Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Open Studies, Peer Review, and Kuhnian Paradigms

I see that my initial question about "open studies" has spawned a number of discussions, most notably concerning the role of peer review in open scholarship. I want to say a few words about peer review and its role in our field, especially since Jim West has denounced peer review and its defenders in a vitriolic post, which has prompted a blunt (and in my view wholly justified) response from Jim Davila.

A few years ago Richard Schedinger published "Kuhnian Paradigms and Biblical Scholarship: Is Biblical Studies a Science?" in JBL. In it he argued that Biblical studies was not a science, and therefore loose appeals for "paradigm shifts" in the Kuhnian sense were out of court. He averred that Kuhn's description of paradigms applied only to the natural sciences such as physics and biology; since Biblical studies, as one of the humanities, was not ruled by research-determining paradigms, it had, essentially, no "big" paradigms to shift, only groups of more or less equal competing paradigms. He concluded:

Biblical studies, as a discipline situated squarely within the humanities, must embrace diversity, a multiplicity of paradigms, and the living conversation between scholars that this diversity makes possible.

I think the most charitable interpretation of Jim West's post is that he sees Biblical studies as Schedinger does, only more so. But Jim (West) also implies that there are no standards by which to judge a good or bad idea (other than the "test of time," whatever that is — error is just as persistent as truth), and that any attempt to do so (via peer review) is a "popularity contest" or an illegitimate exercise of power by those who "control" the discipline. (The bitterness of West's post makes me wonder if there is some kind of unpleasant personal experience behind it.)

But I think that Schedinger (and by extension, West) are wrong; or, at least, not completely right. It is true that Biblical studies is not a science judged by the model of the physical sciences, or by the model of Kuhnian research-determining paradigms. Nevertheless, it is a science, like at least some of the other humanities, in that it is, or should be, based on disciplined, rational, and systematic enquiry and established and accepted canons of research. Actually the German word for "science," Wissenschaft, encompasses this meaning, and Biblical studies really is scientific (wissenschaftlich) in this sense.

And in fact Biblical studies (which I will not abbreviate by its initials) also has its "big" paradigms. Schedinger cites the case of biology vs. creationism to illustrate the difference between paradigmatic biology and non-biology. He says, "If one is a creationist, one cannot, by definition, be a biologist. There is no inter-paradigm debate within the bounds of the biological community." (Some may not like this illustration; but let it go, OK? It's Schedinger's, not mine.) But then he implies that the humanities don't have these kinds of boundary line cases. They do, however. In modern history, Holocaust revisionists are not considered real historians at all. In ancient history, a Velikovskian catastrophist or someone who believes in a literal Atlantis is also not considered a historian at all, but a crackpot. In the English department, anyone who argued that someone besides Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's plays would not be considered a real scholar.

In the same way, Biblical archaeology or Biblical studies has cases of "junk scholarship." I submit that the case of the Temple is one. As I argued in an earlier post, those who argue that there simply was no First Temple are perpetrating "junk history." And that is what peer review and other scholarly gate-keeping conventions are for: to keep out the junk and the nonsense. When I open JBL, I may read many things I disagree with, even some things that I think are jargon-ridden, shallow, trendy, and ill-written. But I know I'm not going to read anything that suggests that the Ezekiel held converse with space aliens, or that Adam and Eve spoke Latin, or that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalen and later went to Tibet. (For that I have the Internet.)

I believe that Jim Davila, in his original post discussing this issue, was saying the same thing: that First-Temple-deniers are not perpetrating scholarship at all. It is not that they have failed to produce evidence powerful enough to overturn a scholarly consensus, but they have failed to be scientific (wissenschaftlich) at all in providing sustained, disciplined, and rational engagement with the field as a whole or the historical understandings that make the field possible.

The question of how this all relates to open scholarship (or whatever it's called) is difficult. If "open" means "anybody can play," then it's not going to be worth much. Therefore I submit that a worthwhile collaborative "open studies" initiative has to come up with some way of maintaining a level of scientific scholarship. And that's going to mean some kind of gatekeeping or peer review.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Robert Shedinger, "Kuhnian Paradigms and Biblical Scholarship: Is Biblical Studies a Science?" Journal of Biblical Literature 119 (2000) 453-471.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Open Source Studies: a question

I know that there is a plan to gather bibliobloggers in Philadelphia for a lunch meeting to discuss "open source" biblical studies. (Most recently from Tim Bulkeley.)

Before I commit to this lunch, I have one question: What is open-source biblical studies?

This is not a rhetorical question.

UPDATE (8/29): Tim Bulkeley provides more light here — and many thanks to those who provided comments. This whole movement (or initiative, or whatever) is something I favor; but whether I have time in the near future to participate in any particular project is very doubtful.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Three Cheers for Zimpher

The big news here is the resign-or-be-fired ultimatum given to Bob Huggins, University of Cincinnati basketball coach, by Nancy Zimpher, UC president. Paul Daugherty, the excellent sports columnist of the Cincinnati Enquirer, says this:

At most schools where coaches loom godlike and untouchable, presidents leave well enough alone. They enjoy the national acclaim. They tolerate the Faustian deal they cut to achieve it. They know that challenging a big-time coach is more trouble than it's worth.

Zimpher didn't look at it like that. She challenged a Cincinnati icon and won. Her victory will be judged by how she handles the reconstruction.
In Zimpher's world, academic and athletic success are twin sons of the same mother. The Aug. 8 letter, again: "UC believes it can better advance its mission by building a winning program around scholar-athletes who earn degrees that will allow them to succeed not only in athletics but more importantly in life generally."

Large goal, that.

Also one that a university president has every right to set. If Zimpher were president of UC men's hoops, then hang her from the highest backboard for this. She ain't. You can say she has thrown the basketball program into darkness. You can say she has thrown Huggins' loyalty to the curb. What you cannot say is that, as president, Zimpher isn't obliged to do what she feels is in the best interests of the entire place.

People in Zimpher's camp say that, behind the scenes, Huggins has urged big donors to close their wallets. They argue that a spiteful Huggins prolonged the fight knowing he would take the buyout eventually, that he waited as long as he did to hurt the basketball program.

Believe what you want. Regardless, if UC were to retain its self-respect, Zimpher had to win.
Three cheers for Nancy Zimpher.

Bob Huggins took UC basketball back to the big time, but at a cost. The graduation rate of the players is abysmal, and inversely proportional to the length of their rap sheet. Not only that, but he never could quite ... get .. to the Final Four. (Did he, once, years ago? Memory fails.) Plus, he's one of those screaming, shouting, abusive coaches, with a record of DUI's. Good riddance.

The lumpen Cincinnati sports fans will crucify her, though. The vitriol on the sports talk shows has to be heard to be believed.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Poor David

This is an excerpt from a novel that I gave up writing years ago. It is set in the time of King David. There has just been a sheep-shearing followed by a feast at which my shy young heroine, Abishag of Shunem, was listening to the harpist from Judah sing some famous songs. She is a shepherdess, and Shumi is the head shepherd of the flock; he was elsewhere during the feast.

The next day Abishag went in search of Shumi and found him trimming goats' horns in one of the folds. Leaning over the fence was the old harpist.

"Ya, Abishag," said Shumi. "This man is Gur, the harpist."

"I bless you by Yahweh," said Abishag politely.

Gur nodded and eyed Abishag appreciatively. They all stood silent for a moment. Then Abishag blurted, "I heard you last night."

"Did you indeed?" said Gur. "I'm sorry I didn't see you there."

"Song of Deborah again?" asked Shumi.

"Oh dear, yes. Can't avoid playing it in these parts. They still love Deborah and Barak up here. Pity there's no song about Gid'on — him that folks here call Yarub-Baal. Wouldn't they love that in Shunem!"

"That they would," said Shumi, still filing a horn.

"I had quite a success with a new one, though — all about Shaul and Gilboa. The tears were falling like shekels, not a dry eye."

"Is it true, what you said," Abishag said shyly, "about the King composing it?"

"Well, as to that," said the harpist, "who knows? He does make up songs, or used to, you know, odes and hymns and things. He was himself a harpist, they say, long ago, when he came to Shaul's court."

"I thought he was a shepherd," said Shumi. "Isn't that how the story goes?"

Gur laughed. "There are so many stories about David, who can tell which one is true? Like all that talk around the fire last night about him killing Shaul's family. Down in Judah they say Yawab is to blame and that David's hands are clean."

"Still," said Shumi, "you must admit that Yawab is David's man. If Yawab got rid of the house of Shaul, he did it either with or without David's orders. If with, then David is the true murderer. If without, then David can't control his men and is a weak king. Either way, David looks bad."

"But if a son of Shaul's house survived, David might not be king. Wouldn't that be a greater loss?" asked Gur. Shumi shrugged his shoulders.

"Poor David," said Abishag. The men burst out laughing and Abishag reddened. "I just meant," she stammered, "that nothing that he did or could do would put things right. How awful for him."

"That's what it means to have power, my dear," said Gur. "To have many choices, most of them hard. Even the right choices usually end up making an enemy of somebody."

"'Poor David,'" laughed Shumi. "You sounded so sad."

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Uncle Poison

The New Yorker of Aug. 22 has an interesting article on Bruce Lawrence of Duke University who is studying the Arabic writings of Osama bin Laden. Of several noteworthy points, this one especially caught my eye:

[Lawrence] even detects a dark sense of humor in bin Laden's writings. "In one of the translations, he talks about Uncle Sam. In Arabic, Uncle Sam is 'Amm Sam' — it rhymes, you see. The Arabic word samm means poison, and an uncle, in Arabic, is supposed to be someone you can trust."

Wow — who knew that the Evil One was an inveterate punster? In fact, OBL's insulting wordplay is right in line with hoary Near Eastern tradition, which likes to find negative meanings in the names of supposedly bad folk. One might mention, among several examples from the Hebrew Bible, the name Jezebel, Heb. iyzevel, probably originally containing a reference to zevul, "prince," a title of Baal. But the wicked queen's name was pronounced so as to recall the word zevel, "dung." In rabbinic times, the failed rebel Simon Bar Kosiba was referred to as Bar Koziba, "son of the liar" (after having been known more positively as Bar Kokhba, "son of the star").

The words themselves in "uncle poison" have interesting Semitic connections, as well. Arabic amm is cognate to Hebrew עם, am, "people." Hebrew has generally lost all connection to the supposedly primitive significance of the word, which is, as in Arabic, "paternal uncle." But there are a few personal names in ancient Israel that retain the meaning; e.g., Ammishaddai (Num. 1:12) probably means "Shaddai (the Almighty) is my uncle." (If the culture had stayed on this track, we might now be talking about the "unclehood" of God, instead of His "fatherhood.")

The word "poison" (Arabic samm) is, I surmise, a loanword from Aramaic. In the North-West Semitic dialects, sam(m) means "spice" (Biblical Hebrew, as in Ex. 25:6, etc.), "medicine" (post-Biblical Hebrew, as in m.Yoma 8:6), "paint," "dye," "fluid," "drug," etc. Aramaic sources use the expression samma de-mota, "death drug" for "poison," and this latter meaning, with the headword only, was borrowed by Arabic speakers (just as English speakers borrowed the meaning and headword chef of the French expression chef de cuisine, "head cook").

Can't we come up with a good retort? Like "Osama bin Rotten," or the like?

UPDATE: Michael Gilleland has a crappy followup.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Another Stolen Artifact

A report out of Israel says that an artifact from the Second Jewish Revolt has been recovered from antiquities smugglers:

The IAA, the Customs Authority and the Postal Authority worked together to prevent a precious artifact, a lead weight, from being smuggled out of the country. The weight dates back to the time of Bar Kochba (the second century AD) and is decorated with traditional Jewish symbols, including a palm tree and menorah.
The IAA was able to locate the sender, a former antiquities salesman, who wanted to send the valuable artifact to his colleagues in America. More antiquities were revealed in his apartment. Police say there have been other smuggling attempts, and the investigation has expanded to the US.

This reminds us irresistibly of the recently discovered Leviticus fragments, also said to be from the Bar Kokhba period. Were they looted at the same time and the same place? Will we ever know?

Although the news story says that the inscription (not legible in the photograph) refers to "Shimon bar Kokhba," I would be surprised if the inscription used the form "Kokhba" — the authentic name known from contemporary sources is "Kosiba." And the coins (so far as I know) refer only to "Shimon" or "Shimon, leader of Israel." (Corrections on this point will be gladly received.)

Who are the smuggler's contacts in the US? Anybody know?

UPDATE: Not really news, apparently, already noted in Paleojudaica months ago.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Sufjan Stevens and a Biblical Image

The remarkable Sufjan Stevens has a song on his record Seven Swans titled "All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands," and a great song it is, too. Interestingly, the All Music Guide review (found here, among other places) implies, by referring to the song's "gorgeous title," that the name of the song is original with Stevens.

In fact, the title is a quotation from Isa. 55:12, "the hills shall break forth before you into singing; and all the trees of the fields shall clap their hands." The Hebrew is yimcha'u kaph, literally, "they will strike palm." I've noted before here that trees are the most human of all flora, and it's easy to imagine them raising their branchy arms and smacking them together in applause.

But even this natural metaphor was too strong for the Septuagint translators, who translated as "all the trees will applaud with their branches." The Targum similarly renders "they will rejoice with their branches." (The Vulgate and the Peshitta render literally.)

Interestingly enough, there is another instance of the same metaphor, found in Ps. 98:8, "let the rivers clap their hands" (again, yimcha'u kaph). Here it is harder to imagine the metaphor translated into concrete reality; rivers, unlike trees, don't have anything like hands, although one can imagine the rushing sound of a river as a kind of applause. Possibly the locution "to strike palm" was already a dead metaphor, with no more literality to it (like to kick the bucket), with the simple sense "to acclaim loudly."

However, in this case the Septuagint, possibly stumped for a more natural metaphor, translates pretty literally "let the rivers applaud by hand." The literal translation is also chosen by the Targum, Peshitta, and Vulgate.

Is Sufjan Stevens aware of all this? I doubt it, but on the other hand it wouldn't surprise me. This is one multi-talented guy. There are some free MP3's here.

UPDATE (8/17): Thanks for all the comments (including this one). I should clarify that the "all this" that I doubted SS was aware of was not the biblical background of the phrase, but the textual-philological maunderings I added.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Arad 18 and the Temple of the Lord

(This post is my contribution to the Kesher Talk blogburst for Tisha B'Av.)

It has been claimed that, since the Ivory Pomegranate and Moussaieff Ostraca have been rejected as forgeries, there is now no epigraphic evidence of the existence of the "Temple of Yahweh" in ancient Israel. This is not quite true; an ostracon from Arad, dating to the early 6th century BCE, mentions a byt YHWH, "house of Yahweh" (Arad Ostracon no. 18).

The relevant portion of the ostracon reads as follows: ולדבר אשׁר צותני שׁלמ בית יהוה הא ישׁב. Translations vary. James Lindenberger translates "As for the matter about which you gave me orders — all is well. He is staying in the Temple of YHWH." Lindenberger's comment is this:
Only the temple in Jerusalem can be meant. At an earlier time there was a small temple in Arad, but it had been destroyed before this letter was written.
William Dever translates "the house (i.e. temple) of Yahweh is well; it endures," and he comments: "This may be a reference to the earlier tripartite temple of Arad brought to light by Aharoni, or it may refer to the temple in Jerusalem." But even if the Arad temple was standing (contra Lindenberger), there seems to be no reason why Eliashib, who was presumably in Arad, would need to be informed about the welfare of the temple there.

The "house of YHWH" could be another temple in another location in Judah, but I think that it is probable that the Jerusalem temple is meant. But regardless of how Arad 18 is interpreted, the mention of this temple should remind us that the temple of the national deity was not an optional institution in the ancient Near East; it was an absolute religious and political necessity for any state. Those who deny the existence of a "First Temple" in ancient Judah, standing in the national capital Jerusalem, find themselves in defiance, not only of the biblical record, but of all historical analogy, and must be suspected of having something on their agenda other than an interest in history.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Lindenberger, Ancient Aramaic and Hebrew Letters, 1994; W. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?, 2002, p. 212.

UPDATE (8/12): See today's post at Paleojudaica for the larger context.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Secondary Wordplay in Translation?

Brandan Wason points us to this review in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, of the first Harry Potter book translated into Classical Greek. It sounds like a fun read.

This part of the review struck me:

"It was really lucky that Harry now had Hermione as a friend," from the "Quidditch" chapter, becomes "kai hermaion dê ên tôi Hareiôi to Hermionên nun echein philên" (p. 147) -- lovely and idiomatic use of "hermaion", lovely pun on Hermione's name, lovely "dê".

Indeed. (Hermaion: "a god-send, wind-fall" according to Liddell & Scott.) But note that the Greek translation now has a wordplay that is not present in the original English. In Biblical studies, occasionally we hear that a certain work or part of a work must have been written in Language X, because a wordplay is present that is only possible in Language X. However, as this example shows, a clever and adept translator might introduce wordplays where none existed in the original. My guess is that such translators are the exception rather than the rule; but we might do well to keep the possibility in mind. The better the translator, the more skillfully he will hide his tracks.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Names in the Yehukal Bulla

Yitzhak Sapir has posted a picture of the Yehukal bulla here.

The text reads: יהוכל בנ שׁלמיהו בנ שׁבי, "Yehukal son of Shelemyahu son of Shobai (or: Shobi)."

It seems possible, even likely, that the bulla was made from the seal of the person mentioned in Jer. 37:3: "King Zedekiah sent Jehucal son of Shelemiah and Zephaniah son of the priest Maaseiah to the prophet Jeremiah, to say, Please pray on our behalf to the Lord our God" (see also Yukal in Jer. 38:1; same guy).

Yehukal does not appear again in the Hebrew Bible, but the name Yehukal does appear in Arad Ostracon 21, line 1, which is written from "your son Yehukal." This ostracon has been dated to the year 597 BCE, and therefore the time frame of the letter matches the time of Jeremiah. The address formula reads "Your son Yehukal sends greeting to Gedaliah son of Elyair and to your house," and therefore this Yehukal would seem to be the son of Gedaliah.

There were at least three other people named Shelemyahu at the royal court in Jeremiah's time, Shelemyahu son of Kushi (Jer. 36:14), Shelemyahu son of Abdeel (Jer. 36:26), and Shelemyah son of Hananiah (Jer. 37:13). Evidently Yehukal's father was not any of these.

The name Shelemyahu appears in Lachish Ostracon 9: "send word to your servant by the hand of Shelemyahu," and this may in fact be one of the people named above, since the Lachish Ostraca are contemporaneous with the book of Jeremiah. But it was a common name; there are at least three different Shelemyahs mentioned in the Elephantine papyri from a later century.

The only people named Shobai or Shobi known in the Hebrew Bible are the Shobai mentioned in the genealogy of Ezra 2:42, Neh. 7:45 and the Ammonite Shobi mentioned in 2 Sam. 17:27. The Mesad Heshavyahu Ostracon, perhaps from the reign of Josiah, mentions a "Shobai" or "Shobi" as the father of one Hoshaiah. At least two men named Shobai are mentioned in ostraca found in Elephantine.

UPDATE (8/7): Joseph Lauer on the ANE list links to this much better photograph here, which reveals that the inscription begins with lamedh, as one would expect, and as Robert Deutsch points out in the comments below.

Mr. Deutsch also suggests that the script is older than the 6th century BCE, perhaps 7th or 8th century. I am no paleographer, so I won't venture an opinion. If Mr. Deutsch is right (and he may well be), that would mean that this was not the seal of Jeremiah's Yehukal. Still, the seal bears comparison with the seal of Elyashib from Arad (early 6th century); the vav is particularly interesting (Aharoni, Arad Inscriptions, no. 106). Another seal of Elyashib can be seen here (with a slightly different ductus).

Friday, August 05, 2005

SBL 2005: Rich Offerings in Aramaic and Syriac

It looks like there will be an unusually rich banquet for Aramaic and Syriac scholars at the SBL meeting in 2005. Here's what I've been able to glean from the Program Book:

1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Room 108-A - Pennsylvania Convention Center

Theme: Two Recent Books on the Aramaic Levi Document

Robert Kugler, Lewis and Clark College, Presiding
Panel Review of Henryk Drawnel, An Aramaic Wisdom Text from Qumran: A New Interpretation of the Levi Document, (Brill, 2004), and Jonas C. Greenfield, Michael E. Stone, and Ester Eshel, The Aramaic Levi Document: Edition, Translation, Comment
Albert Lukaszewski, University of St. Andrews, Panelist
James VanderKam, University of Notre Dame, Panelist
James Kugel, Bar Ilan University, Panelist
Responses (40min)
Henryk Drawnel, Pontifical Academy of Theology, Cracow, Respondent
Michael Stone, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Respondent
Esther Eshel, Bar Ilan University, Respondent
Discussion (35 min)

Aramaic Studies
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Room 402 - Marriott

Deirdre Dempsey, Marquette University, Presiding
Tarsee Li, Oakwood College
The Imperfective Participle in the Aramaic of Daniel (30 min)

Daniel Leavins, The Catholic University of America
Is God Able to Save? The Grammatical, Contextual and Theological Problem in Daniel 3:17-18 (30 min)

Jan-Wim Wesselius, Theological University Kampen
The Hermopolis Aramaic Correspondence Revisited (30 min)

Andrew D Gross, New York University
The Warranty Clause in the Judean Desert Documentary Texts (30 min)

Moshe Bernstein, Yeshiva University
The Prophecies of Balaam in Aramaic Garb (30 min)

Syriac Lexicography
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: Independence II - Marriott

Theme: International Syriac Language Project

Michael Sokoloff, Bar Ilan University, Presiding
Andreas Juckel, University of Munster
Lexicography and Orthography: Inspirations from the “Syriac Massora” (30 min)

Wido van Peursen, Leiden University-The Netherlands
Corresponding Phrase Patterns in the Masoretic Text and the Peshitta and Their Significance for Syriac Lexicography (30 min)

Break (5 min)
A. Dean Forbes, University of California, Berkeley
How Syntactic Formalisms Can Advance the Lexicographer’s Art (30 min)

Janet Dyk, Vrije Universiteit-Amsterdam
Synopsis-based Translation Concordance as a Tool for Lexical and Text-critical Exploration (30 min)
Discussion (25 min)

Syriac Lexicography
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: Room 310 - Marriott

Theme: International Syriac Language Project

Peter Williams, University of Aberdeen, Presiding

Michael Sokoloff, Bar Ilan University
Brockelmann's Lexicon Syriacum as a Database (30 min)

George Kiraz, Beth Mardutho: The Syriac Institut
A Multi-tier Interlinear to the Syriac New Testament (30 min)

In other sessions:

Gary A. Rendsburg, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick Campus
Aramaic-like Features in Pre-Exilic Biblical Texts (30 min)

Gary Lee Alley, Jr., The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Luke’s Sower: Reading the Parable Synoptically using Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek (30 min)

Brent Landau, Harvard University
Guide Us to Thy Perfect Light: An Introduction to the Syriac "Revelation of the Magi" (25 min)

Robert Shedinger, Luther College
Silencing the Syriac Tradition: Evidence and Rhetoric in the Early Versions of Bruce Metzger and Arthur Vööbus (30 min)

A couple of notes: There is a third listed session on "Syriac Lexicography," but it is evidently a mistake, as none of the papers have anything to do with Syriac.

For what it's worth (not much), I was invited to serve on the panel reviewing the books of Aramaic Levi, but was obligated to decline because excessive busy-ness in the weeks before SBL did not allow me time to read the books; plus, panelists were asked to buy or otherwise acquire the books on their own. Since they are both really, really expensive (and I'm really, really not rich), I was happy to withdraw in favor of another scholar. Such is life.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


I've just finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and I'm still reeling. I won't post any spoilers, but I feel like I've been hit on the head with a two-by-four. Holy smoke.

I've always enjoyed the books. Rowling is not a great stylist; her sentences do their job, one foot in front of the other, so to speak, until they reach their destination. And even the fantasy elements, although skillfully deployed, are derivative and don't always show great originality. In this respect, an author like Diana Wynne Jones, otherwise so similar, has Rowling completely beat for richness of imagination. (In fact, if Rowling hasn't read Jones and been influenced by her, I'll eat my hat.) Rowling's greatness lies in her tremendous narrative powers. I believe it was C. S. Lewis who said, "The natural born storyteller can do what he likes in literature." This definitely applies to Rowling. It'll be interesting to see what she does after the Harry Potter series is over — or will she find herself in the same fix as Arthur Conan Doyle, forever wedded to one unforgettable character?

These days a Christian writer has to say something about the appropriateness of the Harry Potter books. I don't have a problem with them, and I think that any paranoia about fictional witches and wizards as such borders on superstition. Rowling's series is not directed against Christianity (as, for instance, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is). If there is a problem, it is that in the Hogwarts fantasy world there is not the faintest whisper of the transcendent, no suggestion that above the Wizards and Muggles there is anything else. But this is true of secular literature in general, even "wholesome" kid books like the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins. Not every good book is a Christian book, and not every fantasy book is going to be a Narnia chronicle or A Wrinkle in Time.

The main characters in the Rowling books are "good pagans," and that's not a bad thing. And there's plenty of material for preparatio evangelica there (as in all good paganism), even if there isn't any evangelium. Fear not, and enjoy.