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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Goliath--a real, for-true giant? Or just a really big guy?

CounterRecently there's been a lot of research into the question of one aspect of the famous story of David and Goliath: the giant's height.

There are two, or even three aspects to the question, which we shall address in turn:

1) How many cubits tall was Goliath (a question of textual criticism)?
2) How long was a cubit (a question of archaeology)?
3) How reliable is the Bible's account (a question of theology)?

For the first question, the evidence is pretty straightforward: The Masoretic Text and the Vulgate, its Latin translation, pegs his height at "six cubits and a span," and the English translations of Josephus and 4QSamA, along with those of many manuscripts of the Greek Septuagint, read "four cubits and a span."  There are even a couple of  Greek manuscripts that read "five cubits and a span." Clearly, there was some tampering with the text. I found the following chart online, which I edited slightly but can't vouch for its accuracy (it matches information given by Clyde Billington and J. D. Hays):


Evidence for 6½ Cubits  Evidence for 5½ Cubits  Evidence for 4½ Cubits
The Masoretic Text  Septuagint  ms n Most mss of the LXX, c. 150 BC
Septuagint ms o Codex Venetus (ms v, 8th century)  [may be same as n]            4QSam(a), a Dead Sea Scroll, c.50 BC
Codex Sigma
Josephus, a Jewish historian about 70-90 AD in Antiquities, IV, 171.
Symmachus' Greek, 200 AD
Lucian recension, a 3rd century LXX revision
Origen's Hexapla, 3rd century        
Codex Vaticanus, 4th century Greek ms
Vulgate, 4th century AD
Codex Alexandrinus, 5th cent. Greek ms

What we should note from this difference is that throughout the history of Christendom, children getting a religious education got two very different ideas of Goliath's height. Were they Orthodox, they probably visualized Goliath as being very tall, but not particularly gigantic: between 6' 9" and 8 feet tall. Were they Jews or Catholics, however, they all envisioned him as being somewhere between 9'9" and 11 feet tall.  The problem with this latter height, however, is that it exceeds the height of anyone known to science, and would physically result in a monstrosity too encumbered with his own weight to be of any good in battle.

But this objection begs the question of the length of a cubit--the second question. A cubit, we know, is the distance from the tip of the middle finger to the bend of the elbow. A person is typically 3½ of his own cubits tall (the White Man is 3.57 of his cubits tall). So for Goliath to be even 4½ cubits tall, we would have to be speaking of an objective measurement, outside of his own body. Define the length of this measurement, and only then we can decide whether Goliath was merely tall, or a true giant--regardless of the text followed.

Well, the standard modern definition of the cubit is 18 inches, resulting in standard height of 5 feet 3 inches. But we are not interested in the modern length of the cubit, but the ancient one. And for that, several different lengths have been determined, anywhere from 445 (17½") to 610 mm (24"), with a most likely length of about 524 mm (20.6 "). Note that the NIV's definition of a cubit, based on conversion figures given in the footnotes, has ranged from 18 to 21.65 inches. Taking a most likely range of 20.5 to 21.5 inches, the two texts would give Goliath a height of 92.25" to 96.75" and 133.25 to 139.75 inches respectively; in other words, he was either about 8 feet tall, or about 11½ feet tall. The first is at the upper range of what is attainable through genetics and diet; the second is physically impossible for homo sapiens, as witnessed by anyone with a giantism disorder continually growing until dying from complications of their extreme size before attaining anything over about 9 feet in height.

As for the third question, Bible commentators have traditionally accepted the larger size for Goliath, especially as it is even smaller than the reported height of Og of Bashan and other figures from ancient history. They quote from Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, and Pliny:


"The tallest man that hath been seen in our days was one name Gabara, who, in the days of Claudius, the late Emperor, was brought out of Arabia: he was [over 6½ cubits] tall."

as well as Josephus:
"A Jew, named Eleazar, whom Vitellius sent to Rome, was seven cubits high."

But again, this begs the question of "how long is a cubit?"  Let's look at the mention in the book of Deuteronomy, which contains this interesting note on "the last of the Rephaim:"

"For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of giants; behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbah of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man."

So, Og was specifically called a giant (Repha)--a word not used in 1 Samuel, as he was the last of the race. Because of this qualification, Hebrew mythology states that Og was one of the Nephilim who rode out the Flood clinging to the back of the Ark. How else could they account for his enormous size? But note the qualification to his size: it was measured in "the cubit of a man."  And we still don't know exactly how long that was.

Here's an idea. Let's assume that the Pyramids of Egypt were an exact number of cubits wide at the base, and see if that gets us a standard to work with. It turns out that the dimensions of the Egyptian Royal Cubit, already known, are an exact fit for the Great Pyramid: 440 cubits wide, 280 cubits high (each stone layer then being one and a third cubits high), and 356 cubits deep. The ridge length even comes out to the quarter-cubit, and the inclination is 5½ palms per cubit. The cubit in question? 52.4 cm or 20.6 inches. With a cubit that size, anyone over six of them in height is going to be a monster; but anyone four and a half of those cubits high is what normal-sized people would call a giant. So we're stuck with a really huge bed for King Og--but left with no specific measurements of the giant himself, leaving the jury still out on whether or not humans really could grow to fantastic size back in ancient times.

One further biblical reference must be mentioned: 1 Chronicles 11:23, which refers to a five-cubit tall Egyptian warrior. If Goliath was half a cubit shorter, then it's no wonder he is never directly referred to as a 'giant', because as giants go, he would have been less than average height. So is it any surprise that he volunteered as the Philistines' champion? Shorter soldiers (and basketball players) are known for being bolder and more aggressive, as if to make up in courage for what they lack in height. If  4QSam(a) is right, Goliath was a short tall man.

So, how tall was Goliath--was he a human giant, or a genetic monstrosity? I'm going to go with the 4½ cubit measurement and say that he was just a giant. Here are my reasons:

1. The Egyptian Royal Cubit puts his height at the upper range for a healthy human, but only if we read the Hebrew number as a daleth rather than a waw (the difference is that the larger number has a side-stroke that is a bit shorter than the smaller number). 

 2. While it is possible, even probable, that the Rephaim were genetically capable of reaching superhuman heights, Goliath is never directly referred to as a 'giant' (Repha or Gibbor). Instead he is connected with 'the sons of the Rapha of Gath' (a slightly different spelling in the Masoretic Text), apparently a rather tall race of Philistines. He and his four 'brothers' were huge, as evidenced by the size of their armour, but not gigantic.

3. It is apparent that humans in general were taller directly after the time of the Flood (The Egyptian Royal Cubit yields a standard height of six feet tall), but as the natural cubit shrank, followed by the standard cubit ('the cubit of a man'), Goliath's height of 4½ cubits was no longer commensurate with the size of his armour. People retained knowledge of a then-extinct race of giants, and assumed them to be taller than they really were--but definitely taller than the 6½ feet that Goliath's height now yielded. Thus the shortened stroke of the numeral, yielding a taller height for the giant, became accepted in the continued transmission of the Hebrew text--from whence it found its way into all later translations thereof.

A couple of postscripts:

1. Adam Clarke mentions a man of the name of John Middleton, born at Hale, near Warrington, in Lancashire, in the reign of James the First, who was more than nine feet high. "Dr. Plott, in his history of Staffordshire, says, that `his hand, from the carpus to the end of the middle finger, was seventeen inches, his palms eight inches and a half broad, and his whole height was nine feet three inches; wanting but six inches of the height of Goliath of Gath.'"

Indeed this is the height listed on The Childe of Hale's tombstone, but I'm still waiting on confirmation of the actual size of his burial plot. The descriptions of his physical prowess better fit someone of about eight feet in height (feet and inches not having been yet effectively standardised at his death). 

2. It was common in ancient Egyptian artwork to picture royalty as much taller than the common people, or even of their own royal sister-wives. But even among royalty, there is a possibility that some were depicted as being truly taller than others; this picture, for instance:
Note the comparison in heights between the figures to the leftmost and rightmost of the picture. Note also that the tallest two figures are dressed differently than all the others, and have been subsequently defaced (along with both of the animals).

Like I said, this is a hot topic in Biblical research lately. I'm already compiling information for another post that will look at the textual question more closely.

UPDATE AUGUST 2014
This article makes two claims, the first unsubstantiated:
1. The Hebrew cubit was shorter than the Egyptian cubit.
2. A special race of giants could genetically be capable of attaining a 13-foot height and weight of 1500 pounds.





















Tuesday, 28 February 2012

An Albino Race--or not.

96885 My posts on albinism fast turned out to be the most popular destinations on this website, outpacing reads about Arthur Blessitt's divorce ten to one this week. I've continued to keep my eyes out for more information on the subject, which has resulted in a couple of discoveries: One, that some of my own cousins probably carry the albinism gene; the other being possible evidence for an actual race of albinos along the southernmost Caribbean coast:

 "The Kuna have a very high incidence rate of albinism. In Kuna mythology, albinos (or sipus) were given a special place. Albinos in Kuna culture are considered a special race of people, and have the specific duty of defending the Moon against a dragon which tries to eat it during an eclipse. Only they are allowed outside on the night of an eclipse and used specially made bows and arrows to shoot down the dragon."

Well, these claims don't bear up so well under scrutiny--especially the 'special race' part. Since carriers of the albinism gene are indistinguishable in the general population, it has never been possible to isolate the albino population into a separate race. If albinos are encouraged only to marry other albinos, an albino population will immediately emerge, but this still will not serve to keep albinism out of the general population; only a controlled breeding program empowered by the modern science of genetics could succeed in that. And no one has tried it, nor is ever likely to, as albinism is a very debilitating condition. I have now received some reports of two successive generations of albinos, but not yet of three [UPDATE: there is now at least one current case of a third-generation albino, referenced in another post on this topic].

But back to the Kuna/Cunas of Panama. Despite their accepted social status, the physical limitations of their defect keeps Kuna albinos from fully engaging in Kuna society (albino men are limited occupationally to traditionally feminine or adolescent roles). Yet albinism persists, due mainly to the small tribal gene pool (compounded, it would appear, by a high rate of incest), misunderstanding of the genetic cause ('moon children' have traditionally been thought to form due to Lamarckian influence at some point in the development of the foetus), and lack of meaningful artificial selection against it (the herbal remedies against fetal albinism being totally useless, racial infanticide being traditionally frowned upon, and the miscegenation prohibition unenforceable in the face of rampant fornication).

The Kunas, despite their unusually high percentage of albinos and social acceptance thereof, generally do not allow them to marry, and take active steps (however futile) against passing on the gene through non-albino carriers. So much for a 'special race,' if such a term actually means anything.

A few cogent observations could be made on what we have learned so far:

- Environment has not appeared to be a factor in the development of a high percentage of albinos in a population. In fact, the populations with the most albinos are very close to the equator, where climactic conditions make albinism the least survivable.

- Albinos are anywhere from two to two hundred times more likely to be found in dark races than in light ones, despite the much more obvious stigma that they would carry among people who look so much different then themselves. Three concentrations of albinism have been identified so far: The Hopi/Zuni of Arizona, the Kuna of Darien, and a so-far unspecified population of Tanzania [UPDATE: The highest concentration of albinos turns out to be due to artificial selection. See articles on Ukerewe Island].

- The main common factor behind the various ethnogeographical concentrations of albinism seems to be animism, functioning in three ways: one, sexual promiscuity resulting in uncontrolled inbreeding; two, a strong resistance to a scientific approach for preventing the passing on of the trait; and three, a typical association of whiteness with heightened spiritual power or influence. This last factor could be a result of the fallacious cause-and-effect reasoning of animists: an albino shaman did something that was perceived to be a demonstration of great spiritual power, and the source of that power was then attributed to his or her whiteness.

- Animism, especially in Africa, puts a premium on body parts from albinos, which results in pressure on albinism in the general population, but also in an artificial concentration of albinos in safe havens, where they are more likely to pass on their albino genes.

There is much we are still learning about the cultural factors behind the preponderance of albinism, but one thing seems sure: No albino race has apparently ever existed, nor is one ever likely to.

Monday, 27 February 2012

The Death of the Life Sentence

Counter I have earlier posted about the death of capital punishment in the USA for any crime other than murder (see also this later post), Caryl Chessman being the last person to be convicted of such a crime, in 1948.* But following his eventual execution an unheard-of twelve years later, even executions for first degree murder fell sharply. As a a result, there are still people in prison who killed as long as 40 or 50 years ago. The longest case I am now aware of was that of Thomas Hagan, aka Talmage Hayer and Mujahid Halim, who, after 16 rejections by the parole board, was finally released in 2010, forty-five years after his conviction for the part he played in the assassination of Malcomb X. The two other assassins had already been out for about 15 years. Not very far behind him is Sirhan Sirhan, who has been denied parole 14 times for his role in the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. None of the other assassins were ever brought to trial. In each case, there appear to be political considerations for keeping these men behind bars for so long.

In another case, the parole board actually appears determined to take the phrase "life in prison" seriously, due to the heinous--and, admittedly, political--nature of the murder: Charles Manson, who entered Death Row in 1971 for the role he played in the murder of Sharon Tate, had not yet been executed when his sentence was changed to life; he has been denied parole 11 times. Of his co-defendants, Charles Watson has been refused parole 14 times, Leslie Van Houten 19 times, and Patricia Krenwinkel 13 times. Susan Atkins died of brain cancer in prison after 18 rejections of parole. The nearly 40 years she spent as a female in prison constituted a record in the California penal system--a record now held by Krenwinkel, as Van Houten spent some time out on bond during a 1977 retrial.

Note that all of these murderers had originally been given a death sentence, with the exception of the black-on-black killing of Malcomb X, in which they were given 20 years (thus the mid-'80 release) to life. But a sentence of life in prison for murder, originally handed down as such (and I include in that definition any sentence of 80 years or more, which by definition could be considered tantamount to life), has--[but see Update]--never resulted in any death by reason of old age ending such a sentence; in any case, no one has ever yet served even 50 years of such a sentence. In a word, it is meaningless.

The replacement of execution with an imaginary life sentence dates as far back as 1924, when Clarance Darrow talked his underage clients Leopold and Loeb into pleading guilty to murder, not because they were actually admitting their culpability, but as a means of avoiding the death sentence. He succeeded in convincing their judge that the boys could not be held responsible for the brutal premeditated murder of Bobby Franks, and they were sentenced them to the intrinsically meaningless "Life plus 99 years."  It should come as no surprise that neither defendant spent any more than 33 years behind bars for the murder.

It is possible, even likely, that one of Tate's murderers will end up serving 50 years in prison for the crime. But I venture to predict that no American criminal, sentenced after the Supreme Court lifted the ban on execution in 1976, will ever again serve over 30 years in prison for any heinous crime--and, for those committed to mental institutions for murder, I predict an even shorter timeframe.

UPDATE APRIL 3, 2012
* I should clarify that I speak here of State crimes. Forty years ago, murder was not a federal crime, and until recent decades, federal executions (for espionage, treason, and desertion) had also diminished to nothingness--with only three in the 20th century, all during wartime, and none since 1953. But since the mid-1990's, it has become fashionable to try murderers in federal court, where they are more likely to receive a death sentence--but don't always. Under this new regime, life sentences in lieu of execution may well mean just that. But this is a new system yet, so only time will tell.

UPDATE APRIL 10, 2013
Ironically, even as I wrote this post, an inmate approaching death at the University Medical Center was finishing off a sixty-five year life sentence--now considered a world record. William Heirens, like Lee Boyd Malvo, was a juvenile when the murders for which he was convicted were committed--thus allowing him the maximum potential life sentence. Heirens, who probably didn't have enough evidence against him to convict him, confessed to three murders in order to bargain himself out of a potential death sentence. Malvo, on the other hand, was convicted in court of the Beltway Sniper attacks, and guaranteed a life sentence only by a 2005 decision of the Supreme Court to deny the death sentence for any crimes committed by juveniles. This may very well result in the breaking of Heirens' record, some fifty or sixty years from now--but time will tell. The idea that a person still represents a threat to society as an eighty year old man, based on something he did as a teen, may not endure that long.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Why is Christmas on December 25th?

There are ten federal holidays in the United States in 2012, in addition to the fifty-four Sundays, which are specifically named in the Constitution as days of rest from Government work. Thanksgiving is always on the fourth Thursday in November, and the rest all fall on a Monday--with one sole exception. Christmas falls on December 25, a Tuesday.

What is it about December 25 that would make it the last  fixed holiday on the government calendar?

Well, for many centuries December 25 has been the date that Christians celebrate the Birth of Christ. Now, Eastern Christians are famous for observing this celebration on the 6th of January, but this is nothing more than the perpetuation of the December 25th celebration despite the secular adoption of the Gregorian calendar.

And this date has been observed for far longer than the schism between the Eastern and Western churches. In what is the earliest extant reference to what is now known as Christmas, the date on which the birth of Christ occurred was recorded, in Greek, by a writer named Hippolytus of Rome, in his Commentary on Daniel:

“For when the times from the foundation of the world and from Adam are reckoned, they furnish this matter quite clearly to us who seek an answer. For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, eight days before the kalends of January [December 25th], the 4th day of the week [Wednesday], while Augustus was in his forty-second year, [3BC] but from Adam five thousand and five hundred years. He suffered in the thirty third year, 8 days before the kalends of April [March 25th], the Day of Preparation, the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar [30 AD], while Rufus and Roubellion and Gaius Caesar, for the 4th time, and Gaius Cestius Saturninus were Consuls. And so it is absolutely necessary for six thousand years to be fulfilled, so that the Sabbath rest may come, the holy day, in which God rested from all his works which he began to do. And so from the generation of Christ it is necessary to count the remaining five hundred years to the consummation of the six thousand years, and in this way the end will be."

 This dates back to the first decade of the third century; a full hundred years before the State took over the Church. Obviously the Christian observance of Christmas goes way, way back: but why? There is nothing in the Scripture itself to give us the exact year, much less the exact day, when Jesus was born. So why was it so important to Christians that they know when it was?

Well, here's a new idea I just ran across. Whether it's factual or not, I don't know; but it does appear to account for the evidence. Creation Ministries International posted this on their website:

The real source of the 25 December date is an extra-biblical Jewishtradition, called the ‘integral year’. This means that a prophet’s lifespan would be an exact number of years, so he would die on an anniversary of his conception, the real beginning of life. Jesus’ death was calculated as March 25th by the Western church, and April 6th by the Eastern Church. Therefore this same date was celebrated as the date Christ was conceived. Nine months later is December 25th or January 6th, and the latter date is still celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox church (and many branches of the Western church celebrate ‘Epiphany’ on the same day, now to commemorate the arrival of the magi and their three gifts).

Actually, this again is just the effect of the adoption of the Gregorian calendar by the Western Church.

Continuing on in Hippolytus, we can see that, like most chronographers, he did have an agenda:

 24.5. But because in the fifth and a half time the Savior arrived in the world bearing the incorruptible ark, that is his own body, John says, “and it was the sixth hour,” so that half of the day may be demonstrated, a day of the Lord is like thousand years.  And so the half of these is five hundred
years.
24.6 . . . .Because after the people returned from Babylon four hundred and thirty and four years occurred until the generation of Christ, it is easy to perceive what has been set before.  32.2. For since the first covenant with the sons of Israel was given after four hundred and thirty-four years, it is absolutely necessary for the second also likewise to be determined in the same time, so that it may be expected by the people and may be easily recognized by the believers.

There's one more thing to consider: The reading of Matthew 1:18.

Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ  γέννησις  --Majority reading in Greek;  Latin version corresponds; "birth of Jesus"
Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ  γένεσις   --Reading of the oldest papyri & uncials, corresponding to "beginning" in some Coptic & Syriac manuscripts; "conception of Jesus"

Hippolytus uses the term “genesis (γένεσις) of Christ,” and it's clear that this refers to His conception, not birth. From a conception date of March 25 (the anniversary date of Creation, observed for many centuries in Christendom as New Years Day, having been fixed at a time when this Julian date corresponded to the spring equinox) derives the date of Jesus’ birth as December 25.

I should add that although there is a bit of discrepancy amongst the various medieval manuscripts of Hippolytus, a statue located at the entrance of the Vatican contains a canon-table self-dated rather precisely to the beginning of 222 A.D. On it is Hippolytus' date for Christ's conception: Wednesday, April 2, 2 B.C. So whilst Hippolytus and his copyists down through the ages did play around a bit with the precise year of Christ's birth (4 BC is the critical consensus, as adopted by Ussher), and sometimes confused it with the date of his conception, Wednesday, December 25, 3 BC can be nailed down as the original date.

UPDATE:
"It was not the visible sun, but its invisible Creator who consecrated this day for us, when the Virgin Mother, fertile of womb and integral in her virginity, brought him forth, made visible for us, by whom, when he was invisible, she too was created. A Virgin conceiving, a Virgin bearing, a Virgin pregnant, a Virgin bringing forth, a Virgin perpetual. Why do you wonder at this, O man?"

So wrote Augustine in Sermons 186:1, indicating--it would appear--that Jesus was born on a Sunday.

UPDATE:
It turns out there's a history of Presidential Executive Orders giving federal workers extra time to goof off either the day before, or the day after Christmas, whenever doing so would prolong the weekend.  President Obama provided a half-day off on Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009, and a full-day Monday Dec. 24, 2012 and Friday, Dec. 26, 2014. President George W. Bush provided a half-day holiday on Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2002, as well as several full days off the day before or after Christmas: Tuesday, December 24, 2001, Thursday, December 26, 2003, Tuesday, December 24, 2007, and Thursday, December 26, 2008.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Amish and cameras

Counter
 The prosecution of Vernon Hershberger  has resulted in us being able to see a change in Amish culture happening before our very eyes.

It's often thought that the Amish live like they did 200 years ago, when in actuality most Amish don't even live like they did 20 years ago. Increasing government regulation and a growing tax burden make it virtually impossible to stave off starvation following 19th century farming methods--and totally impossible were one to attempt a reprise of the 18th century. So the Amish continue to adapt to the changes that modern life demands--they just do it carefully, as a congregation, under the guidance and mutual consultation of their bishops.

Thus it is that we now see Vernon Hershberger, a Wisconsin dairy farmer, posting videos of himself and his Amish leaders on the Internet. It's all part of a desperate attempt to keep the government from shutting down his livelihood, and the Amish in general are all for it. If it takes overturning a 150-year-old ban on allowing oneself to be recognizably photographed, so be it--when the only alternative is starvation. It's just one more in a long string of concessions that the Amish have had to make to keep their family farms in the face of an encroaching and increasingly unfriendly government.

UPDATE:
For centuries, Amish dealt with the heavy hand of government by moving away; this trend continued up until 1946, when the Reformed Amish fled Adams County, Indiana to avoid forced public education. But hardly 20 years later, we see the Amish running out of places to run to. The watershed moment seems to have come in 1969, when the Ontario Milk Marketing Board required all dairy farms in the province to sell their milk from bulk tanks cooled by electricity. Some Amish moved back across Ontario's porous southern border to states where Grade B milk could still be sold for cheese; this is a major reason why every sizable Amish community in the US contains a cheese factory. But some were tired of moving, and didn't want the hassle of registering for America's Vietnam-era draft. So they stayed put, and purchased generators to power their new bulk tanks. Had they seen what the future would hold 40 years down the road, they may have taken their stand then, and refused to comply with the new law. 

For now, in addition to using their generators in the milk barn, Amish use them to power washing machines, electric shavers, photocopiers, and even cell-phone battery chargers. Electric lights, powered by car batteries, are even replacing the kerosine lamps of yesteryear. And operating a dairy farm by generator is hardly feasible in today's factory-farm economy. This is why Amish like Vernon Hershberger have turned to the direct-to-consumer market, which craves small-farm raw milk. But alas, though it be economically profitable, it is as illegal as ever. If the Amish in Wisconsin can't get this law overturned, at least some of them are going to move to a state where they will be free to practice their religion. Those who stay will increasingly lose the distinctions that make them Amish.

See this later post for more on the topic.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Misunderstood Belshazzar

Counter
"Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein."

So opens the fifth chapter of the book of Daniel in the Hebrew Scriptures. And until 1854, nothing whatsoever was known of this Belshazzar outside of what Jews had written based on this very account. Skeptics had a field day in ridiculing the historicity of Daniel, as everyone knew that the last king of Babylon, before it fell to Cyrus the Great, was Labynetos. Or maybe it was Naboendelus. Or Nabonnedon. Or even Nabonadius. All seem to be different forms of the same name, every ancient history spelling it differently. That Jewish historian Josephus identified 'Naboendelus' with the biblical 'Baltasar' was dismissed as wishful thinking.

All this has changed, however, as the sands give up their secrets. The Nabonidus Cylinder showed both the biblical and secular histories to be accurate, but not complete. Belshazzar, it turns out, was the eldest son of Nabonidus, who put him in charge of the kingdom so he could spend a few years taking care of some business in the  Arabian desert. Beshazzar was the king, but not the 'first ruler in the kingdom.' A careful reading of Daniel's account, though, would have already made that clear:

"He king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom."

Nabonidus being the first, and Belshazzar the second. But what about the third royal actor in this drama, the queen?

"The queen, hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. "O king, live forever!" she said. "Don't be alarmed! Don't look so pale! There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. King Nebuchadnezzar your father-your father the king, I say-appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. This man Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means." --NIV 1.2

 First of all, we note what appears to be an obvious corruption in the text:

"King Nebuchadnezzar your father-your father the king, I say-"
 This was virtually unchanged in the NIV from the KJV:
"the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father"

In actuality, "I say" is not in the Chaldee text, and the two mentions of "the king" are at opposite ends of the sentence. So the duplication was rightly dropped in the NIV 2.1 upgrade, not really being in keeping with CBT translation philosophy in the first place.

But back to The Queen. Pretty much everybody is agreed that she was Belshazzar's Queen Mother, since his queens were obviously already in the banquet hall with him--not to mention that many decades had transpired since ol' Nebuchadnezzar had given up the ghost, and even more since he elevated Daniel. It appears that we can identify her rather precisely as Belshazzar's mother, Nabonidus' wife, and--get this-- ol' Neb's daughter Nitocris--thus making Nebuchadnezzar Belshazzar's actual grandfather, even though Nabonidus wasn't his son.

And what about Nitocris? Well, Herodotus said that she was the wife of Labynetos, and that they had a son by the same name. So, it turns out that Herodotus did in fact mention Belshazzar after all--he just called him Junior instead of by his given name.

See how stupid it can be to doubt the Bible? Enough evidence was already there to show the biblical account to be historical; only the doubters couldn't see it.

We can't blame the doubters for that, though.  Even Hippolytus in his Commentary on Daniel (14.1-2), published in the first decade of the third century, missed the significance of the "third ruler" mention, while accepting the other Biblical information at face value as he tried to fit it into the already spotty historical record:

"And so after the death of Nebuchadnezzar his son Evil Merodoch succeeded to his kingdom, of whom the Scripture does not mention, surely because he lived reverently, surely because there was nothing monstrous in him. He reigned twelve years and after him his brother Belshazzar reigned, concerning whom Scripture now makes a narrative."


Saturday, 4 February 2012

The Closing Window over Iran

Counter So, weather patterns indicate the Israeli attack on Iran will come sometime between 3 weeks and 3 months from now.

UPDATE: Or a year later . . . or two . . .

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Obama's fraudulent candidacy

Counter A little news item popped up today, yet another indication that Barack Obama's presidency is illegitimate. No one who matters will care, of course, but the investigation is ongoing. I speak of the fact that petitions to put Obama on the Primary ballot in Indiana turn out to have been forged. The irony here is that Hillary Clinton is in the same boat, so even if she knew it before the Convention, she couldn't have pulled the same stunt relied on by Obama to break into politics and get him removed from the ballot.