By Lydialyle Gibson
Photography by iStockphoto

Not so archaic

This past December, Divinity School researcher Margaret Mitchell, AM’82, PhD’89, closed the book on one of the University Library’s most mystifying artifacts: the Archaic Mark, she declared, is a forgery. Scholars have argued over the manuscript’s provenance since 1937, when biblical scholar Edgar J. Goodspeed, DB 1897, PhD 1898, acquired it from a Greek family. A 44-page codex containing the Gospel of Mark in miniature handwriting, the Byzantine Archaic Mark was thought by some to have been written during the 14th century. But Mitchell’s textual analysis uncovered that the codex’s author had copied an 1860 edition of the Greek New Testament. University-hired experts in microchemical analysis and medieval bookmaking, meanwhile, determined that the codex could not be older than 1874. The group plans to publish the findings in the February Novum Testamentum.

Lonely people can infect even those with whom they have no direct contact.

The spread of loneliness

Misery loves company, and so, apparently, does loneliness. In his most recent study on emotional isolation, Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo found that loneliness is contagious and that those who suffer from it can transmit their feelings to others as they drift toward the periphery of their social networks. “These reinforcing effects mean that our social fabric can fray at the edges, like a yarn that comes loose at the end of a crocheted sweater,” says Cacioppo, who in 2008 coauthored Loneliness, a book-length study of the emotion and its health-related effects. For the contagion research, published in the December Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Cacioppo and two collaborators from Harvard and the University of California, San Diego, analyzed data from longitudinal surveys going back to 1948 in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Freakonomics, take two

In their follow-up to 2005’s Freakonomics, Chicago economist Steven Levitt and coauthor Stephen Dubner released SuperFreakonomics (HarperCollins) this past October. The sequel takes the same unconventional microeconomical approach to sometimes quirky, sometimes quotidian, sometimes vexing questions: Why do physicians prescribe chemotherapy so often when it so rarely works? What’s the best way to catch a terrorist? How much good do car seats do? The book has prompted both praise and condemnation. One chapter that generated particular heat concerns global warming and the idea that the Earth’s climate could be geo-engineered by pumping sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere.

In the beginning

Tracing Islam back to its roots, Near East historian Fred M. Donner argues in Muhammad and the Believers (Harvard, May 2010) that Islam may have begun as a “believers’ movement,” a call to religious reform led by the prophet Muhammad. Stressing monotheism and obedience to God’s law, it included Christians and Jews early on, and not until a hundred years later, in the eighth century ad, did Islam emerge as a distinct religious community, when movement leaders began defining believers as only those who understood the Qur’an as God’s final revelation.

Capitalism’s cataclysm

As the world’s economies creep back from the precipice of financial collapse, Law School scholar and U.S. appellate judge Richard Posner, in The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy (Harvard, March 2010), offers an examination of what went wrong. He also discusses building fresh thinking about business cycles on Keynesian ideas, and whether our democratic institutions are adequate to the current economic crisis.

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