The busiest couple weeks of the year continue. But pressure is easing up in the library at last – I have adjudged my two new assistants qualified to range freely, within limits. Which gives me time to do other stuff. And other stuff need to be done.
I found out I’ll be doing my first seminary lecture (first of two) Thursday morning. That was somewhat short notice. But it’s not as if I haven’t been preparing. I just need to organize my piles of notes into a PowerPoint. And I’ve made a good start. Still, it’s a little daunting. If you like to pray for trivial concerns, you might remember me Thursday.
I think I figured out why they asked me to lecture on the historical roots of our conception of the pastorate. There’s been some concern in recent years, from certain quarters, that our seminary – while maintaining a high view of Scripture and Lutheran orthodoxy – has lost sight of its roots, the semi-romantic 19th Century dream of a repristinated New Testament congregation. They wanted somebody to explain our beginnings and the reasons why we do things in the (rather eccentric) ways we do them. As editor and translator for the Georg Sverdrup Society journal (devoted to the works of a founder of our tradition), I guess I qualify as a kind of an expert. There’s one guy who wrote a doctoral thesis on Sverdrup who certainly knows more than I do. But he’s retired. And another fellow who probably has a better global grasp on the historical factors than anybody alive. But he’s busy teaching other classes.
So I guess I qualify as a kind of an expert, in a very small niche. Funny how expertise snuck up on me. I never planned on it. It’s kind of like rummaging in your pockets and finding a candle snuffer in there. And you don’t remember buying one. But what do you know? There’s a candle right here that needs snuffing!
On the translating front, I hear that my next project will be a book on “the right of resistance,” the ancient Viking law that allowed the people of the land to rise up against, and kill, kings who got too big for their britches.
I think it will go over well among Deplorables.
What Agnon did with these familiar characters was so seemingly simple that it couldn’t but mean absolutely everything. Riffing on so many biblical and rabbinic themes that one could barely track them all, the story begins with a sick man whose doctors prescribe goat’s milk. But the goat he buys periodically wanders off for days, returning with udders full of milk whose taste is “like a taste of the Garden of Eden.” The man’s son decides to tie a cord to the goat’s tail and follow her. The goat then leads the son into a cave, an underground tunnel to an almost-mythical Land of Israel. (Rabbinic tradition suggests that when the messiah arrives, the diaspora Jewish dead will travel from their graves to Israel through underground caverns.) In the mystical city of Safed, the excited son is about to go back and get his father when he realizes that the Sabbath is approaching and he cannot travel. He quickly writes a note to his father to follow this goat, sticks the note in the goat’s ear, and sends her back through the tunnel. But when the goat arrives, the father assumes his son his dead; he has the goat slaughtered, and only then discovers the note. The father laments how he has doomed himself to exile, while the son flourishes “in the land of the living.”
Dana Horn writes about this story, S.Y. Agnon’s “Fable of the Goat,” in light of a new English translation and the difficulties therein.
I owe you an update. You know I’m done with my graduate work. That’s kind of an annoyance, in a way, because I’d gotten used to using school as an all-purpose excuse. “Gee, I’d like to help you move on Saturday, but golly, I’ve just got so much homework to do!”
Hard on the heels of that consummation, I was asked to do another edit on the Viking book I translated. I did that, and then when I had sent it in I re-considered and asked to have it back for one more pass. Because I like to do these things right. I have an idea that this translation will be a large part of the footprint I leave behind in this life.
Yesterday they sent me a draft cover for the book (to be called Viking Legacy, by Torgrim Titlestad). I’d share it with you, but I don’t have permission to. And it’ll probably change anyway. But I felt a quiet swelling of pride in my chest when I saw it. It’ll be good. Watch for it. This fall. Sometime.
Looks like I’ll be having some more translation work to do in the future too. I’m going to have to work out how to balance that with my novel writing.
I have been working on the next novel too, though. The problem is that this one’s a toughy. Of all the books in the Erling series, this will be the hardest to plot. It involves the lowest point in Erling’s life, and by extension in Father Ailill’s. I’ve got to figure out how to keep this one from combining the optimistic sparkle of Dostoevsky with the cheery fun of Game of Thrones.
Last night one of the characters did something I didn’t see coming. I’m still working out (while time is paused in his world) how Ailill will react.
So I shall not want for work to do.