Monday, April 3, 2017

William Kelly Simpson

My Doktorvater William Kelly Simpson recently passed away. (You can find his obituary in the New York Times.) I remember a number of his kindnesses to me during my time at Yale. He first became professor of Egyptology at Yale in 1958 and served as my committee chair forty years later at an age when most professors have already retired. He let me take the Late Egyptian Stories class rather than forcing me to retake the beginning hieroglyphs class. He let the students have keys to his office and access to his library, which was mostly better stocked than the University's, on the understanding that we were not allowed to remove books. He had standing orders on almost all major series though he thought that many of them were overpriced. He very kindly gave me credit for a new reading on one of the Illahun papyri in a review that he published. He also gave me a copy of his Festschrift as a wedding gift, and a complete set of the Yale Egyptological Studies published up to that point.

One story: We were reading in class the account of Wenamun (a longish Late Egyptian account of the misfortunes of an Egyptian official who is reporting on the problems he had while on a foreign assignment). Wenamun was waxing eloquent about the greatness of Amon-Re and Professor Simpson remarked that "He sounds just like a Mormon missionary." I replied, "No wonder I like him so much." He took it in good humor.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Note on the Vatican Obelisk

Last week, after my meetings in the Vatican, I had the chance to wander around St. Peter's Square. In the middle of that plaza stands an Egyptian obelisk. Of all the inscriptions on the obelisk I was most struck by three. The first is this Egyptian inscription, on the south side:
The south face of the Vatican Obelisk
This needs to be read in conjunction with the Latin inscription on the base of the north side:
The inscription on the base of the north side of the obelisk
This inscription from 1586 explains the Egyptian one on the other side. To understand the rest of the Latin inscription, you need to consider this view of the obelisk, which explains the second line:
The Vatican obelisk from the northeast
All of this is fairly discouraging, and about makes one want to weep. Fortunately, there is an another inscription on the west side of the base:
The inscription on the west end of the base of the obelisk

That inscription is the only encouraging inscription on the obelisk.

(Now, before you complain that you cannot read any of the inscriptions, I will point out that competence in Latin used to be required in order to get into college. As far as the Egyptian inscription, if you can't read it, I can't help you there.)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Things As They Really Are:
Satan is very apt at using any momentum he has in order to make it look as though he has already prevailed. No wonder obvious exceptions irritate him so! Though he postures as a nonconformist, my, how the adversary likes his lemmings to line up and march—toward self-destruction—to the most conforming cadence caller of them all!

In the classic confrontation with Korihor, the agnostic, both Satan and his arguments finally collapsed. He admitted that he taught certain falsehoods because they were "pleasing unto the carnal mind." (Alma 30:53.) Korihor also said, by playing to the galleries, that he received so much reinforcement that he finally deceived himself. He was neither the first nor the last individual to be taken in by himself while being cheered on by a manipulated majority.

The truths of the gospel, or things as they really are, confront not just the Korihors, but all of us. The lazy individual meets, head on, truths about the essentialness of work. The selfish and idle rich meet, head on, the truths about our need to share: they must also ponder the need to accept, one day, the law of consecration. The selfish and idle poor collide with the harsh truths about covetousness and envy. The salacious must come to grips with the truths about the need to avoid both actual and mental sexual immorality. The "eat, drink, and be merry" crowd is confronted with the truths about personal accountability and the inevitable judgment.

Those who are addicted to the honors and praise of the world meet up with the gospel truths about how hearts so set upon the things of the world must be broken. Ungrateful children bump into the truths about their obligations to parents. Abortionists meet the truths about our individual identity as spirits and the nearness of the imposing sixth commandment.

None of these confrontive truths is "pleasing unto the carnal mind." Instead, each is jarring, disconcerting, and irritating to the carnal mind.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Wherefore Ye Must Press Forward:
Being steadfast includes relentless resistance to such vices as pride; it also includes resisting the growing indifference to integrity in the world.

The road and path of integrity has infinite intersections each requiring decisions, each requiring the manifestation of our integrity. Integrity is more easily maintained when the tradition of following proper counsel and directions is strong enough within the person that it draws upon the power of habit.

President Joseph F. Smith has called on us to educate our very desires. This is wise counsel, for nothing interrupts steadfastness like catering to our selfish desires.

William Law said, "Now all trouble and uneasiness is founded in the want of something or other; would we therefore know the true cause of our troubles and disquiet, we must find out the cause of our wants; because that which creates, and increases our wants, does in the same degree create, and increase our trouble and disquiets. . . . The man of pride has a thousand wants, which only his pride has created; and these render him as full of trouble, as if God had created him with a thousand appetites, without creating anything that was proper to satisfy them."

Charles Wagner warned, "Let your needs rule you; pamper them, and you will see them multiply like insects in the sun. The more you give them, the more they demand."

The justice of God permits no special deal for disciples. We must subdue our selfishness; we must endure the pain of prioritizing. We must cope with the variables of the second estate. There can be no later outcry by the nonbelievers that they were ultimately deprived of an equal chance to believe and to follow. For disciples there is no spiritual equivalent to the "prime rate" or the "most-favored nation" clause. Blessings come the same way to all—by obedience to the laws on which these blessings are predicated, and in no other way. (D&C 130:20.)

The disciple must, therefore, be careful about confusing announcements of intentions with accomplishments as far as his progress on the path is concerned.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Wherefore Ye Must Press Forward:
There is another clue to maintaining our steadfastness: We should judge the warnings given to us by their accuracy and relevancy, not by the finesse or the diplomacy by which the warnings are given. The disciple's commitment to truth must be to truth, without an inordinate concern for the method of delivery. Of course, it takes real humility to listen under some circumstances. The Paul Reveres in our lives may have voices too shrill, use bad grammar, ride a poor horse, and may pick the oddest hours to warn us. But the test of warnings is their accuracy, not their diplomacy.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Tamen Usque Recurret

In a just released book review, Emanuel Pfoh, laments that twenty years after he thought that the idea of a historical bible had been so "deconstructed and transformed" that he hoped "it would never recover," he instead finds to his chagrin it "to be as vital as it was more than twenty years ago."

Welcome to mortality Professor Pfoh. The real issues never go away and every generation gets to answer them again for themselves.

Professor Pfoh finds it so abhorrent that anyone would take the historicity of ancient Israel seriously that he must provide "some critical comments" against anyone who would dare take it seriously. After all "nowadays it [the existence of an “Israelite people” before the Iron Age and outsidePalestine] would hardly be considered a historical fact supported by archaeology and epigraphy". But, according to Pfoh, "one should not attack so much the genre as the very procedures of history writing typical in a genre like the aforementioned." Apparently taking an ancient historical account seriously as history is a crime that deserves to be attacked at all costs.

Pfoh asks, "Is there a “people of Israel” as a coherent, self-conscious, homogeneous group in Iron Age Palestine?" Fair enough. Was there a coherent, self-conscious, homogeneous group of Luwians in the Iron Age Levant? I have read books about them that treat them as historical, but there is less historical evidence for them than there is for ancient Israel, and the historical evidence for them shows them to be much less homogeneous than ancient Israel. After looking at his publications, it is not surprising to find out that Professor Pfoh does not indicate that he has ever tried to reconstruct any ancient history of any place. It might be an informative exercise for those who doubt the historicity of ancient Israel to pick a large tell in the ancient Near East and try to write a history of the site. Until they do, they will, like the graduate school professors they studied under, just keep trying to drive out nature with a pitch-fork.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Deposition of a Disciple:
The individual interface with the institution of the Church constantly gives us a chance to be separated from our selfish concerns. In the kingdom, we are also shown people who have heavier crosses to bear than we do, and we are given chances to help them. Life in the Church helps to put our own personal problems in perspective, and that is very, very healthy. Bearing one's testimony and expressing gratitude are like periodic inventories; counting our blessings is both healthy and invigorating. Counting is better than commiserating.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That My Family Should Partake:
Those who are grossly selfish are also the same people who, cavalierly, use ends to justify means. For the grossly selfish, once an object or desire has been fastened on, it is very easy for the selfish person to ignore the harm and injury done to others (and to institutions) when he reaches for that object. Conversely, the person who sees other men as brothers will be concerned, not alone with ends, but with means; he will understand our interdependency, and he will see others and their interests with honest concern.

Once men make of their selfish interests a religion, they tend to become very orthodox. In fact, if one reflects on the real link between selfishness and sensations, it is even easier to understand the indictment by the Savior of those who sought a sign as a condition for their belief. He describes such demands as coming from an "evil and an adulterous generation" in that they sought for a sign that they "consume it upon" their lusts. Such individuals even want theological titillation, when real religion requires us to love others, to have faith, to endure, and to be patient in affliction. Selfish individuals think of love as being only erotic and will not know the highest form of love, charity, in either the partnerships of the bedroom or in the boardrooms of the business world.