Difficulties in Evaluating Historical Traditions (9 December, 2014, 17 Kislev, 5775)
How do we discern whether what we are reading is right or wrong?
(Follow links to see original text where appropriate.)
How do we discern the truth from all the apparent nonsense which is presented to us by the classical writers? This might seem an easy thing to do. If someone tells you something which is too incredible to be true, sechel yashar (common sense) tells you that it must be wrong. When, for example, Pliny, quoting an earlier writer by the name of Megasthenes, tells us that "on the mountain named Nelus there are people with their feet turned backwards" (Nat. Hist. vii.2 (23).),
or "in a certain large valley in the Himalayas, there is a region called Abarimon where are some people dwelling in forests who have their feet turned backward behind their legs" (Nat. Hist. vii.2 (11).)
we can surely not be wrong in concluding that he is reporting something which is impossible. ... Right?
I must admit that I do not often read newspapers, so I consider it a curious coincidence that, not long after reading this comment by Pliny, I came across an article about a father and a son who are double-jointed and both have the ability to turn their feet 180 degrees so that they are facing the opposite direction. (See https://www.dropbox.com/sc/peaytkyaeijcizc/AABBTdL1KE4RGk_lFUDO2Zd6a.) Imagine therefore a foreigner arriving on your shores saying that he is recording history. Who then could possibly resist playing a hoax on him?
According to the same writer, Megasthenes also "tells of a race among the nomads of India that has only holes in the place of nostrils". (Nat. Hist. vii.2 (25).)
Again, this might seem incredible until you realise that it was the practice of Egyptians as well as the Assyrians to cut off the noses of criminals. In the case of the Egyptian outcasts, they would be sent, after receiving punishment, to a place called Rhinocolura, which name means 'cut-off nose'.
"Then Rhinocolura, so called from the colonists, whose noses had been mutilated. Some Ethiopian invaded Egypt, and, instead of putting the malefactors to death, cut off their noses, and settled them at Rhinocolura, supposing that they would not venture to return to their own country, on account of the disgraceful condition of their faces." (Strabo xvi.ii.31.)
The people who "are born with horses' feet" (Nat. Hist. iv.13 (95)
in John Bostock's translation) who were living somewhere in Scandinavia might be a reference to the fact that they wore fur shoes, giving the appearance that they had feet like horses.
The trouble is that, like Chinese whispers, things get distorted as the story is passed from person to person. This is exemplified by the story of Cyclops, who (believe it or not) was a real person. The Cyclopes, who were also known as Arimaspi, were purportedly a "people remarkable for having one eye in the centre of the forehead. Many authorities, the most distinguished being Herodotus and Aristeas of Proconnesus, write that these people wage continual war around their mines with the griffins, a kind of wild beast with wings, as commonly reported, that digs gold out of mines, which the creatures guard and the Arimaspi try to take from them, both with remarkable covetousness". (Nat. Hist. vii.2 (11).)
Actually, Herodotus refuted the suggestion that there were one-eyed men, let alone the story about the griffins. (Herod. iii.116.)
It is pertinent to point out that he had only heard rumours about them. He certainly never said anything about them having an eye in the middle of their forehead!
Cyclops was a Trojan warrior who lost an eye in battle in the Trojan Wars. He became affectionately known as the One-Eyed king, and his followers as One-Eye's people, though the Greeks, in their inimitable way, have turned them all into ogres with an eye in the middle of their forehead. We probably already know this One-Eyed King by the name of Votan, Odin or Wodin. He was responsible for resettling many families overseas, especially in South America. (Votan is mentioned in the Popul Vuh, the holy book of the Mayan Indians.) Archaeologists would have us believe that Troy fell around 1200 BCE in what is known as the Late Helladic IIIC period. Miletus also fell around about that same time with half the population (of Miletus) setting sail and ending up in Egypt by permission of their king Psammetichus I, and the other half of the population travelling north and settling in Lydia by permission of their king Gyges. This seventh century date for the fall of Troy accords with what the Greek writers all tell us, but because of our corrupted Assyrian and Egyptian chronologies, archaeologists are forced to push back the fall of Troy to some remote period. We should bear in mind that many of the survivors of Troy settled in Carthage on the north African coast, and Carthage did not exist prior to the eighth century BCE. (Some of the Danaan from Troy settled in Naucratis in Egypt and subsequently arrived in Ireland in the middle of the sixth century BCE.)
As for the griffins, these may be some fabulous beasts which are now extinct, or it could be referring to a tribe of people who went under the banner of the griffin. A number of different tribes used the griffin on their standards/coats of arms, so it could merely be a reference to two different tribes fighting over possession of the gold.
As for now extinct creatures, note that Herodotus, Diodorus and Strabo all describe flying lizards of Saudi Arabia, which creatures are supposed to have become extinct around one million years ago. We are informed that every Spring, these serpents, which looked like water snakes with bats wings (Herod. ii.76),
would migrate from Saudi Arabia to Egypt, and as they passed through the Sinai Peninsula, they would be picked off by what Herodotus called a black ibis, but which Pausanias called a Stymphalian bird. These flying lizards are clearly the 'fiery flying serpents' mentioned by the prophet Yeshayahu (Isa. 30:6), 'fiery' as in venomous. The Stymphalian birds are annother creature which has become extinct. Marco Polo, who lived around 1300 CE, likewise accurately describes an Allosaurus, another dinosaur which our beloved palaeontologists insist disappeared off the face of the Earth around 150 million years ago! (The Travels of Marco Polo The Venetian, Book 2, Chap. 40, William Marsden, London and New York 1914.
Note that to the ancient writers, general words such as 'serpent', 'dragon', 'crocodile' etc were used indiscriminately to describe a number of diverse creatures. Leviathan, for example, which is described in the Tanakh as a 'crooked serpent ' (Isa. 27:1), is depicted as a dragon with seven heads.)
This is what you are dealing with when trying to study the ancient writings. The later the work the more corrupt the story becomes. This does not mean that the story is false, but it does mean that it has undergone a number of often drastic changes.
Have you heard of a satyr? A satyr is supposedly someone who is half man and half goat. Did you know that this Greek word is derived from the Hebrew word Seir where the letter ayyin of Seir (spelt shin-ayyin-reish) has been transliterated as a 't'? This Hebrew word Seir is even translated as satyr in Isa. 13:21 & Isa. 34:14. Seir is not only the name of the progenitor of the Seirites, or sons of Seir (Gen. 36:20 & 1 Chron. 1:38) – hence half man, but is also the word for goat - hence half goat. The Odomantes and Satrae (i.e. Satyrs) who, Herodotus informs us, were in his day mining for gold in the Pangaean mountains (in Thrace) (Herod. vii.111-2) were Edomites and Seirites respectively.
How about the story of Pegasus, the winged horse? Surely everyone has heard of Pegasus? Naively, I thought that I must be the only one to realise that Pegasus was the name of a fast ship, but I subsequently discovered that Roderic O'Flaherty, who wrote his book in 1793, over two hundred years ago, had already come to the same conclusion:-
"Glaucus the son of Sisyphus, the father of Bellerophon, who built a ship, whose ensign was a winged courser, called Pegasus, in which far and near he plundered and committed depradations on the maritime coasts." Ogygia Vol. 1, p.106, Roderic O'Flaherty, translated by the Rev. James Hely, Dublin 1793.
As for Bellerophon, the Greeks (like the Irish) were turning tribes into fictitious people. We know Bellerophon as Pallu-Reuben (Num. 26:5), the interchange of the 'b' and 'p' in ancient languages being well-attested. Hammurabi king of Babylon, for example, was also called Hammurapi in the Mari Letters. The Hattian king Suppulilulme appears as Subbiluliuma in the so-called Hittite texts as well as in the El Amarna letters. More pertinent to our current enquiry, the land of Reuben to the east of the river Jordan was called Raphana by Pliny (Nat. Hist. v.xvi (74).)
So, we return to the original question: How do we know whether what we are reading is true? Whilst I cannot explain all of the weird things which are recorded by the classical writers, we have demonstrated that it is not just a matter of rejecting something because it seems wrong, as quite often there could be an element of truth contained in what is written. The hard part is determining the original source and the original meaning of the story, for only then we can make a more valued decision. To reject it outright without giving it due consideration means that we could be rejecting some important piece of information.
So, how do we tell whether something is right or wrong?
Over to you Yair.
Incidentally, did you ever get any response to your question concerning Queen Tea? I personally would ask whether you deem it important that prophecy has been fulfilled in Queen Tea and Gede Ollgothach? Whilst most of the royal houses of Europe are descended from King David, the royal houses of Ireland and Scotland are descended from the tribe of Ethan son of Zerach. Also, I have assured you that Ireland is named after Ethan and Darda, two of the sons of Zerach, son of ER son of Yehudah who arrived from Naucratis in Egypt in the sixth century BCE, with the other two sons arriving much later. You have only to trace these four sons of Zerach from the land of Israel to see that what I am saying is true. Surely that is significant information? To reject it means that you are sending mixed messages. Either you are trying to trace the Ten Tribes or you are not. At least, that is my take on the matter.
Anyhow, you have your work to do and I have mine. Let us try not to step on each other's toes in the process.