Another Giant Human Skeleton That Isn’t

I’ve blogged before about giant human skeletons that aren’t giant human skeletons. The first two examples I blogged about were hoaxes, created with image editing software (see here and here). The Remnant of the Giants blog recently had an interesting post about a presumed giant human skeleton discovered in Belgium in 1643. Turned out the giant was a mammoth. This is typical, both in the ancient world (as chronicled by Adrienne Mayor) and, as this article points out, in modern times as well.

Recent Finds Involving Israel’s Jerusalem Temple Mount

Many readers have no doubt heard about the recent reports of the discovery of a ritual bath underneath the western wall of the Jerusalem temple mount, along with four First Century AD coins. You can read about the discovery here in the press release from the Jewish Antiquities Authority. The coins were struck by the Roman procurator of Judea, Valerius Gratus sometime between 17-18 AD. According to the press release, “This means that Robinson’s Arch, and possibly a longer part of the Western Wall, were constructed after this year – that is to say: at least twenty years after Herod’s death (which is commonly thought to have occurred in the year 4 BCE).”

Readers may recall that some time ago I blogged about the possibility that the precise location of the Jerusalem temple being incorrect. I referred readers to the work of Ernest Martin, kept alive for consideration by his estate here. I noted that Martin’s work raises some serious questions about the precise temple location that seem to simply get ignored or (in my experience at an academic conference) somewhat ridiculed, as opposed to cogently addressed and refuted. I’m no expert on the Temple Mount, but I am familiar with the issues that need to be addressed and wonder why no systematic refutation has been offered (counter-arguments have been offered, but those arguments were also addressed by Martin in detail — and that is where the subject died, or became something to be dismissed). At any rate, it would be nice to suppose that this new discovery might bring Martin’s work back into the discussion since he proposed that this part of the Temple Mount (in mainstream thinking; in Martin’s view he refers to it as the Haram esh-Sharif) was built well after Herod’s death (which Martin has at 1 BC, contrary to the accepted 4 BC – the issue is of significance due to the precise astronomical dating of Jesus’ birth if one takes Rev 12:1-6 as astronomical signage for the birth).

At any rate, I offer here a recent summary of the new discovery from David Sielaff, trustee of Martin’s work. I hope you will all find it of interest.

Dueling Turin Shroud Studies

Yesterday on Dec 19, an Italian scientific team published the results of a study that they believe demonstrates the authenticity of the Turin Shroud.The UK Telegraph reports that the team “conducted a series of advanced experiments which, they claim, show that the marks on the shroud – purportedly left by the imprint of Christ’s body – could not possibly have been faked with technology that was available in the medieval period.” Here’s a link to the article.

And wouldn’t you know it, today the UK Telegraph published this article (“The Turin Shroud is Fake, Get Over It“) disputing the one that appeared the day before.

One cannot help but notice the timing of both these pieces. The first for sure is not aimed at undermining faith in  birth of Christ, celebrated of course at Christmas. But neither is the second. After chiding those who believe the shroud is an authentic burial relic of Christ, the author notes (correctly): “It’s a fascinating and mysterious object, but it says nothing about the questions of whether Christ was a historical figure, whether He was the Son of God, or whether He rose from the dead.”

Personally, I’m skeptical of the shroud, but would need one thing done to really kill it for good in my mind. I’d like to see a new series of dating tests. Specifically, I’d like to see tests performed that would lay to rest (or affirm) the suspicions concerning the C-14 testing voiced by physical chemist Raymond Rogers, and that would do the same in regard to the DNA research of Dr. Leoncio Garza-Valdes. Dr. Garza-Valdes is an expert in forensic DNA analysis who developed a method for detecting the presence of an organic bacterial coating that sometimes forms over time on ancient textiles, which could in turn have distorted the dating of the shroud. He detailed his discovery and his wish to have the shroud retested in his 2001 book, The DNA of God?

I’m not holding my breath on any new testing, nor can I say I care that much, as I don’t see the authenticity of the shroud as integral to whether a person ought to embrace or reject Christianity. It would just be nice to know with greater certainty, one way or the other.

Ron Wyatt and Those Egyptian Chariot Wheels

I’ve complained before about the poor quality of Ron Wyatt’s “research” (loosely defined) before. While he may have been well-intentioned (his aim was to defend the Bible’s content), there is no excuse for the kind of paleobabble he has become notorious for. What follows is a simple but telling example (though to be fair, this one comes from Mary Nell Wyatt, whom I presume is Wyatt’s wife).

Wyatt’s name is well known on the internet for touting the Nuweiba location for the crossing the Red (Reed) Sea. It was in conjunction with this investigation that Wyatt allegedly found Egyptian chariot wheels under water in support of his theory.

Did Wyatt ever bring one of these out of the water? The link below claims so, but (as is so common with paleobabble), no independent peer-reviewed examination by archaeologists and other specialists (to see if they were merely coral formations) was ever conducted and published. But aside from that, there are the obvious logic problems:  If it was a chariot wheel, how would one know it was Egyptian? If Egyptian, how would one know it was related to the exodus event? And if it was from that event, didn’t anyone notice the incongruity of the sea floor *not* being littered with these wheels?

Wyatt and his defenders — including Nell Wyatt — eventually put forth the idea that chariot wheels (their size, number of spokes) were reliable chronological indicators. Specifically, Wyatt wanted to argue this chariot wheel (if that’s what it was – again, completely absent of context) was only used prior to 1400 BC, a datum which fits with a 1446 BC date for the exodus, the date arrived at by a literal biblical chronology. The Pharaoh of the exodus in that dating scenario is an 18th dynasty pharaoh.  Mary Wyatt defends this idea on the “Wyatt Newsletters” site here. I’d like to draw your attention to a few selections in particular:

The significance of these wheels is of extreme importance to the dating of the Exodus and determining which dynasty was involved. Back in the late 70’s, Ron actually retrieved a hub of a wheel which had the remains of 8 spokes radiating outward from it. He took this to Cairo, to the office of Nassif Mohammed Hassan, the director of Antiquities whom Ron had been working with. Mr. Hassan examined it and immediately pronounced it to be of the 18th Dynasty of ancient Egypt. When Ron asked him how he knew this so readily, Mr. Hassan explained that the 8-spoked wheel was only used during the 18th Dynasty. This certainly narrowed the date. We began to thoroughly research the Egyptian chariot and soon discovered that the fact that Ron and the boys found 4, 6 and 8 spoked wheels places the Exodus in the 18th Dynasty according to numerous sources, such as the following: “Egyptian literary references to chariots occur as early as the reigns of Kamose, the 17th Dynasty king who took the first steps in freeing Egypt from the Hyksos, and Ahmose, the founder of the 18th Dynasty. Pictorial representations, however, do not appear until slightly later in the 18th Dynasty….” (From “Observations on the Evolving Chariot Wheel in the 18th Dynasty” by James K. Hoffmeier, JARCE #13, 1976)

The author [Hoffmeier] goes on to explain how it was only during the 18th Dynasty that the 4, 6 and 8 spoked wheels are used- and that monuments can actually be dated by the number of spokes in the wheel: “Professor Yigael Yadin maintains that during the earlier part of the 18th Dynasty, the Egyptian chariot was `exactly like the Canaanite chariot:’ both were constructed of light flexible wood, with leather straps wrapped around the wood to strengthen it, and both utilized wheels with four spokes. In Yadin’s eyes, the four-spoked wheel is diagnostic for dating purposes; it is restricted to the early part of the 18th Dynasty. It remained in vogue, he says, until the reign of Thutmoses IV, when `the Egyptian chariot begins to shake off its Canaanite influence and undergo considerable change.’ Yadin believes that the eight-spoked wheel, which is seen on the body of Thutmoses IV’s chariot, was an experiment by the Egyptian wheelwrights, who, when it proved unsuccessful, settled thereafter for the six-spoked wheel. So widespread and meticulous is the delineation of the number of wheel spokes on chariots depicted on Egyptian monuments that they can be used as a criterion for determining whether the monument is earlier or later than 1400 BC.” (Quoted from the same article as above.)

Sounds credible, doesn’t it? Sure … until you actually read Hoffmeier’s article for yourself. Those who do will discover that Mary Wyatt misquotes the article. She cannot follow the argument or (more likely in my view) cherry-picks the article for what will help her point. Here are Hoffmeier’s words, beginning with the portion Wyatt utilizes (numbers at end of lines indicate footnotes in the original article):

Professor Yigael Yadin maintains that during the earlier part of the 18th Dynasty, the Egyptian chariot was “exactly like the Canaanite chariot :”6 both were constructed of light flexible wood, with leather straps wrapped around the wood to strengthen it, and both utilized wheels with four spokes. In Yadin’s eyes the four-spoked wheel is diagnostic for dating purposes; it is restricted to the early period of the 18th Dynasty. It remained in vogue, he says, until the reign of Thutmose IV, when “the Egyptian chariot begins to shake off its Canaanite influence and undergo considerable change.”7 Yadin believes that the eight-spoked wheel, which is seen on the body of Thutmose IV’s chariot,8 was an experiment by the Egyptian wheelwrights, who, when it proved unsuccessful, settled thereafter for the six-spoked wheel. In short, “So widespread and meticulous is the delineation of the number of wheel spokes on chariots depicted on Egyptian monuments that they can be used as a criterion for determining whether the monument is earlier or later than 1400 B.C.”9

Hoffmeier does not stop there, though Mary Wyatt’s citation does — suggesting Hoffmeier is in agreement with Yadin. He isn’t. Hoffmeier goes on to question, critique, and overturn Yadin’s thesis:

Yadin’s observations raise two questions. First, is the number of spokes in the wheel of the chariot as reliable a dating tool as he suggests? Secondly, what prompted the change from the four- to six-spoked wheel? Was it purely a way to “shake off Canaanite influences,” or was there a more practical motivation for the shift?

A chariot scene from the tomb of Ken-Amun10 (dated to the reign of Amenhotep II) shows a partially obliterated chariot. Four-spoked wheels are invariably depicted with the spokes in a 12, 6, 3, and 9 o’clock position, but in this scene the two visible spokes point toward 12 and 4 o’clock; this indicates a six-spoked wheel.

The introduction of the six-spoked wheel did not herald the immediate end of the four-spoked wheel, for Amenhotep II himself is shown driving a chariot of the older type on the red granite block discovered by M. H. Chevrier,11 as is Userhet, an official in his court.12 Subsequently we find Thutmose IV riding a chariot with eight-spoked wheels in the scene which for Yadin marked the beginning of the shift away from the four-spoked wheel.13 As we have seen, however, there is evidence of a wheel with six spokes in the preceeding reign, and we conclude that the shift began before 1400 B.C. Possibly the chariot of Thutmose IV was produced in a period when experimentation was still in progress, or alternatively, the chariot was custom made according to the king’s specifications. Either explanation might seem plausible, since until recently no other 18th Dynasty Egyptian chariot wheels with eight spokes had come to light. However, while browsing through some of the assembled talatat scenes in the Akhenaton Temple Project office in Cairo, the writer came across a processional scene in which Akhenaton is shown riding in a chariot that had eight spokes in its wheels. This scene tends to support the hypothesis that the Thutmose IV chariot was a custom- made vehicle, as Akhenaton’s would have been.

Another pictorial source from the reign of Thutmose IV is the workshop scene from the tomb of Hepu.15 Here wheelwrights are working on wheels that are supported by four spokes. This suggests that the four-spoked wheel remained in use for a limited time after 1400 B.C. Thereafter, for the remainder of the 18th Dynasty, the chariot wheel is regularly represented with six spokes,16 the single exception being the eight-spoked wheel of Akhenaton mentioned above. In the 19th and 20th Dynasties, the chariot wheels, for the most part, continue to have six spokes.

We see them, for example, on the royal chariots of Seti I,17 Ramesses II,18 and Ramesses III.19 Admittedly, for the reigns of Ramesses II20 and Ramesses III,21 one can cite scenes depicting four- spoked wheels, but, in each instance, the chariots are driven by foreign warriors. Again, chariot wheels with eight spokes are found in the Ramesside era, but they are limited to a few chariots driven by Hittites. The Hittite chariots normally had six spokes in each wheel. According to the evidence presented here, the six-spoked wheel is regularly portrayed in the chariots used by monarchs after Thutmose IV, the sole exception being the talatat scene from the Amarna period mentioned above. However, contrary to Yadin’s position, the six-spoked wheel is found before 1400 B.C. But he is basically correct in stating that the six-spoked wheel is consistently shown on chariots after 1400 B.C. Yadin’s explanation for the shift in the number of wheel spokes is hardly convincing.

The Egyptians were certainly jingoistic, but it is stretching the point to believe that they would alter the number of wheel spokes merely to “shake off Canaanite influences,” and thereby assert their nationalistic identity. They were eminently practical, and we must seek a practical reason for the change.

There’s really no excuse for this sort of stilted research. It’s simply not honest to hack a scholar’s article for what you want to say, leaving readers in the dark as to the contrary information, thus misrepresenting your source’s actual viewpoint.

Dogon Debunking from an Unlikely Source

I recently blogged about the so-called Dogon “mystery.” Readers will recall that it has nothing to do with alien contact. I utilized several scholarly articles where anthropologists went back to the Dogon people to check the original reports that made the Dogon so popular with ancient astronaut theorists. Turns out it was bogus (insert surprised look here).

I recently came across an older debunking of the Dogon issue from, of all places, the “Above Top Secret” website. It’s well worth the read. If a source like this can think clearly and critically about the sacred Dogon cow, I would hope that others can embrace the effort that went into the piece. It doesn’t seem like a biased source from people corrupted “by all that establishment book learning.”

Human Skeletal Remains Discovered at Rosslyn Chapel

Rosslyn Chapel and its medieval associations are chronologically out of order for this blog, but since the chapel figures in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code quackery, I thought this was worth a mention. No, the remains aren’t that of Mary Magdalene or any of Jesus’ descendants. As one archaeologist at Archeoblog explains in an excerpt:

Archaeologists now believe the skeletons were placed there when the chapel was abandoned during the Reformation, in the 17th century, by local people who wanted to bury their relatives on consecrated ground. They lay under the stone for more than three centuries until the slabs were lifted two years ago.

I can hardly wait until $imcha Jacobovici gets wind of this. Just wait … he’ll find some way to match the DNA from one of these Rosslyn skeletons to the bone fragments of his “Jesus family tomb” and voila! … another TV special and revenue stream!

The Serpent and Eve Nonsense: Where The Idea Comes From and Does Not Come From

In case readers have been following comments to my earlier posts on this biblical paleobabble issue, I decided to make things convenient.  Please note that they may not be any more decipherable, since the articles I link to below require at least a decent grasp of the Hebrew alphabet (and Syriac helps), transliteration of the same, and principles of morphology. I am posting them mainly so readers will at least have the sources and know I’m not making up my arguments.

Briefly, there are some commenters who believe that the Bible *really* teaches us that in the garden of Eden, Eve had sex with the serpent (aka, Satan or the Devil – never mind that Gen 3 does not use either of those terms) and fathered Cain. My contention is that the biblical text does not teach this nonsense. Rather, it is an idiosyncratic interpretation of the Eve narrative, projected into the text by misogynistic interpreters in the ancient Jewish community.

Here is a good scholarly article that traces the idea in early and late Jewish sources, mainly rabbinics and Syriac texts. The article also highlights the idea of a serpentine Eve (again, misogynistic interpreters wanted Eve to be the villain).

These ideas are ultimately based on two items (and then taken in different directions, depending on the interpreter: (1) the notion that Eve’s name can mean “serpent”; and (2) that the “deception” of Eve in Gen 3:13 has a sexual connotation. In regard to the first, the article linked to above refers to another article by Scott Layton. Here is that article.  It is a technical discussion of Semitic morphology that shows the Semitic “Eve” is not the same as “serpent” (and so should not be understood that way, despite the fact that certain rabbis thought that way; NOTE: Just because a rabbi thought X doesn’t mean X is true or even sensible). In regard to the second item, the graphic below. It is the search results for all forms of the lemma (root word) used in Gen 3:13. In no instance outside Gen 3:13 is there a sexual connotation to the deception — that therefore has to be invented and them superimposed on Gen 3:13.

But Mike, someone might say, what about 1 John 3:12 (“We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother”)? Being “of the evil one” here is the same metaphorical meaning as when Jesus told the Pharisees (note this comes from John’s gospel – same writer as 1 John) they were of “their father the devil” (John 8:44). So, was the serpent out screwing more women producing the Pharisees? (I can just sense the anti-Semitic “Jews are the spawn of Satan” answer for that one). Cain was “of the evil one” because he murdered his brother — he did evil. And let’s look at 1 John 3:12 in its context, shall we? If we take 1 John 3:12 as Cain being literally fathered by Satan, then *all of us* are also the spawn of Satan, since verse 8 of that same chapter says, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil.” Since the same book (1 John 1:10) says that no one is without sin, I guess we were all spawned by Satan (even the people making the silly literal argument, unless they are somehow divine and not human [note: no “bloodlines” are mentioned in 1 John; its anyone who sins]). It’s obviously metaphorical.

Even thought the sources above are dense and for specialists, the one thought to take away in any event is simple enough: Just because a rabbi from antiquity said XYZ about Eve doesn’t mean what he says is true or coherent or at all grounded in sound philology (a word scholars use for nuts-and-bolts analysis of the morphology, grammar, and syntax of ancient texts). Arguments for interpreting ancient texts should always be about what’s actually in the text, not wordplays you can strike, ideas you can promote through such wordplays (like the Edenic fall is the woman’s fault), etc.  While the apostle Paul says the woman was deceived (1 Tim 2:14), he places blame for humanity’s demise squarely on Adam (Romans 5; this is why Jesus is the “second Adam” – reversing the curse – not the “second Eve”). Frankly, it’s evil (not just paleobabble) to use the Bible to promote misogyny and anti-Semitic thinking.