Mongolian Throat Singing!

So, this cool dude is ripped from the pages of The Long Guest. Singing, with his daughter, on a little stringed instrument, about … what else? … horses. In Mongolian. In Mongolia.

Except he is even cooler than any character in my book, because he does “throat singing,” which as far as I can tell, basically involves turning his voice into a digeridoo.

Also, his daughter is adorable.

This video just makes me very happy.

Here is a link to the Classic FM article which gives some background about the singer and about throat singing.

Ancient People … Clever … ZZZ

Wha? Oh, are you still there? I must have dozed off. Apparently I put myself to sleep with the monotony of saying for the one millionth time that people in the ancient world … were much more clever than we …

ZZzzzzZZZzz.

So, it appears that Persians in the 900s or 1000s were making a steel that had some chromium in it, similar to our stainless steel. Technically this period is medieval, not ancient, but it still surprised archaeologists because we modern people think that all the clever inventions and technological innovations were made in about the last 100 years and, really, in the last fifty.

We invented the world we are living in, you see.

We are also the first generation to possess moral virtue, but that’s a rant for another day.

OK, maybe I am being a little hard on the archaeologists. After all, you can recognize in principle that people in the past were just as clever as you and I, without being able to guess in advance specifically what they invented. But the article itself slips into snark, when it says that the ancient Persians “stumbled upon” an early version of this alloy. Who’s to say they stumbled upon it, and weren’t experimenting with different materials? I realize this snark is completely unintentional, but its very innocence does kind of reveal our modern bias.

Captain Obvious Looks at the Vikings

Check out this “surprising” finding …

Vikings may not be who we thought they were, DNA study finds

… Well, that kind of depends. Who did we think they were?

In the article, “who we thought they were” is a complete straw man where “we” thought that every single Viking was tall, blond and blue-eyed, and all of one monolithic genetic stock.

In fact, even before the age when they spread out across Europe, apparently the Vikings had genetic admixtures from Southern Europe. Also, some people who were not ethnically Viking were given Viking burials.

In other words, people move around a lot and intermarry with each other. And they influence each other culturally.

Also, no large ethnic group is genetically monolithic.

What a surprising finding.

Giants

This is actually just a person in a tunnel, but imagine that it’s Polyphemus, blocking your way out of his cave.

How creepy, on a scale of 1 to 10, do you find the idea of giants?

I must confess, I was never particularly bothered by them. They have never struck me as uncanny. Just extra-large people, right? This might be partly because of portrayals like Disney’s, where the giants(s) are not too malevolent and certainly not too bright.

And the Iron Giant, and Gulliver when he was in Lilliput. In all of these cases, the fact of a person being huge creates some interesting logistical problems, but it certainly isn’t horror in the same category as anything unnatural, undead, or even as really depraved human evil.

All that to say, if I had set about, unguided, to pick a force of evil for my story, giants would not be the first place I would have gone.

Nevertheless, giants ended up in my first novel because they are featured in Genesis.

[The] story is told succinctly in Genesis 6:1 – 4, one of the most enigmatic and misinterpreted passages in the Bible. Here is how it reads in the oldest surviving copy … the Greek Septuagint:

“And it came to pass when men began to be numerous upon the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God having seen the daughters of men that they were beautiful, took to themselves wives of all whom they chose. … Now the giants were upon the earth in those days; and after that when the sons of God were wont to go in to the daughters of men, they bore children to them, those were the giants of old, men of renown.”

[In this book], we will proceed upon the premise that this passage tells of a time in the remote past when heavenly beings entered the abode of humans, and through our women were able to spawn a race of half-breed children, giants that all cultures throughout the world remember as powerful and often wicked, ruthless demigods.

Douglas Van Dorn, Giants: sons of the gods, pp. 2 – 3, emphasis in the original

In other words, that there were once, in actual history, giants that were half human, and that could in some sense be called demigods.

In the rest of the book, Van Dorn looks in detail at this passage and others, and answers arguments about whether this passage, and other passages that seem to assume the same background, should be interpreted to be talking about literal giants or about the people of God versus humans who had rejected God. He also delves into Hebrew terms for other demonic and paranormal creatures, terms that often get rendered as various animals in modern translations.

I am not going to get into the exegetical discussion in this post. But I am going to touch on how Van Dorn’s thesis – that this stuff actually happened, way back in the mists of human history – is backed up by what is usually called mythology.

It is a really strange fact that every culture has stories about giants, gods, and various other supernatural creatures (including chimeras, but that’s another topic). This fact does not strike us as strange – at least, it didn’t me – precisely because these stories are so old and so universal. We just accept it as a given that human “legends” and “myths” deal with threatening creatures that we do not see today. We don’t look for an explanation of why this should be. I am sure that Jung could give you a psychological explanation for the universality of giant stories. Jordan Peterson could give you a Jungian, evolutionary explanation.

And certainly, the idea of a giant as a large and threatening presence is deeply embedded in the human mind. But why? How did this idea get there? Why aren’t our symbols of evil just bears and saber-toothed tigers, if those were the only threats our ancestors were dealing with?

If you go to Bali, you can see sculptures of an ugly, bearded giant being attacked by an eagle as he attempts to carry off a beautiful girl with an elaborate crown and hair that falls to her ankles. This is an illustration of a scene from the Ramayana, an ancient Indian epic that, in the millennia since it entered Indonesia, has there acquired its own flavor. In the Indonesian version, the beautiful girl is Sinta, bride of the prince Rama. The giant (raksasa) captures her through deception, carries her off, and is able to fly to get her back to his castle. The heroic eagle (garuda) attacks him in the air. This is a favorite scene for sculptors and illustrators, who still exist in great numbers in Bali and are insanely talented. The story is also told in shadow-puppet plays and operas.

In Borneo, where I had the privilege to live for a few years, they have their own local legends. One common theme in these is that you should not marry outside your clan, because if you marry a girl from an unknown people, she might turn out not to be human. In one story, a young man marries a foreign girl. When she goes down to the river to bathe, he goes to spy on her and is shocked to see her take off her head.

One area, where we lived for about a year, had a large local mountain with a distinctive jagged top. As the story went, this mountain once reached the clouds. A giant used to climb down it in order to eat the people down below. Then a female hero used a machete to hack off the top of the mountain. The giant, now trapped in the clouds, looks down upon the people but cannot eat them anymore. It drools, and the drops of drool become the bloodsucking leeches that live in the jungle on the slopes of the mountain. Still trying to eat the people, you see.

These few stories from island southeast Asia illustrate features that show up associated with giants again and again: kidnapping/rape, and eating people. (I mean, that is virtually all the giants and demigods do in the Greek myths, for example.) I mention these stories from Bali and Borneo to show just what a wide geographical area the human consensus on giant behavior seems to cover.

Given all this, giants are starting to look more like what we in our house would call a “horror creature.” To review: based on Genesis and numerous myths worldwide, the giants:

  • are not fully human, but are some sort of human/supernatural hybrid
  • are nevertheless fully physical and present in actual history
  • seem to like kidnapping human women
  • seem to like eating people
  • are smart enough to practice deception

Ok, now this is starting to get scary. If we accept that these myths are historical memories, then all of a sudden, hearing giant stories is sort of like hearing about atrocities committed by people during the Holocaust, or the Communist takeover of Cambodia, or any other of humanity’s many periods of pure, unrestrained, depraved evil. But it’s scary in another way too. Given the purported origin of these giants, it’s like hearing about a successful genetic experiment, or like finding out that demon possession is real.

I’ve always kind of longed to live in the really ancient ages of the world. But, the more I learn, the more relieved I am to be living in modern times. We slam the door to the giants shut behind us, and lean against it, panting.

Mobs Are Bad.

The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting at the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”

But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them.

Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Portland Sodom — both young and old — surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. [Note: Lot may have been lying. We are later told that he has sons-in-law.] But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

“Get out of our way,” they replied. And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.

But the men inside the house reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.

Genesis 19:1 – 11

Surprising Fact of the Week

We should never defend Christianity by saying it is traditional. From the beginning, it has stood against the traditions of its day.

Beginning in the fifth century, Christian leaders finally began to wield enough political influence to pass laws against sexual slavery. The church fathers called it “coerced sin.” One historian notes that the most reliable index of the Christianization of an ancient society was the recognition of the injustice of sexual slavery.

Let that historical fact sink in: The most reliable index of how deeply Christianity had permeated a society was whether [the society] outlawed sexual slavery.

Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body, pp. 69 – 70, 71 – 72

Ancient People Were Really Smart, Part … What? 10?

Massive stone structures in Saudi Arabia may be some of the oldest monuments in the world.

They number in the hundreds, can be larger than an NFL football field and are found across Saudi Arabia. … radiocarbon dating of charcoal found within one of the structures indicates people built it around 5,000 B.C.

“This ‘monumental landscape’ represents one of the earliest large-scale forms of monumental stone structure construction anywhere in the world.”

Ibid

Oooh, so many thoughts.

We keep finding these things everywhere. And every time one is found, it’s older than expected, such that it seems we are constantly being told that “the earliest” or “one of the earliest” has just been found.

There is Gobekli Tepe in Turkey, the earliest (?) stone temple.

There are standing stones, marching stones, and stone circles all over the Middle East and Europe.

There are crannogs in Scotland (apparently Neolithic), and the Stone Serpent of Loch Nell.

The Giza pyramids, and the Sphinx, are arguably much older than commonly believed.

So, I don’t necessarily believe that these monuments in Saudi Arabia are “the first” of anything (even though, I’d like to point out, the monument could be older than the charcoal they found in it).

What I do believe is that they are yet more evidence that the compulsion to build massive stone structures, and the engineering skills to pull it off, was near universal among ancient humanity.

It looks most probable to me that these “earliest monuments” in Arabia were contemporaneous, or nearly so, with the other “earliest stone monuments” and temples and things that we keep finding, all over the world.

Perhaps people were dispersing from somewhere (somewhere near the Fertile Crescent, say), taking this building culture with them as they went. They would have hit northwest Arabia fairly quickly. The Table of Nations, in Genesis 10, lists all the peoples that descended from Noah’s three sons after the Flood. Though this is supposedly a comprehensive list, when it tells where they settled, the homelands listed for them are all in the Fertile Crescent, the Levant, and Arabia, though it is obvious that some of these peoples eventually ended up settling in much more far-flung places.

See also my posts about The Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age, by Richard Rudgley, who presents evidence that fully functioning human civilizations existed 10,000, 20,000, or even 30,000 years ago.

Just a thought for the day.

Quote of the Week: Different Cultures Do Different Things Well

The most sweeping denials of performance superiority [between cultures] have been based on redefining them out of existence as culturally biased “perceptions” and “stereotypes.” Those who take this approach of cultural relativism acknowledge only differences but no superiority. Yet all cultures serve practical purposes, as well as being symbolic and emotional, and they serve these practical purposes more efficiently or less efficiently — not just in the opinions of particular observers but, more importantly, in the practices of the societies themselves, which borrow from other cultures and discard their own ways of doing particular things.

Western civilization, for example, has abandoned Roman numerals for mathematical work, in favor of a very different numbering system originating in India and conveyed to the West by Arabs. The West has also abandoned scrolls in favor of paper, and scribes in favor of printing, in each case choosing things originating in China over things indigenous to Western culture. All over the world, people have abandoned their own bows and arrows for guns, whenever they had a choice. Much of the story of the advancement of the human race has been a story of massive cultural borrowings, which have created modern world technology.

Thomas Sowell, The Quest for Cosmic Justice, pp. 60 – 61

Quote of the Week: The Soul Who Sins is the One who will Die

The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb:

‘The fathers eat sour grapes/and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will not longer quote this proverb in Israel. For every living soul belongs to Me, the father as well as the son — both alike belong to Me. The soul who sins is the one who will die.

“Suppose there is righteous man who does what is just and right. … Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things (though the father had done none of them) … Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these things, [the son] will surely be put to death and his blood will be on his own head.

“But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does do not such things. He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people.

“Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.

“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, O house of Israel: Is it not your ways that are unjust?”

Ezekiel 18, most of the chapter