Wednesday, January 30, 2008


One school is down. We found out today that Avram wasn't accepted to Duke. Not entirely unexpected, as they only have a four percent admittance rate in the Religion program. Last year our first response was an acceptance, and although I highly prefer that, I do still hope that there will be more positive news later.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Confession

It is time for me to make a confession. It is a difficult confession, and one I have articulated to a few of my friends, but I feel it ought to be made. I have for most of my life kept it even from myself. This confession is prompted by my wife's post on her curriculum, with its primary emphasis on literature. As I make this confession, it is with the deepest apologies to my many friends and relations to whom this may come as a shock.

I don't like literature, or at least what some people call literature. There I said it. Mark Twain once defined classics as books “everybody wants to have read, but nobody wants to read.” That is how I feel about a lot of literature. There are few things that bother me more than a book that seems to be more concerned with making its point than telling a good story. If I wanted to read philosophy, I would (of course, closely related to this confession is the confession that I don't usually 'get' philosophy either). A good example of this is Wild Duck. There were some few good parts in it, but eventually they were lost in whatever weird point Ibsen was trying to make. It is funny, I feel as though by admitting these things, I am admitting to some sort character deficiency. It is sort of like saying that one prefers hamburgers to fine cuisine (which is probably true of me as well, so there you go). I feel as though I am somehow admitting that my tastes are not refined, and for a man who has spent most of his life attempting to refine his taste, and assume that he lived and thought at a certain imaginary level, this comes a powerful blow. So, dear reader, I think that perhaps this post is mostly written for my own benefit, with you taken along for the ride. I suppose that is the price you pay when you read something as idiosyncratic as a 'blog.

I love reading, both fiction and non-fiction, and indeed, reading is my chief hobby and one of the greatest joys in my life. However, I am afraid I am somewhat crass in my tastes. My wife will often tell me how much she loves to read classics, and she really does. She will often pick up a classic book (however such a thing is defined—in my field classics usually means something written in Greek or Latin) and read it. Now I enjoy many books that can be termed classics. I love Shakespeare. I have enjoyed Pride and Prejudice, and other books from that genre. I thought that Don Quixote was one of the best books I had read in a long while. However, I sometimes feel that when I like a classic book it is usually in spite of its classic status, not because of it. La Morte d'Artur by Sir Thomas Mallory may indeed be a classic, but it has knights, and chivalry and courtesy, and many wonderful beauties. Homer's Illiad is classic in any sense of the word, but I love it because it full of heroism and gods and fights, because it fires my blood. It almost makes me want to be a classicist (I wonder how many classicists were made by Homer. Probably innumerable). Basically, when I read a classic, I am reading a story, not literature, even if the book has literary merits. My point here is that for the most part the 'classics' I have enjoyed have not appealed to my intellectual snobbery (which unfortunately is there—ask me about television archaeology some time), but to the little boy who still lives inside me.

Perhaps that is it. Reading was my chief activity when I was a younger man. Maybe I grew up in everything else, but in this thing I have not yet grown up. Twain once compared the great books to wine and his to water. It turns out I prefer water to wine. This isn't really a bad thing. It just tends to limit what books I choose to read, and makes me feel guilty about the books I am not reading. So, to my dear friends who majored in literature (a frightening portion of my readers), I am sorry. I hope you understand. I certainly try to when people I know say they don't like the Old Testament. Maybe someday I will fully grow up, and find that I like Ibsen or Hunger, or other books of their ilk. But in the mean time, I am afraid I will continue to read for the little boy inside of me.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Tag

Well, I wasn't going to do this, but since Travis mentioned me by name, and my wife originated this (at least in my circle of friends) it seemed politic to answer this. Besides, who am I to buck a trend. Actually, I rather like bucking trends, but this once I shall forebear. You may thank me later.

Where I was ten years ago: Well, I was sixteen. I don't remember much else beside that. I was moody (who isn't at that age?), and home-schooled. I don't know, I am sure that something extraordinarily interesting was happening, but it didn't make enough of an impression upon to leap to my memory. Which, I suppose, also tells you something about me.

Where I was five years ago: I was 21, and recently returned from my mission. I was studying at Lord Fairfax Community College. I had a class in Biology that I was really enjoying and a great American History course. It was this semester that really cemented my opinion concerning the quality of education in the Virginia Community College system (although of course it has problems--show me a school that doesn't. Even Oxford has its own difficulties).

Where I was last year: I was finishing up my last semester at Brigham Young University for my Bachelors Degree in Ancient Near Eastern Studies. I had been married for two years, and Lydia was 10 months old. I was serving as a Teaching Assistant for Doctor David Seely. This was one of the greatest classes I ever had the privilege of taking. I was studying Hebrew and in general getting in those classes which I needed to graduate. I was also recently finished with applications to Graduate school and beginning the long wait until I heard back from schools.

What I did yesterday: Not much. I read a little Hebrew, read a little Lord of the Rings, played a little Neverwinter Nights 2 (not my bard, but my half-orc fighter). Mostly I relaxed, since classes start on Monday, in earnest.

Five snacks I enjoy: Um, pretzels, handfuls of dry cold cereal (especially Cherrios), cheese and crackers, carrots (they have good carrots here in England), and tortilla chips with refried beans.

Five things I would do with $100 Million: Only five things? A hundred million is a lot of simoleans. Well, first thing I would hire an investment banker, a tax lawyer and an accountant, who would help ensure that I properly took of my new millions, and live off the residual income for the rest of my life (and ideally my children's life, although that takes a little more work, although I don't believe estate taxes are as bad as they used to be). Then I'd pay off all my debt, because it is a piddly thing compared with my new wealth. Then I'd do things like pay for my schooling, and travel and stuff (although I hate travelling, and I'm not sure being filthy rich would change that any). After that, I'd probably start with little philanthropic deeds like paying off my parent's house and sending people on missions, and work my way up to bigger deeds like endowing a new Biblical Hebrew chair for BYU (it sorely needs one). I would probably name it after Don's grandmother, Bella, because I could and since she was the last practicing Jew in his family. I'd also set up a scholarship for students in the ANES major, because why should the Arabists get all the fun, and give the ANES chair in the Religion department the money it deserves. Maybe I'd build the BYUSA a special building just for clubs to meet in, with an industrial kitchen for clubs to use. I'd set up a fund for scholarships to Yarnton Manor, because charitable giving has fallen off in recent years. I'd probably give a million to to the Bodleian Library, just so I get my name on that plaque with King James and company. It sort of goes without saying I'd buy those RPG books that I currently want, but can't afford, like GURPS Magic and GURPS Fantasy. When you have a hundred million dollars, forty bucks is less than a drop in the bucket. With a hundred million, I would be worth more, a lot more than, than the annual income of most gaming companies. I don't know if that is five things or not, but this is going far longer than it ought, since I have to work hard to scrape together $100, let alone $100,000,000.

Five places I would run away to: Monterey, CA; Israel; Egypt; Portland, OR; Provo, UT (I miss the States; this would probably be a different list if I weren't currently living abroad).

Five TV shows I like (in times past, since it has been many years since I watched a new show): Fraggle Rock, M*A*S*H, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Muppet Babies, The Real Ghostbusters (a sampling of shows I loved, and some I like to watch now).

Five things I hate doing: Cold calling, practicing noun declensions, putting myself forward, taking baths (I miss my shower), dealing with yucky food.

Five biggest joys at the moment: Reading the Lord of the Rings, starting up school again, watching my daughter grow, singing silly songs with her, and designing a fantasy world.

Five people I tag: I will refrain from doing so (mostly because all my friends have already done so).


Sunday, January 06, 2008

An Apology

This week we are sort of following our general theme of the past few weeks and discussing what it means to be an LDS scholar. This is occasioned by a conversation I had many years ago with a friend of mine. I am sure that he has forgotten it (and well he ought to have, it wasn't that important of a conversation), but in this conversation he questioned the validity of Biblical scholarship (although I was an archaeologist in those days, I was still interested in the archaeology of Syro-Palestine), wondering what purpose such scholarship had and if we weren't something of a mutual improvement admiration society, where all the discussions have no bearing on the 'real world,' and are just for the benefit of those in the field.

Very well. So it may indeed be. There is something of internal discussion in any field, whether in the humanities, the social sciences, the physical sciences or even in the trades. Whenever you have a series of specialized skills, you end up with specialized vocabulary and concepts. Without making reference to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (which essentially states that different languages express thoughts differently, ergo people think differently), an anthropologist and a psychologist mean different, although related, things when they talk about acculturation and socialization. As a lay mathematician I get lost in any discussion of mathematics much further out than trigonometry. I expect to not be able to understand what a theoretical physicist is discussing in a paper, and understand that there is something closed about their community, because physics requires a certain basic level of mathematics to be able to even communicate the concepts the physicist wishes to have communicated. So it is with any academic community. Any academic community is a little bit closed, because the entry fee is so high.

There is, however, a difference in my field than in the sciences. First of all, I am firmly entrenched in the social sciences and the humanities, and the entry fee is much more attainable. Since these fields are more subjective than the sciences, the layman has more ability to interact with the specialist on a meaningful level. This is true in history, anthropology or in any of the cognate fields. It is, of course, doubly true of my own field. This is because I am studying Biblical studies, and everyone are encouraged to study and to form an opinion of the Bible. So, as a Biblical scholar I have to tread especially carefully in my discussions of the scriptures. It is not my purpose to attempt to tell any person that their opinion or interpretation of the Bible is somehow less important or less valid than my own, merely because I have made the language of the Bible my particular study. Indeed, it would be wrong of me to do so. Even less so if and when I make essays into Book of Mormon studies, because then I don't even have Hebrew to back me up.

But, here we come to why I study my field. The Bible matters. Other fields do also, of course, but I am not addressing them. I refer solely and specifically to my own experience. The Bible is an important book (or series of books) and it ought to be studied. There is a feeling generally, I think, that the so-called 'hard' sciences are somehow more 'real, and therefore more important and valid to study. I would humbly disagree. I am certain that the sciences are in need of study, and greatly aid to our understanding of ourselves, but the study of the humanities is the study of what it means to be human. Not just what it means to be a member of homo sapiens sapiens, but what it means to be a human, as independent from a beast and as an interacting, thinking being. I myself can think of no more noble field of study. Especially in the study of religion, for man's search for the divine is part of what makes him man. So we come into Biblical studies. My job as a Biblical scholar is to help those outside the field make informed decisions and form informed opinions about the Biblical text. I deal the Bible's primarily historical and anthropological content, and not with its religious or ethical content, which, however, I also try and live. As Shakespeare said, "Each man's soul's his own." The ethical and doctrinal parts of the Bible are most important. I deal with the other stuff in the Bible to aid those who wish it in their study of the Bible.

So to answer my friend of long ago-Biblical studies may seem to be an unimportant field, closed to noone but themselves, dealing with minutiae and not the "weightier manners of the law." It may indeed be so, but I do not think this invalidates the truth which is gleaned through Biblical scholarship.


P.S. My title comes from apology used in the technical sense of an explanation, and not as a way of saying sorry. -ARS.