When you first enter an ancient history or archaeology degree you are introduced to several sets of material evidence. Notably, the archaeology, material evidence, and philological evidence. But the philological side is more often than not rarely mentioned again. This is quite a shame considering some of the most interesting and revealing information comes from the ancient written sources. People generally fall into the trap of ignoring the writing in favour of the archaeology and artefacts and frankly you can’t really blame them because humans are naturally attracted to pretty visual things. I see this every day with the likes and shares on my Facebook page. But philology is all important too and if students can learn even a little about ancient writing and textual criticism, a whole new side to history and analysis opens up to them as it should.
Philology is derived from the Greek terms φίλος (love) and λόγος (word, reason) and literally means a ‘love of words’. It is the study of language in literary sources and is a combination of literary studies, history and linguistics. Philology is generally associated with Greek and Classical Latin, in which it is termed philologia. The study of philology originated in European Renaissance Humanism in regards to Classical Philology but this has since been combined to include in its definition the study of both European and non-European languages. The idea of philology has been carried through the Greek and Latin literature into the English language around the sixteenth century through the French term philologie meaning also a ‘love of literature’ from the same word roots.
Generally philology has a focus on historical development. It helps establish the authenticity of literary texts and their original form and with this the determination of their meaning. It is a branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development and relationships of a language or languages. This makes it all the more significant to study as language is one of the main building blocks of civilisation.
There are several branches of philological studies that can also be undertaken:
Comparative philology is a branch of philology which analyses the relationship or correspondences between languages. For instance, the commonalities between Latin and Etruscan or further flung languages of Asian or African provinces. It uses pre-determined techniques to discover whether languages hold common ancestors or influences. It uses comparison of grammar and spelling which was first deemed useful in the 19th century and has developed ever since. The study of comparative philology was originally defined by Sir William Jones‘ discovery in 1786 that Sanskrit was related to Greek and German as well as Latin.
Decipherment is another branch of philology which looks at resurrecting dead languages and previously unread texts such as done and achieved by Jean-Francois Champollion in the decipherment of Hieroglyphs with the use of the Rosetta Stone. And more recently by Michael Ventris in the decipherment of Linear B. Decipherment would be key to the understanding of still little understood languages such as Linear A. Decipherment uses known languages, grammatical tools and vocabulary to find and apply comparisons within an unread text. By doing so more of the text can be read gradually as similarities and grammatical forms become better understood. The remaining text can then be filled in through further comparison, analysis, and elimination of incorrect solutions.
Textual philology editing is yet another branch of philology with includes the study of texts and their history in a sense including textual criticism. This branch was created in relation to the long traditions of Biblical studies; in particular with the variations of manuscripts. It looks at the authorship, date and provenance of the text to place it in its historical context and to produce ‘critical editions’ of the texts.
The importance of philology is exhibited in its use and achievements. Without philology the bible translation would be even more wrong, trust me read it in the original Greek. We would not be able to translate hieroglyphs, Linear B, Linear A, Sanskrit, any ancient language. Our entire written past would be blank, we would not have the information we have now on mathematics, social structure, philosophy, science, medicine, civilisation, transport, engineering, marketing, accounting, well anything really, knowledge would not have been rediscovered or passed on without the ability to study texts and language. Understand the love of words.
- The unsung heroine who helped decode Crete’s ancient script (bbc.co.uk)
- Rediscovering Philology (sites.tufts.edu)
- The Open Philology Project and Humboldt Chair of Digital Humanities at Leipzig (sites.tufts.edu)
- Genes and Languages: Not So Strange Bedfellows? (23andme.com)
- Bavinck on Comparative Religion and Comparative Philology (calvinistinternational.com)
- How to Teach yourself Ancient (and Modern) Languages (graecomuse.wordpress.com)
- Welcome to GraecoMuse (graecomuse.wordpress.com)
- Alice Kober: Unsung heroine who helped decode Linear B (adafruit.com)
- The Unsolved Mysteries of the World (secretsofthefed.com)
- Macquarie Ancient Languages School – Winter Session (graecomuse.wordpress.com)
We often read ‘In the beginning…’ but there are actually several beginnings told throughout the Bible, many of which have interesting relationships to other Mediterranean creation myths from Greece, Egypt and the Ancient Near East. So I want to explore some of those relation, the comparisons and contrasts. Frankly this could, and I’m sure does somewhere, make up an entire book series. So lets look at some of the basics.
The Old Testament contains at least a dozen creation “stories”. Two of these stories are told in Genesis 1 and 2, in addition to the creation story in Job 38 and the fragment in Job 26:7-13 among others. These stories are not always consistent with each other, so some will hold similarities to contemporary creation myths, while others contain contrasts.
One major point of comparison between Biblical creation myths and other creation myths is the idea of separation as a key component in the creation process. The idea of separation is seen several times throughout Genesis. Genesis 1:4 reads, “God saw light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness,” indicating the creation of night and day. The idea is also in Genesis 1:6, “God said, let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”
Egyptian mythology also has separation themes; telling of the separation of the god of the earth and of the sky as a major part of the creation process. Though these creation aspects are represented as deities in Egyptian mythology, the idea remains; the separation of the earth and the heavens to create a place in between, to be inhabited. The idea of separation is also seen in the Mesopotamian creation myth the Enuma Elish. The god Marduk ‘separates’ Tiamat (primeval waters), splitting her in half, placing one half above the other, forming heaven and earth.. As in the Biblical myths, the act of separation is used as a key aspect of creation. Hesiod’s Theogony illustrates this idea was also an accepted part of Greek creation mythology. Hesiod explains that Gaia (Earth) was ‘separated’ from Ouranos (sky) through a scheme resulting in Ouranos detaching from Gaia, separating earth from the heavens.
Another similarity is the idea of chaotic water being a primal substance. The first account of Genesis refers to chaotic water being present at the time of creation. Genesis 1:2 states “…the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” This idea of chaotic water is witnessed in the Enuma Elish as Tiamat and Apsu both represent forms of chaotic water, and it is out of them that creation results. In all accounts of Egyptian creation the idea of chaotic water is apparent. The Heliopolis version of Egyptian mythology tells of the primeval matter ‘Nun’, the watery chaos from which all is created. In contrast, the creation myth of Job 38 is almost methodical: “Who marked off [Earth’s] dimensions? … who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set…?”
Greek mythology doesn’t seem to directly refer to water as the primal substance, but Hesiod explains the first god was ‘Chaos’, resembling the watery chaos of the other myths, representing the same ideas of a void from which all was created. Hesiod’s understanding of Chaos contrasts however Ovid’s, who defines it as an “anarchic dark matter that preceded the formation of the universe.”
The creation myths of Genesis share another common feature of Near Eastern, Egyptian and Greek accounts: they have a cyclical theme. Boadt indicates that this cyclical theme can be seen in Genesis as each of the first three days of creation parallels the next three days. Genesis’ Priestly account shows the creation of light and darkness on the first day is parallel to that of day and night on the fourth day. Whereas, the creation of waters and sky on the second day parallels the creation of sealife and life of the air on the fifth. This pattern is continued in with the third and sixth days.
This cyclical theme is seen in the Enuma Elish and Greek creation. However, the cyclical acts of these mythologies are based more on the violent processes which do not appear in the Genesis. This is a point of uniqueness. The Enuma Elish shows a cyclical theme in the overthrowing of Apsu by Ea in parallel to the overthrowing of Tiamat by Marduk. Hesiod also expresses this theme in Greek creation with the overthrowing of Ouranos by his son Kronos and then the defeat of Kronos by Zeus. The cyclical theme is also seen in Egyptian accounts as they believed in the idea of the first occasion and that life was part of a continuous process. For example, the rising and falling of the sun was imagined as a cyclical process repeating every day, rising and returning to Nun. However, the account in Job 38 is not cyclical; instead it is more of a process.
Biblical creation can also be compared and contrasted in relation to the formation of the god/s and the elements of nature. Genesis indicates that creation resulted from the divine word of a monotheistic god. Sproul asserts that this form of creation is not completely reflected in other mythologies. Hesiod explains that Greeks believed the first acts of creation were the result of sexual procreation by the gods Chaos and Gaia. Sexual procreation as a primary means of creation is also seen in the Memphite versions of Egyptian mythology, though the gods are the product of both asexual reproduction (Shu and Tefnut) and divine word in some accounts such as the Heliopolis (Re rising out of Nun). Near Eastern mythology also includes sexual procreation in creation, “…from Apsu and Tiamat in the waters gods were created.” From these accounts we see Biblical creation as fairly unique as it never includes an act of procreation within Genesis, however, Egyptian accounts do share a relation in including creation by divine word. Job, while not including procreation, does parallel it in 38:8 where it reads: “Who shut up the sea behind doors, when it burst forth from the womb.”
All four cultures’ accounts can be viewed as nature myths as they share a reaction to the power of nature and the creation of human life, even though humans have a limited role in Egyptian mythology. The Biblical accounts and the Enuma Elish both have cultic functions. The Enuma Elish displays cultic functions of kingship, and the Biblical Priestly cults feature the day of rest, both corresponding with ritual theories. Harris and Platzner explain Etiological theories of myths are attempts to explain origins. This theory, seen in all of these mythologies, shows Biblical creation is not unique as a prescientific attempt to justify the creation process.
Biblical and other creation myths show contrasts in relation to the role and creation of humans. The creation of humans in Biblical myth is more important in the J account than the Priestly account. In both, humans are created in the image of god, whereas in Near Eastern myth they are created to serve the gods, but are divinely related as they are moulded from divine blood, “blood to bone I form, an original thing, its name is Man.” Hesiod’s accounts don’t include human creation, but Aristophanes relates that males were created from the sun and females from the earth. Some versions of Egyptian myth recount human creation by Khumn from clay, as do Near Eastern myth with the creation of man by Nintu from clay and blood. Greek, Egyptian and Near Eastern accounts are similar to the J version of Genesis as all refer to creation of man from the earth/clay.
Genesis is in part different because it saw creation not as the act of divine slaughter and violence, but as the divine word of god. Harris and Platzner assess that this is unlike Mesopotamian and Greek creation mythology which “features violent conflict between different generations of gods.” Hesiod describes the conflicts between the generations of gods creating order from chaos. The same idea appears in the Enuma Elish as the violence between generations creates ultimate order to chaos. Genesis, however, refers to a creation of divine word alone, reshaping older myths of “a primordial watery chaos to fit a monotheistic concept.” It would be wrong to say that Biblical accounts are purely non-violent. In Job 26:12-13, ‘By his power he churned up the sea, by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces, by his breath the skies became fair; his hand pierced the gliding serpent.’
We also see that the Biblical myth is different because it contains the only creation myths encompassing monotheism. All other creation accounts are based on polytheism. The Egyptian creation myths start with one god of many, such as Nun (the primeval waters),  Ptah in the Memphite versions and Atum in the Heliopolis versions. Greek and Mesopotamian creation myths recount creation in polytheistic terms as the result of several generations of gods, each representing a creation component. Biblical myths do, however, include the trinity within creation. In John1:1-4, ‘In the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made.’
The Biblical creation myths then do not stand out generally as unique. They contain themes that run through numerous creation myths from civilisations in direct contact and under similar influences to the Biblical cultures. And that my friends is ancient history for you! It is very difficult to be unique when it has all been done before. Any PhD student knows…
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 Holy Bible: New International Version, Hodder and Stroughton (London, 1996), Genesis 1.3, p.3
 Ibid., Genesis 1.6, p.3
 Pinch, G., Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Goddesses and Traditions of Ancient Egypt (Oxford, 2004), p.65
 Allen, J. P., Genesis in Egypt (Connecticut, 1988), p.9
 The Enuma Elish in Sproul, B. C., Primal Myths (New York, 1979), p.92
 Hesiod, Theogony in Harris, S.L., and Plarzner, G., Classical Mythology: Images and InsightFourth Edition (New York, 2004), p.89, lines 160-190
 Harris, S.L., and Plarzner, G., Classical Mythology: Images and InsightFourth Edition (New York, 2004), p.66
 Holy Bible, op.cit., Genesis 1.2, p.3
 Sproul, B. C., Primal Myths (New York, 1979), p.80
 Harris and Platzner, op.cit., p.68
 Boadt, L., Reading the Old Testament (New York, 1984), p.111
 Holy Bible, op.cit., Genesis 1
 Ibid., Genesis 1
 Ibid., Genesis 1
 Sproul, B. C., Primal Myths (New York, 1979), p.123
 Hesiod, op.cit., lines 160-190
 Pinch, G., op.cit., p.68
 Sproul, B. C., op.cit., p.123
 Hesiod, op.cit., lines 110-120
 Shaw, I., and Nicholson, P., The British Museum: Dictionary of Ancient Egypt (London, 2003), p.284
 Enuma Elish, op.cit., p.92, lines 1-10
 Sproul, op.cit., p.91 – The Enuma Elish’s main purpose was to praise Marduk’s divine supremacy and to honourBabylon.
 Harris and Platzner, op.cit., p.40
 Greek, Egyptian, Near Eastern and Biblical myths are all an attempt to explain creation in a non-scientific way (Eg. The sky, sea, earth and life itself) which reflects the primitive understanding of the world and its creation.
 Sproul, op.cit., p.104
 Arisphanes in Plato’s Symposium
 Sproul, op.cit., p.114
 Platzner and Harris, op.cit., p.70
 Ibid., p.70
 Pinch, op.cit., p.58 – explanation of the first god rising out of Nun, the primeval waters, due to differing accounts this god is ascribed as being Amun, Ra or Ptah depending on the version understudy
 Shabako Stone, king sha-bak, 700BC, 25Dyn
The problem with being a fast reader is that this happens: Reviewing several books at once…But fortunately Andy McDermott’s series, starting with ‘The Hunt for Atlantis’, allows one to do that because each book runs nicely on from the previous while having self-contained plots that are easy to read and very entertaining. Historians and archaeologists tend to look at fiction concerning their general area and pick out all that is wrong with it. Hence why its difficult to watch 300 with out wanting to rip apart the cinema screen. However, McDermott manages to allow one to look past the historical inaccuracies and enjoy the story itself by choosing subjects that we would dream of finding in archaeology but already know they likely don’t exist. By doing this he isn’t stepping on anyone’s toes.
McDermott’s first book ‘The Hunt for Atlantis’ tells the tale of the intelligent and obsessive Nina Wilde, doctor of archaeology, and her body-guard, former SAS agent Eddie Chase, as they search for the legendary lost city while being thwarted at every turn by an evil villain set to destroy every trace of the Atlantean culture (this particularly made one angry and rooting for the good guys, the horrors of vandalising archaeology!). With a topic such as Atlantis, straightaway even the historically obsessed such as myself can accept that this is just fiction and enjoy it as such without picking at its faults.
The best book in the series so far, McDermott allows us to identify with the characters and doesn’t fall into the trap many writers do in making the characters larger than life. Nina Wilde is no Lara Croft, she is simply as academic with an idea, drive and determination, and that’s what makes one like her. Eddie Chase is no James Bond, he is a mid-thirties Yorkshireman, slightly balding, who likes action movies and scuba diving in addition to beating the **** out of bad guys. Crude, simple, effective.
Eddie Izzard once said that he would read more books if they were a bit more like action movies and had acceptable car chases. Well here is one! I was rather impressed by the successful writing of a car chase into a book and the mix of Indiana Jones like action without it seeming corny or unrealistic.
The only problem with this book is that you can’t stop reading it and then you have to go on and read the next book, and the next book, and here I am finishing book four after starting the first less than a week ago!
While book one sucks you in and doesn’t let go, book two ‘The Tomb of Hercules’ had its faults which did
contrast to the exceptionally well written first book. The background story is altogether well written though with Nina and Eddie heading up the first major exploration of the newly devised organisation to safeguard the ancient mythical places
that turn out to be reality as well as archaeological remains around the world. The hunt for the tomb of Hercules is interesting and entertaining but its merits are unfortunately overshadowed by the air contributed by the characters. Its like one is witnessing a domestic. The bickering and all sometimes all out bitch fights between characters in the first twenty odd chapters becomes slightly unbearable though the wish to find out about the tomb of Hercules, the villains and Eddie’s strange ex-wife does spur you on to finish the book.
The ending does make up for the beginning though with wonderful fight scenes, nuclear warheads and crazy chases across the world which appeals to ones love of the unexpected. So you get to the final chapter and all is good, you are relieved by the outcome of the characters and plot, especially since the end of the domestics can’t really continue into the following books so you can read them…and then all goes a little screwed up again with appearances of former characters. Oh well, this book was not the best by any means, I can only vindicate McDermott because I have read the next two books which are worth reading. So advice here is read and move on.
McDermott’s third book ‘The Secret of Excalibur’ brings back the charm of the series as Nina and Eddie explore the legend of King Arthur to find the legendary sword Excalibur and the lost tomb of Arthur and Guinevere themselves. Unlike the first two books I am pleased to announce that no archaeological ‘formerly mythological’ sites were destroyed in the making of these book. The character relationships are back on track which is relieving and it takes a while to work out who are the true baddies which is nice because you can’t really guess the end at the beginning.
McDermott did well by changing the character dynamics to parallel those in the first book a bit more closely. The secret of Excalibur includes more well written fight scenes and secondary characters who parallel archaeologists in reality; slightly mad, often at the pub. I was also fond of the Monty Python references but they should have stopped after a while or been spaced out more because in the end there were a few too many. This book wasn’t as memorable as the first or the second because the first was brilliant and the second is mostly memorable for the wrong reasons, but having down played from the second book it was a pleasure to read with a happy and successful ending.
Now quickly we come to book four ‘The Covenant of Genesis’. This was my second favourite book after the first for several reasons: You don’t actually know what they are looking for until half way through the book because they aren’t even sure so it’s different from the previous and keeps you guessing, it gets your emotions up as you are annoyed by the destructive nature of the human race, the artefacts and ideas are new and unique, dealing with ancients beyond ancients, lost knowledge that all archaeologists wished then had and hope exists buried somewhere in the world for them to some day dig up, and lastly you really don’t expect it when McDermott does explain the secret of the covenant of Genesis.
I don’t think it was necessary though to bring back certain characters from the second book but book four did suck you in more with the hope that for once everything goes to plan for the main characters. Unfortunately though the plot is great in general the character interactions again become a bit much at times and you really start to think that it would be better for the ancient world and its artefacts if Nina and Eddie just stayed at home and watched television instead of accidently leading horrible religiously based covenants of destruction to sites real archaeologists would likely die to protect. Crossed fingers for the survival of all sites mentioned in these and future books. McDermott stop killing them!!! But I love the Top Gear references…
Oh well, over all despite the ups and downs you can’t stop reading these books. Trust me, I just got book 5 on kindle…
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