2021-06-20

A Wunderkind in the Temple? (Part 1)

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by Tim Widowfield

James F. McGrath

More stuff from James McGrath’s What Jesus Learned from Women.

To establish a convincing case that the historical Jesus learned from women, McGrath could have simply started from the inarguable fact that all humans learn — i.e., “Jesus was a man; All men learn; Therefore Jesus learned” — and built from there. However, McGrath knows that a good portion of his audience will be committed Christians, and they might have an issue with the concept of a member of the trinity needing to learn anything.

 

The fact that a significant number of people feel discomfort with the idea of Jesus learning really ought to surprise and shock us. It is an axiom of the historic Christian faith that Jesus was fully human—a complete human being, with a human soul (or what many today might prefer to call a human mind and personality). (McGrath 2021, p. 7)

Surprise, Shock, and Astonishment

Why should it “surprise and shock” us that people “feel discomfort” with the notion that the object of their worship, a pre-existent divine being, needed to learn anything? After all, besides the article of faith (i.e., Christ’s fully human nature asserted in the Nicene Creed) alluded to above, Christians also recite this line: “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made.

So I’m not surprised at all. I can understand completely someone being troubled and confused by the idea that an omniscient being might need to learn something, but McGrath is quite sure of himself. The discomforted Christian reader is terribly mistaken.

Consequently, the dear doctor of religion believes he must proceed beyond simple logic and find a convincing biblical proof text. He thinks he has found it in the Gospel of Luke, in which the evangelist tells us Jesus “grew in wisdom.” Remember the story where Jesus stays behind in the Temple and his parents don’t realize they left him there (Hieron Alone)? Many of us learned this story in Sunday School. They told us Mary and Joseph found Jesus among them, teaching the teachers. His would-be teachers were gobsmacked.

McGrath says that’s all wrong. Continue reading “A Wunderkind in the Temple? (Part 1)”


2021-06-19

A Civilisation Quite Unlike Any Other

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by Neil Godfrey

The concluding words of Peter Sutton in his critical response to Dark Emu could have been addressed directly to me:

People keep telling us, even those who are aware of Dark Emu’s many flaws, that at least it has got people thinking about an important subject. We hope their interest continues, and that the tens of thousands who have read the book go beyond it and keep learning more from other sources. So long as Dark Emu is not the agent of their entrenchment in a dogmatic view, that is good. So long as we remain open to debate and a respectful exchange of views, in a shared space and not from behind walls, it is more than good. It is in that spirit that we offer this book to the reader. — Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? p. 201

I confess I was one of the readers of Dark Emu who felt a bit edgy over some of its emphases and its “slightly misdirected” ideological focus but for all of that still found myself saying “I’m glad I read it” and commending it to others. Two scholars, Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe, have been much more clear-headed and confronted head-on the book’s often misleading emphases and “quite misdirected” ideological focus.

There is no better condition for relationships than truthfulness. We have tried here to set part of the record straighter than it has become through the popularised mythology of history of the kind found in Dark Emu. We have done so in a positive spirit, but also a corrective one. The Old People—the First Australians—and all of us deserve better than a history that does not respect or do justice to the societies whose economic and spiritual adjustment to their environment lasted so well and so vigorously until the advent of the colonies and the subsequent degradation of much of that environment through land clearing, pastoral stocking, and the spread of feral animals and plants.

Pascoe, by consistently gilding a lily that needs no gilding, suggests that he sees a foraging way of life as inferior. . . . 

. . . .

In this book we have grappled with Dark Emu’s mixture of positive factual information and its tendency to trim the evidence to fit the author’s model, its lack of true scholarship, its ignoring of Aboriginal elders’ knowledge, its disturbing social evolutionist philosophy, and its overwhelming attention to the material aspects of Aboriginal food production to the exclusion of the rich spiritual propagation philosophy of the Old People’s culture. (p. 200)

Years back I found myself impressed with an exhibition at Melbourne’s Museum of Victoria that showed a diorama of Aborigines apparently living in a settled life in stone houses and engaging in complex aquaculture in a part of western Victoria. I have been out of date for many years, not realizing that the message of that exhibition has long been superseded. A chapter by Keryn Walshe reassured me that I was not mistaken in my initial impressions but also made it clear that my source was wrong:

The vision of ‘hundreds of people living in villages’ had gone unquestioned and become all-pervasive, as witnessed in a former diorama at the Museum of Victoria that depicted a scene at Lake Condah with the caption: ‘The Kerrup-Jmara did not need to move house, and their villages of stone were probably permanent. Several hundred people lived in some villages.’ This exhibit was complemented by educational resources designed by VAS, conveying the same image of permanent stone houses set out in villages. (p. 183)

Further studies have shown that stones were used for a few dwellings but only as supports for wooden posts, and the dwellings were not occupied permanently either. One of the main criticisms of Sutten and Walshe is that Bruce Pascoe, the author of Dark Emu, has singled out the exceptional that has been found in one or two places and presented it in such a way as to hide what was far more typical of Aboriginal ways of living.

Pascoe’s quotations from explorer diaries were some of the most interesting highlights of Dark Emu. It was disappointing, therefore, to learn from chapter 11 of Farmers of Hunter-Gatherers? that some of those quotations trimmed off sentences gave a somewhat different picture from the one Dark Emu painted. Similarly for some of his quotations from more scholarly articles that pointed to certain objects (a hoe, some dwellings), with good reason, not being of Aboriginal origin at all.

The term “village” is itself problematic. Pascoe quotes from explorer diaries records of coming across large clusters of dwellings. In my own mind, I reconciled these accounts with what I knew of at least some sort of nomadic or wandering existence by noting that the same descriptions appeared to assume that their dwellers had gone elsewhere at the time. Sutten and Walshe make it clear that the word village implies a permanent settlement, and even a permanent settlement plus, with markets, special public purpose spaces, etc. A more correct term would be “encampment”. Ditto for the storages of food that the explorers tended to come across. Such storages were far more likely to be kept for occasions when multiple tribes visited the site for, say, annual ceremonies.

I found myself nodding in full agreement when Sutton and Walshe drew attention to Pascoe’s implications throughout Dark Emu that the image of Aboriginal life as “merely” “hunters and gatherers” suggests to us today that they were inferior to other peoples. Pascoe appears to be trying to rebut a pervasive racist view of Aboriginal inferiority but does so by trying to show how “like white Europeans” or “like Chinese” they were technical nous. As Sutton demonstrates most thoroughly, Pascoe is charging a windmill:

How, then, can Pascoe defend his argument that Aboriginal people in popular imagination subscribe to ‘a belief in the brutish description of Aboriginals that Australian history insists we accept’ (page 100)? Who are these insisting ogres? Isolated pub racists? So-called ‘culture warriors’? Australian history writing, including the TV versions of it, moved way beyond that colonial-era delusion long ago. The multiple volumes of historical correctives to colonial frontier ‘pioneer’ mythology published by Henry Reynolds and other historians since the 1970s are in thousands of households. Their role in correcting the jingoistic settler histories of the past, in which ‘brave pioneers’ battled against ‘a harsh environment’ and ‘troublesome blacks’, was recognised and summarised accurately by Marcia Langton in her prologue to First Australians in 2008:

In the past half century; as a new generation of historians has interpreted the records, a dazzling view of Australian life has emerged. Instead of the drudges who peopled the pages of the old books, convicts, women, children. African-American slaves, adventurous European aristocrats, artists, con-men, bushrangers and thousands of Indigenous people have assumed more detailed, nuanced and intriguing personas, and their endeavours have become better understood. The ridiculous and audacious, as well as the common or garden, activities of ordinary and extraordinary’ people have replaced the monotonous tales of the March of Civilisation.

Langton then added that only ‘a handful of historians, mostly amateurs, persist in vilifying all the original inhabitants of this continent and their descendants’, but she also said their works were very popular with those who ‘prefer to imagine the Australia of the old school books’. (pp. 139f)

Dark Emu sends the message that readers must think in dichotomous terms: either “mere” hunting and gathering or farmers and agriculturalists. The label “hunter-gatherer” in the context of the debates arising from Pascoe’s book (with its “culture war” opponents) is misleading, as Sutton explains:

Dark Emu sets up a simple distinction between agriculturalists living in ‘permanent housing’ and the ‘hapless wandering’ of the ‘mere hunter-gatherer, choosing to conclude that the former is the truth and the latter a widely accepted he about Aboriginal Australia before colonisation. There seems to be an assumption here that subsistence based on hunting and gathering is itself not complex. This is far from the truth.

Setting aside the various proactive ways in which Aboriginal people at conquest modified their environment and its resources, the hunting, fishing and gathering economy was far more complex than might be imagined from the word ‘mere’. As an economic process it was at least as complex as gardening or farming, if not much more so. Agriculture can get by with knowledge of a small range of flora and fauna. Hunting and gathering can’t.

Hunting and gathering in pre-colonial Australia required fine-grained knowledge of hundreds of species and their habitats, annual cycles, names and generic classifications; of methods for processing them and for preparing them as food, as tools, as bodily decoration, and as ritual paraphernalia. It required what repeatedly seemed to colonial newcomers to be almost supernatural eyesight, seeing things in the far distance or among foliage that no colonial could see.

Allied to this, it required the ability to track game using often infinitesimal traces left on the ground or in foliage. It required tremendous spatial and narrative memory, of the kind many of us now have very much lost through reliance on paper maps, written records and Google Maps. It required high skills in lithics (stone tool manufacture) in order to reveal from within the rough stone the elegant tools now found in museums and in the bush. And it required deft and precise skills in using weapons and wielding digging sticks, nets, lures and traps. Spearing fish required the ability to calculate instantly how refraction through water needed to be corrected for during the throw.

Even ‘mere’ hunter-gatherers would have been resource experts on their own ground, but Aboriginal people were hunter-gatherers-plus.

It might have been better if labels like ‘hunter-gatherer’ and ‘horticulturist’ and ‘agriculturist’ were not so prominent in these debates, as Harry Lourandos has proposed. They can sometimes attract outdated evolutionary schemes that operate on the discredited ‘primitive’ versus ‘advanced’ scale, also known as social evolutionism. (pp. 8ff)

Tom Griffiths

Aborigines did not attempt to “work against” and re-make their environment. Sutton and Walshe drive home the strong reminder that they learned to live with it, to adapt to it. They also remind readers of the importance of the Dreamtime in Aboriginal ways of thinking. The spiritual life of the First Settlers has to be appreciated in order to understand their responses to their environment and their resistance to white invaders who deliberately replaced them. It is wrong-headed to apply our standards of civilization to a world that has moved in a totally different direction. Sutton quotes Tom Griffiths:

I think it’s a mistake to treat the concept of agriculture as a timeless, stable, universal and preordained template, to apply a European hierarchical metaphor, an imperial measure of civilisation, to societies that defy imported classifications. One of the great insights delivered by that half-century of scholarship is that Aboriginal societies produced a civilisation quite unlike any other, one uniquely adapted to Australian elements and ecosystems. (p. 70)


Sutton, Peter, and Keryn Walshe. Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers?: The Dark Emu Debate. Melbourne University Press, 2021.



2021-06-17

The Etiquette of Modesty among the Naked Aborigines

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by Neil Godfrey

We have seen early photographs of Australian aborigines completely naked but I did not understand their modesty. Paradoxical, but explained by anthropologist Peter Sutton:

People were not prudish about nudity but valued modesty, expressed in sitting positions and in averting the gaze, for example. An early record of this etiquette is from First Fleet member David Collins at Port Jackson: ‘… and although entire strangers to the comforts and conveniences of clothing, yet they sought with a native modesty to conceal by attitude what the want of covering would otherwise have revealed’.

Sutton, Peter, and Keryn Walshe. Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers?: The Dark Emu Debate. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 2021. p. 97

He goes on to show how items of clothing that were worn by some Aborigines some of the time were for embellishment or served symbolic purposes rather than for comfort or covering.

In another place he quotes James Dawson noting that a local tribe in winter wore large kangaroo skins with — contrary to our fashion-oriented expectations — “the fur side inwards”.


2021-06-16

Spiritual Management of the Cosmos: Aboriginal and Christian

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by Neil Godfrey

To make rain

The first was a rainmaking site in Kabi Kabi country. A clever man would cut pieces of the stem of a rare vine growing next to a cave on Mount Urah, and talk to Biral (the ‘all-father’). He would then throw a piece of the vine stem in the direction of the territory of friendly neighbouring tribes, calling their names as he did so. (Sutton and Walshe, p. 32)

To ensure a replenished food supply

. . . spiritual maintenance sites were called mowar, and Gaiarbau recorded details of maintenance rites for rain, kangaroos, carpet snakes, honey and eaglehawks:

‘All such ceremonies used to be performed a few days before they moved camp; and they expected, when in due course they returned to this old camping ground, that their requests would have been granted, and food would again be plentiful.’ (p. 33)

If you really want something to eat. . . .

Early Northern Territory missionary Father Francis Xavier Gsell recalled local reactions to the first establishment of a mission garden on
Bathurst Island . . . : Watching us sowing, they grumbled:

‘What a pity to lose all this food, these potatoes, yams, and ground-nuts. In the earth they will go bad and be of no use to anybody. If,’ they said finally, ‘you really want something to eat, sing a song to the spirits, dance a dance, and you’ll get all the food you want.’  (p. 63)

Ancestral Beings left them for us

An Arnhem Land woman once said, in effect, rather patronizingly, as she watched a Fijian missionary’ working in his mission garden, anxiously concerned because a few of the plants had died:

‘You people go to all that trouble, working and planting seeds, but we don’t have to do that. All these things are there for us, the Ancestral Beings left them for us. In the end, you depend on the sun and the rain just the same as we do, but the difference is that we just have to go and collect the food when it is ripe. We don’t have all this other trouble.’  (p. 64)

He grow himself

In 1974,1 participated in a field trip to map Johnny Flinders’ country and its neighbours in eastern Cape York. Flinders spoke with a briefly visiting geographer, David Harris of University College London, who asked him why his people did not sow plants to make food. Flinders’ brief reply was:

No, he grow himself!(p. 64)

Storm and Solstice

The earthly environment was not the only target of Aboriginal spiritual management. Nicolas Peterson witnessed a Warlpiri winter solstice ceremony in July 1972. The people sang songs before and after sunset:

‘The explicit purpose was to get the Milky Way to move across the sky more quickly and so reduce the length of the night.’

And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, . . .  Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea . . . (Matthew 8:23ff)

I was once in a bush camp south of Cape Keerweer, CYP [=Cape York Peninsula], where we were sleeping in the open, and an unseasonal thunderstorm began to break out during the night. The senior Wik man in the camp, Billy Landis Gothachalkenin, harangued the lightning and storm in no uncertain terms, to get it to stop. His sister Isobel Wolmby, on fearing approaching lightning during the wet season we spent based at Watha-nhiin Outstation in the same region, would take a sharp knife and slash the air in its direction, ‘cutting’ the dangerous flashes to make them stop. (p. 44)

Pan now across to the European past and its legacy today . . .

Monotheistic prayer

In the deeper European past, species fertility was also heavily reliant on religious acts, such as sacrifices to the gods of various crops and domestic and wild animals, or monotheistic prayer. These mostly survive now only as folkloric memory gestures in the case of crop gods, or, more sincerely, in the case of, for example, Lutheran wheat farmers praying for rain. (pp. 44f)

. . . o 0 o . . .

Not that the Aboriginal people lacked a life of serious complex mental engagement. While working in the Northern Territory on a project to help preserve Aboriginal languages a colleague attempted to explain a little of the “webs of kinship” and I was soon lost, mystified, trying to take in the finest gradations and depths of their “webs of kinship and social structure” . . .

If you’re looking for ‘sophisticated’ complexity in classical Aboriginal society, you will find it above all in the intricate webs of kinship and social structure in the richness of the grammars of the languages; in the innumerable mythic narratives that bind place to place and engage the full range of the emotions; in the thousands of song series and the prodigious feats of memory by which they have been locally maintained; and in the elaborate intertwining of totemic religion, linguistic group organisation and land tenure systems. (p. 44)


Sutton, Peter, and Keryn Walshe. Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers?: The Dark Emu Debate. Melbourne University Press, 2021.


 


2021-06-15

Australian Aborigines: “Complex Hunter-Gatherers, Not Simple farmers”

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by Neil Godfrey

I enjoyed reading Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu — drawing on Australia’s early explorer diaries to portray Australia’s Aborigines as living in “villages” of huts and practising agriculture and aquaculture — but with some caveats. I found myself constantly adjusting what he was depicting with what I already knew to be true so that I came away not with a totally new understanding but a revised one. I could not accept on the basis of the argument he presented that Aborigines practised democracy or that they lived as settled farmers. I have heard and seen too much from “primary sources” to dismiss the notion that they were also hunters and gatherers. Besides, I found myself wondering, why is it so important to stress agriculture as an indicator of civilizational advance? Sure, agriculture was important in our tradition, but is it really a universal marker of progress? Progress towards what? I have been fascinated with the Aboriginal concepts of the Dreaming or the Dreamtime. Even in Dark Emu one reads little reminders that technologies practised by Aborigines were performed with a cultic or Dreamtime mythological association or impulse.

Now a new volume has been released that I think will restore some balance to Dark Emu‘s image of the First Australians. Others have commended Pascoe for popularizing views of Aborigines that have long been known among specialists and experts. It would be a mistake, however, to replace the hunter-gatherer view with a settler-farmer construct. So we now have Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe’s Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate. I have only begun to read it but already a couple of sections can be quoted:

Pascoe contradicts the false belief, perhaps held by some, that all Aboriginal people were naked all of the time. Some Aboriginal people sewed animal skins into cloaks (page 89).

He criticises the uninformed view that classical Aboriginal society consisted of constantly nomadic people who simply lived off nature’s bounty, were not ecological agents, did not stay in one place for more than a few days and did not store resources (for example, page 12).

And he gives considerable attention to the storage of foods (pages 105—14), this being a useful corrective to ignorance of Aboriginal storage methods.

(Sutton, p. 5)

And in particular:

Pascoe’s message is built on a simple distinction between what he calls ‘mere’ hunter-gatherers, on the one hand, and farmers; or between ‘mere’ hunting and gathering on one hand and ‘agriculture’ on the other. We consider that the evidence, in fact, reveals a positioning of the Aboriginal people of 1788 somewhere between these two extremes: they were complex hunter-gatherers, not simple farmers. The Old People in 1788 had developed ways of managing and benefiting from their landscape that went beyond just hunting and just gathering but did not involve gardening or farming. They were ecological agents who worked with the environment, rather than, usually, against it. They frequently used slow-burning fires to make their landscapes more liveable. However, they did not cut down bush to clear the land, plough and hoe the soil in preparation for planting, or then sow stored seed or tubers or rootstock in gardens or in fields.

(p. 7)

For the Andrew Bolts who have savaged Dark Emu as “a hoax” whose purpose is supposedly to accuse white settlers of ignorant and cruel treatment of the first inhabitants here, I further note that Sutton and Walshe share Pascoe’s assessment that white occupation is more accurately described as a “conquest” of the land and not at all “the first settlement”.


Sutton, Peter, and Keryn Walshe. Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers?: The Dark Emu Debate. Melbourne University Press, 2021.

Pascoe, Bruce. Dark Emu. Black Seeds : Agriculture Or Accident? Broome, Western Australia: Magabala Books, 2014.



2021-06-07

Yes, Vridar Was Hacked!

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by Tim Widowfield

As far as I can tell, the break-in was confined to a single author account. Thanks to David Fitzgerald for alerting Neil and me.

We seem to be back to normal. Let us know if you see anything odd!

widowfield [at] gmail [dot] com


2021-06-06

Ancient Philosopher Traditions Pave the Way for Jesus and Paul

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by Neil Godfrey

Let this post complement the last.

Private teachings and efforts to avoid crowds

Stilpo

When Crates asked him whether the gods take delight in prayers and adorations, he is said to have replied, “Don’t put such a question in the street, simpleton, but when we are alone!” It is said that Bion, when he was asked the same question whether there are gods, replied: Will you not scatter the crowd from me, O much-enduring elder?

Plato

Plato has employed a variety of terms in order to make his system less intelligible to the ignorant

Chrysippus

Again, when somebody who had a question to ask was steadily conversing with him in private, and then upon seeing a crowd approaching began to be more contentious

Pyrrho

He would withdraw from the world and live in solitude,

he would leave his home and, telling no one, would go roaming about with whomsoever he chanced to meet.

Staff, cloak and wallet

Bion

Then he adopted the Cynic discipline, donning cloak and wallet

Antisthenes

And he was the first, Diocles tells us, to double his cloak and be content with that one garment and to take up a staff and a wallet. Neanthes too asserts that he was the first to double his mantle. Sosicrates, however, in the third book of his Successions of Philosophers says this was first done by Diodorus of Aspendus, who also let his beard grow and used a staff and a wallet.

Diogenes (also one of several who “had nowhere to lay his head”)

He was the first, say some, to fold his cloak because he was obliged to sleep in it as well, and he carried a wallet to hold his victuals, and he used any place for any purpose, for breakfasting, sleeping, or conversing. And then he would say, pointing to the portico of Zeus and the Hall of Processions, that the Athenians had provided him with places to live in. He did not lean upon a staff until he grew infirm; but afterwards he would carry it everywhere, not indeed in the city, but when walking along the road with it and with his wallet; so say Olympiodorus,13 once a magistrate at Athens, Polyeuctus the orator, and Lysanias the son of Aeschrio. He

That famous one who carried a staff, doubled his cloak, and lived in the open air.

Menedemus

and he wore a very long beard and carried an ashen staff in his hand.

The Magi

Their dress is white, they make their bed on the ground, and their food is vegetables, cheese, and coarse bread; their staff is a reed

Many called but few chosen

Bion

And hence it came about that he is not credited with a single disciple, out of all the crowds who attended his lectures.

Diogenes

He was returning from Olympia, and when somebody inquired whether there was a great crowd, “Yes,” he said, “a great crowd, but few who could be called men.”

Despised

Zeno

And he had about him certain ragged dirty fellows, as Timon says in these lines: The while he got together a crowd of ignorant serfs, who surpassed all men in beggary and were the emptiest of townsfolk.

Crates

Zeno of Citium in his Anecdotes relates that in a fit of heedlessness he sewed a sheepskin to his cloak. He was ugly to look at, and when performing his gymnastic exercises used to be laughed at. He was accustomed to say, raising his hands, “Take heart, Crates, for it is for the good of your eyes and of the rest of your body. You will see these men, who are laughing at you, tortured before long by disease, counting you happy, and reproaching themselves for their sluggishness.”

All things in common

Bion

He was extremely selfish and insisted strongly on the maxim that “friends share in common.”

Diogenes

The wise are friends of the gods, and friends hold things in common. Therefore all things belong to the wise.”

He maintained that all things are the property of the wise, and employed such arguments as those cited above. All things belong to the gods. The gods are friends to the wise, and friends share all property in common; therefore all things are the property of the wise

Zeno

Friendship, they declare, exists only between the wise and good, by reason of their likeness to one another. And by friendship they mean a common use of all that has to do with life, wherein we treat our friends as we should ourselves.

Pythagoras

According to Timaeus, he was the first to say, “Friends have all things in common” and “Friendship is equality”; indeed, his disciples did put all their possessions into one common stock.

Epicurus

He further says that Epicurus did not think it right that their property should be held in common, as required by the maxim of Pythagoras about the goods of friends; such a practice in his opinion implied mistrust, and without confidence there is no friendship.

Some went further and taught that wives and children should also be “in common”.

Criticizes a host at dinner

Menedemus

Not being able to curb the extravagance of someone who had invited him to dinner, he said nothing when he was invited, but rebuked his host tacitly by confining himself to olives.

Empedocles

With this Timaeus agrees, at the same time giving the reason why Empedocles favoured democracy, namely, that, having been invited to dine with one of the magistrates, when the dinner had gone on some time and no wine was put on the table, though the other guests kept quiet, he, becoming indignant, ordered wine to be brought.

Wrote Letters that were preserved by disciples 

Not all, but some “wrote a few letters”. Example: Continue reading “Ancient Philosopher Traditions Pave the Way for Jesus and Paul”


2021-06-03

Jesus (and Paul) in the Ancient Philosopher Tradition

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by Neil Godfrey

Think of the world from which Christianity emerged and mystery religions easily come to mind. That may be a mistake. A more relevant context, influencers and rivals were the popular philosophers and their schools in the first and second centuries.

The Jew and the Christian offered religions as we understand religion; the others offered cults; but their contemporaries did not expect anything more than cults from them and looked to philosophy for guidance in conduct and for a scheme of the universe. (Nock, Conversion, 16)

Any philosophy of the time set up a standard of values different from those of the world outside and could serve as a stimulus to a stern life, and therefore to something like conversion when it came to a man living carelessly. (Nock, 173)

Further, this idea was not thought of as a matter of purely intellectual conviction. The philosopher commonly said not ‘Follow my arguments one by one: . . . but . . . Believe me, those who express the other view deceive you and argue you out of what is right.’ (Nock, 181)

A mystery evoked a strong emotional response and touched the soul deeply for a time, but [conversion to] philosophy was able both to turn men from evil and to hold before them a good, perhaps never to be attained, but presenting a permanent object of desire to which one seemed to draw gradually nearer. (Nock, 185)

As an introduction to the view that popular philosophers had a more profound role than mystery cults in shaping Christianity, I’ve distilled biographical details from one ancient biographer of those philosophers. Spot the similarities to what we read about Jesus and Paul.

Follow Me

Socrates

Socrates met Xenophon in a narrow passage way and accosted him with questions. Xenophon was confused, so Socrates told him, “Follow me and learn”, and from that moment on Xenophon became his disciple.

Diogenes

Someone came to Diogenes and asked him to tell him how to live, what do do …. Diogenes told him to “follow him”. Unfortunately Diogenes also imposed a humbling condition on the would-be follower who was too embarrassed to comply.

Zeno

Now the way he came across Crates was this. He was shipwrecked on a voyage from Phoenicia to Peiraeus with a cargo of purple. He went up into Athens and sat down in a bookseller’s shop, being then a man of thirty. As he went on reading the second book of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, he was so pleased that he inquired where men like Socrates were to be found. Crates passed by in the nick of time, so the bookseller pointed to him and said, “Follow yonder man.” From that day he became Crates’s pupil.

Ethical Teachings and Example, a Physician of Souls

Chilon

“I know how to submit to injustice and you do not.”

The tale is also told that he inquired of Aesop what Zeus was doing and received the answer: “He is humbling the proud and exalting the humble.”

Not to abuse our neighbours

Do not use threats to any one.

When strong, be merciful.

Let not your tongue outrun your thought. Control anger.

Pittacus

Mercy is better than vengeance

Speak no ill of a friend, nor even of an enemy

Cleobulus

we should render a service to a friend to bind him closer to us, and to an enemy in order to make a friend of him.

Aristippus

He bore with Dionysius when he spat on him,

The sick need the physician, not the well

Aristippus

When Dionysius inquired what was the reason that philosophers go to rich men’s houses, while rich men no longer visit philosophers, his reply was that “the one know what they need while the other do not.”

In answer to one who remarked that he always saw philosophers at rich men’s doors, he said, “So, too, physicians are in attendance on those who are sick, but no one for that reason would prefer being sick to being a physician.”

Dionysius was offended and made him recline at the end of the table. And Aristippus said, “You must have wished to confer distinction on the last place.”

Stilpo

And conversing upon the duty of doing good to men he made such an impression on the king that he became eager to hear him.

Plato

If Phoebus did not cause Plato to be born in Greece, how came it that he healed the minds of men by letters? As the god’s son Asclepius is a healer of the body, so is Plato of the immortal soul.

Bion

He used repeatedly to say that to grant favours to another was preferable to enjoying the favours of others.

The road to Hades, he used to say, was easy to travel.

Aristotle

To the question how we should behave to friends, he answered, “As we should wish them to behave to us.”

Antisthenes

“It is a royal privilege to do good and be ill spoken of.”

When a friend complained to him that he had lost his notes, “You should have inscribed them,” said he, “on your mind instead of on paper.” As iron is eaten away by rust, so, said he, the envious are consumed by their own passion. Those who would fain be immortal must, he declared, live piously and justly.

“Many men praise you,” said one. “Why, what wrong have I done?” was his rejoinder

Diogenes

The love of money he declared to be mother-city of all evils.

Good men he called images of the gods

all things are the property of the wise

Zeno

A Rhodian, who was handsome and rich, but nothing more, insisted on joining his class. but so unwelcome was this pupil, that first of all Zeno made him sit on the benches that were dusty, that he might soil his cloak, and then he consigned him to the place where the beggars sat, that he might rub shoulders with their rags. So at last the young man went away.

This man adopts a new philosophy. He teaches to go hungry: yet he gets Disciples.

Cleanthes

Afterwards when the poet apologized for the insult, he accepted the apology, saying that, when Dionysus and Heracles were ridiculed by the poets without getting angry, it would be absurd for him to be annoyed at casual abuse.

Pythagoras

Pythagoras made many into good men and true

Epicurus

He carried deference to others to such excess that he did not even enter public life.

He showed dauntless courage in meeting troubles and death

He would punish neither slave nor free man in anger. Admonition he used to call “setting right.”

Not to call the gods to witness, man’s duty being rather to strive to make his own word carry conviction

God takes thought for man

In storm at sea

Bias

He was once on a voyage with some impious men; and, when a storm was encountered, even they began to call upon the gods for help. “Peace!” said he, “lest they hear and become aware that you are here in the ship.”

Aristippus

It happened once that he set sail for Corinth and, being overtaken by a storm, he was in great consternation. Some one said, “We plain men are not alarmed, and are you philosophers turned cowards?” To this he replied, “The lives at stake in the two cases are not comparable.”

Pyrrho

When his fellow passengers on board a ship were all unnerved by a storm, he kept calm and confident, pointing to a little pig in the ship that went on eating, and telling them that such was the unperturbed state in which the wise man should keep himself.

Divinely called, taught God’s truths, believed to be Divine

Continue reading “Jesus (and Paul) in the Ancient Philosopher Tradition”


2021-05-28

McGrath, Casey, and “Good Reasons” to Believe

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by Tim Widowfield

The Raising of Jairus’s Daughter

Dr. James McGrath wrote a new book. If you read his blog, you already knew that. I, on the other hand, was blessedly ignorant of that fact until Neil recently told me. And, like any curious person, I can’t help but rubberneck as I slowly drive past a traffic accident. In much the same way, although I knew it would be painful, I started reading What Jesus Learned from Women

Ipsissima vox?

But now here’s an unexpected blast from the past: McGrath is convinced by Maurice Casey’s nonargument about the pronunciation of talitha koum (ταλιθα κούμ) in Mark 5:41, as proof of the historicity of Jesus in general and the raising of Jairus’s daughter in particular. I had no idea any serious person thought Casey was making a cogent historical argument. However, each day brings new surprises and wonders.

McGrath writes:

Our manuscripts differ in the spell­ing, and that difference is one of the reasons that some historians [sic] feel particularly confident about there being a historical core to this story. (McGrath 2021, p. 219)

By historians, McGrath actually means “theologians who know ancient languages and call themselves historians.” And among that group of self-confident theologians who know ancient languages, Casey was unmatched. I called Casey’s pronouncement a nonargument because it contains a single premise followed by a dogmatic conclusion. Here it is from Jesus of Nazareth:

The first two words, Talitha koum, are Aramaic for ‘little girl, get up’, so Mark has correctly translated them into Greek for his Greek-speaking audiences, adding the explicitative comment ‘I tell you’, as translators sometimes do. Moreover, I have followed the reading of the oldest and best manuscripts. The majority of manuscripts read the technically correct written feminine form koumi, but there is good reason to believe that the feminine ending ‘i’ was not pronounced. It follows that Talitha koum is exactly what Jesus said. (Casey 2011, p. 109, bold emphasis mine)

Surely Casey has missed a step or two. To start with, what is this “good reason” that convinced the dear doctor — and which seems to have captivated McGrath as well? Well, we do have a hint in the form of a footnote, in which Casey cites himself from an earlier article (in JSNT 25.1, 2002) in which he defended himself from an “attack” by Paul Owen and David Shepherd. (Recall that any questioning of Casey’s authority was always viewed as an attack.) These scholars had dared to question Casey’s “solution” to the Son-of-Man problem. Casey chastised them, Joseph Fitzmyer, and any other scholar who avoided using later inscriptions and manuscripts (i.e., well after the supposed time of Jesus) calling it “a quite catastrophic and unjustifiable loss.” Casey rarely did anything halfway. Continue reading “McGrath, Casey, and “Good Reasons” to Believe”


2021-05-21

Hamas Rockets, a Gift for Netanyahu — Some Overlooked Words and Facts

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by Neil Godfrey

Hamas control of Gaza is exactly what Netanyahu wants to maintain:

The prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] also said that, “whoever is against a Palestinian state should be for” transferring the funds to Gaza, because maintaining a separation between the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza helps prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

— Harkov, Lahav. “Netanyahu: Money to Hamas Part of Strategy to Keep Palestinians Divided.” The Jerusalem Post, March 12, 2019. https://www.jpost.com/arab-israeli-conflict/netanyahu-money-to-hamas-part-of-strategy-to-keep-palestinians-divided-583082.

Hamas, Netanyahu’s gift that keeps on giving

After all, it was the toxic cocktail of Jewish terror and Hamas violence that first brought Netanyahu to power more than a quarter of a century ago. The fervently right-wing Israeli who gunned down Yitzhak Rabin, followed by a shocking spate of Hamas suicide bombings of public buses in major Israeli cities, paved Bibi’s come-from-far-behind electoral path to Balfour Street.

That’s how Netanyahu likes his public. Shattered. Furious. Fearful. Paralyzed.

Burston, Bradley. “Netanyahu and Hamas Are Working Together to Destroy My Israel.” Haaretz. May 20, 2021. http://www.proquest.com/docview/2529195266/citation/7524E1F185E04576PQ/16.

This latest outbreak started over Jewish attempts to drive long-time Palestinian residents of Jerusalem from their homes. Ironically, now with the rise of right-wing Jewish extremists replacing secular Zionism,

The sharp irony is that the early Zionists never actually regarded Jerusalem as integral to their national enterprise, but as a spiritual center.

Theodor Herzl

Nowhere was Zionist apathy towards Jerusalem more manifest than in the writings of Theodore Herzl, father of political Zionism. Herzl did not hesitate to express his disregard for Jerusalem, even at a time when the majority of its residents were Jewish.

“When I remember thee in days to come, O Jerusalem, it will not be with pleasure,” he wrote, upon his only visit to Palestine in 1898. It’s no wonder the First Zionist Congress, which met in Basel in 1897 to discuss Herzl’s Jewish state proposal, had passed over Jerusalem in silence.

Disenchanted with Jerusalem, Herzl dreamed of founding the future Jewish capital in northern Palestine. He believed that Jerusalem would be a major obstacle to the creation of his Jewish state, and that a Jewish ownership of Jerusalem’s holy sites could jeopardize his entire plan for Jewish settlement in Palestine. Herzl also feared that the Vatican would oppose any form of Jewish political presence in Jerusalem. He was willing to give up Jerusalem in return for international recognition of Jewish sovereignty over other parts of Palestine.

In fact, Herzl was the first to propose a plan to declare old Jerusalem an international city. In “Altneuland,” he wrote that Jerusalem belonged to all nations as a multicultural and spiritual center. He even proposed to turn the Old City into a multinational museum.

Herzl envisioned Jerusalem as a utopian city where state affairs are “banned from within these walls that are venerated by all creeds,” and where “the old city would be left to the charitable and religious institutions of the all creeds which then could amicably divide up this area among themselves.”

The early Zionist movement, which took its name from one of Jerusalem’s ancient names, was ready to give up Jerusalem as a prelude to building the future Jewish state. By excluding Jerusalem from their original plan, the Zionist founders hoped to avoid international outrage, clashes with Muslim and Christian communities, and divisions between secular Zionists and the Orthodox Jewish community of Jerusalem.

The original Zionist policy was therefore to keep a low profile toward Jerusalem. Unlike the British, who made Jerusalem the country’s capital under the mandate, the early Zionist movement built its headquarters far from Jerusalem, in central and northern Palestine. There was little nationalist shudder in the Jewish Yishuv in 1908, when the Palestine Office, headed by Arthur Ruppin, opened its doors in Jaffa instead of Jerusalem.

. . . .

As for Palestinians, it was also in Jaffa, not Jerusalem, where their national aspirations were set, it being Palestine’s beating urban heart and vibrant economic and cultural center.

Neither party wanted Jerusalem, except maybe the British, who, in the words of Prime Minister David Lloyd George, wished to proclaim the city “a Christmas gift for the British people.”

And yet few Israelis today seem to realize that the image of Jerusalem as the eternal and united capital of the Jewish people was a relatively recent invention.

Indeed, few remember that day in November 1947, when the UN General Assembly passed its historic resolution to partition Mandate Palestine between Arabs and Jews, ultimately leading to the creation of the State of Israel. The plan, which provided for two states — one Jewish, one Arab — excluded Jerusalem from the future Jewish state. Owing to its unique status, Jerusalem was to be governed by a “special international regime” administered by the United Nations.

And yet the Zionist leadership embraced the plan almost without hesitation. Celebrations swept the quarters of the Jewish yishuv in Mandate Palestine. The following year, Israel, emboldened by the partition plan, declared its independence, and not long after, the new state was recognized by a majority of United Nations member states, led by the United States.

. . . .

The irony is that while the early Zionist establishment was ready to relinquish Jerusalem to build the Jewish state, the current Israeli leadership seems to be relinquishing the Jewish state for Greater Jerusalem, where Palestinians constitute nearly 40 percent of the city’s population, with thousands living beyond the separation barrier in East Jerusalem.

By annexing East Jerusalem, Israel is rapidly headed toward a one-state reality which, sooner or later, would culminate in a Jewish minority ruling over a Palestinian majority in an apartheid-style regime.

The history of the early Zionist movement in Palestine is nearly forgotten today, but its lesson is still alive: Jerusalem “belonged to all of its nations and creeds.”

Assi, Seraj. “How Israel Invented Its Exclusive Claim Over Jerusalem.” Israel Palestine News (blog), May 11, 2021. https://israelpalestinenews.org/haaretz-how-israel-invented-its-exclusive-claim-over-jerusalem/.

Apartheid? I hear rumours that it is finally becoming acceptable to use that word as a criticism of Israel. Are times really changing? I read mixed signals in Biden’s response to this latest violence.

We hear of Gaza being an open-air prison. Maybe we should have another look at Israel:

But if there is one central, fundamental takeaway from the latest operation, from the entire situation, from a year in which thousands died from the coronavirus, from four elections in a row and counting, from the Israeli discourse that continually strains toward blindness, it is how captive Israeli society is. Not captive in the physical sense, not aware of the captivity, but conceptually captive to an extreme degree, ostensibly of its own free will.

Just turn on any television channel to see what a large gap there is between reality – in which much of Israel has been shut down for more than a week due to the threat of rockets fired by a terrorist organization – and all the talk about “severe blows,” “setting them back years” and “victories.” The disparity between the Israeli discourse and the Israeli reality is akin to that between a banana and a watermelon. When someone is holding a banana and keeps insisting it’s a watermelon, and everyone submissively nods their heads, we’ve got a problem.

Assulin, Yair. “The Real ‘Captives’ in Israel.” Haaretz. May 20, 2021. http://www.proquest.com/docview/2529405585/citation/7524E1F185E04576PQ/18.


2021-05-20

The difference between listening to someone and giving someone a platform to spread their hate

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by Neil Godfrey

Arno Michaelis has a webpage, The Forgiveness Project.

From a discussion about one of the factors in the leading cause of death among men 18 to 44 years old is suicide — the role of loneliness, resentment or disconnectedness in a world more technologically interconnected than ever before: From The Drum, an excerpt from a former white nationalist, someone who grew up in an alcoholic home, was a bully all his teen years, and was attracted to white nationism through skinheads at 16 years of age:

Arno Michaelis, former white supremacist, at about 25 minutes into the video:

. . . When people like a Jewish boss or a lesbian supervisor or black and Latino co-workers defied my worldview by just interacting with me human to human it really drove home how wrong I was. Our society has a habit of rejecting anyone that we find distasteful. It’s very easy to be like, Unfollow, This person is now shut out of my life. They’re off all my social media channels.

There is a difference between listening to someone and giving someone a platform to spread their hate. The difference between those two things is compassion. If you do things in a trauma?-informed way, which means if you see someone behaving poorly you don’t say What’s wrong with them? you say What happened to them? As far as I am concerned the political extremism of one flavour drives political extremism of the other flavour. It’s important that everyone really commits to an active practice of seeing themselves in others and seeing others in themselves. All the more so when it’s someone who doesn’t look like you, or think like you – that’s when that practice becomes most important and most powerful.

 

 


2021-05-19

A God / Socializing Gene … and “The Dawkins Delusion”

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by Neil Godfrey

Here is another snippet from the same transcript that produced the elephants and dugongs post a few days ago. I follow with a snippet from Nicholas Wade’s The Faith Instinct where he rebuts Richard Dawkins shallow understanding of religion.

What is the only type of behaviour that will always be identical in both twins, regardless of whether they have been adopted into different environments or not?

Roger Short: But there has been a very exciting development within the last few weeks actually and it goes back a few years. I was sitting at Imperial College in London next to Lord Robert Winston, who you know, and we were at an international twins conference. There were 600 of us. The last speaker was Thomas Bouchard from Minnesota. Thomas stood up and said, ‘I’ve spent the whole of my life working on the behaviour of identical twins reared apart. Today is my last lecture because tomorrow I retire, and I’ve saved my most important discovery until this moment. Here you are, 600 of you, experts on twins, and you will not know the answer to the question I am just going to pose to you, which I have solved. The question is this: what is the only type of behaviour that will always be identical in both twins, regardless of whether they have been adopted into different environments or not? There is only one of all the types of behaviour that you can think of in which both twins always behave identically. What is it?’ I remember turning to Robert Winston and saying, ‘I haven’t a clue, have you?’ and Robert said, ‘No. I don’t know what he’s on about.’ There was absolute silence, and Thomas Bouchard said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you. It’s religiosity.’ I nearly fell through the floor. I thought, my God, how amazing that there’s a God gene.

I was talking to Nick Martin at the Academy and he said, ‘Yes, they now think they’ve got it mapped on chromosome 9.’ It is a gene or a group of genes that control faith. And as Nicholas Wade, the brilliant British-American New York Times writer, has shown in his latest book called The Faith Instinct, which came out just before Christmas, a must-read for you, he has looked at all human societies and he has shown how it absolutely was essential to live as a society with this common belief system which united you. Okay, the gene has passed me by, but it has given me a new respect for the Church.

I was talking to Richard Dawkins last year and I have been corresponding with him recently saying, ‘Richard, you got it wrong. You wrote The God Delusion. Actually, it’s ‘the Dawkins delusion’ because you have totally dismissed God,’ whereas the concept of faith in something (it doesn’t have to be a God but it’s a uniting spiritual belief) is deep within our genes and has been responsible for social cohesion of communities. And if you want to take it one stage further, how tragic…and maybe I should, if he would speak to me again, get back to George Pell and say, ‘Isn’t it tragic that the Catholic Church has chosen to prevent those who are most likely to have the God gene from reproducing.’

 ‘Don’t use Vatican condoms – they’re holy.’ See the transcript for Roger Short’s use of this logo in a reply to censure by Cardinal Pell

Robyn Williams: Okay, a gene for God, I don’t really go along with that, because people like Robin Dunbar, who is now in Oxford, have written about the evolution of the brain, saying that it is more a case of there being not a particular gene and therefore a protein that has some sort of God effect but there being in human beings a feeling for the wider community. In other words, what you are looking at with your sophisticated brain is something far more cultural and widespread rather than God-like. Could that be it?

Roger Short: Yes, I would agree with that completely. For example, Nicholas Wade has a lovely chapter on the Australian Aboriginal belief systems. Okay, they don’t have a God, but they have a real spiritual concept that is a unifying theme and it differs a bit between differing communities. It would be fascinating to study that. If I was starting life again, I think I would like to go and look at that.

–o–


From Nicholas Wade’s The Faith Instinct — part of his response to Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker:

[Richard Dawkins] then notes that people die and kill for their religious beliefs, behavior which he compares to the misfiring of a moth’s navigational system when it flies into a candle flame. Since the moth’s behavior is nonadaptive, so too is religion, Dawkins argues. So what, he asks, “is the primitively advantageous trait that sometimes misfires to generate religion?” His hypothesis is that “There will he a selective advantage to child brains that possess the rule of thumb: believe, without question, whatever your grown-ups tell you.” Religious belief, in his view, spreads like a virus from parents to impressionable children, a cycle that is repeated every generation. Religion, therefore, is the accidental by-product of children’s propensity to believe what their parents tell them.

This argument seems a little stretched because nonsensical information is not of great help in the struggle for survival and seems unlikely to have been passed on tor 2,000 generations in every known human society since the dispersal from Africa. Religion can impose enormous costs, just in the amount of time it takes up. as ises ident from the rites of Australian Aborigines. Had religion no benefit, tribes that devoted most ot their time to religious ceremonies would have been at a severe disadvantage against tribes that spent all day on military preparations.

Dawkins does not seem highly confident in his gullible child theory because he stresses it is “only an example of the kind of thing that might be the analogue of moths nas igating by the moon or the stars.” But without offering any more plausible explanation he insists that “the general theory of religion as an accidental by-product—a misfiring ot something useful—is the one I wish to advocate.”

Dawkins’s gullible child conjecture, like Pinker’s manipulative priest proposal, seems to be driven less by any particular evidence than by the implicit premise that religion is bad, and therefore must be nonadaptive. 

That “belonging” and finding identity through belonging to social group is a common factor brought out in studies of radicalization to extremist groups — whether Islamic or white supremacist. So often it is those who feel alienated from society, that society is somehow going in the wrong direction for them, and those who are lonely — they are prime candidates as recruits into such groups. Like those political radicals, persons coming into religious cults will also speak of finding a sense of belonging, of family.


Short, Roger. 2021. The Science Show: Professor Roger Short, reproductive biologist Interview by Robyn Williams. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/scienceshow/professor-roger-short,-reproductive-biologist/13342638.

Wade, Nicholas. The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures. New York: Penguin, 2010. pp. 66-67



2021-05-17

The Mask Wearing Experience in the 1918-20 Spanish Flu Pandemic – Australia

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by Neil Godfrey

Here’s a snippet from a historian’s description of how Australia experienced the 1918-20 Influenza Epidemic. I’ve selected the mask experience for this post. It’s from

  • McQueen, Humphrey. 1976. “The ‘Spanish’ Influenza Pandemic in Australia, 1918-19.” In Social Policy in Australia: Some Perspectives, 1901-1975, edited by Jill Roe. Stanmore, N.S.W: Cassell Australia. p. 136

I have added the images, most of them taken from the endnotes in Humphrey McQueen’s chapter. Bolded highlighting is my own.

If only on grounds of personal comfort the wearing of masks was a hotly contested issue in New South Wales where it was most strenuously enforced. The demand for masks was so extensive that to prevent profiteering the Commonwealth Government declared butter muslin and gauze to be ‘necessary commodities’ within proclaimed areas. This meant that maximum prices could not exceed those charged generally on 24 January 1919.

One doctor supported masks because they would help keep germs in and thus lessen contagion. Opposition came from those who saw them as breeding grounds for infection or as sapping the community’s ‘vital force’. A ‘Bovril’ advertisement alleged that anti-influenza masks were ‘like using barbed wire fences to shut out flies’.

Western Argus (Kalgoorlie, WA : 1916 – 1938), Tuesday 17 June 1919, page 5

With genuine if unconscious insight into the behaviour patterns of its readers, the Sydney Morning Herald suggested that resistance to masks stemmed from a distaste for making oneself conspicuous and that this would fade away ‘[o]nce the pioneers have introduced the fashion’ whereupon wearing a mask would become as natural as wearing a hat’.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Wednesday 29 January 1919, page 10

But if masks were supposed to keep germs out, declared the Rhinologist at St Vincents, a simple cloth cover over mouth and/or nose was inadequate and he called for a full face mask with mica eye pieces. Others proposed variants included masks with handles for outdoor work and the ‘Lightning Germ Arrestor for Telephones’. The Director of Quarantine defended masks because they reassured ‘nervous persons’ and provided a ‘tangible.. .indication that precautions are being taken’.

Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), Saturday 9 August 1919, page 8

World (Hobart, Tas. : 1918 – 1924), Wednesday 20 August 1919, page 2

Leaving the article behind, I can’t resist adding some other items I came across while searching for the above.

I came across a family namesake of mine — possibly a distantly related ancestor of some sort — facing court for refusing to wear a mask in a train carriage:

Some masks from 1919, the normal and the creative:

Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Monday 10 February 1919, page 6

Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Thursday 6 February 1919, page 4

Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), Saturday 8 February 1919, page 4

 


2021-05-16

Elephants and Dugongs — Who’d Have Thought?

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by Neil Godfrey

Roger Short

Extract from a 2011 interview with Professor Roger Short….

Roger Short: Here in Melbourne, in the department of zoology, I had a very good PhD student, Ann Gaeth. I said, ‘Ann, I’ve got these amazing early elephant embryos. Your PhD project is to serially section them. No one’s ever serially sectioned an elephant embryo ever, and goodness knows what you’ll find.’ Ann goes away and sections them and comes up to my office and said,’Roger, can you come and have a look? The kidneys look most peculiar.’ I said, ‘I don’t know anything about the embryology of the kidney. I’ll get my wife Marilyn to come and have a look.’

.

From DownToEarth

We looked down the microscope and there we saw these amazing structures in the kidney, which are called nephrostomes, which are little tubules penetrating the whole surface of the kidney and ending up in little glomeruli, so that it was a way of bailing out the peritoneal cavity and siphoning that fluid directly into the kidney, and elephants had got them, and no other mammal has nephrostomes in its kidney. Marilyn said, ‘Those structures are nephrostomes. They are a way of bailing out fluid from the peritoneal cavity and they’re only found in aquatic animals. The elephant must be aquatic.’ I thought, ‘God! Hey, the trunk is a snorkel! Wouldn’t that be fantastic?’

We then thought, well, let’s have a look at the trunk. I had dissected one or two young elephant foetuses and I had noticed something strange, that the lungs were stuck to the chest wall. And I hadn’t paid too much attention to it. Then I looked up an American veterinary review and it said that it’s amazing that every single elephant that has died in captivity has had pleurisy because the lungs are stuck to the chest wall. So I thought, ‘Oh, probably that’s normal.’ We looked at these early embryos and foetuses and, yes, very, very early on the lungs stick to the chest wall and there is no pleural cavity at all.

We did some work with a very good respiratory physiologist in San Diego who had spent his life looking at respiration and he said, ‘If you’re a snorkeler, you know that you’re not allowed to have a snorkel tube that’s much longer than that because, if you do, you will actually rupture the blood vessels in your chest cavity, and so it’s illegal to have a longer snorkel tube.’ And here is an elephant with a snorkel tube that is about eight-foot long, so they couldn’t possibly snorkel were it not for the fact that they have managed to glue their lungs to the chest wall so that they can’t get a pneumothorax, which is what you or I would get.

Robyn Williams: Yes. Would the elephants have been living presumably in rivers or lakes rather than anything out to sea?

Roger Short: Yes, I don’t think they were in the deep ocean, although they crossed large expanses of sea to get to remote islands off the coast of California. Santa Catalina Island has got these elephant remains on it and it had never been part of mainland California, so how had elephants got there? They had swum. David Attenborough has lovely shots of elephants swimming under water in the Indian Ocean.

From TheIndianExpress

Now that most fish have disappeared from the North Sea, the trawlers are trawling up the sand banks across the North Sea and coming up with all these amazing elephant remains, of which I have quite a selection here, from tusks to vertebrae to teeth. Mammoths, as they were then, were swimming across the North Sea between England and Scotland and Europe, and they have really been great aquatic animals, and of course they are herbivores. We have been able to do their mitochondrial DNA recently, and guess what their closest relative is? The dugong.

From SnappyGoat.com

Robyn Williams: Really!

Roger Short: And elephants and dugongs arose from a common ancestor, called Anthrobacune, which I saw the first complete skeleton of in northern Hokkaido just recently.

Does anyone have access to an image of the Anthrobacune skeleton? Not even Google could find me one.


Short, Roger. 2021. The Science Show: Professor Roger Short, reproductive biologist Interview by Robyn Williams. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/scienceshow/professor-roger-short,-reproductive-biologist/13342638.