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Monday, May 30, 2016

Yahya ibn Adi

Abū Zakarīyā’ Yaḥyá ibn ʿAdī (John, father of Zachary, son of Adi) known as Yahya ibn Adi (893–974) was a Syriac Jacobite Christian philosopher, theologian and translator working in Arabic.

Peter Adamson, professor of philosophy at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munichhas contributed a fascinating blog post at the APA Website. Here are some excerpts:
Who was Yahya ibn Adi? He’s not a household name now, but in his own day he had great renown as the foremost Aristotelian philosopher in the capital of the Islamic empire, Baghdad. This is a sign of the ecumenical nature of intellectual life in the period. Ibn Adi was a Christian, who studied with and taught other Christian philosophers, associated with the famous Muslim thinker al-Farabi, and engaged in an epistolary exchange on philosophical topics with a Jewish scholar.
Thanks to Ibn Adi and his colleagues, tenth century Baghdad rivalled fifth century Alexandria, thirteenth century Paris, and twentieth century Oxford when it comes to Aristotelian scholarship.

Read it all here

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Sun and the Sacred

"But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves." Malachi 4:2

Alice C. Linsley

This is the third in a series on time measurement through the ages. The first essay examines the development and use of the clepsydra, a water clock. This was widely used during the Holocene Wet Period and into late Antiquity. As the climate of the ancient world began to dry out, the clepsammia (sand-glass) came into wider use.

The oldest known device used to measure time involved the Sun. Early humans in Africa tracked the hours of the day by watching the shadow cast by boulders, stacked stones, and sticks. The populations living along the Great Rift Valley and in the Blombos Mountains of Southern Africa used this method millions of years ago. This also was a practice of the Australian Aborigines as early at 10,000 year ago. The sundial is based on this same method of observation.

Sun pictograph in Vinča culture (6th-5th millennia BC)

As the Sun was in the heavens, its movement was of special interest to archaic Man. The Sun was the subject of theological consideration and became the emblem of the Creator. This is why solar imagery pervades many cultures long before the Axial Age.

The sky was very important to archaic peoples and anything that came from the sky was regarded as sacred. This included rays of sunlight and meteroritic iron beads. These were perceived as the Creator's semen/seeds giving life to "mother" Earth.

Obviously, the Creator was perceived as male/father and the source of fertility. It was believed that the divinely appointed ruler would be conceived in his mother's womb by the overshadowing of the Sun. This belief was widely held among the archaic rulers in the Nile Valley, in India, in Mesopotamia, and in Southern Europe. Sargon claimed such a miraculous conception, and according to Luke's Gospel, the Virgin Mary conceived by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.

Hathor conceived Horus by divine overshadowing of the Sun, the emblem of Re.

The horns are a pictograph used to designate an appointed ruler among the Biblical Habiru who were devotees of Re, Horus and Hathor. This is why the Y appears in  many Hebrew names: Yaqtan (Joktan); Yishmael (Ishmael); Yishbak; Yitzak (Isaac); Yacob (Jacob); Yosef (Joseph); Yetro (Jethro); Yeshai (Jesse) and Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus). Many horned altars and horned sacred vessels have been found by archaeologists.

It is little wonder that the Sun's movement was used to measure time. The word dial is derived from the Latin word for day, which is dies. Sundials calculate the hour of the day based on the length of the shadow. Just as the Sun does not change its course, so the Good God does not change. This is expressed in James 1:17 - "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow."

Among archaic peoples the sacred temporal center was high noon, when there is no shadow. The sacred spatial center was the high place or mountain top, between heaven and earth. The most auspicious time and place to commune with God would be high noon on the mountain top. No wonder there are countless stories of divine encounters of this type: Abraham, Moses, Elijah also Zarathustra on the mountain top addressing the Sun.

The sundial was likely developed by early Nilotic priest-astronomers.
Egyptian obelisk
The Egyptian t-shaped sundial was comprised of a crossbar and a vertical stick. Five sections were marked on the stick to measure the passage of five hours. In the morning, the stick was placed facing east, and in the afternoon, the stick was placed facing west.

Solar eclipses, such as the one that happen on February 5, 3109 BC, were noted by the priest-astronomers at Nekhen. This was an eclipse of long duration (as Nekhen is closer to the equator) and it appears that it began around mid-day. It would have remained dark for several hours. Consider the quandary of the priest-astronomers: when should the stick be moved? Consider the implications for their theology: the sun was the emblem of the Creator Ra and his son Horus. Why were they witholding the light?

Consider the testimonies of Mark and Matthew who report that darkness came over the whole land from noon until 3:00 pm at the time of Christ's crucifixion.

Later the Egyptians and the Babylonians erected large stone obelisks to form the gnomon of a sundial. The obelisks were used also to calculate the longest and shortest day of the year. These ancient obelisks were inscribed with the ruler's various titles and words of praise for both the ruler and the deity he served. Horus was the guardian of the ancient Kushite and Egyptian rulers from as early as 4000 BC. The kings were regarded as the earthly representatives of the Ruler of the universe, the “sons” of God. The earliest known moral code is associated with the law giver Menes who united the peoples of the Upper and Lower Nile shortly after the total solar eclipse of 3109 BC.

A six-sided obelisk has been found in Judah at a 10,000 year shrine settlement in the Judean Shfela. The obelisk is oriented to the rising sun. The architects of the shrine tracked the solar arc. The majority of ancient and prehistoric sacred sites align to meridian cardinal directions and the solar arc.

Isaiah 38:8 speaks of the sundial of King Ahaz in Jerusalem. This is a remarkable account of the going back of the shadow on the dial of Ahaz at the time of Hezekiah's recovery from his illness as foretold by Isaiah. "Behold, I will cause the shadow on the steps, which is gone down on the dial of Ahaz with the sun, to return backward ten steps. So the sun returned ten steps on the dial whereon it was gone down."
The Good God, Etruscan image, c. 520 BC
The Etruscan deity Ixion was crucified on a solar wheel.

Aspects of the ancient solar symbolism are found in the Bible, throughout the territories of the R1b rulers such as the Hittites, the Luwian, and the Etruscans. The religious significance of the sun is evident also in historical texts. The Bible designates Abraham as Habiru or Hebrew. The Habiru were a caste of priests who served in the ancient sun temples and shrines, called O-piru. Here the O is a solar pictograph. Psalm 92:2 describes the Lord as “a sun and a shield.”

The Victory Tablet of Amenhotep III describes Horus as “The Good God, Golden [Horus], Shining in the chariot, like the rising of the sun; great in strength, strong in might…” (J.H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Two, p. 854).

 Related reading: Better a Philosopher Than an Orator; The Sun and Celestial HorsesMonuments of the Ancient Kushites; Solar Symbolism of the Proto-Gospel; Ancient African Astronomers; Ancient Wisdom, Science, and Technology; The Urheimat of the Canaanite Y; The Ra-Horus-Hathor Narrative; A Tent for the Sun; The Sun and Moon in Genesis; Gain a Heart of Wisdom

Friday, May 13, 2016

Gain a Heart of Wisdom

Joan Violet Robinson said, "Time is a device to prevent everything from happening at once." To this, someone later quipped, "Space is a device to prevent everything from happening in Cambridge."

Alice C. Linsley

The clepsammia or sandglass is an interval timer that depends on the particle flow of sand. Its older counterpart was the clepsydra (Time Thief) which depended on water flow. The clepsammia was probably invented at Alexandria before 500 B.C. The Greeks were using the sand clock as early as 300 B.C. 

The sandglass appears to have come into wide use after much of the ancient world became drier. Earlier, the clepsydra or water-clock was much more common, but there were difficulties with the water flow in the colder climates. Caesar was much aggrieved when he invaded Gaul and found that the water in his clepsydra had frozen.

There are difficulties with the sandglass also. If moisture penetrated the seal on the glass, the sand clumps. To prevent this, powdered eggshell or lead dust were sometimes added. The problem of moisture was largely overcome by the nineteenth century when glassblowers fused the two bulbs together at the joint, making them airtight.

Sandglasses generally were used to measure an hour. They were called horologes, from the Greek words hōra, "hour" and legein, "to gather." 

In ancient philosophy the term horos referred to the boundaries of an area, or a landmark, or a term. It is likely a reference to the deity Horus who was said to be the fixer of time, current, tides, winds and boundaries. The English words hour, horizon and horoscope share this root. Today the word horoscope connotes astrology, but the original meaning was "observer" [skopos] of the hour. The Indo-European root for year is yeHr-, another reference to Horus. The association of Horus with the horizon is seen in the word Har-ma-khet, meaning "Horus of the Horizon." 

The sand-filled hourglass became popular as a personal time device for European nobility in the thirteenth century. Charlemagne (742-814 AD) possessed a 12-hour sandglass. These timers were used in the kitchens of wealthy households to judge cooking times. Thomas de Stetsham, a ship clerk in the service of King Edward III (1312-1377 AD) ordered 16 sand-filled hourglasses. The sandglass was used to time the length of the watches on ships. 

The hourglass served to time the length of sermons in churches. The device installed in the Royal Chapel in London measured a period of eighteen minutes, the time ordered by Queen Victoria, who apparently did not appreciate long-winded clerics.

Doubtless the hourglass resting near the pulpit served as a congregational reminder of the passage of time and our mortality. Wisdom begins with this humbling truth, as Psalm 90:12 reminds us: "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Better a Philosopher than an Orator

The outer container of an ancient Egyptian clepsydra

Alice C. Linsley

Philosophy is not to be rushed. The love of wisdom requires time to ponder, discuss, reconsider, etc. It is not for those who want to go home to their supper. It is constrained by clock watchers in every age.

In one of Plato's Dialogues he notes that it is better to be a philosopher than an orator since the latter are "slaves of a miserable water-clock, whereas the others are at liberty to make their discourse as long as they please."

The water-clock or clepsydra  had been used for thousands of years by the Nilotic priest astronomers to measure the passage of time. The word clepsydra is a compound of the Greek words kleptein, "to steal" and hydor, "water."

An ancient Egyptian water-clock dates to the reign of Amenhotep III (BC 1417-1379). It was used in the Temple of Amun-Ra at Karnak. The bowl-shaped outflow is the simplest form of a water-clock and is known to have existed in Babylon and in Egypt as early as 1600 BC.

The clepsydra was used by the Chinese, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the Romans. Early clepsydras were brass bowls with a small hole at the bottom. The bowl was placed inside a larger bowl of water which flowed through the opening at a rate dependent upon the size of the hole. When the bowl sank, that marked the end of the time to be measured.

Water-clocks often had marks of the sun's motion on the first container. As water dripped from it into another basin, the drop in water level showed the passage of up to eight hours. The second container was not always used. Some water-clocks allowed the water to drip on the ground.

In ancient Greece, the clepsydra was used to limit the time a lawyer or judge could speak in court. In Philostratus's Life of Apollonius of Tyana we read: "And how long will your pleading last by the water-clock's reckoning?" (Part IV)

According to Aeschines, the political opponent of Demosthenes, "The first [clepsydra] water was given to the accuser, the second to the accused, and the third to the judges." The guardian of the clepsydra stopped the flow of water during the reading of documents in evidence so that the reading time was not charged to the speaker.

The ancient clepsydra remained the most accurate clock ever constructed until the Dutch physicist Christian Huygens built a working prototype of a pendulum clock in 1656.

Picasso once quipped that Man is tyrannized by time and the proof is that Man invented the clock. Historically, this is not accurate. The earliest time devices were used to mark times of prayer. This was true for the ancient Egyptian priests with their clepsydra, and for the Medieval monks who invented the mechanical clock which tolled a bell to call the monks to prayers.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Angry Birds and Aristotle

From Aristotle's Rhetoric, Book II, Chapter 2
It will be plain by now, from what has been said, (1) in what frame of mind, (2) with what persons, and (3) on what grounds people grow angry. (1) The frame of mind is that of one in which any pain is being felt. In that condition, a man is always aiming at something. Whether, then, another man opposes him either directly in any way, as by preventing him from drinking when he is thirsty, or indirectly, the act appears to him just the same; whether some one works against him, or fails to work with him, or otherwise vexes him while he is in this mood, he is equally angry in all these cases.

Hence people who are afflicted by sickness or poverty or love or thirst or any other unsatisfied desires are prone to anger and easily roused: especially against those who slight their present distress. Thus a sick man is angered by disregard of his illness, a poor man by disregard of his poverty, a man aging war by disregard of the war he is waging, a lover by disregard of his love, and so throughout, any other sort of slight being enough if special slights are wanting. Each man is predisposed, by the emotion now controlling him, to his own particular anger. Further, we are angered if we happen to be expecting a contrary result: for a quite unexpected evil is specially painful, just as the quite unexpected fulfilment of our wishes is specially pleasant. Hence it is plain what seasons, times, conditions, and periods of life tend to stir men easily to anger, and where and when this will happen; and it is plain that the more we are under these conditions the more easily we are stirred.

Does this explain the Angry Birds video game plot; if there is a plot? Christopher Hooton is hooting about this in his Independent column.
When a Quora user asked ‘What are the Angry Birds angry about and why are they so angry?’ this week, they probably weren’t expecting such a thorough answer.
The Angry Birds Movie directors Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly provided an answer, first giving a little detail on the plot of the video game adaptation that I for one still can’t believe is actually happening.
“The Birds as a community actually aren’t angry in the beginning,” they write. “They are comically naive, having lived their whole lives on Bird Island in peace, protected by the legendary Mighty Eagle, a hero no one has seen for decades. When the Pigs show up and steal the Birds’ eggs, there’s plenty to be angry about.”
The directors then tried to add a little more nuance to the Birds’ anger, linking them, surely for the first time ever, to the thought of Greek philosopher Aristotle.

I agree with Hooton that the creators of the Angry Birds video game deserve kudos for "for making the best use of their scant source material." That said, it isn't a stretch to link the birds' anger at the pigs for stealing their eggs with Aristotle's discourse on anger as a feeling of pain.