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Cover for The Child-StealersI just had a note today from The Choosy Bookworm that they’re featuring The Child-Stealers today on their site. The Child-Stealers is Book 1 of my historical-fantasy saga The Cursed Ground. Book 2, Children of the Keeper, is scheduled for release on May 5.

Here’s where to see Choosy’s page for The Child-Stealershttp://choosybookworm.com/product/the-child-stealers/

ARK — 29 April 2015

 

 

Book cover for Children of the KeepterSince publishing Book 1 of The Cursed Ground, I’ve started to get questions from readers about the world the story is set in. I like to let the story tell itself, so I avoid including a lot of backstory in the narrative. But for those who are interested, I thought I would set out some of the very broad concepts behind the fictional world I’m using.

Just to note, I’m releasing The Cursed Ground as a series of five shorter books. Book 1, The Child-Stealers, is already on the market, and Book 2, Children of the Keeper, is slated for release on May 5, 2015.

In terms of genre, I conceive of The Cursed Ground as historical fiction. However, the book might fit better in the market category of historical fantasy. I don’t use magic or the uncanny (much) in the story, but I admit to speculative elements, simply because the historical period I’m dealing with is understood only in general terms.

Here’s a bit of the big picture. The Cursed Ground takes place on the Earth, but at a remote time period when:

  • Humans commonly live for hundreds of years.
  • Cultural memory is very stable, because the long human life-span allows considerable overlap among generations.
  • All humans speak the same language (well, almost all — you’ll have to keep reading to get to that).
  • The names of people and places all have an understandable meaning, because of the common language and durable cultural memory. For that reason, all names in the story have a meaning in English, since that’s the language I’m writing in.
  • The human population is expanding rapidly into many millions.
  • Human civilization and technology have reached a level of development much higher than the modern world might expect.
  • The world is becoming increasingly violent and unstable.
  • The world is facing a major extinction event, but no human knows it.

A writer of speculative fiction must undertake a considerable task of world-building. In conceiving the world of The Cursed Ground, here are some of my assumptions about how the story fits into our understanding of the human past:

  • The story is broadly based on the account given in the Biblical book of Genesis.
  • Genesis is taken as an accurate historical and cosmological account, but not necessarily in the way that is often presented by religions of the world.
  • The story assumes a very old Earth, but a relatively young human race.
  • The conventional academic historical chronology is assumed to be accurate only back to about the mid-second millennium before the common era (BCE).
  • The methods used to date all kinds of objects that researchers dig up from the ground are probably only accurate back to about 4,000 years before the present (BP). The older an object is, the greater the likelihood that the ascribed date is off, perhaps by orders of magnitude.
  • During the early history of humankind, rainfall did occur on the Earth. This is a detail that matters, as many Bible readers take the view that it had never rained before the global flood. In the world of The Cursed Ground, Genesis 2:5,6 refers to a much earlier phase before the appearance of humans.

Here are some other articles I’ve written that might shed light on these various assumptions:

I recognize that many of the assumptions I’ve mentioned here could spark controversy. I don’t mind discussing my rationales, but in the end I’m writing a story, so I don’t intend to get into ideological arguments with people who disagree with the way I’ve built the world of The Cursed Ground. It’s fiction, after all.

ARK — 24 April 2015

 

 

 

 

 

arking:

An article I often refer to, asking some questions about how we decide what is true and who has the right to make assertions.

Originally posted on A Thinking Person, a.k.a. Cogit8R:

I think a lot about assertions, things that people assert as true, very often without acknowledging their personal bias. To be fair, most of us are so immersed in our ideologies that we’re not aware of how they are compelling us toward bias.

The title of this post refers to some of the kinds of assertions I hear, by which someone states something as a fact:

  • The way things are — some assertion about fact, whether it has to do with science, economics, politics, or some other sphere. One of my favorite manifestations is when someone begins an utterance with the stark word “Fact,” followed by a colon to emphasize the factiness of what follows, then followed by an unquestioned assertion.
  • The way things were — some statement about history or the past. For example, such and such Egyptian dynasty ruled in such and such time period, or some assertion…

View original 471 more words

Rembrandt painting of Moses

Rembrandt: Moses With the Ten Commandments. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The question of who wrote Genesis has long been disputed among the erudites of religion and academia. I have a particular interest in the issue as a fiction writer, because the first installments of my Edhai fiction series are all set during the time period covered by the Bible book of Genesis, particularly the very earliest history recounted in Gen 1-11, from the creation of the first humans up to the time of Abraham.

Traditionally, Judaism and Christianity have asserted that Genesis was written by the Hebrew prophet Moses during the mid-second-millennium B.C.E. However, over the last couple hundred years, mainstream academia and many religious scholars adopted an idea called the documentary hypothesis (DH). According to this idea, the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) is actually a compilation of various original documents written between the early- and mid-first millennium B.C.E. There are various versions of the DH, but the classic version identifies four key sources for the Pentateuch:

  •  J, the Jahwist source — Prefers the personal name of God (YHWH, JHVH; Yahweh or Jehovah), particularly before Exodus chapter 3.
  • E, the Elohist source — Prefers the generic title “Elohim,” particularly before Exodus 3.
  • D, the Deuteronomist source — A purported later source that starts with the book of Deuteronomy and continues with other Bible books, such as Joshua and Judges
  • P, the Priestly source — Concerned with ritual and formalism and prefers the title Elohim in referring to God.

At Wikiversity, you can see a helpful text of the King James Bible, with the purported sources highlighted in different colors. Reviewing that overlay, I can see that the portion of Genesis I’m writing about, chapters 1 through 11, is attributed primarily to the Priestly and Jahwist sources, with ‘additions by a redactor’ inserted in some portions, supposedly to provide transitional language that ties the various original documents together to make a whole.

For a basic overview of the documentary hypothesis, see the lesson on “Source Criticism” maintained by theology professor Ronald A. Simkins, but written, I think, by Ralph W. Klein.

Fundamentally, the documentary hypothesis is based on analysis of the content of the Bible, rather than on a rigorous historical investigation. If different portions of the text exhibit different styles or different interests, those portions are attributed to different sources. If the investigators believe they have uncovered contradictions or anachronisms, those problems are attributed to the diversity of author sources.

Chart showing sources for the documentary hypothesis

Chart of sources according to the Documentary Hypothesis. Vadym Zhuravlov, via Wikimedia Commons.

However, many of the adherents of the documentary hypothesis take things much further than the mere assertion that the Pentateuch is based on multiple documents. They employ complicated explanations to attribute those sources to particular time periods and to various religious and political elements within the nation of Israel, often with conflicting aims and agendas. In the conventional view, none of the four DH sources dates back before about 950 B.C.E., which would rule out any association with the historical Moses, about 500 years before then. In fact, many scholars claim that Moses never existed, or at least that he wasn’t anything like the personage portrayed in the Bible. Such extreme views are in turn used to convince students and the public that the Bible is fictional, and to prop up the materialist-atheistic bias that controls much of academia today.

For many of us, these assertions are too extreme and speculative to be given much credence. Back into antiquity, Moses has been recognized by historians and by Jewish and Christian authorities as an historical character and the writer of the Pentateuch. In his history The Antiquities of the Jews (Book 1, Chapter 1), the first-century Roman Jewish historian Josephus frankly attributes the Genesis creation account to the literal Moses, including in his summary of that account such comments as “… but Moses said it was one day…,” “Accordingly Moses says,” and “Moreover, Moses, after the seventh day was over, begins to talk philosophically …”

All of this is not to say that there is no room for a nuanced understanding of the sources of Genesis. It’s possible that Moses himself might have been working from pre-existing written or oral sources in producing some parts of the Genesis account. Chapters 7 and 8 read almost like a mariner’s log or journal. Could Moses have been in possession of Noah’s account of his survival of the great flood? Possibly. Some portions of Genesis read as if they could have come from previous documents. For example, Genesis 5 starts with “This is the book of Adam’s history.” Genesis 6:9 starts Noah’s story with “This is the history of Noah.”

Some scholars suggest that certain issues with the text of Moses’ writings might be explained by the work of later copyists. In Creation and Chaos, Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke writes,

[O]thers have not been persuaded by these [Documentary] arguments and would still trace the basic unity of the Pentateuch back to Moses without denying that the text was modernized in the course of its transmission according to the common Near Eastern scribal practices.

The point here is that I find no good reason to discount the existence of Moses or his writership of the Pentateuch. The Genesis account, including the first eleven chapters, are a legitimate source on which to base a storytelling project, which can reasonably considered historical fiction.

ARK, 23 February 2015

 

 

My story The Child-Stealers has gone live on Amazon, so readers can now purchase it in ebook form for Kindle for only $.99 US. The Child-Stealers is the novella-length first episode of a longer novel, The Cursed Ground, an historical-fiction story set in the ancient world.

Cover for The Child-Stealers, by A. Roy KingTo purchase the novel for your Kindle or Kindle reading app on your tablet or mobile phone, please head over to the book’s Amazon order page at:

http://www.amazon.com/Cursed-Ground-Child-Stealers-Edhai-ebook/dp/B00PXIKE4G

In about another week, I will be releasing The Child Stealers in other formats (such as EPUB and PDF) through the Smashwords site.

The Child-Stealers has already garnered some great reviews from early readers. Here are a few excerpts:

“Give yourself enough time to read it in one sitting — as a novella, it’s do-able, and once you start it, you won’t want to put it down. And by the time you’re finished, you’ll have some questions you’ll want King to answer in book two.” — Stephen B. White

“[W]e get to the first key moment of crisis and its aftermath before we can catch our breath. A mark of a good page turner…. Will I read the remaining sections of the book as King publishes them? You bet, because he has me truly wanting to know what has become of characters I came to care for.” — Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr.

“Overall a better than average effort from a new author …, who is writing to entertain you with a thoughtful, interesting story, not to listen to himself describing scenery or yammer on about the ideal societies. I’d buy the next installment after reading this one. A worthwhile read for the price.” — David Sims

My long game here is to produce a series of historical novels based on Biblical settings, but with the focus on storytelling rather than religious themes. This A. Roy King blog serves as a way to connect with readers and to share some of the research and thinking that goes into the writing. I also publish an email newsletter, “News and Updates From A. Roy King.” The newsletter is the best way to keep informed of new episodes of The Cursed Ground as they are released. I also use it to let readers know about new articles I’ve written and news about historical and archaeological discoveries that relate to the ancient times I’m writing about. To sign up for the newsletter, please follow this link to the subscription form:

http://eepurl.com/2U3Uf

ARK — 20 January 2015

 

In a way, it doesn’t much matter to me whether humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time. I guess the question interests me intellectually, but I don’t think I have an ideological investment in it.

Museum display of human with dinosaur

An exhibit at the Creation Museum shows a human happily coexisting with a hungry-looking theropod. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Here’s how it does interest me: I’m writing fiction that is set in the remote past, during a period when the written history is sketchy. The first novel for my Edhai series is called The Cursed Ground, and the first episode is due for release on Jan. 20, 2015. The concept calls for a lot of world-building, and it could be interesting to portray some interaction between the human characters and some large reptile-like or large bird-like animals.

(Just a note that this blog entry highlights the value and relevance of the field of anomalistics to modern research. For a discussion of anomalistics, that is, the study of stuff that doesn’t fit the predominant paradigm in one way or another, see my previous article, “Anomalistics, Pseudo-Skepticism, and the Discovery of a 300-Million-Year-Old Aluminum Machinery Part.”)

But does it make any sense to build a fictional world in which humans are contemporary with dinosaurs, especially for a fiction series that is purportedly “historical”?

How you respond to that question could depend on your ideological stance.

A creationist (by which I essentially mean a young-earth creationist) would say, ‘Of course humans and dinosaurs lived together.’ That view holds that the earth and all life on it are only about 6,000 (or sometimes 10,000) years old. Artwork and even museum exhibits from that camp sometimes show humans and dinosaurs in the same scene.

A materialist would say it’s nonsense to place humans and dinosaurs into the same time frame (materialists love the word “nonsense”). Dinosaurs, at least what most people think of as dinosaurs, lived in the Mesozoic geologic period, according to the timeline most-commonly accepted in mainstream academia. That period is said to have ended 66 million years before the present (b.p.), whereas anatomically-modern humans are only supposed to have appeared within the last half-million years — too late to have ridden a triceratops or to have had to run away screaming to avoid getting stomped-on by a T-Rex.

That said, some intriguing scientific findings in recent years have called into question some long-held assumptions about when the non-avian dinosaurs actually lived. Could the consensus time frame be off — even way off? And could that triceratops horsey-ride have been feasible after all?

geologic time scale

Conventional geologic time scale. Credit: U.S. National Park Service.

Organic material found in a T-Rex fossil: Paleontologist Mary H. Schweitzer Of North Carolina State University stunned the fossil-hunting profession with her 2005 article in Science, “Soft tissue vessels and cellular preservation in Tyrannosaurus rex.” In her article, Schweitzer reported finding organic tissue in the femur of a Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil. The problem is that, according to the current model of how fossils form, there’s no way any organic material should have remained in a fossil 68 million years old. Any such material should have long ago decomposed and been replaced by minerals, or have been destroyed by radiation.

Many critics claim that her sample must have been contaminated somehow. Schweitzer seems to think that the material really is 68 million years old and that this suggests that current theory about how fossils form might be wrong. That’s a useful idea, but another possibility is that the conventional means of dating fossils is way off, and that the T-Rex in question lived much more recently than is called for in the prevailing view of the geologic past.

Radiocarbon dating finds dinosaur fossils only 22,000-39,000 years old. Traditional paleontologists would never think of applying radiocarbon (RC or C-14) dating to Mesozoic fossils. After all, C-14 dating is only useful going back 50,000-80,000 years b.p., three orders of magnitude too soon. Yet an open-minded group of researchers (calling themselves the Paleochronology Group) decided, Why not? The tests have yielded ages between 22,000 and 39,000 years b.p. for fossils of Allosaurus, Triceratops, Hadrosaur, and Apatosaur.

Critics argue that these RC dates can’t be correct, because the non-avian dinosaurs studied all died out 66 million years ago. In other words, these findings are not in line with the consensus view, so they must be wrong. The Paleochronology Group argues that the conventional potassium-argon method used to obtain the very-old dating of Mesozoic fossils tests the supposed age of the surrounding deposits, not the fossils themselves.

Anyway, these are intriguing findings, and the controversy over them reveals a tendency to deny anomalistic evidence, findings that don’t fit the prevailing paradigm. Such denialism can particularly manifest if critics have an ideological bias that requires a very, very long time frame for life on earth, a long enough time frame for chance and necessity to supposedly produce a vast diversity of life. As atheist champion Richard Dawkins once said, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” (The Blind Watchmaker, 1986) Intellectual fulfillment does not die easily.

Anyway, those two sets of findings by paleontologists are suggestive of the possibilities for a novelist writing historical fiction based on Biblical settings. With some speculative elements thrown into the scenario, it might be possible to let some of the human characters encounter some strange and dangerous beasts. In fiction, the anomalous can make for good storytelling.

By the way, if you enjoy reading articles like this — and if you want to keep up with news about my historical-fiction series, The Edhai — please sign up today to receive my free email newsletter.

ARK — 15 January 2015

 

 

 

I know that’s a provocative title and might sound extreme. However, it’s actually less extreme than the quotation I ran across today by 19th-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who wrote in his diary in 1850:

Truth always rests with the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion — and who, therefore, in the next instant (when it is evident that the minority is the stronger) assume its opinion … while Truth again reverts to a new minority.

[Source: Soren Kierkegaard, The Diary of Soren Kierkegaard, pt. 5, sct. 3, no 128 (1850)]

Søren Kirkegaard statue Copenhagen, Denmark

Søren Kirkegaard statue, Copenhagen, Denmark. Via Wikimedia Commons.

That’s a profound idea, and it makes me think about controversies today that center around the “consensus” opinion on questions of science and scholarship. Consensus is a tricky idea, because consensus occurs within a population, and how the consensus emerges depends on how big you draw the circle of people who are allowed to participate.

The problem of consensus comes up these days around the question of evolution. If you drew the circle of participants around the population of biology professors at major American universities, you might conclude that belief in evolution is the consensus opinion, and therefore the majority. But if you drew the circle around the entire adult population, you would get a more mixed result, because many lay people believe in creation. And me? These days, when someone asks me whether I believe in evolution, my usual response is, ‘Well that’s kind of complicated to answer, because I find that people don’t always mean the same thing when they talk about evolution. What does that word mean to you?’

Another magnet for the idea of consensus these days is climate change. One important narrative is that the consensus among climate scientists is that the heat balance of the earth system is increasing because of the greenhouse effect. Another narrative basically says, ‘No, that’s wrong,’ and keeps itself busy by poking holes in the consensus climate science. I’ve decided that where you stand on this issue says more about your ideological leanings than about your science literacy. But it emphasizes again that the idea of consensus is tricky and contingent.

I ran into the problem of consensus again recently, when a Jewish friend opened a Facebook discussion by claiming that the consensus among archaeologists now is that the Hebrew nation was never in slavery in Egypt and didn’t wander in Sinai for 40 years. Therefore, the suggestion was, Jews should stop claiming that the Passover is based on historical events and admit that the whole story is a fiction. My friend linked to an article with kind of thin reasoning, written by an undergraduate in Middle East studies — see “Were Jews ever really slaves in Egypt, or is Passover a myth?” He also linked to “Were the Jews Slaves in Egypt?,” a more thoughtful piece by an actual professor, who writes more authoritatively (but who works in Bible studies, not archaeology, and seems really more interested in promoting his pet theories about the Hebrew Scriptures).

The question of the Hebrew exodus is an interesting topic, and I’m putting it on my to-do list to go into the topic more in depth in a future blog entry here. But it relates to this same issue of consensus and majority opinion. If the majority of archaeologists who are directly involved in Egypt and Sinai claim there is no evidence that a large nation of Hebrews lived in the area in the mid-second millennium BCE, what is their claim based on? What should we lay people think about it? Should we just assume they know what they’re talking about and accept it as gospel? Is there a minority opinion that questions the consensus? What are the minority’s arguments?

Anyway, I was struck by that Kierkegaard quote and wanted to pin it to the wall for future reference, because it’s a useful idea. The majority opinion can sometimes be intimidating and often works to get itself established as “The Official Version of the Truth.” Yet, majority and consensus are messy concepts, because whether an opinion is the majority depends on the population you are looking at, whether a narrow population of supposed experts or the larger population of everybody. In any case, all of us should be wary of accepting ideas credulously and taking the easy path of following the crowd.

Here are some previous pieces I’ve written about the question who gets to say what’s true:

“How Much Does Archaeology Really Reveal?”

“How Much Do We Really Know About Human History?”

Also applicable is this piece by a ‘colleague': “The Way Things Are, the Way Things Were, and What Is True”

Also, if you want to keep informed about future articles on this blog, and especially about my historical fiction series set in the ancient world, please sign up for my email newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/2U3Uf

ARK — 25 December 2014

 

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