A blog about the arts, books, flora and fauna, vittles, and whatever comes to mind!

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Friday, May 6, 2011

George Lamsa's Bible

One of the history of religion courses I took at UCLA was on early Christianity. When my professor was going over the syllabus on the first day, he called attention to the fact that we would need to bring bibles to class each session. Recently I had bought a copy of the Lamsa Bible on the recommendation of a friend, a Church of Religious Science minister.  I was intrigued with it and asked my professor if I could use it for his course.  He hemmed and hawed, then went into a five-minute discussion without revealing his own thoughts on it, but said no - King James Version (KJV) or New International Version (NIV) only.

The Lamsa Bible is a translation of the Peshitta, the Aramaic scripture, into English.  It appealed to me because his translations of some of the passages that I knew made more sense.  As in Matthew 19:24, which in the KJV is translated as, "And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."  Lamsa writes that passage as, "Again I say to you, it is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."  Makes more sense and is more logical, especially to an illiterate population fed on imagery.

An excerpt of Exodus 13:14-16 from a section
of the Peshitta, British Library Add. 14,425.
The scribe of this manuscript added that it was
written at Amida in 464 CE.  

The Peshitta is the standard version of the Syriac Bible.  The name means "simple" or "common".  The Old Testament (OT) is thought to have been translated from Hebrew in the 2nd century CE; the New Testament (NT) by the early 5th century CE.  It had a wide circulation in the East, used by all the numerous sects of Syriac Christianity from the 5th century onward.  There is evidence it was taken to China from a tablet found in the city of Hsingan-fu (formerly Ch'ang-an) in the province of Shensi in northern China.

The monument from China circa 781 CE.
Image courtesy of this site.

No one knows who was the author of the Peshitta, unlike the Latin Vulgate. Although some scholars disagree, both were revisions however, which is what they have in common.  The Peshitta is considered the equivalent of the Latin Vulgate and the Septuagint (LXX).

1 Esdras 2:1-8 in Greek uncial
from the Codex Vaticanus.

George Lamsa (1892-1975) was born in Armenia in what is now the extreme east of Turkey near the Iraqi border.  That area speaks Aramaic as their native language, and he was a member of the Assyrian Church of the East.  He translated the Peshitta OT and NT into English, working on the hypothesis that it was the original text for the NT and the Greek version was a translation of it.  (He maintained that the OT, although originally written in Hebrew but lost, was rewritten from the Peshitta.)  This he based on the fact that Aramaic was the language of Jesus, his disciples, and the earliest Christians.

George Lamsa - image courtesy the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation.

Lamsa was raised in the Nestorian church, which can be traced to 431 CE when the Council of Ephesus declared that the patriarch Nestorius was teaching a false view of Christ.  His followers fled to Persia and developed their own rituals, customs, and theology, which are reflected in all of Lamsa's writing.  He stated that he was raised in an environment that had changed little from the time of Jesus.  He even called Jesus his "neighbor".

The main criticism of Lamsa is his theory of Aramaic (therefore Peshitta) primacy. He takes Syriac texts to be preeminent.  Most translators take them into account, but don't assign them the importance that Lamsa does.  Also there were many dialects of Aramaic.  Biblical and language scholars note that Peter's Galilean dialect is noticeably different in the Bible, even though he lived 60 miles away from Jesus.  Both of their dialects were representative of western Aramaic, which were even more different from eastern Aramaic dialects.

The inter-relationship between various significant manuscripts of the OT.
Note:  Hebrew and Arabic written languages add specific accents to letters
and characters.  When considering ancient manuscripts, one has to remember
that the surfaces they are written on are not pristine and clean.  Therefore
translators must be very careful to make sure that any diacritics or marks actually
belong to the letter or character and are not imbedded in the manuscript material.

Lamsa was raised in a culture that was basically Assyrian.  His ancestors would have been Zoroastrian in the time of Jesus, and they repudiated Mosaic laws and culture.  His forefathers would have had very different customs, politics, education, ethnicity, neighbors, and religion.  The only similarities between their culture and that of Jesus would have been a hatred for Roman rule and their dialects.  Furthermore, where Lamsa was raised is about 700 miles from Jerusalem, thus far removed from Hebrew influences, and it was Hellenized after Alexander the Great and 250 years of Greek rule.  So much for being "neighbors".

Another of Lamsa's claims is that the area where Jesus and his disciples lived was only occupied by the Greeks for seven years, so few knew Greek.  But in fact, Greek was the lingua franca for government, commerce, and education.  Greek was a second language even in less-Hellenized areas, including farmers and slaves. Archaeology supports this; so many coins in the area were struck in Greek - even those of the Herodian Kings and Romans.  Key trade routes passing through required knowledge of Greek.  That Jews outside of Israel could not read Hebrew was the impetus for the Septuagint.

Just as Assyrian culture changed over the centuries, so did Semitic culture.  Even the Bible lists Jews with different cultures:

Herodians:                Roman in culture, educated in Greek, religiously tolerant,
                                 unfaithful to Mosaic law
Sadducces:               Roman politically, but temple Jews in religion
Essenes:                   Detached, communal, led disciplined lives
Zealots:                    Sought to overthrow Romans
Pharisees:                 Lay leaders of Mosaic practice
Hellenistic Jews:      Raised outside Israel, spoke Greek, learned to live among

They all shared a common heritage, time period, and geography but differed in custom and language.

Most of Lamsa's detractors are Evangelists and those who take the Bible literally. They do not like the fact that he refers to the Trinity as three attributes, and not three persons.  He claims that Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, but rose with his "spiritual" body, as if he were a glass of water that evaporated.  Lamsa felt that the Second Coming is not a physical event, but a spiritual one that will raise people's consciousness.  Sins are errors, not grievous actions.  Demons are wrong thoughts, desires, and practices, not horrifying, punishing creatures.  He did seem to have a distrust of anything Greek, which some scholars claim is the centuries-old bias that stemmed from the Greeks censuring Nestorius.

A copy of the Peshitta.  Image courtesy of www.aramaicpeshitta.com.

He was a prolific author, but seldom stated his own views.  He wanted to unite everyone in a universal understanding.  He therefore avoided dogma and sought the lowest common denominator of all religions.  Unfortunately when asked about supporting evidence he stated, "What is a fact needs no defense".  There have also been claims that his education background was not what was stated.

During his life he published 21 books (from 1921 to 2001), the periodical Light for All, and had a radio program "Lessons for Living."  In 1921 he founded the Christian Mohammedan Society to pursue unity by emphasizing common ground. He also founded the Aramaic Bible Society in 1943, and the Calvary Missionary Church in 1947.

He has been embraced by followers of metaphysics and "mind science" churches such as Religious Science and Unity.  Evangelical Christians and scholars have disregarded and criticized his work, and refer to him as a cult figure.  While I find his hypothesis and thoughts on history spurious, I find his interpretations refreshing.  Then I find the Bible to be a story book, composed of moral lessons for an uneducated population, and not meant to be taken literally.  But what do I know?

All images unless otherwise noted are courtesy of Wikipedia.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cinco de Mayo

United State Post Office issue in 1998.

My Mexican friends have always reacted angrily when the fifth of May is referred to as Mexican Independence Day (which is actually September 16th).  For good reason - Cinco de Mayo is an American Civil War holiday celebrated all over the United States, but virtually ignored in Mexico outside of the state of Puebla.

Mexico was involved in several wars in the latter half of the 1800s.  In the aftermath of the Mexican-American war of 1846 - 1848, a civil war in 1858, and the Reform War in 1860, the government was virtually bankrupt.  President Benito Juárez asked for a two-year moratorium from paying foreign loans.  In response, Spain, Britain, and France sent naval forces to Veracruz to demand repayment. Britain and Spain negotiated a deal and withdrew their forces, but France had ulterior motives in mind.

The Charge of the Mexican Cavalry at the Battle of Puebla.

It was feared that France sought to back the Confederacy and weaken the United States as a whole.  By establishing a base in Mexico, France would be in a good position to do that.  The Union could not afford to fight both France and the Confederacy simultaneously.  Napoleon III (nephew of THE Napoleon), upon hearing that Spain and Britain were sending naval forces to Veracruz, decided to send both naval and army forces, and began to consider who he would install as emperor in Mexico.  With the United States occupied with its civil war, he couldn't miss this opportunity to gain a foothold in the Americas.

Benito Pablo Juárez Garcia circa 1868.

In late 1861 the well-armed French troops invaded Veracruz and drove President Juárez and his forces into retreat.  The French had not been defeated in war in fifty years, and had 8,000 men; the Mexican army was half of that number - 4,000 men. Moving toward Mexico City, the French met heavy resistance, and were defeated at Puebla.  This was a huge boost in morale for the Mexican army and the Mexican people.  However, the defeat was short-lived.  A year later the French captured Mexico City and put Maximilian I of the House of Habsburg to rule as Emperor of Mexico.

Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico.

Maximilian I's rule was also short-lived.  After three years (1864-1867), it ended when the U.S. provided assistance to Mexico, which it could afford to do since the Civil War was over.  Following a court martial, Maximilian I was sentenced to death.  Despite many prominent figures and crowned heads of Europe who pled for his life to be spared, Juárez refused to commute the sentence.  He felt it was necessary to send the message that Mexico would not tolerate foreign rule.  The execution was carried out by firing squad on June 19, 1867.

The body of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico in 1867.

A paper published by the UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture in 2007, states the origin of the observation of Cinco de Mayo in the U.S. first started in California in the 1860s to honor that resistance to French rule in Mexico. The study notes that the date has been celebrated in California since 1863.  The holiday was spontaneously created by Mexicans and Latinos living in California.

Children in traditional dress celebrating.  Image courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica.

Today it is recognized as a day to celebrate the culture of Americans of Mexican ancestry, much like the Chinese-Americans, Irish-Americans, and German-Americans have Chinese New Year, St. Patrick's Day, and Oktoberfest, respectively, to celebrate their ethnicities.  On June 7, 2005, a Joint Resolution by Congress called on the President to issue a proclamation bidding the people of the U.S. to observe Cinco de Mayo with activities befitting the Mexican culture.

Of course, the celebration has been heartily embraced by the food and beverage industries, and has become a commercial success:

Image courtesy sandiegolist.com

If the Mexicans had not defeated the French at Puebla, and France had been able to easily take over Mexico, the course of United States history may have gone a very different route.  With French backing the Confederacy may have successfully ceded from the Union, and the U.S. would probably not have become a super power. Mucho gracias, Mexico!

Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Language of Flowers

A common purple lilac expresses the "first
emotions of love" in the language of flowers.

In the Victorian era, when social interactions were closely watched and regulated, flowers and floral arrangements were cleverly used to communicate.  Functioning as coded messages, one could express feelings that might be unwise to state verbally, in light of those rigid social conventions.  There were even dictionaries of "floriography".  Their meanings were universally understood, so one had to be careful, which probably added a little enticing danger to the communication.

A copy of the 1847 volume of The Flowers Personified, published in New York
by N. Cleaveland, Esq.  It is a translation of Les Fleurs Animées by Grandville.

A bouquet of flowers, also known as a posy (posey or posie), nosegay, or tussie-mussie, were often given as gifts, even in medieval times when they were a necessary accessory to hide bodily odors.  (Hence the term "nosegay" - to keep the nose gay, when that word did not have a sexual connotation.)  An arrangement of flowers could be used to convey a sentence or verse.

A hybrid Oriental lily, the meaning could be purity.

Flowers and arrangments gained popularity from 1837, during Queen Victoria's reign, when they became the fashion.  A listing of flowers and their corresponding meanings were in all popular household manuals and social guide books.  Madame Charlotte de la Tour wrote a flower dictionary in 1818 called Le Language des Fleurs.  This inspired Miss Carruthers of Inverness to write Flower Lore: The Teachings of Flowers, Historical, Legendary, Poetical and Symbolic in 1879.  Her book was very popular in England and the U.S., and has become the standard for symbolism.

A camellia could be excellence

The meanings can have some complexity.  The shades of a type of flower have different meanings, and two different colors of a flower in one bouquet can mean something entirely different.  Pictures of flowers on stationary also had meaning, and the pictures could be more important than the letter.

A poppy meant pleasure or fun.

The presentation of the flower(s) held meaning as well.  Given by the right hand meant "yes"; the left hand meant "no".  A flower held upright was a positive sign; held upside-down was a negative sign.  A ribbon tied to the left referred to the giver; tied to the right referred to the receiver.

Pink roses mean happiness.

However, despite the books, lists, etc., there is little evidence that Victorians actually ardently used the "language of flowers".  It was mainly used by artists, writers, and poets who wanted to spice up their creations with a little romance - or not.

Rosemary is for remembrance (these are in flower).

Floriography has its roots in other cultures - most sources list Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Roman, and Middle Eastern cultures.  From the Turkish harems came selam (or salaam, a Turkish greeting), which was not a language of flowers but a mnemonic system.  This coded system was not limited to flowers, but included objects as well.  By handing someone a pear you told them not to despair - Ermut, Ver bize hir umut (Pear, give me hope).  Luckily this example also rhymes in English!  The difference between the selam and the Victorian system was the selam meanings had to be shared only among a small group of people in order to be safely secret, whereas the Victorian system was known by all.

Jonquil/narcissus/daffodil means "return my affection".

Hanakotoba is the Japanese system for the language of flowers.  Although theirs has tended to become westernized, it was once a separate system of meanings. The Japanese did not limit flower giving to women.  Japanese men, including Samurais, were cultured and loved things of beauty, including flowers.

We still give flowers, but today the selection seems to be based more on price and preference than any inherent meaning.  Perhaps that will change.  How fun to send a message with such things of beauty!

Images courtesy of Wikipedia.
For language references, this site is interesting.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Recycling Paper Into Art: Junior Fritz Jacquet

Junior Fritz Jacquet creates sculptures of paper.  The Haitian-born Parisian works in all kinds of paper creating abstract sculptures and human figures, including masks.  His interest began at age 14 when he first learned about origami.  He took to the art medium immediately, and continues to explore it, pushing it beyond its traditional art forms.

Three Men in a Sphere 2, image courtesy of www.origami-kunst.de

He uses glassine paper to make his lamps, which are folded, crumpled, and sculpted and have an internal fiberglass support.  They can be suspended or placed on a surface and contain a low wattage bulb.  They are available in a choice of sizes, and can be ordered from his website.

Monsieur Jacquet has used all types of paper, and thinks that every type has distinct characteristics that lend themselves to their final form.  His job is to merely help them realize that form.  Although he feels paper has a fragility to it, it can be surprisingly elastic and has great texture.  Paper has a tactile responsiveness.

A believer in the 3 Rs - reduce, reuse, recycle - he is an upcycle artist.  That is he gives old items greater value, not less, by converting them into art sculptures.  He counts the Swiss surrealist sculpture Alberto Giacometti and Senegalese artist Ousmane Sow as influences.

The big masks are made with one sheet of white or black Canson paper.
They measure roughly 12 - 16 inches in height, and can be mounted on stands.

He has worked with a wide variety of papers and creates a wide variety of sculptural styles.  One of his figurines he calls Bonhomme Canelle, a whimsical figure made of one sheet of cardboard.  This funny little creature is playful, spontaneous, and humorous.  There are different aspects of him available and he can stand upright on a wooden support or he can be sat or laid down.

What Monsieur Jacquet is perhaps most famous for is his masks, made from toilet paper rolls.  He first focuses on constructing the eyes, then the nose, mouth, and finally a facial expression.  He then mounts these masks to a flexible metal staff with a foot.  The pieces are coated with shellac and sometimes pigments.

His unique technique is still inspired by traditional origami in that he uses one sheet of paper.  But he has taken the art of paper folding a long way.  It will be interesting to see what he comes up with in the future, as he continues to express his take on paper folding.

Images courtesy of the artist's website.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Caldecott, Crane, and Greenaway

Modern-day children reading Dr. Seuss.
Image courtesy of scbailey/Wikipedia.

A picture book combines a narrative with pictures.  In the late Victorian era, a number of illustrators became famous for their work in children's picture books.  "Toy books", introduced in the latter half of the 19th century, were small paperbacks with a larger number of pictures than text.  There illustrations not only helped interpret the stories, but elaborated on them, and were mostly done in color. Three of the best illustrators of toy books are considered the great triumvirate of the time:  Randolph Caldecott, Walter Crane, and Kate Greenaway.  All three of them worked with color printer and wood engraver Edmund Evans to produce high quality books, and all of them knew each other.

Randolph Caldecott.
Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886) was born in Chester, England.  He went to work as a banker, then began studying at night at the Manchester School of Art.  His love of countryside walks, hunting, and horses is reflected in his art.  He soon had some success being published in local papers and some London publications.  He had a penchant for marginalia - something that became a lifelong habit.  A painter friend hooked him up with the editor of the London Society, a monthly magazine who published some of his drawings.

All four illustrations above from the Panjandrum Picture Book.
Courtesy of www.gutenberg.org.

With this encouragement, he quit banking and moved to London in 1872 at the age of 26.  A couple of years later he was a successful illustrator working on commission.  He lived in the heart of Bloomsbury for seven years, and began to exhibit his work.  In 1877 Edmund Evans needed an illustrator and Caldecott was retained to replace Walter Crane.  His initial two projects were The House That Jack Built and The Diverting History of John Gilpin, both published in 1878. They were so successful that he did two more each year until his death.  He was allowed to choose his own stories to illustrate, and sometimes even wrote his own.

The Babes in the Woods, published 1879.

"And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon" from Hey Diddle Diddle and
Bye, Baby Bunting
, 1882.   
From "The House that Jack Built" in The Complete Collection of
Pictures and Songs,
published in 1887.

In 1884 the sales of his Nursery Rhymes (12 books) reached 867,000 copies and he found himself internationally famous.  He loved to travel and continued to do so, even after he married (he never had children).  He had suffered from poor health since he was a child, and on a tour of the U.S. in 1886, he died in St. Augustine, Florida at the age of 39.  He was buried there, but also has a memorial in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, and one in Chester Cathedral in his hometown.

The Caldecott Medal, designed in 1937 by Rene Paul Chambellan.  The face of
the medal is from The Diverting Story of John Gilpin, who is shown astride a runaway
horse (story was based on a 1782 poem by William Cowper).  The reverse of the medal
is from "Four and twenty blackbirds bak'd in a pie".  

The Caldecott Medal was named in his honor.  It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association.  This award is for the artist of the most distinguished American children's picture book.  Both it and the Newbery Medal (the first children's literary award in the world, which is given to the most distinguished contribution to American children's literature) are the most prestigious awards for children's books in the U.S.

Walter Crane by photographer Frederick Hollyer, 1886.
Platinum print, image courtesy the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Walter Crane (1845-1915) is often called "the father of children's pictures books". He was a most prolific and influential book creator, and began some of the more colorful child-in-the-garden motifs that became emblematic in many nursery rhyme illustrations.  His illustrations for classical tales and fables are "fabulous".

King Midas with his daughter from A Wonder Book
for Boys and Girls
by Nathaniel Hawthorne, published
1893.  Image courtesy LOC.
"The Man That Pleased None" from Baby's Own Aesop, 1887.
Image courtesy LOC. 

He was born in Liverpool to portrait painter and miniaturist Thomas Crane.  He was a student of John Ruskin, and a follower of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which he also studied with.  During a three-year apprenticeship with wood engraver William James Linton, he was able to study the work that came through by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Sir John Tenniel, and John Everette Millair.  Although he admired the art from the late Renaissance, he was greatly influenced by the Elgin Marbles and Japanese color prints.

The Moat and Bishop's Palace, Wells Cathedral
is a watercolor that shows his skill with the medium.
Image courtesy The Delaware Art Museum.

One of Crane's wallpaper designs, "Swan and Rush and Iris".

As part of the Arts & Crafts movement, he became associated with the Socialist movement which believed in bringing art into the daily life of all classes.  For this reason he designed textiles, wallpapers, and home decorations.  He worked with the Art Workers Guild, and founded the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in 1888. He was vice president of the Healthy and Artistic Dress Union, which began in 1890, whose aim was loose-fitting clothes.  He illustrated their pamphlet "How to Dress Without a Corset".

Pamphlet written by William Wheeler.
Courtesy peasant-arts.blogspot.com.

Although Crane was not an anarchist, he contributed to libertarian publishers.  In the illustration below he addresses the Haymarket Affair in Chicago, where he made several trips to speak in defense of the eight anarchists accused of murder. At the May 4, 1886 event, someone threw a dynamite bomb at police who were trying to disperse people at a rally in support of striking workers (who wanted an eight-hour workday).  The blast and ensuing gunfire killed seven policemen and four bystanders, most of them  killed from friendly fire.  Four of the eight anarchists arrested were hung and one committed suicide, even though the prosecution conceded that none of the defendants had thrown the bomb.

Crane's portraits of the Haymarket Martyrs,
published in the November 1894 issue of Liberty Press.

From 1865 to 1876 Crane worked with Edmund Evans to collaborate on toy books of nursery rhymes and fairy tales, producing two to three every year.  He continued illustrating a variety of books.  One of his most famous works was a collaboration with William Morris on the page decoration of The Story of Glittering Plain, published in 1894 by Kelmscott Press.  It was done in the style of German and Italian woodcuts of the 16th century.  He exhibited his work internationally and lectured and taught.

Kate Greenaway.

Kate Greenaway (1846-1901) studied at what is now the Royal College of Art in London, which at that time had a separate section for women.  Her paintings were reproduced from hand-engraved wood blocks by Edmund Evans.  Her first book, which Evans produced, was a collection of simple verses for children.  Under the Window (1879) made her reputation as an illustrator.  It was made in a costly process where photographs of her dainty watercolors were done on wood blocks, called chromoxylography.  Despite advice to the contrary, Evans ran 20,000 copies in a first edition, which sold out immediately.

Illustration from The Pied Piper of Hamelin, 1888.
The rats of Hamelin.

She was noted for her depictions of children - all of them dressed in late 18th century and Regency fashions:  smocks and skeleton suits for the boys and high-waisted pinafores and dresses with caps and straw bonnets for the girls.  The famous department store on Regent Street in London, Liberty of London, used her drawings for their designs for real children's clothing.  Mothers in the 1880s and 1890s who conformed with the Arts and Craft movement dressed their daughters in Kate Greenaway pantaloons and bonnets.

The Elf Ring (watercolor).
A Little Girl in a Muff (watercolor).

Clothing and accessories were her real forté.  She was not as accomplished an artist as Caldecott or Crane, but was adored by the public.  She didn't exhibit a real understanding of anatomy.  She has been criticized, in fact, for creating doll-like children that lack complexity and spirit.  But her fans seemed to prefer her idealized world.  She died of breast cancer when she was 55.

May Day.

The Kate Greenaway Medal was established in England in 1955 in her honor.  It is awarded annually by the Charted Institute of Library and Information Professionals to an outstanding work of illustration in children's literature.  The first award was given in 1956, and besides 1955 there was no award given in 1958 as well, because no book was considered suitable.  The winner receives a gold medal and £5000 worth of books donated to the library of their choice.

All three of these illustrators greatly changed children's literature.  They were fortunate to live in a time and place where they had opportunities to meet other artists.  The fact that they all knew each other is intriguing.  To be a fly on the wall at one of their rendezvous....

Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of Wikipedia.