For the last little while, that Jeff Carter guy has been reading through The Odyssey, The Illiad, and The Aneid as a personal challenge. He’s been posting a few of his thoughts, particularly where his reading intersects with or informs his thinking about the Bible. The posts are all interesting, of course, but I particularly enjoyed a recent one about the messianic language used in The Aneid, and how that compares to what we see, for example, in relation to King David.
You can read the whole post here. And now I’m sorely tempted to add these three books to the list of things I would like to read once I’m (finally) through the old and new testaments!
There’s a fascinating (and frustratingly short on details) article on CBC about the so-called “Paleo-Eskimos.” Apparently, genetic testing has found that there is no relation between this group and the later Inuit peoples. What this means, in short, is that there was a group of people living in the arctic for about four thousand years, totally unrelated to the people there now.
There are two aspects of this story that are particularly fascinating. The first is that despite an overlap between the “Paleo-Eskimo” people and the Inuit, it appears that (almost) no interbreeding occurred. This is extremely rare. Even when cultures have specific prohibitions against interbreeding with outsiders, there are nearly always exceptions – people who didn’t follow the rules, sexual violence from the other culture, things like that.
The second aspect about this that I find really interesting is that Inuit oral legend had preserved their knowledge of this other people:
Inuit still talk about the Tunit people they encountered when they arrived. The oral tradition says the Tunit were very shy and would run away when approached.
This is a complicated issue when looking at mythology because it can be very difficult to tell the difference between preserved history and entertaining fabrication, mostly because so many stories are a combination of both, at least in general terms.
When reading Judges, I talked a lot about trying to find the history buried in the myth, and gave some of my own impressions and stories. Without corroborating evidence from other disciplines – such as archeological and genetic evidence as in the case of the “Paleo-Eskimos” – it remains pure conjecture.
But no less fascinating.
EDIT: A friend posted this article validating another Inuit oral tale, this time relating to the Franklin arctic expedition.
The tagline (“If you dig deep enough, say scientists, you can find some truth to legends and creation stories”) is a bit silly, but the descriptions are interesting. Some, like unique geological features, are plausibly the source for their related stories. There is, however, a great chasm of a difference between saying that a story was inspired by a geological feature or event, and saying that there is an underlying truth to a legend.
It should be fairly self-evident that translations present a barrier between reader and text, introducing the possibility that intended connotations may be lost or that translators may choose words with connotations that support their own interpretations.
There is an added difficulty when when the original texts are many hundreds – or thousands – of years old. They may be dead languages, or meanings may have changed so much that it might be impossible to know precise intent even if the language has been learned.
But there’s an article on BibleGateway that adds yet another layer of obfuscation. The words used in translations may, themselves, change in meaning, so that they may convey a very different impression to their readers than even the translators themselves had intended. The article is short and worth a read, and lists a few English words used in the King James Version that have changed quite significantly over the last few hundred years.
There’s an interesting article on on Informed Comment about using evidence about the domestication of the camel to answer questions about the historicity of the Biblical account. One of the more intriguing claims made is that Hebrews were a subset of Canaanites who developed monotheism during the Babylonian exile, at which point they began to tell origin stories that were projected back into the distant past.
In 1631, twenty years after the completion of the King James Bible, King Charles I commissioned the printing of a thousand Bibles from Robert Barker and Martin Lucas.
Consider the process of printing a book in the 17th century. Special letter (or word) blocks were arranged in a system called movable type, allowing printers to produce different pages far more cheaply and quickly than the old woodblock printing system. To create a given page, the printer would arrange the letter/word blocks in a setting, print the page, then rearrange the letter/word blocks to form the next page.
With close to 780,000 words, is it any wonder that mistakes might be made in the printing of the Bible?
Unfortunately, the mistake made by Barker and Lucas was in the Ten Commandments, where the 6th (or 7th, depending on your denomination) read as: “Thou shalt commit adultery.” Because of this error, the Wicked Bible is also sometimes called The Adulterous Bible or The Sinners’ Bible.
King Charles I was rather mortified and had the collection recalled and destroyed. He failed to get them all, however, and a few known copies still exist (including one at the New York Public Library and another at the British Library in London).
According to Wikipedia, printing errors, particularly those involving the omission of words like “not” in the Bible, have not historically been particularly uncommon, but the Wicked Bible is certainly the most famous example!
In Manners & Customs, Matthews covers the major periods of biblical history, from the Ancestral Period down to the Intertestamental and New Testament Period. In each section, he covers some of the historical background of the period, such as what was going on politically both in Hebrew lands and nearby regions. This is followed with specific discussions of construction methods and styles, marriage customs, clothing and adornment, weapons and military technology, and more.
I found the text interesting, particularly in its range, though I was a bit disappointed by how heavily it relied on the books of the Bible for its sources – mainly because I already have easy access to those same passages. What I wanted was more information on what other texts from the period and the archaeological evidence have to say. Though I suppose I might have been unreasonable given that the title of the book specifies that the manners and customs are in the Bible.
It also led to some issues where Matthews took the Bible at face value in the absence of any corroborating outside evidence, but he was using the same matter-of-fact voice he uses elsewhere when there is corroboration. So, for example, he talks about the exodus as a discrete event, as it’s presented in the Bible, without mentioning the possibility of a folk tradition that glomped together multiple migration events, or simply a cultural memory of Egyptian occupation.
All in all, I found it to be an interesting read. There are better introductions to “biblical times” resources, though I appreciated Matthews’ focus on domestic customs – even though I found these to be far more sparse than the title had led me to believe.