The Two Ronnies, Open University Lecture

I just saw this video, which ties in with the previous video about the Beatles, from a future archaeologist’s perspective.  An oldie but goodie, not an example of an anachronism, but hilarious nonetheless.  From “The Two Ronnies,” a British comedy program that aired in the 1980s, this one shows Ronnie Barker as an archaeologist, giving a lecture on what he found in South America.  Try to keep a straight face while watching it!

The Beatles, 1,000 Years From Now

I have said in the past that my favorite kind of humor is probably anachronisms, jokes about stuff in the wrong time or place.  Examples include the Capital One commercials where barbarians are trying to find new lines of work:

I posted other examples of anachronisms in my messages dated February 18, 2007 and May 2, 2008.

A variation of those jokes is the idea of archaeologists in the distant future digging up artifacts from our civilization; you know they’re not going to get all the details about us right.  In The Genesis Chronicles, for instance, I mentioned that if they find DVDs of Sex In The City, they might think their discovery shows the typical lifestyle of the late 20th-early 21st century, when for most of us The Honeymooners would be more accurate.  I mentioned another in a footnote from Appendix 1 of my history textbook.  Quote:

The way ancient history can be mangled by well-meaning historians was demonstrated by Otto F. Reiss in the July 1967 issue of Art and Archaeology Newsletter.  In a note entitled “A Forward Look Backward,” he imagines what would happen if future archaeologists interpret our stories of World War II the same way our liberal scholars interpret the Bible.  Obviously World War II must have been caused by competition between two primitive technologies, since on one side we have an Eisen Hower or “Hewer of Iron,” while on the other side was a Messer Schmidt, or “Forger of Daggers.”  France was involved, but the original name of its hero was forgotten, for he is simply called “de Gaulle,” and we all know that Gaul was the ancient name of France.  There would be some confusion over “Hitler” and “Himmler,” which apparently are two different spellings of the same person’s name.  The future archaeologist’s conclusion?  “It adds up to the struggle between true man and death, or between good and evil.  A great allegory, to be sure.  But historical fact?  Certainly not!”

Now here is a video showing the results, when archaeologists from the year 3000 try to reconstruct the legacy of the Beatles.  What a hoot!  You’ll probably spot some of the hilarious errors the archaeologists make, even if you only know a little bit about this legendary band.

Uh-oh.  After watching the part about reconstructed Beatles music, I’m wondering about an album I have in my collection, The Imperial Bells of China.  In 1978, the 2,400-year-old tomb of a minor Chinese ruler was discovered, and he was buried with enough musical instruments to equip an orchestra; the album is an attempt to reconstruct the kind of music those instruments played.  Now I’m wondering if somebody transported through time from the Eastern Zhou dynasty would laugh at my album, too.

Snow Is Coming!

That has been the main talk of the day.  The ice storm that started in Oklahoma yesterday, and blew through Arkansas and Tennessee, is now headed our way.  In fact, it was supposed to be here by now.  The weatherman said first that it would arrive this morning, then at 7 PM; three inches of snow are expected to accumulate here by tomorrow afternoon.  Now it’s almost 10 PM as I write this, and the temperature outside is a bone-chilling 20 degrees (I have to wear two jackets indoors!), but no snow yet.

It’s very unusual for a winter storm to hit us from the south instead of the north; normally we expect warmer stuff to come from that direction.  The result is that it will dump most of its ice and snow before it gets here.  However, that also means three states that aren’t used to having a lot of snow are getting it now.  In Knoxville, for instance, the folks have been warned to expect up to ten inches of snow, and one inch of ice.  Look out!  The good news is that the longer the storm takes to reach us, the less it will have to drop, so what we experience shouldn’t be worse than what we had earlier this month.  Stay tuned!

Being Number 1 Was Fun While It Lasted

I’m talking about the University of Kentucky Wildcats, in case you didn’t read my previous message.  Just one day after they were declared the top college basketball team in the nation, they suffered their first defeat; in last night’s game, the South Carolina Gamecocks won 68-62.  Anywhere else, I wouldn’t believe a story about chickens beating cats (LOL).  Hopefully UK will keep its #1 status, even if it is no longer undefeated.  And President Obama called the team before the game, to congratulate them both on their success and on the recent fund-raiser for Haiti; read about that phone call in the link below.

Obama Chats With ‘Cats Before Game

Just When I Thought the Rest of January Would Be Mild

The past week hasn’t been too bad for winter conditions:  daytime temperatures in the 40s and 50s, rain instead of snow, etc.  Leive even stepped out of the house a few times.  There was a lot of rain on Sunday, though; I hope the puddles it left don’t freeze, now.

Yesterday, however, the temperature started falling again.  We didn’t even reach the forecast high of 40 degrees, and we had one of those bizarre situations where the highest temperature comes before dawn.  Snow flurries, too, though they didn’t last.  The rest of the week is forecast to be below freezing, except for tomorrow during the day, with lows in the 20s or teens and a chance of more snow at least half the time.

Of course, the hype is starting to build around town for the Superbowl, now that we know which teams are going to it.  The best local news, however, is that the University of Kentucky Wildcats are now the #1 college basketball team in the country.  Yesterday they were given that honor because they are the only team left with an undefeated record, more than halfway through the season (19-0, the last time I counted).  Go Cats!

Chapter 3: The Early Iron Age, 930 to 627 B.C.

After working on and off for the past year, Chapter 3 of my Middle Eastern history series has finally been rewritten and uploaded.  Enough new material was added that I felt compelled to divide the chapter between two webpages, like I did with Chapter 2, to save wear on eyes and browsers.  I also changed the chapter title, from “The Assyrian Conquests” to “The Early Iron Age.”  Finally, because I changed the time period covered in Chapter 2, I changed it here as well.  Now the narrative goes from 930 to 627 B.C., or from the death of Solomon to the death of Ashurbanipal.

Anyway, here are the topics covered on each page.

In Part I ( ):

  • The Phoenicians
  • Israel vs. Judah vs. Aram (Syria)
  • The Hittites Fade Out
  • Troy, the City With Nine Lives
  • The Sea Peoples
  • The House of Omri
  • Assyria: The Calah Period

In Part II ( ):

  • Israel’s Indian Summer
  • Urartu
  • Phrygia
  • The Mannaeans
  • The New Assyrian Empire
  • The Rise of Lydia
  • Josiah the Righteous
  • Assyria Triumphant

Read and enjoy!

Josiah the Righteous

This will probably be the last new section I create for Chapter 3 of my Middle Eastern history series.

Josiah the Righteous

Hindsight tells us that it would have been better for Judah if Hezekiah had not recovered from his illness. As the prophet Isaiah predicted, he lived fifteen years after he got better, and during that time, his son Manasseh was conceived and born, for Manasseh was only twelve years old when he got his turn to wear the crown. At fifty-five years, Manasseh enjoyed the longest reign of any king in Israel or Judah, but he was as evil as his father had been good. He rebuilt all the altars and holy places to foreign gods that Hezekiah had torn down, set up an idol of Baal in Solomon’s Temple, and even offered up a son as a burnt sacrifice to Moloch. The prophets warned that God would allow Judah to suffer the same fate as Israel, and Manasseh killed many of them in a wave of persecution; Jewish tradition asserts that one of the victims was Isaiah, who was placed in a hollow log and sawn in two.

Eventually Manasseh got to be so bad that the Assyrians didn’t want him around anymore, and when you’ve been bad enough that the Assyrians don’t want you around anymore, you’ve been bad! Anyway, the Assyrians took Manasseh away and threw him in a Babylonian prison, where he repented of his wicked ways and was eventually allowed to return to Jerusalem. The Bible does not say whether Esarhaddon or Ashurbanipal was the Assyrian king who hauled him off, or if they did it because of any anti-Assyrian activities on Manasseh’s part. One thing we know for sure: Manasseh must have been at least pro-Egyptian, because his son and successor was blatantly named Amon, after the chief Egyptian god (also spelled Amen or Amun).

Amon followed the evil pattern that Manasseh practiced in his youth. Unlike Manasseh, though, he did not get a chance to reform; after ruling for only two years, he was assassinated by his servants. However, the people of Jerusalem wanted nothing to do with the assassins, killed them in the riot that followed, and installed Amon’s eight-year-old son, Josiah, as the next king.

Josiah (639-608 B.C.) was Judah’s last good king. From the start, the only god that interested him was the God of his ancestor David and his great-grandfather Hezekiah. He couldn’t act on his beliefs until he grew up, but once he came of age he banned idol worship, destroying all images, pagan altars, sacred poles, and even the graves of the priests who served gods other than the One True God. The high point of his reign came in his eighteenth year, when the Temple was being repaired and the high priest Hilkiah found a scroll in the wall, which he described as a “book of the law of the lord”; we believe it was a copy of the Book of Deuteronomy. The king’s scribe read the book to Josiah, and when he realized how many of the laws in the book were broken, he tore his clothes, called all the people of Jerusalem to the Temple, and read them the book from there. Those who heard it were moved as well, and after Josiah finished, everyone agreed to make a new covenant with God. The Bible tells us that the next Passover celebration was the greatest observed since the time of the prophet Samuel, four centuries earlier. But all their supplication could not stop God’s judgment upon Jerusalem; all they could do was postpone it beyond Josiah’s lifetime.

The Rise of Lydia

For Chapter 3 of my Middle Eastern history series, I have re-written the section about Lydia, covering it up to 617 B.C.  Here is how the new version looks:

The Rise of Lydia

On their northern frontier, the Assyrians received unexpected help from the barbarian tribes migrating across the Caucasus. The first to arrive, the Cimmerians, came in 714 B.C., in time to help Sargon II during his campaign against Urartu. Two things motivated the Cimmerians to move: a chance to do some easy raiding, and pressure from a stronger tribe behind them, the Scythians. We credit the Scythians with inventing the horse-riding nomad culture that dominated the central Asian steppes for most of history afterwards. The Cimmerians were probably still using chariots when first attacked by the Scythians, but their success after this argues that soon they were also fighting Scythian-style on horseback.

After this Urartu was a vassal state to the Assyrians, and the Assyrian-Urartian alliance was too strong for the Cimmerians, so the nomads were directed westward into Anatolia, where the main target was Phrygia. They destroyed Gordium in 696 B.C.; King Midas III reportedly committed suicide by drinking bull’s blood when he saw that the end of his kingdom had arrived. Then everyone else in the area was hard hit as well. Finally in 679 B.C., Assyria’s Esarhaddon inflicted a crushing defeat upon them in the gorges of Cilicia, ending the Cimmerian threat to everyone except the folks in Anatolia.

In western Anatolia a new kingdom named Lydia replaced the Phrygians. Until now Sardis, the Lydian capital, was just another city-state in the region. According to Herodotus, it had existed for 505 years, and seen twenty-two kings, but it had never been very important. That changed with the extinguishing of the Phrygians, which left a vacuum to fill. Then around 690 B.C. a new dynasty, the Mermnadae, took over, and Lydia’s fortunes soared.

Greek writers were in agreement that Gyges, the founder of the dynasty, did it by seizing power, but disagreed on what prompted him to do it. The best-known account comes from Herodotus, who claimed that Gyges was a peeping Tom! According to him, Gyges was the favorite guard of the previous king, Candaules, and one day Candaules boasted to him about the queen’s beauty. Gyges didn’t respond with much enthusiasm, so the king thought he was skeptical, and told him to find out for himself: “Well, a man always believes his eyes better than his ears, so do as I tell you–contrive to see her naked.” Gyges didn’t want to do any such thing because the Lydians, unlike the Greeks, did not think it is proper to see a man or woman without clothes under any circumstances, but the king insisted. He suggested that Gyges go into the royal bed chamber, and hide behind the door; then when the queen arrived that night, she would undress beside a chair and go to bed, giving Gyges one good chance to see her naked before he sneaked out of the room. It would have worked, except that the queen saw Gyges sneaking out; however, she kept her mouth shut. Then the next day, she summoned Gyges on what he thought was routine business, told him what happened the night before, declared that she knew either Candaules or Gyges was behind this outrage, and gave him this choice: he could kill his master and take the queen as his wife, or he could die on the spot. Faced with possible death if he launched a coup and failed, or certain death if he didn’t act, Gyges chose the former, and killed Candaules in his bed. The people of Sardis were mad enough to revolt, but Gyges placated them by letting the Oracle at Delphi, the most famous advice-giver of ancient times, decide the matter, and the oracle said that Gyges should be the ruler.

As king, Gyges had many enemies to deal with. The nearest were the Greeks in the Ionian city-states, and all he could do regarding them was capture one of their cities, Colophon. Another danger was the Cimmerians, and that forced Gyges to call on Ashurbanipal for aid. Ashurbanipal regarded Gyges as yet another king submitting to Assyria’s authority (the Assyrians called him “Gugu”), and saw Lydia’s gifts as tribute, but after the danger passed, Gyges started meddling in Egyptian politics, giving aid to Psammetich when he declared Egypt’s independence from the Assyrians. Consequently the Assyrians stopped supporting Lydia against the Cimmerians, and Gyges was killed when the Cimmerians looted Sardis in 652 B.C.

The next king was Ardys (678?-629 B.C.). Herodotus asserts that the Cimmerians sacked Sardis again during his reign, but this looks like a scribal error; somebody probably wrote down the previous raid in the wrong place on the manuscript, so it looked like their were two Cimmerian attacks on the capital, not one. After Ardys came Sadyattes, and the only information we have on him is that he reigned for twelve years (629-617 B.C.), and he spent the second half of his reign raiding the land of Miletus, another Ionian city-state. Presumably both Ardys and Sadyattes followed the foreign policy established by Gyges: accept the Assyrians in the east — even pay tribute, if necessary — and you will have a free hand to expand in the west. The Lydians would be much more active under Alyattes, the fourth king of the dynasty, but that’s a topic for the next chapter of this work.

Like Phrygia, Lydia was fabulously wealthy. From the start the Lydians had a commerce-based economy, which traded Greek manufactured products like pottery for the raw materials of Anatolia. In the latter they were blessed, for the nearby river valleys had good farmland, the mountains had trees to provide lumber, and as we mentioned previously, there was mineral wealth, especially gold. To improve on the trade network of the Phoenicians, they had two new inventions, money and a capitalist economy. In the early days of the kingdom, they used lumps of electrum (a naturally-occurring alloy of gold and silver) as currency, stamped with pictures of animals; by the middle of the sixth century B.C., coins of the shape we are familiar with came into use. Trading with money proved to be much more convenient than estimating the value of precious metals by their weight, and was less complicated than the barter used previously, so it didn’t take long for the Phoenicians and the Greeks to adopt coinage for themselves; after the Persians took over they would spread the concept of money to the rest of the known world. We can claim they invented capitalism, too, because between 650 and 600 B.C., Sardis built the oldest known marketplace–a business and industrial quarter walled off from the rest of the city, which we call the Lydian Market. Up until this time, any kind of shop was usually part of a temple or connected to the owner’s house; the idea of zoning for purely residential districts had not occurred yet. Now with workshops and bazaars set aside in a separate area, cities had what the Greeks would call an agora, and what the Romans would call a forum — a place for manufacturing, trading and just plain socializing on a larger scale than what had been possible before.

Hoops For Haiti

I’m sure all of you have heard about the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti a week ago.  The pictures and videos from it have to be the saddest I’ve seen in any news story, and if the latest estimate of 200,000 deaths holds up, it will be, beyond a doubt, the worst earthquake in the history of the western hemisphere.  And it wasted the poorest country in the hemisphere, one that didn’t have much infrastructure even in good times.

I haven’t said anything about it until now because it would just be a repeat of what everybody else is saying.  Now, however, I’m hearing good news come out of it, and unlike the mainstream media, I want to share good news with the world.  First, this morning I heard about two women being pulled alive out of the rubble of the Port-au-Prince university, after having been buried for 140 hours; there’s a modern-day miracle for you!  Second, the University of Kentucky Wildcats found a way to raise money in our area, by combining a charity drive with Kentucky’s love for college basketball.

Last Sunday they held a telethon on one of the local TV stations.  Alas, I missed it, because Leive and I haven’t watched TV in the past year; if we had known about it, even we probably would have tuned in.  Coach John Calipari was the host, and the players from our undefeated team (this season’s record so far is 18-0) took phone calls from those making pledges.  That’s DeMarcus Cousins in the picture above.  When the five-hour show was done, they had raised more than $1 million.  Way to go, Kentucky and the ‘Cats!

Let the record show that the United States is at its best in times like this.  Our government pledged $100 million in rescue and rebuilding efforts last week, and I believe private charities in the US are going to raise more money than what any other country is giving.  For those who want the US reduced to the strength and status of just another country, who are you going to call, the next time a catastrophe hits?  Those poor Haitians weren’t looking for the United Nations, the Cubans, the French or the Chinese to save them.

Hoops for Haiti Nets over $1 million

Teacher Arrested at JFK Airport – Obama Makes Profound Comment

A teacher was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport as he attempted to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a compass, a slide-rule and a calculator.

At a morning press conference, the Attorney General said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-Gebra movement. He did not identify the man, who has been charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of math instruction.

“Al-Gebra is a problem for us,” the Attorney General said. “They derive solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents in search of absolute values. They use secret code names like ‘X’ and ‘Y’ and refer to themselves as ‘unknowns,’ but we have determined that they belong to a common denominator of the axis of medieval with coordinates in every country.”

As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, “There are 3 sides to every triangle.”

When asked to comment on the arrest, President Obama said, “If God had wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, he would have given us more fingers and toes.” White House aides told reporters they could not recall a more intelligent or profound statement by the President. It is believed that the Nobel Prize for Physics will follow.