Ancient Origins ran a piece recently arguing that indigenous oral traditions from North America are related to the biblical Tower of Babel story. The author seems to have lifted his understanding of the parallel myths from the Tower of Babel’s Wikipedia page, but even so, it is at least mildly interesting to review what are indeed parallel stories in order to understand where author Mark-Andrew Carpenter went wrong. The short version is that he heavily discounted the influence of the Bible on post-Contact America and among the missionaries who recorded—and revised—Native stories.
My computer's hard drive died, so I am working, slowly, from a backup machine while I shop for a new computer, since the other parts, like the keyboard, the monitor, and the touch pad, aren't working so well either. The last time this happened, last year, I received a one-year warranty on the hard drive, and it lasted ten whole days past the end of the warranty before crapping out. Anyway, on to today's issue...
Classicist Peter Gainsford made an interesting case on his blog that the humorous ancient Greek science fiction satire of Lucian called The True History includes a close parody of the New Jerusalem of the Book of Revelation. I can definitely see Gainsford’s point, but my gut instinct is that Lucian wasn’t directly drawing on the Christian text in imagining the fantastical paradise on the Isle of the Blessed where the heroic dead reside. Let’s take a quick look at what Gainsford says in order to puzzle out whether he’s right and whether Lucian had it in for Christianity’s most psychedelic text.
Many, many years ago I read Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary and was quite taken with a story Bierce told about an “Arabian” myth of an all-powerful entity that held all the power in the universe on the condition that it never use that power:
RABBLE, n. In a republic, those who exercise a supreme authority tempered by fraudulent elections. The rabble is like the sacred Simurgh, of Arabian fable—omnipotent on condition that it do nothing. (The word is Aristocratese, and has no exact equivalent in our tongue, but means, as nearly as may be, "soaring swine.")
This past week geologist Erin Matchan, writing with colleagues in Geology, claimed that the Gunditjmara people of southern Australia preserve the world’s oldest oral tradition, dating back 37,000 years. Being conservative on such things, I find it difficult to accept that claim, since preservation over such long periods occurs nowhere else in the world, and the evidence is suggestive without being conclusive. Matchan alleges—while admitting that she does not have proof—that the Gunditjmara origin story for the Budj Bim (Mount Eccles) volcano records its catastrophic formation over a period of months tens of thousands of years ago. She bases this date on her dating of the volcano’s rocks, which, so far as I can tell, has nothing to do with the oral story since the oral tradition does not describe the formation of a volcano. Previous estimates placed the volcano’s origins around 25,000 BCE.
Andrew Collins: Ancient Humans in India Horrified by "Grotesque" Giant Cannibal Denisovans, Had Sex with Them Anyway
Andrew Collins has a new article at Ancient Origins speculating about Denisovans and their alleged influence on ancient Homo sapiens. The news peg revolves around a new study published last week in Nature in which the authors performed a genetic study concluding that the non-Indo-European inhabitants of south and southeast Asia have significantly more Denisovan DNA than the Indo-European populations that entered those areas later in history, and the two populations also differ in terms of the branch of Denisovan DNA they include in their genome. In short, the study reflects earlier assumptions and conclusions about Indo-European incursions onto Asia and their relatively higher sociocultural status. Collins summarizes the Nature piece and then decides that it proves Indian myths are actually about Denisovan Nephilim-style cannibal giants.
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