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orion-list Orion List: 63BCE and all that


It was kind of you to send me such a civil private note - only it
was not private as you sent a copy to someone else. Hence, it
belonged out here on the list.

I agree that concrete evidence, archaeologial or otherwise, is very
important. Archaeological evidence, however, needs other evidence,
including textual, to interpret it; it cannot be interpreted in a
vacuum. When we lack textual or other evidence, we stand in danger
of misconstruing the concrete evidence, of interpreting it wrong,
and making fantastic and *creative re-constructions. Fittingly
enough, perhaps the best exposition of the dangers of treating
archaeological evidence in a vacuum comes from a fine *creative
writer: Stephen Vincent Benet.

See if you can locate a collection of Benet's short stories at the library.
Look up, and read, "By The Waters of Babylon" (Benet knew his scriptures;
the reference is quite deliberate and purposeful.) The setting is the U.S.
after devastating Atomic warfare; the protagonist a young priest who
dares to cross into the forbidden area, the "Dead Places" across the
river, in search of metals. He wanders around hunting through the ruins.
He discovers that the builders of these great ruins were, after all, men,
not demons. After much wandering he finds the remains of a statue of George
Washington. The inscription is damaged: there are lacunae, it now reads
[W]ASHING[TON]. The denoument of the story is particularly appropriate:

    Nevertheless, we make a beginning. It is not for the metal alone
    we go to the Dead Places now -- there are the books and the writings.
    They are hard to learn. And the magic tools are broken -- but we can
    look at them and wonder. At least, we make a beginning. And when I am
    chief priest we shall go beyond the great river. We shall go to the
    Place of the Gods -- the place newyork -- not one man but a company.
    We shall look for the images of the gods and find the god ASHING...

When one examines archaeological evidence in a vacuum, without other
evidence, including textual, to help interpret the concrete, one is
creating a "god ASHING."

Sincerely yours,


Dr. Rochelle I. Altman, co-coordinator IOUDAIOS-L  risa@hol.gr

Dr. Rochelle I. Altman, co-coordinator IOUDAIOS-L  risa@hol.gr

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For private reply, e-mail to "Rochelle I. Altman" <risa@mail.hol.gr>
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