Saturday, February 10, 2007

Sweet Bliss

Chapter 10 of my new book, "Evolution Science", opens with some remarks about natural wonders that make people go "Wow!":

"Clouds, sunrises, sunsets, crepuscular rays (i.e., individual beams bursting through clouds), the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, giant waves crashing upon beachrocks, & the beautiful color & fragrance of flowers. Why would any intelligent, evolved human be impressed by any of these things? They're all examples of nature; they're totally natural. ... If I'm descended from the very same natural elements that comprise water & rocks, & that's all there is to me--just natural elements, then what makes me say, 'Wow'? ... Surely one or more of my ancient ancestors had seen wild cloud formations, sunrises, & sunsets. Why isn't it part of my instinct to overlook these basic characteristics of nature?"

But I also react that way to historic treasures.

This upcoming week marks the 5-year anniversary of my initial correspondence with Andy Vaughn, who sent me a signed offprint of his BASOR 313 article, "Palaeographic Dating of Judaean Seals & Its Significance for Biblical Research" (my first LMLK-VIP autograph). When I met archeologist/professor Amihai Mazar at an Arizona Bible conference in January of 2004, he, too, graciously autographed a copy of BAR v15 #1 Jan/Feb 1989 for me. Subsequent to the publication of my first book later that year, I began purchasing many rare, hard-to-find books, having learned a lesson from my 2002-2003 research season that it's more economical to simply buy the darned things in most cases rather than figure out which library has them, go there, search for them, find the relevant pages, photocopy them, come home, study them, & find out that I'm missing a page with an important citation, then have to go back, etc.

In the course of searching for the books online, I found several that were inscribed by the authors, one thing led to another, & now a few years later I've amassed a killer collection! My most-prized piece is a 2-page typed-letter on King David Hotel stationery signed by Charles Marston in which he describes to the Bishop of Albany ( Edmund Gibbons) some ostraca he found a few days earlier at Lachish (replicas of which are for sale at the LMLK Dotcom Shop). In it, he says: At the time of writing, I have just cabled the New York Times of the finding...

It's a big contribution to my retirement fund! Time magazine reported on the famous find 2 months after Marston wrote my letter, the 72-year anniversary of which is also this upcoming week! But what's more important to me beyond the tangible novelty of the autographs & their investment value, is that they focus my attention on the person behind the printed words. Here's a reminder that these were/are real people (not to be disrespectful--most of them are deceased, but some are still alive & well), & a very real audience of the past & present, plus many others in the future who care about this research. It has, does, &/or will affect them. I view it as a stewardship.

Anyway, what prompted this blog entry was a magnificent acquisition last week of a book by Frederick Jones Bliss (1859-1937), "The Development of Palestine Exploration, Being The Ely Lectures for 1903" (NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906). He delivered these on the Ely Foundation of Union Theological Seminary.

The inside coverboard has a bookplate: "Ex Libris Candidati. Kate Dickinson Sweetser." Then on the blank pre-title-page he wrote: "Kate from Fred." She's a well-known author in her own right, with a few of her 15+ books still being reprinted & offered on Amazon:

Amherst College Archives provides a good overview of the Bliss family history. F.J.'s father was Dr./Rev./Pres. Daniel L. Bliss (1823-1916), founder of the Syrian Protestant College, now named the American University of Beirut. The speech he gave during the cornerstone foundation ceremony is so well worded, I can't resist repeating it here:

"This college is for all conditions & classes of men without regard to color, nationality, race, or religion. A man, white, black, or yellow, Christian, Jew, Mohammedan, or heathen, may enter & enjoy all the advantages of this institution for 3, 4, or 8 years; & go out believing in one God, in many gods, or in no God. But it will be impossible for anyone to continue with us long without knowing what we believe to be the truth & our reasons for that belief."

It echoes the sentiments I feel towards those who read "Evolution Science", & I could go on about The Lewis Affair of 1882, but I digress...

Upon his retirement from the presidency of the school in 1903 (the year Fred was presenting these Ely lectures), his son (Fred's brother), Howard Sweetser Bliss (1860-1920), became its president.

Daniel produced these 2 well-respected sons with some help from his wife, Abby Maria Wood Bliss, a niece of Deacon Luke Sweetser, who was the brother of Joseph A. Sweetser, the man who married Catharine ("Kate") Dickinson. How's that for coming full circle?

Speaking of circles, according to the Dickinson Electronic Archives, Abby Maria was a childhood friend of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)--a member of her "circle of five" (along with Sarah Tracy, Harriet Orinda Merrill, & Abiah Palmer Root Strong):

"I am alone with God, & my mind is filled with many solemn thoughts which crowd themselves upon me with an irresistible force. I think of Dear Sarah & yourself as the only two out of our circle of five who have found a Saviour. ... It was then my greatest pleasure to commune alone with the great God & to feel that he would listen to my prayers. I determined to devote my whole life to his service & desired that all might taste of the stream of living water from which I cooled my thirst. ... I never show any of the letters of the 'five' to any one but Abby as she is one of them."--letter from Emily to Abiah, March 28th, 1846

Parenthetically, readers of my own first book will recall Ms. Dickinson's contribution to p. 8 (poem #6):

"Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all"

Amazing, all of these interconnections!

To appreciate the title page, you have to know that the content of the book by Bliss discusses journeys throughout Palestine, but also many other places traversed by those traveling to/from Palestine. He signed it:

"Frederick J. Bliss" [name underlined] "Written in (and on): Beyrout, Mt. Lebanon, London, The Atlantic, New York, Philadelphia, Amherst, and Clifton Springs 1902-1905."

Is that cool or what?!! The Bliss/Dickinson family was based in Amherst, & several members including F.J. graduated from Amherst College, which Noah Webster helped bring into existence--yet another link to "Evolution Science", but again I digress...

According to the PEF page dedicated to him, Bliss established "the sequential framework for Levantine archaeology." Near the turn of the century, he & R.A.S. Macalister conducted a major series of excavations at 4 Shephelah sites: Tell es-Safi, Tell Zakariya, Tell ej-Judeideh, & Tell Sandahannah (Biblical Gath, Azekah, Moresheth-Gath, & Mareshah respectively).

As a product of these digs, in 1899 Bliss published the first HBRN handle properly identified (found at Azekah), which was also the first 4-winged specimen; then in 1900 he published the first complete MMST inscription, & formed the first LMLK typology comprising 11 classes.

Naturally, my favorite signed books are those with LMLK content. And I was thrilled by this one! Although it contains no illustrations at all, p. 89 mentions both Ziph & Hebron in a discussion of sites known in Crusader times; p. 210 mentions both Ziph & Shocoh in a chapter about Edward Robinson; & in a chapter titled "The Exploration of the Future", pp. 290-1 say:

"My decision to risk an expenditure of time and money on the excavation of Tell-Zakariya and Tell-ej-Judeideh was based upon an hour's examination of the surface pottery upon each of these mounds, so denuded of visible remains that they formed fields for growing crops. ... Thus, when a stratum revealed fragments of a certain sort of cooking-pot, tiny black jars, and long-footed ointment-vessels, we at once began to clean all broken-off jar-handles, knowing that our pains would be rewarded by the discovery of stamps bearing precious Hebrew inscriptions. The knowledge gained from these studies in pottery will be useful in two ways. First, it will serve as a guide to others, as it has served to us, in the choice of sites to be excavated. Secondly, it may lead others, as it has led us, to reopening the discussion of such Biblical Identifications as have been based merely on the supposed survival of ancient town-names and on a general correspondence with indefinite topographical references."

That reminded me of Andy Vaughn's surface LMLK finds reported in his dissertation book. Then on p. 297 is this prize:

"As we have indicated above, jar-handles with Hebrew writing may be gathered from the surface. Some of these bear a symbol representing a beetle with four extended wings; on others the symbol takes the form of a winged disc. In both cases we find a dedication 'To the King' and the name of a town, probably the seat of a Royal Pottery. Other handles show merely the name of the maker or potter. All, however, belong to a late Jewish period."

I love this kind of stuff! He began that chapter thus:

"The last lecture has failed of its purpose if it has not clearly indicated that the Palestinian Explorer of the future must be a specialist. The surface of Palestine is an open book whose main lessons have already been learned. ... Scattered under the soil are countless 'documents'--documents in stone, in metal, in earthen-ware--documents inscribed and uninscribed, but each waiting to tell its tale of the past."

That struck such a chord with what I wrote above about my stewardship, since I see myself as one of those specialists Mr. Bliss wrote of a century ago, by publishing the inscribed documents of that "open book".


Song of the week: "Beyond The Invisible" by Enigma (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 36-second sample; 459kb).
G.M. Grena

Do not be angry Lord,
Or remember iniquity forever:
Behold, the Holy City is a desert:
Zion is mad--a desert:
Jerusalem is desolate:
The house of Your holiness and glory...


G.M. Grena said...

Link to
comments about the bookplate engraver on the LMLK Wordpress
version of this blog.

G.M. Grena said...

Note: I added a link in the article to a photo of Kate's bookplate by French that I donated to Wikipedia.

G.M. Grena said...

Thanks to Mike Welch for deciphering the final place name in the autograph (Clifton Springs, probably a sanitorium in New York where he sought extended treatment for his ill health). In my original post, I had simply transcribed it as "Cief his Upsings", but 2 things threw me off: his odd construction of the "t" that looked like an "i", & his slanted "Springs" because he was running out of space.

Anonymous said...

For a contextualized archaeological biography of Frederick Bliss, see-- Hallote, R.
Bible, Map and Spade: The American Palestine Exploration Society, Frederick Jones Bliss and the Forgotten Story of Early American Biblical Archaeology
(Gorgias Press 2006)