been keeping up with the discussion.

[Damn Blogger! I wrote out this whole post from notes I had saved previously, and when I tried to save the complete post, Blogger ate it and left me with nothing but my old notes. Grrr. This is the reconstructed version - which, to be fair, is better than the lost one. But if you ever want to save a substantial post before posting, always copy it before you hit the Save button.]

1. I nearly always read a printed paper rather than presenting it from notes or memory. But I don't just read from the article manuscript: I go over the whole thing carefully to try to make sure the thought flows well for an oral presentation, that there isn't a lot of extraneous detail (isn't it annoying when someone keeps reading out lists of primary references?), that important footnote content is moved into the presentation, and that the paper is cut to fit the time available with an eye toward including the substance and the main arguments and dropping anything that isn't central. Sometimes I throw in a joke or two as well.

I don't like to give extemporaneous presentations because it's too easy to forget an important nuance or accidentally drop something I wanted to say. It's also harder to keep track of the time. But maybe that's just how my mind works. I used to be a professional actor but, rather than making me want to do spontaneous presentations, it makes me want to (and I hope better able to) give presentations of a written text which keep the audiences' attention.

2. I almost always pass out a paper handout that has an outline of the presentation with the main structural points and the main arguments, any necessary lists of primary references, and the full text of any critically important primary-text passages.

3. I don't like Power Point for a number of reasons. First, as I like to say to my students, a paper handout doesn't crash and have to be rebooted just as you're supposed to be starting your presentation. And its fonts always work. Second, a paper handout leaves the listener with the basic arguments and primary references in a permanent format that's easy to carry home and ponder later. Third, I just don't like the way the slide format of PowerPoint herds one in the direction of sound bites and a jumpy presentation. (For more on that, see the article PowerPoint is Evil.)

Granted, the papers I present usually aren't to huge audiences and I rarely need more than 50 copies of handouts, often fewer. If I gave papers on, say, the Synoptic Gospels which required hundreds of handouts, I might feel differently.

Also, some might object that PowerPoint allows one to include neat, and sometimes very useful, graphics. Fair enough, but neat graphics can also deteriorate all too easily into cute ones, and useful graphics can usually be accommodated on a paper handout. I've even been known to throw in a Dilbert cartoon or the like on mine once in a while.

Besides the paper handout, I normally post the full text of the oral versions of my conference papers online. If you're just starting to present at conferences, you probably shouldn't do this. But if you've been publishing and presenting papers for a while, it's a bonus for your audience (and anyone else) to have access to them after the presentations.

4. Very important: If you do read a printed text, make sure to read it aloud to yourself at least once before you present it. First, this will allow you to time it and find out if it's too short or (more likely) too long, so you can adjust accordingly. Few things at conferences irritate me more than a presenter who goes on so long that there's no time for questions or, worse, who goes into someone else's time slot. Sloppy, unprofessional, and too common.

Second, the first time or two you do a dry run reading, it's a good idea to have someone else, such as a spousal unit or patient friend listen to you, just to get feedback not on content, but on presentation. There's a strong temptation to speak too fast in order to fit everything in. Don't do this. You should feel as though you're speaking slightly uncomfortably slowly. That's the best speed for your audience to take it in. Also, don't mumble. Project your voice from your diaphragm, not your upper chest. If you don't know what that means, find a friend who knows something about public speaking and ask him or her to show you.

Third, reading aloud will alert you to infelicities, typos, gaps, poor grammatical constructions, thoughts that flow poorly, and bits that don't just make sense, all of which you would otherwise miss. Quite likely after doing this you will want to go back not only to the oral version, but even to the article to make a few corrections.

These are just my own rules for giving a paper and they may or may not work for you. If not, find an approach that fits your own style. But some of the above may well be useful.

Hmmm ... maybe I'll just refer our postgraduates to this post.

Oh and, Mark, I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one who daydreams about Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Friday, December 17, 2004

DONE BUT NOT FINISHED: The Book has just been sent to The Publisher - all 210,000 words, plus bibliography. I learned long ago that a book is never finished until I actually hold the final product in my hands. As I've said before, I'm very grateful to the University of St. Andrews and the Arts and Humanities Research Board for their support.

I don't doubt that The Series Editor and The Reader(s) will have Suggestions For Improvement in due course (and I don't even want to think about the indexing), but for now I'm immensely relieved to set it aside and think about other things. My holiday break starts this evening, with an agenda that includes putting up shelves with my wife, playing with my son, reading fiction, and generally not working on The Book. As for the fiction, I'm rereading Stephen R. Donaldson's First and Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, since I recently bought his latest: The Runes of the Earth, the seventh book in the series, with three more projected. And Neal Stephenson's The System of the World, the final volume of his Baroque Cycle, is in the queue as well.

Oh yes, and there's blogging of course. One of my goals during the break is to update the long neglected links page, so if you've found any dead links, please drop me a note.
THE VULCAN SALUTE - a Kabbalistic ritual gesture?
QUMRAN EXCAVATION UPDATE - The Jerusalem Post has a long and detailed article ("A Crack in the Theory") on the recent excavation of Qumran by Yitzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg and the controversial theories they have formulated around it. Excerpts:
AFTER 10 years of work at Qumran, when Magen and Peleg's crew reached the bottom layer of the large pool, they were stunned to uncover a previously unseen white sediment. The powder has turned out to be the most significant clue yet to the Qumran mystery, they say.

"It was the most important thing ever found at Qumran: the bottom of the pool has some three tons of high-quality clay," Peleg told the Post. "We started to understand the site - there were no Essenes."

Qumran in the Second Temple period was not much more than a small, dusty, muddy, and smoky pottery-industry work station, devoid of spirituality, according to the clay sediment in conjunction with their other findings, he says.

The finding of "buckets and buckets" of burned dates also led the archeologists to confirm that the only other activity going on at Qumran was the production of date honey, stored in small ceramic vessels made there.

Initially, to check that the powder was indeed viable clay, the archeologists threw the fine chalk-colored residue into a vat and added water. Then they delivered the clay to a potter and asked her to fire away. The potter gave the clay a quick thumbs-up. Her first vase adorns Magen's Jerusalem office, together with dozens of handmade drawings of Qumran artifacts.


Considering that the texts are so diverse, that there are often numerous copies of the same text written in different styles, that some texts contradict each other, and taking into account the regional migration patterns during that period, Magen and Peleg say the natural conclusion is that the scrolls didn't come from one library or even from Jerusalem libraries alone, but from synagogues and libraries all over. As such, they constitute the broadest possible representation of Second Temple Jewish thought, and not just the Judaism of the Essenes, or of any one sect or geographical area.

Many scholars have long held that there were three main sects of Jews in the Second Temple period: the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the Essenes. Reconsidering that the scrolls are a broad representation of Judaism could support a theory that there were actually dozens of streams, the authors add. "The Essenes may have been one of several groups that wrote the scrolls.

I wish the sentence in bold-font (my emphasis) were right, but I just can't see it. The high density of sectarian works, the lack of other viewpoints such as pro-Hasmonean ones (e.g., no 1-2 Maccabees), and the lack of Greek texts all mark the Qumran library as a sectarian collection. I think Magen and Peleg are probably right that it's a collection of separate libraries that have been consolidated, but they were sectarian libraries to start with. I've been saying this for years.

The fact that sectarians converged on this point to deposit their religious libraries would certainly imply that the site had some sort of sectarian connection to start with, but if the archaeology indicates not, that whole aspect will need to be rethought. I look forward to reading their report when it comes out and to listening to the reactions of other archaeologists.
SIX SPECIAL LECTURES IN HONOR OF GEZA VERMES, which were presented in Oxford last June on his eightieth birthday, are now available on the Journal of Jewish Studies website. Congratulations, Geza!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

ANTIQUITIES LOOTING in Israel and the West Bank. It just goes on and on:
Grave robbers ransack Holy Land history
Hundreds of archaeological sites raided every year

By Megan Goldin
Updated: 3:38 p.m. ET Dec. 15, 2004

HEBRON, West Bank - As night falls, grave robbers fan out across the southern West Bank hills on a macabre mission.

Armed with metal detectors, shovels and pick axes, the thieves unearth graves last touched thousands of years ago and scoop up whatever loot they can find before slipping into the night, leaving broken pottery and scattered skeletons behind.

�The damage is irreparable,� said Amir Ganor, the head of the Israel Antiquities Authority robbery division. �It is not like a forest that burns down and can be replanted. If an antiquities site is robbed, then it is destroyed for good.�


Wednesday, December 15, 2004

DAVE KOPEL e-mails:
I noticed your question about the source of my statement regarding the Talmud reference to Syrians having droit du seigneur. It's from Rashi, and appears in a footnote of the Vilna Talmud from Mesorah Pubs. The material will appear (properly cited) in a book I'm writing on religious attitudes towards self-defense.

Thanks, Dave, for taking the time to reply.

If it's in Rashi, then the claim is much later than the Talmud. The Talmud does assert that gentile authorities inflicted this custom on Jews in b. Ketubot 3b (pointed out to me by reader Joshua Waxman). But there's no mention of the Syrian government (or the beheading woman) in that passage and the Soncino edition notes (for what their worth) apply it to the Romans. I don't know; I'm not a Talmudist. But even if the Talmud did say this about the Syrian government, it was edited many centuries after the Seleucid period. As far as I know, there is no contemporary evidence to indicate that the Seleucid government used droit du seigneur as a policy toward Jews and I think it's very unlikely. If you want to claim this (repeated here), you should back it up with primary sources from the Seleucid period. I doubt that there are any. You can make your point, that Jewish tradition has historically recognized the right - indeed the duty - of self-defense and resistance of evil, without distracting from it by including this dubious legend as a fact.

Good luck with your book.
THE REMARKABLE LIFE OF SEMITIST AND POLYMATH CYRUS H. GORDON is profiled by Professor Gary A. Rendsburg for the SBL Forum. Excerpt:
I come now to the most characteristic trait of Gordon: his broad horizons. I think it is safe to say that no scholar of the Bible, certainly no one whom I have mentioned in this paper (with the possible exception of Gaster), had such broad horizons as Gordon. The list of fields in which he worked and made important contributions is simply staggering: field archaeology, glyptic art, cuneiform law, Amarna letters, Bible, Hebrew language, Ugaritic, Aramaic magic bowls, Nuzi tablets, Minoan Linear A, Homer and Bible, and on and on. The list of subjects that he taught includes even more fields: Egyptology, Coptic, Hittite, Hurrian, Sumerian, Classical Arabic, and more. Gordon was exceptionally proud that, beyond the usual cadre of Bible and Semitics people, he produced the best of America's Hittite, Hurrian, and Sumerian scholars: Harry Hoffner in Hittite, Fred Bush in Hurrian, and David Owen in Sumerian. Another case in point: Gordon was very proud of his student Loren Fisher, who distinguished himself in Ugaritic studies especially, but whom Gordon trained in a variety of subjects, including Coptic. Gordon loved to relate how it was Fisher who taught James Robinson Coptic when both were on the faculty at Claremont, and of course Robinson went on to become one of this country's leading experts on the Nag Hammadi texts.

Many years ago, while still an undergraduate, I nearly dropped out of the field of biblical studies, but reading Gordon's book Forgotten Scripts: The Story of Their Decipherment persuaded me to stay.
MARK GOODACRE notes the good news that the Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism is publishing again and the current articles are available online.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

REQUEST FOR HELP: I've mentioned that I'm doing the final proofreading for The Book, which I intend to send off to The Publisher by the end of the week. I'm stuck on a reference. The problem article is
George MacRae, "The Coptic Testament of Abraham," Studies on the Testament of Abraham (ed. George W. E. Nickelsburg; SBLSCS 6; N.p.: Scholars Press for the Society of Biblical Literature, 1976)

I have a photocopy of this but the last page is missing. The article begins on p. 327. I'm pretty sure it ends on p. 340, but not absolutely certain. If you have this book handy and would check it and drop me an e-mail with the exact pagination, I would be very grateful.

I'll even throw in a free subscription to PaleoJudaica.

UPDATE: Pp. 327-40 was correct. My thanks to Stephen Goranson, who gets the free subscription to all 2005 PaleoJudaica posts, to be accessed at Can you beat that?

Well, maybe.
MARK GOODACRE writes in favor of keeping "biblioblogger," and I have to say I'm sympathetic to his argument from emergent order. He also notes what seems to be first use of the term in David Meadows's Rogue Classicism.

Meanwhile, Eric Sowell has been reduced to expletive deletion when he mentions us.
REBECCA LESSES of the Mystical Politics blog has posted the abstract of her SBL paper, "'He Shall Not Look at a Woman': Gender in the Hekhalot Literature." I take a slightly different line in my book Descenders to the Chariot, pp. 279-81 (I argue that is possible that there were female Hekhalot mystics). But everyone seems to think I'm wrong.

Rebecca also has an interesting post on exorcisms and amulets in present-day Israel.
Western Wall Hill - Out; Temple Period Finds - In (Arutz Sheva)
16:26 Dec 13, '04 / 1 Tevet 5765

Jerusalem city engineers will take down the hill jutting out from the Western Wall, replacing it with a bridge. Archaeologists expect to find treasures, such as a tall gate from the Second Temple.

The Jerusalem Municipality has decided to take down the hill that leads up from the Western Wall (Kotel) entrance to the Temple Mount, for fear that it might otherwise collapse. The walkway up the hill leads to the Mughrabim Gate, which is currently the only entrance for Jews to the Temple Mount. The city plans to replace the hill with a bridge that will lead into the Mughrabim Gate.

The plans are a bonanza for students of Jerusalem history, as the removal of the hill will uncover an eight-meter high gate leading into the Temple Mount. The gate, dating from the period of the Second Temple, is known as Barclay's Gate, after the 19th-century American consul who first identified it.


Articles from the Associated Press and the Jerusalem Post also cover the story, but with less about the archaeology angle.
BS BLOGGERS? Now there's a thought.

Monday, December 13, 2004

"LET THERE BE LIGHT" - A Hannukah display of ancient oil lamps in the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. The article has some nice pictures.
JUDAS MACCABEUS ON THE WEB is a new site belonging to Tim Spadling. I've only skimmed it through quickly, but I see it has lots of good resources. I think I've already linked to his Cleopatra site. He also has websites on Hieroglyphics and on Alexander the Great on the Web. I haven't had a chance to look at the last two, but you can find links to them on his other sites.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

THEY DON'T JUST DREDGE UP ANTIQUITIES from the receding waters of the Dead Sea. Recently a parchment with a modern-day political curse was found there:
The mother of all Palestinian modern-day curses (Jerusalem Post)
By Yoav Stern
During a Dead Sea-area dig in 2002, Prof. Yizhar Hirschfeld discovered two small packages wrapped in cloth. The contents of one of them, just recently made public, was a scathing curse aimed at Israeli leaders.

"Oh God almighty, I beg you God to destroy Ariel Sharon, son of Devorah, son of Eve." Thus opens a unique text, written in eloquent Arabic, on parchment found more than two years ago at the bottom of the Dead Sea.


The article isn't a satire. As it observes, the Middle Eastern cursing tradition goes back thousands of years.
BIBLIOBLOGGING (OR WHATEVER) REVISITED: Eric Sowell has a summary post on responses to my post about what we Bible bloggers should call ourselves. I agree that "Bible blogger" could have unfortunate connotations, but I don't care very much for any of the proposed alternatives. I guess I like "bibliabloggers" best among them. Let's keep thinking about it; I'm quite open to suggestions.
IT'S NOT JUST INSCRIPTIONS: According to this columnist in the West Virginia Huntington Herald Dispatch, forgeries are a problem for Jewish antiques in general, not just Jewish antiquities.