The Avid Reader: Down the rabbit hole to a new adventure

For the Ledger-Transcript
Published: 2/12/2021 10:49:36 AM

The word Armageddon has been thrown around quite a bit lately, along with hints of the Apocalypse. These days, I can certainly understand this, and I was interested enough to actually look up “Armageddon” to get stronger appreciation of the word. Interestingly, the word Armageddon is found only once in the Bible. The location is the Book of Revelation and that particular piece of writing has been known to scare some pretty tough folks through the ages. Naturally, for me further reading followed.

And, yes, I fell down my usual rabbit hole reading all about the subject. It turns out that the word itself is probably Hebrew in origin and means “Hill of Megiddo.” This particular piece of real estate has not only been the site of battles fought thousands of years ago, but it has also continued to see conflicts down through to the present day. If any location in the world deserves the title “Armageddon” this place does.

It turns out I am not the only person intrigued by the word. Eric H. Cline, a noted historian, also became captivated with the concept of Armageddon and decided to investigate the famous excavation of the ancient site of Megiddo – which the Bible says was fortified by King Solomon. His book, “Digging Up Armageddon: The Search for the Lost City of Solomon” captures the excitement roused by what is probably the most important archeological expedition undertaken in the last century.

Just imagine, the year was 1925, the time between the wars. Flappers were cutting their hair and dancing on tables in speakeasies. Men were speculating on stocks, the automobile was giving more people mobility, and prohibition was making money for several “importers.” A heady time indeed. People were ready for adventure either personally or vicariously. This adventure was promised to them by an Egyptologist named James Henry Breasted who was the director of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. By 1925 he had translated important hieroglyphics, worked his way up through the museum ranks, and talked millionaire John D. Rockefeller out of a bundle of cash to be spent on excavating one of the most promising ancient sites in Israel – the city of King Solomon! Breasted’s team left copious notes and wrote innumerable letters home detailing their work searching for this fabled city.

It was an era of archaeology that exciting a generation; and from studying all the notes and correspondence, Cline was also able to uncover evidence of sensational infighting among the archaeologists, serious debates on what was discovered in Megiddo, and the amazing revelations that changed our understanding of the time of King Solomon. Cline didn’t stop at 1925. Rather, he carried his narration of the Megiddo digs of the 1930s and 1940s and on through to modern times.

If you love to read about crossroads of history, are fascinated by the years between the wars and well beyond, and really just like a good story, this is the book to begin that journey.

As I read about the archaeologists themselves, both from the Chicago team as well as others who stopped by the Megiddo dig to offer advice or just annoy, I got to wondering what the history of these men, and a couple of women, really was like. Our history books are replete with information about the discoveries, but there is little to nothing about the actual discovers.

Toby Wilkinson has fixed this for us with his current book, “A World Beneath the Sands: The Golden Age of Egyptology.” This is a compilation of biographies of all the important archaeologists we see mentioned when reading about the discoveries of the ancient past. Wilkinson begins with the early efforts to decipher hieroglyphics in 1822 and moves us through each prominent Egyptologist until we get to Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovering the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun. He also takes a few jabs at Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign, and a few other inept researchers.

Wilkinson is, himself, a prominent Egyptologist and really the best person to write this book. He has examined the race among the world powers, America, Great Britain, France, and Germany all vying to grab as much art, sculpture, gold, and ancient treasure as they possibly could in an attempt to display this wealth as yet another symbol of their superiority. They grabbed artifacts in Egypt, Israel, Mesopotamia, and wherever else they could extend their “sphere of influence.”

Obsession, rivalry, ruthlessness, and greed drove many of these countries’ leaders and the interactions between scholars, the posturing among politicians, and the striving for dominance over others by pretty much all persons involved makes this a fascinating account of 100 years of excavation and intrigue.

But wait, it isn’t over yet! While almost another hundred years have passed since the unearthing of so much splendor, a newcomer has entered the treasure hunt. There is still more to find in the artifacts from these cradles of civilization. Robert Feather, a metallurgist and Biblical scholar has established a remarkable new viewpoint on the historical underpinnings of monotheism. He has based his interpretation of when monotheism began by scrupulous examination of the Copper Scroll of the Essenes. His book, “The Mystery of the Copper Scroll of Qumran: The Essene Record of the Treasure of Akhenaten” is a chronicle of the Copper Scroll found in a cave near Qumran. This scroll, unlike the other Dead Sea Scrolls written mostly on animal hides, is not just another religious record. Rather, it’s more like a coded map that lists the 64 places where, 2000 years ago, the priests from the Jewish Temple hid the treasures just before an invasion.

Part of this book takes us through Canaan, into ancient Mesopotamia, on through to Egypt, and finally back to the Dead Sea. The trek itself is fascinating, but the decoding of the measurements to the hidden treasures that are encrypted in the cylinder are not the only exciting piece of the Copper Scroll. Rather, this artifact also points to a link back to the heretic Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten and the origins of monotheism. It has been long suspected that Pharaoh Akhenaten’s monotheist belief system heavily influenced the Hebrew residents of Egypt. Feather’s translation and interpretation of the Copper Scroll indeed provides ample evidence that the origins of monotheism, which is the basis of the three great world religions – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity – started in Egypt, and at a much earlier point in history than scholars have ever thought.

It has been quite an reading adventure, and now that I have the bibliographies from all three of these books – more reading is in order.


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