In the media, prehistoric humans are often portrayed as naked savages huddling in caves. This is the image you see even in science journalism.

However, is it possible that ancient peoples had technologies more advanced than we like to acknowledge?

This possibility is part of the story concept of my Biblical fiction series, The Cursed Ground. What if, before the Great Flood of antiquity, the earth had carried a very large population of humans, some of whom had achieved relatively advanced civilizations comparable to the Bronze and Iron Ages, or even to more recent time periods?

This is speculative fiction, so I’m permitted to speculate and ask, What if? So I do.

For this reason, I’m greatly intrigued by a video blog called Primitive Technology. The author is a guy in Australia whose hobby is going into the forest wearing nothing but shorts, and then making amazing things. Using whatever resources he can find in the wild, he gathers and traps food, makes tools, builds structures, and much more. Each of his segments is a beautifully-made video without narration, showing his process for whatever the current project is. The blog also includes a written segment explaining what you’re seeing in the video.

Following Primitive Technology has opened my mind to the possibilities of technologies that could be readily available to humans, even without access to urban environments and manufacturing infrastructure.

Here are some of the blog entries that I have found intriguing:

Building a Wattle and Daub Hut” — To make a small, serviceable hut, with an external chimney and fireplace, Primitive Technology Guy uses various non-complicated tools and materials: a stone hand-ax, small trees, fire sticks, coil pots, bark. Great demonstrations of these basic technologies. That shelter he built in 2013, but then followed in 2015 with a much more substantial project: “Building a hut with a kiln-fired tiled roof, underfloor heating and mud pile walls.” Especially interesting to see how he fires and places the roof tiles.

stone axeAs PTG works on these projects, it’s fascinating to watch him make use of basic tools he has made, such as digging sticks, hand axes, a stone axe, stone chisel, and fire sticks, or the ingenious use he makes of raw materials from the woods around him — sticks, vines, bark, clay, leaves, and mud.

Forge Blower” — My favorite segment, in which PTG uses simple materials like clay and bark to produce a device capable of “supplying forced combustion air required for high temperature furnaces and forges.” In a somewhat related video, we see him “Making Charcoal.” As he points out in his text narrative,

From my research, a natural draft furnace using wood (a kiln) can reach a maximum of 1400 c degrees whereas a natural draft furnace using charcoal can reach 1600 c degrees. Achieving high temperatures is necessary for changing material to obtain better technology (e.g smelting ore into metal).

Part of the takeaway here is that it’s possible to develop processes needed for advanced metallurgy using relatively simple materials.

PTG has made some impressive weapons, such as a “Spear Thrower” and “Bow and Arrow.”

He’s also demonstrated ways to get food in the wild, with all implements made from scratch: “Shrimp Trap” — In which Primitive Technology Guy uses a simple basket-weaved device to trap freshwater shrimp. Then he eats them, of course. Also he plants a “Sweet Potato Patch,” with an enclosing fence to keep out the wallabies.

wattle and daub hut

PTG emphasizes that he doesn’t live this way; it’s his hobby:

Also It should be noted that I don’t live in the wild but just practice this as a hobby. I live in a modern house and eat modern food. I just like to see how people in ancient times built and made things. It is a good hobby that keeps you fit and doesn’t cost anything apart from time and effort.

ARK — 14 November 2016


Satellite image of Durupinar formation

Durupinar site. Credit: Google Earth.

Have researchers proven that this formation in Turkey is the resting place of the massive Ark that was used to save the Biblical patriarch Noah, his family, and many animals from a worldwide catastrophe?

Not long ago, a friend posted on Facebook a link to the article “Noah’s Ark Has Been Found. Why Are They Keeping Us In The Dark?” on the website of Joe the Plumber. The byline identifies the author of the article as Dan Eden, possibly a pen name for activist Rodney Lee Conover (a link to his Facebook page appears at the end of the article).

Joe the Plumber became a kind of political icon during the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign.  The article’s appearing on Joe’s website evidently lends the topic credibility for some readers.

The article shines a light on a fascinating chapter in the story of “arkeology,” the search for the remains of Noah’s Ark. I think it also points to some useful questions about scientific research, and our relationship with subject-matter experts: Should we only give credence to the findings of those with professional credentials, or should knowledgeable amateur researchers get a listening ear as well?

The Dan Eden article discusses the formation known as the Durupinar site, a stone structure found in the mountains of eastern Turkey near the border with Iran. The Durupinar formation consists of a ridge of rock protruding from the ground, describing an oval shape with one end pointed in a way that suggests the prow of a ship. For decades, the Durupinar formation has been promoted by enthusiasts as the true site of Noah’s Ark and proof of the Bible’s account of a global deluge, given at Genesis chapters six through nine.

The question whether the remains of Noah’s Ark still exist interests me and my readers (I think), because my Biblical fiction series, The Cursed Ground, takes place in the ancient world before its destruction by a worldwide flood. Whether the Bible account is literally true or not is, in a way, irrelevant to the fictional world I’m developing. It’s fiction, after all. But the historicity of Bible accounts is certainly of interest to many thinking persons, and the ancient story of a society destroyed by a global catastrophe is relevant in a moral and religious sense, and perhaps also to those concerned about the environmental problems facing humanity today.

What Evidence Has Been Found at the Durupinar Site?

The evidence presented by Dan Eden is based on the work of amateur explorer and archaeological researcher Ronald Eldon “Ron” Wyatt (1933-1999). Eden cites several claims by Wyatt in support of the Durupinar site as the Ark’s resting place, including the following:

  • The length of the Durupinar formation is 515 feet, or 300 Egyptian cubits; its average width is 50 cubits. These are the same as the dimensions of the Ark, mentioned in the Biblical account at Gen 6:15. The Bible describes the Ark as rectangular; Eden claims that this only refers to the upper levels of the structure, and that the vessel required a boat-like hull “to enable the huge ship to remain stable in the water and survive tremendous waves.”
  • On the side of the structure can be seen a series of vertical bulges corresponding to ribs of a ship’s hull.
  • Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) revealed a structure under the mud, with regular, “periodic” placements that showed them to be human-made structural elements.
  • A core sample into the structure obtained a lump of petrified animal dung, a petrified antler, and a sample of cat hair.
  • A piece of petrified wood discovered at the site proved to be a large beam made from three planks laminated together with organic glue.
  • Using metal detectors, Wyatt unearthed what he described as a disk-shaped hammered metal rivet, containing iron, aluminum, and titanium.
  • Some miles from the Durupinar structure can be found a number of large, heavy stones with holes carved in them. Wyatt proposed that these were anchor stones used to stabilize the great ship, and that the holes were used to tie the stones to the ark with ropes.


Object purported to be a metal rivet

Purported rivet found by Ron Wyatt.


Durupinar is possibly the best-known of several sites that enthusiasts have proposed for the remains of Noah’s Ark. The idea that the Ark might still exist fires the imagination of many who take the Bible seriously. In Evangelicals and Science in Historical Perspective (ed. David N. Livingstone, Oxford University Press, 1999), historian Larry Eskridge writes about the phenomenon of “arkeology” and its connection to contemporary religion:

The hunt for the ark, like evangelicalism itself, is a complex blend of the rational and the supernatural, the modern and the premodern. While it acknowledges a dept to pure faith in a literal reading of the Scriptures and centuries of legend, the conviction that the ark literally lies on Ararat is a recent one, backed by a largely twentieth-century canon of evidence that includes stories of atheistic conspiracy, and pieces of questionable “ark wood” from the mountain. Fortified by grassroots creationist networks and the publicity of a string of articles, books, movies, and television specials, the quest for the ark has spawned a network of committed “arkeologists,” thousands of dedicated supporters, and legions of the just plain convinced. (245)

Eskridge quotes clergyman Timothy Francis “Tim” LaHaye, expressing a powerful theological motivation for finding the Ark:

[H]umanistic ideas would have to change if Noah’s Ark were ever discovered … [A] successful search would ring the death knell to the already fragile theory of evolution … [W]e would be reminded of God’s past method of purging the world of sinful people and our attention would be focused on God’s promise of another judgment in the very near future. (251)


Photo of Durupinar formation

Durupinar formation. Credit: Tuấn Lê, via Google Maps.

Wyatt’s assertions about the Durupinar site have been widely popularized among religious audiences.

Counterarguments From a Geologist

However, geologist Andrew A. Snelling, now director of research at Answers in Genesis, wrote in 1992 an extensive argument against the claims of Wyatt and collaborator David Fasold. Writing for the journal Creation, Snelling maintained that:

  • “Hot spots” identified by metal detectors at the Durupinar site were randomly distributed, not in any regular pattern, and were attributable to basalt boulders in the mudflow material.
  • The “molecular frequency generator/discriminator” device alleged to have mapped “iron lines” at the site amounts to a dowsing instrument with no scientific value.
  • Ground-penetrating radar did not in fact identify anything like the prow of a ship, as claimed by Wyatt and Fasold. Geophysicist Tom Fenner was falsely quoted to support Wyatt’s claims, and said, “I was surprised and dismayed to learn that Mr. Wyatt was using my name as well as the name of Geophysical Survey Systems Inc. (GSSI) in order to lend credibility to his unsubstantiated claims concerning the so-called ‘Noah’s Ark site.'”
  • The vertical bulges supposedly forming the ribs of a ship were just hardened mud and boulders, lined with erosion gullies and containing no petrified wood.
  • Contrary to Wyatt’s claims, very little petrified wood has been found at the Durupinar site. The segment claimed to be a deck timber of laminated planks has actually been identified as basalt; a laboratory report cited as proof actually did not test the sample in a way that could identify it as petrified wood.
  • Soil samples from the site contain just the kinds of metals to be expected in soil developed from basalt, not from forged materials; carbon at the site is in mineral form, not the organic form expected from decayed wood.
  • The object described by Wyatt as a metal rivet only exhibited a vaguely round shape. Lab tests “returned results consistent with the chemical composition of the major local rock type, basalt,” writes Snelling.  The object was not subjected to any testing capable of identifying the kind of exotic metallurgy claimed by Wyatt.
  • Wyatt claimed that Turkish archaeologists found a series of metal rods like cotter pins, but Wyatt himself is the only source for this claim, and a leading researcher from the Turkish teams denied this and other claims by Wyatt.
  • Fossilized animal materials found at Durupinar came only from the “walls” of the purported structure, not from deep within it. In any case, points out Snelling, “the finding of such animal residues in association with the site is hardly surprising when one considers that animals are likely to have roamed across these Turkish hillsides for thousands of years anyway.”
  • The stone slabs found in the region and proposed as anchor stones have no proven connection to the Durupinar formation itself, or to the Biblical account of the Ark.

Snelling’s article summarizes the results of a professional geophysical survey of the Durupinar site, which has revealed a thoroughly natural geological explanation for the formation. As far as the formation’s resembling a boat, he writes:

The boat-shape is situated in a sloping valley and is surrounded by deposits of loose soil and crushed rock which is slowly sliding down hill, flowing much as a glacier flows — a mudflow. As we have seen, the stable area around which this mudflow material flows is an uplifted block and erosional remnant of basement rock, including limestone and basalt. Just as water flows around a rock in a river bed, the site has acquired a streamlined shape due to the dynamics of the slowly flowing mud.

Difficulties of Relying on Experts

Associates and admirers of Ron Wyatt, who died in 1999, have continued to argue in favor of his research at the Durupinar site. A set of “frequently asked questions” by an organization called Ark Discovery International presents counterarguments against Snelling and other critics. An interesting but unattributed article titled “The Results of the Subsurface Imaging Project of Noah’s Ark” presents a number of images and comments based on a “resistivity imaging” study done at Durupinar in 2014. John Larsen is named as the person conducting the scans for these images, but his qualifications are not mentioned.

I find Snelling’s refutation persuasive, in part because of his thorough examination of the evidence, but admittedly also because of his professional credentials. However, should every amateur like Wyatt be disregarded simply for not having academic credentials?

And what about these newer subsurface images by Larsen? I looked at them but couldn’t do much more than scratch my head. When faced with complicated technical information and conflicting claims from purported experts, what is the thinking person to do?

I would say, keep an open mind but don’t be credulous.

Just because the evidence has cast doubt on one proposed site for the Ark’s remains does not mean that the Bible account is not historical. Archaeological evidence, free from biased interpretation, has never disproved the scriptural account of the past. But archaeological findings are of necessity fragmentary. Human structures and remains deteriorate quickly, and the older they are, the more likely they are to disappear entirely. In the case of Noah’s Ark, we are considering a wooden structure that existed more than 4,000 years ago. One might wish that such remains could be found, but there’s no virtue in fooling yourself.

For further discussions of archaeology as it relates to Bible history, please see the following articles:

Has Archaeology Proven That the Biblical Exodus Is a Myth?

Oxford scholar: Egyptian history is ‘a collection of rags and tatters’

How Much Does Archaeology Really Reveal?











The short answer is no, but he has said some interesting things about who God might be.

Michio Kaku

Michio Kaku. Credit: Cristiano Sant´Anna/indicefoto.com. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This question came to my attention this past week, when someone pointed me to articles on this topic, including “Top scientist claims proof that God exists, says humans live in a ‘world made by rules created by an intelligence’,” at the website Christian Today.  That article makes the claim:

A respected figure in the scientific community recently said he found evidence proving that there is a Higher Being, which he described as the action of a force “that governs everything.”

Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, who is known as one of the developers of the revolutionary String Theory, said theoretical particles known as “primitive semi-radius tachyons” may be used to prove the existence of God.

However, nothing on this topic appears on Kaku’s official website, and a search of academic sources reveals nothing written by Kaku referring to “semi-radius tachyons.” According to Jay L. Wile, a nuclear chemist and textbook author,

Tachyons are theoretical particles. We have no idea whether or not they exist. If they exist, they travel faster than the speed of light, so it’s hard to know how in the world we could ever detect them, much less conduct tests on them. I have no idea how such particles can tell us something about the nature of the universe. I looked in vain for an article on the subject authored by Dr. Kaku himself. I then went to his Facebook page, which made no mention of this “monumental discovery.”

Since I couldn’t find anything written by Dr. Kaku, I decided to investigate these “primitive semi-radius tachyons” myself. I had never heard that term before, but then again, I am not a particle physicist. So today, I tried to find the term in my reference books. I could not. When I did an internet search on the term, the only hits I got were to articles about this supposed discovery. As a result, I seriously doubt that primitive semi-radius tachyons exist, even in the minds of theoretical physicists.

Wile, in fact, discovered that this assertion about Kaku’s “discovery” goes back to at least 2013, when it was apparently circulating on Spanish- and Portuguese-language websites.

So the claims that Michio Kaku has found God seem fabricated, or at least exaggerated. However, I do find that Kaku has made some interesting statements about the possibility of design in the universe. Wile characterizes Kaku as “a theoretical physicist who had done some cutting edge research a couple of decades ago, but is more of a ‘scilebrity’ today, promoting science and his ideas about the future on television shows, etc.” For that reason, it’s possible to find a number of video presentations by him. In some ways, Kaku seems to espouse a belief in the god of Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who believed not in a personal God, but in a god “who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists,” as Albert Einstein put it.

In a 2013 video program, Kaku said:

The goal of physics, we believe, is to find an equation perhaps no more than one inch long, which will allow us to unify all the forces of nature and allow us to read the mind of God.

And what is the key to that one-inch equation? Super-symmetry. A symmetry that comes out of physics, not mathematics, and has shocked the world of mathematics.

But you see, all this is pure mathematics, and so the final resolution could be that God is a mathematician. And when you read the mind of God, we actually have a candidate for the mind of God. The mind of God, we believe, is cosmic music, the music of strings resonating through eleven-dimensional hyperspace. That is the mind of God.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein in 1947. Photo by Orren Jack Turner.

And in a 2011 interview, he more specifically referenced Einstein and Spinoza:

Einstein was asked the big question, Is there a God? Is there a meaning to everything, right? And here’s how Einstein answered the question. He said there really are two kinds of gods. We have to be very scientific. We have to define what we mean by God. If God is the God of intervention, a personal God, a god of prayer, the God who parts the waters, then he had a hard time believing in that. Would God listen to all our prayers, for a bicycle for Christmas? Smite the Philistines for me, please.

He didn’t think so. However, he believed in the God of order, harmony, beauty, simplicity, and elegance, the God of Spinoza. That’s the God that he believed in, because he thought the universe was so gorgeous. It didn’t have to be that way. It could have been chaotic. It could have been ugly, messy. But here we have the fact that all the equations of physics can be placed on a simple sheet of paper. Einstein’s equation is only one inch long. And the quantum theory is about a yard long, but you can squeeze it onto a sheet of paper…

… And with string theory, you can even put those two equations together, and string theory can be squeezed into an equation one inch long. And that equation, but the way, is my equation. That’s String Field Theory. That’s my contribution.

But we want to know, where did that equation come from, you know. This is what Einstein asked. Did God have a choice? Was there any choice in building a universe? When he woke up in the morning, he would say, “I want to create a universe. I want to be God today. What kind of universe would I create?” This is how he created much of his theory.

So, Kaku doesn’t really claim to have proven the existence of God through physics. However, he does acknowledge that the physical universe implies that there is something more going on than just a big random mess.

ARK — 19 June 2016




Many educated people take it as a given that the Exodus of the nation of Israel from Egypt, as described in the Bible, is simply a legend. After all, that’s the claim of prominent archaeologists working in Egypt and Palestine. For example, in 1999, Ze’ev Herzog, professor of archaeology (now retired) at Tel Aviv University, wrote in Haaretz:

[T]he Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel.

(“Deconstructing the Walls of Jericho,” Haaretz, Oct. 29, 1999)

This view is held by a great many dedicated, sincere researchers. Understandably, many thinking people take such assertions as fact.

patternssmallHowever, even though the fictionality of the Exodus is taken for granted in mainstream academia and much of the educated public, this is not a universal view. I’ve recently come across a remarkably well-developed body of research that is worth considering by the thinking person.

American filmmaker Timothy P. Mahoney has put together an excellent film called Patterns of Evidence: Exodus, along with a book of the same name (I will reference here some page numbers from Mahoney’s book). I would strongly encourage open-minded people to see this film (the film is available at Netflix) and consider reading the book for much more detail (the book is available at Amazon in print and Kindle format).

The authenticity of the books of the Pentateuch (the first five books included in modern Bibles and attributed traditionally to Moses) is controversial for many reasons, often ideological. I care about the issue of the Bible’s authenticity, as it has religious implications. However, I’m also interested in the question as a writer of Biblical fiction. It’s possible to write the stories of The Edhai even if the literary sources are mythology. But if they are authentic history, that does add some weight to the stories themselves, as they then become historical fiction.

The evidence considered by Mahoney in his film and book is too extensive to consider entirely here. However, here are some points that I found salient and interesting:

Most mainstream researchers erroneously place the Exodus in the 13th century B.C.E.

Statue of Ramesses II

Statue of Ramses II, Luxor., n.d., This slide colored by Joseph Hawkes. Goodyear. Brooklyn Museum Archives (S10.08 Luxor, image 9925).

Archaeological and historical researchers generally assume the year 1250 B.C.E. as the working date for the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. During that Late Bronze Age (LBA) period, they find no extra-Biblical evidence for an extensive Israelite presence in Egypt; or for a calamitous national collapse in Egypt; or for a massive departure of Israelite slaves from Egypt; or for a subsequent sudden destruction of Canaanite cities a few decades later, due to invading Israelites.

Researchers have traditionally focused on the 1250 B.C.E. date because this would place the Exodus during the reign of the powerful pharaoh Ramesses II, credited with the building of a city of that name. Exodus 1:11 says that the enslaved Israelites built a city called Raamses, so many researchers have asserted that the purported Exodus should be placed in the time period of Ramesses II. Mahoney calls this the Ramesses Exodus Theory (page 84).

However, Mahoney points out that Biblical chronology places the Exodus much earlier than 1250 B.C.E. His Chapter 8, “Challenging the Ramesses Exodus Theory,” (pages 189-217) presents multiple lines of evidence pointing to an Exodus two hundred years earlier, about 1450 B.C.E. Other researchers have argued for even earlier dates, such as 1513 B.C.E [see my article “When Did Moses (or Somebody) Write Genesis?“]

Fixing on the 1250 B.C.E. date for a purported Exodus means that archaeological researchers are going to be looking in the wrong time periods for a Semitic presence in Egypt, a sudden departure of a large slave population from the country, and a devastating invasion of Canaan forty years later. In fact, archaeological evidence for such events lines up much better with an earlier date for the Exodus. The connection of Ramesses II with the city mentioned in Ex 1:11 assumes that the name Raamses couldn’t have been used for the name of a city in earlier times. Insisting on such a connection seems unreasonable, especially considering the problems around the chronology of the ancient world and the fragmentary evidence it’s based on (see my article “Oxford scholar: Egyptian history is ‘a collection of rags and tatters.’”)

Archaeological and historical research reveal a large Semitic presence in Egypt during the Middle Bronze Age

The Biblical chronology would place the Israelites’ residence in Egypt during the Middle Bronze Age (MBA; conventionally dated as 2100-1550 B.C.E.), rather than the Late Bronze Age period proposed by the Ramesses Exodus Theory. Their departure would have been near the end of the MBA and beginning of the LBA.

In fact, archaeologists are currently uncovering an extensive Semitic presence in Egypt during the MBA. One of the important sites in this investigation is the ancient city of Avaris, which is being studied at Tell el-Dab’a in the eastern Nile Delta by an Austrian group led by Egyptologist Manfred Bietak. Mahoney visited the excavation and interviewed Bietak about it (see pages 87-92).

Map of Nile Delta

Map of Lower Egypt and the Nile Delta. The site of Avaris appears in the east delta. Jeff Dahl, CC BY-SA 3.0

The site covers about 2 square kilometers. It’s the same location where the ancient city of Ramesses is found, but Avaris is being uncovered at a lower (and thus earlier) level. Avaris is thought to have been occupied during the MBA from about 1850-1550 B.C.E. This would fit the Biblical chronology, which has the Israelites in Egypt from about 1728 to 1513 B.C.E., according to one well-known chronology.

Bietak said this to Mahoney about his findings at the Avaris excavation (pages 90-1):

We uncovered the remains of a huge town of 250 hectares with a population of approximately 25,000-30,000 individuals. These were people who have originated from Canaan, Syria-Palestine. Originally they may have come here as subjects of the Egyptian crown or with the blessing of the Egyptian crown. Obviously, this town enjoyed something like a special status, like a free zone, something like that.

Indications are that there are other such settlements of Asiatics from the same period in other areas of Egypt.

Mahoney asked Bietak whether the residents of Avaris could have been Israelites, but Bietak didn’t think so:

We have some evidence of shepherds. We find again and again in this area pits with goats and sheep. So we know shepherds, probably Bedouins, with huge herds roamed around this. But to connect this with the proto-Israelites is a very weak affair.

Why couldn’t these be the Israelites? Bietak responded:

According to my opinion, the settlement of the proto-Israelites in Canaan only happened from the 12th century BC onwards.

So Avaris is too early, according to the mainstream view, because of researchers’ ironic adherence to the Ramesses Exodus Theory.

Mahoney presents other interesting findings in his film and book, some more compelling than others. One of the more fascinating findings is a document called the Brooklyn Papyrus, a Middle Kingdom Egyptian papyrus that includes a list of slave names from an estate in southern Egypt (pages 161-3). According to independent scholar David Rohl, 70 percent of the names are Semitic, including some names that actually appear in the Bible, such as Menahem, Issachar, Asher, and Shiphrah — not necessarily the same people from the Bible, but people with the same names.

So why is the list of slave names in the Brooklyn Papyrus not taken by mainstream researchers as supporting evidence for the Israelite sojourn in Egypt? You guessed it: This evidence doesn’t fit the mainstream view that any Israelite presence in Egypt belongs to a later period. The papyrus belongs to the Middle Kingdom, conventionally dated about 2000-1700 B.C.E., associated with the 11th to 13th dynasties.

Rohl told Mahoney (page 163):

Although everybody recognizes that this is a list of Semitic slaves, and everybody recognizes the names appearing in the list are also Israelite names, these can’t be the Israelites, because it’s the wrong time period. The Israelites are [supposedly] much later in history. So these people we’re seeing here in the Brooklyn Papyrus cannot be the Israelites …

So scholars put the text to one side and say it’s another coincidence.

Archaeologists do not find evidence of the sudden destruction of key Canaanite Cities ca. 1200 B.C.E., but there is evidence of an earlier destruction

Many prominent archaeological researchers working in Palestine assert that there is no evidence for the kind of invasion described in the book of Joshua. Some even claim that the Israelites were just a group of Canaanites who emerged from the general population and invented a pious fiction to justify their rulership in the Holy Land.

Israel Finkelstein, professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, told Mahoney in an interview (pages 232-3):

First and foremost, many places which are mentioned in Joshua in the Conquest story, specifically mentioned as major places in Canaan, were excavated, and no evidence for a city in the Late Bronze Age has ever been found. And I’m speaking about major excavations. And we are speaking about many sites. It’s systemic; it’s not only a single site. Take the example of Jericho. In Jericho there is no big city the in the 13th century B.C., okay, any way you look at it.

By now, it should jump out at you that Finkelstein is assuming the same 1250 B.C.E. Exodus date common among mainstream researchers, with the purported Conquest coming 40 years later. Paradoxically, many of these same researchers claim that the Exodus story is a legend anyway, so a thinking person might wonder what the point is in relying on the 1250 Ramesses date for an event that supposedly never occurred.

Anyway, some of the minority researchers consulted by Mahoney make the point that there is in fact evidence for the destruction of a number of key Conquest cities much earlier, including Jericho and Hazor.

Archaeological findings suggest that a number of key Canaanite cities were destroyed around the end of the Middle Bronze Age, about 1550 BCE. From Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, page 252.

Archaeological findings suggest that a number of key Canaanite cities were destroyed around the end of the Middle Bronze Age, about 1550 BCE. From Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, page 252.

John Bimson, professor of Biblical studies at Trinity College Bristol, tells Mahoney that there is a pattern of destruction of Canaanite cities at the end of the Middle Bronze Age, conventionally dated at 1550 B.C.E. This includes many cities specifically mentioned in the Bible’s Conquest account. Bimson says (page 253):

We know that cities like Jericho and Hazor were major cities at that time, and in both of those cases, those cities were destroyed by fire, as the Bible describes. So if we go to this earlier date, we have a very good fit with a whole list of sites, a good fit between the biblical narrative and the archaeological evidence.

A wrinkle: The conventional chronology for Egypt is problematic.

Conventional chronology of ancient Egypt compared to a revised chronology by David Rohl.

Conventional chronology of ancient Egypt, compared to a revised chronology by David Rohl. via Wikimedia. Click to see the image in full size.

Some sincere researchers are critical of the conventional timeline ascribed to ancient Egypt, which has been standardized for many years and has become an important anchor for the proposed chronologies of other Near East civilizations, including Canaan. Critics have asserted that the Egyptian chronology has been over-inflated, for example, with regard to the Third Intermediate Period, conventionally dated 1069-664 B.C.E.

Mahoney writes (page 272):

[I]t’s been necessary to artificially insert dark periods into the timelines of all the surrounding civilizations, so that they match the dates of Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period. Yet some scholars maintain that the archaeology of these cultures does not seem to support such dark periods. They believe something is wrong.

Bimson tells Mahoney:

The 18th, 19th, and 20th Dynasties are dated too early because the Third Intermediate Period is tool long.

Understandably, trying to readjust the timeline would not be a welcome effort among historians and archaeologists who have spent their careers assuming the standard chronology. Certainly, mainstream researchers feel they have solid reasons for not re-examining such assumptions. But the thinking person might keep in mind how hard it is to reconstruct civilizations and events that occurred three or four thousand years ago.

As Egyptologist Alan Henderson Gardiner wrote in 1966:

Even when full use has been made of the king-lists and of such subsidiary sources as have survived, the indispensable dynastic framework of Egyptian history shows lamentable gaps and many a doubtful attribution. If this be true of the skeleton, how much more is it of the flesh and blood with which we could wish it covered. Historical inscriptions of any considerable length are as rare as the isolated islets in an imperfectly charted ocean. The importance of many of the kings can be guessed at merely from the number of stelae or scarabs that bear their names. It must never be forgotten that we are dealing with a civilization thousands of years old and one of which only tiny remnants have survived. What is proudly advertised as Egyptian history is merely a collection of rags and tatters.

The tentative and fragmentary reconstruction of the past carried out by researchers, however well-intentioned and hard-working, doesn’t necessarily justify disregarding the historical accounts in the Bible.

These are actually only a few of the fascinating points raised by Mahoney in urging a reconsideration of the evidence for the Exodus of Israel from Egypt in ancient times. For thinking people with an open mind about ancient history, I highly recommend viewing Timothy Mahoney’s film, Patterns of Evidence: Exodus, and reading his book of the same title.

ARK — 2 April 2016


Making Charcoal

At the blog “Primitive Technology,” an excellent video shows how charcoal can be made using the “mound method.” This is important to understanding ancient metallurgy, as charcoal burns hotter than the wood it is made from.


I made a batch of charcoal using the mound method then stored it in baskets for later use. Charcoal is a fuel that burns hotter than the wood it’s made from. This is because the initial energy consuming steps of combustion have taken place while making the charcoal, driving off the volatile components of the wood (such as water and sap). The result is a nearly pure carbon fuel that burns hotter than wood without smoke and with less flame. Charcoal was primarily a metallurgical fuel in ancient times but was sometimes used for cooking too.

To make the charcoal the wood was broken up and stacked in to a mound with the largest pieces in the center and smaller sticks and leaves on the out side. The mound was coated in mud and a hole was left in the top while 8 smaller air holes were made around the…

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Portrait of E. M. Forster by Dora Carrington

Portrait of E. M. Forster by Dora Carrington. via Wikimedia

[Note: This post originally appeared as my Goodreads review of “Aspects of the Novel.”]

I recently read E.M. Forster’s 1924 classic, “A Passage to India,” so I was interested to learn that he had written a book about fiction writing. “Aspects of the Novel” is based on a series of lectures Forster gave in 1927 at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Copy on the back cover describes “Aspects of the Novel” as “Forster’s renowned guide to writing.” However, to me it reads more like literary criticism than guidance. I found it interesting and enlightening but not highly practical for me as a novelist. Forster organizes his treatment around seven themes, or aspects:

  1. Story
  2. People
  3. The Plot
  4. Fantasy
  5. Prophecy
  6. Pattern
  7. Rhythm

Out of these aspects, I found his chapter on people, or characters, most useful, particularly his comments on page 75 about the distinction between “round” and “flat” characters, using Jane Austen as an example of round characterization:

Why do the characters in Jane Austen give us a slightly new pleasure each time they come in, as opposed to the merely repetitive pleasure that is caused by a character in Dickens? … [T]he best reply is that her characters though smaller than his are more highly organized. They function all round, and even if her plot made greater demands on them than it does, they would still be adequate. … All the Jane Austen characters are ready for an extended life, for a life which the scheme of her books seldom requires them to lead, and that is why they lead their lives so satisfactorily.

In reader reviews, I often see critical comments to the effect that a novel’s characters are “flat,” and I usually scratch my head over that criticism, especially when it appears in a review of a book that I have read and enjoyed. Maybe some reviewers are just looking for something to gripe about, and “the characters are flat” is a useful trope to fall back on. Or maybe my standards just aren’t that high.

But in any case, here in Forster is an explanation of flat-versus-round that makes sense to me as a writer and that provides some real guidance for developing good characters.

ARK — 4 September 2015

The Scream by Edvard Munch

Detail from The Scream, Edvard Munch

This morning I thought about this trope, which I often run into as a reader. But as a fiction writer who sometimes portrays screaming people, I wonder whether it ever really happens. Could I really be so horrified that I might start screaming or crying or otherwise expressing my distress — and then hear the sound of it without realizing it’s coming from my own throat?

I’ve seen this device used in many works of fiction to help the reader sense how appalling the character’s experience is. What he or she sees or hears or experiences is so distressing that he screams or cries without even being aware of it. I can go along with that, but what’s hard for me to believe is that you could hear the screaming or crying and not realize that is your own voice.

This question occurred to me this morning when I was listening to Sinners and the Sea, a work of deluge fiction by Rebecca Kanner (I’ve coined the term “deluge fiction” to describe a kind of sub-sub genre of Biblical historical fiction that includes my Cursed Ground series. I say I was listening to it, because audio books are one of my main methods for consuming content.) At one point in Sinners and the Sea, the following passage appears:

Just after the sun’s rays hit the eastern side of the tent, I heard footsteps. Someone raised the door flap, and there was screaming.

“It is only me, child,” my father said, and I realized that the screaming was my own.

I know I’ve run across this trope before many times. I haven’t kept a record, so I can’t tell you the specific novels where it shows up. However, I did a Google search on similar language and found its usage in a couple of works:

Then I heard someone crying out loudly and realized it was me. (The First Game With My Father, by Michael Tierney)

Then it became so quiet, the only noise was someone crying. It was me. (Faith and Drama: Plays and Readings From a Biblical Perspective, by Montana Lattin)

Suddenly I heard someone scream, “I give up. I’m not going to fight you any more. Do whatever you wish, I give up.” Then suddenly I realized it was me screaming. (My World Passes, by Donovan Harrison)

Yes, that last one beggars belief, doesn’t it?

I even found such a passage in a BBC News article about a man who left his baby for three hours in the car, where she died:

“I heard someone screaming,” he says. “Then I realised the screaming was coming from me. The rest is just a total blur.”

Even though that comes from a supposedly true story, I find it hard to credit. It sounds like a tragic, disingenuous, defensive fabrication.

Because this idea of hearing-your-own-voice-screaming-and-not-realizing-who-it-is has become such a cliché, I don’t plan to use it in my own stories. But my question for readers is whether this is a known psychological phenomenon or just a meme created by some fiction writer years ago and picked up by future generations. Anybody know?

ARK — 31 July 2015