Biblical Headlines

I last talked about the presidential election last Tuesday, and I’m making a conscious effort to not post anything more about it until after the voting is finished; I figured enough blogs and websites are doing it already.  Keeping silent can be tough, though — I just saw two good political cartoons that I’d like to repost here.  In the meantime, we know which party and candidate most of the networks and print media is for.  Here is how they would have reported several famous events from the Old and New Testaments, had their reporters been there:

If Biblical Headlines were written by Today’s Liberal Media

On Red Sea crossing:
Pursuing Environmentalists Killed

On David vs. Goliath:
Psychologist Questions Whether the Rock Really Killed Him

On Elijah’s contest on Mt. Carmel:
450 Killed

On the birth of Christ:
Animal Rights Activists Enraged by Insensitive Couple

On feeding the 5,000:
Disciples Mystified Over Behavior

On healing the 10 lepers:
“Faith Healer” Causes Bankruptcy

On healing of the Gadarene demoniac:
Local Farmer’s Investment Lost

On raising Lazarus from the dead:
Will Reading to be Delayed

Unquote:  I suppose Jesus could also be accused of “bootlegging liquor” from the incident where he turned water into wine, or “counterfeiting” when he told Peter that he’d find the money they need to pay their taxes in a fish’s mouth.

Last Week Was a Good Time for King Solomon

Figuratively speaking, of cource, since he died more than 2,900 years ago.  Besides the prophecy of his that I mentioned last Monday, which seems to speak right at the current election, a big copper mine, dating back to Solomon’s time, was discovered in Jordan.  The Bible tells us that Israel was the dominant nation between the Nile and the Euphrates under David and Solomon, so I’d be surprised if Solomon didn’t make the brass used in his building projects (especially the Temple) from copper mined here.

I remember hearing that more than fifty years ago, an archaeologist named Nelson Glueck discovered a group of buildings at ancient Ezion-Geber (modern Aqaba, Jordan) which he thought were used to smelt copper in ancient times, but a few years later the buildings turned out to be granaries.  Well, now it turns out that Glueck wasn’t that far off the mark after all; there was a copper industry in Jordan.  You can read the story on this Australian news site:

Archaeologists Find “King Solomon’s Mines”

In other news, the oldest Hebrew Text yet found has turned up on a 3,000-year old potsherd in the Valley of Elah, where David encountered Goliath.  It hasn’t been translated yet, so I don’t know if it said anything like, “Bet ten thousand shekels on Goliath.”  Previously, the oldest Hebrew text that I knew of was a tiny silver scroll found in the Valley on Hinnom (on the south side of Jerusalem), which dated to 600 B.C. and contained the well-known “priestly blessing” from Numbers 6:24-26:

“May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord let His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord look kindly upon you and give you peace.”

This discovery now pushes back evidence of Hebrew existing in written form by another four hundred years.  Now if we can just find a connection to the discovery from 1999, that somebody in Middle Kingdom Egypt had used hieroglyphics to compose text in a Semitic language.

Archaeologists Report Finding Oldest Hebrew Text

The Black Fleet

I have just added another new section to Chapter 12 of The Genesis Chronicles, describing the most important migration of the sons of Ham after Babel.

The Black Fleet

The island of Bahrein is a remarkable place. Today it is rich in oil, but otherwise is too small to play an important part in modern world affairs. For sailors from ancient Iraq, Bahrein was the first piece of land worth stopping at, after they entered the Persian Gulf. The name of Bahrein comes from the Arabic words bahr and ein or ain, meaning “twin waters.” This is because fresh-water springs under the island pump water into the Gulf, just off the northern shore, where it mixes with the salt water already there. Indeed, the zone near those springs is the only place in the ocean where you can dip a bucket and get water fit to drink! The shore is surrounded by coral reefs, and the island itself is covered with date palms, so to visitors familiar with the desert, it must have looked like an oversized oasis. No wonder the Sumerians thought Bahrein was a paradise, and called it Dilmun (see Chapter 8), giving the same name that they had in their language for the original paradise, Eden.

In Chapter 10 we saw the Mesopotamian myth where Gilgamesh went to Dilmun to learn how Noah/Utnapishtim and his wife became immortal. This story reinforced the idea that Dilmun was the abode of the blessed. Stories about this have lasted for an astonishingly long time. They even appear in the Koran (Suras 18 and 55), where it is claimed that Moses visited the island. Consequently Dilmun/Bahrein had regular visitors even before Babel. Those who stayed found out that they weren’t going to live forever in their new home, but burial on the island of the gods seemed like the next best thing. This is the most sensible explanation for one more mysterious feature about Bahrein; although not many people lived there, the island has an astonishing number of tombs. Most of these ancient cemeteries have been bulldozed to make room for modern buildings, but in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, archaeologists tried guessing how many graves and burial mounds existed. The smallest estimate was 50,000; all now agree that it had more than 150,000, and one scholar, Serge Cleuziou, put the number at 250,000 to 300,000. No other ancient civilization, not even Egypt, had a cemetery as crowded as this, and even Bahrein’s present-day population cannot fill such a “city of the dead.”

What we see here only makes sense if most of the tombs on Bahrein were meant for people who came from elsewhere to be buried here, sort of like how military veterans from all over the United States want to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Adding weight to this idea is the fact that many of the tombs–about seventeen percent–were not used, and did not contain bones or anything else. Most likely these were false tombs, or cenotaphs; for whatever reason, the owners were not buried here, but they felt it was important to have a burial plot of some kind on Bahrein. Still more Sumerian-era graves have turned up on the nearest coast of Saudi Arabia, suggesting that when Bahrein itself ran out of cemetery space, new tombs were raised as close as possible on the mainland.

The first sailors who came to Bahrein used boats made out of reeds; most of the trees in Iraq, as on Bahrein, are palms. Palm wood is not like the wood of pine or cedar trees, being made of tough fibers pressed together into bunches. This makes palm wood unsuitable for use as a material for ships (it would leak or come apart too easily). Bundles of reeds, however, can be made seaworthy, and are easier to replace than wood planks. The marshes and rivers of Iraq have berdi reeds, which are very much like the famous papyrus reeds of Egypt, the Marsh Arabs have built their houses out of these reeds for as long as anyone can remember. To make them waterproof, early shipbuilders coated the reeds with petroleum tar, also called pitch or bitumen; this ought to remind you of Noah painting the Ark with pitch. That is why I call this section “The Black Fleet”–it refers to the color of pitch-painted boats, as well as the skin color of the crews.

When other lands were discovered and settled, Bahrein became a trading center between them and Iraq. According to Sumerian records, the two most commonly visited places beyond the Gulf were called Magan and Meluhha. Magan supplied copper, while Meluhha was a source of wood and semiprecious stones like carnelian. Often the same ship visited both places, suggesting that they were in the same direction. Today most scholars believe that Magan was Oman, and Meluhha was India, specifically the Indus valley (Harappan) civilization in modern-day Pakistan. Thor Heyerdahl showed us with his 1977 Tigris expedition that a sailing trip from Iraq to India isn’t too difficult, even in a reed boat; his biggest problems were modern politics, and dodging tankers in the Straits of Hormuz!

Did the children of Cush sail anywhere else, once they were in the Indian Ocean? It now appears that they did. You may remember in Chapter 11 that I proposed all the dark-skinned peoples of the modern world are descended from Cush: the black Africans, the Dravidians of South India, the Negritos of Southeast Asia, the Australian Aborigines and the Melanesian Islanders. Normally, we assume that when the various families scattered after Babel, they simply walked to their destinations. Most of Eurasia and Africa could have been settled this way, but many of the places we have assigned to descendants of Cush are islands. Australia in particular deserves attention, because everybody–both creationists and evolutionists–believes that the Aborigines came from somewhere else originally, so while they may not have any tradition of shipbuilding or sailing, they must have had ancestors who knew how to cross the seas.

It takes more skill and knowledge to travel by boat than it does to walk, and only now are we coming to appreciate that our prehistoric ancestors knew how to do this. In the section on customs practiced at Babel, we noted that the most advanced post-Babel or “Heliolithic” civilizations had their communities on seacoasts, giving us a strong hint that they used boats. To give another example, in Chapter 1 of my North American history series, I mentioned the popular theory that the first Americans got to the New World by hiking across a land bridge from Siberia, but then argued that it’s more likely they arrived by sailing along the Pacific coast, getting a boost from favorable winds and currents. It may be that we did not realize the role of ancient sea travel because ships are made of perishable materials, which are not likely to last very long unless special efforts are made to preserve them, like the boat pits set up near the Great Pyramid in Egypt to bury two of Pharaoh’s boats. Also, because sea levels were much lower during the ice age, we have to keep in mind that the hunting grounds and harbors preferred by coast-dwelling peoples are underwater today, and only divers can reach them. Therefore, I will propose that from Bahrein, several boatloads of Cushites sailed east to India, and some of them continued to the Andaman Islands, Southeast Asia, Australia, and Melanesia, island-hopping from New Guinea to Fiji. Expansion to the east stopped around 1000 B.C., and it probably happened because by then, the other islands worth settling were occupied by non-Cushite groups, especially the Malayo-Polynesians.

The journey of the Black Fleet.The proposed course of the Black Fleet. All ships started in Iraq and traveled first to Bahrein, then to Magan (Oman), where they split up. From the Gulf of Oman, one group went to Meluhha (India), and eventually reached the Pacific, after making stops in Southeast Asia & Australia. The rest of the ships sailed around Arabia to Africa, dropping off settlers in Ethiopia, and conquerors in two wadis (valleys) of Egypt’s eastern desert.

While these Cushites were going east, another group of them headed west, around the Arabian peninsula to Africa. This group was probably even larger than the eastbound group; in Chapter 11 we assigned four sons of Cush to Africa (Seba, Havilah, Sabtah and Sabteca), but only one son of Cush (Raamah) to India, the Far East and Australia. Somewhere in the Horn of Africa, where we now see the nations of Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea, they would have made the first landfall. Most of them would have disembarked there, to spread across and settle sub-Saharan Africa. This landing point, wherever it was, would be remembered by the Egyptians later on as another special place, the fabled land of Punt.

Instead of disembarking at Punt, at least two boats went up the Red Sea, and entered Egypt by going through two dry valleys in Egypt’s eastern desert, the Wadi Abbad and the Wadi Hammamat. As they went along, they carved petroglyphs on the the rocks, pictures of stick-figure people with a “square boat” that had a high bow & stern, and a flat bottom. The scenes in the petroglyphs suggest that dragged their boats with them, hence the flat bottom; the leader of the expedition wore a headdress with two long feathers sticking out, and he was accompanied by a dancing female figure, possibly a goddess rather than a living person. In those days the overland trek wouldn’t have been as difficult as it is today. Because the Sahara hadn’t completely dried out yet, some pastureland or savanna would have been available on the way, and if the journey was made during the Nile’s flood season, even part of the valley would have been flooded, allowing the boats to return to water sooner. Once at the Nile, they either founded two settlements where those wadis met the Nile, Nekhen and Nubt, or–more likely–took over the settlements which were already there, because their cousins, the descendants of Mizraim, would have gotten to Egypt first, by marching through Syria and Israel.

Why did a group of Cushites travel so far to invade the land claimed by Mizraim? Most likely they were after a resource that still motivates men to do extraordinary things — gold. The Wadi Hammamat contained Egypt’s oldest gold mines, and gold-bearing rocks were also accessible from the Wadi Abbad. We don’t know whether the Egyptians or the Cushites first discovered the gold, but the result was the same. When they arrived, the Cushites had a military advantage over the Egyptians. First, their boats were sturdier, being seagoing vessels, while the Egyptian reed boats were only reliable in rivers and lakes. Second, they were armed with pear-shaped stone maces, which were deadlier weapons than anything the original Egyptians had. Using these, they eventually conquered all of Egypt and installed their leader as the first pharaoh. However, by then writing had been invented in Egypt, so that is a story for Egyptian history, not for this work. If you want to read more about that adventure, go to Chapter 1 of my African history series.

I will end this section with another disclaimer. The ideas concerning Bahrain and the Dynastic Race are not my own; they come from more than one source, the main ones being W. B. Emery’s Archaic Egypt and David Rohl’s Legend: The Genesis of Civilisation. Indeed, Rohl devotes the whole second half of his book to them, as well as a chapter from his next book, From Eden to Exile. However, the idea that the Cushites were looking for gold is my own, and I believe the pear-shaped mace was an attempt to imitate the scepter of Nimrod (see the previous section on Enmerkar). The main area where I added to the Dynastic Race theory was the idea that it involved migrations to Asia and the Pacific, as well as to Africa. Emery and Rohl are not creationists, so they did not consider that others might have traveled the same way; to them the events in the Book of Genesis only concerned the Middle East, while people in the rest of the world were unaffected (Rohl, for instance, believes that Noah’s Flood was confined to Iraq).

One aspect of the Dynastic Race theory which I did not mention was a proposal from Rohl that the Phoenicians followed the same path as the Cushites, going from Iraq to Bahrein to Oman to Punt to Egypt, before sailing across the Mediterranean to Lebanon. He also thinks that “Punt” and “Phoenician” start with a “P” because both names came from the same root word originally. My response to that is, “It’s possible, but not likely.” Sailing all the way around the Arabian peninsula to go from Iraq to Lebanon seems like an awfully roundabout trip, when all you have to do is walk across Syria.