Monday, June 15, 2015

Dead Sea Scrolls, the Essenes, and Qumran

For over sixty years scholars have attempted to pinpoint the context of what is arguably one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the last century. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by accident, which lead to a larger search and later excavations of the sites by numerous groups.

These attempts to interpret and excavate the area of the scrolls' discovery has led to numerous interpretations in the academic, religious, and political spheres. Unfortunately the academic interpretations are heavily influenced by the latter two; the complex political affiliations in the area surrounding the Dead Sea has held this discovery as an emblem of the struggles in the area for historical supremacy and the use of the find as a sort of relic for the religious.

Coin of Herod the Great
Since their discovery, the common association has been with the Essenes, a Jewish sect living in the area of the Dead Sea near Ein Gedi and with a known association with Qumran. Scholars have pointed to ancient writers Pliny and Josephus, who have mentioned similar location, traditions, and associations with the authors of the scrolls. It is, however, important to distinguish the differences between the authors of the scrolls, and the traditions associated with communities nearby. During the period the scrolls were authored (approximately 2nd c. BCE to 1st c. CE) many political changes in the region influenced their authorship. Hellenistic Kingdoms such as the Seleucids and Ptolemies had been vying over the region for centuries; local rulers such as the Hasmoneans and the Roman-sympathizing Herodian dynasty had struggled to keep the region in the hands of the people of Judea.

Book or Isaiah
The context of the authorship also lies in the content of the scrolls themselves. The variety in the scrolls points to a massive library of theological literature as well as the establishment of rules of the community, as well as other texts of cultural importance. Traditional Hebrew religious texts are included, most notably the oldest surviving and most complete Book of Isaiah. Among the religious texts are commentaries, anthologies, and apocryphal texts of Hebrew theology. Other texts known as the "Community Rule" establishes correlations between known rituals and habits known of the Essenes such as ritual bathing and celibacy. Apocalyptic texts and the "War Scroll" establish a context of political disunity in the region. The breadth of the collection points to a well-established community of scholars existing over a period of a few centuries before the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. Some argue that the scrolls were hidden to evade the Romans, the mysterious "Copper Scroll" was hidden as a treasure-map.

Copper Scroll Fragment

Although scholarship on the origin, authorship, and context of the scrolls is ongoing the discovery of the scrolls has allowed us to peer into a community whose voice has been silenced for two thousand years and perhaps further study may reveal hidden clues or revelations to this mysterious library.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pre-Dynastic Ivory Fertility Figure

This is the inception of a new series of original sketches drawn by me from the collection of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California. This series follows a book I'm reading and goes through the different types of materials artifacts may be made from. The first material was bone:

RC 551
The first artifact in this series was an Pre-Dynastic female figure made of Ivory.  The original is 8cm in length and the sketch was done on a 2:1 scale (approximately double the size). 

Figures from this period are highly stylized, thus the elongated body and prominently highlighted pubic region known as the "public triangle" denoting this as a figuring that was related to feminine fertility. 

Around the world during this period the female figure was a popular subject of artwork. Most of them tended to be rotund, pregnant women, but Egypt deviated from this convention. We find figures such as these throughout Egyptian history, making this one of the most common types of votive statuettes. Even in later periods we find these figures broken, as we do here. Some have speculated that they were part of a fertility ritual where the figures were ceremonially broken, perhaps to ensure fecundity in humans, husbandry, or the harvest. 

Who the figure is supposed to depict is unknown. If we had context or provenance then we might be able to determine whether this figure may have been dedicated to a specific goddess, but we can assume from her popularity during the Pre-Dynastic era that this figure would likely have represented Hathor, the goddess of love, sexuality, fertility, and beauty. The material this is made from might also give us a clue that this figurine was meant to portray an ideal of beauty because ivory mimicked the pale complexion valued as a high standard in Egyptian beauty. Females were painted with yellow or white pigment for skin color in Egyptian art while males are almost exclusively red.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Sicily: Cults of Demeter and Persephone

The Sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone at Morgantina, Getty Villa Exhibit

Many people recognize the story of Demeter and Persephone as the Ancient Greek explanation of seasons, but few people think about their importance outside of the Aegean. In Sicily, Demeter and Persephone were part of the structure of Sicilian dominance throughout the Mediterranean. Sicily was a well-known land for its fertility and central location, so naturally cults to gods (and goddesses) of fertility came naturally. Grain was the main agricultural product, so Demeter was the obvious choice. Sicily is also the mythical location of the reemergence of Persephone from Hades. Sicily is also connected to the underworld through Mt. Etna, which was believed to be a gateway to Tartarus where the enemy of Zeus Typhon was imprisoned.

Sanctuary to Chthonic Divinities, Agrigento
Cults throughout Sicily were dedicated to Chthonic (underworld or earthly) divinities like Aetna (the personification of Mt. Etna), Demeter, Persephone, Hades, and other spirits of the underworld. Demeter represented the fertility of the grain, and her daughter (sometimes also called simply Kore, "the maiden") was the mistress of death. As anyone with Sicilian relatives can tell you, Sicilian women are natural matriarchs, so it is also possible that a mother-daughter cult has long played a central role in Sicilian culture.

"Women Gossiping"; British Museum

Sunday, July 15, 2012


This month I went back to Italy with my family and I had an amazing time. I got to re-visit the old haunts in Rome and see some new ones as well. We arrived in Rome and spent a few extra days before our official tour began and it was like I never left- I now know why the call it the eternal City!

We got to see the Vatican Museums twice, but you can always spend more time there and of course we didn't get to see enough. It was also my first time in St. Peter's Basilica so I got to see a different side of Rome as well as the familiar.

We continued our tour in the south passing through Pompeii and eventually landed in the Isle of Capri, where we spent a few days. That island is magical and I definitely can see why Emperor Tiberius hid himself away there towards the end of his life- its the perfect paradise to retire!

After Capri we passed through the town of Assisi where we viewed the Basilica of St. Francis (one of the best Saints ever) and in Classe we saw the Basilica of St. Apollinare with some great early Christian art.
Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi
Basilica of Saint Apollinaris in Classe

We eventually arrived in Venice, where we were treated to gondolas, champagne, and music while we went through the canals- it was truly magical! I also enjoyed the crafts stores with masks, glass, writing implements, and more.

Then we hopped over to Tuscany and we had a few great meals and visited Florence. My favorite part of Tuscany was the city of Sienna, especially because we arrived on the day of the Palio, the infamous 90 second horse race on the Piazza Del Campo. I also think it would be a great place to learn Italian! I'm already planning my next trip back to Italy.
Sienna- Banners for the Palio
Piazza del Campo- day of the Palio

Ankh Wedja Seneb
(Life Prosperity Health)

Leif Lauderdale

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Dionysian Mysteries

La Jeunesse de Bacchus- William Bouguereau, 19th c.
We are all familiar with the traditional image of Bacchus as a drunken, pudgy, older man but this is actually a later tradition of the European Renaissance. Dionysus has actually gone through many phases from the bearded patriarch to an effeminate youth. In later Europe he was painted as a chubby trickster in the same fashion of his brother Cupid.
Antinous as Dionysus-  Roman, Vatican
The Mystery Cult of Dionysus actually allowed many different types of marginalized groups in society to mix together in revelry: men & women, slaves & aristocrats, Greeks & barbarians all found common ground in the great social equalizer- WINE.

Mystery religions in Greece usually had hidden meanings in their rituals and had secret initiations that revealed the true nature of their religion. The Mysteries of Dionysus held the hidden meaning of life and death through the symbol of the vine. The grapes would grow through its life cycle (the living, youthful god) and be harvested (symbolically die) and turned into wine (resurrected) and then imbibed in "communion" with the god (the same way that Christians have "communion").

The affect of wine was viewed as physical possession of the god, who was not only a god of the cycle of life, death, and resurrection, but also the god of madness, frenzy, and abandon. Wine and its contents also became a symbol of masculine "liquid fertility" as fertilizing seminal fluid. Other substances like honey, which was also mixed with wine, became part of this association.

Dionysus' other attributes included ivy and goats. Ivy was thought to counteract drunkenness because it blooms in the winter instead of the summer. The goat (and therefore its horns) symbolized Dionysus because they trimmed the grape vine, and wineskins were made out of goats' flesh.
Dionysus is also associated with many other gods and cults: Zeus, Zagreus (a sort of proto-Dionysus), Sabazios (a Phrygian-Thracian god), Orpheus (whose cult borrowed many things from Dionysus'), and later Christianity. One of the most parallel deities is Osiris in the Egyptian pantheon. Osiris was also the god of male fertility, wine, resurrection, and had a mystery cult similar to that of Dionysus. During Osiris' festivals they would have "sprouting Osirises" much like modern Chia Pets that symbolized the symbolic renewal of life as well as some phallic imagry. Passion plays at his festivals also were the precursors to the later dramatic festivals associated with Dionysus' public cult in Greece.

Sprout Mold in the form of Osiris
Dionysus's Mystery Cult finally included trance-like ritual that functioned much like a modern-day rave. Initiates would drink wine to facilitate spirit possession, play instruments with rhythmic beats that stimulated brain waves along with dancing that would combine to transport the initiates into a spiritual state. This type of ritual can also been found in other religions such as African Voodoo. The ultimate message was not just drunken revelry, but metaphors for the cycle of life-death-rebirth of both the body and the spirit.
Ankh Wedja Seneb
(Life Prosperity Health)

Leif Lauderdale

Monday, December 19, 2011


Season's Greetings! Happy Holidays if you prefer- the truth is that everyone has their own way of celebrating the Winter Solstice. Christians celebrate the Nativity, Jews celebrate the Festival of Lights, and Pagans celebrated the renewal of the Sun and the cycle of the seasons. The truth is, that every faith has a common traditions and themes for this part of the year, so why is it so special to so many people?
The Holly King
Humans have always celebrated this time of year as a time of survival; as the darkest part of the year they remembered that even in the darkest time the cycle of life goes on and summer will always come again. Many people acknowledged these days (Every tradition acknowledges the celebration as a seasonal series of days rather than just one) as a time of thanksgiving, of sharing bounty in the form of gifts, and feasting in families and communities.

Neolithic peoples were thought to have built megalithic stone monuments to acknowledge the solstices and measure time through a complex calendar. Ancient Greeks and Romans worshiped Bacchus on Lenaia or Brumalia ("Shortest Day)as a period of feasting and merriment, celebrated in conjunction with Saturnalia (Kronia in Greek)- one of the chief Roman holidays which included a series of social and religious rituals similar to later European Christmas festivities. This holiday invoked the agricultural god of time Saturn, who represented old age, winter, darkness, and earthly bounty as a renewal of physical matter that dies during this time.  He is often characterized by his sickle, which portrays his role as a reaper or Father Time as he is later known as in associated with the Greek Chronos (Chronos= Time  in Greek).
Saturn is one of a series of elderly gods who makes up the archetype of Father Christmas who later becomes the Santa Clause in the Christmas tradition. This elderly deity is the polar opposite of the infant born on the winter solstice who represents the Sun and offers hope out of the darkness. This younger god is known as Mithras or Sol Invictus by the Roman Period and becomes the archetype for images of Christ. Mithras and Sol Invictus are sun gods with astrological associations but are also bringers of light, guidance, and prosperity to mankind whose birth is celebrated on the solstice in the midst of the winter festival celebrations.
Christ as Sol Invictus- Tomb of the Julii, St Peter's
In Germanic countries, the solstice season was known as Yule- again the celebration of the winter as a time of bounty associated with the hunt and winter animals such as deer. The god of this season is Odin, another prototype for Father Christmas depicted as an elderly prophet and also king of the Norse gods. In later Neopagan traditions, Celtic gods and goddesses were incorporated into the Yuletide and a new mythology was constructed. Some of these myths associate the "dakness" during Yule as the last of the triple Goddesses (Youth, Mother, and Crone) and the divine child of light (the Sun) as the offspring that comes from the darkness.
The Oak King and the Holly King
Another myth is of the Oak King and the Holly King; these are gods who rule the two halves of the year. The Oak King triumphs on the summer solstice, reigns during the warmer half of the year, and is an archetype who represents light; the Holly King triumphs on the winter solstice, reigns during the darker half of the year, and is the archetype of darkness. These gods represent a type of yin and yang duality that is associated with the Celtic god Cerunnos, the horned lord of the hunt, who is the combination of both of these characters.

Overall, the season of the Winter Solstice is a time of both light and dark. One half of the year ends and the other begins in a dance of dualism. Today, the holidays are festivals where we light candles to combat the darkness, celebrate a divine birth, or are thankful for what we have- just like our ancestors before us.

Ankh Wedja Seneb
(Life Prosperity Health)

Leif Lauderdale

Friday, December 2, 2011

I -- am a librarian...

"Look, I... I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure-seeker, or a gunfighter, Mr. O'Connell, but I am proud of what I am.  I -- am a librarian..."
Librarians in modern society have a very specific image, and as a current student of Library Science, I just want to dispel some of the views that I have encountered and bring up some interesting topics about... what else... LIBRARIANS!

In contemporary media, its easy to stereotype, but I personally prefer the bad-ass version of librarians as having a super-human thirst for knowledge and learning. Nobody is a better badass example of this than the unassuming Evie from the Mummy film series. Also as an aspiring Egyptologist I look up to her in more ways than one.
I also thought it was interesting that one of the main characters of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series was also a librarian who also practiced magic, and was therefore a boundless resource on the supernatural. Might I mention that Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, was also a librarian!
There is also a long history of ancient libraries from the very inception of writing in Sumer. These included not only archives but also works of law, history, religion, commerce, and a whole range of subjects. In Egypt, the medium of writing moved from clay tablets (like in Mesopotamia) to papyrus scrolls, so much more complex system of storage was needed. Egyptian libraries were located in temples and were referred to as the Per Medjat or "House of Books."
Specific gods and goddesses were the patrons of these establishments, but none were more important that Thoth and Seshat. Seshat names "The Scribess" and she was associated with architecture, astronomy, and mathematics- and is the prototype of the female profession of librarianship. Her attributes show her holding a palm branch recording the regnal years of the king, a leopard robe associated with priesthood and the night sky, and above her head is an unconfirmed symbol of either a reed or a star. Thoth, although not specifically associated with libraries like Seshat, was also her consort and in charge of writing, magic, and academic subjects.

In the Hellenistic world, libraries became the cultural centers cities, such as the great Library of Alexandria in Egypt, which contained every great work produced in the Hellenistic world begun by Ptolemy I. There were also libraries in Pergamum, Athens, and Rome which collected records, literature, and knowledge passed down through classical antiquity.
In the Hellenistic world, the patron goddess of libraries was Athena (Minerva)goddess of knowledge, or the personification of wisdom herself Sophia. Hermes, like Thoth with whom he is associated with in the Egyptian pantheon, is the inventor of the word and oration (thus his epithet of Logios) but is not associated with libraries per se. It seems that in the ancient world (and today), male wisdom took the action of oration, writing, and physical active participation of creating knowledge. Female goddesses therefore were the passive guardians of knowledge created by the male figure.

Ankh Wedja Seneb
(Life Prosperity Health)

Leif Lauderdale