Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dead Sea Scrolls and Medieval Manuscripts

I'm composing my follow up post to the Within poem I talked about almost two months ago now, in usual piecemeal fashion. But whilst I do that, the news came across my desktop today that a study was done on one of the Dead Sea Scrolls' ink, the so-called Thanksgiving Scroll. For those not up on some of the issues, the traditional view of DSS and the community that produced them has been that on the shores of the Dead Sea there was an ascetic community with a scriptorium who produced the majority if not all of the DSS and hid them at the approach of the Romans c. 68 CE. There are those who have questioned either the whole or parts of this reconstruction: little evidence of a scriptorium for example and there's the whole alternative theory by a guy at U Chicago whose name is escaping me at the moment but whose book I read some years ago that argues that the DSS are someone's (or someones') library from Jerusalem taken to the wilderness to hide as the Romans closed in, but never retrieved, and so nothing to do with an Essene community at all.

Anyway, that's a gross oversimplification, and so somewhat wrong, but it will do as a set up for the news. The study determined that at least on that scroll, the ink was prepared with waters from the Dead Sea, and so it is likely then that the scroll was written or copied in the vicinity.

Interesting evidence, and while it doesn't prove that the DSS were composed, or even that scroll, were written at Qumran, it is rather suggestive that it was. In addition to that news, though, I wonder in the face of the DNA studies on sheep and calf skin that have been in the news of late, and Michael Drout's similar project, if there might not be a need and interest in doing similar ink studies on medieval manuscripts. There are a large number of unprovenanced manuscripts in our modern repositories that could at least be given a possible point of origin by testing ink composition with the waters of rivers, lakes, etc in and around monastic sites.

There are some of course that would resolve some longstanding issues: the Vinland Map for example. That map's ink has been tested, specifically to look for modern elements in the ink, such as commercial grade anatase. But since the map and the manuscript it appears in are part of another manuscript as I recall, it might worth testing the inks of the various pieces and their composition. If one has ink with water from England in the map and ink with water from Poland in the rest, for example, it demonstrates the map wasn't produced by the same scribe in spite of the similar palaeographical features....and I'm going off my memory so may be misreporting a fact or two.

But who wouldn't want to know precisely where Junius 11 was produced? Or the Augustine Gospels? Certainly there are others, Boernianus would be a good one to consider. Anyway, worth thinking about....find the water, find the origin site.

Monday, February 16, 2009

PEAA Awards Redux

There's been enough interest I think in the PEAA awards that I think I shall do them for 2009 too. So here's the deal: rather than wait until December before asking for nominations: simply nominate now. Read a blog post, hear a podcast, see an article or book that you think deserving? Send it to me at In Dec I'll send out a call for nominations, but also publish all those that have come in over the course of the year for people to vote on. No limits on number of nominations per person or per blog etc....just email me what you think good and deserving of recognition.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

My First Tolkien Post: How Tolkien Helped Me With Aelfric

A few people on the Usenet group rec.arts.books.tolkien, a group I joined on the first or second day of its creation back in the early 90s and first posted to in 1994 on Leaf by Niggle, found this blog through Mike Drout's reference to it regarding the PEAA awards (more on which anon). So in honor of them, this is my first Tolkien post.

I'm not sure why I haven't really had a Tolkien related post before. Tolkien and Lewis were rather influential on my early thinking and imagination and I'm hoping to continue to make both part of my academic as well as my entertainment endeavors. But here's the story:

One of the first Old English poems I read in its entirety in the original language was Exodus. I later discovered, or rather rediscovered, that Tolkien taught this poem many times, and had even worked on an edition and commentary, later edited and published by Turville-Petre. One of the oddities in that poem for those familiar with the Biblical story is that the children of Israel went south out of Egypt but couldn't go further because they encountered the land of "sigelware", too often glossed as "Ethiopian" without further ado.

I decided, out of interest, some years back to collect and read not just Tolkien and Lewis (and Sayers for that matter) professional and scholarly works and not limit myself simply to their creative output--a move that eventually moved me to consider becoming a medievalist. One that I had difficulty locating and reading was the two part "Sigelware Land" published in 1932 and '34 in Medium Aevum. But eventually I found it and read it with interest, and it made it into my discussions about Exodus in the Tolkien Encyclopedia and elsewhere.

Now, one of the things Tolkien does in those 2 articles is detail where the term occurs in Old English literature, or some form of the term. One of the most prolific users of the word is Aelfric, and this before now has elicited little comment. One of the places that Aelfric uses the term is in the Letter to Sigeweard where he talks about Matthew's demise, in Latin sources said to be among "the Ethiopians." I used Aelfric as a watershed in determining why he uses the term so often, and uses it in that specific and particular context.

Before Aelfric c. 1000, Genesis A, Exodus, and Cynewulf use the term in poetry, and in prose the Old English Martyrology and Alfred the Great in the Paris Psalter. All other instances of the word or form thereof are roughly contemporary with Aelfric or post-date him. There is no evidence that Aelfric knew the Martyrology (and if Lapidge is correct, done by Acca in the early 8th century and contemporary with Genesis and Exodus) or the Paris Psalter. But I have argued that Aelfric derives the term or at least resuscitates it in prose from Genesis, Exodus, and Cynewulf's Fates of the Apostles....all poems that I argue in the grand, sprawling, never ending dissertation influence Aelfric. Interestingly, he uses the term in exactly the same place and in the same way as Cynewulf does in the Fates, and elsewhere similarly to the Exodus poet. This to me was simply the last cherry on top of the sundae that sought to illustrate Aelfric's dependence on those poems. But I wouldn't have even thought twice about it had it not been for Tolkien's articles on the meaning of the word in Exodus 69.

I happen to think that Tolkien's study of the term has a lot to do with his mythology and LoTR, things I unfairly hinted at in articles for The Tolkien Encyclopedia ed. by Michael Drout. But perhaps if I have time I'll outline what those are in preparation to a pair of articles on Tolkien, one about Exodus and one about the study itself that I'll blog here too.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Healthy Fields? And What About the Rest of You?

Since my last post on what I'm reading, back in Sept, I've been a bit whelmed with editing, course prep, in-laws, outlaws, and the like. And my wife bought me cooking magazines and professional journals which have kept me busy and away from ancient/medieval books and such. But in the midst and process of all that, I did find the time to read through back issues of the Old English Newsletter. I'd missed reading a number of issues, 39.4 to 41.1, so six issues total.

From the perspective of the OEN, Old English and Anglo-Saxon studies is a healthy field. There's some really impressive and great work going on. One would wish to see more Names studies, but they were never great in number anyway. But the other linguistic fields receive great attention, wearying even to me who has some theoretical linguistics training! But all fields of endeavor seem to be thriving, and not just in the USA and Britain and Canada. There's a proper showing of articles/books/conference papers in Australia, South Africa, Spain, Russia, Eastern Europe, Korea, Japan, and even South America. At times energizing because some article or book or paper piqued my interest, or just seeing all that great work in the field makes me want to get more of my work out there. At other times, ennui set in: with so much good work going on, surely there's no one interested in a 55 page article on a half-line in Beowulf. Mostly though, energizing, exciting me to want to do more and look into more things. But the point is, there a lot of mind blowing good stuff being done in Anglo-Saxon studies.

This is of course of interest to me since in the last Heroic Age we published a discussion of the current state of things in Anglo-Saxon studies. And internally there are great signs of health. And from a medievalism point of view, there are great signs of health. From other perspectives, not so much. But I've talked about this before in this and other venues and what we can do about it.

It has made me wonder though. What about other fields?

1) Is there in say Carolingian studies or Old Norse studies tools like OEN? I don't mean just journals, etc, but a bibliography in the field that is regularly updated?

2) If not, would there be interest?

Congress Program

The 2009 Congress Program is live and online! Spread the word: