I have a few odds and ends to discuss today, beginning with the exciting news that a new fragment of the Epic of Gilgamesh has been found! The Neo-Babylonian fragment comes from a piece of the epic looted from somewhere in Iraq and acquired by Sulaymaniyah Museum in the Kurdish region of Iraq. It has now been recognized as a previously unpublished portion of Table V, telling the story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu fighting the giant Humbaba. The twenty heretofore unknown lines provide two new details: First, that there were “monkeys” present in the Cedar Forest, and second that Humbaba was not a rampaging ogre but rather was depicted as a king of gigantic stature who presided over a sort of natural court. It also adds additional information about Enkidu’s childhood tutelage at the court of Humbaba, whom he returns to kill. The text and translation are available here.
Moving forward in time, we find that two Spanish scholars, J.M. Abril and Raúl Periáñez, have investigated whether the Biblical parting of the Red Sea really happened and was the result of a tsunami caused by the eruption of the Thera volcano around 1600 BCE. Their paper was published in the Journal of Marine Science and Engineering in July and was discussed on Ancient Origins yesterday. The paper is less sensational than the article and attempts to determine whether there is scientific plausibility for the idea that the volcanic eruption could have caused the Shi-Hor Lagoon to run dry. (This lagoon, known as the Reed Sea, is usually thought to be the body of water corrupted into the Red Sea in the Exodus narrative.) After testing 17 potential scenarios cited as the most favorable for a literal interpretation of the Biblical narrative, they concluded that none of them would have produced the conditions found in the Exodus narrative:
The real occurrence of tsunamis can only be proved by empirical evidences; but as the proposed ones are representative of the most favorable scenarios for the hypothesis to be tested, the lack of any noticeable flooding, and the particular time sequence of water elevations, make difficult to accept them as plausible and literally explanation for the first plague and for the drowning of the Egyptian army in the surroundings of the Shi-Hor Lagoon, although they might have been a source of inspiration for the Biblical narrative.
It probably goes without saying that there is no strong evidence that the Exodus played out as the Bible describes, but here we have scientists who determined that the Thera eruption shouldn’t be given credit for the event. Such rationalizations are as old as Euhemerus, who did the same thing with Greek mythology, and there seems to be something in Western culture that wants to prove mythology real by reducing mystery and magic to science, however implausible.
That’s one reason that the Mysterious Universe article on Nazi zombies was depressing. The author writes that the trope of Nazi zombies may have emerged from a misunderstood passage in Life magazine reporting on the sarcophagi of Frederick the Great, Hindenburg, and Hitler found in Thuringia, sepulchers prepared as shrines for a future Reich. Life wrote that “The corpses were to be concealed until some future movement when their reappearance could be timed by resurgent Nazis to fire another German generation to rise and conquer again.” MU’s Brent Swancer, paraphrasing a Salon article, says that this could be interpreted as preparations for the resurrection of the dead in a literal sense. I guess that would make sense if you weren’t familiar with the Germanic myth of the Sleeping King, most famously told of Arthur the Once and Future King, but applied in Germany to Charlemagne, Frederick Barbarossa, and many others. Likely originally told of Odin, the myth held that the great Germanic hero was not dead but sleeping and would wake to save Germany at the moment of its greatest need. Hitler was using that myth, but that doesn’t mean he was literally building zombie army.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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