Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mirror, mirror

. . .we will show you how to translate newly acquired knowledge about mirror neurons, spindle cells, and oscillators into practical, socially intelligent behaviors that can reinforce the neural links between you and your followers.

This promise is found in a view of some of the latest findings on leadership intelligence, courtesy of the Harvard Business Review. Is it in any way useful to juxtapose our contemporary notions of leadership and intelligence with that of the Book of Samuel?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reading stimulates simulation

( -- A new brain-imaging study is shedding light on what it means to "get lost" in a good book 

"Psychologists and neuroscientists are increasingly coming to the conclusion that when we read a story and really understand it, we create a mental simulation of the events described by the story," says Jeffrey M. Zacks, study co-author and director of the Dynamic Cognition Laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis.

The study, forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science, is one of a series in which Zacks and colleagues use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to track real-time brain activity as study participants read and process individual words and short stories.

Nicole Speer, lead author of this study, says findings demonstrate that reading is by no means a passive exercise. Rather, readers mentally simulate each new situation encountered in a narrative. Details about actions and sensation are captured from the text and integrated with personal knowledge from past experiences. These data are then run through mental simulations using brain regions that closely mirror those involved when people perform, imagine, or observe similar real-world activities.

"These results suggest that readers use perceptual and motor representations in the process of comprehending narrated activity, and these representations are dynamically updated at points where relevant aspects of the situation are changing," says Speer, now a research associate with The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) Mental Health Program in Boulder, Colo. "Readers understand a story by simulating the events in the story world and updating their simulation when features of that world change."

via AKMA, who adds relevant links, including a couple pointing to Biblical scholars.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

2 Sam. 18:33

When David Heard - Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656)

And the king4428 was much moved,7264 and went up5927 to5921 the chamber5944 over the gate,8179 and wept:1058 and as he went,1980 thus3541 he said,559 O my son1121 Absalom,53 my son,1121 my son1121 Absalom!53would God4310 5414 I589 had died4191 for8478 thee, O Absalom,53 my son,1121 my son!1121

Contristatus itaque rex, ascendit cœnaculum portæ, et flevit. Et sic loquebatur, vadens: Fili mi Absalom, Absalom fili mi: quis mihi tribuat ut ego moriar pro te, Absalom fili mi, fili mi Absalom?

Absalon fili mi,
quis det ut moriar pro te, Absalon?
Non vivam ultra,
sed descendam in infernum plorans.

Absalon my son,
if only I had died instead of you, Absalon!
I shall live no more,
but go down to hell, weeping.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Buried Secrets

The Bible's Buried Secrets - the fascinating Nova documentary mentioned by Shaw the other day - is available online. Lots of extra material here, including scholarly discussions of topics including "Origins of the Written Bible" and "The Palace of David."

The program itself is online, divided into 13 chapters here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Abelard: David's Lament for Jonathan

A friend notes that Peter Abelard (1079-1142) composed a Lament (Planctus) of David for Jonathan. A snippet:

...You now, my Jonathan,Dor_david_jonathan_2 
I mourn above all,
among all delights
there will always be tears.

 Woe, why am I
followed by evil counsel, 
and could give you 
no protection in battle?

 If I had fallen by your side
I would have died happy
for there is nothing greater
than what love will do.

 and living after you
would mean continual dying
since half a soul
is not enough to live.

So I have won
an unhappy victory:
what emptiness, 
what short-lived joy
have I had from it.


I silence my lyre:
if only I could silence too
my mourning and weeping.
My hands hurt from playing,
my voice is hoarse from crying
and my breathing faint.

       --Peter Abelard (1079-1142)

A more complete version here.

Interesting as a predecessor to the recruiting of Biblical, pagan and historical figures in the Divine Comedy - Dante certainly would have read Abelard. Also, a kind of Christian parallel to Ovid's Heroides, which offer imagined scenes and speeches of mythical women.

Also notable: David's remorse for relying on "the worst counsel."

Pistacia terebinthus

A close relative of the Pistacia palaestina (below), which grows in Israel.

Pistacia palaestina is distinguished from P. terebinthus "by its egg-shaped leaflets, which are drawn into a long point, with somewhat hairy margins, and by more spreading and branching flower clusters."[1]

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Baram lectures on Israel's Ancient Kings

Shaw notes Uzi Baram will talk about discoveries and controversies in the archaeology of Israel's Ancient Kings, including David's palace. It's at the Selby Library, Wed. Jan. 21, 6 p.m. Click on the images below for a hopefully more legible image:

Friday, January 09, 2009

Ahitophel in Inferno 28

Ahitophel, Absalom and David are alluded to in the memorable scene in Inferno 28 where Dante and Virgil encounter Bertrand de Born among the sowers of discord:

But I remained to look upon the crowd;
And saw a thing which I should be afraid,
Without some further proof, even to recount,

If it were not that conscience reassures me,
That good companion which emboldens man
Beneath the hauberk of its feeling pure.

I truly saw, and still I seem to see it,
A trunk without a head walk in like manner
As walked the others of the mournful herd.

And by the hair it held the head dissevered,
Hung from the hand in fashion of a lantern,
And that upon us gazed and said: "O me!"

It of itself made to itself a lamp,
And they were two in one, and one in two;
How that can be, He knows who so ordains it.

When it was come close to the bridge's foot,
It lifted high its arm with all the head,
To bring more closely unto us its words,

Which were: "Behold now the sore penalty,
Thou, who dost breathing go the dead beholding;
Behold if any be as great as this.

And so that thou may carry news of me,
Know that Bertram de Born am I, the same
Who gave to the Young King the evil comfort.

I made the father and the son rebellious;
Achitophel not more with Absalom
And David did with his accursed goadings.

Because I parted persons so united,
Parted do I now bear my brain, alas!
From its beginning, which is in this trunk.

Thus is observed in me the counterpoise*."

*("contrapasso" - the appropriate form of punishment for the crime.)

Jewish Encyclopedia online

There's a free and complete edition of a Jewish Encyclopedia online -

This website contains the complete contents of the 12-volume Jewish Encyclopedia, which was originally published between 1901-1906. The Jewish Encyclopedia, which recently became part of the public domain, contains over 15,000 articles and illustrations.

Despite its being more than 100 years old, it's a rich resource, and contains images such as this image of Absalom getting caught in the tree.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Bible: A Biography

Thanks to Herb for bringing this new book by Karen Armstrong to our attention: It came out late in 2008, and looks like it might fill a helpful niche for those seeking more historical context for the Bible and the long, complex history of its interpretation: The Bible: A Biography

The Bible: A Biography (Books That Changed the World)

Donatello's David - or Hermes?

We've touched on images of David from later times. Thanks to Jutta for pointing to a WSJ story (subscription might be needed to view) about Donatello's David. Here's part of it:

It's practically impossible to look at Donatello's "David," now on display again after extensive restoration at this city's Museo Nazionale del Bargello, without automatically comparing it to Michelangelo's more famous treatment of the same subject, in the Galleria dell'Accademia half a mile away.

The two great Renaissance sculptures differ most obviously in medium and size: Michelangelo's marble colossus stands 17 feet tall; Donatello's bronze, little more than five feet. Stature is in this case inversely proportional to status. Michelangelo's young shepherd, armed only with his sling, has yet to slay his giant foe. Donatello's sword-wielding hero is already triumphant, resting a foot on Goliath's severed head. It's no coincidence that Donatello's 1443 sculpture was commissioned by the Medici family, then Florence's princes in all but name, while Michelangelo made his 1504 work for the defiant Florentine Republic during a brief hiatus in the Medici ascendancy.

Yet if he meant to celebrate monarchical power, Donatello portrayed it with ambivalence. The face of the decapitated Goliath is unmistakably more peaceful than the pensive visage of his conqueror, who seems to foresee the trials (such as his scandalous love for Bathsheba, and the death of his rebellious son Absalom) that will beset his reign. Another revealing touch appears at the statue's base: the little toe of David's right foot curled up under the toe beside it, a mark of imperfection reminding us that the handsome priest-king is not god but man
And here's Wikipedia's article on the statue, with its interesting suggestion that this might not be David at all, but Hermes (one has to wonder about that helmet). It seems some Greek tales have Hermes slaying Argos in a way quite reminiscent of David and Goliath:
 To free Io, Zeus had Argus slain by Hermes. Hermes, disguised as a shepherd, first put all of Argus's eyes asleep with spoken charms, then slew him by hitting him with a stone, the first stain of bloodshed among the new generation of gods. [8]
Further odd fact:  "There are only three exact replicas of [Michaelangelo's] David. One is at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida." via Absolute Astronomy.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Biblical senses

A friend mentions a book by Samuel Preus entitled From Shadow to Promise: Old Testament Interpretation from Augustine to the Young Luther. Not having read it or reviews of it, I can only note it turns up in citations in other books about Biblical interpretation. It might be useful if we do go on to Milton.

But I just wanted to note that in the course of looking at references to the book, I found a discussion of the literal sense of scripture from the Handbook of Biblical Criticism, which might be of interest. There's also an unrelated discussion of allegorical interpretations of Genesis in Wikipedia.