Friday, June 26, 2009

STEPHEN R. DONALDSON, the American novelist, received an honorary doctorate yesterday at the University of St. Andrews. I have mentioned Donaldson's work here (and follow the links back) and here. I gave the laureation address in the graduation ceremony and I reproduce it below. More here (and click on image below for a larger version*).

Vice Chancellor, it is my privilege to present the American novelist Stephen R Donaldson for the Degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa.

Stephen R Donaldson was born in 1947 in Cleveland Ohio. He lived in India as a child, where his father served as a medical missionary, returning to the United States in 1963. His father's work with "lepers," victims of the non-fatal but debilitating and disfiguring disease called Hansen's Syndrome, had an enormous influence on Stephen's later work as a writer. He earned a bachelor's degree at the College of Wooster in Ohio and an MA in English at Kent State University, then performed hospital work for two years as a conscientious objector during the Viet Nam War. Shortly afterward he became a full-time writer of fiction.

Epic fantasy is a genre that has traditionally been looked down upon in the literary and academic worlds. Strange that this should be so, given that epic is one of the most venerable genres of literature, extending back through Milton, Beowulf, Virgil, and Homer to some of the earliest preserved Sumerian literary texts about Gilgamesh the king. And epic is itself a form of fantasy literature, which Stephen Donaldson has lucidly defined as literature in which the internal conflicts of the characters are externalised in the form of monsters, magical forces, and realms not found on this earth. The importance of such literature has been finding increasing appreciation in the academic world, not least through the efforts of the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts at the University of St Andrews, which sponsors much research in this area. And the sheer literary quality of Stephen Donaldson's work has challenged the mainstream literary world to recognise the vital contribution of this genre.

Stephen Donaldson is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning writer who over more than thirty years has published nineteen novels and two collections of short stories. He is best know for his eight (of a projected ten) novels in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, an epic fantasy series that has been compared to the work of Tolkien, but which immediately separated itself from the mass of Tolkien clones as a creative contribution to the genre that set its own agenda and attained a literary standard that equals if not surpasses Tolkien. (The Washington Post said that it was "comparable to Tolkien at his best.") The story was inspired by the work of Donaldson's father with lepers in India and it centres on a contemporary man in small-town America (Thomas Covenant) who unexpectedly contracts Hansen's Syndrome and abruptly finds himself an outcast and pariah in his own life. Covenant is mysteriously translated to another world in which he is cured of his illness and is regarded as a saviour figure with tremendous magical powers. But he cannot permit himself to believe in this reality because it defies the cardinal principle of his life as a leper: that there is no cure, that dead nerves don't regenerate, and that allowing any hope to relax his self-discipline risks injury, disfigurement and destruction. He cannot dare to believe in his own powers or use them to save this magical realm from its satanic adversary. This twist of placing a tormented twentieth-century man in an epic fantasy world where his inner conflicts have been transformed into monstrous external threats and heroic external champions has been a significant force for reclaiming fantasy as a contribution to mainstream fiction. The series explores themes of alienation, personal responsibility, power and its corruption, guilt, and hope, while telling a gripping and highly original tale. It introduces a new, beautiful, and threatened world and then explores its collective consciousness, reaching an imaginative and aesthetic level of world-creation and a depth of psychological and philosophical insight that brought a new level of credibility to the genre of fantasy.

Besides the Thomas Covenant books, Stephen Donaldson has published another two-volume fantasy series, an additional two volumes of short stories, a five-volume science fiction series known as The Gap Cycle, and the four detective novels in The Man Who ... series. Stephen Donaldson's work creatively explores important moral and theological issues such as human destiny and free will, the inherent limitations of power, the subjective and objective dimensions of evil, and the destructive power of self-hatred.

Stephen Donaldson is one of the most highly regarded living writers of fantasy and he has won numerous awards in this area. His science fiction and detective novels have also consistently challenged the boundaries of the genres and have been very well received and successful. But the success and recognition of his work extend far beyond the confines of the audience of genre literature. Eight of his books, including the most recent one, have appeared on the New York Times Bestseller List and one of them (White Gold Wielder in the Thomas Covenant series) was the eighth bestselling book of 1983 (just after Eco's The Name of the Rose). The second volume in this current series, Fatal Revenant, was published in October of 2007 and reached number twelve on the New York Times Bestseller List for hardback fiction. No other living writer of fantasy has achieved this level of acclaim in both genre and mainstream literary circles.

Stephen Donaldson currently lives in New Mexico, where he is writing the third volume of The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.

Vice Chancellor, in recognition of his exceptional contribution to literature, I invite you to confer on Stephen R Donaldson the Degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa.
*Photograph copyright 2009, Mary Stevens. Used with gratitude by permission.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION at the Royal Ontario Museum is about to open:
Dead sea scrolls show to open at ROM this weekend

Stuart Laidlaw
Faith and ethics reporter (Toronto Star)

In times of turmoil, it is best to reflect on what unites us, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says, and that's what the Dead Sea Scrolls can do.


Eight copies of the scroll will be on display until October, when they will be swapped with eight different scroll fragments.

The exhibit was two years in the making, and marks the relaunch of the ROM after an extensive renovation that included the controversial addition of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal to its Bloor St. fa├žade.

ROM chief executive William Thorsell described the scrolls yesterday as "one of the great archaeological finds of the 20th Century," and one of the most significant displays ever to come to the museum.

Background, e.g., here and here.
Israel opens mosaic museum in the West Bank
The $2.5m Museum of the Good Samaritan houses mosaics and antiquities at a Christian pilgrimage site

By Lauren Gelfond Feldinger | Web only
Published online 24.6.09 (Museums)

jerusalem. Hours after US president Barack Obama’s historic Cairo speech on 4 June called on Israel to stop building in the West Bank, Israel inaugurated a mosaics museum at a West Bank site.

The opening was planned without consideration for or connection to the speech, said the museum’s planner, archaeologist Dr Yitzhak Magen of Israel’s Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria (West Bank).

The $2.5m Museum of the Good Samaritan, housing nearly 50 mosaics and a collection of antiquities, was opened at the Christian pilgrimage site where the Bible’s “Parable of the Good Samaritan” is believed to be set. The site also comprises the restored Good Samaritan Inn, a reconstructed Byzantine church, and Second Temple-era dwelling caves.

The museum’s preserved and restored mosaics and other relics from the fourth to the sixth centuries originate from Christian, Jewish and Samaritan historic sites, based on themes in the parable, Dr Magen said. He also said that excavations at the site show it to be the location where King Herod’s palace once stood.

Background here.
John Day (ed.), Society for Old Testament Study Book List 2008 (London: Sage, 2008)
Endless goodies, as always. Our library budget is going to be taking a hit.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

GRADUATION CEREMONIES and related events will fill up the next four days pretty much wall-to-wall. I will try to find a few minutes here and there to blog, but it won't be a high priority.
PROFESSOR DONALD W. PARRY has been named as one of about two dozen editors of Biblia Hebraica Quinta. He will be working on the book of Isaiah.

This article in TC gives background to Biblia Hebraica Quinta.
THIS RESTAURANT in Alva Oklahoma sounds like an interesting place to hang out:
Taking Aim

Studying the Educational Winds

By Judye Pistole

I was at a restaurant today having dinner with some of my dearest friends and one of them said, “Oh, that was before I ever began to study Sanskrit.” I started to laugh, saying that never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would hear a friend of mine say, “That was before I started to study Sanskrit,” as if studying Sanskrit was something that most people would get to sooner or later.

Then I looked around the table. There were four ministers, three of us working on our doctoral degrees, each of us having studied ancient Greek and ancient Hebrew and at least one modern language. There was one student working on her master’s degree who was a teaching assistant in Hebrew and Greek and one professor who admits to having learned six languages (and by the way the professor was NOT the one who had also studied Sanskrit; neither was it someone of Indian ethnicity).

Aramaic comes up as well.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Can Third Temple be built without destroying Dome of the Rock?
By MATTHEW WAGNER (Jerusalem Post)

A new Jewish interfaith initiative launched last week argues building the Third Jewish Temple in Jerusalem would not necessitate the destruction of the Dome of the Rock.

"God's Holy Mountain Vision" project hopes to defuse religious strife by showing that Jews' end-of-days vision could harmoniously accommodate Islam's present architectural hegemony on the Temple Mount.

"This vision of religious shrines in peaceful proximity can transform the Temple Mount from a place of contention to its original sacred role as a place of worship shared by Jews, Muslims and Christians," said Yoav Frankel, director of the initiative.


His main argument is that Jewish doctrine regarding the rebuilding of the Temple emphasizes the role of a prophet.

This prophet would have extraordinary authority, including the discretion to specify the Temple's precise location, regardless of any diverging Jewish traditions.

Frankel considers the scenario of a holy revelation given to an authentic prophet that the Temple be rebuilt on the current or an extended Temple Mount in peaceful proximity to the dome and other houses of prayer such as the Aksa Mosque and nearby Christian shrines.

However, both Muslims and Jews have expressed opposition to the initiative.

You don't say.

As for me, I will say what I've said before (e.g., here). Prophet or no prophet, no digging please on the Temple Mount unless it's a scientifically controlled excavation, preferably some years in the future using nonintrusive techniques.
NOT ALADDIN'S CAVE, but still not bad:
Discovery of giant underground quarry in Jordan Valley may rock archaeological thinking
By Ran Shapira (Haaretz)

A spectacular underground quarry has recently been discovered in the Jordan Valley north of Jericho, which archaeologists believe may have marked a biblical site sacred to ancient Christians.

The large cave was discovered by Prof. Adam Zertal and a team from the University of Haifa which has been conducting a survey of the region since 1978. "When we reached the entrance to the cave, two Bedouin approached us and warned us not to go in, because it was cursed and inhabited by wolves and hyenas," Zertal said yesterday from the site.

They entered anyway, discovering a ceiling supported by 22 gigantic columns on which various symbols were carved, including 31 crosses, a possible wheel of the Zodiac and a Roman legionary symbol. The columns also had niches for the placement of oil lamps and holes that apparently served as hitching posts.

Zertal says their working theory is that the site is Galgala, biblical Gilgal, mentioned on the sixth-century Madaba mosaic map. The cave, buried 10 meters underground, is about 100 meters long, 40 meters wide and 4 meters high, is the largest artificial cave so far discovered in Israel.

Pottery fragments and the incised symbols point to first usage at the beginning of the Common Era, but the cave appears to have been used for some centuries.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

HAPPY SUMMER SOLSTICE to all those celebrating. It's still light out, but cloudy this time, so I had to turn on the light about ten minutes ago to read. But it's still quite light out and won't get properly dark anytime during the night for another couple of weeks. Not counting heavy rains.
GOOD TIMING: A review of Mary Beard's new book on Pompeii:
Pompeii the way it used to be: wild, chaotic and full of life

No book or website can really deliver the full picture of Pompeii

Michael Posner

Pompeii — From Saturday's Globe and Mail, Friday, Jun. 19, 2009 05:42PM EDT

Forget most of what you think you know about Pompeii. The conventional view, the starting point for dozens of books and local tour guides, is that close to 30,000 people died in the great Vesuvian eruption, engulfed by pyroclastic flows and lava surges.

But a new book breathes life into the dead stones as a chaotic living city. Those who were killed by the volcano, argues classics scholar Mary Beard, were slaves with no means of escape. Or others who, as during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, chose to defy the volcano's rumbling omens and stay put. Or perhaps looters, who snuck back in and were trapped by collapsing walls or tunnels.

Unruly, sometimes unlawful and throbbing with humanity - it's a place much like modern Naples nearby. Today, you can easily spend the better part of a day wandering the streets of this eerily well-preserved city, less than an hour south of Naples. On occasion, I wondered whether a particular building or fresco hadn't been rather too well restored and improved upon. But that's a quibble. No book or website can really deliver the full picture of Pompeii, with its cult of the phallus, its storefront eateries and its majestic forum and amphitheatre, a building that accommodated 30,000 people (but had not a single lavatory).

Herculaneum is mentioned too:
Another fascinating site, even closer to Naples, is Herculaneum. It, too, was destroyed by lava flows from Vesuvius, and lay buried under mud and ash for almost 1,600 years.

Wealthier than Pompeii, the seaside town boasted a number of impressive villas, including one owned by Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, Julius Caesar's father-in-law - the so-called Villa of the Papyri. Piso's library of Greek and Roman texts was said to be among the largest in the world at that time.

Amazingly, hundreds of scrolls, though carbonized, can still be painstakingly read using computer-enhanced multi-spectral imaging, affording the prospect that books long since thought lost to us might still be recoverable.
And here's an ancient Jewish angle:
In addition to Piso's scrolls, the National Archeological Museum (near the top of the Via Toledo, a 15-minute walk from anywhere in the city centre) includes the not-to-be-missed Secret Room, an exhibit featuring eye-popping, phallus-heavy frescoes, objets d'art and sculptures, representative of the rich and varied sex lives that Pompeiians are said to have enjoyed.

Some Jewish slaves, coerced into prostitution, may have formed their own judgments of these revels; on one wall in Hebrew are the words Sodom and Gomorrah.
More on Vesuvius here. More on the Herculaneum scrolls here and here. Relevant posts on Pompeii are here and here. According to the latter post, the Sodom and Gomorrah inscription seems to have been in Latin letters, not Hebrew. Latin seems much more likely. Last week I posted a few photos of Pompeii here. I have more pictures of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Vesuvius and will try to get around to posting some of them soon, but I'm going to be very busy until the end of the month. Bear with me.
Expedition ship Phoenicia sails into the pirate zone

(Sail World)

The Phoenicia Expedition, Captained by Philip Beale, an English ex-Navy sailor, is attempting to recreate the first circumnavigation of Africa, accomplished by Phoenician mariners in 600BC, in a replica Phoenician/Mediterranean vessel, called, appropriately enough, Phoenicia. They have just completed a four day sail from Hodeidah on the Red Sea coast of Yemen to Aden on the southern coast.

The passage of 270 nautical miles ended with the ship anchored securely at the inner harbour, Aden, and has has brought Phoenicia to the start point for launching Phase 2 of the expedition to circumnavigate Africa with prevailing winds and currents at the end of August 2009.


Here are some exerpts from Philip Beale's account of their journey:


Apart from the usual sailing routines of watch keeping (lookouts, pumping bilges, helming,adjusting the sails and meal preparations ) quite a bit of time has been spent on anti-piracy measures.

So we have wrapped the ship’s rails with barbed wire, razor blades, fire hoses and have molotov cocktails at the ready to throw at the pirates. Well okay, we haven’t actually done that and we have resisted offers of AK47’s (on sale foe $10 each in Hodiedah) to protect us, believing that if the pirates really want to come on board there is not much we can do to stop them- such is the low free-board of the ship and our relatively slow speed.

Our basic plan is to stay close to the Yemeni shore, darken ship at night and keep a low profile, i.e. no radar and VHF. We have a sonic device on board which may help to delay any attack while we would then alert the authorities to the situation be satellite phone.

We are in frequent contact with the local coalition forces out here as well as our security advisers at Drum Cussac, in Poole, England. We expect to pass the through Bab el Mandeb, the approach to the Gulf of Aden, tonight which is probably better from an anti-piracy point of view.

We expect it to be a bit tense as we pass through the strait as there are numerous fishing boats in the area as well as reports of vessels involved in smuggling people from Eritrea into Yemen. We are looking forward to being in Aden for the weekend-pirates permitting.

Safe travels!

More on their sonic ray-gun defense shield and additional background are here.