• Vatican catalogs its Hebrew manuscripts [JTA]: I’m really curious to see, after the Richard Williamson debacle, if this event goes ahead as planned January 30—the catalog “edited by the technical staff of the National Library of Israel, will be formally presented at an event Jan. 30 that will feature the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See as well as the Vatican librarian…”
  • English and Arabic film reveals Journey to Mecca [Reuters]: “The first and only time an IMAX camera has captured an aerial view of the Haj from a helicopter hovering 200 feet above Mecca and the first time an IMAX team has been admitted into the most sacred sanctuary of Islam — the Grand Mosque at Mecca.” A dramatic portrayal of Ibn Battuta’s 14th century hajj combined with a documentary look at the contemporary one, this film opens at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto on February 7; so far, it is only booked at a very limited number of theatres in the world, as you can see at the official site.
  • S. Africa helps Mali modernise ancient libraries [Reuters]: “South Africa and Mali opened a high-tech library in the Malian desert town of Timbuktu on Saturday, boosting efforts to preserve thousands of ancient manuscripts documenting Africa’s academic past.” The article doesn’t address to what degree the library will be accessible to the public; I hope to find out more about this in the days to come.
  • British museum director talking collections [The Sunday Times]: The British Museum is turning 250—”An extract from Neil MacGregor’s anniversary lecture where he reflects on the great works made by humans throughout history.” MacGregor makes the case for seeing the Museum as “the private collection of every citizen in the world.”
  • Until the end of time [The National]: “Thomas Hegghammer reads a new book tracing the spread of apocalyptic thought in the Islamic world.” The review is in English, but the book is in French.  It sounds fascinating; I hope it is soon translated.  It’s curious how Islamic and Protestant fundamentalism have gotten more similar, rather than less, over the years: the evangelicals are more politically active, and in Islam there’s a growing subculture of apocalyptist relative passivity.
  • Grand Arabian nights [TLS]: “Truly a work of world literature, The Arabian (or 1,001) Nights has been fully translated into English for the first time in over a century.” Translated by Malcolm C. Lyons, with Ursula Lyons; introduced and annotated by Robert Irwin; reviewed by Geert Jan van Gelder.  This three-volumer is a publishing event of some importance.  More here soon about the Nights as well as about Robert Irwin…
  • 1611 “Daniel, Hezra, & Nechemiah” Printed In Hebrew And Latin [Live Auctioneers]: I think I have serious case of book lust right now.
  • Vacation To Israel Canceled Due To History Of Israel [The Onion]: This one pretty much writes itself.

Sequenced by date of original publication.

I do enjoy it when one of these pitched academic battles bubbles up from arcane scholarship to the media surface.

In the new Jan 26/09 edition of The Nation, Anthony Grafton’s review of a 2008 academic-press volume—Morton Smith and Gershom Scholem: Correspondence, 1945-1982, by Guy G. Stroumsa, ed.—takes one more crack at the gay-Jesus/Secret Mark controversy, but with rather tentative conclusions:

I believe that Smith really found his letter, and that Scholem gave him the framework into which he inserted it. But that’s just what I think. Many will disagree. This time, the professor is the Cheshire cat. He smiles and is gone.

[read the review]

For one academic insider’s view of this story, check out these postings on Secret Mark, from Apocryphicity.

This morning came the big reveal, on the Globe and Mail’s new books website: the four secret panel members who, with Books editor Martin Levin, picked the Globe and Mail 50 Greatest Books.

Here’s the Globe’s description of the panel, and the inside scoop on the selection process from three members.  

Favourite quotes:

“For the record, here are the books I haven’t read on our list: Das KapitalThe Wealth of NationsThe KoranPrincipia Mathematica, half of Freud’s entertaining but (to me) interminable Interpretation of Dreams, half of Galileo’s Starry Messenger and Other Dialogues, and most of Wollenstonecraft’s Vindication (dreary beyond measure).” — André Alexis

“Trying to decide impossibilities such as whether Shakespeare should be represented by Hamlet or King Lear gave me something approaching a mild migraine.” – A. L. Kennedy

“I was taken aback when both Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse and Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians were axed. I was unable to convince my colleagues that these books reshaped their genres, besides being more accessible than a couple of our final choices ( The Mahabharata, anyone?) Bloomsbury, I guess, now has as much traction as the Chicago School of Neo-cons.” – Charlotte Gray

“I sent my fellow-panelists a querulous note explaining that I wanted to write about a book penned by a woman. ‘I am not making this point to be politically correct, but because I do not see me and my reading tastes completely reflected in the list so far.’ Our Great Books looked too like the kind of history syllabus taught half a century ago — all wars and laws, chaps and maps — that had nearly put me off history for life.” – Charlotte Gray

By the way, as part of the new Globe Books, Martin Levin has a new blog, and so does the section.

Dateline: Sussex, England—Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Vicar has ‘horrifying’ statue of crucifixion removed from church
Resin sculpture that ‘scared children and deterred worshippers’ to be replaced by steel cross

[IM thread from this morning:]

ajh: there’s something profound in that, but I am writing code so can’t articulate it. it gets my conservative hackles all up, though.

me: it’s the Photoshop century.

ajh: awesome. gotta wonder how many of those kids were on their way back from Batman Begins, though.

maybe if Batman was on the cross it would be OK!

me: he died for George Clooney’s sins, and then came back from the dead for another round of profitable sequels.

ajh: or was it Val Kilmer? I always get these creation stories mixed up…

This little nugget was published by the Wall Street Journal just in time for Christmas on December 23, but just came to my attention today (I guess I’m getting this in under the gun on the 12th day of Christmas):

“Prophet Sharing: The Good Book Is the Best Seller”

My attention was especially attracted by this ‘graph:

It’s an astonishing fact that year after year, the Bible is the best-selling book in America—even though 90% of households already have at least one copy. The text doesn’t vary, except in translation. The tremendous sales volume, an estimated 25 million copies sold each year, is largely driven by innovations in design, color, style and the ultimate niche marketing.

According to this Wikipedia article, in all-time global sales, the Bible looks pretty far ahead of any competition, with estimates ranging from 2.5 to 6 billion copies sold.  The only other book even in its league is Mao’s Little Red Book.

For an interesting take on the challenges of assembling an all-time greatest-books list in the 21st century, check out this article from Harvard MagazineThe “Five-foot Shelf” Reconsidered: Revising a monument from a more humane and confident time.

At the end of the article, readers are invited to submit their own picks of the greatest books, but submitters are asked to exclude 29 authors as “likely consensus choices”—and it so happens that this includes 14 authors/works that were entirely passed over by the Globe list:

  • Tao Te Ching
  • Bhagavad-Gita (part of the Mahabharata, I realize, but see earlier discussion)
  • Confucius
  • Aristotle
  • Aeschylus
  • Euripides
  • Aristophanes
  • Virgil
  • Hobbes
  • Locke
  • Hegel
  • Emerson
  • Thoreau
  • Einstein

I believe I’ll be coming back to the Harvard Classics in a future post.