Let the dig begin

I stopped by Rome on my way to Jerusalem and got some pics of the Ara Pacis.

The Ara Pacis in Rome

Saw something I hadn’t seen before. The sculptor was having a bit of fun.

I am sorry sir, that will be 50 euros…

Can you give me 10 minutes? It will fit.

It is these small victories in life…

We are a week into the excavation at Et-Tell. Here are a few pics of the preparations for the dig.

The storks were migrating south for the winter during our first day of digging. You can just make them out in the exact center of the frame. They flock in v-shaped patterns like geese, but very high up, and they make a distinct cackling sound that makes them seem as though they are much closer than they really are. They fly as far south as South Africa, but unlike the tern, they do not like to fly over water.

Migrating storks

The Hebrew word for stork is chasida. It shares the same root with the word for ‘goodness’ or ‘kindness’. A swan is elegant, a duck is comical, an eagle is regal, a peacock is proud, and the stork is a good and righteous bird. The stork in the heavens “knows her times”, says Jeremiah, but “my people know not the rules of the LORD.” (Jer. 8:7) We, unfortunately, do not have an instinct for goodness.

From Antakya to Kayseri

I was curious to see what these people were digging in the field so I stopped to watch them for a while. They were digging a small root of some kind. It seemed like a lot of work for a small amount of food. Either they were hungry or the root was used for some other purpose than nourishment. I hope it was the latter.


(revised 10/9/2019)

The Israeli author, Amos Oz, gave an an address to a group of settlers in Ofra (the first settlement founded in the West Bank).  He recounts the episode in one of his books (the name of which I cannot seem to remember).  Oz writes,

We can all agree, without difficulty, that what Zionism means is that it is good for the Jewish people to return to the Land of Israel and it is bad for people to be scattered among the nations. But from that point on – we disagree….

This is the place to make my first shocking confession – others will follow. I think that the nation-state is a tool, an instrument, that is necessary for a return to Zion, but I am not enamored of this instrument. The idea of the nation-state is, in my eyes, “goim naches” – gentiles delight. I would be more than happy to live in a world composed of dozens of civilizations, each developing in accordance with its own internal rhythm, all cross-pollinating one another, without any one emergence as a nation-state: no flag, no emblem, no passport, no anthem. No nothing. Only spiritual civilizations tied somehow to their lands, without the tools of statehood and without the instruments of war.

I think Amos Oz would agree that if you cherish your family, clan, people, culture, civilization… then you are bound to defend it, and from that moment on you have a wall, an army, and a state.  The only way it could be otherwise is if there were no enemy or nothing worth defending.  But Oz would like the nation-state to go away.  His words are reminiscent of those of another poet,

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

(John Lennon)

But what happens when all countries and religions disappear?   I know Marx seems to have thought that the state apparatus would whither away in the end but does anyone else really believe that?  Did Marx even believe it?

Lennon admitted that his song was virtually a Communist Manifesto; that it was “anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic, but because it is sugarcoated it is accepted… Now I understand what you have to do. Put your political message across with a little honey.”  It worked worked for Lennon.  The song went on to become his number one hit solo and perhaps one of the most covered songs every composed.  Richard Dawkins hailed it as the ‘atheist anthem’.  (Wikipedia)

The song asks us to imagine, to dream… of peace and unity.   The mortal enemy of this beautiful dream is fascism.   News anchors, politicians, academics, movie actors…. all agree on this point.  Fascism is our enemy!   But Lennon’s beautiful vision of world peace for our times, when translated into a political manifesto, shares more in common with fascism than not.  Consider Mussolini’s definition of fascism,

The Fascist conception of the State is all embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism, is totalitarian, and the Fascist State – a synthesis and a unity inclusive of all values – interprets, develops, and potentates the whole life of a people (The Doctrine of Fascism, Mussolini).

Both fascism and socialism seek salvation in an all-embracing political unity, a ‘synthesis inclusive of all values’.  Fascism glories in power, socialism embraces equality, but both of them seek to build the city of God on earth… until Leviathan comes.

Of the two, socialism may be the more dangerous for its true nature is buried under a heap of noble sentiments.  And its vision encompasses not just ‘a people’ but ‘all the people’.  It seeks to gain power by democratic means rather than with the blunt instrument of force (at least this has been true in the West for the most part since WW2).  The more democratic the society, the more susceptible it is to socialism’s message of equality.  Perhaps this explains why politicians on the left are pushing for more universal suffrage that includes prisoners, kids as young sixteen, and people who are not citizens.  The electoral college will also need to go at some point.  Everyone must have an equal say.  Everything should be done properly and democratically.  But…

Power rules the world, not opinion.  It is power that makes opinion.  Anyone who wants to dance the tightrope will be alone.  (Pascal, Pensees 303)

It is worth bearing in mind that Caesar Augustus subverted the Republic by pretending to embrace it; by maintaining the fiction of a functioning Republic long after the senatorial offices were consolidated into his hands.   The Forum Augustum, Ara Pacis, and Pantheon retained all the trappings of Republican symbolism but they deified the State and its Emperor in a manner unthinkable to an earlier generation of Romans.

If our democracy meets with a similar fate, I suspect it will not be at the hands of an individual, but by a media and entertainment complex that will convince people to trade their freedom and responsibilities for security and entitlements.   Perhaps nowhere is their power of persuasion more readily perceived than in the realm of art and architecture as Tom Wolfe documented in his books: ‘The Painted Word’ and ‘From Bauhaus to our House’.  So-called “artists” ally with art critics, publishers and museums to sell fraudulent art to wealthy clients whose taste in art has lost all connection with Truth.  Imagine if a similar process were to play out in the political and economic spheres.  It isn’t hard to do…

Sometimes as I consider with myself how this illusion daily more and more enthralls and impoverishes our mental life by cutting off from it all the rich experience of the past, it is as though we were at sea in a vessel, while a fog thickened, closing in upon our vision with ever narrower circle, blotting out the far-flashing lights of the horizon and the depths of the sky, throwing a pall upon the very waves about us, until we move forward through a sullen obscurity, unaware of any other traveller upon that sea, save when through the fog the sound of a threatening alarm beats upon the ear.  (Paul E. More, cited in R. Kirk, The Conservative Mind, 433)

The Attack of the Trojans (Cows)

The city of Troy (Hissarlik) is in the background.

Ajax to the Achaeans

“Quick, better to live or die, once and for all,
than die by inches, slowly crushed to death –
helpless against the hulls [of the ships] in the bloody press –
by far inferior men!” 

They closed ranks, they packed like a stone wall,
a granite cliff that towers against the churning surf,
standing up to the screaming winds, their sudden assaults
and the breaking waves they spawn that crash against its base-
so the Danaans stood the Trojan onslaught, rock-solid
and never flinched in fear.  (15.716-720)


I know I said that Sidyma was my favorite place in Turkey, but I was forgetting about Commagene, formerly an isolated mountain kingdom in the Eastern Taurus mountains above Syria.

Ross Perot

Ross Perot passed away from leukemia July 9, 2019. As a presidential candidate, he chose to work outside of the two party system and side-step the main news channels by reaching out to the American people directly via cable TV. He was mercilessly mocked for his infomercials. I’ve posted one of them below. The whole video is worth watching. It is like opening a time capsule. To bad we didn’t listen to him. At least we can honor his memory.

History repeats itself.

The budget should be balanced.

The treasury should be refilled.

Public debt should be reduced.

The arrogance of public officials should be controlled.

Pisidia Antioch

One thing that struck me as I drove from Conya (Iconium) to Pisidia Antioch, and then along the southern coast of Turkey, was just how rugged the terrain is. The road wound through high mountain passes and descended into pleasant valleys that seem to have been left behind and forgotten in our the rush to industrialize.

Paul delivered several sermons in the synagogue at Antioch (Acts 13). Many received the news with joy but some among the Jews stirred up the “devout women of high standing and leading men of the city” against the apostles. So they departed Antioch for Iconium and then Lystra, where, in response to the healing of a crippled man, the people declared, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” This was, of course, the very claim the Roman emperors made for themselves.

To fly down and change your own form to the frame
Of a young man on earth, and, braving the danger,
To suffer the people to give you the name
Of Caesar’s avenger 1

In response, Paul declared to the people of Lystra that we ought instead to worship the living God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, who satisfies our hearts with food and gladness. (Acts 14:14) It was a simple message, but it was also subversive, for these words undermined the worship of Caesar!

A temple to Augustus in Pisidia Antioch. Temples such as this one were built in every part of the Roman empire.
Bull with garland decoration from the temple to Augustus in Pisidia Antioch. “And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.” (Acts 14:12)

  1. Od. 1.2.25-44, from “Paul and the Faithfulness of God”, N.T. Wright (pg 322)


The region of Van used to be the heartland of the Christian kingdom of Armenia. Today, it is the eastern most region of Turkey with a majority Kurdish population. The Armenian Christians in this region were nearly all massacred in the years leading up to and during WWI. The Church of the Holy Cross on the island Aghtamar in Lake Van stands as an eerie monument to this civilization that once flourished and is no more.

It was a supreme test of patience to get these three girls to finally stand for a picture.

This little White Fang couldn’t decide if I was his master or enemy. In the end, he decided on neither and dozed off. Lucky for me!

I spent the better portion of an afternoon in the fields along Lake Van shooting pictures of Tushpa, the ancient citadel of Uraratu. I came across a nesting bird, not sure what kind, but she wasn’t happy that I was there and let me know it by circling overhead. There was a yellow breasted something-or-other out there too.


I think one of my favorite places in Turkey was Sidyma, a village in the former Roman province of Lycia – the Lukka of Homeric fame. The ancient tombs in this region are quite impressive but what makes the place really special is its natural setting, in a small village high up in the Taurus mountains.

When Sarpedon, commander of the Lycians, was killed by Patroclus:

But once his soul and life force have left him, send Death to carry him home, send soothing Sleep, all the way till they reach the broad land of Lycia. There his brothers and countrymen will bury the prince with full royal rites, with mounded tomb and pillar. These are the solemn honors owed the dead.”  (Homer’s Iliad, translated by Fagles, 16.538-543)

Lycian pillar with inscription