Saturday, October 31, 2009

ARAMAIC WATCH: Ariel Sabar's book My Father's Paradise, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in the Spring, has been getting some more media attention lately. The Los Angeles Times notes the book and appears to interview both him and his father, Yona. Excerpt:
Asked to assess the future of the culture that has consumed him, Yona shakes his head. "I felt I was an undertaker, because I felt this was the last stage of the language," he says. "So I felt what I can do to salvage this heritage is by documenting it in books for scholars who are interested. Ariel's book in a way is a monument to that lost life. Because you cannot restore it physically."

What neither man could have anticipated is how the book's success has spurred interest in Aramaic and the Jewish Kurds and helped reconnect those who were raised in that culture.

Yona now hears regularly from friends, colleagues and former students with whom he had lost touch over the decades. He fields inquiries from screenwriters asking for assistance in translating snatches of Aramaic. He gets e-mails from prisoners who've found religion and want to learn Christ's language. He does his best to accommodate them all.

Not only that, but "My Father's Paradise" has given comfort to relatives who have wondered how they would be able to pass on the old family stories to future generations.

"Now," they tell Yona, "I can give my children a book to read."
Background here.

Two other books are reviewed by Nick Owchar, again in the LA Times. The first, by Alan Jacobs, When Jesus Lived in India: The Quest for the Aquarian Gospel: The mystery of the Missing Years, supports the baseless notion that Jesus traveled to India in his lifetime. Baseless not because it couldn't have happened – Jesus' contemporary, the philosopher Apollonius of Tyana, is reported to have done just that – but because there is no evidence for it except for very much later accounts from India of the sort that someone would have had to make up sooner or later (plus a modern forgery). More on the subject here.

The second is a review of Janet Soskice, The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels. Excerpt:
Agnes and Margaret Smith turned their passion for exploration into a stunning discovery of an early copy of the Gospels written in Syriac during the heyday of British mania for such artifacts. A theology professor at the University of Cambridge, Soskice has crafted a thoughtful, detailed reconstruction of the lives of two people with unique resources that led to even more unique opportunities.

The Smiths chanced upon this precious object in 1892, locked away in a "dark closet" in St. Catherine's Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai. Though other treasure-seekers had been there before them, those earlier visitors ignored a filthy-looking, ruined volume with "its leaves nearly all stuck together." This item, the sisters realized, turned out to be a palimpsest text: Long ago, monks had scratched away the older text (the Syriac version of the Gospels) to reuse the pages for something else. But somehow the old text didn't entirely disappear and was "revived by the action of the common air." It bled through the other writing on the pages.
Background here.