Sunday, August 30, 2015

Report from the ICE XI XVI

The last couple of days have been fairly busy and I have not kept up on reporting highlights of the International Congress of Egyptologists. Again, I am highlighting one or two specific points made in various presenters' talks. I am not trying to summarize their arguments. I am also highlighting what I think are good points or important points though I will not necessarily be describing them as the authors would have. These are things that I think are of good report or praiseworthy. I am also not reporting on every presentation I went to and certainly not private conversations. When I was chairing a session, I usually did not have time to make good notes.

On Friday Daniel M. Mendez Roderiguez argued that the Book of Caverns, which is typically described as a funerary text, was used by the living.

Yvonne Vosman discussed the rise of Neo-Egyptian objects in Europe. These she described as Egyptosophical objects with a spiritual function. She described the proliferation of these objects as a result of the invisibility of religion in European society for the last thirty years. Religion in Europe has been removed from the public sphere and into the privacy of one's own home. As a result religion has been transformed into a popular spirituality, and Egypt is seen as being the home of ancient, exotic, and mysterious wisdom, so there has been a large European market for vaguely Egyptian wares with alleged wondrous powers.

Brett McClain talked about how, if you consider a temple as a book, the Karnak temples of Ramses III provide an excellent model for seeing how redaction actually worked in the ancient Near East. He further noted that the only inscription in these temples that has been studied is the "tablet of gold".

Jan Moje talked about bilingual texts from Elephantine. He mentioned that there were a number of bilingual Aramaic and demotic texts but he concentrated on the bilingual Greek and Demotic ones. He noted that when there is a dominant language, it is usually put first.

Verena Lepper discussed the Elephantine papyri scattered throughout a number of Institutions. There are more than 350 boxes of these papyri in museums that have never been looked at and she discussed her efforts to make the material accessible. She mentioned that these papyri were in hieroglyphs, hierative, demotic, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Coptic, Arabic, and even Phonecian and Punic.

On Saturday, Alexa Rickert discussed terms for New Years Day in the Temple of Dendara. She made a distinction between theological cardinal points and geographical cardinal points, which at Dendara are 90 degrees off of each other. (Thus "theological" north is "geographical" west.)

Felicitas Weber talked about a Book of the Dead papyrus in Dresden, most of whose texts and some of whose vignettes are unknown from other manuscripts of the Book of the Dead. At the end she made the statement that it was "worth looking at manuscripts closely because usually it is not just another Book of the Dead."

Mykola Tarasenko looked at the iconography of one scene in one vingette in the Book of the Dead and discussed the range of variations in that scene through the New Kingdom.

Silvia Einaudi discussed an noteworthy manuscript of the Book of the Dead in the Louvre. (I have seen it before and it is quite remarkable.) It is a Ptolemaic manuscript which is 19.44 meters long and has some 1700 columns of text. Sometimes the space for the name is left out, and after a certain point, there are spaces for vignettes but no illustrations have been drawn.

Suzanne Topfer discussed a number of unpublished papyri from Tebtunis. She remarked how strange it seemed to have texts of rituals for the protection of the Pharaoh long after there had ceased to be Pharaohs in Egypt.

Sandrine Vuilleumier discussed the phenomenon of adapting ritual texts for individuals in the late period. These were originally rituals for the king or the gods which were then reused as funerary texts.

Finally, Jacqueline Williamson talked about how her excavations at Tell el-Amarna have forced her to rethink some of the standard theories about religion during the Amarna period. (The archaeological and epigraphic evidence that she has unearthed certainly do not square with what I was taught in graduate school about the topic.)

The organizers of the congress did well on a number of things that I would like to highlight: The student helpers were competent, involved, and enthusiastic. They were easy to spot in their bright yellow polo shirts, unfailingly helpful, and managed to solve every problem within minutes. The sturdy name badges on the lanyards had good maps printed on the back showing the location of all the conference venues. There were large signs on site to help one locate the venues. Communication of changes were posted in a central location and sent via email. The wifi in the venue was good. The breaks were long enough to talk to people without being too rushed but not too long. The food provided was sufficient and there was a good variety of things other than coffee to drink (impressive considering that there were supposedly 800 people there). The papers were generally of good quality. I would like to thank them for these things (and others) which they did well.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Report of the ICE XI XV

The photo shows a new demotic graffito presented at the International Congress of Egyptologists. This extremely important graffito obviously revolutionizes our study of ancient Egypt.

Report from ICE XI XIV

This morning Frederico Contardi described newly identified fragments of the Opening of the Mouth ritual from Drovetti's finds. He noted that the ritual was used for both humans and gods. The use for gods was previously attested only for the Greco-Roman period but these new fragments show that that use goes back to the New Kingdom, over a thousand years earlier.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Why You Should Go Into Mormon Studies

According to this article if you get a degree in Religious Studies (of which Mormon Studies is a subset) you can look forward to the following:
  • You might get really lucky and make $32,000 dollars a year; of course you are just as likely to earn $23,000 dollars a year (that's below the poverty level for a family of four).

  • 35% of graduates will be employed in jobs that they did not even need a college degree for.

  • 58% of graduates will be employed in low wage service jobs (waiting tables, janitors, maids, cashiers, etc.; on the bright side, those are honorable professions).

  • It is a little unclear but it looks like only 7% of Religious Studies majors find employment in the field. You could be that one in fourteen who actually makes it (comparatively) big.

  • You will be competing with over 54,000 people for that job.

  • A Religious Studies major is more likely to find employment than someone in Mormon Studies.

  • The faceless person who sets your insurance premiums will likely start out at at least double your salary. 
Good luck!

Report from the ICE XI XIII

This morning and afternoon a number of reports were given on digital databases and tools dealing with Greek loanwords, hieratic paleography, demotic paleography, and a new dictionary project.

This afternoon, A. Legowski told about an abbreviated Book of the Dead in Athens. He noted that it had unique vignettes and that the vignettes did not always match the text they were placed with.

Nicolaus Leroux discussed some hitherto unknown priestly regulations at Dendara.

Report from ICE XI XII

M. Di Teodoro gave a fascinating synthesis of the system of conscripted labor in the Middle Kingdom. Basically households were obliged to provide a number of individuals for a few months to work on government projects. (For those in the US think three months mandatory unremunerated jury duty involving hard labor.) She used labor records to show how the system worked in practice.

Report from ICE XI XI

This morning Richard Jasnow discussed a group of hieratic/demotic commentaries of the Book of the Fayyum that he and Horst Beinlich are preparing for publication. Interesting features include hieratic text interspersed with demotic commentary, and descriptions of and commentary on pictures that are not in the text itself (but are in the hieroglyphic versions).

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Report from ICE XI X

I have a lot to catch up on:

Yesterday afternoon, James K. Hoffmeier showed that the great hymn to the Aten, which is normally thought to be a composition from late in Akhenaten's reign had to have come earlier in the reign, before year 9.

Lucia Diaz-Iglesias Llanos discussed the Book of the Dead found in the tomb of Djehuty, an early Eighteenth Dynasty official. She made the case that there were at least three different scribes in the tomb. She also discussed the numerous sorts of textual errors made by the copyists.

Holger Kockelmann discussed the gate guardians in temples and amassed material from the early dynastic period through Coptic times (and even into medieval times) on his subject.

This morning E. Liptay showed how Sed-Festival imagery was used in certain Twenty-First Dynasty Coffins.

Corina van den Hoven discussed he coronation ritual at Edfu and brought forth evidence that not only were officials anointed in ancient Egypt, but that kings were probably as well.

Angus Graham discussed coring work at Luxor and his team's attempt to reconstruct the floodplain in the area. He showed that based on the work they have been able to do so far, most of what Egyptologists have assumed about the placement of the river is likely wrong.

This afternoon, Alessandra van Lieven discussed how a number of the Coffin Texts (which are usually regarded as funerary) have to have been used by the living. She also discussed one of them in particular, which was a ritual for the prolonging of one's life that was performed every New Year.

Melanie Flossmann-Schutze discussed her project at Tuna el-Gebel and how they are trying to integrate archaeological and textual sources to understand the history of the site.

There were some other good papers that I chose not to highlight, and some not so good papers that I am skipping over. So far it has been a good conference with lots of interesting papers.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Report from ICE XI VIII

I am principally interested in noting things that are of good report or praiseworthy. One less praiseworthy thing is that unfortunately some Egyptologists still pay no attention to the second half of Egyptian history.

Report from ICE XI VII

Laurent Coulon gave an interesting overview of chapels of Osiris around Karnak. One of the interesting things he pointed out is that these chapels, which are called temples but are rather small, tend to be located along processional routes.

Report from ICE XI VI

Grzegorz First gave an impressive presentation on the so-called pantheistic deities in ancient Egypt. He argued that Egyptologists have misused the term "pantheistic" since the so-called pantheistic deities were not pantheistic in the conventional sense. He supported the suggestion that they be called polymorphic instead. He also argued that polymorphic deities could refer to Christ. (Unfortunately I can not reproduce his argument here.)

He also noted that it is very difficult to interpret these figures because they generally lack inscriptions.

Report from ICE XI VI

This morning G. Gestoso Singer talked about love and gold in the El Amarna texts. She noted that love was used three ways in the texts: (1) as an expression of brotherhood, (2) as an expression of loyalty, (3) as a rationale for exchanging gifts (mainly gold) as a means of enhancing a ruler's prestige among foreign ambassadors.

Report from ICE XI V

This morning Roberto Gozzoli discussed how Egyptology is an insular discipline that would benefit from interaction with other disciplines (he emphasized particularly history). He noted that most Egyptian histories are merely a concatenation of summaries of the texts.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Report from ICE XI IV

I am only posting select comments on papers that I thought were good and points that I thought were interesting. I am not especially summarizing arguments.

This afternoon Dawn McCormack discussed her excavation of what she currently thinks is a Thirteenth Dynasty royal tomb complex at Abydos. Unfortunately she can only guess who it might have been intended for.

Report from ICE XI III

This afternoon at the International Congress of Egyptologists Jennifer Babcock discussed her work on certain illustrations and noted the difficulty in figuring out what the scene was about our reconstructing the story when all one had were the pictures.

Report from ICE XI II

This morning Silke Caßor-Pfeiffer discussed scenes of offering milk and swaddling clothes in the southern chapel of the Opet temple at Karnak. She talked about how the Opet temple rituals on one level provide for the basic needs of Horus as an infant but the inscriptions also specify that these rituals serve to establish Horus as the king. She was able to draw enough parallels to show that the southern chapel served as the Mammisi of the Opet temple.

Report from ICE XI I

This morning at the eleventh International Congress of Egyptologists, Guo Dantong gave a summary of between Egypt and the Levant during the Middle Kingdom / Middle Bronze Age. She did a good job considering that English is not her native language. One point which she mentioned that probably has not been emphasized enough is that Egyptian access to the northern Levant was over seas while access to the southern Levant was over land. She also noted that archaeological evidence from Tell el-Da'ba indicated that in the late Middle Kingdom had closer contact with the northern Levant than with the south.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Basic Rules for Book of Mormon Geography

As a scholar, I often am asked by individuals to give my opinion on various proposed Book of Mormon geographies. So I have looked at a number of proposed Book of Mormon geographies. For many people, Book of Mormon geography is a gospel hobby. For those who have this gospel hobby, any disagreement with their particular geography proposal is somehow a rejection of the gospel, Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith. It is not.

Various proposals about Book of Mormon geography are guesses. That's right, your favorite Book of Mormon geography (if you have one) is a guess. The question is whether it is a good guess or a bad guess. How do you know? I have a few rules of thumb that I use to check proposed Book of Mormon geographies:

  1. It needs to actually match the Book of Mormon and all geographic references in the Book of Mormon. If it does not match the text of the Book of Mormon, it does not matter what else it does match; it cannot be right. So, if your geography fits perfectly except your narrow neck of land stretches from San Francisco to New York, that is not by any stretch of the imagination a narrow neck and it just doesn't work.

  2. Statements by Joseph Smith and other Church leaders about Book of Mormon geography do not overrule the text itself. Joseph Smith was the translator of the text, not the author. If he were the author he would be the ultimate authority on Book of Mormon geography, diction, history, everything. If we take the Book of Mormon as historical, then the ancient authors were the experts and the modern translator may not necessarily be an expert on any particular detail of the text or set of details in the text. Church leaders may know more about the text than I do, so their statements should be taken seriously, but they are not more authoritative than the scriptural text itself. If the prophet gets revelation on the subject, he will identify it as revelation.

  3. Careful readers of the text deserve more credence than careless readers of the text.

  4. Individuals who are making or soliciting money from their proposed geography are suspect.
    "He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion. Behold, the Lord hath forbidden this thing. . . . But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish." (2 Nephi 26:29–31)
    Individuals who are trying to make money off their geography are in into Book of Mormon geography for the wrong reasons. They should not be trusted.

  5. Individuals who chose a geography because of some sense of national pride or because of bigotry against some culture, nationality or ethnic group are not paying attention to the Book of Mormon.
    "Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God." (1 Nephi 17:35)
    The Book of Mormon provides numerous examples of individuals who invited those of other nationalities to partake of the gospel message. So if you are using the Book of Mormon as an excuse to puff up your prejudices against some ethnic group then you are missing the forest for the trees and you need to repent.

There are really only two reasons that I can think of why Book of Mormon geography matters:
  1. The Book of Mormon is historical and actually took place, which means it took place someplace.

  2. The geographic and cultural setting can potentially provide more insight into the text and make it more meaningful. 
If the geographic and cultural setting does not provide more insight into the text are we really all that much better off knowing exactly where things took place?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Be Careful What You Wish For

A certain individual here begs for a certain BYU official to apply a certain standard to publications and calls for the censorship of certain views. Does he realize that by his own criteria he would require that his own vociferous views be suppressed and censored?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Legal Notice

Blogger has been sending around the following notice:
European Union laws require you to give European Union visitors information about cookies used on your blog. In many cases, these laws also require you to obtain consent.

As a courtesy, we have added a notice on your blog to explain Google's use of certain Blogger and Google cookies, including use of Google Analytics and AdSense cookies.

You are responsible for confirming this notice actually works for your blog, and that it displays. If you employ other cookies, for example by adding third party features, this notice may not work for you. Learn more about this notice and your responsibilities.
I have checked and if you are viewing this from an EU country then an ugly banner informing you of Blogger's  use of cookies does indeed cover the header of the site.

For those curious I know of the following cookies that blogger uses (explanations come from here, and here; different browsers may get different sets of cookies):
  • TL
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  • SID
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This cookie is used to determine new and returning visitors.  It has an expiration time of 2 years.  If the ga.js library is executed and no _utma cookie exists, this will be recorded as the users’ first visit and a _utma cookie will be set.  If a _utma cookie is already in place, the expiration time is reset and the user is recorded as a return visitor.
So let’s go through a quick run through of what the string of numbers means.  The string starts with a domain hash, this defines which domain the cookie relates to and is unique for every domain.  The Unique Identifier is what defines the user/browser. The time stamp refers to the visits the user makes to your website and the number of sessions refers to how many times they have visited your website.
This cookie is what’s called a “persistent” cookie, as in, it never expires (technically, it does expire…in the year 2038…but for the sake of explanation, let’s pretend that it never expires, ever). This cookie keeps track of the number of times a visitor has been to the site pertaining to the cookie, when their first visit was, and when their last visit occurred. Google Analytics uses the information from this cookie to calculate things like Days and Visits to purchase.
  • _utmb
This cookie is used to determine a new session.  The cookie is set when the ga.js library executes and there is no _utmb cookie in place.  It has an expiration time of 30 minutes, therefore if a user is inactive for a period longer than this, a new cookie will be set when the library executes and the interaction will be recorded as a new session.
The _utmb cookie contains the same domain hash as above.  This cookie records information about this particular session. 
  • _utmc
The B and C cookies are brothers, working together to calculate how long a visit takes. __utmb takes a timestamp of the exact moment in time when a visitor enters a site, while __utmc takes a timestamp of the exact moment in time when a visitor leaves a site. __utmb expires at the end of the session. __utmc waits 30 minutes, and then it expires. You see, __utmc has no way of knowing when a user closes their browser or leaves a website, so it waits 30 minutes for another pageview to happen, and if it doesn’t, it expires.
  • _utmz
This cookie is used to determine the traffic source, medium, campaign name and campaign term which delivered the user to your website.  It is created when the javascript library executes and expires after 6 months.  This helps Google collect the data which can then help them to determine which traffic sources assist conversions within the multi-channel section of Analytics.
Again the domain is the same as the above cookies as it refers to the same domain.  From this cookie we are able to determine the campaign source, campaign name, campaign medium and campaign terms.
Mr. __utmz keeps track of where the visitor came from, what search engine you used, what link you clicked on, what keyword you used, and where they were in the world when you accessed a website. It expires in 15,768,000 seconds – or, in 6 months. This cookie is how Google Analytics knows to whom and to what source / medium / keyword to assign the credit for a Goal Conversion or an Ecommerce Transaction. __utmz also lets you edit its length with a simple customization to the Google Analytics Tracking code.
  • GoogleAccountsLocale_session
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This stands for Google Apps Password Sync and according to here:
Google Apps Password Sync (GAPS) automatically keeps your users' Google Apps passwords in sync with their Microsoft® Active Directory passwords. Whenever a user's Active Directory password is changed, GAPS pushes the change to Google Apps immediately.
GAPS never changes your Active Directory passwords; it only syncs Active Directory password changes to Google Apps.
If you object to these cookies you should be able to change the settings on your browser to accept or reject them or to have them expire at the end of a session.

I have not set any cookies on this site although Blogger has.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

On Deliberate Obtuseness

Someone sent me the following link where an individual going under the name of jonathan3d (apparently Jonathan Neville) takes issue about something I published in 1998. At the time I stated:
Biographies like the book under review are deliberate, intentional acts; they do not occur by accident. Ferguson is largely unknown to the vast majority of Latter-day Saints; his impact on Book of Mormon studies is minimal. So, of all the lives that could be celebrated, why hold up that of a "double-acting sour-puss?"  . . .

With the deliberate inclusion of this material and the deliberate suppression of the fuller picture of Ferguson, [the author] demonstrates an interest in fashioning propaganda. With this book [the author] advocates (perhaps unintentionally) the view that Latter-day Saint doubters should mouth pieties in public and do as they please in private, and, most particularly, that they should covertly seek to undermine the faith of the weak and faltering. I am not convinced that this is unintentional, since [the author] (1) attempts to marshal as many reasons to create doubt as he can, (2) introduces controversies and arguments brought forth after Ferguson's death, and (3) consistently misrepresents the arguments of supporters of the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham. In an attempt to subvert the weak, weigh down the hands that hang down, and weaken the feeble knees, [the author] has carefully fashioned the hagiography of a hypocrite.
(John Gee, "The Hagiography of Doubting Thomas," FARMS Review of Books 10/2 (1998): 159-60. At the time of writing this entire issue is missing from the Maxwell Institute website ).
I included a footnote to explain what I meant by Ferguson being largely unknown, noting that the Comprehensive Annotated Book of Mormon Bibliography "lists four books and four articles by Ferguson out of 6,338 items published before 1994." I was addressing the issue of why write a biography of Ferguson and emphasize his Book of Mormon work since Ferguson was not exactly a Book of Mormon heavy-weight.

Our pseudonymous author (Jonathan Neville(?)) wrenches one sentence out of context and complains:
Finally, Gee asserts Ferguson's impact has been minimal, a claim that is easily rebutted by a simple Internet search where the Ferguson case is frequently cited by former, inactive, and anti-Mormons. (I realize Gee referred to the "vast majority of Latter-day Saints," but the "vast majority" is hardly synonymous with "active." Many former/inactive LDS have followed the same trajectory as Ferguson but have not remained in the Church after concluding the archaeological evidence in Mesoamerica does not substantiate the Book of Mormon. It's an ongoing and unnecessary tragedy when there is such an abundance of evidence in North America that does substantiate the Book of Mormon.
When I wrote the passage jonathan3d complains about Google did not yet exist, so his complaint is misplaced.

jonathan3d seems to think that Ferguson is the acme of Mesoamericanist Book of Mormon scholars. He was not. Both jonathan3d and Ferguson seem to me to have naive understandings of the Book of Mormon and what it means to situate the Book of Momon in Mesoamerica. But really if jonathan 3d thinks that North America is a better fit than Mesoamerica or a hemispheric model, he should state his case rather than take statements out of context to take pot-shots at others. After all, he claims:
I'd rather focus on the information and the logic of the arguments than the personalities.
If that is where he would rather focus, he is welcome to do so and doing so would certainly be welcome.