The Tearing of the Red Sea.

Balashon discusses an interesting development in Hebrew:

I recently came across an early draft of the speech my son prepared for his bar mitzva, ten years ago this month. It was rather nostalgic to see it again. And while I enjoyed hearing his points, I was actually more fascinated with the typos and misspellings in this first draft. On the one hand, they prove that he actually wrote the speech himself, which was impressive for a 13 year old. But it also was cute to enter the mind of a kid who grew up in Israel, spoke English at home, and tried to straddle both worlds when writing his speech.

One of the most curious phrases he used was “the tearing of the Red Sea.” Normally, in English we say “the splitting of the Red Sea.” But he directly translated the Hebrew phrase kriyat yam suf קריעת ים סוף. The verb kriya, from the root קרע, means “to tear” and so in the literal sense, his translation to English was logical.

But this actually brings us to a more substantial question. Why do we call it kriyat yam suf? In the Bible, the verbs used to describe the splitting of the sea are baka בקע (as in Shemot 14:16, 21, Tehillim 78:13 and Nechemiah 9:11), or less frequently, gazar גזר (as in Tehillim 136:13). Both roots mean to split, with various nuances. So why did Rabbinic Hebrew (like in the Dayenu song found in the Haggadah) prefer a different Biblical root: kara?

I found a detailed discussion of the question in this article […] The author, Tzion Okashi, focuses primarily on the distinction between baka and kara, and suggests two possible reasons for the later use of kara. One might be from Aramaic influence, as is frequently found in words adopted in Rabbinic Hebrew. He point out that the Aramaic translations of the Bible use the root בזע to translate both בקע and קרע, which may have led to the shift of one usage to the other.

The other answer I found more interesting. He says this is due to a change in the perception of the nature of the event. While the Torah uses the word baka, that is generally applied to the splitting of a solid, hard object, like a rock or a block of wood. That type of splitting can not be repaired or restored. The action of kriya, however, is associated with the tearing of softer items like garments (as is practiced, for example, in Jewish mourning.) According to this theory, those who preferred to refer to kriyat yam suf visualized the sea closing up on itself after the split. The split was not permanent, just as clothing can be repaired, or a zipper can close the opening in a garment. Okashi writes that the Tanach chose to focus on the force of the miracle, which split the sea as one would break open a block of wood, while the Sages preferred the image of the water letting Israel pass through, only to close upon the pursuing Egyptians.

I’m curious about “the splitting of the Red Sea”; it seems to me “the parting of the Red Sea” is much more common in English. Is “splitting” common in Jewish usage?

Comments

  1. i don’t think i’ve heard “splitting” – but i’m very rarely in a synagogue space, where the usage is more likely to be different from the general (christian) u.s. version.

  2. I’ve heard “splitting of the Red Sea” before, but not frequently enough that it doesn’t sound distinctly odd.

  3. [For some reasons I cannot edit my previous comment.]

    I did a quick Google search, with a query that included “parting of the sea,” but not the word “split,” and this article by an American Conservative Rabbi and professor, which consistently uses “splitting,” was on the first page of results. So this clearly is a usage that some in the English-speaking Jewish community prefer, although I suspect that, in spite of the subtleties Balashon mentions, it arose as a calque from Hebrew.

    [And now, after posting this second comment, both comments are editable. Weird.]

  4. The New JPS translation (1985) of Exodus uses split to translate וּבְקָעֵהוּ ûḇqāʿēhû “and split it”:

    https://www.sefaria.org/Exodus.14.16?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

    Similarly, to translate וַיִּבָּקְעוּ wayyibbāqəʿû “were split”:

    https://www.sefaria.org/Exodus.14.21?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

  5. Similarly, in בָּקַע bāqaʿ “he split” in Psalms:

    https://www.sefaria.org/Psalms.78.13?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

    And בָּקַעְתָּ bāqaʿtā “you split” in Nehemiah:

    https://www.sefaria.org/Nehemiah.9.11?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

  6. The NJPS translation uses part twice in II Kings 2, when Elijah parts the waters, to translate וַיֵּֽחָצוּ wayyēḥāṣû “(the waters) parted”, with the verb חָצָה ḥāṣāh:

    https://www.sefaria.org/II_Kings.2.8?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

    https://www.sefaria.org/II_Kings.2.14?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

  7. The ever-useful Sefaria has a number of English translations of the Haggadah. The translation of קרע qāra‘ in the Dayenu (‘it would suffice us’) recitation is “cloven” in the first English Haggadah (Alexander 1787), “divided” in five 19th century versions (Levi 1837 through Green 1897), and “split” in Sefaria’s own, recent version. There are probably many 20th century translations but I haven’t checked those.

  8. Green’s 1897 translation bowdlerized “Who knows nine? Nine are the months of birth” to “There are the nine Jewish Feasts” (while keeping the original Hebrew intact), as “more in consonance with our modern ideas of what is adapted for the perusal of children.”

    Victorians were weird.

  9. Wow, that’s really something.

  10. Elie and Marion Wiesel’s 1993 version has “parted”.
    Scherman’s Family Haggadah (1981/2008) has “split”.
    Riskin’s 1983 version has “divided”.

    Etc. etc. The 20th century saw a proliferation of English Haggadahs, from traditional to hippie to communist, Passover being the warmest and fuzziest holiday of the Jewish year, the last to be abandoned by the non-religious. So much so that it took me decades to realize how vicious some parts of the haggadah are.

  11. Y – I wrote up a one page description of Hanukkah for my son’s non-Jewish girlfriend, who had no religious education at all, complete with illustrations (“Hanukkah on a Page”), and she gave it to her parents, who loved it. So I did one for Purim, and then Passover. And they liked them, but, my son told me in confidence, they’re a little bit disturbed by all the killing.

  12. from all this, i wouldn’t be surprised if the appearance of “split” rather than “parted” has to do with the new emphasis in the late 20thC on english translations of the tanakh constructed to maximize their difference from the king james version bible and other widespread english renditions of the christian text. and, of course, with the process (that i apparently can’t stop bringing up, b”sh soloveitchik) of substituting literalistic text-fetishism for established community practice.

  13. In this two part essay, I spoke about the different Hebrew words used to describe the “splitting of the sea” and the nuances between those terms:
    Part 1 – https://ohr.edu/this_week/whats_in_a_word/8211
    Part 2 – https://ohr.edu/this_week/whats_in_a_word/8220

  14. David Eddyshaw says

    literalistic text-fetishism

    The examples suggest that these translations may be the work of people who imagine that “correct” translation entails always using the “same word” in the translation to correspond to the “same word” in the original. Quite a number of modern Christian translations*, at least, explicitly strive to do this. The basic conceptual blunder involved was explicitly repudiated already by the translators of the Authorised/King James Version.

    * Of the kind characterised by an attitude to the text which is not so much reverent as outright superstitious. The translators almost always describe them as being more “accurate” than competing versions.

  15. i wouldn’t be surprised if the appearance of “split” rather than “parted” has to do with the new emphasis in the late 20thC on english translations of the tanakh constructed to maximize their difference from the king james version bible and other widespread english renditions of the christian text.

    Yes, this had occurred to me too.

  16. Stu Clayton says

    [And now, after posting this second comment, both comments are editable. Weird.]

    I have been exploiting this for years. For reasons I have not succeeding in identifying, it happens not infrequently that, some time after I add a post and well within the edit time (for example, with 12 minutes remaining), the “Click to Edit” field/icon disappears. It disappears when I leave the page and return, or stay on the page and do a “refresh” – but not always.

    When this happens, I add a second post with only an “x” in the text box. This reactivates the “Click to Edit” field/icon in the first post. After editing it, I delete the second post.

    I reported this long ago in a post that, apparently, not many people saw or heeded. This surprises me no more than it would have surprised Eeyore in my place.

  17. Stu Clayton says

    As I just noticed, the “Click to Edit” field/icon sometimes fails to reappear after editing a post and pressing “Save”.

    I now suspect the following: at least two Javascript callback functions and a “race condition”. In other words, somebody has a tenuous understanding of how to deal with asynchronous processes in Javascript programs.

    It’s a common failing, surprisingly, given that everyday life is crawling with asynchronicity. It often starts when you wake up before the alarm goes off – having been woken by the dog, whose circadian clock has busted.

  18. — The root qr‘ ‘to tear’, I hazard to say, does not refer necessarily to soft material, even less so to something than can be reattached. Rather, as in English, it emphasizes a sideways motion in taking something into two pieces. bq‘, like English ‘split’, refers to a crack opening by itself (like the earth splitting open and disposing of Qoraḥ) or, in the causative, by others (Abraham splitting wood for the sacrificial pyre).
    The vivid story of Moses and the Red Sea must have been told endlessly and vividly with many variations, up to and past Charlton Heston. Perhaps in some he motions the sea apart by spreading his hands, and in others with a downward splitting motion. The use of a different verb in the Rabbinic version could reflect another oral version of the story.

    — I’m guessing that the use of ‘split’ in later English versions simply reflects a desire for a more accurate translation of the Hebrew source, just as has happened with biblical translations, as well as avoiding the slightly archaic verb ‘to part’.

  19. Stu Clayton says

    The event is a theme reservoir for theopoesy. [I refer to Sloterdijk’s latest book Den Himmel zum Sprechen bringen, and a Luhmann quote therein.]

  20. biblical translations” – Christian translations of Exodus systematically have “divide” (Russian too).

  21. Often expressions evolve because perception, usage and context evolves. It is of course, more interesting if what has changed in this case was symbolism rather than langage, but my first idea would be Aramaic (this rather impies than excludes new visualization and new metaphor. cf. Y above). And Hebrew itself is hardly fully static. Enlgish “to split” can figuratively mean “divide”. This can make “splitting of the sea” more acceptable than it could be if “split” were a wood-only verb. The more common this abstract meaning is, the more acceptable (if not desirable) the literal tranlation becomes.

  22. For Exodus 14:16 web-Septuagint has ῥῆξον. Aorist Active Imperative 2nd Person Singular. I still do not know where I to look conveniently all the recensions (I still want to figure this out: the Bible is the source of too many things in Russian), so thus far I am limiting myself to study Bibles. The source of all knowlege gives “break asunder, tear, rend, shatter” for this verb. And passive “to be inscribed”. link.

  23. January First-of-May says

    When this happens, I add a second post with only an “x” in the text box. This reactivates the “Click to Edit” field/icon in the first post. After editing it, I delete the second post.

    Fairly consistent for me as well, but I hadn’t thought of making the second post symbolic – thanks for the idea!

  24. J.W. Brewer says

    In the second chapter of 2 Kings the waters of the Jordan are (in the KJV) “divided” at the intervention of Elijah in verse 8 but are then subsequently “parted” at the intervention of Elisha 6 verses later. Are there two different Hebrew verbs in play (and if so is there elaborate rabbinical commentary about the subtle differences between them), or were the KJV translators engaging in elegant variation rather than fall into the always-same-English-word-for-any-given-Hebrew-word trap?

    At least in English what happens to the Jordan (to allow passage over it as if dry ground) in chapters 3 through 5 of Joshua seems quite different from both this and the Exodus passage, i.e. rather than the waters being split/divided/parted, the water upstream suddenly halts and accumulates while the water at the crossing point continues to flow downstream thus predictably leading to a bare riverbed just as if the upstream flow had been blocked by a dam rather than by the LORD. I don’t know what it means that the 2 Kings passage involves the same body of water as the Joshua passage but uses verbs more akin to the Exodus passage, but perhaps there is a voluminous specialized literature on the topic.

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    For Exodus 14:16 web-Septuagint has ῥῆξον.

    A rhegmatogenous retinal detachment is one caused by a tear in the retina (as opposed to traction or exudation.)
    I just felt that people should know.

    Christian translations of Exodus systematically have “divide”

    The 1588 Welsh Bible has hollta “split” (as in hollti blew “split hairs”, hollti coed “chop wood.”)

  26. David Eddyshaw says

    Are there two different Hebrew verbs in play

    No. It’s the Niph’al of חצה “divide” both times.

    The KJV translators expressly stated that they did not set out to translate the same word the same way every time.

  27. J.W. Brewer says

    I am grateful for the professional skill of the retinal surgeon who intervened before a retinal tear in my right eye managed to produce a rhegmatogenous detachment, but I have never quizzed him on his knowledge of Septuagint Greek. (By chance he is son-in-law to a now-retired Episcopalian bishop, of a generational cohort that definitely needed to show *some* proficiency in Greek in order to get through seminary, but it has been a long long time since you could assume the average American M.D. as opposed to M. DIv. had a >50% chance of an education that included Greek. Indeed when you go back far enough to the days when the median American with a bachelor’s degree had studied Greek you also reach the days when medical schools would admit applicants without a bachelor’s degree.)

  28. J.W. Brewer says

    In the LXX it looks vaguely like it’s probably two very different forms of the same Greek verb although I haven’t done the work to make sure that’s the case and it’s not a false-friend situation. I know the KJV translators did not adopt the same-word-every-time policy, but they likewise didn’t adopt a mandatory different-English-word-every-time-just-to-keep-things-interesting policy, so I am grateful to have clarity on what they did in this particular instance.

  29. Doubtless this has been discussed by others, but Moses raising his arm over the sea and splitting it is paralleled later, in chapter 18, where he raises his staff to strike the rock and bring water out. This is told again in Numbers 20.

    (The moral of the story is, read the instructions.)

  30. David Eddyshaw says

    The Welsh version in 2 Kings has two slightly different but obviously related and basically synonymous verbs meaning “become separate.” Elegant slight variation …

    Incidentally, I should retract my ungracious implication above that the use of “split” in the Exodus translation is a manifestation of a braindead word-for-word transliteration strategy; this is plainly not the case here. JWB’s example shows very clearly (by contrast) that the original word in Exodus is not a colourless “divide”, and it seems entirely legitimate to go for a more dynamic sort of effect in translating it into English.

  31. In the LXX it looks vaguely like it’s probably two very different forms of the same Greek verb

    Nope, two different verbs: διῃρέθη 3sg. aor. pass. of διαιρέω in verse 8, διερράγησαν 3pl. aor. pass. of διαρρήγνυμι in verse 14. (The first verse has singular “water”, the second plural “waters”, with what would in classical Greek be an ungrammatical plural verb, since ὕδατα is neuter and should take singular agreement.)

    The Vulgate has divisae sunt in both verses.

  32. J.W. Brewer says

    I appreciate the fact that my laziness has induced the provision of more accurate information by someone with better Greek than mine, viz. TR. Good to know that the LXX translators, who are often accused of wooden overliteralness, could mix in a little elegant variation when they wanted. But subtle variation, as if they were Welsh.

  33. ….and maybe they were!

  34. Taylor Branch used “Parting the Waters”, and his work was my bible going back a few years.

  35. baqa in the Old Testament (biblehub), 51 occurence: baqa
    qara in the Old Testament, 63 occurences: qara

    It looks like baqa is a general “bursting” root, while qara is a specialized clothing root. Curiously, most examples of metaphiorical use are Isaiah-Ezekiel-Hosea (it is maybe unsuprising) and in Jeremiah it looks like polysemy.

  36. I woundn’t call qr‘ a ‘specialized clothing’ term any more than English rip or tear are.

  37. Not necerssarily more so. In English you too use “break through”, where in Russian you “beat” or “tear” through (“break” is possible… and more intimately associated with cracking).

    But when looking at baqa examples I can’t even confidently tell what meaning is basic. Baqa is applied to bottles or wineskins too, once with subsequent mending, Joshua 9:4:
    … wə-nō-ḏō-wṯ ya-yin bā-lîm, ū-mə-ḇuq-qā-‘îm ū-mə-ṣō-rā-rîm.
    … and wineskins old and torn and mended

    Well, I will list examples for qara. Disclaimer: I am not trying to say a new word in Biblical criticism (I do not know the langauge!), but I am curious because Russian semantical space is so much shaped by the Bible.

  38. (1) clothes (~43 times)

    (2.1) metaphors with a clothing parallel

    1 Samuel (2 times), 1 Kings (6 times), 2 Kings (1 time), God is speaking.
    Tearing the kingdom or Israel out of Saul’s hand, Solomon’s son’s hand, house of David. Refers to two episodes. Both times accompanied by tearing a prophet’s clothes (and an explanation that the same will happen to the kingdom).

    Ecclesiastes 3:7: “A time to rend, and a time to sew”

    Ezekiel 13:20-21 (God is speaking):
    And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Woe to the women that sew pillows to all armholes, and make kerchiefs upon the head of every stature to hunt souls! Will ye hunt the souls of my people, and will ye save the souls alive that come unto you? And will ye pollute me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, to slay the souls that should not die, and to save the souls alive that should not live, by your lying to my people that hear your lies?
    Wherefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against your pillows, wherewith ye there hunt the souls to make them fly, and I will tear them from your arms, and will let the souls go, even the souls that ye hunt to make them fly. Your kerchiefs also will I tear, and deliver my people out of your hand, and they shall be no more in your hand to be hunted; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.

    Joel 2:13, (God is speaking):
    “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning.” So rend your hearts and not your garments, and return to the LORD your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in loving devotion.

    —-
    (2.2) metaphors without a clothing parallel:

    Psalm 35:15: “they tore me”

    Isaiah 64:1 (prayer): “Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down,…”

    Hosea 13:8, (God is speaking):
    I will meet them as a bear that is bereaved of her whelps, and will rend (qara: wə·’eq·ra‘)the caul of their heart, and there will I devour them like a lion: the wild beast shall tear them (baqa: tə·ḇaq·qə·‘êm).

  39. (3) other:
    1 Kings 13:3 (God is speaking), 13:5: an althar will be/is “rent and the ashes poured out”.

    Jeremiah 4:30: you enlarge your eyes with paint
    Jeremiah 22:14: cut out windows for [palace]
    Jeremiah 36:23 – Jeremiah 36:24: And as soon as Jehudi had read three or four columns, Jehoiakim would cut them off with a scribe’s knife and throw them into the firepot, until the entire scroll had been consumed by the fire. Yet in hearing all these words, the king and his servants did not become frightened or tear their garments.

  40. My very impressionistic reading of BDB is that kara is about getting the two sides apart and baka focuses more on what apears in between the sides that come apart. In that sense baka is more fitting for parting the Red Sea because the focus is on the passage that opened up. Even if true, the mystery of why Rabbinic Hebrew switched to kara remains. They have already had the word written for them in the story, even if the subtleties of meaning were gone. Could it be that they focused more on the God’s power over the mighty river and less on the usefulness of this act for the Israelites?

  41. @drasvi: It’s not Biblical, but the premier example of cloth as a religious metaphor may be this extended conceit from the Anglo-American poet, minister, and physician Edward Taylor (c.1642–1729).

    Huswifery
    by Edward Taylor

    Make me, O Lord, thy Spining Wheele compleate.
    Thy Holy Worde my Distaff make for mee.
    Make mine Affections thy Swift Flyers neate
    And make my Soule thy holy Spoole to bee.
    My Conversation make to be thy Reele
    And reele the yarn thereon spun of thy Wheele.

    Make me thy Loome then, knit therein this Twine:
    And make thy Holy Spirit, Lord, winde quills:
    Then weave the Web thyselfe. The yarn is fine.
    Thine Ordinances make my Fulling Mills.
    Then dy the same in Heavenly Colours Choice,
    All pinkt with Varnisht Flowers of Paradise.

    Then cloath therewith mine Understanding, Will,
    Affections, Judgment, Conscience, Memory
    My Words, and Actions, that their shine may fill
    My wayes with glory and thee glorify.
    Then mine apparell shall display before yee
    That I am Cloathd in Holy robes for glory.

    Interestingly, Taylor, like Kafka, asked that his work not be published after his death, and his family complied. However, they did not destroy his bound composition books, and his poetry was eventually discovered and printed in the early twentieth century. It is unknown whether during his lifetime, Taylor’s poetry was purely a person exercise, or whether he shared his compositions with his circle of friends.

    (For me personally, Taylor is associated with the realization that I had that my high school American Literature teacher was just not qualified to teach the class. She knew how to critique student writing, but she did not know enough about American history to teach a historical literature survey. Nor was she actually any good at analyzing literature; she admitted that she took the district-wide midterm exam herself before administering it to us—and scored a failing grade.)

  42. Owlmirror says

    While searching for something else, I came across an article that explains Exodus 14 as being another example of an interlace narrative from disparate sources (P and J), similar to that of the Noah and Ark story.

    What Really Happened at the Sea

    I note that they use the word “split” consistently to refer to and translate the Hebrew.

  43. Owlmirror says

    The other thing I was trying to search for was this:

    Some time ago, I read an article which described the scene at the Red Sea, and said something like how strange it was that Pharaoh had not believed that there was a miracle taking place when the sea had split into twelve parts.

    While I have vague memories of hearing or seeing this claim before, I was surprised to see it claimed as being what had “really” happened. This was a midrash, and like many midrashim, it is inconsistent with or contradictory to the text of the Tanach and/or with other midrashim. So why was the author writing as if the Midrash were true?

    I have not yet found the original article, but I also wondered, where did the idea that the sea had split into twelve parts come from? It looks like it was Midrash Tanhuma:

    https://www.sefaria.org/Midrash_Tanchuma%2C_Beshalach.10

    וְאַתָּה הָרֵם אֶת מַטְּךָ. עֲשָׂרָה נִסִּים נַעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם עַל הַיָּם. נִבְקַע לָהֶם הַיָּם וְנִבְקַע כְּמִין כִּפָּה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: נָקַבְתָּ בְּמַטָיו רֹאשׁ פְּרָזָיו וְגוֹ’ (חבקוק ג, יד). וְנֶחֱלַק לִשְׁנֵים עָשָׂר שְׁבִילִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וּנְטֵה אֶת יָדְךָ עַל הַיָּם וּבְקָעֵהוּ. וְנַעֲשָׂה יַבָּשָׁה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הָלְכוּ בַיַּבָּשָׁה (שמות טז, יד). וְנַעֲשׂוּ כְּמִין טִיט, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות יד, כט): דָּרַכְתָּ בַיָּם סוּסֶיךָ חֹמֶר מַיִם רַבִּים (שמות יד, טו). וְנַעֲשׂוּ הַמַּיִם פֵּרוּרִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: אַתָּה פוֹרַרְתָּ בְעָזְּךָ יָם (תהלים עד, יג). וְנַעֲשׂוּ סְלָעִים סְלָעִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: שִׁבַּרְתָּ רָאשֵׁי תַנִּינִים עַל הַמָּיִם (תהלים עד, יג). וְנַעֲשׂוּ גְּזָרִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: לְגֹזֵר יַם סוּף לִגְזָרִים (תהילים קלו, יג). וְנַעֲשׂוּ עֲרֵמוֹת עֲרֵמוֹת, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וּבְרוּחַ אַפֶּיךָ נֶעֶרְמוּ מַיִם (שמות טו, ח). וְנַעֲשׂוּ כְמוֹ נֵד, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: נִצְּבוּ כְמוֹ נֵד (שמות טו, ח). וְיָצְאוּ לָהֶם כַּדֵּי מַיִם מְתוּקִין מִתּוֹךְ מְלוּחִין. וְקָפְאוּ הַמַּיִם וְנַעֲשׂוּ כִּכְלִי זְכוּכִית, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: קָפְאוּ תְהֹמוֹת (שמות טו, ח).

    And lift thou up thy rod (Exod. 14:16). Ten miracles were performed in their behalf at the sea. The sea was split asunder for them, and became a kind of vault, as it is said: Thou hast struck through with his own rods the heads, etc. (Hab. 3:14). It was divided into twelve paths, as it is said: And stretch out thy hand over the sea and divide it (Exod. 14:16). It was turned into dry land, as it is said: And the children of Israel walked upon dry land the midst of the sea (ibid., v. 29). It was converted into a kind of clay, as is said: Thou hast trodden the sea with thy horses, the mud of mighty waters (Hab. 3:15). The water was made into pieces, as it is said: Thou didst break the sea into pieces by Thy strength (Ps. 74:13). It was changed into rocks, as is said: Thou didst shatter the heads of the sea monsters in the waters (ibid.). It was torn asunder, as it is said: To him who divided the Red Sea asunder (ibid. 136:13). It was piled up into stacks, as it is said: And with the blast of Thy nostrils, the waters were piled up (Exod. 15:8). It was made into a heap, as is said: Stood upright like a heap (ibid.). Barrels of sweet water flowed out of the salt water for them, and the sea congealed and became like a glass vessel, as it is said: The deeps were congealed (ibid.).

    Unfortunately, despite finding this, I am still confused: Neither the Hebrew text nor the English translation offer any clue as to why “twelve paths” is derived from the verse. Note that the English text here uses the word “divide” twice, even though the Hebrew has “neḥĕlaq” (was divided, or separated) when referring to the twelve paths, but cites the same word from Exodus usually translated as “split”. Regardless, whence twelve paths?

    But perhaps the confabulatory aspect of midrash ought to not be examined too closely.

  44. Maybe it recalls the tearing (qr‘) of a cloth into twelve pieces (1 Kings 11:30–31), symbolizing the dissolution of the Israelite kingdom.

  45. but it is paths, שְׁבִילִים

  46. Sure, but the twelve-ness of it is suggestive.

    I confess I don’t understand exactly what “tore into twelve paths” means. Maybe twelve dry tunnels through the watery dome?

  47. Trond Engen says

    How would this fit with a theory* that the Exodus is a distorted or metaphorical account of the liberation of Canaan from Egyptian rule? Was it the land that split into petty states and allowed the Habiru tribes to (re)enter?

    *) ‘Theory’ used in the meaning “my own unsubstantiated speculation”.

  48. It wouldn’t: this is from the Midrash Tanhuma, an early medieval homiletic composition.

  49. Trond Engen says

    I know. But is there a way to suppose a preserved metaphorical understanding on the way to medieval homilies? (I’m showing my ignorance on a different level.)

  50. I am ignorant too, but I imagine that by the time the Midrash was written, even old metaphors were built on the received biblical text. Maybe someone was envisioning the twelve tribes, each passing through its dedicated path.

  51. Trond Engen says

    That does sound more plausible.

  52. @Trond Engen: What the Exodus narrative clearly does represent is a distorted retelling of the disastrous consequences of a major volcanic eruption. (The most likely culprit would be the Minoan eruption around 1620 B. C. E.) Whether that was associated with a departure of Semitic-speaking peoples from Egypt is much less clear (although there are reasons to think that there may have been population movements guided by the column of the eruption). If you set aside the order of events and look broadly miracles that are supposed to have occurred during the Exodus (the core of the story, the signs and wonders, from verses 7 to 14), most of them are things you would expect from a massive (volcanic explosivity index 7) eruption: fouling of the fresh waters; ecological disturbances, including vermin; dust that settles on the skin and causes boils; (burning) hail; darkness; large numbers of deaths; people slain by the withdrawal and return of the sea (i.e. a tidal wave); and a pillar that is made of smoke by day but glows like fire at night. The fact that this last one is described in the Torah as a guidepost for the Hebrews leaving Israel is the reason to think that there may really have been a group that migrated northward in response to the eruption, then further on to Canaan.

    In Rabbinical tradition, the twelve paths across the sea are normally interpreted as being meant for the twelve tribes, which would make that a fairly late addition to the tradition, presumably even later than some of the other changes that were needed to transform the cultural memory of the miracles into an account of a managed exit from Egypt. Of course, there is also lots of other stuff that is fairly late by this measure. For example, Exodus 14, which is a real mishmosh (meaning it is hard to be really sure what Documentary source certain bits come from, although certain elements—for example, the hardening of the Egyptians’ hearts—are particularly associated with fairly well distinguised sources). For example, this breakdown splits verses 19 and 20 half each between the E and J sources. Some of that division looks pretty reliable, since there is a mention of the angel of the lord, which is a hallmark of E passages. However, even the putative J parts are clearly of variable age, since there is the bit about the pillar glowing like fire at night (at original aspect of the narrative), but J also places the pillar in the immediate vicinity of the Hebrews’ camp (marking it as a later elaboration of the story). An even later elaboration of the tradition has this pillar become the divine presence that hovers over the ark later in the Torah.

  53. Perhaps in some he motions the sea apart by spreading his hands, and in others with a downward splitting motion. The use of a different verb in the Rabbinic version could reflect another oral version of the story.

    i love this reading! and i’m excited to think with it about other texts (from the tanakh and elsewhere)…

    @Brett:

    judy grahn (in her latest, Eruptions of Inanna) reads enheduanna’s poem on inanna’s destruction of mount ebih as a depiction of the goddess as a volcanic eruption; she then (in the course of making a fascinating case for enheduanna’s inanna as a poetic or folkloric source for the job narrative) makes an argument for understanding leviathan as volcanic rather than cryptidic*. i think it deeply misses the point of any of these texts to try to make them into accounts of specific eruptions** [see peevery below], but the ancient eastern mediterranean clearly saw divine power and volcanos as tightly intertwined.

    [peevery warning]

    the one direction of inquiry that we know is useless for finding insight into the phrasing of the parting (or even the tearing) of the red sea is pretending that the mythic narrative has anything to do with actual events. we know there was no historical exodus. we know there was no historical ‘egyptian captivity’. (just as we know there was no roman expulsion of jews from palestine.) the semantics of qr‘ and bq‘ have much more to tell us than any attempt to transmute myth into history (and that’s why midrash is an ever-flowing well – as the collection of sources Reuven brought together shows so beautifully – and biblical archaeology and zionist historiography are pits of ash marked “this is not a place of honor”). which is not to say that (for example) the volcanic interpretation of the plagues isn’t compelling! just that what it is is a compelling angle of view to help understand what divine power meant to the creators and transmitters of a showstopper of a mythic narrative, not a way to identify a factual basis for a putative historical account.

    [end peevery]

    * which poses very substantial problems for the caterers at the messianic feast.

    ** at least until we can establish whether the inhabitants of thera spoke basque or welsh.

  54. A 100,000 ft. column rising from the Thera volcano wouldn’t be visible from anywhere in Egypt, and whatever historical events are recorded in Exodus occurred centuries after that eruption.

  55. Trond Engen says

    rozele: the one direction of inquiry that we know is useless for finding insight into the phrasing of the parting (or even the tearing) of the red sea is pretending that the mythic narrative has anything to do with actual events. we know there was no historical exodus. we know there was no historical ‘egyptian captivity’. (just as we know there was no roman expulsion of jews from palestine.)

    But it might be fruitful to explore if (and to which degree) actual documented events may have contributed to the narrative that was recorded after centuries of oral elaboration and politically motivated reinterpretation.

  56. January First-of-May says

    whether the inhabitants of thera spoke basque or welsh

    Thera as in Santorini? IIRC the consensus is that they almost certainly spoke a dialect of (Mycenaean) Greek. I suppose that’s probably more closely related to Welsh than to Basque.

    (Looking it up, Thera was in fact a Minoan rather than Mycenaean site [i.e. Linear A as opposed to Linear B], which does make the question a lot less clear. I’ve heard of the “Akrotiri” excavations but I thought they were from the British military base of Akrotiri on Cyprus.)

  57. see peevery below

    That’s fine peevery, and I’m glad I subscribe to your newsletter.

  58. David Eddyshaw says
  59. About layered texts, I just read a publication about one of our vaccines. There are three of them. One is good. It caused international outrage one year ago.:\ Another one does not seem so at all but its owners have good connections. Because of this, the top government officials used this vaccine:/ The third one is within its phase 3 but the developers are not willing to share information about the efficacy.

    I read the preprint by the developers of the second vaccine. The trial involved a group of people who received placebo, but it is not even mentioned. What is mentioned is that among people who received the vaccine were 807 employes of Rospotrebnadzor (the main controlling body) and its institutions 37 of them known to have caught corona, 2 died – just within a few months since vaccination. No data for others than these 807, apart of that they also distributed a questionnaire. 516 people completed it, 71 of 516 said that they have been in contact with someone known to be infected, 3 of 71 caught it. In conclusion they proudly say: “95.8% of people with an established contact with a source of infection did not fell ill, which demonstrates the protective activity of the vaccine”.

    I was perlexed, because it is like: “we will share no details, but it is even worse than Russian average”, and at the same time accompanied by promotion attempts. Then I realized that the person who wrote it was told to promote it – but does not represent the people who want to promote it and does not want to do that.

  60. My take on the pracice of interpretating things like Exodus as misunderstood natural events is close to rozele’s. It’s 90% speculation at least, but the result masquerades as rigorous natural science. In the case of Exodus, it presumes that people living in the eastern Mediterranean basin did not know what a volcano is, and that they never figured out what had happened in the years and centuries after.

  61. A 100,000 ft. column rising from the Thera volcano wouldn’t be visible from anywhere in Egypt, and whatever historical events are recorded in Exodus occurred centuries after that eruption.

    Actually no. 624 kilometers. In kilometers the approximate formula for the distance to the horizon is 113 km * √n, where n is your height in kilometers (as long as you are short compared to the Earth size:-))

    A twice as tall column will be seen in Lower Egypt. In the north-west.

  62. Owlmirror says

    Wikipedia has the lat-long of Avaris, at or near the alleged land of Goshen (30°47′14.7″N 31°49′16.9″E), and also of Santorini/Thera caldera (36°23′44″N 25°27′33″E). The two points are 857km apart.

    I don’t think there’s any reason to think that a vertical column of ejecta would stay vertical for very long, as opposed to expanding and dispersing.

  63. And the glowing part would be shorter than the full column.

  64. Owlmirror says

    Someone else was wondering about the “twelve paths” question:

    https://judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/25767/midrashic-sources-regarding-the-sea-splitting-into-twelve-paths

    Although I don’t know the dating/direction of influence of those sources with respect to the Midrash Tanchuma (which is, oddly enough, not mentioned in the responses). At least some hint of reasoning exists for the extrapolation/exegesis/confabulation, by one commentator:

    The notes by MaHaR”i HaKohen do mention 12 parts. He says this could be hinted to by the fact that the verse says, “The water was to them as a wall”. “to them” appears to be extra, but comes to teach us that each tribe had a wall, hence 12 parts.

  65. David Marjanović says

    biblical archaeology and zionist historiography are pits of ash marked “this is not a place of honor”)

    Thread won, day saved (6 minutes before midnight).

  66. Lars Mathiesen says

    @Stu, most developers have a tenuous understanding of how computers do what they do, so ship anything that worked at least 2 of the first 5 times* they tested it. (I’m not a tester, can you even test asynchronous stuff or do you have to formal-prove it?)
    _______
    * I’ve been in the game for 42 years now. But the money’s good. However, “we can’t put your Perl code in production, there is no second pair of eyes.” Time to learn new tricks soon, maybe.

  67. John Cowan says

    most developers have a tenuous understanding of how computers do what they do

    Even for developers like thee and me, our understanding is based on how computers worked in the 1970s. The chips and compilers we have today work very hard to maintain that illusion, but are useless for understanding performance.

  68. “biblical archaeology and zionist historiography are pits of ash marked “this is not a place of honor”)”

    I am not interested in debating ideology on this language blog so I have been trying to ignore this comment, although it’s difficult not to take it as a personal attack.

    I will say that Rozele is a kook, a member of the Naturei Karta of the left.

    I think I will will take a break from language hat. It’s a pity, as I’ve enjoyed it for many years as a place to go when I just can’t bear politics anymore. But if it’s going to be a politics blog, I don’t need it – there are better places for that.

  69. I won’t get into a political argument here either, because I like to come here to escape politics as well. I don’t even know exactly what rozele refers to, because it’s such a roundabout reference (“this is not a place of honor” is an obscure reference to long-lived radioactive waste sites) though I can guess, and if I have it right, I agree with the statement. Anyway, this never became a debate.

    But it bothers me to have people here called names. I don’t remember the last time it happened. There have been some raised voices here, but they are about opinions, not about people. You call her comment “a personal attack” but I can’t see any trace of her saying anything about you personally or reacting to anything you said.

    Besides, I like reading what rozele writes, and these specific insults (“kook”, “Neturei Karta of the left” [fundamentalist haredis who happen to be more anti-Zionist than most]) don’t make any sense to me.

  70. David Eddyshaw says

    I like reading what rozele writes

    You are not alone …

    (Incidentally, thanks for explaining the reference. The joke had gone over my head.)

  71. SFReader says

    People get triggered by the Z-word all the time.

  72. Bathrobe says

    “biblical archaeology and zionist historiography are pits of ash marked “this is not a place of honor”

    I don’t even know 1) what this means and 2) why it is objectionable.

    But I’m pretty ignorant of Judaism of any flavour. Perhaps rozele was having a go at Bloix; I simply can’t see it.

    I was sad to see Noetica go, for reasons unknown, and now I’ll be sad if Bloix does too. Can’t we just accept that different people have different opinions, even if we find those opinions weird or objectionable? Hat and I have had a few dingdongs over the years but that hasn’t caused me to leave the group. This is a place where opinions are expressed, some more informative and intelligent than others, some wackier than others, some really take the cake, but they are (almost) always interesting. Can’t we all just listen, respond, and debate without taking umbrage at random comments?

  73. Bathrobe says

    * We had a more recent example of a commenter (his name has slipped my mind) leaving because of one random comment. He was a regular commenter and had intelligent things to say. It was a real loss to see him go.

    Sometimes commenters get up people’s noses with loud-mouthed comments and eventually leave. One of them emailed me privately later with the view that Hat was only running this blog to drum up business. But even they had interesting things to say from time to time. I miss them all.

  74. it’s difficult not to take it as a personal attack.

    I will say that Rozele is a kook, a member of the Naturei Karta of the left.

    You’re the only one making personal attacks, and I wish you’d knock it off. I’ll be sorry if you go, because I enjoy your contributions, but if you’re going to see politics in everything, you aren’t going to enjoy it anywhere as far as I can tell. Why not stick around and try to be less thin-skinned? Also, rozele is a treasure and I don’t like seeing her insulted (though I know she, a usenet veteran, can take it).

  75. This is a place where opinions are expressed, some more informative and intelligent than others, some wackier than others, some really take the cake, but they are (almost) always interesting. Can’t we all just listen, respond, and debate without taking umbrage at random comments?

    Hear, hear.

    One of them emailed me privately later with the view that Hat was only running this blog to drum up business.

    Ha! I wonder what kind of business they had in mind? I’ve been retired for years now. And back when I was working for an Evil Corporation, I had to hide the existence of the blog for fear of Consequences. People have some strange ideas!

  76. Bathrobe says

    Ha! I wonder what kind of business they had in mind?

    ‘Twas a decade ago, Hat.

    As for the dispute at hand, Bloix says he wrote up a one-page description of Hanukkah for his son’s non-Jewish girlfriend. I assume that he finds rozele’s dismissive stance on the historicity of the Exodus story objectionable.

    Predictably I’d never heard of Neturei Karta so I looked them up. They apparently call for a “peaceful dismantling” of the State of Israel because Jews are forbidden to have their own state until the coming of the Jewish Messiah. The state of Israel is therefore a rebellion against God. This makes them anti-Zionist. (Pretty heady stuff.)

    Having been told once by Hat that disputes which seem ridiculous or trivial to us moderns were deadly serious to the ancients, I won’t dismiss such sensitivities as trivial. They are obviously important to the people involved. But surely there is a way to coexist despite differences.

  77. Indeed.

    For what it’s worth as background, I grew up with two brothers, and we had frequent arguments that our parents had no success in tamping down; I tended to make the kind of friends who liked to yell and throw around phrases like “You stupid idiot!,” which disconcerted my wife. I have no problem with heated debate. But I have aged into enough respectability that I prefer to keep attacks focused on ideas rather than people. When peevers show up here spouting silly ideas about language, I try to point out that their ideas are wrong without calling them bad people, though my vivid style of discourse may leave them feeling wounded anyway. Too bad! It’s a hard world out there, and we all need to absorb the lesson that we’re all wrong about almost everything almost all the time.

  78. John Emerson says

    I am the opposite of some of the people above. I have to restrain my own politics when I’m here and I don’t especially like that, and sometimes I slip up. (And sometimes I stay away.) But I have many positive reasons for coming here, and am basically aware the the general absence of political topics makes the positive things possible.

    I don’t see the absence of overt politics as apolitical though. It’s more like the (ever so reluctant) acceptance of the status quo.

  79. J.W. Brewer says

    There are multiple workable strategies for co-existence but they tend to require tacit agreement on which will be pursued in a given context – if everyone (or almost everyone, almost all of the time) does A that works, and likewise if they do B, but if half of them are trying to do A while the other half are trying to do B, instability will result. Unless you add C, which would be something like “if someone seems to be violating the tacit agreement at hand, consider ignoring them rather than rising to the bait, and see if that makes the problem go away.”

  80. I don’t see the absence of overt politics as apolitical though. It’s more like the (ever so reluctant) acceptance of the status quo.

    Which implies that if you don’t accept the status quo every single conversation you have, whether it’s about the weather, dinner, or language, has to explicitly involve politics. Which (with all due respect) is a silly idea. You just like arguing about politics. Which is fine! But don’t make it sound like a moral triumph.

  81. I like arguing about politics too! But this isn’t the place for it.

  82. John Emerson says

    I do remember thinking, when reading about Biblical archaeology, the Dead Sea scrolls, etc., that this area of intellectual enterprise, in the present state of the world, is a horrific snakepit, always already politicized, and the only way to remain safely civil on the topic is to never mention it at all. So I’m with rozele.

  83. John Emerson says

    You don’t have to always talk about politics. But if you never do, that makes a statement. I very seldom talk about baseball, for example, or chemistry, but I don’t have the thought in the back of my mind “Never talk about baseball or chemistry”.

    This rule has allowed LH to survive as a civilized forum far longer than any other blog I can think of, so I suppose it’s a good thing. But I do get restive.

  84. I know you do, and believe me, I appreciate your restraint.

  85. Bloix says he wrote up a one-page description of Hanukkah for his son’s non-Jewish girlfriend. I assume that he finds rozele’s dismissive stance on the historicity of the Exodus story objectionable.

    Did you mean Passover? Hanukkah is referred to the Hellenistic period.

  86. I will miss seeing Bloix’s contributions here (although, as I have mentioned before, I cross paths with him occasionally on other Web sites as well). I don’t always agree with his political views, but I respect them. Honestly, there are some other regular commenters here who have interesting contributions to make regarding linguistic issues, but whose opinions on politics—when they express them—I do not respect. However, I make a point not to get drawn into political discussions at this site. That’s not what this community is about, and I think too much overt politics could ruin the site.

  87. J.W. Brewer says

    There are of course well-known exceptions to the supposed “try to avoid overt politics” norm on this site, such as the “the more Welsh Supremacism the Merrier” loophole. To some extent any serious attempt to talk about historical linguistics is going to contradict some questionable-at-best historical claim that is important to some side of some nationalistic/irredentist/separatist/whateverist controversy. So trying to keep those discussions from getting derailed while still keeping them going on the linguistic question that has political consequences is a somewhat different goal than trying to eschew gratuitous “controversial politician-in-the-news so-and-so is a big poopyhead” remarks that would appear to have little salience to the topic at hand.

  88. I don’t even consider those political. Welsh Supremacism is simply common sense, while nationalistic/irredentist/separatist/whateverist controversy I put in the same category as any other sort of peevery, to be squashed wherever possible.

  89. The funny thing is that Rozele’s comment seemed to be a direct reply to Brett’s discussion of some possible ways in which the Exodus story might reflect actual, specific events. Brett seems to have taken Rozele’s reply philosophically, or maybe with some amusement, as I did. I tend to assume the Tanakh is close enough to history that it may over time be possible to tease out more of the historical basis behind it, but I still enjoyed Rozele’s tart overstatement of the other position. People are welcome to take offense at tart statements, but I was quite surprised Bloix would think it was directed at him.

  90. David Eddyshaw says

    What unites us is more important than what divides us.
    We should all proceed together in harmony, united by our shared belief in the vacuousness of Chomsky’s Universal Grammar.

    I say more: we have more in common with our Chomskyite foes than with the canaille who cannot understand why anybody would care about such things at all. Yes, there is a place amongst us even for our deluded generative brethren.

  91. *murmurs in civilized appreciation*

  92. I was trying to write a comment on this latest disturbance in a cup of herbal tea, but all good points that I intended to make were already expressed. Biblical archeology and zionist historiography supported both by American Protestantism and the state of Israel are not in any danger so Rozele’s is pretty much “voice of one crying in the wilderness” (as they say it in Russia). The one point that surprised me is the supposed expultion of Jews from Palestine under Romans. I thought “zionist historiography” emphasizes continuous Jewish presence in Eretz Israel sinse time immemorial.

    It’s always nice to have points of view different from one’s own forcefully expressed. A modicum of personal affront is a small price to pay for the educational value of a contrarian view.

  93. J.W. Brewer says

    Quite possibly there was some chain of free-associations within rozele’s mind that made it seem to fit, but from my POV the reference to “zionist historiography” didn’t really seem to me to flow particularly naturally from the prior discourse as an obvious companion to biblical archaeology but sort of came out of nowhere. (Part of my perspective as to why this seemed a non sequitur is an impressionistic sense that currently holding Zionist views is not particularly predictive of believing the OT narratives to be reasonably historically accurate. Heck, the average Palestinian Christian may be more likely to be an OT literalist than the average secularized Israeli Jew of hawkish political views. But maybe others have different views on that?)

    People who bring up Zionism (in order to say something contentious about it) when no one was talking about Zionism, or who bring up some other hot-button issue, including one of different political valence, (in order ditto) when no one was talking about it, are predictably more likely to give offense than those who venture their contentious opinions on contentious subjects when they are more obviously salient to the prior discourse. How the predictably offended person (and sometimes it’s more predictable that someone will be than to predict who in the group it will specifically be) should best respond is a separate question, of course.

  94. John Emerson says

    I came across the Bible archaeology problem in a Christian context. The book I was reading (possibly the Cambridge Bible Commentary) basically tried to accommodate recent archaeology to the Anglican tradition to the degree possible, without ever developing the possibility that archaeology had undermined the traditional interpretation in serious ways.

  95. Just recently, I had occasion to remark how much archaeology can bring to philology. I was reading Benjamin J. Noonan’s Non-Semitic Loanwords in the Hebrew Bible: A Lexicon of Language Contact (2019) and found this treatment of Hebrew קִנָּמוֹן kinnāmôn:

    This word occurs only three times in the Hebrew Bible. In each of these occurrences, קִנָּמוֹן denotes an exotic spice with aromatic properties (Exod 30:23; Prov 7:17; Song 4:14). No productive root *qnm exists in Semitic that would lend itself to use for a cinnamon-like spice, and קִנָּמוֹן cannot be derived from the common Semitic word for ‘reed’… A foreign term is therefore likely. However, its origin must not be sought in East Asia, as is commonly done. Hebrew קִנָּמוֹן does not clearly refer to an East Asian species of cinnamon. This is especially true because no evidence exists for the presence of Cinnamon zeylanicum, or any other East Asian cinnamon species, in the ancient Near East prior to the Late Classical period. Classical authors are nearly unanimous in attributing cinnamon and cassia to the Horn of Africa (e.g., Pliny, Nat. 12.42.86-88) or Felix Arabia (e.g., Herodotus, Hist. 3.110-11; Dioscorides, Mat. med. 1.13-14). Furthermore, their descriptions make it clear that they cannot be describing true cinnamon or cassia (e.g., Theophrastus, Hist. plant. 9.5.1-3; Pliny, Nat. 12.42.89-92; 12.43.95-97).

    Accordingly, Hebrew קִנָּמוֹן must denote an aromatic cinnamon-like plant found in either the Horn of Africa or Felix Arabia, not the species C. zeylanicum. Moreover, this culture word must have originated from one of these two regions because the word would have beeen borrowed along with the product. In support of this loan hypothesis, it is notable that the element amom also appears in the spice terms amomon and cardamom, said to originate in the same general region (cf. Pliny, Nat. 12.28.48-49; Dioscorides, Mat. med.1.6). This indicates that, like the products amomon and cardamom and their corresponding terms, Hebrew קִנָּמוֹן and Greek κιννάμωμον, κίνναμον (as well as Latin cinnamomum, cinnamum) ultimately come from the Horn of Africa or Felix Arabia.

    “No evidence…”? This treatment is from 2019, but already beginning in 2013 important facts had been added to the dossier of Hebrew kinnāmôn by two interesting articles, on analysis of some small early Iron Age (11th–late 10th century BCE) Phoenician clay flasks in which some traces highly indicative of cinnamon (or cassia or malabathrum) were found. From Gilboa (2015) “On the Beginnings of South Asian Spice Trade with the Mediterranean Region: A Review” Radiocarbon 57(2):

    Cinnamaldehyde is one of the three major components of cinnamon (Tomaino et al. 2005). It is a direct biomarker for cinnamon, since Cinnamomum is the only plant group that accumulates large quantities of cinnamaldehyde. This is due to a malfunction in its shikimic pathway, which in other plants produces lignin from cinnamic acid (Clark 1991; Whetten and Sederoff 1995). Cinnamaldehyde is a relatively unstable molecule, and its survival in the 10 flasks is attributed to an organic-inorganic binding, stabilizing the adsorbed molecules in the ceramic matrix. Other than the cinnamaldehyde itself, one of its degraded byproducts (benzoic acid) was also found in the extracts of these 10 items.

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275248879_On_the_Beginnings_of_South_Asian_Spice_Trade_with_the_Mediterranean_Region_A_Review

    (Boldface mine.) I suppose the candidates for the aromatic in the flasks would be cinnamon, cassia, or malabathrum (C. malabathrum or C. tamala, Hindi तेज़ पत्ता tez pattā).

    And here is an earlier publication of the same facts in Namdar et al. (2013), “Cinnamaldehyde in Early Iron Age Phoenician Flasks Raises the Possibility of Levantine Trade With South East Asia”, Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 13:

    http://dor.huji.ac.il/Download/Article/Namdar2013_MAA_13-2.pdf

    It appears that these significant findings, if they still hold up, have been slow in becoming known to philologists. There is still the problem of what exactly Classical authors were describing and what exactly they could buy in the market when they used the words κιννάμωμον, κίνναμον, cinnamomum, cinnamum. (Maybe there was significant adulteration?) But now this Phoenician physical evidence has to be added to the dossier. I would be interested to know when physical traces of Cinnamomum first show up in Egyptian embalming practices.

  96. Very interesting, thanks!

  97. January First-of-May says

    I thought “zionist historiography” emphasizes continuous Jewish presence in Eretz Israel since time immemorial.

    …I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anything like that being emphasized. In fact until I looked it up just now I hadn’t even realized that it was true; though in retrospect of course it was – there were Jewish communities approximately anywhere and would-be Israel was no exception.

  98. Sorry, that should be qinnāmôn in the transliteration of the Hebrew (I shouldn’t have mixed modern and Biblical systems for קִנָּמוֹן .) Windows 10 text capture system works really well. I didn’t have to type any of that from Noonan!

  99. Also, rozele is a treasure and I don’t like seeing her insulted

    Yes, she is, and I don’t either, even if I phrased it more dryly.

    [Neturei Karta] apparently call for a “peaceful dismantling” of the State of Israel because Jews are forbidden to have their own state until the coming of the Jewish Messiah.

    A number of haredi groups find the Israeli state distasteful, and to various degrees have attempted to balance that distaste with the political and financial benefits the state gives them. Neturei Karta have been utterly uncompromising. Their embrace of the Palestinians does not come from any humanistic or liberal point of view: it is to publicly declare and demonstrate their complete disdain of Zionism.

    the semantics of qr‘ and bq‘ have much more to tell us than any attempt to transmute myth into history (and that’s why midrash is an ever-flowing well – as the collection of sources Reuven brought together shows so beautifully – and biblical archaeology and zionist historiography are pits of ash marked “this is not a place of honor”)

    Biblical archaeology and Zionist historiography are uncontroversially controversial. Both work under the pressure of myths which need preserving: for the one, the literalness of biblical history; for the other, the right to Jewish settlement in Palestine. Both mythologies have had to contend, first, with myth-free scientific treatments, and second, with reactioaries (e.g., respectively, the wholesale dismissal of biblical Judean history in the works of Israel Finkelstein; and the Khazar theory of Ashkenazi Jewish origins). The politicizing of these fields certainly makes them toxic in a sense.

    That happens whenever any national foundation myths meet objective history. In the case of Israel it’s only that they have significant present-day practical implications.

    I thought “zionist historiography” emphasizes continuous Jewish presence in Eretz Israel since time immemorial.

    On the contrary: it emphasizes a reversal of the supposed casting away of the Jewish nation from its land two thousand years previously, by returning the diaspora to it.

  100. Supposedly, the village of Peqi‘in (פְּקִיעִין) in the northern Galilee is the only place which has had continuous Jewish settlement from the era of the Second Temple to modern days (there is a of course a mythic element to that story, too.)

  101. Y, you obviously know better, but maybe there was a change of zionist thinking around 1948 or 1967 when advertising the immigration/return to Israel became less salient (outside the Soviet block) and explanation that Jews have no less right to live in Israel/Palestine than Arabs more so?

  102. Bathrobe says

    Heck, the average Palestinian Christian may be more likely to be an OT literalist than the average secularized Israeli Jew of hawkish political views.

    And the most vehement opponents of a State of Israel are fanatically scrupulous interpreters of the scriptures, it would seem. This makes for some strange bedfellows (as noted).

    the more Welsh Supremacism the Merrier

    Did you by any chance happen to read my original post about Bloix’s departure, which contained a reference to Welsh supremacism that I later took out for fear of touching on nationalist sensitivities?

  103. J.W. Brewer says

    @Bathrobe. To your question, no (I guess from the timestamp I was still in the process of waking up for the day when you edited it). But I must have felt the same Welshness in the Zeitgeist, regardless of time zone.

  104. Did you by any chance happen to read my original post about Bloix’s departure, which contained a reference to Welsh supremacism that I later took out for fear of touching on nationalist sensitivities?

    Yes, and I didn’t realize you’d edited it. I hope you weren’t fearful of treading on DE’s sensitivities — I’m quite sure he wouldn’t have objected — but I admire your commitment to collegiality.

  105. Collegiality? Huh!

    I was afraid that an irreverent dig at our resident Welsh nationalist would detract from my message to Bloix!

  106. maybe there was a change of zionist thinking around 1948 or 1967 when advertising the immigration/return to Israel became less salient (outside the Soviet block) and explanation that Jews have no less right to live in Israel/Palestine than Arabs more so?

    I’m no expert, but my impression is this: in the early years there was certainly more emphasis on filling up Palestine, and the idea that all or most of the world’s Jews could and should end up there was prominent. In the early years after independence the country was well-populated and cleansed of much of its Palestinian population. It continued to absorb refugees, first from Europe, then from the Middle East, which stretched its resources. At this point the idea of Israel being a country of refuge was stronger than ever, but the presence of a large American diaspora, which was wealthy and generous, was not considered a bad thing anymore. At present Israel is struggling with a large and growing population and not enough housing and other land resources. The idea of bringing in immigrants is paid lip-service, but is not considered an essential goal. Emigration from Israel, especially if one maintains their identity as an Israeli expat, is no longer the taboo it was decades ago.

    As to the issue of Jewish vs. Palestinian right to the land, that was a hot topic right from the start of the Zionist movement, and it never stopped being so, although different factions reacted in very different ways to this issue. And here we are.

  107. David Eddyshaw says

    our resident Welsh nationalist

    Actually, I’m more of a Welsh cutural imperialist. I’m even prepared to countenance a retrospective amnesty for the illegal immigration of the English to Lloegr, but I feel that they should make some effort to integrate with our culture, learn the language etc.

  108. Lars Mathiesen says

    Most of the politics discussed here (when it is) is framed in terms that are not a part of my reality as a culturally Reformed Lutheran Protestant living in a functioning welfare state with radically different ideas of who the “other” is than in English-or Hebrew-speaking countries — so not expressing an standpoint should not be taken as opining that political discourse is bad, I just don’t have the involvement needed to have one. (I know that’s not an obstacle for people elsewhere, but in these august halls I feel it’s a matter of ethics to speak only of that whereof I know).

    On the other hand I do have a perverse tendency to try to derail discussions by bringing up Danish phonetics on the flimsiest of pretexts, and about half the time it does make you lot go “Ooh, shiny!” as intended. (Though nothing comes to mind today, sorry).

  109. David Eddyshaw says

    bringing up Danish phonetics on the flimsiest of pretexts

    No pretext is needed for bringing up Danish phonetics. The topic is evergreen.

  110. SFReader says

    Amusing exercise in Danish phonetics.

    Go to the Google Translate, listen to pronunciation of “stedsegrøn” and try to figure out what happened to d, g and r…

  111. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    But if you never do, that makes a statement. I very seldom talk about baseball, for example, or chemistry, but I don’t have the thought in the back of my mind “Never talk about baseball or chemistry”.

    I’m bearing this in mind, but I’m tempted to violate it as stimulated by a comment further down:

    It is a direct biomarker for cinnamon, since Cinnamomum is the only plant group that accumulates large quantities of cinnamaldehyde. This is due to a malfunction in its shikimic pathway, which in other plants produces lignin from cinnamic acid

    This made me wonder if Cinnamomum is resistant to treatment with Roundup (or glyphosate, as the journalists now seem to call it), if it lacks a normal shikimate pathway. Roundup acts as an uncompetitive inhibitor of 3-phosphoshikimate 5-carboxyvinyltransferase and brings about a huge increase in the concentration of a toxic intermediate of the shikimate pathway. As animals in general, and humans in particular, have no shikimate pathway it used to be argued that Roundup must be harmless to people. My faith in this argument was shaken after I looked up the chemical structure of Roundup, and I thought it unlikely that such a simple molecule had just one metabolic effect.

  112. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Go to the Google Translate, listen to pronunciation of “stedsegrøn” and try to figure out what happened to d, g and r…

    I’ve just done that: no trace of d, g or r. It sounds like [stɛɪ̯sekwɑn] to my anglophone ears.

  113. On the other hand I do have a perverse tendency to try to derail discussions by bringing up Danish phonetics on the flimsiest of pretexts

    Just to reinforce DE’s point: that’s not a derail, that’s a rappel à l’ordre. Danish phonetics is (are?) as ancient and honored a topic in these halls as Dravidian, Basque, or hats. (Loved the pope hat in the other thread.)

  114. קִנָּמוֹן cannot be derived from the common Semitic word for ‘reed’

    The one that gave us cinnamon words in most langauges of Europe (and also “cane“, “canon” and “canal”*), I assume?

    By the way, French cannelle first appears in the first half of 12th century. I have just seens this date, early 12th century, for Babylon-Cairo. And it is the Crusades.

    Suffixation (-elle) is unsurpising for a Slavic speaker (корица is кора with feminine noun and diminutive -ица). But if this word resulted from the increased contact with cinnamon or words for it, the first part can be some 12th century word from Semitic or Greek in the Holy Land reinterpreted as canne “cane”, with or without -el, rather than just from canne as such.

    —-
    * “From Middle English cane, canne, from Old French cane (“sugar cane”), from Latin canna (“reed”), from Ancient Greek κάννα (kánna), from Akkadian ???? (qanû, “reed”), from Sumerian ???????? (gi.na). Related to channel and canal.” says Wiktionary.

  115. appears in the first half of 12th century

    Trésor de la langue française:

    1re moitié xiie s. subst. (Voyage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem, éd. P. Aebischer, 211 : Il i vendent lur teiles e lur siries, Coste, canele e peivre, altres bones espices); 1619 subst. mettre (qqc.) en canelle « mettre en morceaux » (Aubigné, Faeneste, IV, 9 ds Hug.); fig. 1798 mettre qqn en cannelle « le déchirer par ses discours » (Ac.). B. 1728 adj. « de la couleur de la cannelle » (Vuippens, Reg. not., 3058, 84 ac ds Gloss. des patois de la Suisse romande : Une cappe de fin drap canelle). Dér. de canne « roseau, conduit », suff. -elle* en raison de l’aspect que prend l’écorce du cannellier en séchant; le mot existe dans la plupart des lang. rom. sans qu’il soit possible de déterminer son cheminement; le lat. médiév. cannella ne semble pas attesté en ce sens av. le xiie s. (Mittellat. W. et Du Cange, s.v. canella¹, domaine ital.); l’intermédiaire du port. (REW³, nº1602b) est sans doute à écarter, le Portugal ne semblant pas avoir pratiqué l’importation des épices aux xiie-xiiie s. (Cor.); l’intermédiaire du prov. (EWFS²) ou de l’ital. (Cor.) est possible mais insuffisamment établi [la date ca 1100 pour le judéo-fr. kaniele donnée par FEW t. 2, p. 202a, n’est pas sûre, le ms. du vocab. hébraïco-fr. édité par E. Boehmer ds Rom. Studien, t. 1, p. 163 sqq. étant de la 2e moitié du xiiie s.].

  116. David Eddyshaw says

    stedsegrøn

    I can (or imagine I can) hear everything but the d; the r is uvular, in that way you Continentals have it.

  117. Lars Mathiesen says

    d, g and r — that’s a damn computer. In my ‘lect it’s [sd̥ɛsɞg̥ʁɶn] — small caps [ɶ] if your sans-serif font conflates it with lower case (like mine does), though I’m not 100 on the quality of the /ə/. You can tell the d is there because the [ɛ] is short. The historical dictionary does list [sd̥ɛðsɞ] as attested, though (volume edited 1943) — MLG genetive of stede, corresponding to G stetig — and since it’s a book word, I would not be surprised to hear it from YPNAD either. The G and the R have their central Danish values, nothing to see here, move along please.

    I think I peeved about true and common cinnamon here recently. (The latter being Cassia). Unsurprisingly, it’s kanel in Danish.

  118. PlasticPaddy says

    @drasvi
    https://anglo-norman.net/entry/canele_1
    There are two citations from 1150-1200, although the manuscripts are stated to be later copies. This would provide some support for the judeo-French earlier date.

  119. Lars Mathiesen says

    everything but the d — it was very evident in the GT text-to-speech I got. It’s a non-sibilant palatoalveolar voiced fricative (anathema to the IPA), and your brain probably just edited it out as being too alien. Even for an alien.

  120. Lars Mathiesen says

    [stɛɪ̯sekwɑn] — substituting ɪ̯ for the “soft d” is in fact a good fallback until you learn the real thing; there are probably minimal pairs, but even Danes admit they are similar. Some Funen dialects unabashedly conflate them. What we don’t understand is how furriners hear it as some sort of L. (Even the cromulently Danish-named Peter Ladefoged, IIRC. But I probably don’t and it was John Wells).

    /g/ is [g̥] as noted — /k/ is clearly aspirated, even before resonants, but if you aren’t sensitive to VOT there is not much to separate them. [ʁ] is in fact uvular, but fricative not approximant, and no lips are involved in the production. [ɶ] has the same tongue position as [ɑ], it’s just rounded — maybe if you listen in French you can hear it.

  121. I wanted to say that [i] is just a kind of a /d/, but I ddd not:(

  122. amom also appears in the spice terms amomon and cardamom

    Glad that someone commented on that! English cinnamon, so unlike Russian koritsa and similar to Russian kardamon keeps confusing me.

    amomon and cardamom, said to originate in the same general region

    But are there any Amomum spp. at all in the Horn of Africa / South Arabia? Is not it rainforest stuff?

  123. Andrej Bjelaković says

    There’s also this, unambiguously coming from a human:

    https://forvo.com/word/stedsegrøn/#da

  124. David Eddyshaw says

    What we don’t understand is how furriners hear it as some sort of L

    The -d- does sound rather L-like, now Lars has pointed it out.

    This is without doubt due to the influence of the closely related Scandi-Congo language Dagbani, in which Proto-Western-Oti-Volta *r has become /l/ throughout, instead of falling together with /d/ (as [ɾ] after vowels) as it has in Mampruli.

    Mystery solved!

  125. Or is he Dars?

  126. David Eddyshaw says

    Darsay he might be.

  127. Lars Mathiesen says

    Ultimately named for the daurel. Dingua became lingua in Latin innit. That Forvo guy clearly belongs to the YPNAD, but not as egregiously as some.

    EDIT: Alternative form daurus, OL dacrus, cf δάφνη. I knew those republicans were to blame. We refute the corruptions of Cicero and his cohorts and shall henceforth be known as Dars. Except I’m sure Akismet won’t let me.

  128. John Emerson says

    And the Red Sea has come back together again, and Pharaoh’s army got drownded under a sea of Danish phonology.

  129. For some reason I’m craving a cinnamon danish right now.

  130. ktschwarz says

    The pre-Hebrew etymology of cinnamon was surveyed back in 2008 at Balashon (to circle back to the original post!). After discarding several bad theories, he was left with a best guess that the cinnamon in the Bible came from China, with the cin part maybe referring to China—in any case cin would seem to mean something that distinguishes cinnamon from cardamom, and could be the same as the čin in Persian dârčin ‘cinnamon’ (where the dâr part means tree). Then the comments disputed whether China was called cin at the time the Bible was written. But that was all based on written records, so the archaeology is valuable.

    “Nearly unanimous” strikes me as an inflated description of a handful of ancient texts: we don’t know what else was written and didn’t survive, or wasn’t written. And why would anyone count Herodotus as an unimpeachable source? (Noonan doesn’t mention the part about cinnamon being collected by giant cinnamon birds, which make their nests out of it on cliffs!) Classical writers could have known that cinnamon was shipped in by Arab traders via the Red Sea, without knowing where it came from before that; the source could have been a trade secret.

  131. John Cowan says

    I’ve enjoyed it for many years as a place to go when I just can’t bear politics anymore.

    I haven’t been able to bear the argumenta ad baculum that pass for political discussion in public fora for decades now, so I may not even notice it when it does arise. The last time I remember it was Etiénne vs. Paul Ogden, and that was about linguistic politics specifically (in Canada).

    We should all proceed together in harmony, united by our shared belief in the vacuousness of Chomsky’s Universal Grammar.

    Well, no; Norvin (Richards, presumably) gets plenty of respect here on the rare times when he contributes, and he deserves it.

  132. (Get that é accent fixed.)

  133. ktschwarz says

    … actually Herodotus isn’t overly credulous about the giant cinnamon birds, he’s just quoting somebody else’s story, repeatedly marked with “it is said”. And he hedges in the same way about the location. A translation via Perseus:

    As for cinnamon, they gather it in an even stranger way. Where it comes from and what land produces it they cannot say, except that it is reported, reasonably enough, to grow in the places where Dionysus was reared.* There are great birds, it is said, that take these dry sticks which we have learned from the Phoenicians to call cinnamon and carry them off to nests stuck with mud to precipitous cliffs, where man has no means of approach. The Arabian solution to this is to cut dead oxen and asses and other beasts of burden into the largest possible pieces, then to set these near the eyries and withdraw far off. The birds then fly down (it is said) and carry the pieces of the beasts up to their nests, while these, not being able to bear the weight, break and fall down the mountain side, and then the Arabians come and gather them up. Thus is cinnamon said to be gathered, and so to come from Arabia to other lands.

    * This is annotated at Perseus as Ethiopia; Noonan takes it as “Felix Arabia”, i.e. southwestern Arabia; but it sounds to me like it could be anywhere, or nowhere.

  134. “Nearly unanimous” strikes me as …

    Yes, as if he rebuting something and proving something else. But this all is a mere direction of search, I think the meaningful way to interpret what he said is: “we should pay some atention to Arabia and the Horn of Africa.”

    He must have liked the part about Troglodytes.

  135. the part about Troglodytes.

    …All this, however, is false; for cinnamomum, or cinnamum, which is the same thing, grows in the country of the Æthiopians,3 who are united by intermarriages with the Troglodytæ. These last, after buying it of their neighbours, carry it over vast tracts of sea, upon rafts, which are neither steered by rudder, nor drawn or impelled by oars or sails. Nor yet are they aided by any of the resources of art, man alone, and his daring boldness, standing in place of all these; in addition to which, they choose the winter season, about the time of the equinox, for their voyage, for then a south easterly wind is blowing; these winds guide them in a straight course from gulf to gulf, and after they have doubled the promonotory of Arabia, the north east wind carries them to a port of the Gebanitæ, known by the name of Ocilia.4 Hence it is that they steer for this port in preference; and they say that it is almost five years before the merchants are able to effect their return, while many perish on the voyage. In return for their wares, they bring back articles of glass and copper, cloths, buckles, bracelets, and necklaces; hence it is that this traffic depends more particularly upon the capricious tastes and inclinations of the female sex.

  136. Classical authors are nearly unanimous in attributing cinnamon and cassia to the Horn of Africa (e.g., Pliny, Nat. 12.42.86-88) or Felix Arabia (e.g., Herodotus, Hist. 3.110-11; Dioscorides, Mat. med. 1.13-14). Furthermore, their descriptions make it clear that they cannot be describing true cinnamon or cassia (e.g., Theophrastus, Hist. plant. 9.5.1-3; Pliny, Nat. 12.42.89-92; 12.43.95-97). …

    ….amomon and cardamom, said to originate in the same general region (cf. Pliny, Nat. 12.28.48-49; Dioscorides, Mat. med.1.6)

    Actually I have all of his references open in English, so maybe I should post them.

    Cardamom, amomon:

    Pliny, 12.28., amomum, amomis, Pliny, 12.29 cardamomum
    Dioscorides, Mat. med. 1.6 kardamomon, 1.14: amomon
    Theophrastus, Hist. plant. 9.7.1-3, καρδάμωμον, ἄμωμον (also κινάμωμον and κασία)

  137. Cardamom, amomon, origins:

    Pliny:12. 28 “The clustered amomum(1) is very extensively used; it grows upon a kind of wild vine that is found in India, … “…Amomum is produced, also, in that part of Armenia which is known as Otene; as, also, in Media and Pontus….”,
    Pliny:12. 29. cardamomum: “…It is gathered in the same manner both in India and Arabia. …”
    macadamia

    Dioscorides, 1-6, kardamomon: “…..The best cardamomum is brought out of Comagene, Armenia and Bosporus. It grows too in India and Arabia. … ”
    Dioscorides, 1-14 amomon: “….the best is brought out of Armenia with a good colour, a pale reddish wood and a very fragrant smell. Because it grows in plain and watery places that from Media is weaker. It is large, a pale green, soft to touch, and full of veins in the wood, resembling origanum in its smell. That which comes from Pontus is a pale red, neither long nor hard to break, clustered, full of fruit, and biting to smell. …”
    “….Some adulterate amomum with amomis [Amomis pimenta] that is like amomum yet without smell and without fruit. It grows in Armenia and has a flower like origanum….”

    Theophrastus, Hist. plant. 9.7 καρδάμωμον, ἄμωμον : “As to all the other fragrant plants used for aromatic odours, they come partly from India whence they are sent over sea, and partly from Arabia, for instance, komakon(5) as well as cinnamon and cassia. The fruit called komakon is said to be distinct(6) from this ; the komakon of which we are speaking is a perfume which they mix with the choicest unguents. Cardamom and Nepaul cardamom some say come from Media ; others say that these come from India, as well as spikenard and most, if not all, of the other species.”
    (5) – see Pliny 12.63.

  138. I wonder if the name comes from Cumin (e.g. Sumerian gamun) with metathesis.

  139. So Herodotus passed along the story that they harvested cinnamon using the observation that birds often bring things to their nest that the construction won’t support. And they transported it by putting it on a raft and then jumping in and flutter-kicking it across the ocean.

    I’m not sure this is a place of honor. Exodus is a like an incontrovertible proof in a work of geometry by comparison.

  140. cinnamon, cassia, malabathrum:

    Pliny, Nat. 12.41, why Arabia was called “happy”: “Arabia produces neither cinnamon nor cassia; and this is the country styled “Happy” Arabia! ”
    Pliny, Nat. 12.42: cinnamomum, xylocinnamum>, Pliny, Nat. 12.43: cassia, also:
    Pliny, Nat. 12.44 cancamum, tarum: “From the confines of the country which produces cinnamon and cassia, cancamum1 and tarum2 are imported; but these substances are brought by way of the Nabatæan Troglodytæ, a colony of the Nabatæi.”

    Herodotus, Hist. 3.110 casia, Herodotus, Hist. 3.111 cinnamon, Herodotus, Hist. 3.112, ledanon
    Dioscorides, Mat. med. 1.11 malabathron, 1.12 kassia 1.13 kinamonon – see the link to 1.14 above.
    Theophrastus, Hist. plant. 9.7.1-3 κινάμωμον, κασία: origin (see the link and quotation above), Theophrastus, Hist. plant. 9.5.1-3 κινάμωμον, κασία: description.

  141. Herodotus’s story of the Arabs gathering cinnamon sounds like it belongs to the same phylum of folktales as the much later Second Voyage of Sinbad, where they use the skinned corpses of animals to collect diamonds from the valley of snakes, which are then carried out of the valley by rahks.

  142. But as ktschwarz says, Herodotus always qualifies the silly stories with “it is said” or the like. That’s why he’s a better model for historians than the sainted Thucydides, who expects you to believe what he says because he said it and he Knows.

  143. John Cowan says

    cromulently Danish-named Peter Ladefoged

    It has been said that A Course in Phonetics explains everything about the subject except how to pronounce the author’s name.

    Herodotus isn’t particularly credulous: he is careful to attribute most opinions to their sources without taking a position himself. There is a famous exception: he reports the claimed circumnavigation of Africa by Phoenicians hired by Pharaoh Necho II, but says he does not believe it because the expedition reported seeing the sun in the northern sky — which is exactly why we do believe it.

  144. “it is said”
    the famous: There they said (what some may believe, though I do not) that in sailing around Libya they had the sun on their right hand.

    P.S. I noticed John’s comment only now:)

  145. >Herodotus always qualifies the silly stories with “it is said” or the like. That’s why he’s a better model for historians than the sainted Thucydides, who expects you to believe what he says because he said it and he Knows.

    I’m not sold on the Sidney Powell defense. This was her lawyer’s claim yesterday, that everything she said about the election was based on affidavits. She was just relaying what they said.

    I’m happier with historians who leave out the parts about cutting up chunks of asses so large that they break through nests built of cinnamon sticks; or the parts about sky-connections to data manipulators at Italian aerospace companies doing the bidding of the Chinese.

  146. But are there any Amomum spp. at all in the Horn of Africa / South Arabia? Is not it rainforest stuff?

    I have often wondered if the ancient Mediterranean knew imported korarima (Amharic ኮረሪማ korärima), an important spice in Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aframomum_corrorima

    And in West Africa, grains of paradise (most familiar to North Americans from Sam Adams’ Summer Ale):

    http://gernot-katzers-spice-pages.com/engl/Afra_mel.html

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aframomum_melegueta

  147. Jen in Edinburgh says

    English cinnamon, so unlike Russian koritsa and similar to Russian kardamon keeps confusing me.

    And then Norwegian kanel, which makes me think of caramel.

  148. So they compensated the absence of Amomum by creating a genus Aframomum! I was going to do that, to check the list of Zingiberaceae genera, and forgot somehow. And likely I would not do that and would not have learned about it, thank you!.
    They could send it down the Nile!

  149. (in the vicinity of Lake Tana and Gelemso)

    Lake Tana (Amharic: ጣና ሐይቅ) (previously Tsana[1]) is the largest lake in Ethiopia and the source of the Blue Nile.

    (P.S. I understand, of course, that the Blue Nile is not very suitable for sending anything and has numerous waterfalls:) But anyway)

  150. I’m happier with historians who leave out the parts about cutting up chunks of asses so large that they break through nests built of cinnamon sticks; or the parts about sky-connections to data manipulators at Italian aerospace companies doing the bidding of the Chinese.

    So you would have been happier if Herodotus had left out the unbelievable story about the circumnavigation of Africa?

  151. I find the politics here relatively palatable, i.e., not too extreme and relatively humane. Except for the Russian and Welsh nationalists, of course, but they add a bit of needed perspective …. well, the Russian maybe, the Welsh is quite outré. John Emerson perhaps regards himself as extreme, but I just see him as someone brave enough to pull the veil of illusion from worldly affairs.

    I’m sorry, I don’t know if “respect” is my attitude to Norvin. Like Russian and Welsh nationalists, he is of course welcome here and it is good that he can represent the Chomskyan point of view. But he doesn’t say much and doesn’t come here often.

  152. I approve of the Welsh nationalists, out of fear. They are masters of Llap Goch.

  153. Looking for Llap Goch, I found this: https://mymemory.translated.net/en/Welsh/English/llap-goch. Mind boggling.

  154. David Eddyshaw says

    I don’t know if “respect” is my attitude to Norvin

    Worthy of respect for the same reason as Almeida Samo*: remains polite and helpful in the face of a generally hostile audience. This is no small virtue, and I respect it greatly, it in all earnestness.

    * Seriously. Compare and contrast (to his enormous advantage) with the occasional transient Hindutva lunatic who stumbles in … KONGO!

    Llap Goch

    Sadly, merely an invention of some Cambridge folk. Our real techniques are much more terrifying. Utter demoralisation of the enemy is the objective. I will say no more than that cynghanedd plays a part.

  155. For Llap Goch, this is a serious, authoritative source on that terrible and fearsome art.

  156. …cynghanedd plays a part.

    And the toughest of Oulipian toughs stammer half-forgotten prayers through bloodless lips…

  157. David Eddyshaw says

    I see that you have encountered the Black Bards of Carmarthen. Do not give up hope of recovery! There are authenticated cases of people returning to near-normal life eventually.

  158. This is no small virtue, and I respect it greatly, it in all earnestness.

    Same here.

  159. January First-of-May says

    sounds like it belongs to the same phylum of folktales as the much later Second Voyage of Sinbad

    …yeah, I noticed that it was uncannily reminiscent of Sindbad, but hadn’t realized it was that similar. I wonder what’s more plausible: that the authors of Sindbad read Herodotus and got the story from there, or that it survived that long independently.

    Then the comments disputed whether China was called cin at the time the Bible was written.

    IIRC the consensus is that this name refers to the Qin dynasty (3rd century BC), which would, I believe, put it slightly too late.

    [EDIT: apparently there’s a theory that it refers to the older State of Qin, which would have been the first Chinese state to be encountered on the Silk Road for several centuries prior to the unification.]

  160. A glance at the index of Al-Nadim (Al-Fihrist) shows that many classical sources were already known and quoted in Arabic writings in the 10th century and we have the Arabic versions of many of the classical sources, for example Josephus (Pines 1971), who was quoted extensively by Arab writers such as Al-Shahrastani.

    Herodotus, Manetho, Plutarch, Plato and Plotinus among others were known and it was perhaps these sources which were being referred to by Al-Biruni (Al-Athar. 84) when he said that he acquired ‘Books which had die periods of reigns of the kings of Ashur of Mosul, and the periods of the kings of the Copts who were in Egypt and the Ptolemaic kings …’

    Knowledge of ancient Egyptian also came from Arabic translations of many of the classical writers, whose works included references to ancient Egyptian language and scripts. These included Homer, Herodotus, Plutarch, Chaeremon, Plotinus, Porphyry and Iamblichus (Budge 1929: 179ff; Iversen 1993: 38ff). These classical writers were widely quoted by Al-Nadim (Al-Fihrist: 315), Ibn Fatik (Mukhtar. 54), and Ibn Abi Usaybi`ah (Tabaqat: 50).

    It was common for long passages to be quoted from classical writers such as Homer, Herodotus, Iamblichus, Plato, and Plotinus even in Arab literary works, for example in the writings of Al-Sajistani and of Ibn Fatik.

    From “Egyptology: The Missing Millennium : Ancient Egypt in Medieval Arabic Writings” by Okasha El Daly, Daly El.

  161. Also Herodotus:

    >Other Indians dwell near the town of Caspatyrus and the Pactyic country, north of the rest of India; these live like the Bactrians; they are of all Indians the most warlike, and it is they who are sent for the gold; for in these parts all is desolate because of the sand. In this sandy desert are ants, not as big as dogs but bigger than foxes; the Persian king has some of these, which have been caught there. These ants live underground, digging out the sand in the same way as the ants in Greece, to which they are very similar in shape, and the sand which they carry from the holes is full of gold.

    We can trust this, because he didn’t say “it is said,” but presented it straight. That’s why it’s helpful that in other places, he says “people are saying.” No, no, that’s the phrase that other reliable source, Donald Trump, uses.

    Likewise this:
    >These Indians whom I have described have intercourse openly like cattle; they are all black-skinned, like the Ethiopians. Their semen too, which they ejaculate into the women, is not white like other men’s, but black like their skin, and resembles in this respect that of the Ethiopians. These Indians dwell far away from the Persians southwards, and were not subjects of King Darius.

    It’s interesting that he doesn’t mention whether he was told this or can vouch for it himself, no? Perhaps some Ethiopian merchants were resident in Halicarnassus?

    All the hours of the Byzantine monks, working to preserve the heritage of the great Greek historian and western civilization by dutifully copying down Herodotus’s fable, presented straight, about the color of the semen of the Ethiopians and the southernmost of the Indians…

    If Herodotus hadn’t survived, it’s likely some other, better historian or annalist would have been preserved instead.

    Even the authors of Tanakh cite sources. One day, maybe we’ll find a crumbling fragment of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah. Or an actual record of the Egyptian-sponsored periplus.

  162. I just read this:

    If Gr. γύψος ‘chalk’ came from earlier *gupʰtʰios it’d be a perfect phonological match for Eg. kꜣ-f-tj-w ‘Crete’, showing the same γυ : kꜣ correspondence as Αἴγυπτος : ḥw.t-kꜣ-ptḥ. Crete of course being where the Mycenaeans got their gypsum (cf. Latin crēta ‘chalk’).

    No idea if it’s true, but I like it.

  163. coming back to this thread after some days away from the machine, so by way of clarification:

    i certainly didn’t intend a personal slight to Bloix, whose contributions here i appreciate whether or not i agree with them. and rest assured that if i ever were to intend a personal slight to anyone on here, i’d have the grace to go after them by name.

    please do not associate my antizionism (or that of the rest of my many-generations-veltlekh, many-generations-anticolonialist family) with misogynist fundamentalists like NK, who agree with their zionist mirror-images on everything except a single detail of the timing (in relation to the arrival of the messiah) at which they feel jewish theocratic rule over palestine is acceptable.*

    by “zionist historiography” i was quite specifically referring to the 19thC innovation of writing jewish history as a unitary “national” narrative of Blut und Boden beginning with an interpretation of the Tanakh as a historical document**, rather than the preceding model of assembling the complex documented histories of and changing relationships among the many distinct jewish communities of the world.


    * if anyone is in need of high-quality invective against jewish antizionists, i can refer you to the archives of Der Tog and Vokh from late 1929 (english-language material, past or present, is generally rather shoddy at best).

    ** a grafting of myth onto history required by its teleological approach, in order to authorize a state-building project according to the rules of christian european nationalism.

  164. Lars Mathiesen says

    pronounce the author’s name — that’s because he was English, not Danish, and pronounced it the only sane way in English. (His parents moved to London to start a business, I think, and he was born there). But Peter was (and is) a common enough given name in Denmark that he would fit right in.

    Now to pronounce Peter Ladefoged in Danish — are you sure you really want to know? (The surname is a common noun as well, ~ ‘barn sheriff’ or Manager of Agriculture at a manor. The functionary in charge of oppressing the peasants was the ridefoged, nobody took that as their family name…)

  165. There’s also this, unambiguously coming from a human:
    I hear a glottal stop for the “d”. More interesting, I hear a diphthong [øy] for “ø”. Is it really spoken that way?

  166. I’m happier with historians who leave out the parts about cutting up chunks of asses so large that they break through nests built of cinnamon sticks; or the parts about sky-connections to data manipulators at Italian aerospace companies doing the bidding of the Chinese.
    To each their own, of course, but I find it extremely interesting to know what stories were being told at any period of time. That gives you a window in peoples’ minds.
    If Herodotus hadn’t survived, it’s likely some other, better historian or annalist would have been preserved instead.
    That’s a very bold assertion. Maybe there wasn’t one on the Greek market. From what I have seen of Greek historiography and geography, they all have their share of hearsay and fantastical tales, especially when they move beyond immediate contemporary history and neighborhoods. Don’t get me wrong – I would love to have more sources, too. But I would never wish for one of the few we have not to exist. And maybe it would have been the other way round, if Herodotus wouldn’t have existed, they might have copied a more unreliable and fantastical source.

  167. If Herodotus hadn’t survived, it’s likely some other, better historian or annalist would have been preserved instead.

    To each his own. I think he’s one of the greatest and would rather Thucydides were burned if there were to be a bonfire of the vanities.

  168. Lars Mathiesen says

    glottal stop — I think there is some glottal constriction / creaky voice there, but it’s not a full-on stød. Some people do a bit of creaky on all syllables. Cp and which has stød and a bonus glottal because vowel-initial.

    If you want to isolate stød, compare hus and huse (same speaker for both).

  169. Knowledge of ancient Egyptian also came from Arabic translations of many of the classical writers, whose works included references to ancient Egyptian language and scripts. These included Homer, Herodotus, Plutarch, Chaeremon, Plotinus, Porphyry and Iamblichus

    He is listing Greek authors “whose works included references”, not authors known from Arabic translations.

    Chaeremon wrote a book about hieroglyphics. Tzetzes (Byzantine) wrote an “exegesis of the Iliad” and used Chaeremon’s book (I think there was some suggestion that Homer knew hieroglyphics). This is how we know that Chaeremon wrote a book about it, for the book has not been preserved.

  170. John Cowan says

    Utter demoralisation of the enemy is the objective.

    That is very difficult, for как известно the English have no morals in the first place.

    We can trust this [ant story], because he didn’t say “it is said,” but presented it straight.

    That more recent historian and biographer L. Sprague de Camp accounts for this by telling us that Herodotus was himself deceived:

    Pyrron [a skeptical Greek philosopher of Alexander’s time] said [to their Paktuikan guide, modern Paktika being a far-eastern province of Afghanistan]: “Have you ever heard of a book on foreign countries by a man named Herodotos?”

    “No, but go on.”

    “He said that in Paktuika live enormous ants, as big as dogs, which, in excavating their burrows, bring gold to the surface of the earth. He asserted, further, that the Paktyans approach these burrows in the heat of the day, when the ants are underground. They scoop up the gold and flee on fast camels before the ants can devour them. Now, inquire of Kavis if this be true. I missed Paktuika on my way east, being up north with the king, and have wondered about these ants.”

    I [Troop Leader Leon] told the tale to Kavis in Persian. (My Persian was becoming fluent with practice, if not correct.) He laughed and said: “My ancestors invented that story to keep the Great King from stealing our gold. There is a little gold in the streams of Paktuika, which we get by swirling the gravel with water around in a bowl. As for the so-called ants, there are some of their burrows now!”

    Kavis pointed to some little black dots at the base of a nearby hill. When I looked closely, I saw these to be the holes of the mountain mouse [the long-tailed or golden marmot, Marmota caudata], an animal about the size and shape of a beaver but with a short bushy tail. There is nought in the least antlike about them.

    The guide went on: “The tale was put abroad in the time of the first Dareios, and the Persians believed it for twenty or thirty years. Then, in the reign of the first Artaxerxes, an agent of the Great King came upon some of our people washing gold from the streams. The sight aroused his suspicions, and he tarried long enough to settle the true nature of these ‘ants.’

    “When Artaxerxes learned the truth, he was wroth indeed. You see, the whole purpose of the Persian Empire was to grind the last bit of gold and silver out of poor folk like us. For years, the government had not been getting so much as they might, had they known the true state of affairs. So the Great King sent an army to take vengeance on us who had flouted him—”

    [at which point there is an attack by men of Assakenia, modern Swat.]

  171. John Emerson says

    I read Herodotus twice when I was still in HS. I loved reading firsthand reports on Babylonia and Egypt, to say nothing of the Scythians (and Tomyris). I was aware that some stories weren’t true but appreciate the anecdotes anyway.

  172. David Eddyshaw says

    I remember years ago reading a work about Thucydides (I wish I could remember which, exactly) that made the point that a large part of the impression he gives of reliability is actually due to qualities of his style, with that high seriousness thing going on (κτῆμα ἐς ἀεί, forsooth) that Herodotus wasn’t into at all.

    It also made the point that we are rarely in a position to cross-check Thucydides’ actual facts, but that when we are, he is worryingly often wrong.

    Tacitus (by a natural progression of thought) is a rather different case. As someone pointed out, it could never have crossed his mind at the time that his works would end up as almost the sole surviving literary evidence for much of his period (discounting gossips like Suetonius), which puts his pretty evident biases in a rather different light: he wouldn’t have expected us not to have several highly positive accounts of Tiberius’ reign and character to compare his own with, for example. And Tacitus is still scrupulous enough with fact, that a fair bit of evidence for the picture being more complex than he seems to suggest is actually drawn from his own works.

  173. Lars Mathiesen says

    cynghanedd — didn’t help with the soccer tonight, is it?

  174. David Eddyshaw says

    That’s the game with the oddly shaped ball, isn’t it? I knew someone who was quite into that once.

  175. PlasticPaddy says

    @de, lars
    The game where rugby tackles lead to being sent off for more than ten minutes. Surely referees must be more lenient, as it is an easy thing to forget ????

  176. Lars Mathiesen says

    Yes, It’s the one where you have to be able to splinter the shins of opposing players with an inflated leather thing interposed, and ears are supposed to stay attached. But fewer reports of long term brain damage than in the other footballs, I’m informed. Even cricket has more head injuries.

  177. That’s the game with the oddly shaped ball, isn’t it?

    The very one.

  178. @drasvi: Homer seems to be completely ignorant of writing. There is no mention of Linear B in his epics, much less of hieroglyphics.

  179. David Eddyshaw says

    The game where rugby tackles lead to being sent off for more than ten minutes

    I see. It sounds frankly unworkable. An Oulipian game, perhaps …

  180. The oddly shaped ball one is lawn bowling, with its sorta but not really round ball.

  181. January First-of-May says

    Books which had [the] periods of reigns of the kings of Ashur of Mosul

    I wonder how much was, in fact, known about the Assyrian and/or Babylonian (probably not Sumerian) chronology in the medieval and/or early modern period, prior to the (re)discovery of cuneiform tablets. IIRC a lot less survived from the works of Berossus than from those of Manetho (which provided a reasonably complete list of pharaohs, though a lot of the early names have almost nothing in common with the actual otherwise attested names).

    Incidentally, it had been noted that the Shahnameh has a fairly reasonable account of the Sassanids, but replaces the Achaemenids with a sequence of entirely fictional rulers. I wonder if that was out of legitimate ignorance, or if the author in fact knew of the Achaemenids but had a literary and/or political reason to exclude them.

    One day, maybe we’ll find a crumbling fragment of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah. Or an actual record of the Egyptian-sponsored periplus.

    I’m personally hoping for (at least) a copy of the Turin King List (or another list of similar quality) that isn’t in as much absolute tatters as the one historians currently have.

    highly positive accounts of Tiberius’ reign and character

    My impression is that Tiberius is usually perceived positively, but mostly in contrast to his blatantly negative successors Caligula and Nero – so bad (especially the former) as to give an impression of the time of Tiberius as a relative golden age.
    I have no idea what does Tacitus say about him though.

    (Galba, Otho, and Vitellius were variously negative but in any case brief. IIRC the opinion on Vespasian is split. Claudius was a relative nonentity.)

    Even cricket has more head injuries.

    IIRC the British crown prince Frederick (in)famously died of a cricket head injury. Though admittedly the various forms of football had not diverged yet in his day.

  182. his blatantly negative successors Caligula and Nero

    I recently read a review of a book making the case for Nero as unjustly slandered by historians sucking up to his successors (in much the way Richard III was slandered by Tudor historians and playwrights) — nobody’s saying he was an angel, but he may not have been much worse than the imperial average.

  183. January First-of-May says

    by historians sucking up to his successors

    To his successors whom, exactly? Trajan and Hadrian? IIRC a lot of the accounts of “Nero bad” that we have are from the Christian and/or Jewish side, and Vespasian/Titus/Domitian were, if anything, worse to the Jews, and IIRC only maybe slightly less so to the Christians.

    (Galba/Otho/Vitellius, and to a lesser extent Nerva, ruled too briefly to do much in any direction about the Jews and/or Christians in particular.)

  184. David Eddyshaw says

    I have no idea what does Tacitus say about him though

    A brilliant (because Tacitus) character assassination, basically. The general consensus seems to be that Tiberius was a stand-in for Domitian, Tacitus’ actual contemporary as Emperor when he started his political career. Bitter much?

    To be fair, Tiberius probably wasn’t very nice; on the other hand, it’s not easy being the third-choice eventual successor to the Saviour of the World (because the favourites went and died), when nobody much liked you except your mother up until that point, even though you’d been doing much of the actual, like, work to keep the show on the road for stepdad.

  185. To put things in perspective, both Tacitus and Suetonius were born around Nero’s time and wrote about him 60 years later. It would be like a 60 year old American writing now about Kennedy or Johnson. My guess is that it’s too close in time to get away with a hatchet job.

  186. David Eddyshaw says

    It doesn’t seem to have inhibited either of them …

    I think you were on pretty safe ground bashing the Julio-Claudian dynasty (apart from His Holiness the Founder) under the Flavians.

  187. January First-of-May says

    It would be like a 60 year old American writing now about Kennedy or Johnson.

    Or a 60 year old Russian writing now about Khrushchyov or Brezhnev. The capability of getting away with a hatchet job heavily depends on the availability of pre-existing smear campaigns; I suspect that a lot of what people remember of Khrushchyov these days is actually what other people told them (not much of it pleasant).

  188. Tacitus (by a natural progression of thought) is a rather different case. As someone pointed out, it could never have crossed his mind at the time that his works would end up as almost the sole surviving literary evidence for much of his period (discounting gossips like Suetonius), which puts his pretty evident biases in a rather different light: he wouldn’t have expected us not to have several highly positive accounts of Tiberius’ reign and character to compare his own with, for example. And Tacitus is still scrupulous enough with fact, that a fair bit of evidence for the picture being more complex than he seems to suggest is actually drawn from his own works.

    We most definitely can’t have Tacitus’ context. But there officially ass-licking works, famously Veleius Paterculus. I once cited a fragment about Langobards form him. A longer quotation of the same:

    Ye Heavens, how large a volume could be filled with the tale of our achievements in the following summer​ under the generalship of Tiberius Caesar! All Germany was traversed by our armies, races were conquered hitherto almost unknown, even by name; and the tribes of the Cauchi were again subjugated. All the flower of their youth, infinite in number though they were, huge of stature and protected by the ground they held, surrendered their arms, and, flanked by a gleaming line of our soldiers, fell with their generals upon their knees before the tribunal of the commander. The power of the Langobardi was broken, a race surpassing even the Germans in savagery;​b and finally — and this is something which had never before been entertained even as a hope, much less actually attempted — a Roman army with its standards was led four hundred miles beyond the Rhine as far as the river Elbe, which flows past the territories of the Semnones and the Hermunduri. And with this wonderful combination of careful planning and good fortune on the part of the general, and a close watch upon the seasons, the fleet which had skirted the windings of the sea coast sailed up the Elbe from a sea hitherto unheard of and unknown,​ and after proving victorious over many tribes effected a junction with Caesar and the army, bringing with it a great abundance of supplies of all kinds.

    Even in the midst of these great events I cannot refrain from inserting this little incident. We were encamped on the nearer bank of the aforesaid river, while on the farther bank glittered the arms of the enemies’ troops, who showed an inclination to flee at every movement and manoeuvre of our vessels, when one of the barbarians, advanced in years, tall of stature, of high rank, to judge by his dress, embarked in a canoe, made as is usual with them of a hollowed log, and guiding this strange craft he advanced alone to the middle of the stream and asked permission to land without harm to himself on the bank occupied by our troops, and to see Caesar. Permission was granted. Then he beached his canoe, and, after gazing upon Caesar for a long time in silence, exclaimed: “Our young men are insane, for though they worship you as divine when absent, when you are present they fear your armies instead of trusting to your protection. But I, by your kind permission, Caesar, have to‑day seen the gods of whom I merely used to hear; and in my life have never hoped for or experienced a happier day.” After asking for and receiving permission to touch Caesar’s hand, he again entered his canoe, and continued to gaze back upon him until he landed upon his own bank. Victorious over all the nations and countries which he approached, his army safe and unimpaired, having been attacked but once, and that too through deceit on the part of the enemy with great loss on their side, Caesar led his legions back to winter quarters, and sought the city with the same haste as in the previous year.

  189. Sorry, it is longer than I thought:/ But as I have posted it, I will leave it as it is. Anyway, I quoted it because the story about the German in the boat.

  190. David Eddyshaw says

    Yes, I was thinking of VP. “Arse-licking” certainly seems appropriate. The sort of author Tacitus himself doubtless had in mind when he mentioned the obnoxios (“fawning”) at the very beginning of the Histories. Paradoxically, I think that the memory of Tiberius is actually better served by the hostility of a Tacitus than the servility of a Paterculus; I suspect that Tiberius Caesar, a cynical old bugger with a fair line in mordant wit himself, would probably have agreed.

  191. (not much of it pleasant).

    Yes, but our record in live expectancy is 1964 – the year when Khruschev was ousted. It went up 64, then it was going down gradually. Then it instantly went up to the same level in 85. (Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign) and then reached that level again in… 2012.

    I haven’t seen anyone discussing this specific parameter (for any country), which is a bit surprising. Do people think thatlife of your children (“life expectancy” is how long an average person will live if every year is the same as this one – so child mortality affects it catastrophically) is an relativly unimportant component of the quality of one’s life? It is important.

    Gorbachev is the most hated leader ever (a traitor! and and idiot.) and Khruschev is seen as an idiot.
    —-
    Another hated leader is Yeltsin. So, speaking of life expectancy: Since 80s it was falling, the worst year was 94, it almost returned to the Soviet level by 98 and went down again (the crisis) and kept falling util 2003. Bad, but this bad is structured differnetly.

  192. David Eddyshaw says

    Do people think that life of your children (“life expectancy” is how long an average person will live if every year is the same as this one – so child mortality affects it catastrophically

    The trick in most of Africa is to survive until you’re five years old. Once you get there, your life expectancy is not so different from that in the West.

  193. If Herodotus hadn’t survived, it’s likely some other, better historian or annalist would have been preserved instead.

    Without Herodotus we might well have lost our main source for knowledge about the most formative event in early Greek history, since AFAIK the only other known historian who may have written a complete, detailed history of the Persian Wars was Hellanicus, and I don’t know any particular reason to assume he was any more reliable.

  194. Jen in Edinburgh says

    This always seems to confuse people when talking about the past. An average life expectancy of 40 doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone (or even anyone) is dying at that age – you could just as well have half the people dying before the age of 10 and the rest after 70.

    Of course, it’s almost certainly somewhere in between, with deaths in childbirth and war and industrial accidents among the inexperienced taking out a certain proportion of young adults – but the point is that people at what we would still consider fairly advanced ages aren’t nearly as rare as it looks at first, especially as a proportion of the adult population.

  195. John Emerson says

    At the time, with no special insight into Russia or knowledge of Russian affairs, the adulation Yeltsin got in the US seemed odd. As time went on it looked more and more cruel and malicious.

  196. David Eddyshaw says

    The first intimation I ever had that there was more to the story of Gorbachev, a hero to the West, than our simple heroes-and-villains narrative allowed for, was an interview I saw with Irina Ratushinskaya. Her bitter contempt for him was very evident. That was not what my preconceptions had led me to expect.

  197. Westerners are always surprised to learn that his popularity rating in Russia hovers in the low single digits.

  198. Superficially Yeltsin, like Khrushchev, seemed human, if messy. Brezhnev appeared a cold, heartless, scary bureaucrat (and his two brief successors as well). Gorbachev seemed like any European head of state, kinda boring but meaning well.

  199. Given the enormities of economic (and political) chaos in the former Soviet Union after the collapse of the Communist regime, it should really be no surprise that many of the leaders involved in the transition are extremely unpopular in Russia today. In retrospect, it seems like a certain degree of economic shock was probably unavoidable, but the transition to a market system could still have been handled with a lot less upheaval and pain.

  200. I imagine part of it is that there were very few people who knew how to run a market-based economy, and who had a path to power.

  201. John Emerson says

    Kosygin and Andropov, right? Do I get the $200?

  202. John Emerson says

    They say there was a lot of outright looting by organized crime, ex-CP functionaries,and outlanders.

  203. The story we hear in the West is filtered through the (Western) press, which sticks to its own particular (black-and-white) narrative. After all those years of unmitigated evil, the new guy who is friendly to the West has to be a hero. I suspect they didn’t ask many Russians.

    We all know the Western press is subject to heavy bias. The question is whether this is the result of deliberate distortion or manipulation, orchestrated by the establishment/owners, or whether it represents some kind of “consensus” among the press corps, who, of course, would have been brought up on previous reporting about Russia. Mr Emerson?

  204. Andropov and Chernenko.

  205. January First-of-May says

    Andropov and Chernenko.

    “Today, at the age of 72 and without regaining consciousness, Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko took up the duties of General Secretary of the Communist Party…”

    (Ironically enough, he was actually slightly younger than his US contemporary Ronald Reagan. Andropov was even younger.)

  206. Whatever else you can say about Gorbachev, he quickly came to terms with letting democracy in. That is factual. Whether people thought that was worthwhile is a matter of personal taste.

  207. J.W. Brewer says

    No doubt Yeltsin had his flaws, but he was the first Russian ruler since Boris Godunov to be worth an opera. https://thetakeout.com/boris-yeltsin-texas-supermarket-opera-1841909510

  208. Are there any authoritative books on the collapse of the Soviet Union? Looking back, it seems surreal.

    Countries that follow Western/American advice on transitioning to a free market and democracy often suffer terribly. Mongolia is a case in point. The Mongolians followed standard Western advice of the time (1980s neoliberalism), which lauded the benefits of “free competition” and “competitive advantage” and letting the economy find its own level. As a result, most of the old industries that the Russians had established (carpets, processing of agricultural and pastoral products, etc.) completely collapsed, bringing great hardship to the population.

  209. I mostly agree with everything said above:)

  210. I suspect that a lot of what people remember of Khrushchyov these days is actually what other people told them (not much of it pleasant).

    I have strong suspicion that my personal accounts of Khruschev are basically the product of “One million two hundred” policy.

    Under Khruschev’s “peaceful initiative”, the Soviet army size was cut by 1.2 million.

    This piece of political propaganda is totally forgotten in the West (and basically in the former Soviet Union too).

    But what those officers who suddenly found their military carriers destroyed told to their grandchildren about Comrade Khruschev was obviously not very nice.

  211. SFReader says

    I haven’t seen anyone discussing this specific parameter (for any country), which is a bit surprising.

    In percentage terms, the largest increases in welfare of Russian people since the martyrdom of Good Tsar Nicholas, occurred during reigns of Putin, Brezhnev and Khruschev (in that exact order).

    Brezhnev appeared a cold, heartless, scary bureaucrat

    HTML Links

    Cold, heartless bureacrat

  212. SFReader says

    Not sure what happened. Please delete the previous post.

    Brezhnev appeared a cold, heartless, scary bureaucrat

    Russian image of Brezhnev is more like shorturl.at/EMV18

  213. What exaclty is “welfare”?

  214. SFReader says

    At the lowest levels of Maslow pyramid, it’s pretty straightforward – eating well, living in comfort and enjoying some peace.

  215. ktschwarz says

    I got hung up on one word in the quotation from Velleius Paterculus:

    one of the barbarians … embarked in a canoe, made as is usual with them of a hollowed log … Then he beached his canoe … he again entered his canoe

    A canoe? That’s a New World word, it sounded weird in a Roman history (but that’s probably just me paying too much attention to etymology). Was there a word for canoe in Latin? Let’s see, the Latin is:

    cavatum, ut illis mos est, ex materia conscendit alveum
    literally: “climbed into a cavity hollowed out of timber, as is their custom”

    Tum adpulso lintre
    “Then, his tub having struck (the bank)”

    reversus in naviculam
    “returned to his little boat”

    So Paterculus wasn’t using a specific word for canoe; instead he described it and then used words for “little boat”. Linter is glossed in Lewis&Short as ‘trough, vat, tub’, and by transference as ‘boat, skiff, wherry’, just as in English a boat can be called a tub.

    But if there were ancient dugout canoes in Europe (like this one), why did all the European languages need to borrow a word for them from Taino? Somebody asked that question on reddit and got an answer: apparently dugouts had been replaced by clinker-built boats and forgotten by the time of Columbus.

  216. No doubt Yeltsin had his flaws, but he was the first Russian ruler since Boris Godunov to be worth an opera.

    Not quite an opera, but Ken MacLeod provides a few pages of the sadly otherwise nonexistent Tragedy of Leonid Brezhnev, Prince of Muscovy, written in blank verse a few centuries in the future.

  217. David Eddyshaw says

    A canoe? That’s a New World word, it sounded weird in a Roman history

    As I’ve recently laid into Robert Graves for his linguistics, it is right to praise one of his happier usages: in the Claudius books, Germanic soldiers carry assegais.

  218. John Emerson says

    Damn. I missed the Jeapordy question. I have no memory even of the man Chernenko.

  219. Lars Mathiesen says

    all — they are eger (singular ege) in Danish; dugouts made from oak trees seem to have been in use at least into the 19th, and on Bornholm the name was even transferred to small clinkerbuilt fishing boats. Authors born in the late 18th use the word plainly, a historical work from 1897 has it in scare quotes–but archeologists also use the word for their dugup dugouts. It was clearly a mistake that Columbus didn’t have a Danish sailor along. (MLG had eke, OE had ac, so either inherited or derived from “oak” in parallel).

    So in Danish, kano is specialized to the type that I believe was originally made from birch bark on a wooden framework, in its Danish recension (like the one my father owned) typically with thin plywood instead of bark. But when talking about exotic places, dugout canoes are included.

  220. J.W. Brewer says

    I think of the prototypical canoe as the birchbark-or-modern-substitute kind, not the dugout kind, but apparently the dugout kind was what was in use by the locals in the Caribbean from whom Columbus borrowed the word into Spanish. And then I guess the French or whoever first encountered the birchbark style farther north thought it similar enough not to grab onto a different loanword from an Algonquin language?

  221. Are there any authoritative books on the collapse of the Soviet Union?

    I highly recommend David Remnick’s Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire. Remnick knows Russian and had spent a lot of time in the country, and he tells the story very well.

  222. Under Khruschev’s “peaceful initiative”, the Soviet army size was cut by 1.2 million.

    That obviously affected a tremendous number of people; another factor people in the West tend not to know about is his anti-religion policy — if I recall correctly, he had more churches demolished than Stalin. Contrary to popular Western belief, there were a lot of Christians in the Soviet Union right up until the end; brutal persecution made them hide their belief but didn’t turn them into atheists.

  223. straightforward

    @SFReader, “welfare” that excludes survival rate?

  224. I mean, seriously. Your survival is important.

  225. Trond Engen says

    I’ve started on several comments just to reload the page and see the discussion(s) moving way beyond whatever point I was trying to make. But one point I will make in defence of Herodotus: He is not only a source on ancient geography but on the worldview of and information available to well-travelled intellectuals of his day. We may not always be able to check his facts, but when we are we know the extents (or limits) of knowledge. In the case of the source of cinnamon, he relates several stories, some of which are obvious tall tales, and some of which conflate different trade routes. He gives a pretty good description of the monsoon trade on the Indian Ocean, but he doesn’t understand that the eastern source is South India and not Ethiopia. Ethiopia (and whoever the Troglodytes were supposed to be) would also have traded with the ports of South Arabia, so it’s an easy error to make when you work from decriptions by Nabateans on the market in Damascus or something. And another: People knew there were weird animals out there, some of which were hunted in strange places and in elaborate ways as sources of exotic and valuable goods. Without physical evidence how was anyone to know which of the tales were true?

  226. Yeah, but clearly he should have anticipated the scientific discoveries of succeeding millennia. Onto the trash heap with you, old man!

  227. @Trond, no objections to your main point, but were not Troglodytes mentioned by Pliny rather than Herodotus? (Herodotus: “Where it comes from and what land produces it they cannot say, except that it is reported, reasonably enough, to grow in the places where Dionysus was reared.” )

  228. Wikipedia has a funny line:

    When the Sieur de Joinville accompanied his king, Louis IX of France to Egypt on the Seventh Crusade in 1248, he reported – and believed – what he had been told: that cinnamon was fished up in nets at the source of the Nile out at the edge of the world (i.e., Ethiopia).

    Corrorima, a cardamom-like thing which Xerîb spoke about is said to grow around Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile:-/

  229. Trond Engen says

    @Drasvi: I lost track somewhere, but the general point stands.

  230. It does. I just was not sure that it is not me who is confusing the authors here:) (On the other hand: Ryan’s point is unexpected for me and thus interesting. )

  231. SFReader says

    “welfare” that excludes survival rate?

    At some levels of Maslow pyramid, increased spending power simply translates into more spending for alcohol consumption with not so nice effects on health and male life expectancy. This is exactly what happened in the Brezhnev era, but it’s important to realize that it’s a surprising by-product of increasing incomes in a population unaccustomed to more cultured ways of leisure, not a sign of deteriorating welfare.

  232. One thing about Brezhnev, he was a superb gift to cartoonists, even more so than Stalin and Yeltsin. No one made a better anthropomorphic bear.

  233. @Y: My favorite political caricature of Brezhnev is from the original version of “The World According to Ronald Reagan.” I thought the holstered missiles carried by the leaders were a brilliant touch. In most respects, the more commonly seen revised version of the poster (featuring Gorbachev) was better, but I think the central caricature of the Soviet leader was superior in the Brezhnev version.

  234. SFReader, your previous comment is a prose version of Было шесть, а стало восемь.

  235. Было три, а стало пять — всё равно берём опять!
    Даже если будет восемь — всё равно мы пить не бросим…

  236. Get you a copper kettle:-E

  237. The video for the 1984 song “Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood depicts a fight between two men made up as Konstantin Chernenko and Ronald Reagan (both then in office). This is the only appearance of Chernenko in western popular culture that I am aware of.

  238. That is a wonderful bit of cultural trivia, thanks!

  239. SFReader says
  240. jack morava says

    re canoes, see John McPhee’s lovely

    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1975/02/24/the-survival-of-the-bark-canoei

    also on kindle

  241. An unexpected translation in Demography of Russia in English: 25% are “Spiritual but not religious”. The question was whether people agree with: «Я верю в Бога (в высшую силу), но конкретную религию не исповедую» “I believe in God (in a higher power), but I do not profess a specific religion”, shortened (in the Contents section in the Russian text) to rather ugly “believes without religion”

    I do not think “spiritual” can be used this way in Russian and have no idea what it meant here:( I do not think in English you can say : “he is spiritual” in the sense “he is not an atheist” either.

    Well, maybe the desire of sociologists to classify produced this usage. But again, if I were asked in Russian “are you spiritual?” my asnwer would be “what? :-/ “. In English, apparently, people’s jaws do not drop.

  242. To me it would mean something like “Do you believe in mumbo-jumbo like crystals and auras?”

  243. David Eddyshaw says

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_but_not_religious

    It’s pretty standard usage in English. WP cites someone as making the probably pertinent point that “the meaning of the term ‘spirit’ is more narrow* in English than that of other languages” which may explain why it seems more natural in English than Russian, say.

    (Personally, I find it an irritating attitude. Given me a good solid atheist any day in preference!)

    * I’m not sure I agree (quite apart from the fact that “other languages” are hardly all the same in this regard.) “Different” would be better than “more narrow”, perhaps.

  244. Lars Mathiesen says

    Åndelighed is a direct calque of spirituality, or probably Geistlichkeit or something French. It covers believing in reincarnation, speaking with the departed or communing with nature without being religious, even reading the Tarot or your palm maybe, while crystals, reflexology and magnetic bracelets are not spiritual. They may coincide in many adherents, though. Angel decals on your fender can go either way I think.

    It also covers deep religious feelings, though. Excluding some more practical approaches to Christianity. (Be at the church on time and say your prayer at table, there’s the job done).

    (Gejstlighed, on the other hand, is ~ ‘clergy’).

  245. January First-of-May says

    To me it would mean something like “Do you believe in mumbo-jumbo like crystals and auras?”

    I personally would probably rather see it applying to belief in souls, or karma, or maybe true love or something, or for that matter spirits as such. Just not in any particular religion.
    (Offhand I actually can’t think of a good way to describe that sort of thing in Russian.)

    OTOH the phrasing as given in Russia would give me an impression closer to “I do not consider my belief system to be sufficiently close to any other religion I’ve heard of to be considered part of it” – i.e. something like “religious but not part of an established confession”.

    [EDIT: apparently that’s not what confession means in English; I was thinking of Russian конфессия. Is there an English word for that?]

  246. J.W. Brewer says

    JanFoM: “Confession” as you’ve used it is IMHO coherent and understandable English, even though that’s not the primary sense of the word. “Denomination” would probably be more idiomatic in American English, although perhaps arguably problematic in its own way depending on who you ask (because its core meaning arose in an intra-Protestant context and thus its extension to non-Protestant and indeed non-Christian groups may rub some the wrong way).

  247. (Gejstlighed, on the other hand, is ~ ‘clergy’).
    And that’s also the meaning of Geistlichkeit. “Spirituality” is the loan Spiritualität.

  248. Russian

    Духовный отец “spiritual father”:

    1. a priest you confess your sins to, who tries to figure out what you should do to stop being such an asshole, colloquially духовник 2. any similar person.

    But this person is as spiritual as your brother in arms is in arms. A ‘father’ in a specific sense. A “spiritual person”, is she a “person” in a specific sense (but not in biological sense)? I do not think so.

    I think rare and somewhat ad hoc colloquial (at least I hear it rarely): “he is very spiritual”
    But I think it is an attempt to describe someone whose certain qualities imress you. But he is spiritual in the same way a holy man is.

    Я вышел духвный
    А вернулся мирской

    БГ – “I went out spiritual, and I returned worldly” this line onse made me think what he could mean by ‘spiritual’ here, because it is an unusual usage:)
    Did he flew out as a spiritual entity and returned with a pocketful of iPhones and eyes shining or what?

    Mostly “spiritual” is an aspect of the world.
    It is not “pertaining to spirituality”, where the latter is some sort of activity. Anything is spiritual.

  249. In Russian the actual question is about one’s opinion. “Do you believe in love?”. Like this. Does not necessarily imply practice any other than how people normally…hm, love, and does not exclude it (no one prevents you from burning candles).

  250. In English (but not Russian) it too makes me think about “crystals and auras”.

    But both in English and Russian I do not see it used in a classificatory way (as in the poll) to describe kinds of persons, in a manner: “he goes to sinagogue, so he is spiritual”, “he does not attend a sinagogue, church or anything but he […], so he is not religious but spiritual”, “he never thinks about such things so he is not”.

    It is a different usage from [classificatory as well] “a practicioner of Spirituality” which I suspect in the poll (crystals – but it can give you a “believer” if you apply “a form of spirituality” to religions ) but also do not see in normal human English speech outside of polls.

    Is not it a notion “under construction” invented by pollers?

    It’s pretty standard usage in English. WP cites someone as making the probably pertinent point that “the meaning of the term ‘spirit’ is more narrow* in English than that of other languages”

    Wiki also refers to a “seminal” poll from 1997 as one of the early exmples – and then refers to a movement than began with some book in 2000:/

  251. There was something back then about how you weren’t supposed to tell Chukchi jokes about Chernenko, because of his vaguely Siberian look and because Chukchis are people you make unflattering jokes about.

    Forgotten short-termers like Malenkov or (Roman Emperor) Otho at least had some drama about getting into power or out of power. Chernenko didn’t even have that, and he wasn’t scary like Andropov.

  252. The Benjamin Harrison of the Soviet Union.

  253. J.W. Brewer says

    @hat: are you referencing the wrong Pres. Harrison?

  254. John Emerson says

    I remember Malenkov and Molotov as a pair, like a comedy team. Names only.

  255. January First-of-May says

    @hat: are you referencing the wrong Pres. Harrison?

    Not @hat, but I suspect probably not; the other Pres. Harrison is right next to Malenkov and Otho in terms of at least having some drama about being so short-term.

    (Though I would probably have chosen Polk or Coolidge, or maybe Tyler, rather than either Harrison.)

  256. Harrison is one of the least well-known presidents among the general public; a 2012 article in New York selected Harrison as the “most forgotten president.”

  257. John Emerson says

    Both Harrisons are pretty much forgotten, so it’s hard to remember which of the two was forgotten because he died immediately after taking office.

  258. J.W. Brewer says

    Schoolkids really ought to know more about the second President Harrison than they do. I need to figure out how to package my agenda in this regard as Critical Harrison Theory in order to provoke a national controversy that will result in millions of people on social media suddenly developing strong but ill-informed opinions on the topic.

  259. John Emerson says

    Chester Arthur, though.

    There’s a story behind Arthur. He took office when Guiteau killed Garfield, and Guiteau was not simply demented, but a demented Stalwart— the Republican faction to which Arthur also belonged, put on the ticket for balance. it is my guess that Arthur was very closely watched during his term.

  260. SFReader says

    Useful list of duplicated presidents:

    Adams, Harrison, Johnson, Roosevelt, Bush.

  261. J.W. Brewer says

    Chester Arthur was also the first president to be dogged by rumors that he was not a “natural born citizen” and accordingly ineligible for the office, with an alleged conspiracy to hush up his supposed actual birth in an exotic foreign locale. (Canada, to be specific.)

  262. January First-of-May says

    Useful list of duplicated presidents:

    Adams, Harrison, Johnson, Roosevelt, Bush.

    For context, the Adamses and Bushes were father-son pairs, the Harrisons were grandfather and grandson, the Roosevelts were distant (sixth, IIRC) cousins, and the Johnsons probably got their surnames indepedently.

  263. Bathrobe says

    “Spirit” is a difficult word. Think “spiritual pollution” as used by the Communist Party of China, where “spiritual” is a translation of 精神. I am sure many people originally did a double take when they first saw that term. How can the Communist Party know anything of the realms of the spirit?

    A Chinese definition of 精神 is: 指人的情感、意志等生命体征和一般心理状态, which Google Translate gives as “Refers to a person’s vital signs such as emotion, will and general mental state”. 体征 ‘signs’ actually is a physiological and medical term referring to abnormal changes found in examining a patient.

    This isn’t actually a very useful definition. 精神 is used in Chinese in exactly the same way as English, as in expressions like ‘dispirited’ or ‘That’s the spirit’. It can be understood as a person’s general emotional and psychological state.

    This term goes back to the 1980s when Deng Xiaoping used it in the following way:

    “精神污染的实质是散布形形色色的资产阶级和其它剥削阶级腐朽没落的思想,散布对社会主义、共产主义事业和对于共产党领导的不信任情绪。” “有一些同志热衷于谈论人的价值、人道主义和所谓异化,他们的兴趣不在批评资本主义而在批评社会主义。” “资产阶级常常标榜他们如何讲人道主义,攻击社会主义是反人道主义。

    Google Translate is actually reasonably good on this (with slight editing):

    “The essence of spiritual pollution is to spread the corrupting thought of the bourgeoisie and other exploiting classes of all kinds, to spread distrust of socialism, communism, and the leadership of the Communist Party.” “Some comrades are keen to talk about human values and humanity. Their interest is not in criticizing capitalism but in criticizing socialism.” “The bourgeoisie often flaunt how they speak of humanitarianism and attack socialism as anti-humanism.”

    Pollution of the spirit isn’t the pollution of the soul at all (which is how it sounds in English); it’s pollution of the mental and psychological wellbeing of people who are ardently striving after socialism.

    (I am using Google Translate because I’m lazy. To translate it myself would require a lot of time, care, and energy, which I don’t have at the moment.)

  264. Ghost in the Shell, a famous manga and anime. Not only it is titled in English (how do you translate it from Japanese when they use so much English?) and refers to both “Ghost in the Machine” and some concept from the manga itself and God knows what (and I do not know what he means by “shell”) – the author keeps also playing with Japanese words for “soul” etc.

    Russian fans are already accustomed to a translation with a word prizrak.
    Another translator used “spirit”. During an enthusiastic argument with people who did not like this, there was an exchange:

    “The main pretension to prizrak is wrong associations…” (in English it would be “wrong connotations”, but “associations” is any sort of things that come to mind when you hear it: that are linked to it in your mind. Including your personal memories, smells, anything).

    “But how do you understand for yourself the phrase prizrak kommunizma?”
    “To be understood in this figurative sense prizrak must be followed by a noun in genitive. ”

    Ha-ha. In the anime some Chinese assassin is quoting Marx too. Some modified version of “a spectre is haunting Europe, a spectre of communism”, just with capitalism. With yet another Japanese lexeme (different from both Japanese translations of communist manifesto that I would able to find:()
    ——
    And if the author did not reference anywhere William Blake, I am surprised.

  265. SFReader says

    How can the Communist Party know anything of the realms of the spirit?

    If they are good cadres, they would…

    “Religious work cadres must fully understand the meaning and responsibilities of the work they are engaged in, earnestly study Marxist-Leninist philosophy and religious theories, and the Party’s policies, familiarize themselves with relevant laws, master knowledge of religious work, and be good at uniting religious people and believers, gradually become religious cadres with good political quality, excellent work style, and high professional knowledge. Party committees and governments at all levels should care about religious cadres in politics, work, and life.” (c) Circular of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council on Several Issues Concerning Further Doing a Good Job in Religion, 1991.

  266. Bathrobe says

    I’ve never seen or read Ghost in the Shell, but according to Japanese Wikipedia it is the subtitle of the first volume of the series in Japanese; it is apparently a reference to Arthur Koestler’s Ghost in the Machine.

    The Japanese title is 攻殻機動隊 Kōkaku kidōtai ‘shell-attacking special forces’ or something like that.

    You would have to have read or seen the series/movie, but it appears that the relationship with ‘spirit’ is rather roundabout.

  267. Bathrobe says

    @ SFReader

    That circular is referring specifically to religious work cadres. I don’t think ordinary cadres would be expected to know anything of spirituality.

  268. January First-of-May says

    Russian fans are already accustomed to a translation with a word prizrak.

    To be precise, the usual translated name is Призрак в доспехах, literally something like “Ghost in armor” – a name that gave a fairly strong mental image of a literal armored ghost. Basically unrelated to the actual plot of the (quite futuristic) anime.

    That said, I don’t think that this mental image would have changed much if призрак was replaced by some other (near-)synonym; it was the в доспехах (“in armor”) part that was a blatant mistranslation. Meanwhile if it was, say, призрак в раковине, it would (…as far as I can tell, anyway) at least be fairly obviously metaphorical without too much of a distracting literal mental image.
    (Google tells me that the most likely relevant meaning of shell is оболочка in Russian, but [призрак] в оболочке would probably have felt even more uncomfortably literal – the word sounds too scientific to be a good quick metaphor.)

  269. David Eddyshaw says

    I think “Ghost in the Shell” is a reference to this:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_in_the_machine

    and ultimately to Descartes.

    (Koestler just popularised it – and distorted it.)
    It is very much relevant to the theme of the Manga/Anime, in fact, what with it being all about cyborgs musing about whether they’re still human without human bodies (and a whole arc with a villain – sorta – who has no body at all.)

    Welsh ysbryd is both “spirit” and “ghost”; English has performed the remarkable trick of swapping the meanings of the two words with each other completely over the past few centuries, which seems logically impossible, but has happened anyway …

  270. John Emerson says

    In my spirituality was neutral grain spirits are primary.

  271. David Eddyshaw says

    And who said the English word has a narrower reference than in other languages …

    (The vodka is good but the meat is rotten.)

  272. Bathrobe says

    Ghost is an old word that originally had the meaning ‘spirit’ in English. As in ‘the Holy Ghost’. That is the sense in which it’s used in reference to Descartes. It is obviously highly related to the theme of the anime/manga, but the problem of translation appears to be just as much a problem of English as it is of Japanese.

  273. I think it is extremely unlikely that Masamune Shirow had ever read anything by either Gilbert Ryle or (FTF) Arthur Koestler when he created Ghost in the Shell. Shirow was probably just vaguely familiar with the English phrase “ghost in the machine” and some of the associated philosophical ideas.

  274. English has performed the remarkable trick of swapping the meanings of the two words with each other completely over the past few centuries, which seems logically impossible, but has happened anyway …

    It is the question that I wanted to ask here (actually it keeps confusing me for a decade). What are exact relations (meaning, style, history, anything) of ghost and spirit given that there is both Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit.
    For some reason I thought that DE will be the most enthusiastic about the question.

  275. I think it is extremely unlikely that Masamune Shirow had ever read anything by either Gilbert Ryle or (FTF) Arthur Koestler

    I’m not sure why you would say that. There is a Japanese translation of Koestler entitled 機械の中の幽霊 kikai no naka no yūrei, where 幽霊 yūrei refers to a ghostly or malevolent spirit.

    Shirow has obviously got the English subtitle ‘Ghost in the Machine’ from somewhere, and ruling out the most obvious source — a translation of Koestler — seems strange.

    Unless he got it as some kind of meme floating around in Japanese culture, which is always a possibility as these kinds of memes often do gain traction in Japan, but the question then becomes, where did the Japanese get the meme come from? It is pretty obviously from some kind of English source, just as likely Koestler, Ryle, or Decartes.

    In this connection I would like to mention a Japanese chef I knew who had worked abroad. He talked about the importance of “play” in human culture, citing the expression Homo Ludens. It wasn’t till much later that I realised there was a famous book of that name by Huizinga.

    I think you greatly underestimate the extent to which various intellectual currents have entered Japan from the West and gained circulation in that country.

  276. In present-day American English, ghost refers to apparitions of dead individuals. Spirits are rarer in that sense, and are, to my mind, abstract. Ghosts can be visible, or make noises, or move Ouija board’s planchette. Places can have spirits, which are more like supernatural miasmas, not so individual. So in modern usage, Holy Ghost is a fixed archaism, and I think Christians less averse to modernism, typically protestants, use Holy Spirit.
    Spiritualism, born in the 19th century, refers to what I would call ghosts.

  277. Bad editing practices.

    One group of translators kept translating Πνεῦμᾰ τὸ Ἅγῐον as Holy Spirit and the other as Holy Ghost.

    And King James failed to ensure consistency.

  278. And existence of two words for the same concept is due to the bastard nature of English language – everything has to have two words – one Germanic, one Latin.

  279. John Emerson says

    Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit are synonyms. Ghost is disfavored now, I suspect, because colloquially ghosts are the wraiths of deceased persons, and often malevolent.

  280. Later edit:

    Shirow could easily have got the title from the translated version. Unlike some countries (here’s looking at you, Mongolia), Japanese translations almost always give the title of the original. For a Japanese, “The Ghost in the Machine” is just about the easiest kind of English you could imagine.

    As others have mentioned, “ghost” originally meant “spirit”. It is cognate with German geist. Since the meaning later changed to “malevolent spirit”, “Spirit” became the preferred term, but the archaic “ghost” still clings on. Another example is “give up the ghost”, which means “die”, and originally meant “give up the spirit”.

  281. Bathrobe, I did not read the manga, I have seen the anime and films. It is one of the most popular series in Russia. Some of them I liked, some impressed me by their athmosphere (I think some films or OVAs). Some did not.

    In the world of the anime people (and possibly not only) have ‘ghosts’ (in Japanese… gostu, an English word), discussed as routinely as hands and cyberbrains. These can be manipulated and used for word-play too (e.g. when a character is asking a character what her gostu is telling her – an idiomatic Russian counterpart could be heart of intuition – and it is not clear whether in that world the heart idiom has evolved or the character made it up – but it happens amids of a discussion of what is ‘ghost’) and the author makes a point of referring to many words and concepts similar to this.

    And in one episode two cyber-geniuses (means: instant Google search:-)) exchange literary references and allusions in a library.

    It is translator’s nightmare I am afraid. You can translate Ghost in the Shell as “Ghost in the shell” and gostu as гост becuase it is English in Japanese. But you need a diglossic society for this.

    Kōkaku kidōtai presents a problem too. But only a hardcore fan will spend sleepless nights looking for a Perfect translation:

    The original editor Koichi Yuri says: At first, Ghost in the Shell came from Shirow, but when Yuri asked “something more flashy”, Shirow came up with “攻殻機動隊 Koukaku Kidou Tai(Shell Squad)” for Yuri. But Shirow was attached to including “Ghost in the Shell” as well even if in smaller type.

  282. @ drasvi

    Thanks for the background. As I said, I haven’t read the series or seen the movie. What you say confirms the “diglossic” nature of the story.

    Japanese are familiar with the word ゴースト gōsuto. I suspect that, given the translation of the title of Koestler’s work using 幽霊 yūrei, the emphasis in the series is on the modern concept of “ghost”, not the Descartian concept, which simply means “spirit”. The possibility of a crossover in meanings here is very interesting.

  283. gōsuto – Yes, sorry, I used gostu as I would do in spoken Russian. I think to a Russian ear it is going to sound like that, but it makes no sense here:-)

    and the author makes a point of referring to many words and concepts similar to this.

    To clarify: English has spirit, ghost, soul etc. (and there is an old Christian tradition of distinguishing between Greek words of this kind and phylosophies built upon this) and Japanese has its selection of words, but the central concept of the manga (I think) and the anime is gostu – which resembles soul (and I would say ‘consciousness’:-)) in that you can wonder whether an AI has it – but it can be accessed.
    And judging by cyberbrains, your actual brains do not matter much.

    The point was that he does not avoid Japanese words either, conversely – he even quoted the communist manifesto ( this word: 亡霊).

    diglossic
    And the song in the anime begins in Russian…

  284. @SFReader, you made me think about the first translators of the Bible as anime fans. A nice image.

    @January First-of-May, “shell” is the part that I do not understand.

    But I like rakovina for some reason.

  285. PlasticPaddy says

    @drasvi
    Another anime with Russian song:
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girls_und_Panzer
    Re obitel’ in Vysotski song, I think he may have chosen it for the syllable bit’.

  286. Bathrobe says

    In Japanese, ゴースト usually refers to a 亡霊 or 幽霊, a spirit of the dead. However, the Wikipedia entry on ゴースト says this about Ghost in the Shell:

    漫画・アニメ『攻殻機動隊』(1989年)で扱われる魂・心・自我にあたる概念。

    (Roughly) In the manga / anime “Ghost in the Shell” (1989), “ghost” is a concept equating to ‘soul, mind, ego’.

    Shirow has taken considerable poetic licence in his use of this term. Whether this is a result of his knowing the original meaning of ‘ghost’ in English, or is just his particular take on (or creative skewing of) the concept of ‘Ghost in the Machine’, is not clear without considerable extra context (e.g., watching the movie or reading the Koestler book).

  287. SFReader says

    Shirow

    From now on, I am going to spell Narutow.

  288. January First-of-May says

    “shell” is the part that I do not understand.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shell_(computing)
    (This is probably not the only intended metaphor.)

    As for раковина, it means “shell” as in mollusc shell, prototypically seashell (note that tortoise and egg shells have different terms in Russian).

    Narutow

    IIRC there’s a decent argument for Nalt.

  289. Holy Ghost in a Nutshell.


    For the computing shell the underlying image, I am afraid is скорлупа (ореховая) and ядро (kernel).

    I do not know whether for English speakers the pair shell-kernel directly evokes an image of a nut (and thus was used as a metaphor) or they were already abstract words for abstract core its complement.

  290. David Eddyshaw says

    you made me think about the first translators of the Bible as anime fans

    I knew a perfectly orthodox fellow-believer who felt that the book of Revelation, often abused as source material by the more peculiar sort of Christian (notably the Trumpophile Tendency), would instead find its true purpose at last by being made into an anime. (Well, he actually said “It would make a great cartoon.”)

    (Now that I’ve written that, it occurs to me that someone must have actually done it already.)

  291. John Emerson says

    Bible anime: in Ethiopia there’s a tradition of presenting Bible stories in cartoon form. What I saw was on cloth.

    The woman beside me was indignant about what she thought were errors in the Ethiopian version of Solomon and Sheba, which is pretty central for Ethiopians and maybe Copts.

  292. Bathrobe says

    From Chinese Wikipedia:

    “攻壳机动队”一名属于和制汉语,来自日语原名“攻殻機動隊”,意译则是“装甲机动防暴警察”的意思。士郎正宗为原本作品起的名字则是英语的“Ghost in the Shell”,只不过在出版时杂志社方面考虑到观众还是选用了日语名,“Ghost in the Shell”则成了《攻壳机动队》的副标题,在日本出版时这两个名称都是同时出现,《攻壳机动队》打入欧美市场时则选用了英文名“Ghost in the Shell”,《攻壳机动队》如今在西方也被以《Ghost in the Shell》所知。

    “Ghost in the Shell”直译为“躯壳中的鬼魂”,不过“Ghost”一词也是《攻壳机动队》中的术语,指义体无法复制代表人类个性的意识。人造的义体、假肢、电子脑不过只是“shell”——一个空壳,无法复制的Ghost才是真正定义每个人存在的“灵魂”,没有Ghost的机器人或者仿生人仅仅是由人工智能驱动的哲学僵尸,并不是真正的人类。《攻壳机动队》世界中的义体化、电子化人类就相当于“Ghosts in shells”——栖息在人造躯壳里的人类意识。士郎正宗称,之所以选用这一名称,是在向匈牙利裔英国作家阿瑟·库斯勒致敬。后者一篇名为《The Ghost in the Machine》的论文最初给予了士郎正宗关于Ghost的灵感。“The Ghost in the Machine”(即“机器中的鬼魂”)则原本是英国哲学家吉尔伯特·赖尔创造的一个名称,用来讽刺法国哲学家笛卡尔关于心物二元论的主张。心物二元论——即人类心灵与肉体是两个可分离的独立部分的概念——是每一版本的《攻壳机动队》都常讨论到的一个本体论哲学话题。

    A rough-and-ready translation based on Google Translate (it falls down in a few places but the gist is there):

    The name “攻壳机动队” is a Japanese-created Chinese term. It comes from the Japanese original name “攻殻機動隊”. The translation means “Armored Mobile Riot Police (装甲机动防暴警察)”. Shirow Masamune’s name for the original work was the English “Ghost in the Shell”, but the magazine chose the Japanese name in consideration of the audience at the time of publication, and “Ghost in the Shell” became “攻壳机动队”. The subtitle “Ghost in the Shell” appeared at the same time when it was published in Japan. When “攻壳机动队” entered the European and American markets, the English name “Ghost in the Shell” was chosen. “攻壳机动队” is still available in the West under the name “Ghost in the Shell”.

    “Ghost in the Shell” can be literally translated as “a ghost inside a shell”, but “ghost” is also a term in “Ghost in the Shell” referring to the inability of prostheses to replicate as representing the consciousness of the human personality. Artificial prostheses, artificial limbs, and electronic brains are just “shells”- empty shells that cannot replicate are what truly define each person’s “soul”. Robots or bionics without a ghost are philosophical zombies driven only by artificial intelligence, not real human beings. The prostheticised and electronicised humans in the world of “Ghost in the Shell” are equivalent to “ghosts in shells”- human consciousness living in an artificial body. Shirow Masamune said that the reason for choosing this name was to pay tribute to the Hungarian-born British writer Arthur Koestler. The latter’s book entitled “The Ghost in the Machine” originally gave Shirow Masamune the inspiration for the ghost. “The Ghost in the Machine” was originally a name created by the British philosopher Gilbert Ryle to satirize the French philosopher Descartes’ claims on the dualism of mind and matter. The dualism of mind and matter—that is, the concept that the human mind and body are two separable parts—is an ontological and philosophical topic often discussed in every version of “Ghost in the Shell”.

  293. John Cowan says

    Get you a copper kettle

    And once you’ve got that chainik, hock it!

  294. John Cowan says

    I do not know whether for English speakers the pair shell-kernel directly evokes an image of a nut (and thus was used as a metaphor) or they were already abstract words for abstract core its complement.

    Hmm. Well, my understanding is this. WhenIwerealad, shell program was a technical term for the boilerplate parts of a program: whenever you could, you chose a suitable shell and then filled in the missing parts to make it do whatever you wanted. This served an analogous role to programming frameworks in modern times.

    I am reasonably sure that Multics was the first operating system to call its user command interpreter a shell. The speculative part is that I think the Multics shell was called that because it was rather like a shell program: it located the code corresponding to the command you typed and then dynamically loaded it; in other words, there was no difference between programs and libraries except that programs expected to be invoked as part of the shell (though it was certainly possible for other libraries to invoke a program in the same way by mimicking the shell’s calling conventions). Unix and all its descendants retained the name shell even though their command interpreters no longer worked like this; dynamic loading returned to Unix only much later at a time when the modern shell conventions were already established.

    Kernel is more recent, appears to be a Unix invention: in Multics it was the supervisor and in earlier operating systems as the executive. VMS used both kernel and executive for the inner and less-inner parts of the operating system, and internally Windows does the same. Windows NT internals were originally modeled on VMS, and it may be no coincidence that incrementing each letter of “VMS” gives “WNT”.

  295. Lars Mathiesen says

    The BASIC “interpreters” on the first computers I got access to did have ways of loading and saving programs, and in that way they weren’t much different from the RT-11 KMON (Keyboard Monitor) at my first job — except that the latter loaded machine code from disk instead of tokenized BASIC. That was not called a shell, and I don’t think worked as one; programs were self-contained and included all library code in each binary. The BASICs could be called shell programs if you wanted.

    The closest I came to an environment with shell programs was probably COBOL, but since it was a student project and we didn’t have to interact with a preexisting production environment, the IDENTIFICATION and ENVIRONMENT divisions were essentially empty when we started, we had to add all files and so on ourselves.

  296. In the middle stages of the personal computer era, a DOS shell was a program that provided an alternative interface for running programs and executing operating system commands. A DOS shell would typically have pre-built menus for copying, renaming, and other core file management functions; more menus could be customized with the applications that the user wanted. Depending on one’s preference, using a DOS shell could be either a godsend or an annoyance. I remember an article in a computer magazine reviewing a number of DOS shell packages, with the tagline: “Whoever said beauty was only skin deep never saw the face of a DOS prompt.”

  297. John Cowan says

    As a consequence, the Windows desktop, taskbar, Start menu, etc. etc. are collectively known as the Windows shell.

    I have now read the paper by the designer of the Multics shell, who just says that he coined the word SHELL [sic] without any explanation of why he chose it.

  298. DOS shell?
    So Masamune’s shell (if he meant computing) could be [a] DOS Shell? Not command line interface, not UNIX?

    When everyone here were using Norton Commander (and then sometimes Volkov Commander and some maybe DOS Navigator (Moldovan) and now FAR), he was staring at this?


    “Everyone” should be taken literally:) I think the number of IBM PC users who used Norton Commander here exceeded 99%. MS DOS is, of course, the first system most people here would think about in the context of computers in that time. But DOS Shell is the last piece of software that would come to anyone’s mind in the context of MS DOS.

  299. SFReader says

    I’ve used both. I think my computer came with DOS Shell and then I got Norton Commander installed.

    But I could be wrong. It was over thirty years ago.

    I mostly fondly recall the game called Elite – spent countless hours roaming the Galaxy.

  300. Norton Commander was one of the DOS shells reviewed in that article I mentioned. Wikipedia describes Norton Commander as an “orthodox file manager,” which is not a term I was familiar with. Confusingly, the Wikipedia article on “file manager” programs uses a difference sense of shell, referring to the ability to access the “underlying OS shell via command line.”

  301. Elite… I think I remember it. And I think it was ZX Spectrum that I used for playing it.

    Though honestly, it were MUDs that I have the most fond and beautiful memories about.

  302. January First-of-May says

    I recall Norton Commander (or something that looked a lot like it, but probably the original) from my childhood, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever actually used it myself, as opposed to looking at my parents using it. I would probably have been about 4-7 years old at the time.

  303. David Eddyshaw says
  304. jack morava says

    A little late, sorry, but, let us not forget

    Higgledy piggledy,
    Benjamin Harrison,
    Twenty-third president
    Was, and, as such,

    Served between Clevelands and
    Save for this trivial
    Idiosyncrasy,
    Didn’t do much.

    (John Hollander)

  305. J.W. Brewer says

    By “didn’t do much,” all Hollander means is that the history he was taught as a child in the New York City public schools, which was of course courtiers’ history devoted to the glorification of FDR as the apotheosis and natural Hegelian consequence of all prior American history, did not have much room for Harrison in its narrative, and he never had the curiosity to investigate further.

    To the extent Harrison achieved comparatively little, there is perhaps a cautionary tale that ought to be better known — he succeeded in enacting a significant change in tariff policy that he incorrectly thought that his narrow 1888 victory (plus Republican success in Congressional races that year) had given him a popular mandate to pursue, but it turned out that he had seriously misgauged the public mood and the resultant backlash was one key factor leading to the Republicans losing control of the House in the 1890 mid-terms, which then made it difficult for the President to get other things accomplished.

  306. Nobody expects the Benjamin Harrison Fan Club!

  307. @J.W. Brewer: Hollander seems to be writing that verse explicitly from the point of view of someone who doesn’t actually understand much about the time period in question. “Served between Clevelands,” indicates that the speaker does not realize that Grover Cleveland was president twice (on either side of Harrison).

  308. John Cowan says

    Anyway, how would you fix it? “Served between Cleveland” is even more bizarre. It’s the same kind of problem as “Mature trees have been planted every 100 meters, and there are no saplings between them.”

  309. J.W. Brewer says

    Perhaps it is correct that the speaker is not supposed to seem to know much about the time period in question, such that he can’t tell you anything about Cleveland other than the notable bit of trivia that he served non-consecutive terms, but I tend to agree with John Cowan that the use of “Clevelands” does not actually carry much implicature that the speaker believes it was two different Clevelands.

  310. I always took served between Clevelands as a joke, because that’s the whole genre.

    I personally subscribe to a whiggish view of presidency, namely, that presidents not supposed to do much. The less a president is doing, the better. Or at least, the less a president is seeking to do on their own initiative, the better. Obviously, presidents must respond to events. But that proved to be not a workable approach, which suggest that I have to change my views, which is obviously outrageous.

  311. January First-of-May says

    that he incorrectly thought that his narrow 1888 victory (plus Republican success in Congressional races that year) had given him a popular mandate to pursue

    In retrospect, he should probably have realized that he could not have possibly had a popular mandate, having lost the popular vote.

    (1888 is one of, so far, five US presidential elections where the popular vote winner did not get the presidency. The others are 1824, where the popular vote winner got by far the most electoral votes, but not enough for a majority, and lost in the second round; 1876, where a lot of electoral votes were disputed, and a partisan commission awarded them to the other guy; 2000, where everything hinged on the extremely close result in Florida; and 2016. In addition, in 1880, the popular vote was almost tied, but the electoral vote winner was very slightly ahead.)

  312. J.W. Brewer says

    Depends on what you mean by “popular.” Harrison almost certainly would have won the “popular vote” in 1888 if Southern blacks (who were, in those far-off days, a reliable Republican constituency) had not in many instances been unlawfully prevented from voting. And indeed one of the great what-ifs of Harrison’s presidency was the ultimate failure of the last serious federal legislative effort (for approx. 75 years) to roll back the disenfranchisement of Southern blacks, which passed the House in 1890 but stalled in the Senate, and then could not pass the House the following year because it had fallen under the control of the pro-disenfranchisement party. But, as the saying goes, that was in another country and besides the wench is dead. All of that said, the reasons Southern blacks tended to vote Republican in those days if not prevented from voting did not necessarily have much to do with tariff policy.

    The subsequent irony is that having just consolidated their control over the now-Solid South via racial exclusion, the Democrats then badly screwed up their national coalition in the realigning election of 1896, which had the regrettable side effect of showing the Republicans that they could fairly easily obtain national majorities even writing off the entire South, which in turn thus regrettably diminished the practical Republican incentive to fight against disenfranchisement of their probable voters in the South.

  313. J.W. Brewer says

    Separately, I would encourage January-First-of-May to take a sufficiently critical attitude toward “official” history as told by the winners as not to assume his list of five instances is complete, above and beyond the point I made above about why the 1888 numbers are tainted (for reasons that continued for many decades thereafter). In particular, there is absolutely no good reason to think the standardly-reported popular-result vote totals of the 1960 presidential election are *true,* although that doesn’t necessarily mean that Kennedy necessarily *lost* on that metric so much as it means that the true outcome on that metric may be unknowable due to the fog of war (plus some structural oddities in Alabama which means that you can’t actually work the Alabama results into your national totals without making a bunch of inherently contestable methodological choices).

  314. Talking about a popular vote winner before the Civil War is even more fraught, methodologically speaking. In the early days, electors in some states were appointed directly by the legislature, without a popular vote. South Carolina continued to handle things that way up through the 1860 election. Through the Era of Good Feelings, many states set property requirements for voters. And even after the Civil War, eligibility for the franchise was not standardized across the states; that did not come about (legally or pragmatically) until the twentieth century.

  315. John Emerson says

    I have read that in Chicago there was so much fraud in The 1960 Kennedy-Nixon election that Nixon was planning to contest it, but that advisers familiar with Illinois politics convinced him that the countervailing cheating by Republican bosses in outer Illinois was enough that the election challenge would take forever and that its outcome would be uncertain.

  316. SFReader says

    Looked at the 1888 election results. Harrison became president winning 5,443,892 votes.

    United States population in 1890 was almost 63 million.

    9 out of 10 Americans didn’t vote for the president.

    Overwhelming popular mandate….

  317. David Eddyshaw says

    Well, most of the population didn’t have votes …

  318. The closeness of the Democratic candidate’s victory in 1960 is exaggerated (in both the popular total and the electoral college vote) by the fact that Alabama and Mississippi appointed slates of unpledged Democratic electors. Since the electoral college count was not dangerously close, many of them felt comfortable throwing their votes away, rather than voting for the Catholic Kennedy. However, had Nixon carried Illinois and Missouri, most or all of them would have instead voted for Kennedy.

  319. J.W. Brewer says

    On most calculations the 1888 presidential election had a higher turnout percentage of eligible voters (even including de facto disenfranchised adult black male citizens in the denominator) than any presidential election since then, at somewhere around 79 or 80%. The comparable percentage last November was a bit over 66%, which was the highest in 120 years. 1904 (which 2020 exceeded on this metric) was down dramatically from 1888, especially but not only in the Deep South where the disenfranchisement efforts that were already well underway in 1888 had completed their work (in some places trying to exclude poor whites as well as blacks). For example, almost twice as many votes were cast in Mississippi in 1888 as in 1904, and the 1888 number was itself down around 30% from the total number of votes cast there in 1876. Mississippi also demonstrates the partisan effect of the shrunken electorate, with the percentage of votes cast for the Republican ticket dropping from around 32% in 1876 to around 26% in 1888 to under 6% in 1904.

    But the Republican ticket in 1904 won a blowout victory nationwide whereas 1876 and 1888 had been very close calls. Which gets back to my previous point that the GOP’s post-1896 ability to win national majorities w/o being competitive in the South reduced their incentive to attack the disenfranchisement of their own likely voters in the South.

  320. January First-of-May says

    plus some structural oddities in Alabama which means that you can’t actually work the Alabama results into your national totals without making a bunch of inherently contestable methodological choices

    Forgot about that part. I suppose this puts 1960 is in the same category as 1880: the same guy won both, but the popular vote was extremely close.

  321. J.W. Brewer says

    @Brett – the whole strategic point of the unpledged electors (Alabama’s situation messier than Mississippi’s, as I adverted to above) was the hope of depriving both of the major candidates of an outright electoral college majority of pledged electors and then offering their votes to whichever of the two promised to be least hostile to the continuation of Jim Crow, ideally getting them into a bidding war against each other. Because, on the officially reported results, Kennedy got a clear EC majority, we never got to find out just how flexible either of the candidates would have proven in courting those votes.

    John Emerson is right that the true outcome in Illinois is unknowable. I tend to think it’s >50% likely but not necessarily >85% likely that Nixon would have won a hypothetical honest count there, but it’s also true that an investigation would likely have revealed that both sides had cheated in Illinois even if the Democrats had done so a little more extensively, such that they benefited on net. The problem beyond that, however, is that just reclassifying Illinois from narrow Kennedy win to narrow Nixon win would not be sufficient to deprive Kennedy of his EC majority, so you would need to flip another state or states to change the bottom-line outcome. Texas was the likely suspect, if only because everyone knew that LBJ couldn’t not cheat, just as a matter of temperament. But it’s much less clear (certainly not >50% imho) that there was cheating in Texas of a magnitude that would have changed the result.

  322. @J.W. Brewer: Some of Alabama’s electors had announced publicly, prior to the election, that they were going to vote for Kennedy, and they did so. Apparently, Wikipedia does not count them as “unpledged electors,” although they were not officially “pledged” according to the usual meaning of the term (as it is applied in other states). Moreover, my understanding was that a number of other electors from Alabama and Mississippi had made it clear privately that, if their votes were actually going to matter, they were committed to voting for Kennedy. How things would have actually played out, if it looked like the election was going to go to the House of Representatives without those votes, we can never know for sure, but I suspect that, in extremis, those anti-Catholic, segregationist electors would have come home to the Democratic fold.

  323. John Emerson says

    I think we can know exactly when the Republicans decided to concede the South (now the Solid South) to the segregationist Democrats.

    Reconstruction ended in 1877, but it was a state-by-state district-by-district battle and in 1896 NC still elected a Republican governor and. Republican Congressman.

    In 1896, however, a well-organized paramilitary group overthrew the Republican mayor of Wilmington NC, a predominantly black city with a black middle class. The pretext was an insult to white womanhood.

    The pleas for help from the Republican governor of the state to the McKinley Administration were not answered, and by 1900 the state was entirely under white supremacist Democratic control.

    Why no response? The NC Republicans were in alliance with.the Populists on state issues, even though the Populists were in alliance with the Democrats nationally. Obviously an unstable situation, but just one sign of the way that the Populists threatened both the Democrats and the Republicans, often on issues upon which the two major parties were in basic agreement.

    By conceding the whole South to the Democrats and allowing the white supremacists to violate the law with impunity, the Republicans allowed the Southern Democrats to destroy the Southern Populists too, not just the biracial Southern Republicans. And this effectively destroyed the Populist threat, dividing the Populist voters between the two parties. And as someone said above, the Republicans had correctly calculated that they could win without the South.

    Considerations of justice or the rule of law apparently played little or no role in this decision.

  324. >In 1896, however, a well-organized paramilitary group overthrew the Republican mayor of Wilmington NC,

    1898, right?

    I remember when the city of Wilmington commemorated that in 1998, and how unaware I’d been – vivid memory of sitting reading about it on the internet in an apartment I gave up soon after. But I would have told you I was reading Nicholas Lemann’s Redemption – the Last Battle of the Civil War around the same time, and that didn’t come out till 8 years later. Historical memory …

    But the north hadn’t intervened in Southern politics in years by then. 1888 was a bigger turning point – with Republicans gaining control in DC but failing to pass the ‘Force Bill” that would have established federal oversight of elections.

    As a result, disenfranchisement continued on a state by state basis (as you point out). In Tennessee, oddly, a prohibition referendum was the last gasp of black voting rights. Anti-liquor forces hoped for majorities from religious African Americans. When their referendum failed, they created a narrative of dissolute black voters under the sway of liquor interests, who had to be suppressed. But that happened after the election 1888, long before Wilmington.

    Wilmington was the last nail in the coffin.

  325. A new study argues (with a mountain of detailed and often gruesome detail) that around 1650 BCE, a Tunguska-like airburst, only stronger, wiped away several cities (including Jericho) and over a hundred settlements in the Jordan Valley, and moreover salted the earth for miles around. Very unpleasant.

  326. David Marjanović says

    Strongly recommended (if you can deal with a bit of gruesome detail). The main focus is a large town (estimated at 8000 inhabitants), Tall al-Ḥammām, which looks like after a nuclear attack – detailed comparisons are made to the Trinity test. The salt comes from local sediments or the Dead Sea.

    And yes, the many authors mention Sodom, though they refuse to speculate further after mentioning that stones & fire fall from the sky in the story. Jericho (if that’s what it is) was abandoned for ~ 300 years, Tall al-Ḥammām for ~ 600, because of the salt.

  327. Interesting that they also found another Middle Eastern site, Abu Hureyra in Syria, which shows signs of a similar impact in 12,800 BP. I don’t think it’s because the authors are prone to seeing impacts everywhere: it’s that they work in the area, and these kinds of impacts might be uncomfortably common.

  328. Oh, thank you.

  329. Actually, I have seen multiple twitter threads by multiple scientists with relevant expertise who think that there’s something fishy going on with the Tall al-Ḥammām claim.

    Copying and pasting a bit, and adding on (using the code tag to avoid overloading the spam checker with links):

    1) A bioarchaeologist disputes the interpretation of the body parts found:
    https://twitter.com/ChrisStantis/status/1440404380386160646

    2) A zooarcheologist says that someone with actual osteological knowledge should be able to tell the difference between an infant bone and a small mammal bone:
    https://twitter.com/FlintDibble/status/1440416847841546247

    3) Multiple threads by an physicist who has specialized in researching the evidence of meteorite airbursts (and was cited by the paper) sees problems:
    https://twitter.com/MarkBoslough/status/1440097126856282113
    https://twitter.com/MarkBoslough/status/1440377970497966089
    https://twitter.com/MarkBoslough/status/1440490620854800385
    https://twitter.com/MarkBoslough/status/1441041953932537863
    (more to come)

    4) An archaeologist points out that they may have misused the software that generated their unified radiocarbon dating from the various radiocarbon dates :
    https://twitter.com/MTB_Archaeology/status/1440473335687630865

    5) Another archeologist disputes that the city walls look any different from expected non-impact disaster damage. She also points out problems with the proper diligence expected of archaeologists, and the interpretation of the osteological taphonomy.
    https://twitter.com/petrabonegirl/status/1440833392006688768

    Possibly more to come . . .

  330. Dr. Megan A. Perry (@petrabonegirl):

    Re: the stratigraphic deposits, the article only cites unpublished site reports that excavation directors submit to the DOA at the end of each field season. There is no oversight, no editing for content, and definitely no peer review. 9/

    Normally this would not be a problem, but in the case of this excavation, where the director has a clear objective to prove elements of the Bible actually occurred (otherwise he will lose his 1 million dollar endowment), this is a huge cause of concern. 10/

    It’s frankly like trusting a publication demonstrating the efficacy of a drug that was paid for the by the drug manufacturer – but at least in that case, this conflict of interest is clearly stated. I guess they can’t say their conflict of interest involved god. 11/

    rozele, above:

    biblical archaeology and zionist historiography are pits of ash marked “this is not a place of honor”

    *shakes head sadly*
    The words of the prophets are written on language blogs, and twitter slogs…

  331. Dept of Oh Wait, There’s More:

    6) Geoarchaeologist provides more detail in disputing that anything unusual happened at the site:
    https://twitter.com/SoilManDan/status/1441012233476186114

    7) Another geoarchaeologist points out that lots of finds look vitrified — because people in the past worked with fire:
    https://twitter.com/NErbSatullo/status/1440615036691501059

    8) A geologist comments on the microdiamonds and shocked quartz, and points out that these can also be found in the area of faults — like the Dead Sea Rift — which is right where the place is located:
    (didn’t properly thread all of the tweets)
    https://twitter.com/elleryfrahm/status/1440510054369677314
    https://twitter.com/elleryfrahm/status/1440705165338701832
    https://twitter.com/elleryfrahm/status/1440714921340071939

    9) Meta-level discussion of this paper in the context of “biblical archaeology”:
    https://twitter.com/MichaelDPress/status/1440654636705140747

    still more to come?

    [ Tall al-Ḥammām: less of a Tunguska-type airburst, more of a bad archaeology piñata? ]

  332. Oy. What a thorough cluster-[pig’s breakfast] it is.

  333. When a “scandalous” result that can be confirmed or disproven is published in a sceintific journal, it is not bad sceince.

    There is evidence you need to present to make everyone believe in your result, and there is evidence you need to present to make someone check your result. There is such a genre: please, check my result.

    These guys are funny, and they believe that precise methods can prove their interpretation to be right. They presented it in such a form that you actually can go and check. I sympathize to this: I beleive, science is when people go and check and bullshit is when everything is decided by consensus among renowned specialists.

    The meaningful question is whether they presented enough evidence for someone to go and check.

  334. David Marjanović says

    It’s too late at night to check all the Twitter threads, or even just the most interesting ones.

    But:

    A zooarcheologist says that someone with actual osteological knowledge should be able to tell the difference between an infant bone and a small mammal bone:

    Mammal ribs are not diagnostic, unless they’re from a sea cow. Besides, they’re talking about pretty small fragments, and the resolution of the question would be completely irrelevant to the point of the paragraph it’s mentioned in.

    Another geoarchaeologist points out that lots of finds look vitrified — because people in the past worked with fire:

    The paper spends a lot of pages on showing one thing after another that fire, even if the whole city burns, simply cannot do.

    A geologist comments on the microdiamonds and shocked quartz, and points out that these can also be found in the area of faults — like the Dead Sea Rift — which is right where the place is located:

    What the what?

    You get very pathetically shocked quartz, with 2 or 3 fracture planes, from explosive volcanism (e.g. Mt. St. Helens). To get grains with as many fracture planes as illustrated in the paper, you need a nuke or an impact. There’s simply no other way to reach several gigapascals. Shocked quartz doesn’t just lie around in California!

  335. January First-of-May says

    As far as I’m concerned this is (roughly) the archaeological equivalent of the papers on Sino-Caucasian; i.e. they present a lot of evidence in favor of their point of view, and they’re somewhat aware that their evidence is a little sloppy but there’s so much of it that it’s probably right, and in any case at least it doesn’t look blatantly wrong.

    That said, to be honest, the whole “we know that impact sites contain X, oh, let’s look for X in this site, yay! we found it! …in trace amounts” setup (rinse and repeat for several different values of X) honestly looked a little grasping-for-conclusion-y even on my first read.
    “We set out to prove that T.-al-H. was impacted by a meteor, and we found several very convincing-looking lines of evidence (that by themselves could also all* mean other things, but there’s a lot of them)”.

    Notably it doesn’t seem (as far as I could recall) that they looked for any evidence against the meteoric theory.

     
    *) except the shocked quartz, apparently

  336. David Marjanović says

    Things like iridium are expected in trace amounts.

    Again, there’s not just the shocked quartz, there’s also the iridium, the molten bricks, the extreme power necessary to pulverize bricks and bones together over a wide area, and other things I don’t remember from 24 hours ago.

    Notably it doesn’t seem (as far as I could recall) that they looked for any evidence against the meteoric theory.

    They didn’t look for evidence for it either. They collected observations and, one by one, eliminated potential explanations until only an air blast and an impact were left.

  337. By “funny”, I mean, their archaeologist (Silvia) seems to love cosmic explanations. I know nothing about the guys who wrote the paper, but, of course, I expect wishful thinking. In other words, I think they can be freaks and the mental procedures they used to process the data might be noisy.

    I just really think that there is no point in discussing whether it is “true” when it can be just checked. And it is not that freaks never discover something interesting.

  338. Silvia, associated with Trinity Southwest University (an unaccredited Christian school, conveniently set in a storefront in a shopping mall) is a long-time seeker of archaeological proofs of biblical narratives.

    Another commenter pointed out that while the bones were evaluaed by a medical doctor, no archaeological osteologist is among the authors; the analysis of trauma in bones from archaeological contexts is a specialty; a regular medical doctor would not be qualified to evaluate them. That series of tweets (here) is my favorite analysis of the paper. It was written by a bioarchaeologist who has worked for decades on another tell nearby.

  339. Many people involved with this work and with Abu Hureyra are prponents of the not-without-its-problems Younger Dryas impact hypothesis. The Abu Hureyra destruction date is around the time of the onset of the YD.

  340. David Eddyshaw says

    “Skepticism increased when it was reported that one of the lead authors of the original paper had practiced geophysics without a license.”

    (Can you be prosecuted for practicing linguistics without a licence in the US?)

    The hypothesis does seem to have some advocates whose style does not inspire confidence …

  341. After a story with the Syrian school in Noginsk [it involved armed masked people in search for ISIS] I started suspecting something and asked my German friend if it is possible to just teach kids [without any official status] in Germany. She does not know, she said, but she thinks a license is necessary, because who knows what you will teach to them.

  342. On the other hand:

    I do not think that we can say much about frequency of such events.

  343. @David Marjanović:

    You get very pathetically shocked quartz, with 2 or 3 fracture planes, from explosive volcanism (e.g. Mt. St. Helens). To get grains with as many fracture planes as illustrated in the paper, you need a nuke or an impact.

    Or a lightning strike, as the geologist points out, and links to: Lightning-induced shock lamellae in quartz

    ( https://doi.org/10.2138/am-2015-5218 )

    Using transmission electron microscopy we show that planar deformation lamellae occur within quartz in the substrate of a rock fulgurite, i.e., a lightning-derived glass. These lamellae exist only in a narrow zone adjacent to the quartz/fulgurite boundary and are comparable to planar deformation features (“shock lamellae”) caused by hypervelocity impacts of extra-terrestrial objects. Our observations strongly suggest that the lamellae described here have been formed as a result of the fulgurite-producing lightning strike. This event must have generated a transient pressure pulse, whose magnitude, however, is uncertain at this stage.

    While it isn’t necessarily what happened, a city destroyed by fire and struck by lightning might well result in vitrified mud/clay and shocked quartz being found.

    Edit: Also, I note this thread (continuation of (3)):
    ( https://twitter.com/MarkBoslough/status/1440816755161518082 )
    also addresses the shocked quartz issue.

    From that thread by Mark Boslough:

    You simply cannot drive a strong enough shock from low-impedance air into high-impedance rock from an asteroid airburst. Stand-off nuclear explosions are another story. It’s different physics. I wrote my course notes up as a book chapter. See [book link to: “High-Pressure Shock Compression of Solids”]

    @DM again:

    Again, there’s not just the shocked quartz, there’s also the iridium, the molten bricks, the extreme power necessary to pulverize bricks and bones together over a wide area

    Yes, but “molten bricks” (city-wide) and “pulverized bricks and bones together” (as a single instantaneous event) are exactly what is disputed by the other archaeologists.

  344. Another continuation of (3) above:
    https://twitter.com/MarkBoslough/status/1441041953932537863
    https://twitter.com/MarkBoslough/status/1441236518660493327

    https://twitter.com/MarkBoslough/status/1441458596659613706
    [This one includes a challenge from the dig director of TeH to debate the issue. MB accepts – for a twitter debate ]

    https://twitter.com/MarkBoslough/status/1441536868038758402
    [This one starts to address the Younger Dryas Impact hypothesis]

  345. The event that they are trying to explain – if, of course, the event actually happened, but they refer to other people’s work – is interesting.

    They are saying that the region was abandoned and resettled again several hundreds years later. If this is true, it is interesting and needs an explanation.

    Everyone heard about this, of course; it includes what was thought to be the oldest city in the world, that too was abandoned around 1550 (+/-50) BC. But they are telling there is a whole collection of such cities (of whiches theirs was even larger, as I understand them).

    Now, they prefer a dinosaur-style explanation, but there is a weird extinction event to explain anyway.

  346. David Marjanović says

    Lightning is addressed and dismissed in the paper, I’ll have to read that again…

    if it is possible to just teach kids [without any official status] in Germany.

    Germany is in the unusual situation that homeschooling is completely illegal. All children must not merely be taught (as in neighboring countries), they must go to school, period.

    You simply cannot drive a strong enough shock from low-impedance air into high-impedance rock from an asteroid airburst.

    That’s what I thought; and indeed the paper prefers an airburst to an impact for the single reason that no crater has yet been found, which is not terribly convincing on a floodplain next to a very deep lake indeed. But if a nuclear explosion on a tower can do it… how is that “completely different physics”? It’s a large explosion all the same.

    An argument for an airburst and against an impact actually emerges from elsewhere in the paper, even though it’s not made explicit: the size of the damaged area puts a limit on the size of the impactor, and an impactor that size is expected to blow up in the air instead of reaching the ground.

  347. David Marjanović says

    1) A bioarchaeologist disputes the interpretation of the body parts found:
    https://twitter.com/ChrisStantis/status/1440404380386160646

    Oh, wow. Chris Stantis managed to look at fig. 44 without reading its caption.

    “Pulverized mudbrick” is in the figure, and the yellow circles are also in the figure. But “Pulverized mudbrick” does not refer to the yellow circles.

    Figure 44. Human bones in the destruction layer. (a) Photo of a disarticulated skull found near the palace on the ring road around the upper tall. The right eye socket has been crushed (orange arrow). Skull is embedded in pulverized mudbrick containing numerous charcoal fragments (yellow circles) and is stained with ash commonly found in the destruction layer (blue arrow).

    The yellow circles highlight the charcoal fragments. “Pulverized mudbrick” is the matrix, the entire background of the picture, around the charcoal fragments and the bones; the label “Pulverized mudbrick” is placed on the pulverized mudbrick.

    I have nothing against discussions on Twitter, but, people, don’t tweet faster than you read.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    That thread also claims several times that the paper flat-out states TeH to be Sodom. It’s actually much more careful. The 8 occurrences of “Sodom” in the paper are the following:

    Three on p. 5–6:

    Potential written record of destruction. There is an ongoing debate as to whether Tall el-Hammam could be the biblical city of Sodom (Silvia² and references therein), but this issue is beyond the scope of this investigation. Questions about the potential existence, age, and location of Sodom are not directly related to the fundamental question addressed in this investigation as to what processes produced high-temperature materials at Tall el-Hammam during the MBA. Nevertheless, we consider whether oral traditions about the destruction of this urban city by a cosmic object might be the source of the written version of Sodom in Genesis. We also consider whether the details recounted in Genesis are a reasonable match for the known details of a cosmic impact event.

    One on p. 53:

    It is worth speculating that a remarkable catastrophe, such as the destruction of Tall el-Hammam by a cosmic object, may have generated an oral tradition that, after being passed down through many generations, became the source of the written story of biblical Sodom in Genesis. The description in Genesis of the destruction of an urban center in the Dead Sea area is consistent with having been an eyewitness account of a cosmic airburst, e.g., (i) stones fell from the sky; (ii) fire came down from the sky; (iii) thick smoke rose from the fires; (iv) a major city was devastated; (v) city inhabitants were killed; and (vi) area crops were destroyed. If so, the destruction of Tall el-Hammam is possibly the second oldest known incident of impact-related destruction of a human settlement, after Abu Hureyra in Syria ~ 12,800 years ago^17,172,173.

    One on p. 57:

    Regarding this proposed airburst, an eyewitness description of this 3600-year-old catastrophic event may have been passed down as an oral tradition that eventually became the written biblical account about the destruction of Sodom. There are no known ancient writings or books of the Bible, other than Genesis, that describe what could be construed as the destruction of a city by an airburst/impact event. This airburst/impact hypothesis would make Tall el-Hammam the second oldest known city/town to have been destroyed by an airburst/impact event that produced extensive human casualties, after Abu Hureyra, Syria at ~ 12,800 cal BP^17. Similarly small but devastating cosmic events are expected to recur every few thousand years^189, and although the risk is low, the potential damage is exceedingly high, putting Earth’s cities at risk and encouraging mitigation strategies.

    After the first quote, I expected a detailed investigation of the text of the Sodom story. That never came. The six points in the second quote are all there is. Individually and together, the three quotes only state that a description of an airburst or impact destroying a city seems to have been incorporated into the Sodom story when that story was composed; that’s a perfectly fair point to make.

    The last quote actually emphasizes that such events are perfectly natural – as opposed to miracles.

    The other three occurences are all in the references:

    10. Neev, D. & Emery, K. O. The Destruction of Sodom, Gomorrah, and Jericho: Geological, climatological, and archaeological background. 192 (Oxford University Press, 1995).

    148. Collins, S. Tall el-Hammam is Sodom: Billington’s Heshbon identification suffers from numerous fatal flaws. Biblical Res. Bull. XII (2012).

    170. Collins, S. The Search for Sodom & Gomorrah. (Trinity Southwest University Press, 2006).

    Interestingly, those three references are not cited in the passages quoted above. 10 is cited a single time, on p. 3:

    Lake Lisan, the precursor to the modern Dead Sea, began to fill about 80,000 years ago, reaching a maximum level of 170–185 mbsl by ~ 18,000 cal BP^10.

    (Yes, I clicked through all 200 occurrences of the string 10 in the paper, except those in the references.)

    148 is cited a single time on p. 49:

    This multi-century abandonment is particularly puzzling, given that this area contains the most fertile agricultural land within a radius of hundreds of kilometers across Jordan, Israel, and Palestine. The destruction was so remarkable and so pervasive that the ensuing name of the area became Abel, the ‘mourning grounds’ (specifically, to mourn because of a calamity)^148.

    170 is likewise cited a single time on p. 53:

    One of the largest volcanic eruptions known for the last 10,000 years occurred at ~ 1663–1599 BCE (3613–3549 cal BP)^169, centered in the eastern Mediterranean on Thera, a Greek island now known as Santorini. The explosion generated a massive tsunami that is proposed to have reached the island of Crete 110 km away and triggered the collapse of the Minoan culture, which evidence suggests was closely related to the culture at TeH^143,170.

    At worst, these are desperate attempts to get some fundamentalist works cited. No argument in the paper depends on them.

    So, the last author is a fundamentalist at a diploma mill with a printer, and he managed to get his thesis* at that same diploma mill cited in the paper once (for the “ongoing debate” over whether TeH is Sodom, in the first quote above). That’s bad, but it doesn’t seem to be able to do much damage to the paper. He’s the only author at that institution; he’s neither the first nor the corresponding author. The first author, who presumably did most of the work, is in the geology program of a perfectly respectable university.

    * 2. “Silvia, P. J. The Middle Bronze Age civilization-ending destruction of the Middle Ghor. Ph.D. thesis, Trinity Southwest University (2015).”

    …and I’m only halfway through the first Twitter thread. I don’t think I’ll have time for this in the rest of this month. 🙁

  348. *Hastily checking where the author of the paper about Breton syntax that I am reading printed her diploma. I think I also now need to know her sexual orientation. Is it gay Breton or lesbian Breton?*

  349. Disbelieving commentary from a space scientist: Did An Asteroid Destroy A Biblical City? Take These Claims With a Pillar Of Salt.

    A) Tunguska-like airburst events are very rare. It would be hugely unlikely to have two asteroids airburst at such close locations so close together in time. (That is, rare for the airburst to occur very close to the earth’s surface. Most asteroids either disintegrate in the upper atmosphere, so anything that reaches the earth’s surface is already small and molten and spread over a large area; or is a much more coherent piece of rock that doesn’t disintegrate/forms an impact crater.)

    B) Shocked quartz does not get that much shock from airburst events: there’s simply not enough kinetic energy in air. (The Tunguska event did flatten trees, but they were still recognisable as trees with their cellular structure.)

  350. A space scientist with a fine Scottish accent, btw.

  351. @David Marjanović: For a sufficiently big and abrupt explosion, there is no difference in the form of the blast wave; the Sedov solution is universal. All that matters in that case are the energy of the explosion, the density of the surrounding air, and how far you are away from the center. However, Mark Boslough’s thing is modeling atmospheric impacts as something entirely different; this image from Wikipedia shows the kind of columnar structure that his models feature. I don’t know enough to adjudge whether those models are more realistic. What we know about the Tunguska Event certainly suggests that it was more Sedov like; however, there’s obviously still a lot of uncertainty even about what happened at Tunguska, and we don’t know how typical it was (although the well-recorded occurrence of the Tunguska Event does not affect the probability that another similar event could also have occurred in the geologically recent past).

  352. eyewitness description of this 3600-year-old catastrophic event may have been passed down as an oral tradition that eventually became the written biblical account about the destruction of Sodom.

    Yes quite plausible. But in that timescale, the event could have happened anywhere in the Mediterranean/Middle East basin, and the description transferred.

    And the description itself seems to me much more like a volcano/very similar to Pliny’s description of Vesuvius/Pompeii.

    This multi-century abandonment is particularly puzzling, given that this area contains the most fertile agricultural land …

    Don’t I remember from another thread that abandoning settlements that had been riven by plague was a thing? Burn the place to the ground (fire!), quarantine it for a few decades, bulldoze it to rubble (making it look like the aftermath of an explosion), build again on top.

  353. Fire is expected. Usually the plague is Homo sapiens.

    But abandoning the region for several hundreds years looks weird. The Middle East is a rather dencely populated region, and Jordan is not one river among 70 rivers in the middle East.

    Google says:
    The four major rivers in the Middle Eastern region are the Indus, Jordan, Tigris, and Euphrates.
    It is tiny, compared to the Nile, but it is what they have:(

    Abandoning the valley for centuries!?

  354. More of (3) continued:
    https://twitter.com/MarkBoslough/status/1441799634385469450
    https://twitter.com/MarkBoslough/status/1441827787480829958

    https://twitter.com/MarkBoslough/status/1442309550284034051

    @DM:

    That’s what I thought; and indeed the paper prefers an airburst to an impact for the single reason that no crater has yet been found, which is not terribly convincing on a floodplain next to a very deep lake indeed. But if a nuclear explosion on a tower can do it… how is that “completely different physics”? It’s a large explosion all the same.

    I am hardly an expert, but I note that the nuke on a tower left not only a crater, but also a layer of fused vitrified minerals (trinitite), and also that the height of the tower is far lower than the estimated height of the proposed airburst (in the case of Tunguska, frex, it was many kilometers (5-10km, says WikiP, 12km says Boslough)).

    One of Boslough’s tweets from the latest thread:

    My slide 32 shows the overpressure from the air shock from a Tunguska-scale. The order of magnitude is 0.1 bar (a tenth of atmospheric pressure). But the order of magnitude of pressure required to generate shocked quartz is 100,000 bars.

  355. David Marjanović says

    It would be hugely unlikely to have two asteroids airburst at such close locations so close together in time.

    Huh? The paper only posits one.

    Is that a misunderstanding of the mention of the hunter-gatherer camp at Abu Hureyra in Syria, supposedly destroyed by an airburst nine thousand years earlier?

    a layer of fused vitrified minerals (trinitite)

    The presentation of finds of trinitite (though not a continuous layer) takes up a few pages of the paper. The similarity in the photos, for what that’s worth, is striking.

  356. @David Marjanović:

    It would be hugely unlikely to have two asteroids airburst at such close locations so close together in time.

    Huh? The paper only posits one.

    Is that a misunderstanding of the mention of the hunter-gatherer camp at Abu Hureyra in Syria, supposedly destroyed by an airburst nine thousand years earlier?

    I suspect that “close” in the quoted statement was meant in the geological sense in both instances.

    @DM:

    The presentation of finds of trinitite (though not a continuous layer) takes up a few pages of the paper.

    Or rather, meltglass compared with (the specific type of meltglass that is) trinitite.

    I suspect (although again, not an expert) that the same argument about shocked quartz would apply — that the heat/pressure from a high airburst, specifically, would not be enough to form meltglass.

    Probably relevant: no mention of any kind of meltglass from the Tunguska airburst (although the search is now poisoned because [Tunguska meltglass] of course brings up the TeH paper and references to it). But the WikiP page for Tunguska event has no mention of such meltglass or tektites, and the WikiP page for tektites has no mention of Tunguska. So.

  357. If you are using Google, click “tools” below the search window. You can set a time range.
    P.S., sorry, likely it is obvious, I just answered mechanically:)

  358. https://twitter.com/acbrittingham1/status/1440559337466781705

    My favorite part of this new ‘airburst destroyed Sodom’ paper is that this is the source they cited for the estimated temperature of the Tunguska blast

    Hm.

    The temperature of the Tunguska fireball is unknown but estimated as > 10,000 °C [188]

    188: LeMaire, T. R. Stones from the stars: the unresolved mysteries of meteorites. (Prentice Hall, 1980).

    That’s a mighty professional looking source, yup, yup.

  359. Hot enough to melt zircon and discolor bone.

  360. Another oddity: the caption to the photograph of the site says it was processed by Photoshop, and gives the version number and a link to Adobe’s website. It does not say what the processing actually did. That proves nothing, but shows an odd unprofessionalism.

    Was a time when people heaped irrelevant information in papers about which computer they used and what software. This is thankfully mostly over (such information can occasionally make a difference in principle, but most often it does not.)

  361. @Owlmirror I suspect that “close” in the quoted statement was meant in the geological sense in both instances.

    Thank you, yes exactly. Asteroid arrivals are at a scale of millions of years. (But a separation of 9,000 years means it can’t have been one asteroid that broke up in the upper atmosphere with two airbursts.)

  362. @AntC: As I said above, the fact that the separation between the purported blast and the known Tunguska Event is much less than the mean separation between such events has no bearing on the probability on whether the first event actually occurred. Arguing otherwise is gambler’s fallacy.

  363. This recent NASA presentation, based on this open source publication of many asteroid airburst simulations, gives the Tunguska event an airburst altitude range of 5-15km, and blast pressure of . . . 4 psi. Mark Boslough is not one of the authors, but one can see why he is so dismissive of TeH claims of shocked quartz etc, given that the authors of the above get about the same numbers for the blast pressure (4 psi ~= 0.27 bar, vs “order of magnitude is 0.1 bar” from Boslough’s simulation)

  364. David Marjanović says

    I suspect (although again, not an expert) that the same argument about shocked quartz would apply — that the heat/pressure from a high airburst, specifically, would not be enough to form meltglass.

    The quartz is shocked.

    The paper posits a larger bolide than the one of Tunguska, and consequently an airburst at a lower altitude.

    Another oddity: the caption to the photograph of the site says it was processed by Photoshop, and gives the version number and a link to Adobe’s website. It does not say what the processing actually did. That proves nothing, but shows an odd unprofessionalism.

    Yes, especially on the part of the editor and the reviewers.

    That’s a mighty professional looking source, yup, yup.

    Looks like they were too lazy to look up the primary sources – which I agree they should have.

    Asteroid arrivals are at a scale of millions of years.

    Not at that size, no.

  365. How is 4 psi enough to knock down trees?

  366. January First-of-May says

    How is 4 psi enough to knock down trees?

    You’d be surprised how many square inches there are in a tree.

    Sarcasm aside, I’ve found a scale online that claims “5 psi: Wooden utility poles snapped”, so it seems at least the right order of magnitude.

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