Blogger of the Month for February 2008
Brandon Wason Interviews Chris Weimer
Editorial Note: Chris Weimer is the founder of and contributor to Thoughts on Antiquity at http://neonostalgia.com/weblog/.
BW: Tell us about yourself; where do you live and where were you born?
CW: I grew up in different places. I get asked that quite a bit, actually, because, though I’ve lived in Memphis, Tennessee for over a decade (not all at once, though), I was born in Florida, and spent some time up north. I still claim Chicago as my hometown, and hope to return there soon.
BW: What got you interested in biblical studies? What came first for you, biblical studies or classics?
CW: I’ve always been interested in this sort of subject. I remember when I was a very young child, I loved looking at maps and trying to speak different languages. (Though horribly, of course, but what did I know then?) In high school, I chose Latin, but even then was already interested in comparative/historical linguistics. As it turns out, that was the perfect thing for me to do—I was hooked. Latin was the root I needed to nourish my philological side. Deciding already then to be a Classicist, I started learning Greek. The only Greek book they had in the little library I had access to was Teach Yourself New Testament Greek. About a year in, during my senior year of high school, I picked up again Biblical Studies (I came from a family which strongly emphasized the reading, studying, and memorizing of the Bible), and tried to read it in Greek. Since even as a child I had been drawn to the Gospel of Matthew, I started with that (and it’s the first book of the New Testament). When you are a young autodidact, you hypothesize first, and learn second. That drew me deeper and deeper into Biblical studies, never neglecting, of course, the parallel Classical studies and even now the broader Ancient Near East/Ancient Mediterranean studies, which leads me to where I am today.
BW: Where are you studying and what are your plans after graduation?
CW: I am studying at the University of Memphis, majoring in Latin and Greek and getting a minor in Judaic Studies. My thesis that I’m working on is on Latin linguistics, which I still hold dear to my heart. After graduation, I’ll be looking for a good program and good professor to work under. It is difficult for me to really and truly separate Classics and Biblical studies, or more appropriately separate the Mediterranean world from the Ancient Near East. I haven’t decided on a specific course just yet, but my broad interests range from Latin literature, language and linguistics, the Gospel of Matthew from a social-scientific/anthropological view, identity in antiquity, and Greek poetry. When I attended the SBL last November, I remember getting more than one person commenting on my love for both Catullus and the Gospel of Matthew, and broadly speaking, those two are my favorites.
BW: You’ve conducted some research on Matthew and mentioned your interest in it. What is it about Matthew and not Luke or Mark that you find special? Would you care to share some of the results of your inquiry into this Gospel?
CW: Matthew has fascinated like no other. It always had a special place in the church canon, being placed first, and there are more ancient commentaries on Matthew than Mark or Luke. I think part of it has to do with the strong moral pronouncements in the beginning. The Sermon on the Mount is perhaps the best known feature of Matthew and really defines the work. Matthew’s strong condemnation of hypocrisy certainly resonates with most people. The authorship of Matthew is also uncertain. Matthew was used in diametrical ways. On the one hand, early Christians thought it was written by a Jew for law-abiding Jews. On the other hand, it was used to condemn Jews, famously for “His blood be on us and on our children.” The question persists to this day: Who was Matthew? Where did he come from? What is he trying to say? Such a mystery surely would fascinate anyone. Hopefully soon I’ll have a paper finished which will try to answer some of these questions.
BW: Where do you see biblical studies headed? Is it in a good direction?
CW: Ultimately I see Biblical studies incorporating more and more of its surrounding context. We seem to have lost a large interest in the Ancient Near East side of things, but the Graeco-Roman period has seen a resurgence. For me Biblical studies is about these religious groups spanning a thousand years or so, native to the Levant and spread outwards. It’s about the politics of this little nation south of Lebanon and its interaction with the great empires of the time.
BW: How do you think the study of classics best illuminates biblical studies? Do classicists make good biblical scholars?
CW: Christianity was born and grew up under the Roman empire. The language of the New Testament is only Greek. The cities to which Paul wrote were Greek cities and of course Rome. Christianity flourished among the provinces. The gospels themselves are heavily influenced by Rome. Many later Christian church fathers had an intense education in the Classics. Jerome uses Vergilian imagery extensively. Even in the Old Testament, Daniel is about the Hellenistic invasion, a very early witness (the Septuagint) was made by a Greek ruler of Egypt, and the Deuterocanon is Greek and about Greek times. The Jewish, and thus Christian identity of the first century BCE and CE were heavily influenced by Greece and Rome. We learn more about the text when we keep it in context. We can learn more about the anti-imperial polemic when we study the imperial cult. Many books now have come out comparing Classical rhetoric and Paul. Studying the economic and cultural life of Greece and Rome can clue us in to some of the driving forces behind the sociology of early Christianity. Studying Classics with Biblical studies, rather than Biblical studies alone, just makes sense.
BW: Why did you decide to start blogging?
CW: It actually began to “summarize” the debates at my forum. After the Synoptic discussion, that reason was quickly abandoned. It morphed into a team blog of various people with various interests for sharing exciting finds, news, or responses to discussions, etc. around the biblioblogosphere (or whatever word your prefer to describe it). There are many people who would rather read a blog than an e-list or a forum. Blogs are more personal, not in the way of personal feelings and personal news, though such is not verboten, but rather as in giving a face to the speaker. They’re not random messages in your email box. Team blogging is one level above the personal one, a group of people with similar or like-minded interests, but different enough to provide a plethora of divers topics.
BW: Tell us about your blog and the other bloggers on Thoughts on Antiquity.
CW: As I was saying, the team I assembled so far all have different enough interests to keep a wide range of topics for all sorts of people. You can always find something there related to some aspect of antiquity, from Latin poetry, to Syriac church fathers and everything in between. Every poster has generated some topic or another either in the biblioblogosphere or some other clique, and so for that I’m thankful. The blog is actually always looking for new contributors, and I do even have one who hasn’t posted yet. So if you’re interested, please let me know!
BW: What blogs do you enjoy reading and why?
CW: I enjoy reading any blogs which offer real insight into a field of study in which I’m interested. If you’ve ever taken a look at my blogroll, I list over a hundred different blogs, and have some bookmarked which I’ve been meaning to add, and probably a handful which do not deserve to be there anymore (due to inactivity). I must say, though, that I really enjoy reading those blogs which post can make their articles interesting or relevant, and perhaps am somewhat biased in that I tend to pay more attention when it’s a blog of someone I know or have met.
BW: In your opinion, how does blogging advance the discussion of ancient texts? Are there ways in which it sets back discussion?
CW: Blogging is a great way to get ideas out there, so in that respect it certainly advances the discussion a good deal. Moreover, blogging helps facilitate the information about texts which may appear online, etc. My co-blogger Roger has been great at posting links to various texts when he finds them, and in turn people read that and pass them on. Unlike an email list, you don’t have to join (and sometimes get approved), and all comments are kept in one place. I cannot think of any ways in which it sets back discussion, but surely it’s not a replacement for sound published scholarship, nor should it be. Blogging, as I see it, is supplemental, and supplements rarely hurt, mostly help.
BW: Do you have any special hobbies or talents that our readers probably don’t know about?
CW: I hate to admit that I write poetry, for the reason that most people think that they write poetry. Nor can I stand those dilettante critics who think they know poetry. In my estimation, Robert Frost was the last of the great poets.
BW: Following up on the last question, who are your favorite poets? You mentioned Catullus, but I’m sure there are others. (Also, did you know my cat’s name is Clawdius Catullus?)
CW: Heh, cute pun. Is part of your cat jealous of its other half? Besides Catullus, who’s without a doubt my favorite poet, and Robert Frost as I already mentioned, I really enjoy the John Donne and William Shakespeare. “Death be not proude” is one of the most heartfelt poems written. I also enjoy the Brownings, William Blake, Shelley, Coleridge, and Wordsworth. As far as the ancients go, with the exception of Catullus, I tend to lean towards imperial poetry, like Vergil and Tibullus, and on the Greek side the Hellenistic poets, such as Meleager. When it comes to classical poets, I’m a sucker of idyllic scenes and love poetry.
BW: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you? Are you running for president?
CW: No, I’m not running for president, but when I was a kid, I always wanted to be dictator of the world. One day…one day…
BW: Thank you so much, Chris, for your participation! I know our readers will enjoy reading your responses. Best of luck to you in your endeavors!