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Dead Sea Scrolls Online

In my article Secrets of the cellars (Pragati,Aug 2011), I wished if only the Mathilakam records were scanned and put online. That may never happen, but there is a model on how it can be done. Two thousand years after they were written, some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were kept safe and accessible only to a a few scholars, went online. NPR has an article with photographs which explains how this was done using a $250K camera developed in California and Google’s help.

The appearance of five of the most important Dead Sea scrolls on the Internet is part of a broader attempt by the custodians of the celebrated manuscripts — who were once criticized for allowing them to be monopolized by small circles of scholars — to make them available to anyone with a computer. The scrolls include the biblical Book of Isaiah, the manuscript known as the Temple Scroll, and three others. Surfers can search high-resolution images of the scrolls for specific passages, zoom in and out, and translate verses into English[2,000-Year-Old Dead Sea Scrolls Go Online]

View and read the DSS here.

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Who owns the Heritage Sites?

Bethlehem in 1890 (via Wikipedia)

As new nations form, an important issue is that of the heritage sites. This is especially important in Israel-Palestine area where everyone except people of Indic religions seem to have a stake.

“In any political arrangement, one side will have control of equities of the other,” Seidemann emphasised. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not only a conflict of territory but of identity and narratives, with archaeology and cultural heritage the physical embodiments of the narratives. Addressing these issues is critical for the stability of Israelis and Palestinians.” [Israel and Palestine: who owns what?]

As the vote for Palestinian statehood is coming up in September, there is lot of activity in the ground in West Bank.

Israeli officials have argued that heritage sites with Jewish historical connection must remain under Israeli sovereignty. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated that position last year, after Unesco ruled that, despite being venerated by Jews, Christians and Muslims, heritage sites in Bethlehem and Hebron are Palestinian (The Art Newspaper, December 2010, p25). He denounced the decision as “absurd”, calling it “an attempt to disconnect the nation of Israel from its heritage.”

Palestinians counter that location, not religious identification, determines sovereignty of a site. “Palestinians are proud to host a diversity of cultural heritage which is also important to the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. It is Palestinian policy to respect and apply international laws concerning cultural property and heritage using a professional approach to preserve and protect the sites based on geographic location,” said Gabriel Fahel, the legal adviser on archaeology to the PLO’s Negotiations Support Unit (which closed last month). He also charged Israel with violating international treaties it has signed by excavating in the West Bank and removing Palestinian cultural property.[Israel and Palestine: who owns what?]

Since none of these groups give up easily, this is going to be an interesting debate.

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A 17th Century Tibetan Deception

Statuette of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Mongolia, 19th century CE. (Wikipedia)

In 1679, China under the powerful Qing dynasty was trying to claim power over Tibet. The Fifth Dalai Lama was in his final years and the future looked bleak. To ensure that the spiritual and political leadership continued  he came up with a brilliant plan: he announced that he was retiring and appointing an official named Sangye Gyatso as the leader of the Tibetans. To see how this innocent looking plan, which is being repeated once again by the 14th Dalai Lama, fooled the Chinese, read on.

When the Fifth died in 1682 at the age of sixty-five, Sangye Gyatso duly informed the public that the Dalai Lama was in retreat. On the rare occasions when important visitors were allowed an audience, he enlisted an elderly monk of similar age and appearance to pretend to be the Fifth; the monk wore a large eye-shade, much like the current Dalai Lama, albeit for different reasons.

The deception was so effective that it was fourteen years before the Chinese Emperor realized he had been duped, and then only because some Mongolian prisoners of war mentioned reports they had heard in Lhasa that the Dalai Lama had died more than a decade earlier. By then the next Dalai Lama had been identified, educated, and established: a succession crisis had largely been avoided. The Qing had been denied any say over the selection of the Sixth Dalai Lama, thus taking away a fundamental part of their claim to overlordship. “You, Regent!” thundered the Emperor Kangxi in a 1696 edict to Sangye Gyatso, “You are nothing except an administrator working for the Dalai Lama, you were elevated to be the ‘King of Tibet’ by us! …This news should have been communicated to us directly!”

Hence the concern in some quarters of Beijing that the current Dalai Lama might be similarly using his retirement to prevent China from selecting his spiritual successor and thus reinforcing its claim to sovereignty over Tibet. [The Dalai Lama’s ‘Deception’]

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Revolutionary Ideas from Göbekli Tepe

(via Wikipedia)

National Geographic has an article (HT Vipul) on Göbekli Tepe in Southern Turkey where people constructed a huge temple complex much before the invention of agriculture. This site is now prompting historians to rethink the theories on the origins of complex societies. How were foragers, who usually follow the resources like the Nanook, able to stay at one place and move 16 ton stones without wheels or animals? Why did they even bother constructing such a massive structure? Did pilgrimage pre-date the Neolithic revolution?

Discovering that hunter-gatherers had constructed Göbekli Tepe was like finding that someone had built a 747 in a basement with an X-Acto knife. “I, my colleagues, we all thought, What? How?” Schmidt said. Paradoxically, Göbekli Tepe appeared to be both a harbinger of the civilized world that was to come and the last, greatest emblem of a nomadic past that was already disappearing. The accomplishment was astonishing, but it was hard to understand how it had been done or what it meant. “In 10 or 15 years,” Schmidt predicts, “Göbekli Tepe will be more famous than Stonehenge. And for good reason.”[Göbekli Tepe]

There is a new explanation for the origin of agriculture

If these archaeologists were correct, these protovillages provided a new explanation of how complex society began. Childe thought that agriculture came first, that it was the innovation that allowed humans to seize the opportunity of a rich new environment to extend their dominion over the natural world. The Natufian sites in the Levant suggested instead that settlement came first and that farming arose later, as a product of crisis. Confronted with a drying, cooling environment and growing populations, humans in the remaining fecund areas thought, as Bar-Yosef puts it, “If we move, these other folks will exploit our resources. The best way for us to survive is to settle down and exploit our own area.” Agriculture followed.[Göbekli Tepe]

and it is connected to religion

Schmidt speculates that foragers living within a hundred-mile radius of Göbekli Tepe created the temple as a holy place to gather and meet, perhaps bringing gifts and tributes to its priests and crafts­people. Some kind of social organization would have been necessary not only to build it but also to deal with the crowds it attracted. One imagines chanting and drumming, the animals on the great pillars seeming to move in flickering torchlight. Surely there were feasts; Schmidt has uncovered stone basins that could have been used for beer. The temple was a spiritual locus, but it may also have been the Neolithic version of Disneyland.

Over time, Schmidt believes, the need to acquire sufficient food for those who worked and gathered for ceremonies at Göbekli Tepe may have led to the intensive cultivation of wild cereals and the creation of some of the first domestic strains. Indeed, scientists now believe that one center of agriculture arose in southern Turkey—well within trekking distance of Göbekli Tepe—at exactly the time the temple was at its height. Today the closest known wild ancestors of modern einkorn wheat are found on the slopes of Karaca Dağ, a mountain just 60 miles northeast of Göbekli Tepe. In other words, the turn to agriculture celebrated by V. Gordon Childe may have been the result of a need that runs deep in the human psyche, a hunger that still moves people today to travel the globe in search of awe-inspiring sights.[Göbekli Tepe]

See Also: Photos from Göbekli Tepe | Video of a clay model

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60 Minutes Feature on Mt. Athos

Mt. Athos in Greece is a unique place where Orthodox monks live a monastic life. Though Greece protects the peninsula, it is self governed by the monks of the 20 monasteries of the Eastern Orthodoxy. Special permission is needed to visit Mt. Athos and only a few visitors are allowed each month. Mt. Athos does not permit women to enter and this ban has been in place since 1045 CE, since the time of the Byzantine emperor Constantine Monomachos. Mt. Athos does not even permit female animals (female cats are allowed since they catch rats).

Most of us will never set foot in this autonomous monastic state where orthodoxy has been preserved for a millenia. So the next best option is to watch the CBS 60 Minutes feature on this. (Part 1, Part 2). Ironically, the CBS clips are sponsored by viagra.

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