Let’s Go Way Back

Today, because yesterday was Valentine’s Day, I am posting a poem that I … ahem … love. No, it’s not by me, nor is it by G.K. Chesterton. (Though he did write some great poetry.) It’s by a rising star who happens to be a friend of mine … Benjamin Ledford.

The Normans came to England and they found the Saxons there.

The Saxons said “Go back to France! We’re first! This isn’t fair!”

But the Saxons came from Germany where they had lived before,

And came and found the Angles living on the English shores.

The Angles were from Denmark whence they came in viking raids,

And they conquered tidy towns and forts that Roman troops had made.

The Romans came from Rome, of course, that goes without much saying,

And when they invaded England it was Celts that they were slaying.

Some Celts had fled to Scotland as they hurried to escape,

But others were already there — the Picts for goodness’ sake!

And before the Picts or Celts or Brits or any of these others,

There was someone building Stonehenge in the south with giant boulders.

And those Stonehenge folks, well surely, they’re the oldest Englishmen.

But could it be, or do you wonder,

Was there someone there before them?

Ben Ledford, 2021

Now, go forth and read this to your history students!

I Know What You Want.

You want 30 hours of theology podcasts.

I mean, who wouldn’t want that?

So, here’s what this is. Christian novelist Brian Godawa has gotten his hands on a pre-release copy of a commentary on the book of Revelation, The Divorce of Israel, by Kenneth Gentry. The gist of it is that Gentry’s interpretation is preterist, i.e. coming from a point of view that most of the events in Revelation have already happened during the horrible years of Rome’s siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. In other words, they were not prophecies of the distant future when John gave them, but rather prophecies of the immediate future. That’s the reason for the frequent warnings that “these things will soon take place.”

But, you say, what about all the stuff in Revelation that definitely sounds like the end of the world: the stars falling, the sky rolling up like a scroll, Jesus coming in the clouds, etc., etc.? Godawa shows, following Gentry, that all of this “collapsing universe imagery” was conventionally used in the Old Testament to describe God’s judgements on nations, usually through a siege, military defeat, and the razing of the countryside.

In the videos linked to above (and the first one embedded below), Through the Black interviews Brian Godawa in a series of 16 videos that are 1 – 2 hours each. That’s how long it takes them to go through Revelation chapter by chapter (and also Matthew 24), answering all the “what about”s that are probably popping into your head if you have ever been exposed to the usual type of modern evangelical teaching on Revelation.

As the Through the Black host says many times on these podcasts, eschatology matters. It can even have life-and-death consequences. Just look at David Koresh. Even mentioning Revelation, outside of Christian circles, nowadays is enough to get you branded as a loon. Inside Christian circles, it can still cause people to run screaming from the room, and who could blame them? Preterism gives us a way to look at this book that is consistent with the rest of Scripture and which doesn’t force us to create elaborate, increasingly self-contradictory systems of thought that will drive us crazy. If you like to listen to podcasts, join me in working your way through this one.

A New “Oldest” Found

I’ve mentioned before on this blog how archaeologists are constantly finding human cultural items that break records for “the oldest”: the oldest city, the oldest stone, temple, etc. Now here’s another one.

world’s oldest known cave painting (so far)

Two great things about this cave painting: it’s in Indonesia, and it’s of a pig.

“‘The people who made it were fully modern, they were just like us, they had all of the capacity and the tools to do any painting that they liked,’ [Aubert] added.”

Also, the painting is accompanied by stenciled hand prints that are made by placing your hand on the wall, filling your mouth with powdery dye, and blowing the dye onto your hand and the surrounding area. The last line of the article says that “the team are hoping to try to extract DNA samples from residual saliva.” Wouldn’t it be cool if they could do this and then sequence the DNA? And what if they were able to find a modern person who shares distinctive DNA with that unknown artist who made these hand stencils so many thousands of years ago? If they do, I think it’s a good guess they will find that person living right near the cave. That’s often how it works out. Modern-day relatives of the Ice Man were found living not far from where his body was discovered.

Cooking with Clay Beads

Clay “cooking balls” of the kind used in the Poverty Point culture in what in now Louisiana

Original title: “Cooking with Balls.” I didn’t have the … you know, courage … to go through with that one. But it’s not my fault! “Cooking Balls” is, I promise you, what they are called in the source material.

Although we know little about the Poverty Point people and their extraordinary center on Bayou Macon, we do know a great deal about their cooking habits. The most typical of all the artifacts is — surprisingly enough — a small baked clay ball, only one to two inches in diameter and two to three ounces in weight. The odd-looking balls, most often molded in melon, oblong, cylindrical, spiral, and biconical shapes, were used in cooking. Thousands of them have been unearthed so far. Indeed, so ubiquitous are these tiny finds that they are simply called Poverty Point objects.

The Poverty Point people used them not only more intensively than others [who cooked with heated stones], but also more innovatively, for a new style of cooking: pit-oven baking.

Mysteries of the Ancients Americas, The Reader’s Digest Asscn, Inc., pp. 113 – 114

The Poverty Point people, reconstructers think, would wrap fish, meat, or potatoes in wet leaves, place them on a bed of hot coals, and then cover them with a layer of hot clay balls. You know, they basically made what at camp we used to call a “hobo dinner.” Except we were always eating our hobo dinners half-raw, because we were not as patient as the people at Poverty Point.

In the Out of Babel blog tradition of writing about some ancient practice and then pretending that we are still doing it, I would like to show you my own cooking beads.

“Cooking balls” of the kind used by the modern mom

Not the greatest lighting on this photograph, but here they are, sitting in a nest of aluminum foil, on my ultramodern, convenient electric stove. The only modern use of clay cooking balls that I am aware of, is to make baked pie crust shells. If you bake the pie crust with nothing in it, it bubbles up, warps, and then it can’t hold the instant pudding later. You have to weight it down with something. You can use just two layers of aluminum foil, but heavier is better. For a while I was using uncooked lentils (per Martha Stewart). They worked OK, but they had a certain legume-y smell when baking and besides, clay cooking balls are so much cooler. I suppose that in a pinch, I could use them for pit cooking. Let’s hope it never comes to that.

According to archaeologists, the Poverty Point cooking balls “could be used about 10 times before they cracked apart.” And yet, they put so much effort into them, making pretty designs and everything! I can imagine that making these little items was a creative outlet as well as a chore. Whereas, my cooking beads are completely plain (and still look like they were a hassle to make in such quantity), and I expect them to last for years. Of course, I don’t use them daily, and certainly not for the two hours it apparently takes to pit-cook food.

Anecdotal Evidence for a Worldwide Flood

Photo by Ray Bilcliff on Pexels.com

As I heard a podcaster say, “The plural of anecdote is data.”

Wait. Are We Even Sure It Was Worldwide?

You can make a case that the account in Genesis 7 – 8 is not necessarily describing a global flood. This is because the same Hebrew word can be translated “world,” “earth,” or “land.” How we interpret it depends upon context. There is a case to be made, for example, that the whole book of Revelation is describing the devastation of the land of Israel during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (hence the frequent warnings that it is going to happen “soon”), and that lines like “one third of the people on the earth died” are better translated as “one third of the people in the land died.”

I have even seen people try to interpret the poetic descriptions of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 as happening from the perspective of a person standing on the surface of the earth, in the land of Israel.

However, getting back to the flood narrative, there are good reasons to think that the text is in fact describing a global flood. This passage is set in very ancient times, before the nation of Israel existed. It’s before Abram was called by God out of Ur. Before Abram was even born. Before the Table of Nations (Genesis 10). So, not only was there no nation of Israel at the time of flood narrative, but we can’t even be sure there was a land of Israel, given the dramatic damage that the flood did to the earth’s geography. (And by the way, yes, I have just revealed that I think the flood narrative was not composed by Moses — even under the inspiration of God — but was passed down to Moses from a much older source.)

Finally, it’s hard to imagine how a local flood could “cover the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits” (Genesis 7:20) … especially for enough of a length of time for Noah and his sons to take soundings so as to estimate this depth.

So, given all this, I don’t think it’s straining the text to say that the flood account in Genesis is meant to be describing a global event.

Like so many sensational things in the Bible, the flood account sounds hard to believe, but the longer we look at it, the better it matches with the world we live in. Here are some features of the world we live, which are features we would expect if the dark millennia of our past concealed a worldwide flood.

Oral Flood Histories from Around the World

I have written before about Graham Hancock. I really enjoyed his book Fingerprints of the Gods, which posits an ancient period of cataclysms that included “earth crust slippage,” a geological upheaval so dramatic that it would have caused catastrophic floods among many other disasters. Hancock keeps changing his theories, and he has his own reasons for collecting the historical data that he does. However, here is some of the data that he conveniently collected about flood legends worldwide:

More than 500 deluge legends are known around the world and, in a survey of 86 of these (50 Asiatic, 3 European, 7 African, 46 American and 10 from Australia and the Pacific), the specialist researcher Dr. Richard Andree concluded that 62 were entirely independent of the Mesopotamian and Hebrew accounts.

Hancock, Fingerprints, p. 193
People Grouppage in Fingerprintssummary
Aztec98“First Sun, Matlactli Atl: duration 4008 years. In this age lived the giants … The First Sun was destroyed by water in the sign Matlactli Atl (Ten Water). It was called Apachiohualiztli (flood, deluge), the art of sorcery of the permanent rain. Men were turned into fish. Some say that only one couple escaped, protected by an old tree living near the water. Others say there were seven couples who hid in a cave until the flood was over and the waters had gone down. They repopulated the earth and were worshipped as gods in their nations …”
Sumerian188 – 189The Noah figure is called Utnapishtim. He later tells his story to Gilgamesh. It almost exactly parallels the Genesis 7 account.
South American tribes191 – 192Hancock mentions flood accounts coming from the following tribes: Chibcas (Colombia); Canarians (Ecuador); Tupinamba (Brazil); Araucnaian (Chile); Yamana (Tierra del Fuego); Pehuenche (Tierra del Fuego); and numerous groups in Peru.
Inuit 192 – 193“a terrible flood, accompanied by an earthquake, which swept so rapidly over the face of the earth that only a few people managed to escape in their canoes or take refuge on the tops of the highest mountains.”
various North American tribes193Lusieno, Huron, Montagnais, Iroquios, Chickasaw, Sioux
China’s Imperial Library193 – 194“The planets altered their courses. The sky sank lower towards the north. The sun, moon, and stars changed their motions. The earth fell to pieces and the waters in its bosom rushed upwards with violence and overflowed the earth.”
Southeast Asia194Flood accounts in: Chewong (Malaysia); Laos and northern Thailand; Karen (Burma); Vietnam; tribes along the northern coast of Australia
Hawai’i194“The world was destroyed by a flood and later recreated by a god named Tangaloa.”
Samoa194The flood is survived by “two human beings who put to sea in a boat which eventually came to rest in the Samoan archipelago.”
Japan194The Pacific islands were formed after the deluge receded.
Greek (Hesiod)195 – 196After a series of races of gold and silver, there is a “bronze race” who “have the strength of giants, and mighty hands on their mighty limbs.” After Prometheus gets them into trouble, Zeus wipes out the bronze race with a flood. Deucalion and Pyrrha float over the sea in a box for nine days and finally land on Mt. Parnassus.
“Vedic India”196 – 197The Noah figure is named Manu. He rescues a fish, which in return warns him of a coming flood. Manu loads a ship with two of every living species and seeds of every plant. The fish turns out to be Vishnu, who pulls Manu’s ship through the flood.
Egypt (Book of the Dead)197Thoth says, “They have fought fights, they have upheld strifes, they have done evil, they have created hostilities, they have made slaughter, they have caused trouble and oppression … I am going to blot out everything which I have made. This earth shall enter into the watery abyss by means of a raging flood, and will become even as it was in primeval time.”
Mayan (Popol Vuh)203“It was cloudy and twilight all over the world … the faces of the sun and moon were covered … Sunlight did not return till the twenty-sixth year after the flood.”
Norse204 – 205An awful lot happens in this apocalyptic tale. First a “hideous winter,” then worldwide war, then Yggdrasil (the earth tree) is shaken, causing the earth to literally fall apart. Then, worldwide fire. And finally, a flood. “The earth sank beneath the sea … Yet not all men perished in the great catastrophe. Enclosed in the wood itself of the ash tree Yggdrasil — which the devouring flames of the universal conflagration had been unable to consume — the ancestors of the future race of men had escaped death. In this asylum they had found that their only nourishment had been the morning dew. Slowly the earth emerged from the waves. Mountains rose again …”

The charming thing about these origin tales is that couple who survive the flood usually end up landing on the local mountain, founding the nation that is currently telling the story, and not moving from that spot ever since. This is similar to how nearly every people group has a local landmark (usually a mountain, terrain permitting) that is believed to be the home of the gods or “the center of the world.”

This is what origin stories are supposed to do. They ground the local community in the great ancient story of the world, and they also give the ancient stories credibility by grounding them in local features “still seen to this day.” This is not to say, however, that origin stories are simply made up out of whole cloth. They are handed down the generations, and though they might get tailored to make human beings look better, and have bits of other interesting stories added to them, they ultimately have some kind of origin in actual events. (Especially since they often come with genealogies that are also handed down.) I can’t imagine the coincidence that would be required for hundreds of peoples all around the world to make up a traditional flood story.

Yes, But It Could Still Have Been Local, If

… if all of these widely scattered people groups were descended from a small number of couples who were once all in one place and who experienced a catastrophic local flood together.

That is true. Could still be true. And, in fact, even if the entire world were experiencing earthquakes, uplifts and sinkings, tsunamis, etc., all at once, there wouldn’t necessarily have been a moment when water was covering all the land on earth all at the same time. On the other hand, there wouldn’t have to be, for events to satisfy the description given in these flood accounts, including the Genesis one. After all, the perspective from which these stories are told, is that of human beings experiencing the flood and associated disasters, not the perspective of an observer looking at the globe from outer space. The mental picture of the whole world sitting under a flat layer of water, while not impossible, is more of a Sunday School stylization of the account, than the actual claim being made.

Buried Beneath a Wave of Mud

In all of these accounts, the flood is sudden, dramatic, and overwhelming, whether or not it is accompanied by other disasters such as earthquake or fire. Even the Genesis account (often simplified to sound like just rain) says “on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened” (Genesis 7:11, NIV).

In a world in which this had happened, we should expect to find the remains of plants and animals that had been instantly buried under huge waves of mud and essentially frozen in time. And that is exactly what we do find. Here is the latest example, which was called to my attention by Google within the last month:

dinosaur fossilized while sitting on her eggs

This poor dino mom, if she had been given any warning that she was about to be buried in an oxygen-free environment that would later prove convenient to future paleontologists, would probably have fled or tried to move her eggs to safety. OK, maybe she would have stayed to protect them. But we also find fossil dinos caught in the act of, say, eating prey. We find mammoths apparently flash-frozen with summer plants still in their mouths and/or stomachs. I can’t imagine how that could have come about, but it can’t have been gradual. (Although here are some fish who appear to be frozen in a wave, but the process was a quite different.)

It’s an odd world we live in, guys. I dunno.

Indo-European Phrase of the Week: “Undying Fame”

Occasionally comparative linguists are able not only to reconstruct individual words in Indo-European, but also whole phrases … Probably the most famous such phrase is *klewos ndghwhitom, “imperishable fame.” The most ancient texts in Indo-European languages, such as the Vedic hymns of ancient India, the Homeric epics, the Germanic sagas, and Old Irish praise-poetry, all demonstrate that the perpetuation of the fame of a warrior or king was of critical importance to early Indo-European society. The preservation of their fame was in the hands of poets, highly skilled and highly paid professionals, who acted both as the repositors and the transmitters of the society’s oral culture.

The phrase *klewos ndghwhitom, (where *klewos is a noun built on the root kleu-, “to hear,” and can be thought of literally as “what is heard about someone, reputation”) was reconstructed on the basis of the exact equation of Greek kleos aphthiton and Sanskrit sravah aksitam. …

Not surprisingly, “fame” is a recurring element in Indo-European personal names. The name of the Greek poet Sophocles meant “famed for wisdom”; the German name Ludwig means “famed in battle”; and the Czech name Bohuslav means “having the fame (glory) of God.”

The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-Europeans Roots, 3rd ed., p. 44

Now, let’s look at this same concept running strongly throughout Beowulf, an epic that is written in Anglo-Saxon, but set in Denmark before some of the Danes left there for England:

The Almighty granted him renown. Beowulf, son of Scyld, became famous in Denmark, and his fame spread everywhere. Thus, while still under his father’s protection, a young prince should by his goodness and generous gifts so manage affairs that later on his companions may give him support and his people their loyalty in time of war. For among all peoples it is only through those actions which merit praise that a man may prosper. (page 27)

Beowulf: “They tell me that in his vainglory the monster is contemptuous of weapons. Therefore, as I wish to keep the good opinion of my lord Hygelac, I propose to dispense with any kind of sword or shield during the combat. Foe against foe, I shall fight the fiend to the death with my bare hands. Whichever of us is killed must resign himself to the verdict of God. … If I am killed in combat, send to Hygelac the coat of mail which I am wearing. For it is the best corselet in the world, the work of Weland Smith, and an heirloom that once belonged to my grandfather Hrethel. Fate must decide.” (page 37)

By the close of that bloody fight the wish of all the Danes was fulfilled. It was thus that the resolute, cool-headed man who had come from a distant land purged Hrothgar’s hall and defended it from attack. The Geat prince rejoiced in his night’s work. For he had made good his boast to the Danes and put right their trouble … When the hero set up the talon, arm, and shoulder — Grendel’s entire grasp — under the great gables of Heorot, the evidence spoke for itself. (page 46)

Hrothgar to Beowulf: “By your exploits you have established your fame for ever. May God reward you with good fortune, and He has done up to now.” (page 49)

“Venerable king, do not grieve. It is better for a man to avenge his friend than to mourn him long. We must all expect an end to life in this world; let him who can win fame before death, because that is a dead man’s best memorial.” (page 60)

Beowulf, trans. David Wright, Penguin Classics

10,800-year-old Gardens in Amazonia

10,800 years ago, Early Humans Planted Forest Islands in Amazonia’s Grasslands

Much in this article is speculation, like the idea that there was an 8,000-year gap between people planting gardens and “full-blown agriculture” (whatever that is). Also, as always, the exact dates.

But this does seem to support the general picture that has been building … namely, that people got to the Americas a very long time ago, traversed them very quickly, and started gardening almost immediately … or perhaps already knew about agriculture before they got there, even if they had abandoned it for a generation or two while traveling. Or, as we like to say around here … (drumroll) … ancient people were already very sophisticated in the earliest records we find of them.

“Prehistoric” Swag

So, we’ve just come through a holiday season, and in the course of the last few months, I have acquired some items that would help me — or you — survive if we were suddenly plopped down in 10,000 BC. It is these that I will share with you today. And by “share with you,” I mean show you pictures. I will not actually give you my swag.

All of these items were gifts to me. (I now have my loved ones trained to give me cave man stuff.) I didn’t buy any of them myself, nor was I sent any of them in exchange for a promotion. Also, outofbabel not be held liable if you should find yourself in a prehistoric situation and these items fail to help you survive. It’s probably a “you” problem.

You Can Talk Good

First of all, your most pressing need will be to communicate. This game will help you learn to speak like a Neanderthal. The rules are: words of one syllable only. So, you can say “Angst,” “Eat,” and “Id,” but not “Ego,” “person,” “animal,” or “democracy.”

It comes with a cute little caveman boy who, if you speak a word of more than one syllable, will hit you with the No Stick.

You Can Wear Shoes

Minnetonka has been making wonderful moccasins for years now. They are modern mocs, suited to our need to be able to walk on pavement; they have rubber soles. Also, for the record, they are NOT as warm as boots on a snowy day!

Here is what they look like on.

You Can Visit Wyoming

This silver ring is supposed to represent the outline of the Tetons near Jackson, Wyoming, which, for the record, exists. It is by far the simplest looking of this gorgeous collection.

There is plenty of evidence that people have had pyrotechnology for many thousands of years.

You Can Drink UP!

Yes, that is exactly what it looks like.

It’s a drinking horn.

The packaging copy says, “GOAT STORY was inspired by the greatest discovery of all time — COFFEE! It was back in the 13th century when a flock of goats stumbled upon a bush of berries that made them go loco! Their obviously bored and adventure-seeking shepherd decided to brew the berries — and thank goats he did! Fast forward to the 21st century: that’s when we kick in. We decided to revolutionize coffee drinking and designed this one-of-a-kind coffee mug you’re holding now.”

I don’t know why we are randomly speaking Spanish (other than that it’s fun), and I’m not cool with the near blasphemy … but other than that, this copy was obviously written by a kindred spirit. I do love the “kick in” pun.

If you were to land unexpectedly in the very ancient world, you would be very very grateful to have with you one last, precious, cup of coffee. This item comes with a longer leather strap (not pictured) so that you can sling the hornful of life-giving liquid across your back and always be prepared lest you stumble upon a time portal.