Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Weald

Weald is related to the German Wald meaning woods and related to the British 'wold' as in the name of the Cotswold tourist town, Stow-on-the-Wold. I've always been enchanted by the woods, even as a kid. There were several 'woods' in my growing-up neighborhood that I explored and played in. My friends and I would often think of them as jungles, like the ones we saw in Tarzan films. Always cool and moist, these were places of great wonder and adventure.

To the Neolithic, the weald must have seemed enchanted as well. Fog and mist, odd tangles of vines, enormous tree trunks like elephant legs rising up to the canopy of green. Filtered sunlight and even more mysterious moon light created shadows on the forest floor, opening the imagination of those early humans.

Many wealds became sacred: a divine power contained within. Special trees themselves were venerated. The famous Germanic sacred Irmensul tree was chopped down in the 8th century by Charles the Great so as to end the 'pagan' worship of trees. What a shame; what ignorance. One famous weald in England is the Andredsweald.

Andredsweald was part of a vast forest, "bringing forth thorns and thistles unbid," the resort of wild animals, and of deer and swine, and rarely trodden by the foot of man. This woody tract was one of the largest, if not the largest, British forests. In C├Žsar's time it formed part of three kingdoms, Cantii (Kent), Regni (Sussex and Surrey), and Belgae (Hants, Wilts, and Somerset). It had a city and station during the occupation of Britain by the Romans.

"In Saxon times this district extended over the south-western extremity of the Kentish kingdom, and parts of the South Saxon and West Saxon kingdoms. It was in King Alfred's time, according to the Saxon Chronicle, 120 miles or longer from east to west, and 30 miles broad. The Limen or Rother flowed out of it, and its western confines were near Privett in Hampshire. Many places now bear very different names from those they once bore. What is now known to us as the Weald, which signifies in Saxon a woody country or forest, was known to the Britons as Coed-Andred, Coed being the British word for wood. The Romans called it Silva-Anderida. The Saxons called it Andred, Andredsley, and Andredsweald, and it retained the name of Andred for
centuries after the Romans abandoned Britain."

Today the rainforests are being cut down with abandon. Just this week, the President of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, created three nature reserves in the Amazon on while warning foreigners they lack the "moral authority" to tell Brazilians how to preserve the rain forest.

"The territory is ours, but we want to share with humanity the benefits we are creating through preservation, because we want everybody to breathe the green air created by our forests," Silva said.

The temperate forests of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois were wiped out in the 1800's by ambitious immigrants looking to tap the soil for farming. Today a few nature preserves protect the original woods spared by the axe of the woodsmen. Yet trees are felled each day in the southern pine forests and the western rainforests of Oregon and Washington. The sounds of the chainsaw bounce through the weald, driving out whatever spirit resided there. What a shame; what ignorance.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Israelites were originally Canaanites!

"The historical saga contained in the Bible . . . was not a miraculous revelation, but a brilliant product of human imagination." So say authors Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman in their book, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. They assert that there was no single exodus, no unified conquest of Canaan, and no glorious, vast kingdom of David and Solomon.

Who are Finkelstein and Silberman? Archaeologists who have attempted to validate the history of Genesis through their archaeological studies. Concentrating on Israel's ancient history itself, rather than solely on its biblical associations, they used artifacts, architecture, settlement patterns, animal bones, seeds, soil samples, anthropological models drawn from world cultures, and other modern methods to produce a description based on scientific evidence.

Most of the copy below comes from an article in Sunrise Magazine.

Rather than a chronicle or history, evidence indicates that part of Genesis was a national epic created in the seventh century BCE which successfully joined many regional legendary ancestors into one unified tradition.

Sites mentioned in the Exodus narrative are real. A few were well known and apparently occupied in much earlier periods and much later periods -- after the kingdom of Judah was established, when the text of the biblical narrative was set down in writing for the first time. Unfortunately for those seeking a historical Exodus, they were unoccupied precisely at the time they reportedly played a role in the events of the wandering of the children of Israel in the wilderness.

The authors say this:

"the emergence of early Israel was an outcome of the collapse of the Canaanite culture, not its cause. And most of the Israelites did not come from outside Canaan -- they emerged from within it. There was no mass Exodus from Egypt. There was no violent conquest of Canaan. Most of the people who formed early Israel were local people -- the same people whom we see in the highlands throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages. The early Israelites were -- irony of ironies -- themselves originally Canaanites!"

The authors hold in this connection that the stories in the Book of Judges about conflicts with the Canaanites -- such as those concerning Samson, Deborah, and Gideon -- may be authentic memories of village conflicts and local heroes preserved as folktales, combined and recast for later theological and political purposes.

Despite legendary exaggerations and elaborations, the authors believe that David and Solomon did exist -- but as minor highland chieftains ruling a population of perhaps 5,000 people. No archeological evidence exits around 1005-970 BCE for David's conquest or his empire, nor in Solomon's time (ca. 970-931 BCE) is there any evidence of monumental architecture or of Jerusalem as more than a village.

Near the end of the book, the authors remark:

"the Bible's integrity and, in fact, its historicity, do not depend on dutiful historical "proof" of any of its particular events or personalities . . . The power of the biblical saga stems from its being a compelling and coherent narrative expression of the timeless themes of a people's liberation, continuing resistance to oppression, and quest for social equality. It eloquently expresses the deeply rooted sense of shared origins, experiences, and destiny that every human community needs in order to survive."

On another site [Bible and Interpretation] the authors say this about their book:

"In The Bible Unearthed, we invite you to follow our line of argumentation, first an archaeological analysis of the patriarchal, conquest, judges, and United Monarchy narratives, showing that while there is no compelling archaeological evidence for any of them, there is clear archaeological evidence that places the stories themselves in a late 7th-century BCE context. We then go on to propose an archaeological reconstruction of the distinct histories of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, differing dramatically in environment, population, economy, and religious forms. We highlight the largely neglected history of the Omride Dynasty and attempt to show how the influence of Assyrian imperialism in the region set in motion a chain of events that would eventually make the poorer, more remote, and more religiously conservative kingdom of Judah the belated center of the cultic and national hopes of all Israel.

"This occurred in the 7th-century BCE and reached a culmination, we argue, during the reign of King Josiah (639-609 BCE)—and the primary history of the Pentateuch and the Deuteronomistic History are the greatest achievements of this complex historical process. But they are not “history.”

Sacred Baths

Long before the tour buses arrived, excavations have revealed that the human use of the hot mineral springs at Bath, UK began at least 10,000 years ago. One can only imagine the shock of the first Neolithic hunter-gatherer tribes stumbling upon these hot mineral waters bubbling out of the ground. To them it was clearly un-earthly.

The Celts, who arrived in England around 700 BC, erected the first shrine structures at the springs, dedicated to Sulis, a goddess of water. What type of 'healing' the Celts received from gathering at this cauldron remains hidden, yet their attraction to such an unusual natural phenomenon is obvious.

Scientific study of the waters of Bath spring has identified 43 different minerals including iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and radium. The Celts and later the Roman and early Christian people using the springs did not know the nature of these minerals yet the springs have been venerated as a healing site for millenia.

The many bubbling mud pots, steam vents and geysers of Yellowstone Park set that land apart as sacred to the Native tribes of North America. It was so sacred that warring tribes visited the land with no enmity towards each other.

I learned the term "balneotherapy" as I was searching 'sacred baths' on Google. Bath therapy in English. Which neolithic person first put their finger into the waters at Bath and what was that feeling like? The answer is unknown, yet it must have been other-worldly. I have enjoyed balneotherapy at Baden Baden and Beuren, Swabische Alb, yet, because of the 21st century ambiance in those facilities, I failed to experience the 'sacred' there. I was physically refreshed and psychologically less stressed afterwards, as was to be expected [and advertised].

Sacred baths are now often commercialized such that the sacredness evaporates along with the steam. Yet how amazing these natural mineral springs must have been to those wandering neolithic travelers who stumbled upon them.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Holy Wells

Gumfreston is a settlement situated in Wales in the United Kingdom. It is located in the Pembrokeshire region. The Wells and the church there are still in constant local use and attract many visitors throughout the year. Many come as pilgrims to Gumfreston for healing of mind and spirit.

The beginnings of this holy site were the springs that flowed from the tiny outcrop of limestone set in the surrounding rock of millstone grit. These springs, so close together, yet each different in medicinal content, may always have been regarded as special and not used simply for domestic purposes by those who lived around them. Their healing qualities would have been sought out by the communities that settled throughout the Ritec Valley from earliest times. At some point, certainly by the 6th Century, Celtic 'saints' were at Gumfreston, and one or more, maybe even a small communitiy were living there, possibly in 'bee-hive' huts, and using the wells for baptism.

The Well at St. Issui, Patrishaw, Wales

At this very moment the Phoenix Lander is looking for ice/water on the planet Mars. Water, the source of our life, has always been a sacred substance.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Changing Focus of the Blog

I will be changing the focus of this blog in hte next few days. Right now, I have a few thoughts in mind but I have not decided on which to explore.

- The Management

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