Saturday, March 2, 2013

Mine Intent

Along with the thoughts on parallelomania, one of the quotes that I have always tried to keep in the back of my mind in studying the ancient world comes from C. S. Lewis's devil Screwtape:
Only the learned read old books, and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, chapter 27).
I have known many learned scholars who are very knowledgeable about the ancient world, but are not very wise. The great Egyptologist, Jan Assmann, put it this way:
Today we know infinitely more about Egypt than did the experts of the eighteenth century. But we are also infinitely less sure of what to do with that knowledge.
This is the problem articulated by C. S. Lewis, knowledge without wisdom. I suspect that part of the problem is that the discipline required to master the languages and other information necessary crowds out the pondering about what it means and why we are pursuing the study. Time after time in graduate school, we would go through the motions of translating a text and moved on even if the result were gibberish. It may not mean anything, but we had translated it, whether or not we had understood it. We moved on none the wiser.

I would hope that those reading this, likely not experts in the ancient world, could gain snippets of why this study matters.