It was the late 1970’s and I was in the final year of elementary school when we learned about the concepts of civilization.
We spent too much of the year learning about the various dinosaur epochs, so the early civilizations were run through rather quickly – Babylonians, Sumerians with a quick run through the Aztecs and Mayans before cramming Egypt and Rome before final exams with little thought to the significant portions of the world’s civilizations that we didn’t acknowledge at all – Europe, Asia, Australia and most of Africa.
The teacher, appropriately named Miss Work, was known for being a perfectionist choir teacher and a demanding language arts instructor. This being the case, she was a task master when confronted with large groups of children, that is to say, when she had the entire class and she was very different in smaller groups.
I thought at the time that she was not really comfortable being in front of larger groups and that she covered it off with her gruff and formidable persona.
There was a days, getting close to summer and everyone was restless and bored that not a single student had completed the homework assignment. Miss Work, determined to teach us responsibility if nothing else, made each student explain in turn why they had not done the homework and she tore apart each and every explanation until she got to me.
Having heard every excuse that I could think of torn apart, by the time she got to me, my mind was blank. So when it was my turn, I stood up and simply said, “I have no excuse.”
There was a break in the rhythm then, as Miss Work paused to digest my words; finally saying “At least you’re honest. Sit down.” and she tore into the next student, but with less vigor. Strangely, no one else followed my lead and everyone struggled to find that elusive and mythical being: the acceptable excuse.
I digress to begin with the tale of the teacher who had no compunction in stopping the school’s senior choir mid-performance to ball them out for a wrong note or mis-sung line – whether the audience was just the school or out in the community – and have the song be started over.
But it was important to set up how difficult it was to ask her challenging questions, given what a formidable authoritarian she was, while, at the same time, having been one of the best school teachers that I ever had.
I raised my hand and asked, “Are we on the rise or the fall of our civilization?”
It was one of the few times when my question was met with her gruff mocking bluster and she explained that given the level of technology and stability in the world that there would be no fall of Western civilization. That history was finished and it would be current events from here on out.
With little awareness that with enough passage of time, current events become history and that the only thing we can count on is change.
Certainly, the world is much changed since 1979, when Jonestown would have us beleive that religion more dangerous to the adherents than to non-members.
Whenever the idea presented that civilizations rise, peak and fall; I generally think that I’d rather be on the fall side – all the benefits of what came before and on the decadent side!
But that assumes that civilizations rot from the inside out – when most civilizations disappear as a result of conquest or natural disasters; the population dispersing or breaking down into decentralized groups, which may rise again in new combinations.
As long as there are people living in high density, there will be human civilizations.
But as long as we continue to allow insignificant things like appearance and baseless beliefs, such as religion and political ideology, to escalate into meaningful difference; we are locked into the endless cycle of rising and falling.
It’s when we can put aside these meaningless differences that we have a hope of creating a lasting civilization.
The idea behind Biblical archeology is to use an apparent scientific process to validate Bible stories.
I say apparent scientific process, because while bible archeology and actual archeology both involve digging; that seems to be where the similarities end.
Setting out with a trowel in one hand and a Bible in the other – and funded by foundations with strong ties to and a keen interest in proving the bible is a history text, isn’t following the evidence to a conclusion – it’s starting with a conclusion and looking for evidence to support it.
It’s backassward, at best and science, not at all.
There are several problems with “The Bible” as a historical text and it’s use as an archeological guide.
The 200 some odd texts were independent documents that were later reviewed with very few being deemed “divinely inspired” and then edited into a single larger work – the current day perception of the Bible as a whole document is erroneous. The texts are take from earlier Hebrew writings and oral tales that certainly changed over time.
The texts hardly meet modern day historical writing standards and are largely propaganda pieces written decades if not centuries after the alleged events occurred.
There are a minority of characters in the Bible who’s existence is confirmed by non-Bible sources; while the key Bible characters do not appear in any secular texts of the time period they were alleged to have lived in.
Given that the Bible characters allegedly had a massive effect on their time period, their absence from secular historical documents and lack of archeological evidence; brings to mind the Tom Hanks movie, Forest Gump.
Aside: Forest Gump is a fictional character who impacts the wider world through random contacts with a variety of real life entertainers, politicians and social drivers. What made the movie a bit concerning was the use of actual news footage with “Forest” edited in.
Makes for a fun movie, but shows how easy it is to create a realistic but untrue history. Much like the infamous looping of a few film frames that made Hitler appear to be dancing a jig, when he was just walking.
The lack of secular text references and other evidence for the Bible characters of Jesus, Moses and David is particularly troubling for Bible enthusiasts. The whole story hinges on these characters, after all.
Given the apparent impact of these characters on the world we are to believe that they inhabited, is a bit like if Elvis Presley had blazed into the cultural scene, but no one wrote about him until at least 70 years after he died. Which means, we still wouldn’t have any writings about Elvis now, as he’s only been dead 33 years.
Is it credible to anyone that no one would have written about Moses or Jesus or David? That the locations where their stories were set either haven’t been able to be located and if they have, that there’s no evidence for the characters to have inhabited them?
It’s the locations that Biblical scholars focus on – as if finding a particular site that could have been this or that city is enough to prove the story and characters were real.
That there was a Nazareth doesn’t prove Jesus was from there anymore than that New York City exists proves that Carrie Bradshaw and her Sex in the City cohorts are real people and not fictional characters set in a real location. After all, what better way to make fictional characters seem real than to put them in real life locations?
In fact, it also appears that Nazareth didn’t exist until well after the alleged death of Jesus and it was a Roman village.
Another way to tell a Biblical archeologist from an actual archeologist is the rush to publish. Well, not publish-publish. Publish in the sense of a press release and media tours; not so much to have your find analyzed by independent labs and your paper peer reviewed for publishing in a scientific journal. But hey, news media is careful about confirmation too, right?
Remember the rush to proclaim the James burial ossuary? Only after the media announcement was the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” really examined and deemed a later forgery than the stone box.
An important part of how to make determinations of age of archeology items is the items in the context of the soil layer with other artifacts and building foundations or walls.
Archeology is not a person privately buying apparent antiquities off market from undocumented sources. Especially with the centuries old tradition of tomb robbing and black market sales into private collector hands. Then, years later, remembering it’s in the storage unit and dragging it out to announce a major find with cultural significance.
If religion is about faith, then no evidence, archeological or otherwise should be needed. In fact, as Douglas Adams pointed out in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Proof denies Faith.
So why the rush to prove the Bible stories?
The middle eastern region that the Bible stories are set in is highly disputed territory today.
There’s a bizarre to me belief that where groups of people who called themselves by a certain name 500, 1000 or even more years ago; somehow give a current claim to land by another group of people claiming the same name and by extension, ownership of the land.
Where groups of people camped out in their migratory wanderings, where other groups made semi-permanent settlements or even actually permanent ones that were later abandoned, or had the original population driven out of by a new group – should not be the determination of what land areas that current groups of people should legally be allowed to lay claim to.
China is the longest continuous civilization with stable borders. Everyone else held a territory for a time and either abandoned it owing to catastrophe or depopulation or had it taken away from them by military conquest or natural migration changing the demographics.
Who got there first may allow for a legal claim if the land is unoccupied, but when you have a territory that has been the site of multiple occupations by different cultural groups over centuries or longer, the territory pretty much belongs to the current occupant. Ownership, as they say, is nine tenths of the law.
Sadly it seems that knowing history in the context of land claims, seems to doom us to repeat the same battles over and over.
The middle east is like the Extreme Hatfields and McCoys – fractions fighting for so long that the basis for the fight is no longer relevant, just that the fight continues.
We should know history to not repeat the mistakes, not to use history to justify continuing to make the same mistakes.
The needs of those currently living and those who will be living have to outweigh the territorial disputes of people long dead. Who lived in a place in the past does not have to determine who gets to live where now and into the future.
No matter the outward appearance, we are all homo sapiens. There are no sub-species of humans. There is less than 1% genetic difference between any two people on the planet.
Aside: There’s really only one percent separation between you and Kevin Bacon.
After all, if who our ancestors were determines what we are entitled to and how we are legally allowed to operate because of the ancestor beliefs; then, my neighbours may as well just turn over their property deeds to me.