I Was Once Ignorant of Great Bones

In Flavius Philostratus, Heroikos 8.18, a character known as “the Phoenician” is told about the gigantic bones of various ancient heroes and demi-gods which had been found in various places.

After listening to the list, the Phoenician says that he didn’t formerly believe in such stories about Greek heroes and demi-gods, but does now on the basis of the ‘great bones” which have been discovered. And it gives rise to this great line:

ἐγω δε μεγαλα [ὀστα] μεν ἠγνοουν, ἀνοητως δε ἠπιστουν
“I was ignorant of such great bones, and out of ignorance I disbelieved.”

Adrienne Mayor argues in The First Fossil Hunters that the great bones which were found, and which were attributed to Greek heroes and demi-gods, were typically the remains of mastodons and whales.

However, none of these opinions of so-called modern science should pose any sort of problem for the true believer in giant heroes and demi-gods. As a believer in giant heroes and demi-gods, I don’t have the luxury of dispensing with things just because our culture thinks we should. Culture isn’t the final arbiter of truth. Revelation is. Sure, Adrienne Mayor may believe, based on the presuppositions of her materialist-naturalist worldview, that the giant bones of heroes and demi-gods are just “mastodons” and “whales”. But has anybody seen one of these so-called “mastodons”? No – so it equally depends on FAITH. We have different perspectives PRECISELY because I see life through the lens of faith in giant heroes and demi-gods and she does not. It is for this reason that our views on several issues differ…I simply recognize that, at the end of the day, we approach problems and issues from differing starting points.


New online version of Liddell-Scott-Jones (LSJ)

Maria Pantelia
Maria Pantelia - Lexicographer

Following five years of hard work, “The Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG) is proud to announce the release of a new online version of Liddell-Scott-Jones (LSJ), the premier lexicon for classical Greek.”

Subscribers have access to the full LSJ. But even the hoi polloi have access to the abridged TLS corpus, which provides a very useful free online dictionary of ancient Greek.

Look – I’ve already made a useful search:


h/t: Jim West, Zwinglius Redivivus

The Use of Myth in History: Ken Dowden

Monsters exist in order to be defeated and, preferably, slain. (134)

Ken Dowden
Ken Dowden

Ken Dowden’s The Uses of Greek Mythology (Routledge, 1992) provides an excellent guide to the ways in which Greek myth was used to construct Greek historiography that was set in the more remote past.

I particularly like the following quote from the book, which should be meditated upon at length by a fundamentally uncritical strand of scholarship which is unfortunately prevalent today within biblical studies:

No matter how fictional or artificial local myth seems to us, it is always capable of being treated as strict history by interested parties. (89)

Homer’s Odyssey and the Old Testament: Bruce Louden

Bruce Louden - Homer's Odyssey and the Near East
Bruce Louden - Homer's Odyssey and the Near East

Bruce Louden asks a good question (and gives one very good answer to it) in the ‘Introduction’ to his recent book, Homer’s Odyssey and the Near East (Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 5:

Why do commentators usually omit consideration of the substantial parallels between Homeric and OT myth? Modern audiences may, even without realizing, project their beliefs onto how they read ancient texts. Given the long dominance of Christianity and Judaism in the West, a majority of modern Western audiences, whether consciously or unconsciously, may, on the basis of their faith, regard biblical and Homeric narratives as opposites, seeing the former as “true” or “real”, but the latter as “false”, “unreal”, or “fictional”. Intentionally or unintentionally, faith has erected a wall between the study of the two narrative traditions.

Homer’s Odyssey and the Near East provides a number of examples illustrating the benefit in looking at Greek parallels, in particular the Odyssey (perhaps the Greater Code of Western literature), in order to understand the Old Testment. For example, he compares the argonautic myth against Genesis 28-33, Odyssey 12 against Exodus 32, and Helen against Rahab (Joshua 2). 

One example that interests me is from Genesis 6.4 (pp. 191-192). At the end of Gen. 6.4, the heroes of old, the offspring of Nephilim, are described as “men of renown”, or literally “men with a name”. Louden first compares this with the end of tablet 4 of the Gilgamesh Epic, where Gilgamesh talks about defeating the monstrous Humbaba with his close friend Enkidu. Gilgamesh extols the benefit of achieving fame: “It is they who have achieved a name [for] future [time]!” In addition, Louden finds a parallel in Hektor (Iliad 7.82-91), where the hero erects a memorial for his accomplishments (p. 192). Further, Louden notes the example of “[t]he first lines of the Odyssey”, which “show that Odysseus already has epic fame from his role in bringing about the sack of Troy”, thereby establishing him as a heroic mighty man of old.

“The earlier [largely pre-twentieth century] commentaries, especially, cite numerous Greek and Roman parallels, reflecting the happier days of Biblical scholarship, before the specialization of ‘ancient near eastern’ studies had entailed ignorance of half the Old Testament’s Umwelt.”

– Morton Smith, Studies in the Cult of Yahweh (Brill, 1996), vol. 1, p. 235, no. 37.