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Jared Calaway

Thanks for this. I always hope I raise more questions than answers--questions open up a conversation, answers shut it down (how's that for a generalization?). Anyway, I was hoping my critique of the "conversion narrative" might indicate that the "clean break" between pagan, barbarian and Christian, civilized is illusory, and nothing short of bad history. Not that there is no change, far from it, but that it is not from bad to good, from darkness to light, in the sense that everything pre-Christian was uncivil and everything post was daisies. I think your note of culture as palimpsests is actually a clearer exposition of what I was thinking (but not quite writing). Change is a messy business and involves the persistence of old forms into the new, old activities, habits, behavioral patterns with "new" objectives (or vice versa)--new wine in old wineskins. I also tend to see "new" things as recombinations of "old" things--a fairly Ecclesiastes-like view of newness.

You query, however, how to narrate this. One might note the efflorescence of Christianity in Ireland--especially their monastic systems--while discussing how Christianity mingled with local forms, how local form persisted (how both altered each other symbiotically), etc. I think a wonderful point of departure in this manner would be the form of Irish bardic traditions--many Irish bardic stories are an interesting mixture of Christian and non-Christian narrative.

JohnFH

"New wine in old wineskins": that is an excellent metaphor because it portends change by metalepsis (new wine causes old wineskins to burst).

The metaphor I proposed, compatible with yours, is more violent and more static at the same time: palimpsest, the writing over, or superimposition, of one culture on another, with the old still legible "beneath."

With respect to the Irish bardic tradition, it has been common to treat the pre-Christian and Christian elements as if they were oil and water, the opposite of a symbiotic relationship. But I wonder.

Jared Calaway

Oil and water because the Christian elements often serve as a frame or a foil to the non-Christian (and, by the way, often fairly Homeric) stories?

Unfortunately, it would be impossible to compare pre-Christian Irish bards with post-Christian ones.

Nonetheless, my curiosity has been awakened. It might be worth some summer reading.

JohnFH

Kim McCone in Pagan Past and Christian Present in Early Irish Literature does a fine job of showing that the traditional material (the Mythological, Ulster, Fenian, and Historical Cycles) does not contain unalloyed information about ancient Celtic beliefs. Early Irish literature, while written by Christians for Christians, preserves collective memories of pagan beliefs and practices and seeks to fit them into a framework determined by the biblical narrative.

Jared Calaway

Thanks for the reference--sounds fascinating!

Jared Calaway

Sorry to clutter your comment trail, but I've always found, perhaps naively, Irish narrative to have an Ovidian feel to it--in terms of his Metamorphoses rather than his Amores or Tristia. But it is not a stretch to see how such a penchant for transformation could be combined with biblical narrative frames.

Seth Sanders

Just found a great term for the separate compartments you mention (epigraphic Irish, Old Irish glosses, and bardic tradition, each of which I'd expect to represent independent, though not mutually oblivious, text-making practices): "technologies of intellect." This term, that suggests that there are distinct ways that craft and practice bring thought into being, I get from Frank Salomon's The Cord Keepers: Khipus and Cultural Life in a Peruvian Village, which has the lovely blurb on the back that it "forces us to reconceptualize what writing is or can be, what it encodes, and whether we should even think of writing as something that records, rather than as a performative practice that engages more actively with the world."

Cahill's bragging over Irish firsts represents something that I flirt with in my book--the idea that first is best and that origins reveal true nature. People love this stuff, but what I hope we look at more seriously is how things were *configured*; so in the case of written Irish its multiple contexts seem to be as important as the fact of its appearance...

JohnFH

Jared,

Your comments are helpful and interesting. My chief issue with run-of-the-mill biblical scholars is their absence of intellectual curiosity. Perhaps there is a fear that the uniqueness of a literature and of a religion is diminished in the act of comparative analysis. I find the opposite to be the case.

Seth,

Salomon's book ought to get a biblical scholar's cognitive juices flowing. How about chapter four, about staff codes?

This made me think immediately of Gen 49:10; Nb 21:18; Ps 60:9, of the root חקק, the nouns חק and חקה, the pair in Nb inclusive of שבט. I don't think anyone has looked at these things (in Phoenician and Aramaic as well) from a cultural-anthropological point of view. Pedersen touches on it on pages 78f. of 3/4 of his Israel according to HALOT, but I don't have Pedersen on my shelf to consult. A verbal root glossed as follows by HALOT cannot but raise flags: carve, inscribe, enact, decree, decide, ruler, ruler's staff, be recorded.

Seth Sanders

Hmm...the semantic penumbra of חקק is pretty remarkable now that you mention it...John, how would you see the passages you cite as inscriptional?

JohnFH

Just thinking out loud. I'm thinking that the ruler's staff (מחקק) in Gen 49:10 is so labelled because it is an incised object. Ditto Ps 60:9 and Nb 21:18, though the latter is difficult text. I would guess that the incised code was not necessarily in terms of one-to-one correspondence with phonological sequences but still classifiable as an artifact that represents a technology of the intellect (see Salomon's book, ch. 4 in particular).

So far so good (although it is possible to interpret the above passages in other ways). What about מחקק in Deut 33:21; Judges 5:14, and Isa 33:22? One who wields an incised object? Or an enactor of חקים (inscribed decrees)?

That's just the tip of the iceberg. You have to admit it would be fun to write an essay running from passages like these and Isa 10:1 to ketubbot and scripsi quod scripsi against the background of Salomon's exemplifications of technologies of intellect insofar as they relate to authority and law.

Seth Sanders

"an essay running from passages like these and Isa 10:1 to ketubbot and scripsi quod scripsi against the background of Salomon's exemplifications of technologies of intellect insofar as they relate to authority and law."

Dang, this is good. I need to buy another notebook!

Prof. Robert Jewell

"Change is a messy business and involves the persistence of old forms into the new, old activities, habits, behavioral patterns with "new" objectives (or vice versa)--new wine in old wineskins."

Funny that one would say this without any qualification in an age of the almost complete supremacy of Thomas Kuhn's, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

JohnFH

Bob,

I trust you continue to enjoy your stay in Heidelberg. It is a bit confusing to find you signing as Jewell rather than Jewett.

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