Museums in St. Louis

In addition to the Civil War Museum, enjoyed a couple of other interesting ones:

• The World Chess Hall of Fame in the Central West End. It’s not a history museum as such, but it’s very well done. At the time of our visit, the first floor housed a display of historic and exotic chess sets, the second a temporary exhibit on “Chess Dining and Decor,” and the third a feature on child chess prodigies. The “Hall of Fame” as such was simply a large touch screen that allowed a visitor to look up all the big names, like Bobby Fischer, Boris Spassky, Garry Kasparov, or José Raúl Capablanca. The museum is also marked from the outside by the “world’s biggest chess piece.” 

This chess piece is a king, of course (although whether it is “white” or “black” seems ambiguous). It is in the standard “Staunton” form, designed in the mid-nineteenth century and named for the English chess master Howard Staunton. The vast majority of chess sets sold today are Staunton sets, but there is no reason why you can’t mix things up a bit if you want! Here are some of the more interesting ones on display at the WCHOF:

An Austrian chess set, carved c. 1953 and representing a medieval court. 

A Ramayana-themed chess set from India from the early twentieth century.

A Chinese chess set from the mid-twentieth century. This one was most interesting – each piece was elaborately carved, and no two were alike. The rooks, knights, bishops, and all pawns took different forms, and the two sides didn’t even mirror each other (i.e. there were four different forms of rook, knight, and bishop, and sixteen different forms of pawn). 

A “safari” chess set from Kenya (early 21st century). 

A papier-mâché set from Mexico (1978). 

A Minoan-themed chess set by artist Christoforos Sklavenitis (1975). 

On the second floor: a “diner” chess set…

…and some chess-themed large-format magazine advertisements from the mid-twentieth century. Apparently chess was quite popular with middle and even working-class America back then. Who knew?

• The St. Louis Art Museum, currently featuring an exhibit on ancient Nubia, which was up the Nile River from Egypt and unsurprisingly shared much in common with it. But the precise relationship between these two cultural centers is a matter of debate, and inevitably informed by racial politics. That is, Nubians were much more phenotypically sub-Saharan than Egyptians were, which meant that Western archaeologists historically dismissed Nubian culture, seeing it as entirely derivative. In reaction, contemporary scholars have emphasized Nubian creativity and power, such as during the Bronze Age Kerma Period (Egyptian artifacts found at Kerma are likely the result of a Nubian raid into Upper Egypt, not because the Egyptians had established an outpost there) or during the Napatan period (eighth-seventh centuries BC) when Nubia actually ruled Egypt as the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty.

Some other distinctions:

Shawabtis (votive figurines buried with the dead) were indeed borrowed from Egypt, as you can see, but in Nubia they were reserved for royal use, and grew quite large in size and number. Some Nubian kings had collections bordering on the scale of Qin Shi Huang’s Terracotta Army. 

Wikipedia.

Apparently there are more extant pyramids in Sudan than in Egypt, particularly from the Meroitic Period (sixth century BC-fourth century AD). They are generally smaller in size and more acute in shape than their Egyptian counterparts.

Napatan rulers had a fondness for horses, and buried them adorned with faience trappings. 

The Kerma period produced a distinctive style of pottery. 

Sudan is now on my bucket list!

The Lost Golden City

News of an interesting archaeological find from National Geographic:

‘Lost golden city of Luxor’ discovered by archaeologists in Egypt

The 3,400-year-old royal city was built by Amenhotep III, abandoned by his heretic son, Akhenaten, and contains stunningly preserved remains.

Three thousand four hundred years ago, a contentious ancient Egyptian king abandoned his name, his religion, and his capital in Thebes (modern Luxor). Archaeologists know what happened next: The pharaoh Akhenaten built the short-lived city of Akhetaten, where he ruled alongside his wife, Nefertiti and worshipped the sun. After his death, his young son Tutankhamun became ruler of Egypt—and turned his back on his father’s controversial legacy.But why did Akhenaten abandon Thebes, which had been the capital of ancient Egypt for more than 150 years? Answers may lie in the discovery of an industrial royal metropolis within Thebes that Akhenaten inherited from his father, Amenhotep III. The find, which has been dubbed the “lost golden city of Luxor” in an announcement released today, will generate as much enthusiasm, speculation, and controversy as the renegade pharaoh who left it.

Because the city was initially discovered just in September of last year, archaeologists have only scratched the surface of the sprawling site, and understanding where this discovery ranks in Egyptological importance is hard to say at this time. The level of preservation found so far, however, has impressed researchers.

“There’s no doubt about it; it really is a phenomenal find,” says Salima Ikram, an archaeologist who leads the American University in Cairo’s Egyptology unit. “It’s very much a snapshot in time—an Egyptian version of Pompeii.”

The site dates from the era of 18th-dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep III, who ruled between around 1386 and 1353 B.C. and presided over an era of extraordinary wealth, power and luxury. In Amenhotep III’s final years, he is thought to have briefly reigned alongside his son, Akhenaten.

But a few years after his father’s death, Akhenaten, who ruled from around 1353–1336, broke with everything the late ruler stood for. During his 17-year reign, he upended Egyptian culture, abandoning all of the traditional Egyptian pantheon but one, the sun god Aten. He even changed his name from Amenhotep IV to Akhenaten, which means “devoted to Aten.”  

More at the link.

Eat Like the Ancient Babylonians

From NPR:

Eat Like The Ancient Babylonians: Researchers Cook Up Nearly 4,000-Year-Old Recipes

What did a meal taste like nearly 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylonia? Pretty good, according to a team of international scholars who have deciphered and are re-creating what are considered to be the world’s oldest-known culinary recipes.

The recipes were inscribed on ancient Babylonian tablets that researchers have known about since early in the 20th century but that were not properly translated until the end of the century.

The tablets are part of the Yale Babylonian Collection at the Yale Peabody Museum. Three of the tablets date back to the Old Babylonian period, no later than 1730 B.C., according to Harvard University Assyriologist and cuneiform scholar Gojko Barjamovic, who put together the interdisciplinary team that is reviving these ancient recipes in the kitchen. A fourth tablet was produced about 1,000 years later. All four tablets are from the Mesopotamian region, in what is today Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq.

For a long time, says Barjamovic, scholars thought the tablets might be medical texts. In the 1940s, a researcher named Mary Hussey suggested the writing was actually recipes, but “people really didn’t believe her” at the time, he says.

“The tablets all list recipes that include instructions on how to prepare them,” the authors write in a piece about their work published in Lapham’s Quarterly earlier this year. “One is a summary collection of twenty-five recipes of stews or broths with brief directions. The other two tablets contain fewer recipes, each described in much more detail. ”

The researchers write that the “stews represent an early stage of a long tradition that is still dominant in Iraqi cuisine” — specifically, aromatic lamb stews “often slightly thickened, enhanced with rendered sheep’s tail fat, and flavored with a combination of spices and herbs and members of the Allium family, such as onion, garlic, and leek. These seem to be direct descendants of the Babylonian versions found on the culinary tablet with stew recipes.”

So far, the cooking team — which also includes a food historian, a curator, a chemical biologist specializing in food, a professional chef and an expert on cultural heritage — has re-created three stews. “One is a beet stew, one is vegetarian, and the final one has lamb in it,” says Barjamovic.

More at the link.

Against the Grain

From Slate Star Codex, notice of an interesting book by the same guy who wrote Seeing Like a State:

Why should cereal grains play such a massive role in the earliest states? After all, other crops, in particular legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and peas, had been domesticated in the Middle East and, in China, taro and soybean. Why were they not the basis of state formation? More broadly, why have no “lentil states,” chickpea states, taro states, sago states, breadfruit states, yam states, cassava states, potato states, peanut states, or banana states appeared in the historical record? Many of these cultivars provide more calories per unit of land than wheat and barley, some require less labor, and singly or in combination they would provide comparable basic nutrition. Many of them meet, in other words, the agro-demographic conditions of population density and food value as well as cereal grains. Only irrigated rice outclasses them in terms of sheer concentration of caloric value per unit of land.

The key to the nexus between grains and states lies, I believe, in the fact that only the cereal grains can serve as a basis for taxation: visible, divisible, assessable, storable, transportable, and “rationable.” Other crops—legumes, tubers, and starch plants—have some of these desirable state-adapted qualities, but none has all of these advantages. To appreciate the unique advantages of the cereal grains, it helps to place yourself in the sandals of an ancient tax-collection official interested, above all, in the ease and efficiency of appropriation.

The fact that cereal grains grow above ground and ripen at roughly the same time makes the job of any would-be taxman that much easier. If the army or the tax officials arrive at the right time, they can cut, thresh, and confiscate the entire harvest in one operation. For a hostile army, cereal grains make a scorched-earth policy that much simpler; they can burn the harvest-ready grain fields and reduce the cultivators to flight or starvation. Better yet, a tax collector or enemy can simply wait until the crop has been threshed and stored and confiscate the entire contents of the granary.

Compare this situation with, say, that of farmers whose staple crops are tubers such as potatoes or cassava/manioc. Such crops ripen in a year but may be safely left in the ground for an additional year or two. They can be dug up as needed and the remainder stored where they grew, underground. If an army or tax collectors want your tubers, they will have to dig them up tuber by tuber, as the farmer does, and then they will have a cartload of potatoes which is far less valuable (either calorically or at the market) than a cartload of wheat, and is also more likely to spoil quickly. Frederick the Great of Prussia, when he ordered his subjects to plant potatoes, understood that, as planters of tubers, they could not be so easily dispersed by invading armies.

The “aboveground” simultaneous ripening of cereal grains has the inestimable advantage of being legible and assessable by the state tax collectors. These characteristics are what make wheat, barley, rice, millet, and maize the premier political crops. A tax assessor typically classifies fields in terms of soil quality and, knowing the average yield of a particular grain from such soil, is able to estimate a tax. If a year-to-year adjustment is required, fields can be surveyed and crop cuttings taken from a representative patch just before harvest to arrive at an estimated yield for that particular crop year. As we shall see, state officials tried to raise crop yields and taxes in kind by mandating techniques of cultivation; in Mesopotamia this included insisting on repeated ploughing to break up the large clods of earth and repeated harrowing for better rooting and nutrient delivery. The point is that with cereal grains and soil preparation, the planting, the condition of the crop, and the ultimate yield were more visible and assessable.

Scott Alexander comments further: “In this model, the gradual drying-out of Sumeria in the 4th millennium BC caused a shift away from wetland foraging and toward grain farming. The advent of grain farming made oppression possible, and a new class of oppression-entrepreneurs arose to turn this possibility into a reality. They incentivized farmers to intensify grain production further at the expense of other foods, and this turned into a vicious cycle of stronger states = more grain = stronger states.”

Mad Dog Mattis

My colleague Judi Irvine alerts me to an interview this morning on NPR with Gen. Jim Mattis, former Secretary of Defense, whose book Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead has just been published. Whatever one might think of the Iraq war, or about American policy in the Middle East in general, one should find Mattis’s use of history to be sound.

***

NPR: The general describes his own detailed planning in bring troops into Iraq. In 2003, he read thousands of years of history, Alexander the Great and others, who invaded that region before him. What could a multi-thousand year old battle teach you that would be relevant in the twenty-first century?

JM: Well there’s enduring aspects of leadership, plus geography doesn’t change. So when you read about the challenges they faced it gets you thinking about your own. I knew we were going to be operating very deep inside the Middle East and I had to decide what was the right manner in which I wanted the troops to go in. So I used words from antiquity, from a Roman general I used, “No better friend, no worse enemy.” We were going in to liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam. We were not going in to dominate them, I didn’t want triumphalism. I wanted to go with a sense of “first do no harm.”

NPR: So you read thousands of pages and then try to boil it down to a few phrases or in some cases even a word that you could pass on to thousands of people?

JM: Well that’s a leader’s job, to clearly set the vision…

JM: I think we need to have a more rigorous establishment of strategy, a more clearly enunciated policy, something we can sustain from Republicans to Democrats, like in the Cold War. I think that the biggest challenge we face in all the western democracies, not just America, is that we don’t study history in a way that we can apply it, and we’re not rigorously applying ourselves to strategy. There’s too much of a short-term view.

Adjectives, Classical

Teaching Classical Civilizations again this semester has inspired me to compose one of my Lists – in this case, English adjectives that derive from classical places, people, mythology, or other phenomena. Of course, any noun can be made into an adjective, with “of or relating to [noun]” as a definition, but I was getting at something a little different: adjectives that have entered into English referring to a specific quality, like “Orwellian” or “Kafkaesque,” to pick two modern examples.

I would wager that there is a Wikipedia page listing these and all the other ones that I have missed. But I have deliberately avoided looking for one – what’s the fun in that?!

If you can think of any more I’d be pleased to know them!

Persons

draconian – from Draco, Athenian ruler in the seventh century BC, whose laws were especially harsh.

Pyrrhic – from Pyrrhus of Epirus, opponent of the Roman Republic during the Pyrrhic War of 280-275 BC. He scored two victories against Rome, but they were so damaging to his own forces that he is alleged to have said “one more victory like that and I’m finished.” Thus a “Pyrrhic victory” is a victory so costly that you might as well not have had it.

thespian – from Thespis of Icaria, a famous actor.

Petronian – from Petronius (d. AD 66), author of the Satyricon. Often used to describe a gaudy, ostentatious nouveau-riche style, after the wealthy ex-slave Trimalchio, a character in the Satyricon (I guess “Petronian” is easier to say than “Trimalchian”).

pharisaic – more biblical than classical, but the Pharisees were certainly active in the Roman Empire. According to the New Testament, the Pharisees, a sect of Judaism characterized by strict adherence to the Torah and to the oral tradition that surrounded it, were self-righteous and hypocritical, which is somewhat unfair to them. But they’re no longer around to take offense, so I guess we can use this word in good conscience (unlike, say, “jesuitical”).

Philistine – “a person hostile or indifferent to the arts,” although apparently this sense dates from the early nineteenth century, when in the midst of a town-gown conflict at the University of Jena, a sermon was preached on Judges 16, which includes the line “The Philistines are upon you.” Thereafter the uncultured townies were tarred with the epithet “Philistine.”

Rhadamanthine – “Strictly and uncompromisingly just; inflexibly rigorous or severe.” From Rhadamanthus, son of Zeus and wise king of Crete, who possessed these qualities. 

Sapphic – From Sappho, the most famous Archaic-age lyric poet of all, a woman who expressed love for other women. So “Sapphic” is another way of saying “Lesbian” (q.v.).

Places

Lesbian – the metaphoric use of this word is so common in English that people forget that it’s actually a demonym, referring to an inhabitant of the island of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea. But since Sappho lived there, “Lesbian” has become synonymous with “female homosexual.”

sybaritic – Sybaris, a Greek colony on the instep of Italy, was so wealthy and its inhabitants so self-indulgent that “sybaritic” became a byword for hedonistic.

Corinthian – from Paul Fussell, BAD (1991), 20:

For years Chrysler has been unloading its troubling surplus inventories by insisting that its leather upholstery is not just any old leather, of the sort you might make a volleyball or lederhosen out of, but “Corinthian Leather.” The company finally confessed in the Wall Street Journal that the leather comes not from Corinth but from Newark. The name was chosen because a reference book suggested that Corinthian connotes rich desirability, appealing to people who are, if “dissolute,” at least lovers of “luxury, as the people of Corinth were said to be” – which is why, by the way, Saint Paul selected them to receive one of his loudest moral blasts. He told them, “it is reported commonly that there is fornication among you….” Pressed, the Chrysler Corporation would have to admit that Corinthian Leather is just words and never saw Corinth at all.

But according to the dictionary widget for my computer, “Corinthian” means “involving or displaying the highest standards of sportsmanship.” Wiktionary claims “elaborate or ornate” (as in the Corinthian architectural order – see below).

Chrysler should have called it “sybaritic leather.”

spartan – the citizens of the Greek polis of Sparta were famously tough and eschewed luxury, thus the modern meaning of this word.

laconic – the area around Sparta was called Laconia, and because the Spartans valued using as few words as possible, “laconic” has come to mean a personal style that is extremely economical in speech.

Olympian – the gods lived atop Mount Olympus, as Santa Claus lives at the North Pole. “Olympian detachment” thus indicates some combination of superiority, aloofness, or disinterest.

roman – denotes a number of things, including the alphabet and by extension non-italic typefaces.

alexandrian – from the schools of literature and philosophy of ancient Alexandria, which were apparently “derivative or imitative rather than creative; fond of recondite learning.”

byzantine – overly complex, opaque, and/or treacherous, as the court of the Eastern Roman Empire allegedly was.

Philosophy

The three main schools of popular philosophy in the Hellenistic era were those of the Cynics, Stoics, and Epicureans, which have given us adjectives cynical, stoic, and epicurean, which are not quite accurate representations of the spirit of these philosophies.

Platonic (love), Socratic (method), Aristotelian (logic), Hippocratic (oath), Pythagorean (theorem), and Ptolemaic (universe) are similarly reductive.

Mythology

Sisyphean – Sisyphus was punished in Hades by being forced to roll a stone up a hill; when he got it to the top it slipped out of his hands and rolled back down, and he had to start again. Existentialist philosopher Albert Camus found in this myth a metaphor for the human condition. In everyday English it refers to a never ending task, like grading or picking up the trash on our road.

tantalizing – from Tantalus, who suffered an inventive punishment: tortured with hunger and thirst, he still could not take a drink of water of the river he was standing in (it would instantly lower itself if he bent down), or help himself to the fruit of a branch hanging above him (which the wind would blow out of his grasp).

promethean – “rebelliously creative and innovative,” like the demigod Prometheus who stole fire and bequeathed it to humanity.

herculean – from Hercules, who had to perform twelve seemingly impossible tasks as punishment for killing his wife and children in a fit of madness. “Herculean” is usually paired with “effort.”

oedipal – Oedipus killed his father and married his mother – quite unwittingly, which is why Freud’s use of this myth to describe a stage of childhood development is somewhat inapt. From this use, though, “oedipal” has come to indicate a rebellious attitude against one’s father or forebears, for deep-seated psychological reasons.

terpsichorean – Terpsichore was the muse of dance, and thus “terpsichorean” is an adjective referring to dance.

Apollonian/Dionysian – if Apollo represents order and rationality, Dionysus represents disorder and irrationality. I think that the Greeks realized that you needed both to be fully human. “Bacchic,” from the god Bacchus (the Roman equivalent of Dionysus), is a synonym of Dionysian, especially with regard to the consumption of wine.

Adjectives from other gods:
mercurial – from the Roman god Mercury, referring to a person “subject to sudden or unpredictable changes of mood or mind.”
venereal – from Venus, which becomes Veneris in the genitive. Venus is the Roman goddess of love, so “venereal” relates “to sexual desire or sexual intercourse,” and especially to diseases you can contract from this activity.
martial – from Mars, the god of war.
jovial – from Jove, a variant of Jupiter, the chief Roman god. “Jovial” means cheerful and friendly, but not because this was an attribute of Jupiter. It is an attribute of those born under the sign of the planet named after Jupiter.
saturnine – from the Roman god Saturn, father of Jupiter. Again, Saturn was not himself slow and gloomy, moody and mysterious, but people born under his planet were.

Finally, there are the three orders of Greek architecture: Corinthian (already mentioned), Doric, and Ionic. And there are a number of musical modes that take place-names, among them Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Aeolian, and Locrian.

Change over Time

Comparing Homer’s Iliad to Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, even just the opening lines of each work, is always revealing. Here they are:

Iliad: “Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans.”

History of the Peloponnesian War: “Thucydides, an Athenian, wrote the history of the war between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians, beginning at the moment that it broke out, and believing that it would be a great war and more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it.”

In just a few words we see certain differences, emblematic of shift from the Archaic Age to the Classical Age:

  Iliad History Peloponnesian War
Genre Poetry Prose
Verb Sing Write
Author “goddess”
(i.e. the muse Calliope)
Thucydides himself
Actor Achilles Peloponnesians and Athenians
Subject Anger War
Promises Excitement Accuracy

Homer asks for divine help in performing a story for a live audience, while Thucydides writes in private and on his own authority (and, as revealed later, is really sweating over it, trying to determine what exactly happened). The gods make no appearance in the History of the Peloponnesian War – the human actors might perform rituals to them, but Apollo does not shoot his arrows at them, nor does Athena come down and prevent one person from killing another. It is a purely human story, but a wide-ranging one – it is an account of a war itself; the war does not function as a backdrop to a more personal conflict as it does in the Iliad (or in the movie Pearl Harbor, whose subject, according to one critic, was “a Japanese sneak attack on an American love triangle”).

Behold the rationality of the Classical Age! And the answer to one of the questions on the exam.

And for something slightly related, courtesy Tim Furnish:

History Repeating Itself

Helpful illustrative anecdotes for my Western Civ. lecture on Classical Greece:

• Every time you run a marathon, you are commemorating the legendary run of the messenger Pheidippides, who hightailed it from the site of the Battle of Marathon back to Athens, proclaimed the victory (“Nike!”), and promptly fell down dead. Hopefully you won’t fall down dead, and hopefully your Nikes will help you get the victory.

• The Battle of Thermopylae might have been a defeat for the Greeks, but it was an inspiring defeat. The 300 Spartans at the battle killed far more than 300 Persians, and they never retreated, dying to a man. Thus it became a rallying cry for the rest of the war, like the Alamo was during the Texas Revolution.

• Since no one knew if the Persians would attack again, Athens set up the Delian League, a defensive alliance where an attack on one was an attack on all. This is similar to how the United States set up NATO during the Cold War. We were telling the Soviets, “don’t even think of moving against West Berlin, because if you do you’ll be at war with Norway, Iceland, Greece… and the United States.” That NATO is still with us is a testament to the power of bureaucratic inertia.

(But none of my students knows about the Cold War. I might as well be talking about the Triple Alliance of 1882. Most of them guess that NATO stands for “North American Trade Organization.”)

• The trouble is that Athens started treating the Delian League as its plaything. They moved the treasury from Delos to Athens itself… and started spending money on other things than building triremes – like the Parthenon! This is the dirty little secret about that archetypical symbol of Classical Athens – it was built with embezzled money from the Delian League. This is probably a function of Athens being a democracy. Then, as now, what is the best way to get reelected? Spend money! Jobs for the lads! Where will the money come from? Wherever you can find it. This is what happed with Social Security. On paper, SS has trillions of dollars. In reality, SS revenues go directly into the general fund, where it is spent on more electorally pressing needs.

• The Hellenistic Age was Greek in all ways except the one that mattered – it was not based around the polis. Thus the Greek customs of political engagement, free speech, or outspoken speculation were vastly attenuated. Monarchs were not prepared to tolerate people making suggestions about how to run their kingdoms. This is reflected in drama. In Classical Athens, Old Comedy often took the form of biting satire – like a good Saturday Night Live skit. Hellenistic New Comedy concerned itself with love triangles and separated at birth stories. In other words, it was more like Seinfeld or Three’s Company – fun, but not really political.

Xenophon

Interesting article on Aeon (hat tip: Donald Leech):

The Anabasis is the first military memoir in the history of Western literature, and it recounts Xenophon’s experiences in the Persian campaign of Cyrus against his brother King Artaxerxes, and the long march ‘up country’. Since Xenophon waited several decades to commit these memories to writing, some have argued that they cannot be accurate. But as anyone who has listened to combat veterans will know, there’s a lot about the remembrance of past tours of duty that time cannot soften nor the years wear away.

Xenophon also wrote histories, portraits of leaders, practical treatises on horse training, hunting and running a household, among other things. An enduring theme that runs through much of his writing, and which has received scholarly attention in recent years, is that of leadership. What makes a good leader? What kind of leader can induce humans to endure hardships and expend effort toward a common goal? What exemplary traits mark out a leader and allow him or her to execute the requisite tasks with skill, induce a harmonious fellowship among those for whom he is responsible, maintain loyalty and mission clarity among the ‘troops’, whomever they might be? It is not difficult to see the formative roots of these questions, and of Xenophon’s answers to them, in that literally death-defying, embattled 2,000-mile march up-country to the sea.

Xenophon also wrote down his remembrances of a local philosopher named Socrates. Those who know Socrates mainly through the writings of Plato – Xenophon’s near-exact contemporary – will find Xenophon’s Socrates something of a surprise. Plato’s Socrates claims to know nothing, and flamboyantly refutes the knowledge claims of others. In the pages of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, however, Socrates actually answers philosophical questions, dispenses practical life advice, provides arguments proving the existence of benevolent gods, converses as if peer-to-peer with a courtesan, and even proposes a domestic economy scheme whereby indigent female relatives can become productive through the establishment of a textile business at home.

Read the whole thing.

Catholics and Evangelicals

My friend Andrew Reeves makes his popular-press debut:

In 1960, Billy Graham visited Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is the city where Christians believe Jesus Christ was crucified, died, and rose again. As far back as the late third and early fourth centuries, Christians had held that a hill where the Roman Emperor Hadrian (who ruled from 117–138) had constructed a temple to Venus was the site of Christ’s crucifixion and death, and a nearby tomb, the site of his burial and resurrection. Shortly after Constantine legalized Christianity, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was erected on that site. Although this church would endure several periods of damage and reconstruction, for the entirety of its history Christians throughout the world have regarded it as the site of Christ’s tomb.

Billy Graham did not visit the Holy Sepulcher. In the 19th century, the celebrated British General Charles “Chinese” Gordon carried out his own investigation of the areas in the environs of Jerusalem, believing that the Holy Sepulcher’s claim to be the site of the Easter event was incorrect. Through his investigation, he found what he believed was a hill that seemed closer to the New Testament’s description of Calvary and an adjacent tomb. This hill and tomb, generally known as Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb, have served as a site of pilgrimage for evangelicals who wish to avoid the Holy Sepulcher’s associations with Catholic Christianity. When the Reverend Billy Graham, the most prominent Baptist in recent history — and indeed the face of American evangelical Christianity through the 20th century — made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he went not to the Holy Sepulcher, but to Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb.

Read the whole thing (at Arc).