Why We Should Care About Archaeological Destruction

This is terrible…

The Islamic State group released a video on Thursday showing militants using sledgehammers to smash ancient artifacts in Iraq’s northern city of Mosul, describing them as idols that must be removed, according to the Associated Press.

The destructions are part of a campaign by Islamic State, who have destroyed a number of shrines — including Muslim holy sites — in order to eliminate what they view as heresy.

via Islamic State Video Shows Militants Destroying Museum Artifacts in Iraq – Dispatch – WSJ.

While the world was watching the Academy Awards ceremony, the people of Mosul were watching a different show. They were horrified to see ISIS members burn the Mosul public library. Among the many thousands of books it housed, more than 8,000 rare old books and manuscripts were burned.

via ISIS Burns 8000 Rare Books and Manuscripts in Mosul – Yahoo! Finance

Let’s not forget that people of many faiths (ancient and modern) have used the defacement or destruction of art or cultural items as a way to “wipe the slate clean” of previous heresies. From Hatsheput to Josiah pulling down the high places in Israel to the burning of books, these tactics are power plays designed to show that the deity or deities are on one’s side in a presumed theo-political battle.

Lost in the fear that ISIS / ISIL / IS is imminently planning to attack the US is the cultural damage this collection of people are doing to museums and sites in Syria (Damascus, Antioch, Palmyra, Dura Europos) and northern Iraq (Mosul / Nineveh).

Specifically for the stories linked above, the modern city of Mosul sites very near Nineveh, the historical capital of the Assyrian Empire, at its height in the 9th-7th centuries BCE. Believe it or not, Assyrian artifacts caused quite a rage in the late 1800’s after Sir Henry Austen Layard’s discovery of Assyrian palaces in the 1850’s.

These artifacts directly impacted the development of the missionary movement as northeastern universities used these impressive pieces of art as proof of God’s providence (as the folks in Jerusalem were saved from Sennacherib’s invasion by God’s hand according to the book of Kings… the folks in the Northern Kingdom of Israel as well as Lachish were less fortunate).

While doing graduate studies at Yale, I somehow lucked into a dream job at the Yale Art Gallery. I was so fascinated by the Assyrian antiquities there and the story of why Yale, Harvard, Amherst, Williams etc were so passionate about securing Assyrian pieces for their own collections in the 1800’s that I wrote a book about it:

This accompanying text to the Yale University Art Gallery’s famed Assyrian reliefs details the 19th-century American frenzy for reliefs taken from Assurnasirpal II’s magnificent palace in Kalhu near the Tigris River. The discovery of the palace by the British in 1845 captured the Victorian public’s imagination, leading to the discovery of other architectural sites and the deciphering of the Assyrian language. Soon, American missionaries sought to procure artifacts for their alma maters, most often coveting reliefs that were religious in content. William Frederic Williams was one such missionary and former Yale faculty member. He, along with Yale Medical School graduate Henry Lobel, secured six slabs from Assurnasirpal’s palace, which were divided up between Yale, Amherst, and Union Seminary in Utica. Harrelson analyzes at length the two reliefs obtained by Yale. He touches on the technical aspects of the materials as well as the reliefs’ religious iconography, situating them within the palace as a whole.

via Asia Has Claims Upon New England by Sam Harrelson, Yale University Art Gallery

Along with the atrocities being done by groups such as IS to other humans, we should care about the destruction of irreplaceable pieces of world history whenever it happens. For those of us with a more jingoist mindset, we should especially care when these cultural pieces are directly tied to our own history and majority religion.

William F. Williams wrote back to his benefactors at Yale from the city of Mosul in the 1850’s that, “Asia has claims upon New England.” Perhaps that has never been more true in the modern context.

Thomas and I will definitely discuss this on the next Thinking Religion, so give that a listen if you’re interested.

I pray for peace.

You Don’t Need A Mediator to Blog

It’s very easy to blog. You should do it on your own domain. You don’t need a venture capital funded company to help you.

If you need help, let me know. The future is independence from these sorts of silos.

Medium is introducing a host of features aimed at encouraging users to post shorter, less polished pieces.

via Medium adds new features to encourage shorter posts.

Yale’s Religious Treasures

My masters degree in religion is from Yale, and it’s great to see the religious treasures there highlighted. However, I can’t believe the Dura Europos baptistry (from the earliest house church we’ve recovered and one of the first depictions of Jesus we have) didn’t make the list (the Mithraeum did, though… which is also spectacular).

Nevertheless, good read and makes me miss my days working in the Yale Art Gallery as a grad assistant…

In reality, this supposed bastion of elite godless education is teeming with people studying religion, teaching religion, and doing religion. Yale has a divinity school with a Christian identity, albeit a non-denominational one that welcomes students of other religions and no religions. It has two large chapels, the famed Battell Chapel on the undergraduate campus and the graceful Marquand Chapel at the divinity quadrangle. And Yale, a place that started out as a training ground for Congregationalist ministers (whose students included none other than Jonathan Edwards) retains to this day a dazzling array of religious treasures and relics, all publicly available.

via 15 Religion Treasures at Yale | Tom Krattenmaker.

Theological Eating

At the beginning of the year, I decided to stop eating meat and meat products. I have some experience with this from my days in graduate school (it was more of an economic decision then!), but I was still going into this new year / new eating pattern with the full understanding that it’s very hard to change patterns even if it is 1/1 on the calendar.

Yes, we are humans and we are organic animal beings that are meant to include meat and animals in our diet (and yes, I consider fish, shellfish, etc as part of the animal kingdom).

I want to explain why, as I’ve gotten a good number of questions about my decision. As an aside, the most contentious conversations I’ve had about my “theological eating” has been with more conservative Christians who, at first blush, deny the reality of concepts such as evolution, but are quick to point out that our species became who we are because of meat consumption…but that’s for another post).

I call this whole eating style “theological eating” for me. That’s corny and pretentious and a little ostentatious. But it reminds me of why I’m doing it. Merianna and I (and MH and Laura) are big “animal people” in that we are outnumbered by our animal co-habitators in our home (including a recently acquired tortoise that will outlive me and costs more to maintain than I do every month). I’ve always been very empathetic with animals going back to childhood.

I’ve also been very compelled to examine my own use of resources and materials. I’ve been terrible at the follow through, but I always had a huge amount of guilt when I ordered a Big Mac or a steak at Outback or bought a discounted slab of chicken breasts at Ingles or Bi-Lo. Part of that guilt was because of the animals themselves and my far-removed connection between their probably not-so-great life and death and my own plate. Part of that also has to do with the economic system that we perpetuate by exchanging our dollars for meat “grown” in such a manner. Part of this has to do with the realization of the advertising machine that corporations put into marketing their products to children, adults, and the elderly. Theologically, I can’t be honest with my own faith if I don’t address a very core issue of both the suffering of probably cognizant beings as well as my own participation in an economic system that I don’t support because of a story about a man who lived a long time ago.

I’m also using one small bowl (a bowl I “borrowed” from Wofford College in 2000… promise I’ll return) and one utensil (an awesome titanium spork… yep!) for most of my food intake at home.

This isn’t just about meat, either (but oh boy is it difficult to find good kosher vegan cheese…whew). I’ve also started heavily examining products such as cereals, grains, sugar, water…even beer that I put into my body and pay with my money. I’m extending this to areas such as how I buy tech gadgets (people that know me know that I spend a good deal of time, money, and attention on those), books, music, appliances etc. For the past year, I’ve pretty much worn the same “outfit” (as Merianna calls it) everyday of an awesome black shirt with a pair of slacks and brown shoes. When one cannot be mended anymore, I buy a new one (happened just this week and I had to get a replacement). Thoughtful and deliberate consumption, if you will. I’ll call it “theological eating.”

The unexamined life might not be worth living, but the examined life is not a walk in hippy park, either. I’m not making this lifestyle choice in order to make you feel bad about ordering a #2 at McDonald’s or plopping down $12 for a steak at Applebees, either. This isn’t out of disdain or judgement. We all walk our own path and mine is not for anyone else or better than yours (probably worse).

We live in an amazing period of our species’ existence. It probably won’t continue on some progressive curve upwards, and we should realize and enjoy our fortune of being born in such a time. That involves enjoying the resources around us.

Nevertheless, I feel like I need to be more deliberate about my choices, and that’s why I am hopeful this is the right path for me.

Mr. Dylan took jabs at music icons like the songwriters Leiber and Stoller (“Yakety Yak,” “Stand by Me”), saying that he didn’t care that they didn’t like his songs, because he didn’t like theirs either. Nashville wasn’t spared. In barely diplomatic terms, Mr. Dylan mocked the country songwriter Tom T. Hall, saying that his sentimental 1973 song “I Love” (“I love baby ducks, old pickup trucks”) was “a little overcooked,” and implying that Mr. Hall was part of an old guard that was bemused and left behind by the musical revolution of the 1960s and ‘70s.

via At Grammys Event, Bob Dylan Speech Steals the Show – NYTimes.com.

Visualizing Who Is Tracking You On the Web

Lightbeam for Firefox :: Add-ons for Firefox

Granted, you have to use Firefox for this plugin, but after a morning of doing my daily work routine I found this rather astonishing and revealing about the depth of the tracking being done on the web today…

Using interactive visualizations, Lightbeam enables you to see the first and third party sites you interact with on the Web. As you browse, Lightbeam reveals the full depth of the Web today, including parts that are not transparent to the average user. Using two distinct interactive graphic representations — Graph and List — Lightbeam enables you to examine individual third parties over time and space, identify where they connect to your online activity and provides ways for you to engage with this unique view of the Web.

via Lightbeam for Firefox :: Add-ons for Firefox.

Change Your Verizon “Super Cookie” Privacy Settings

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If you’re a Verizon customer like we are, I’d recommend you take a few seconds to go uncheck a few of these “enhancements” to your account that Verizon shares for marketing purposes if you care about privacy and our data…

Consumer information includes information about your use of Verizon products and services (such as data and calling features,device type, and amount of use) as well as demographic and interest categories provided to us by other companies (such as gender, age range, sports fan, frequent diner, or pet owner).

via Verizon Wireless – Privacy Settings.