Sam Harrelson

Cautionary Tale of Climate Change Prepping from Ancient Egypt and Bronze Age

These agricultural feats managed to extend the life of the Egyptian empire about half a century longer than it might otherwise have lasted, according to the archaeologists. The lesson for our own civilization — which is likely to face increasingly severe droughts as humans change the climate far faster than nature has ever done — is to plan ahead, Dr. Finkelstein said.

— Read on www.nytimes.com/2018/03/30/climate/egypt-climate-drought.html



Artificial Intelligence Opens the Vatican Secret Archives

Like all artificial intelligence, the software will improve over time, as it digests more text. Even more exciting, the general strategy of In Codice Ratio—jigsaw segmentation, plus crowdsourced training of the software—could easily be adapted to read texts in other languages. This could potentially do for handwritten documents what Google Books did for printed matter: open up letters, journals, diaries, and other papers to researchers around the world, making it far easier to both read these documents and search for relevant material.

— Read on www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/04/vatican-secret-archives-artificial-intelligence/559205/



What did Jesus look like?

I’ve taught a series on depictions of Jesus numerous times at churches and for Sunday Schools of all flavors. This is one of the best pieces I’ve ever read on the subject. Thorough, but approachable.

Plus, there’s a connection to my beloved Dura Europos

However, there is one other place to look: to the synagogue Dura Europos, dating from the early 3rd century. The depiction of Moses on the walls of the synagogue of Dura-Europos is probably the closest fit, I think, since it shows how a Jewish sage was imagined in the Graeco-Roman world. Moses is shown in undyed clothing, appropriate to tastes of ascetic masculinity (eschewing color), and his one mantle is a tallith, since one can see tassels (tzitzith). This image is a far more correct as a basis for imagining the historical Jesus than the adaptations of the Byzantine Jesus that have become standard.

Source: – ANE TODAY – 201803 – What did Jesus look like?



Sumer and the Modern Paradigm

Modern artists discovered Sumerian art between the world wars, at a time when British and American archaeological missions were working in southern Iraq. But archaeologists like Leonard Woolley, head of the mission in Ur were less fascinated by their finds. They considered Mesopotamian art inferior to Egyptian and to Graeco-Roman art and thought Mesopotamian iconography was an expression of a violent culture. Sacrificed bodies found at the Royal Tombs of Ur were the proof that the Bible was right about the Mesopotamian barbarism.

Source: – ANE TODAY – 201802 – Sumer and the Modern Paradigm



James C. Scott’s New Book

James C. Scott is one of the scholars I always enjoy reading. I was introduced to his work Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts while in a (wonderful) seminary class on the Parables. The insightful connection that our beloved professor made between Jesus’ acts and words in his performance of the parables with the essence of what Scott described as “public” and “hidden” transcripts still resonates with me today anytime I read the Gospels.

I’m excited to read this work as well. Although it seems to have a similar topic as many scholarly takes on the how’s and why’s civilizations collapse, (anyone else notice how both academic works, as well as the entertainment world, is fascinated by dystopias and doom-and-gloom in this Age of Trump?) one of my ongoing fascinations and points of interests is the rise of civilization in Mesopotamia as well as the later “Sea Peoples” of Egyptian history. It looks like both of these topics make an appearance in Scott’s new work:

What if the origin of farming wasn’t a moment of liberation but of entrapment? Scott offers an alternative to the conventional narrative that is altogether more fascinating, not least in the way it omits any self-congratulation about human achievement. His account of the deep past doesn’t purport to be definitive, but it is surely more accurate than the one we’re used to, and it implicitly exposes the flaws in contemporary political ideas that ultimately rest on a narrative of human progress and on the ideal of the city/nation-state.

Source: Steven Mithen reviews ‘Against the Grain’ by James C. Scott · LRB 30 November 2017



Did ancient people see blue?

Realizing that the origins of colors in Mesopotamia are found in the idea of brightness and saturation allows us to dispel the notion that Akkadian has a poor and imprecise color vocabulary. Rather than look for equivalents to English words like red, blue and purple, we should understand how colors were imagined and experienced by ancient [hu]man[s] under the conditions of [their]his own speech community. Only then can we begin to appreciate the use of color in his art and poetry.

Source: – ANE TODAY – 201802 – Missing Shade Blue



Finding your column ain’t easy

“Symeon selected a three-metre-high column in the Syrian desert near Antioch, and there he stood day in, day out, eventually attracting such a crowd that the noise caused him to build his column higher, bringing him closer to God and 16 metres off the ground. Symeon managed to live like this for 30 years, and many other monks began to follow his example so that a whole stylite movement developed which was still going strong in the 11th century CE.”

via Byzantine Monasticism – Ancient.eu



Grain counting technologies

“The truth, Scott proposes, may be the opposite. What if early civilization was not a boon to humankind but a disaster: for health and safety, for freedom, and for the natural world? What if the first cities were, above all, vast technologies of exploitation by a small and rapacious elite? If that is where we come from, who are we now? What possibilities might we discover by tracing our origins to a different kind of ancestor?”

via “What made prehistoric hunter-gatherers give up freedom for civilization?” by Jedediah Purdy in New Republic



Of Siri and Hesiod

There’s a very subtle but very real history behind Siri (and Google Now and Amazon Echo’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana) having a female voice and persona…

“But because the creatures in these myths are virtually identical to their creators, these narratives raise further questions, of a more profoundly philosophical nature: about creation, about the nature of consciousness, about morality and identity. What is creation, and why does the creator create? How do we distinguish between the maker and the made, between the human and the machine, once the creature, the machine, is endowed with consciousness—a mind fashioned in the image of its creator? In the image: the Greek narrative inevitably became entwined with, and enriched by, the biblical tradition, with which it has so many striking parallels. The similarities between Hesiod’s Pandora and Eve in Genesis indeed raise further questions: not least, about gender and patriarchy, about why the origins of evil are attributed to woman in both cultures.”

Source: The Robots Are Winning! by Daniel Mendelsohn | The New York Review of Books



Classical Inscriptions, Fonts, and Avatar

“The Renaissance was chockablock with copyists who learned and then duplicated Latin epigraphic scripts for various purposes. This imitation game had a great amount of influence on the Renaissance antiquities market at the time (forgeries could be bought all over Italy), but it is also revealed in the fonts we use today–particularly Roman fonts. The invention of fonts by various printers and typesetters in the 15th and 16th centuries was often inspired by lapidary inscriptions from the catacombs or pulled from manuscripts recording antique stones. After all, these inscriptions were increasingly displayed in the houses of the Roman elite, by popes, in churches, and in newly established museums.”

Source: Times New Roman: Classical Inscriptions, Epigraphy Hunters, and Renaissance Fonts – SARAH E. BOND