One thing that is generally true about Americans is that they pay attention to things. Yes, you heard right. Only their range of inquiry can be rather limited. I will delay my judgement on this trait or let you imagine what it is for now. But it is fun to see how things can sometimes connect.
What do I remember about Russia? Maybe the first time I heard about it was from my parents and the TV in 1957. I did not keep a diary, so I may be a bit off in telling you what I saw. I remember going outside at night and looking up into the night sky. It was cold outside and there must not have been a moon visible. But I remember looking up and seeing something slowly traveling the dark sky. I was told it was Sputnik. Many years later I saw a model of Sputnik, as far as I know in full scale. Pretty darn small, if I remember. Why do I bring this up? Because last week NPR was running a story about seeing the International Space Station with the naked eye. They said it would be visible just after sunset or before sunrise. The presenter mentioned a web site where the best viewing times for seeing it would be listed. I actually went to the site, but could not figure out how to find the times. So I gave up. Maybe LA would have too much junk in the air anyway. Why do I mention this? Because the presenter said that we could see it because it was so big now, being complete. It was said to be the size of a football field. (Remember I am an American and we call it football here and leave the round ball version to the rest of the world.)
What did I see in the sky as a boy? Can’t really say I now know. But I saw something up there. So, anyway, this week past also marked the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first orbit of the earth. April 12th, 1961. We heard about it at school in Miss Carol Freeman’s fourth grade classroom. Our school was progressive. We had a TV in the front of the room that was connected to the educational channel three days a week. From it we had Spanish class with Don Miguel. He would talk to us and we would learn a few words in Spanish and respond to his instructions. When he said, “Carlos, levántate” I would stand and answer back, “Si, me levanto.” There were too many Richards and I lost the competition to get Ricardo, so I ended up with Charles. But I digress.
I later cheered on Alan Shepard as he made his suborbital flight. And later rooted for John Glenn as he orbited three times. But, in fact, our team was behind the Russians. The television presenters did not have to tell us. And within months our new president would challenge all of us Americans to beat the Russians to the moon. And so we did. (There are some who say we just did it on a sound stage, of course.) But many years later we did finally come to the truth that Gagarin actually parachuted apart from his space vehicle, making the accomplishment a cheat. But the Soviets controlled the media pretty well and so we never knew. In my humble opinion, I still say the Russians won.
So, back to Alexey Grigoryevich Stakhanov. Wiki tells us that he was a really good coal-miner. Personally dug out 102 tons of coal in 5 hours and 45 minutes. According to Wiki, he did it on the last day of August, 1935. He literally became the poster boy for the Socialist Economic cause. Later, there was a lot of talk about how many others had helped him do the work and that it was just propaganda. Sort of like the latter Gagarin feat. And it was done to praise the system. I suppose we also felt controlled by the news about the Soviet’s space success as others may have felt about coal mining in Russia in the days before World War II.
Long way around the barn, as they say. All to tell you about my brother Jerry. Known as Jerome A. Lund, PhD. He is one of the leading scholars in Aramaic, the language in common use in the Holy Land and other nearby places during the first century AD.
Jerry is the one standing close to the TV. Obviously we had loot on our minds more than the Baby Jesus.
So, what about Jerry? I was reading a review of one of his publications. In the first paragraph, the reviewer of The Old Syriac Gospel of the Distinct Evangelists: A Key-Word-in-Context Concordance made this comparison, “The latest addition to these ranks of essential research tools is Jerry Lund’s impressive concordance of the Curetonian and Sinaitic Old Syriac Gospel manuscripts, which at just under 2500 pages in length is a work of truly stakhanovite proportions!” (citation is Ephrem Van den Johnson, “Article Title,” Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies [http://syrcom.cua.edu/syrcom/Hugoye] vol. 1, no. 1 (1998), pars. 3-5.) Now this may sound a little mundane, or even nonsensical. But if you really compare his allusion, Jerome stands out. 102 tons of coal a day. At the end, the author references that he has found issue with 73 lines out to 170,000 written. I guess this might be a good example of scholarly nitpicking. Oh, those Oxford guys…
So, this month we have been hearing about people dying in Syria. The army is not siding with the people, but with the regime. Hundreds are losing their lives. Home of a dictatorial rule. Home of Damascus, where Christians first were called by that name. Where Paul the Apostle was re-educated. Home of the Syriac language originally. Arabic now is used, but even in the churches that sprung for this area, Syriac in some form is still used in worship. Could we even find Syria on a map?
Christians lost the wars years ago. The victors write the history books and control the libraries. But there are still some speaking Syriac today. For some of us who have an interest in Church History and the history of Christian thought, I am grateful for scholars like Jerome. He invested 14 years of his life in Jerusalem (Al Quds to a billion+ people, meaning the Holy City) at Hebrew University to prepare for his life’s work. Having finished the major effort as a contributor for a massive Key Word in Context Dictionary/Concordance for the Aramaic Language at Hebrew Union in Cincinnati, he recently relocated to his wife’s Norway. One son is in school in the US, one is guarding the King of Norway, and the other is completing high school at the ski area where they live.
Maybe you are wondering if I had a point in my meanderings. Well, yes…While we Americans ponder just how just a sentence is meted out to Ms. Lohan for the necklace thing, or if X-Factor US will bring back Paula Abdul, we can relax, knowing that the good folks in North Korea have “our best interests at heart.” I find their news site to be a reminder that while Pravda has changed, not all have decided to join in telling the truth. Hope you find their point of view educational. DPRK’s site.
And we should pay more attention to what is happening abroad. Travel more overseas. Learn a new language. Interact with those from other places who are already here. And stop hogging the name “football.” (or not) We don’t all need to be experts in everything, but when we do take on a task of mastering some area of study, it does not hurt to be “Jeromian” in our efforts. So use that word in a sentence this week. Impress your friends.