Saturday, July 5, 2008

Power Outage Kills Babies in Egypt

From The New York Times Babies' Deaths Cast Shadow on Egypt's Health Care By REUTERS Published: July 5, 2008 Filed at 8:12 p.m. ET CAIRO (Reuters) - The video shows a poorly lit hospital nursery filled with premature babies in incubators. Doctors are frantically trying to resuscitate some babies while others wail in the background after a night-time power cut. "God help us! Five are suffering from (cardiac) arrests?" a voice in the background says angrily. "We can handle one or two at most, but five?" "This is natural, doctor. It's been an hour and a half," says another male voice, apparently referring to the length of the power cut. A mobile phone camera caught this scene at Cairo's state-run Al-Matariya Educational Hospital in late May on a night when the electricity was cut for nearly three hours after midnight and back-up generators failed to work. Doctors at the hospital said the outage led to the deaths of four infants. The health ministry, which has referred the matter to the public prosecutor for investigation, says two babies died but that was before, rather than during, the power cut. The video, which surfaced on YouTube and several Egyptian blogs in June, has sparked a national uproar over a health-care system suffering from a lack of funds, a long legacy of mismanagement and allegations of corruption. For decades, the government has provided poor Egyptians with subsidized food and fuel, free education and health care. But public spending on health care has fallen behind over the last six years, accounting for 1.3 percent of gross domestic product in 2006, compared with 2.4 percent in 2001, data from the United Nations report on human development in Egypt showed. Robust economic growth of around 7 percent over the last two years has swollen the ranks of Egypt's wealthy, but left millions of unskilled, poorly educated people struggling to cope with inflation running at a 19-year high. This widening gulf between the rich and poor in the Arab world's most populous country is also visible in the health-care system. Private hospitals offer superior care for those who can afford it -- not much consolation to most in a country where one-fifth of 76 million people live on less than $1 a day. A 2004 study by Christian Gericke of the Berlin University of Technology said poor Egyptians "pay relatively more (both out-of-pocket and through the tax system) and receive relatively less in benefits than the better-off social strata." "There is a huge disparity in financial access to care," the study said. NOT ENOUGH BAGS Doctors at Al-Matariya hospital posted the video of the power cut on a blog (, along with details of what they described as "tragedies" at the hospital. "Two babies died during the power cut. I saw them with my own eyes," a doctor, who said he was in the nursery during the power outage, told Reuters in a telephone interview. "A third died after electricity was restored and a fourth the following day," he added. The last two deaths, he said, were a direct result of the power outage. The doctors said the back-up generators did not work because of poor maintenance. The video shows doctors trying to help the babies with Ambu bags, hand-held devices used to provide ventilation to patients who have trouble breathing. "We had five cases that needed this. We only had two Ambu bags," the doctor interviewed by Reuters said. He said a third bag later came in from another department at the hospital. Another doctor, who also runs the blog, said: "How come a hospital with six intensive care units relies on one source of electricity?" Both doctors spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing management retribution. But Mortagi Negm, secretary-general of educational hospitals and institutions, a government department, said the power outage had no effect on the health of any baby at the nursery. "Two babies died before the electricity went off," he told Reuters. "The law states that they must remain on the machine for two hours after death." Reda Salama, the mother of 20-day-old Ali Gamal who died that night, does not believe this. She says gross negligence by the hospital led to the death of her son. "I want those who caused the murder of my son dead. Even if I strangle them myself, it won't satisfy me," she said, sitting in a small room in her dilapidated home in Bahteam, a poor district in Cairo. She was wearing a black dress and a black headscarf as a sign of mourning. "GREAT SYSTEM ON PAPER" Salama, who sells fruit and vegetables on the street while her husband works at a textile factory, said she was not seeking financial compensation. "This is negligence," she said in a loud, angry voice as she sat surrounded by relatives. "If I give up the rights of my son and others do the same, what will become of us?" The deaths at the hospital received front-page treatment in independent and opposition newspapers. Dozens of people phoned television talk shows and sent messages to online forums attacking the government's health policies, which they blame for the run-down system. The Ministry of Health will spend some 12 billion Egyptian pounds ($2.24 billion) on health care this year. In comparison, the government spends nearly 80 billion on food and fuel subsidies, and spending on defense and security will be about 22 billion pounds next year. Health Minister Hatem el-Gabali has vowed to "chop off the heads of those responsible" if investigations prove the power outage caused the death of any infants. He acknowledged that public hospitals in Egypt were battling many problems. "Funding is scarce," he told state-run Egyptian television in an interview. "On paper, we have a great system. On paper, the powers, obligations and rights are great." Gabali said state-run hospitals were in reality negligent and that connections and favoritism played a role in the appointment of employees. "And who pays the price? You and the citizen," he said. Al-Heseniya Fever Hospital east of Cairo showcases the problems Gabali mentioned. Patients sleep on worn-out cots in dirty rooms, where walls are daubed with graffiti. Director Moustafa Abdel-Aal said he cannot hire permanent workers like cleaners because of budget restraints. He said the hospital, with a capacity of 70 beds, has only five doctors. "We should at least have 10 or 12 doctors," he said. Several doctors interviewed by Reuters said government wages were too low at state-run hospitals. "The salary of a young doctor is 250 pounds ($47) a month," said Amr Abu El-Ela, a doctor at Al-Sahil hospital in Cairo. "I have a doctorate and my salary is 415 pounds ... You cannot ask a human being to work hard (with these wages)." he said. "This is the crux of the issue." (Writing by Alaa Shahine, Editing by Clar Ni Chonghaile)

Tablet Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection

From The New York Times By ETHAN BRONNER Published: July 6, 2008 JERUSALEM — A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days. If such a messianic description really is there, it will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus, since it suggests that the story of his death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time. The tablet, probably found near the Dead Sea in Jordan according to some scholars who have studied it, is a rare example of a stone with ink writings from that era — in essence, a Dead Sea Scroll on stone. It is written, not engraved, across two neat columns, similar to columns in a Torah. But the stone is broken, and some of the text is faded, meaning that much of what it says is open to debate. Still, its authenticity has so far faced no challenge, so its role in helping to understand the roots of Christianity in the devastating political crisis faced by the Jews of the time seems likely to increase. Daniel Boyarin, a professor of Talmudic culture at the University of California at Berkeley, said that the stone was part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that Jesus could be best understood through a close reading of the Jewish history of his day. “Some Christians will find it shocking — a challenge to the uniqueness of their theology — while others will be comforted by the idea of it being a traditional part of Judaism,” Mr. Boyarin said. Given the highly charged atmosphere surrounding all Jesus-era artifacts and writings, both in the general public and in the fractured and fiercely competitive scholarly community, as well as the concern over forgery and charlatanism, it will probably be some time before the tablet’s contribution is fully assessed. It has been around 60 years since the Dead Sea Scrolls were uncovered, and they continue to generate enormous controversy regarding their authors and meaning. The scrolls, documents found in the Qumran caves of the West Bank, contain some of the only known surviving copies of biblical writings from before the first century A.D. In addition to quoting from key books of the Bible, the scrolls describe a variety of practices and beliefs of a Jewish sect at the time of Jesus. How representative the descriptions are and what they tell us about the era are still strongly debated. For example, a question that arises is whether the authors of the scrolls were members of a monastic sect or in fact mainstream. A conference marking 60 years since the discovery of the scrolls will begin on Sunday at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where the stone, and the debate over whether it speaks of a resurrected messiah, as one iconoclastic scholar believes, also will be discussed. Oddly, the stone is not really a new discovery. It was found about a decade ago and bought from a Jordanian antiquities dealer by an Israeli-Swiss collector who kept it in his Zurich home. When an Israeli scholar examined it closely a few years ago and wrote a paper on it last year, interest began to rise. There is now a spate of scholarly articles on the stone, with several due to be published in the coming months. “I couldn’t make much out of it when I got it,” said David Jeselsohn, the owner, who is himself an expert in antiquities. “I didn’t realize how significant it was until I showed it to Ada Yardeni, who specializes in Hebrew writing, a few years ago. She was overwhelmed. ‘You have got a Dead Sea Scroll on stone,’ she told me.” Much of the text, a vision of the apocalypse transmitted by the angel Gabriel, draws on the Old Testament, especially the prophets Daniel, Zechariah and Haggai. Ms. Yardeni, who analyzed the stone along with Binyamin Elitzur, is an expert on Hebrew script, especially of the era of King Herod, who died in 4 B.C. The two of them published a long analysis of the stone more than a year ago in Cathedra, a Hebrew-language quarterly devoted to the history and archaeology of Israel, and said that, based on the shape of the script and the language, the text dated from the late first century B.C. Rest of article.

Young Chess Phenom Ivana Furtado Continues to Dominate

From the NavHind Times Sunday, July 6, 2008 Ivana continues to dominate NT NETWORK PANAJI - Young queen under-8 double world girls champion Ivana Furtado continued to steal the show winning both the rounds to tally 4 out of 4 on the second day of state U-11 chess tournament at Vasco today. Ivana playing with white pieces defeated Neharika Tapadia. She won in 38 moves. In the 4th round Ivana, playing white, defeated Riya Sawant in 69 moves in queen pawn cambridge spring variation. Urvi Bandekar playing against Gauri Hadkonkar who recently came 12th in the national under-11 girls played the Ruy Lopez with the white pieces. But on the 11th move, Urvi playing an inferior move h3 was punished by Gauri. Urvi held on bravely fighting hard to salvage the game. But in a long battle lasting 67 moves Urvi was beaten. Other results at the end of girls 4th round: Varshista Reddy (3) defeated Pranali Desai (2); Vidula Dempo (3) defeated Sonali Kerkar; Niharika Tapadia (3) defeated Sakhsi Naik(2); Shivani Bekhi (3) defeated Apurva Naik (2) and Braganza Lisel (3) defeated Aishwarya Thorat (2). Tomorrow will be the girls 5th round. Ivana will be playing Gauri Hadkonkar.

Senet Game Recovered from 5,000 Year Old Tomb

5,000-year-old cemetery found in S Egypt 2008-07-06 05:59:34

CAIRO, July 5 (Xinhua) -- An Egyptian archeological mission has unearthed a 5,000-year-old royal burial ground in southern Egypt, the official MENA news agency reported on Saturday.

The cemetery was discovered in Umm el-Ga'ab area, south of the historical city of Abydos in Sohag governorate, about 400 km south of Cairo, said the report.

The burial ground, which contains 13 tombs, is believed to be of senior royal employees or people who contributed to the construction of the cemetery.

The team of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities also found objects of an ancient Egyptian game called "Senet," which resembles chess.

MENA said this is the second time the "Senet" game has been discovered. The first one was found in the tomb of boy King Tutankhamen near the southern Egyptian city of Luxor.

Editor: Yan Liang
*********************************************************************************** It seems incredible that this is only the second time Senet has been discovered in an ancient Egyptian tomb, but come to think of it, I believe all examples I've seen in museum exhibits did come from Tut's tomb, including a beautiful very small painted ivory game board in the 2006 exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago (see photo - this is the board we saw). More than one senet board was recovered from Tut's tomb - I believe at least 4 boards were found in the tomb. This board, however, is NOT showing senet - it's showing the twenty-squares game! Senet has 30 squares! Perhaps it's on the other side of the board; it was not uncommon for Egyptian game boards to have the twenty-squares game on one side the Senet on the other side.

Here is the announcement from AFP.

Supporting Local Chess: Some Announcements

Tampa, Florida From Hernando Day (published by the Tampa Tribune) Chess Master To Visit Local Club Monday By HERNANDO TODAY STAFF Published: July 5, 2008 SPRING HILL - Chess Master Federico Mahinay, president and chess teacher of a noted chess club in Manhattan, N.Y., will be a guest of the Poor Rich's Chess Club of Hernando County. He will visit at 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 7, at the Oak Hill Hospital cafeteria, located off Cortez Boulevard west of Mariner Boulevard. Mahinay will discuss and demonstrate his theories, facts and antidotes of the game. He might play simultaneous five-minute games, which is his favorite. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own chess sets and clocks, although a few are available by the club. Members are encouraged to seize the opportunity to play with a chess master. The club meets from 6:30 to 10 p.m. every Monday and Wednesday. There is no charge, but the annual fee is $10, which goes toward the College Scholarship Award Program. For more information, call Andy Maywalt at 352-686-8195 or 352-428-8272. *************************************************************************************** Cheyenne, Wyoming From the Jackson Hole Star Tribune Saturday, July 5, 2008 Frontier Chess Camp* July 9-11, two chess legends, Bruce Pandolfini and David MacEnulty are coming to Cheyenne for the first annual Frontier Chess Camp at Laramie County Community College. Info: (307) 296-8865. *************************************************************************************** Keene, New Hampshire From the New Hampshire July 5, 2008 Knights Chess Club, all ages/levels, Monday, July 7, 6:30-11 p.m., Best Western Sovereign Hotel, Keene.,

Friday, July 4, 2008

Friday Night Miscellany

Happy Fourth of July, Everyone!
(Image from The New York Times July 4, 2008: The Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks display in New York, with the Empire State Building lit in red, white and blue.)

This is America's Independence Day and across the land everyone is out today with picnics, barbecues, beer, brats, baseball games, and tonight, the glorious fireworks!

I watched fireworks shot off at local parks from my second story bedroom window tonight, and I've got the Boston Pops on the t.v. right now - even on t.v. it's a quite impressive display from Boston and the music accompanying the fireworks display is wonderful! A few weeks from now dondelion and I will watch the great fireworks display from the local St. John's Catholic Church Festival which is across the block from my house. We have a front-row seat (practically) from my back yard deck. So I don't feel I'm missing out on anything tonight by not being onsite, so to speak :)

A few things to chew on:
As Gas Prices Soar, the Elderly Face Cut-backs in Needed Services: meals on wheels and in-home nurse visits suffer as the price of gasoline soars
A town in Italy takes a unique approach to the population implosion in "No Babies?"
Ohmygoddess! A report of a yellowish-green fireball from Southern California. Normally I don't report such things but I am haunted, positively haunted, by a close encounter with a green and gold fireball that I saw close up and personal as I walked home from the bus one night; it was dark at 6 p.m. so it was October or November, and it was either 2001 or 2002, I don't remember the exact date. But I remember seeing this thing zoom over my head - dead silent and so close I felt I could reach up and touch it - headed east toward the lake. It seemed so low in the sky I felt sure it would crash just a few blocks away, and so I turned and watched it disappear over the horizon, waiting to hear the "boom" of the explosion. But after a few minutes I didn't hear anything, or see a gigantic flash in the sky, and so I turned back and finished the half-block walk to my house. Okay, so call me hokey, but at the time I thought it was a sign from the Goddess that the Packers would win and go all the way to the Super Bowl. Didn't happen, I remember that much! Now there are 'rumors' about Brett Favre wanting to play again, and it's all Ted Thompson's fault that he felt he had to retire, he felt he was "forced out." Yeah, right. Brett, get a life already, heh?
The Ten Worst Moments of the Bush Presidency. Only ten??? Oh - I see - these are THE TEN MOST AWESOMELY BAD Moments of the Bush Presidency. Lol!
The spirits made me do it...the paintings of Augustin Lesage.

The Goddess and the Moon...

Oh, the Moon, the great, big beautiful Moon.

The Moon has inspired mankind throughout the ages. Countless poems and songs - and romantic legends - have revolved around the Moon. Animals are inspired by the Moon, too. Why is this? Why, for instance, do coyotes and wolves and dogs howl at the full moon?

There is a close connection between the Moon Goddess and canines; in the way ancient times, before time was even counted as we count it today, canines were associated with death and the Passing Over of the dead to the Next World. Canines were carrion eaters, along with vultures and crows. The carrion eaters performed an important function - they picked the bones of the dead clean of putrefying flesh, thus rendering the bones fit for burial and memorial. This is the logical reason why canines, vultures and crows have, since the most ancient times, been associated with death and primeval goddesses of death, birth and resurrection.

As the Sun was associated with life, the Moon was associated with death and rebirth; but the Moon is also with life, since from the most ancient times onward it was associated with the rhythyms of menstruation, and menstruation, a uniquely feminine physiological event, was associated with the creation of Life. Blood was death, but it was also a symbol for life in menstruating women, the bearers of New Life. Thus, the dual notion of symbolism in blood - and the dual notion of symbolism in the Moon.

In most cultures, the Sun was considered masculine and the Moon was considered feminine, the Mate of the Sun. Actually, the Sun was the Mate of the Moon, for it was the Moon that controlled the tides and controlled the menstrual cycles of women in close societies. To this day, scientists continue to study why it is that women who work together in offices, for instance, seem to "shift" their menstrual cycles so that they all happen relatively close together. They think it might have something to do with phemerones - but who really knows for sure, heh?

Tonight, after a long hard day of whacking at weeds, cutting down unwanted seedling trees and pruning what seemed like endless branches from shrubs and trees, I'm pooped! And for some reason, I'm thinking about the Moon. There's no moon in the sky, leastwise, that I can see.

But I was thinking about this wonderful old song, "I'll Be Seeing You," and it's punchline lyrics about the Moon:

...I'll be seeing you
In every lovely, summer's day
And everything that's bright and gay
I'll always think of you that way
I'll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I'll be looking at the moon
But Ill be seeing you.

So I see a connection between the Sun, a lovely summer's day and a warm, summer night with a full Moon shimmering in the sky after all...

A few interesting tidbits about the Moon Goddess:

From Barbara Walker's "A Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets:"

"Moon worshippers," a common name for Mesopotamian astrologers who studied the movements of the moon in relation to the stars.(1) Because the magic powers of the Chaldeans commanded respect nearly everywhere in the ancient world, biblical writers made abraham a Chaldean (Genesis 121:28).. The same name wa still being applied to astrologers and wizards in the 15th century A.D. (2)

(1) Briffault 2, 600.
(2) Lea unabridged, 772.

(This is the Goddess that got me to thinking many Moons ago, har!, that chess had something to do with the Goddess...) Chinese Moon-goddess, sole keeper of the ambrosia of immortality (menstrual blood). Her husband, the Excellent Archer, became intensely jealous of her monopoly of life-magic and quarreled with her. So she left him, as Lilith left Adam, and went to live in the moon forever, dispensing her precious elixir to women only.(1)
(1) Larousse, 383.

There is also a new article available online (by subscription only) at the American Journal of Achaeology:

Issue 112.3 (July, 2008)
Moon Over Pyrgi: Catha, an Etruscan Lunar Goddess?
Nancy T. de Grummond
(Image: American Journal of Archaeology: Terracotta head of a deity from Pyrgi (Leukothea? Catha?), fourth century B.C.E. Rome, Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia (courtesy Università di Roma La Sapienza, Pyrgi Excavations).

Terracotta head of a deity from Pyrgi Relatively little has been written about Etruscan deities of the moon. This article explores the imagery of Etruscan lunar divinities and argues for recognition of a moon goddess at Pyrgi named Catha. A group of antefixes long recognized as astral or cosmic, from the 20-celled building in the Etruscan sanctuary at Pyrgi, includes a female figure with two horses, proposed here as an image of Catha. The paper considers implications for the cult of Catha at Pyrgi as consort of the sun god Śuri and as a goddess of the sea and the moon, perhaps associated with childbirth.

Queen of the King's Cup

Story from The Malaysian Star Online Friday July 4, 2008 Queen of the King’s Cup By CHEAH S.H. Whiz kid Ong Suanne beats World Scrabble Champion Nigel Richards to score several firsts for Malaysia. ONG Suanne of Penang emerged the champion in the annual King’s Cup Scrabble tournament, a prestigious international Scrabble competition in Bangkok which ended on June 29. The 15-year-old beat World Scrabble Champion Nigel Richards of New Zealand in the final round, to become the first Malaysian, the first female, and the youngest champion ever in the tournament’s 23-year history. Ranked No.2 in Malaysia, Suanne proved that her 12th placing in the World Scrabble Championships last year was no fluke and that she has the ability and temperament to defeat world class Scrabble players. The only people to have held the title in the last 10 years have also held the world title, with the exception of Pakorn Nemitrmansuk, twice world championship runner-up. The laconic and unflappable Nigel Richards of New Zealand, also the reigning world champion, has won the King’s Cup trophy seven times. Richards’ only finals losses in Bangkok have been to Mark Nyman and Panupol Sujjayakorn, both world champions themselves. The King’s Cup is in many ways a more gruelling test than the World Championship itself. The World Championship is played in a quiet, carpeted ballroom and the finals are held in a separate room, and broadcast to the other contestants via CCTV. The King’s Cup is held in a cavernous hall or stadium filled with thousands of milling competitors in the student divisions with continuous loud music in the background. The finals are held onstage and each move is announced to a live audience. Players have been known to succumb to the intense pressure during the final rounds, and the finals itself. Suanne made a splendid World Championship debut in Mumbai, finishing 12th after an extended run at the top. This did not come overnight, indeed. Suanne has had more high-level tournament experience than people thrice her age. She also had a good finish in the tough Causeway Challenge in Johor but since then had been out of practice due to the pressure of school. Nevertheless she was keen to compete, and compete she did. She has a good all-round game but what sets her apart from the crowd is her maturity and steely composure during competitions, a major asset in the hurly-burly that is the King’s Cup. The placing stage of the King’s Cup is a 27-game trial by fire against some of the fiercest opposition anywhere. To expect Suanne to make the finals is like asking one of the best lady tennis players to reach the men’s singles finals at Wimbledon. This is what Suanne managed to do. If the King’s Cup is Wimbledon, then Nigel Richards would be Roger Federer. This is his particular stage. Suanne not only beat Richards, she won in the Scrabble equivalent of straight sets. This being Bangkok, Suanne was mobbed and carried off shoulder high from the field by her supporters after her stupendous victory. The cerebral, male-dominated world of competitive Scrabble saw the birth of a bright new Scrabble star last weekend. Long may she shine. ******************************************************************************* The top prize (besides the King's Cup Trophy) was $6,000 USD. The Tournament has been dominated by Nigel Richards of New Zealand for many years.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

More on the Exhibit of the Bactrian Hoard

Originally aired July 2, 2008

Antiquities Exhibit Illuminates Ancient Afghan Trading
A new ancient Afghan art exhibition displays the country's rich and diverse culture. At the National Gallery of Art, the NewsHour visits the relics that have survived the tumult of recent history in Afghanistan.

JEFFREY BROWN: June 2004, Kabul. The bank vault in Afghanistan's presidential palace is opened, and a metal safe brought out. Lacking keys, a worker takes a circular saw to open up a box that could hold priceless antiquities long thought to be lost.

Archaeologist and National Geographic fellow Frederik Hiebert was there.

FREDRIK HIEBERT, National Geographic fellow: I was worried. A circular saw had a lot of heat. If there was gold in there, was it going to affect the gold? What if there was nothing in there? What if somebody had already gotten in there, stolen the gold, and there was a little note saying, "Ha, we got here first?"

JEFFREY BROWN: In fact, thousands of pieces of gold from the so-called "Bactrian hoard" were there and safe.

CURATOR: You can see actually there's a piece of jewelry...

JEFFREY BROWN: And some can now be seen here, at Washington's National Gallery of Art, part of an exhibition organized with the National Geographic Society called "Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul." It will travel around the U.S. through September 2009.

The 228 objects were excavated from four archaeological sites and together reveal a little-known land that stood at the center of ancient trade routes, while developing its own unique cultural blend.

FREDRIK HIEBERT: I think this is the most astonishing part of the exhibition. You look at these treasures from Afghanistan, from a country that you know only from the news as a land of terror, as a land of chaos.

And you look at these pieces, they're gorgeous. They're beautiful. They're so familiar. You see iconography from Greece, from Rome, from China, from India. You say, "Wow, these things came from Afghanistan."

JEFFREY BROWN: The oldest objects, from 2200 B.C., come from a Bronze Age site called Tepe Fullol. Little is known about the people who made these, but the images show they were in contact with ancient India and Mesopotamia.

FREDRIK HIEBERT: On these gold bulls, you see iconography that's distinctive of the neighbors. But the gold itself was local, so we know now that Afghanistan had a role in international trade already 4,000 years ago.

JEFFREY BROWN: Objects from the second site show northern Afghanistan -- then called Bactria -- when it was a colony of Greece. The city of Ai Khanum was founded around 300 B.C. by followers of Alexander the Great. Most of these pieces were excavated in the 1960s and '70s by French archaeologists.

A highlight is a ceremonial plaque in silver and gold, with Cybele, the Greek goddess of nature, riding in a chariot with the winged goddess, Nike.

Afghanistan as a mosaic
JEFFREY BROWN: The largest galleries in the exhibition bring the visitor into Afghanistan's role as a crossroads of the famous Silk Road, trade routes that ran from Rome and the Mediterranean to China and India. These ivory reliefs were used to decorate furniture including, as this video animation shows, a throne.

These objects were excavated in 1937 from a long-buried warehouse in the ancient city of Begram. Amazingly, most were found intact.

FREDRIK HIEBERT: This is really unusual in archeology. If we took a -- take a look at this fragile glass. That's 2,000 years old. You can see the pieces are intact. They're whole. Look at this glass.

JEFFREY BROWN: You mean, these were found -- these were found like this?

FREDRIK HIEBERT: These were found like this. These fish are typical of the Roman world. There are fish drinking glasses like this from other parts of the Mediterranean world.

JEFFREY BROWN: So this is a Mediterranean fish that washes up in Afghanistan?

FREDRIK HIEBERT: Of all places, in Afghanistan.

SAID JAWAD, Ambassador, Afghanistan: That's what Afghanistan is about actually. It is truly a mosaic of different cultures, countries, civilizations, languages, but yet it has kept a Bactrian or Afghan characteristics.

JEFFREY BROWN: And this exhibition, says Said Jawad, Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.S., is a way of showing that identity to the world.

SAID JAWAD: For a lot of people, Afghanistan starts with the Soviet invasion or some of the recent violence. This is not the case. This country has been around for 5,000 years.

Objects survived modern Afghanistan
JEFFREY BROWN: But it is the recent history that makes this exhibition all the more striking, for as remarkable as the ancient history of these objects may be, their survival in modern times can seem miraculous.

Remember the Bactrian hoard? These thousands of pieces of gold were found in six graves at a site called Tillia Tepe, on and around the bodies of wealthy nomads.

But the year was 1979, just as the Soviets were invading Afghanistan, and archeologist Victor Sarianidi didn't even have time to finish the excavations.

Fredrik Hiebert, who would later work with Sarianidi, picks up the story.

FREDRIK HIEBERT: He actually had to go sort of incognito. He took his golden treasures, more than 50 pounds of gold, and he put it in paper bags and got on a bus.

JEFFREY BROWN: Paper bags?

FREDRIK HIEBERT: Paper bags, got on a bus, and went incognito back to the capital city. He quickly inventoried these objects. It was astonishing.

More than 20,000 pieces of gold were inventoried and then quickly hidden away in the National Museum of Afghanistan, not to be studied, not to be displayed. This was kind of an unusual moment for an archaeologist to find his greatest find and have to hide it away.

JEFFREY BROWN: In fact, hiding the treasures saved them, while so much else was lost. In the early '90s, the National Museum in Kabul was looted and shelled amid civil war.

FREDRIK HIEBERT: The National Museum lost its roof, lost its windows. When I first saw it in 2003, there was not a single artifact.

Restored museum to receive the art
JEFFREY BROWN: Next, the Taliban systematically destroyed works of art, including the famous giant sculptures of Buddha at Bamyan in 2001. Everything, including the Bactrian hoard, was at risk.

SAID JAWAD: The criminals and the looters wanted to have in their hands for financial gain. The Taliban wanted to destroy these items because of their wrong ideological or religious conviction.

JEFFREY BROWN: And it was, in the end, a handful of workers at the museum who apparently saved what they could, in the vault in the presidential palace, in homes, and elsewhere, and kept it secret, even as the world assumed the worst.

SAID JAWAD: Any one of these gentlemen could have actually packed one or a few pieces of these artifacts and lived very comfortably somewhere in Europe. They didn't.

JEFFREY BROWN: Indeed, this is now the great hope, that these, and so many other objects that have been looted and taken from the country, will be part of a restored National Museum in Kabul.

For now, even as Americans can study these treasures, the continuing political uncertainty in Afghanistan makes it impossible to predict when Afghans, young and old, will get their chance.

Robert Graves "White Goddess" Bombshell!

Wow! I've YET to work my way through Graves' "The White Goddess" - one can only read a chapter or less at a sitting, it's so dense, so rich and leads one off on so many different tangents of thought - but I will do it, because it was a book The Chief recommended.

And so this article came as a shocking surprise - but then, again, why should I be surprised. How many times has this scenario played out? We've heard about it countless times - they've even made movies about it! The older, world-weary and "wise" writer/scholar/poet/actor/politician (take your pick) takes up with an adoring and incredibly stupid (naive) younger woman, taking her for the ultimate ride, stealing not only her innocence but also her ideas. Photo: Laura Riding a/k/a Laura Reichenthal. She married twice: Louis Gottschalt (div. 1925) and Schuyler B. Jackson (critic, m. 1941, d. 1968).

From the
War poet Robert Graves 'stole work from his mistress'
By Arifa Akbar, Arts CorrespondentFriday, 4 July 2008

Few would doubt the brilliance of Robert Graves, a man considered to be one of Britain's foremost war poets whose verses on Greek mythology and frontline conflict cemented his name in literary history.

But one academic has accused the poet of stealing ideas, literary criticism and poetry from his one-time American mistress and passing them off as his own.

Dr Mark Jacobs, a research fellow at Nottingham Trent University who has spent two decades studying 700 letters he received from Laura Riding Jackson as well as her literary works, said when she discovered the uncanny similarity in his texts she condemned her former lover as a "robber baron".

Dr Jacobs, who is writing a book which will reveal the full extent of the couple's relationship, credits Jackson for having been a major influence on Graves's work and has called for a reassessment of his writings in the light of the revelations.

Jackson's chagrin at Graves' alleged "lifting" of her work is described in her letters to Dr Jacobs, who began writing to her as a PhD student 30 years ago. Their correspondence continued until a year before her death in 1991 and the letters were this week placed in the university's research archive.

The couple became lovers in the 1920s, when Graves was still with his first wife, Nancy Nicolson. Jackson moved into the couple's home for some time before the marriage ended after Jackson's failed suicide attempt when she threw herself out of a window, an event she describes in her letters. The couple's literary and romantic partnership was the inspiration for Miranda Seymour's 1998 novel, The Summer of '30.

Dr Jacobs said Jackson accuses Graves of "robbing" her of key ideas which he appropriated as his own for his seminal study of poetic inspiration, The White Goddess, published in 1948.

He claimed that the inspiration for the work, which equates God with women, related to an early essay Jackson wrote in the 1930s called The Idea of God and her book, The Word Woman, which preceded Graves's magnum opus.

The couple moved from Britain to Spain, where Jackson left her manuscript for The Word Woman when the pair fled the country on the outbreak of the civil war in 1936. Dr Jacobs claims it was this manuscript – which Jackson had asked Graves to burn – that the poet used as the basis for The White Goddess.

"Between 1926 and 1939, he was learning from her what she was doing and thinking," Dr Javcobs said. "He was taking her ideas, her research, he was simply shovelling it in to his own books.... She left her manuscript in Majorca. She later wrote to him [Graves] and told him to burn the manuscript. We now know that he didn't. It all appeared in dribble form in The White Goddess. He used it for his own ends without mentioning it to her. She only found out in the 1950s."

Graves also used four lines of a poem Jackson had published at least two decades earlier about the Greek mythological hero, Hercules, in his own poem, Ogmian Hercules, Dr Jacobs added. "He wrote the poem and stole about four lines in his 12 line poem. Her poem was published by the private Seizin Press that they had set up in the 1920s."

In her letters to Dr Jacobs, Jackson accuses Graves of having "sucked, bled, squeezed, plucked, picked, grabbed, dipped, sliced, carved, lifted the body of my work" after their relationship broke down in 1939."

Professor Dunstan Ward, president of the Robert Graves Society, said there was a host of textual evidence proving that Graves was developing his theory for the White Goddess even before he met Jackson and that a poem called A History, written before the two met, contains "clear references" and the reproduced lines of poetry in Ogmian Hercules was a "homage to her".

Cave Under Pyramid of the Sun To Be Reopened

From Yahoo News

By Miguel Angel Gutierrez Thu Jul 3, 12:22 PM ET
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Archeologists are opening a cave sealed for more than 30 years deep beneath a Mexican pyramid to look for clues about the mysterious collapse of one of ancient civilization's largest cities.

The soaring Teotihuacan stone pyramids, now a major tourist site about an hour outside Mexico City, were discovered by the ancient Aztecs around 1500 AD, not long before the arrival of Spanish explorers to Mexico.

But little is known about the civilization that built the immense city, with its ceremonial architecture and geometric temples, and then torched and abandoned it around 700 AD.

Archeologists are now revisiting a cave system that is buried 20 feet beneath the towering Pyramid of the Sun and extends into a tunnel stretching for some 295 feet (90 meters) with a height of 8 feet.

They say new excavations begun this month could be the key to unlocking information about the sacred rituals of the people who inhabited the city, later dubbed "The Place Where Men Become Gods" by the Aztecs who believed it was a divine site.

"We think it had a ritual purpose. Offerings were placed at the very end of the tunnel as part of the pyramid's construction process," Mexican archeologist Alejandro Sarabia told Reuters.

"We want to find out why the Teotihuacan people sealed it and when," he said.

Sarabia said the tunnel was first discovered in the early 1970s but it was closed soon afterward, and most of the information about it was lost when the archeologist who found it died.

Teotihuacan is Mexico's oldest major archeological site and during its heyday in 500 AD, the city was home to some 200,000 people, rivaling the size of ancient Rome at that time, according to archeologists.

Today, it is surrounded by encroaching slums spilling over from the outskirts of Mexico City, but swarms of tourists still visit the giant 212-foot (65-meter) sun pyramid each year to celebrate the spring equinox festival marking the sun's return to the northern hemisphere.

Writing by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Eric Beech)

Virgin Mary Sightings to be Investigated by Vatican

From Vatican to Probe Medjugorje Sightings 27 June 2008 Sarajevo _ The Vatican announced it will form a commission to investigate the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Bosnia's southern town of Medjugorje. Local media quoted on Friday Bosnian Cardinal Vinko Puljic saying that this will be the first Vatican commission ever to visit Medjugorje. In 1991, a Commission set up by the Bishopric Conference in the former Yugoslavia visited the town, but ruled that nothing out of the ordinary ever took place. The Vatican has never investigated the sightings, nor has it recognized them. Puljic stressed that no swift decision should be expected as the commission will look separately into the apparitions as well as into the work of local clerics. The process of recognition of apparitions by the Vatican usually takes decades. On June 1981, six young parishioners from Medjugorje reported seeing a white form with a child in her arms on one of the surrounding hills. They interpreted this and other apparitions they reportedly witnessed as the Holy Mary. The story spread quickly and Medjugorje became one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Europe, attracting millions of visitors each year. The development has transformed the remote and poor village into one of the most developed and rich small towns in the country. Though the Vatican’s lack of recognition has not stopped the pilgrims, it has nearly created a split within the Roman Catholic Church in Bosnia as local priests have continued providing services in the Medjugorje church even when threatened with expulsion from their order.Mostar’s Bishop Ratko Perić, who is responsible for the southern Bosnia region, still publicly denies any apparitions in Medjugorje. *********************************************************************************** More information on the Medjugorje apparitions: The Medjugorge Web Medjugorge Net

Supporting Local Chess: News from Southwest Chess Club

Dear Chessplayers, THIS THURSDAY WE WILL BE AT LAYTON STATE BANK, corner of MOORLAND and BELOIT in New Berlin [Wisconsin]. Allen Becker will be giving a Simultaneous Exhibition to all-comers, a traditional event for the defending club champion before we kick off the new Club Championship. Those not playing in the simul can enjoy casual chess (no regularly-scheduled tournament that night). Layton State Bank is at 4850 S Moorland Rd. New Berlin; we meet downstairs. Thanks for your patience while our club deals with some location shifts due to the water damage at our normal meeting location at the Hales Corners Village Hall. We are working hard to line up great location(s) for the rest of the summer. We will very soon announce the entire summer schedule; we should be able to hold the CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP as originally scheduled ( ) (but at a new location, to be announced very soon!). We will EMAIL you very soon with an update. Also, check out our website for regular LOCATION UPDATES, and other news. Again, we hope to begin the Club Championship on July 10 (a 6-Round Swiss with a slow time control) .... stay tuned for another email update in the next few days with that announcement.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

2008 Arctic Chess Challenge

August 2 - 10, 2008 Official website 12 players, of which 3 are chess femmes:
  • GM-elect Marie Sebag (FRA 2521). Marie earned her third GM norm at the European Individual Chess Championships earlier this year. She was the only chess femme playing among the large male field (a separate women's event for a lot less money and a much smaller field was held concurrently, attracting the female chess stars of Europe).
  • IM Anna Zozulia (BEL 2332). Anna is married to GM Vadim Malakhato (BEL 2600), both originally from Ukraine but now playing for Belgium. She holds both IM and WGM titles. When England's Ruth Sheldon won the World Girls' Under 14 championship in 1993, Anna was the only player who managed to beat her. She herself is a former holder of the European Girls' Under 18 Championship and winner of various national (Ukrainian) girls' titles.
  • WIM Tatiana Kasparova (BLR 2147). Tatiana, born in 1969, is married to GM Sergey Kasparov and has played on the European chess circuit for several years. Tatiana earned her WIM title in 2007, having earned her third and final WIM norm at the 25th International Metz Open in April, 2007. This year, Tatiana has played in the Capelle la Grande, the Sort Open, the 14th Fesival Leonardo di Bona Magistrale and the 3rd Open of West Tolouse - maybe a few more!

I Know It's Summer When...

  • My body is covered with the bleeding ulcerous remains of a thousand mosquito bites

  • I go through a gallon of Deep Woods Off (it doesn't help)

  • St. John's Festival has the extragavanza fireworks display!!!!! (but it marks that summer is half-over, boo!!!)

  • delion, Isis, Michelle and I get together to celebrate the latest Goddesschess anniversary. This year's celebration begins July 22nd

  • I splurge and buy Dove triple-chocolate ice cream bars when they aren't on sale

I love this photo, it's called "Florida squirrel." LOL!

The Goddess Women

From The Deccan Herald June 29, 2008 All the Goddess women Women pulling the chariot of Devi Subhadra during the Car festival at Jagannath temple is a sight to cherish. Sarojini Nayak says this could be an indication to changing times. If the sight of hundreds of women draped in identical sarees pulling the chariot of Devi Subhadra during the Car festival organised by the Jagannath temple at Cuttack last year surprised spectators, it is only an indication of the changing times and trends. The Rath Yatra - perhaps one of the most sacred festivals of Orissa - has more or less been confined to men (women devotees were mere spectators), and this significant development speaks volumes for the changing status of women. And, the beginning of this trend can be traced to a small town in Orissa. While the temple town of Puri hosts the biggest Rath Yatra, the second biggest festival is the one held in Baripada, a small town in Northern Orissa. Here, not only is the festival different but the most unique feature is that the chariot of goddess Subhadra is pulled only by women, thus adding more colour and festivities to the celebrations. Tale behind the ritual There is an interesting story as to how this trend began. Several decades ago, sometime during the mid-50s, a woman devotee was severely injured while trying to pull one of the chariots. A Good Samaritan, who rescued her from being trampled to death, was moved by the plight of the women devotees who restrained from participating in the ritual because of the huge crowds. Because, according to religious beliefs, one is blessed and freed from one’s sins by pulling the Lord’s chariot. This do-gooder requested the district administration and made a proposal of giving the prerogative of pulling goddess Subhadra’s chariot exclusively to women. The proposal was accepted and since then, women happily pulled the chariot. This trend was discontinued for a few years and revived in 1975. However, according to another version, the trend began in 1975 when the country was in the grip of an emergency. Then, Orissa had a woman chief minister (late Nandini Satpathy) and the district officials implemented this novel trend to make the ‘right’ political move. Whatever may be the motive, this trend not only continues in Baripada, but has now spread to other places in Orissa. The Rath yatra in Baripada is a three day affair and in several ways different from the one held in Puri and other places. For instance, all the three chariots are not pulled on the same day. On the first day, only pahandi takes place. It is a ritual when the deities are brought out of the temple in a procession and installed on the chariots. On the second day, Lord Balabhadra’s chariot is pulled to the Gundicha temple, while Subhadra’s chariot is drawn and left half way. On the third day, first Subhadra’s chariot is pulled to the Gundicha temple and lastly, Jagannath’s chariot is drawn. The same procedure is followed on the return car festival popularly known as Bahuda Yatra. However, in all other places, the three chariots are pulled to their destination on the same day. There are two interesting legends regarding the origin of the Jagannath temple in Baripada, which is in the Mayurbhanj district of Orissa. According to one legend, the Maharaja of Mayurbhanj was an ardent devotee of Lord Jagannath and had made it a habit to attend the festival at Puri every year. It so happened that once he fell ill while on his way to Puri and was highly disappointed that he could not make his annual pilgrimage. Lord Jagannath appeared to him in his dreams and directed him to return to Baripada, build a temple and organise the car festival there. The temple is said to have been built sometime between 1575-1580 AD following this divine direction. Legends galore However another legend has it that the Maharaja of Mayurbhanj was not accorded a reception befitting his royal status during his visit to Puri for the Rath yatra. He was so enraged that he resolved to build a Jagannath temple in his own kingdom and hold the car festival there. In fact, he even ordered that the chariots would be identical to those in Puri. But on the advice of the royal priests, he reduced the height of the chariots, so as not to draw the wrath of Lord Jagannath. The Baripada rath yatra has a distinct mood. It is indeed a spectacular sight to see young girls and women tugging at the ropes of Subhadra’s chariot. Many of them come to Baripada every year from different parts of Orissa and adjoining West Bengal. Residents of Baripada take great pride in this variation – women pulling chariot – and say that this trend signifies the emancipation of women and depicts their active participation in social affairs. No wonder, women elsewhere are fast catching up with this trend and adding their own ideas to make it more colourful and vibrant.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Heavenly Sisters: Virgin Mary and Bhagavati

From The Sisters and goddesses Legend has it that it was the apostle, Thomas, the doubting one, who brought Christianity to Southern India - and now, aside from the odd jealous spat, the Virgin Mary and goddess Bhagavati are worshipped with equal fervour William Dalrymple The Guardian, Saturday June 28, 2008 On the edge of the jungle lay a small wooden temple. It was late evening, and the sun had already disappeared behind the palms. The light was fading fast, and the hundreds of small clay lamps lined up on the wooden slats of the temple all seemed to be burning brighter and brighter, minute by minute. The oiled torsos of the temple Brahmins were gleaming, too. They had nearly finished the evening ceremony - surrounding the idol of the goddess Bhagavati with burning splints as they rang bells, chanted and blew on conch shells. The ritual prepared the goddess for sleep. Only when it was over, and the doors of the inner shrine were sealed for the night, were they able to tell me about the goddess they served. Bhagavati is the pre-eminent goddess in Kerala, the most powerful and beloved. In some incarnations, it was true, she could be ferocious: a figure of terror, a stalker of cremation grounds who slaughtered demons without hesitation or compassion. Some of her titles reflected this capacity: She Who Is Wrathful, She Who Has Flaming Tusks, She Who Causes Madness. But, in other moods, Bhagavati could be supremely benign and generous - the caring, loving, fecund mother - and this was how her followers usually liked to think of her. For many, she was the deity of the land itself: the spirit of the mountains, and the life force in the soil. In this form, Bhagavati is regarded as a chaste virgin and a caring mother, qualities she shares with her sister, whose enclosure lies a short distance down the road. "Yes, yes, the Virgin Mary is Bhagavati's younger sister," explained Vasudeva, the head priest, matter of factly, as if stating the obvious. "But, for sisters, don't they look rather different from each other?" I asked. A calendar image of the goddess, pinned up behind him, showed Bhagavati as a wizened hag wreathed in skulls and crowned with an umbrella of cobra hoods. In her hand she wielded a giant sickle. "Sisters are often a little different from each other," he replied. "Mary is another form of the Devi. They have equal power." He paused: "At our annual festival the priests take the goddess around the village on top of an elephant to receive sacrifices from the people. She visits all the places, and one stop is the church. There she sees her sister." "Mary gets on an elephant too?" "No," he replied. "But when the goddesses visit each other, the sacrifice in the church is just like the one we have here: we light lamps and make an offering. The priests stay in their church, but the congregation of the church receives us, and makes a donation to the temple." "So relations are good?" "The people here always cooperate," he said. "Our Hindus go to the church and the Christians come here and ask the goddess for what they want - for everyone believes the two are sisters." Rest of article.

Goddess Therapy for Cops

From The Telegraph, Calcutta Goddess therapy for cops OUR CORRESPONDENT Chandigarh, July 1: Goddesses, save women from Haryana police. The force, struggling to wipe rape blots, has turned to goddesses to keep the men in uniform from preying on women. Crash courses in religious studies, with an emphasis on goddesses, have been lined up to help the personnel “understand” women better. “The intention is to ensure a better understanding of a woman’s psyche and ensure her problems are dealt with in a humane manner. The emphasis will be on goddesses we worship in our homes,” a senior officer connected with the training said. The rush to invoke goddesses follows the battering the force’s image took last month when two policemen allegedly raped women who had approached them for help. In the first case, Sarita, a 27-year-old mother of two, drank poison and died at the police headquarters in Panchkula. She was fed up with the lack of action against two personnel who had allegedly raped her repeatedly in Rohtak, chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s home district. In the second incident last week, Pooja, a 22-year-old under court-ordered protection after a runaway wedding, accused a Karnal officer of raping her in a police station where she had been called to “discuss” her problems. State police chief Ranjiv Dalal had dubbed both incidents as a “shameful blot on the face of the force”. With the force’s reputation hitting a new low, personal histories and service records of personnel are being “carefully examined” before they are cleared for postings. District police chiefs have been told to screen records and to deal promptly with personnel harassing women. The gender-sensitisation drive has reached the trainees, too. At the Haryana Police Academy in Madhuban, cadets are being taught “the nuances of culture and gender”, apart from their customary courses. “There is a need to arrest prejudices that entrants carry with them. They include biases of caste, language, gender and region, which have to be eliminated for the force to perform in a non-partisan manner and to restore people’s trust,” an officer said. The academy has psychologists, too. The stress is now on “character study” before service, the officer said, adding that those who “fall short of the standards set by the psychologists” will not get key postings.

2008 Philadelphia International

June 26 - 30, 2008 Website Wrapped up. And the winner is (with chess femmes' final standings, out of 39 players): 1 GM Parimarjan Negi 2514, 7.0/9 $2,000 6 WGM Eesha Karavade 2303, 6.0 $450 17 WGM Nisha Mohata 2400, 4.5 18 WGM Swathi Ghate 2350, 4.5 22 WIM Kiran Manisha Mohanty 2316, 4.0 27 WGM Aarthie Ramaswamy 2298, 3.5 29 WIM Sai Meera 2227, 3.5 30 WFM Alisa Melekhina 2208, 3.5 36 Shelly Mays 2066, 2.0

Newseek Writes About Chess In Africa

This is rather strange. This article showed in a search of current chess news tonight, but it was written in October, 2007? Well, better late than never: Dreaming Of Checkmate Chess is catching on across Africa and beginning to produce some formidable players. Kasparov, beware. By Scott Johnson NEWSWEEK Oct 15, 2007 Issue Amon Simutowe learned chess by reading magazines. He was the Zambian national champ by the time he was 14. But a series of dazzling victories at a recent tournament in the Netherlands earned Simutowe, now 25, a permanent place in chess history: he became the first subSaharan African to achieve the notoriously difficult ranking of international grandmaster. At home in his native Lusaka, the local papers exalted in his victory on the front pages. Chess in America has typically been the reserve of the geeky eccentric, or the rich and effete. But in many parts of Africa, where the game is seen as a powerful tool for intellectual strength and self-improvement, it has developed a broad following. And because chess is so cheap, it is luring players who are just as likely to come from a rural village in Botswana or a South African township as from a European boarding school. Now two homegrown stars—Simutowe and Zimbabwean Robert Gwaze, who won the African Individual Championships last month and is heading toward becoming a grandmaster—are leading the way for other African players to break into the ranks of the world's best. "This is the beginning of a real renaissance," says Lewis Ncube, the Zambian vice president of the World Chess Federation. "In time they'll be able to challenge for the top positions in the world." Christian missionaries first spread chess throughout Africa in the 19th century. But the continent has generally lagged behind in turning out masters—until now. Since Simutowe first beat British grandmaster Peter Wells in 2000, he has become something of a national hero. He receives hundreds of e-mails from adoring Zambian fans and provides them with daily updates from his tournaments via BlackBerry. Chess now regularly makes the front page of the sports section in The Post of Zambia. And Zambian officials are reportedly considering awarding Simutowe—who earned degrees in finance and economics while on a chess scholarship at the University of Texas at Dallas—a diplomatic passport to encourage him to become a global ambassador for African chess. "This is proof that you can come from southern Africa and achieve grandmaster ranking," says Dabilani Buthani, president of the African Chess Union. "It's going to be a boom." Perhaps. There are lots of hurdles. African players face a dearth of good tournaments at home and are unable to afford traveling abroad to play. Malawian Alfred Chimathere bounced for 72 hours in a bus to participate in the African championship—only to be detained at the border for two days because officials wouldn't accept his visa. Chimathere began playing only two years ago, but is already working his way toward an international title. "Chess is a game of thinkers," he says. "That motivated me to show the world that I can think." And while many aspiring players improve their games over the Internet, some of the best African players don't yet have access to the Web. Chimathere's policeman's salary, for instance, is not enough for him to buy a laptop. In Zimbabwe, political instability and a severe economic crisis have stripped the game of financial backing, forcing leading lights like Gwaze to move abroad. "I've gotten no support whatsoever from them," he says. But support is starting to come in other forms. African chess officials have embraced the strategy that Russia, a world-class chess center, adopted long ago: teaching chess in schools. The World Chess Federation plans to implement a global Schools Program focused on promoting chess among children in developing countries. In South Africa, there are already an estimated 100,000 students participating in official and nonofficial games. Earlier this year South Africa promoted chess as one of six "priority sports codes," allotting it the same kind of federal funding as football, rugby and swimming. Botswana and Namibia both now categorize chess as a sport, which means it is federally funded and promoted. Namibia is working with Iceland—where the government pays chess champions large salaries and where the reclusive American chess master Bobby Fischer lives—to promote chess in schools and prisons. Corporate sponsors are also pitching in. For years the mining company De Beers has sponsored chess championships in Botswana. Now a South African company called ChessCube plans to launch an interactive, free Web site featuring chess lectures and videos aimed at Africans who don't have access to teachers or local chess clubs. "This system we're building helps make Africa smaller," says ChessCube's Mark Levitt. And as Africa gets smaller, the number of African chess champions is bound to grow. (c) 2007

The Ring of Brodgar in Orkney

From Digging up the past at ancient stone circle Published Date: 02 July 2008 By John Ross WORK will start next week to unearth the secrets of one of Europe's most important prehistoric sites. The Ring of Brodgar in Orkney, the third-largest stone circle in the British Isles and thought to date back to 3000-2000BC, is regarded by archaeologists as an outstanding example of Neolithic settlement and has become a popular tourist attraction in the islands. It is believed it was part of a massive ritual complex but little is known about the monument, including its exact age or purpose. It is hoped part of the mystery will be explained during a month-long programme of investigations by a 15-strong team of archaeologists and scientists from Orkney College, Stirling and Manchester universities and the Scottish Universities Environment Reactor Centre. The project will involve the re-excavation and extension of trenches dug in 1973. Geophysical surveys will be undertaken to investigate the location of standing stones and other features within the henge monument. Dr Jane Downes, of Orkney College's archaeology department, one of the project directors, said: "Because so little is known about the Ring of Brodgar, a series of assumptions have taken the place of archaeological data. The interpretation of what is arguably the most spectacular stone circle in Scotland is therefore incomplete and unclear. "The advanced techniques now at our disposal mean that this time our investigations should establish when the Ring of Brodgar was built and help us learn a great deal more about it."

Monday, June 30, 2008

This and That

Hola darlings! I'm exhausted. I ran home from work tonight and spent an hour trying to get the front lawn cut before I dashed inside to watch - okay, control your gag reflex now - The Bachelorette! I almost got it all finished too - whew! But I ran out of gas - didn't put quite enough in to finish. I think I need to give the mower an oil transfusion too. I think I shamed my next store neighbors into cuting their grass tonight - it's dark out now and they're out there shoving the mower around, lol! Well, they didn't cut last week at all and with all the rain we've had and the sun and the humidity, their grass is tall! Particularly in contrast to the line I cut along the lot line tonight, ha! Tomorrow I'm having the rain gutters cleaned out. They are absolutely clogged and the back deck has been under Niagra Falls during all the rain this month. And I'm finally going to get some of those gutter covers, the permanent kind that supposedly are guaranteed to keep all the crap out FOREVER! Tonight, though, I'm taking a bubble bath and going to dreamland early. 'night.

Chess News Update

I spent the weekend putting together the June Chessville column and it's up and running, hooray!

The Sirius Lore

From Al-Alhram 26 June - 2 July 2008 Issue No. 903 To the earliest Egyptians, Sirius/Sothis was the home of departed souls. Assem Deif* shows how the triad Osiris-Isis-Nephthys affected other cultures The place is the Isis-Hathor Temple of Denderah, where the priests hasten along the columned aisle to witness an important event. The principal temple is dedicated to Hathor, whereas a small adjacent one is dedicated to Isis in which a statue of the goddess is located at the end of the aisle. It is a little before 5am on 22 July, 700 BC, the summer solstice; the priests wait to watch Sirius rise and its rays penetrate the temple to fall on Isis's gem. As they arrive the sun is still below the horizon, and they gaze impatiently for the apparent heliacal rising of the Dog Star. For the priests already knew that the appearance of Sepdet lasts only for a brief moment before Ra brightens the sky. When the star begins to flicker low on the horizon it marks the beginning of a New Year in Ancient Egypt. The festivities will soon begin. The Egyptians referred to the heliacal rising and its associated festival as prt spdt, "the going forth of Sepdet". The star hid for 70 days, and now it has returned from the duat (underworld) to bring welfare to the land and to allow its people to bury their dead. The 70 days of the star's invisibility is due to the dominance of sunlight in this period. When it starts its heliacal rise from the east it is ahead of the sun by about 11 degrees, moving across the celestial sphere to set in the west. On subsequent nights, it distances itself from the sun by appearing earlier and spending longer in the night sky until it eventually becomes out of phase with the sun, rising just when the sun is setting over the western horizon. It again approaches the sun on successive nights until it disappears totally from view, obscured by the sun's brilliance for 70 days before reappearing again for a few minutes just before sunrise -- the heliacally rising. Not only does the star herald the flooding of the Nile, but the shade of the blue-white star is also important. If the star appears bright and clear, the Egyptians expect an abundant harvest. If it is dull and reddish, a poor harvest results. In the second century AD the Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy described the star as being red, and the less red it was the better the harvest. The Arabs too revered the star ,which they called "Al-Shi'ra Al-Yamaniyyah", referring to Yemen, south of Mecca; for it was this star which guided them in this direction. Many nations paid homage to its goddess, Isis. Her fame spread to all corners of the Roman Empire, and the last recorded festival of Isis took place in Rome in 394 AD. There was even a temple of Isis on the River Thames in London. To the Egyptians she was the caring mother and the symbol of fertility. She also owned magical powers; as she restored her husband to life after he was murdered by his brother Set. Some scholars believe the River Nile took its name, Siris, from Sirius. Not only was it the foundation of the Egyptian religious system, but its celestial movement determined the Egyptian calendar. Another bright star is Canopus (Arabic Suhayl), the second brightest star in the sky after Sirius and similarly located in the southern hemisphere. It is used nowadays to guide spaceships. Both stars disappear for an almost equal amount of time and rise heliacally at the summer solstice. Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky, 20 times brighter than our Sun and twice as massive. It is called the Dog Star because of its prominence in the constellation of Canis Major . Since it is the star of Isis, it was supposedly married to Orion, or her brother Osiris. The Arabs, however, made Sirius the sister as well as the wife of Canopus, "Alpha Carina" rather than Orion. Scholars say "Sah" in the Pyramid Texts, with whom the soul of the king was to be united, resembles the name Suhayl. They also say that Sirius, as a star, was married to another star and not to a constellation. Rest of article.

11th Vins du Medoc International Open

22nd-29th June 2008 51 players (results reported only through player 27 at The Week in Chess) 1 FOMICHENKO Eduard m RUS 2492 8.0/9 4 FOMICHENKO Svetlana gf UKR 2269 6 – wife of #1? Sister? 8 TRABERT Bettina gf GER 2272 5,5 12 ARMAS Lara-Maria FRA 1891 5,5 18 ZICKELBEIN Eva-Maria ff GER 2135 5 24 ARMAS Lena FRA 1748 4,5

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Supporting Local Chess: Some Announcements

The Katonah Library in Lewisboro, New York is sponsoring chess classes this summer: Reading, chess programs at Katonah Library Written by Matt Dalen Sunday, June 29, 2008 “Learn How to Play Chess” is for second grade students and older. John Gallagher will teach the basic rules and strategies of chess. All levels of experience are welcome and there will be a number of practice games. The library is at 26 Bedford Road in Katonah. There is some street parking and, on weekends, nearby municipal parking. Information: 232-3508 or ****************************************************************************************** The Aiken County Chess Club (Aiken, South Carolina) was featured in the Carolina Chronicle: Aiken County Chess Club Special Sunday, June 29, 2008 MEETS: Every other Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Stoplight Deli on Laurens Street in downtown Aiken. MEMBERSHIP: Anyone may join the group; membership is free.

MISSION: The Aiken County Chess Club is a forum where chess enthusiasts can participate in friendly competition. Anyone interested in the game of chess is urged to come out and play.

QUOTE: "Chess brings back the art of conversation," said David Whatley, the secretary of the club. INFORMATION: Contact Mr. Whatley at

Here is the website for the Aiken County Chess Club! ************************************************************************************************ Want to pick up a casual game of chess in Portland, Oregon? Visit Anna Banannas. Love the name! Here are the details from the

Anna Bannanas 1214 NW 21st Avenue Portland, OR 97209 503.274.2559 Website Hours: Mon-Thu 7:30am-11pm, Fri 7:30am-midnight, Sat 8am-midnight, Sun 8am-11pm

Women Who Ruled: Salome Alexandra

A fascinating article from Biblical Archaeology Review online about a female ruler I haven't heard of before (now I realize just how many I haven't heard of!) By way of sychronicity, as one of my christmas presents Mr. Don purchased a book for me "Women Who Ruled." I had a chance to relax and read the preface and introduction yesterday - fascinating information! The book itself is similar to a dictionary-encyclopedia, with short biographical/informational entries in alphabetical order. Another great addition to my library. As I read the BAR article, in the back of my mind was the information I've learned from Barbara Walker and her "A Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets" so I cast a jaundiced eye on the patriarchal gloss given to the history of Salome Alexandra and her feminine compatriots. Still and all, I think this article shows without a doubt just how important it was in the Middle East (just before Roman times) to be married to a female of rank in order to exercise power as a king - and how women of rank could and did change the course of history by exercising their own inherent power at strategic points. There is no doubt that these women were king-makers. BAR 34:04, Jul/Aug 2008 The Salome No One Knows Long-time Ruler of a Prosperous and Peaceful Judea Mentioned in Dead Sea Scrolls When people hear the name Salome, they immediately think of the infamous dancing girl of the Gospels. Herod Antipas—the man Jesus denounced as a “fox”—had married his brother’s wife, Herodias. When John the Baptist denounced this illicit union, Herod Antipas cast him into prison. It was Herodias’s daughter, Salome, who danced before Herod at his drunken birthday gala. Her performance so pleased Herod that he promised her anything she wished: up to half his kingdom! At her mother’s urging, Salome asked for the head of Herod’s most famous prisoner on a platter. Fearful of breaking his word before his guests, Herod granted ­Salome’s request and ordered John the Baptist beheaded.1 In antiquity there was a considerably more famous Salome, however, who was revered for centuries. She was so admired that generations of mothers, Herodias apparently among them, named their daughters Salome in her honor. This Salome was the only woman ever to govern Judea as its sole ruler. She is even mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls: the sole woman, and one of only 18 people named in the scrolls.2 She presided over a number of religious reforms that shaped the Judaism of Jesus’ day as well as our own. During a time of chaos, men chose her to lead their nation and fight their battles. Centuries later, the authors of the Talmud regarded her reign as a golden age. Yet this remarkable woman has been largely erased from history. Her name is Queen Salome Alexandra.a Salome Alexandra’s world was a time of uncertainty and confusion. It had been this way since the conquests of the great Macedonian general Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.E.), who brought Greek culture, foreign ways and new religions to the Middle East. Alexander spread Greek civilization throughout the territories he conquered. As a result, many people in Salome Alexandra’s Judea had adopted Greek culture: a phenomenon known as Hellenism, whose chief hallmark is not only cultural but also religious tolerance. For many pious Jews, Hellenism constituted nothing less than a threat to Judaism’s very survival, since God had commanded, “You shall have no other gods before me.”5 In 167 B.C.E. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Hellenistic Greek king of Syria and heir to a portion of Alexander’s empire, in effect declared war against Judaism. Forsaking the tolerance that had come to define Hellenism, Antiochus banned circumcision, Sabbath observance, dietary laws and Temple sacrifices. In reaction, a Jewish priest named Mattathias ignited a resistance movement to expel the Syrians. His son Judas—nicknamed Maccabee (“the Hammer”)—eventually recaptured Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple. After Judas’s death, his brothers Jonathan and Simon continued the struggle for independence. Each became not only Judea’s secular ruler, but also its high priest. They and their descendants became known as the Hasmoneans, a name that refers to Mattathias’s great-grandfather, Hasmon. These were Salome Alexandra’s illustrious ancestors, whose deeds are still recounted at the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.6 Mattathias’s son Simon was followed by his son John Hyrcanus (Hyrcanus I). With Hyrcanus a new, less-illustrious chapter of Judean history begins that involves palace intrigues, dysfunctional families and even matricide. Most of what we know of this period comes from the first-century Jewish historian Josephus (37–100 C.E.), a contemporary of New Testament figures like Paul and Jesus’ brother James. But as regards our heroine Salome Alexandra, Josephus is often uncharacteristically brief, omitting important details and even providing contradictory accounts in his two great works, The Antiquities of the Jews and The Jewish War (about the great Jewish revolt against Rome in 66–70 C.E.). Although he is not particularly sympathetic to Salome Alexandra (unlike the later rabbis of the Talmud), even he had to acknowledge her remarkable achievements. Salome Alexandra’s story really begins with John Hyrcanus, son of Simon, son of Mattathias. Hyrcanus had four sons (actually five, but we don’t even know the name of the fifth son, and he does not figure in our story), whether by more than one wife we are not told. Hyrcanus’s two elder sons, warriors like him, were named Judah Aristobulus (Aristobulus I) and Antigonus. At some point in his life, Hyrcanus intended them to succeed him. In the end, however, he designated his wife (whose name we don’t know) to be his successor. Upon his death, however, John Hyrcanus’s son Judah Aristobulus ignored his father’s will and proclaimed himself both king and high priest. According to Josephus, his mother “disputed [Judah Aristobulus’s] claim to authority,” which suggests that she had considerable support. So Aristobulus had her imprisoned, where he allowed his mother to die of starvation. Next, Aristobulus turned to his brother Antigonus, ordering him to appear before him unarmed—a test of loyalty to determine whether there was any truth to the persistent rumors that Antigonus was about to seize power. Aristobulus’s wife, Salina Alexandra, intercepted the message, however, and changed its contents: Antigonus is ordered to appear before the king arrayed in his new armor. Antigonus literally walked into a trap. Aristobulus’s bodyguards, acting upon standing orders to prevent anyone carrying weapons from approaching the king, killed him. Upon hearing this news, Aristobulus was consumed with remorse. The physical symptoms from which he had been suffering worsened. He became weakened by intense pain; he vomited blood. Aristobulus died shortly afterward, ending a reign of less than a year. [He killed his brother and felt remorse, yet he starved his mother to death and felt nothing. From his symptoms it sounds to me that someone close to him poisoned him to death with arsenic - good riddance. It is said that poison is a woman's weapon... Perhaps his own wife knocked him off - ] At this point, unloved Alexander Jannaeus, the other brother and son of John Hyrcanus, becomes the focus of the story. Hyrcanus never saw his son Jannaeus. When Jannaeus was still in utero Hyrcanus had a dream or a vision in which God told him that neither of his two beloved sons, Aristobulus and Antigonus, would be his successor. Instead, his future son (Alexander Jannaeus) would become heir to all his possessions. When Jannaeus was born, Josephus tells us, Hyrcanus (hoping to thwart his dream) ordered the young child to be raised in the distant Galilee while his family lived in Jerusalem. Aristobulus’s death left a power vacuum in the state. What happens next is truly remarkable. Aristobulus’s wife, Salina Alexandra, takes charge of the situation. She quickly frees Jannaeus, who had been imprisoned by her husband, and selects him as Judea’s new king and high priest. Never before had a woman chosen the monarch and high priest! Alexander Jannaeus subsequently reigned for 27 years. Upon his death, his wife and our heroine, Salome Alexandra, became Judea’s sole ruler for nine years (76–67 B.C.E.): the most prosperous and peaceful time in her nation’s history. Within four years of her death, however, Judea lost its independence. Long under Roman influence, Judea was now ruled by Rome directly. It would not become a sovereign nation again for more than two thousand years. [The article does not say and so I am left to wonder: was Salina Alexandra, wife of the late Aristobulus, related to Salome Alexandra, wife of Alexander Jannaeus?] But that was four years after Salome Alexandra died. In her lifetime, she defied the odds to become the most powerful woman in Judea’s history. Salome Alexandra’s marriage to Alexander Jannaeus, through whom she acquired the throne, was a September-May match. If the dates Josephus gives are correct, she was 29 years old at the time and he was between 14 and 16.7 It is highly unlikely that a young man of 14 or 16 would have chosen a 29-year-old woman as his wife. The marriage of Salome Alexandra and Alexander Jannaeus was almost surely arranged by their parents, which was the custom of the time. It was clearly an unhappy union. [No evidence is given for this statement, and for all we know, young Alexander J. may have been quite eager to get his hands on a hot, older experienced woman, who clearly also came with "extras" - such as familial power to rule.] Salome Alexandra’s rule contrasted sharply with that of her late husband Alexander Jannaeus, who was one of the most ruthless kings in Judea’s history. His youth and inexperience nearly brought his nation to ruin. His foolish attack on the Mediterranean port city of Ptolemais (Acco) led to an invasion of Judea by an Egyptian pretender, Ptolemy Soter, whose forces were in Cyprus. Soter easily defeated Jannaeus’s forces and wiped out between 30,000 and 50,000 Judeans. According to Josephus, as Soter’s men ravaged Judea they boiled women and children—and ate them.8 [Yeah, right. A classical example of media bias!] Jannaeus’s reign continued to be filled with violence and endless warfare. Although he considerably expanded his kingdom in nearly every direction, his people abhorred him. Josephus reports a telling episode that occurred on Sukkoth (the Feast of Tabernacles), one of the three pilgrim festivals when Jews flocked to Jerusalem in droves. Sukkoth observance involves waving a palm frond and carrying a lemon-like fruit called a citron (etrog in Hebrew). As high priest, Jannaeus presided over the Temple ceremonies. On this occasion, the festival pilgrims pelted Jannaeus with their etrogim. Jannaeus’s retaliation was brutal. Over the next six years he killed more than 50,000 of his own people. Once, while he publicly feasted with his concubines, he crucified 800 Jews after slaughtering their children and wives before their eyes. The people of the Dead Sea Scrolls viewed this atrocity as such an unprecedented act of cruelty that, as was their custom, they looked to Scripture for an explanation. How could God allow this to happen? The commentaries they wrote looking to Scripture for an explanation of current events are called pesharim (plural of the Hebrew pesher, meaning “interpretation”). A pesher cites a scriptural verse and then connects the sacred text to a current event. The pesharim rarely name individuals, however; they prefer epithets that describe the personalities of the people they denounce. The Nahum Pesher contains a number of historical allusions that allow us to identify Alexander Jannaeus as “the Lion of Wrath.” The pesher also alludes to his wife Salome Alexandra as a prostitute. For the author of the pesher, Scripture had predicted the deeds of both Salome and her husband. The pesher mentions by name the Syrian king Demetrius who, with the support of the Pharisees, had invaded Judea in an ill-fated effort to remove Alexander Jannaeus from power. The pesher then quotes the Book of Nahum 2:12: “The lion catches enough for his cubs, and strangles prey for his mates.” The ancient reader would know that Nahum continued, “?‘I am going to deal with you,’ declares the Lord of Hosts” (Nahum 2:14 [verse 13 in English]). The pesher text then refers to the lion in the Nahum text as “the Lion of Wrath” who kills some of his people by “hanging them alive” (i.e., crucifixion). Because Alexander Jannaeus crucified the Pharisees who had invited Demetrius to invade Judea, it is clear that Jannaeus must be the “Lion of Wrath.” In subsequent passages the Nahum Pesher quotes additional verses from Nahum to describe a change in government and the reign of a woman: “Because of the countless fornications of the prostitute, the alluring mistress of sorcery, who ensnares nations with her harlotries and people with her sorcery” (Nahum 3:4). Again the ancient reader would know that this passage was followed by: “?‘I am going to deal with you,’ declares the Lord of Hosts” (Nahum 3:5). The pesher is clearly alluding to Salome Alexandra and her reign. The Dead Sea Scroll sectarians denounce her simply because they rejected all Hasmonean monarchs. The pesher also seems to have had difficulty accepting the reign of a woman since they wanted the reader to equate the evil “prostitute” denounced by Nahum with Salome Alexandra. Josephus tells us very little about Salome Alexandra during her husband’s reign of terror. In Jannaeus’s last three years in power (79–76 B.C.E.), he suffered from the effects of a lifetime of heavy drinking and quartan fever or malaria, yet he continued to wage war to expand Judea. At this time, and during the many years he spent campaigning outside Judea, Salome Alexandra must have acted as regent. This is suggested by the manner in which she became queen. When Jannaeus was across the Jordan besieging the city of Ragaba, she was there.9 Jannaeus realized he was dying. In Josephus’s words: Alexander [Jannaeus therefore] bequeathed the kingdom to his wife [Salome] Alexandra, being convinced that the Jews would bow to her authority as they would to no other, because by her utter lack of his brutality and by her opposition to his crimes she had won the affections of the populace. Nor was he mistaken in these expectations; for this frail woman firmly held the reigns of government, thanks to her reputation for piety.10 When Jannaeus died, Salome Alexandra continued his military campaign, successfully captured Ragaba and returned home to Jerusalem as the nation’s new monarch. Judea’s future was now in the hands of a woman. The Judeans willingly accepted a female ruler even though Salome Alexandra had two grown sons! Salome Alexandra appears to have made peace with her husband’s enemy, the Nabatean king Aretas, and apparently undertook a military expedition to help him regain Damascus from a strongman named Ptolemy Mennaeus. By this action, Salome Alexandra brought peace to Judea’s eastern and northern frontiers, long a scene of conflict during her husband’s reign. Salome Alexandra realized that she had to adopt some of her husband’s policies and keep a strong military, lest neighboring powers seek to annex Judea now that a woman held the reins of power. According to Josephus: [She] took thought for the welfare of the kingdom and recruited a large force of mercenaries and also made her own force twice as large, with the result that she struck terror into the local rulers round her.11 Josephus also remarks that she “proved to be a wonderful administrator in larger affairs,” doubling the size of Judea’s army and hiring additional foreign troops. In a later expedition to Ptolemais—scene of her husband’s disastrous expedition—she confronted the Armenian king Tigranes, who abandoned his plan to invade Judea and left the region. He apparently realized that a fight with the powerful Queen Salome Alexandra, and her considerable military force, was not worth the trouble. Unlike her husband, Salome Alexandra successfully used the mere threat of violence to prevent conflict and bring peace and stability to the region. Salome Alexandra not only made peace with her husband’s foreign enemies, but also with his religious foes. It was during the Hasmonean period that the Pharisees and Sadducees—both familiar to readers of the New Testament for their encounters with Jesus—became prominent religious parties. Both struggled for the hearts and minds of ordinary Judeans. Unfortunately, we do not have any document that we can definitively say was written by a Pharisee or a Sadducee of Salome Alexandra’s day. Scholars must rely upon later, often-inaccurate, sources to learn about them. According to the New Testament: “The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angels, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three” (Acts 23:8). Although Jesus called the ­Pharisees “hypocrites” (Matthew 12:13) and “a brood of vipers” (Matthew 23:23), these references are unfair. Because Jesus and the early Christians believed in resurrection, they viewed the Pharisees as their greatest rivals; for this reason, the New Testament accounts cannot always be trusted to present a fair and balanced portrayal of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were greatly respected by the people of Jesus’ day. This was because they promised the masses the hope of an afterlife. Moreover, unlike the aristocratic Sadducees, a group largely composed of upper-class priestly families, the Pharisees were ordinary Judeans. In keeping with their common roots, the Pharisees emphasized simple, pious living and devotion to the Torah. Most important, the Pharisees believed in the Oral Law: teachings that were purportedly passed down from the time of Moses until their day. They considered these laws binding along with the written laws of Scripture. The Oral Law was popular among the masses since it often made life easier. This was especially true of the Sabbath. For example, in Salome Alexandra’s day the Sadducees taught a more rigid adherence to the prohibition against work on the Sabbath. The Hasmoneans had once been Pharisees. But Salome Alexandra’s father-in-law, John Hyrcanus, became a Sadducee. When the Pharisees challenged his right to serve a high priest, he not only abrogated the Pharisaic interpretation of the Law, he persecuted those who continued to observe and teach it. The people had no choice but to accept the Sadducean way; otherwise they would be banned from worshiping in the Temple. When the Sadducees took control of the Temple, they disregarded the Oral Law. This made them very unpopular with most Judeans who already distrusted them for their ties to the government. Salome Alexandra alone among the Hasmoneans recognized that the Sadducees were immensely unpopular and that the Hasmonean monarchy faced an uncertain future until it made peace with the Pharisees. Although Hyrcanus’s sons Judah Aristobulus, Antigonus and Salome Alexandra’s husband, Jannaeus, remained Sadducees, Salome Alexandra was a committed Pharisee. The Talmud, the compendium of Jewish Law and lore, preserves several stories about Salome Alexandra that suggest she openly supported the Pharisees during her husband’s reign. During her own reign, with the help of a leading Pharisee named Simeon ben Shetah, the court system was reformed, and the ketubah—the woman’s marriage contract that specified the obligations of the groom toward his bride—was introduced. A continuous stream of tradition from the first century B.C.E. to the redaction of the Mishnahb at the end of the second century C.E. associates wealthy influential women with the Pharisees. In exchange for their financial support, the Pharisees gave these women greater religious and legal rights than the Saducees did. Also during her reign, children were required to attend school, a decree that presumably included young girls. The Talmud preserves a charming story about Salome’s reign that reflects the high regard in which she was held: The story is told that in the days of Simeon b[en] Shetah and in the days of Salome the Queen, that the rains would come down from Sabbath eve to Sabbath eve, until the wheat became like kidneys, the barley like olive pits, and the lentils like golden denars. The sages gathered some of them and put them aside for the coming generations.12 Because the rabbis who wrote the Talmud were the spiritual heirs of the Pharisees, modern Judaism is, to a great extent, the direct descendant of the Pharisaic Judaism developed in part through Salome Alexandra’s patronage of the Pharisees. What about Salome Alexandra’s children—Hyrcanus (II) and Aristobulus (II)? After all, in the normal course of things, they could expect to succeed their father. Again, we rely on Josephus: Of these sons, the one, Hyrcanus [II], was too weak to govern and in addition much preferred a quiet life, while the younger, Aristobulus [II], was a man of action and high spirit. As for the queen [Salome] herself, she was loved by the masses because she was thought to disapprove of the crimes committed by her husband. [Salome] Alexandra appointed Hyrcanus [II] as high priest because of his greater age but more especially because of his lack of energy; and she permitted the Pharisees to do as they liked in all matters, and also commanded the people to obey them; and whatever regulations, introduced by the Pharisees in accordance with the tradition of their fathers, had been abolished by her father-in-law Hyrcanus [I], these she again restored. And so, while she had the title of sovereign, the Pharisees had the power.13 Although Josephus wanted to portray Salome Alexandra as a pawn of the Pharisees, a close reading of his accounts suggest that she was a strong-willed and independent monarch. She had, after all, remained a Pharisee at the time when her husband had persecuted, and even crucified, members of this religious movement!14 Salome Alexandra’s only failure was, perhaps, her younger son Aristobulus. She apparently never won his loyalty. He was too much like his father; he was a military man and a Sadducee. Moreover, the two sons hated one another. When archaeologists excavated the magnificent winter palace of the ­Hasmoneans in the warm desert oasis of Jericho, they uncovered two identical adjacent complexes that Salome Alexandra had built: one for her son Hyrcanus, the other for her son Aristobulus.15 Salome Alexandra must have loved both of her sons, but she apparently realized that she had to keep her two sons apart from one another even in their leisure time! Although she sought to provide both with the same comforts and amenities, the elder one, Hyrcanus, was clearly her favorite: She had chosen him to be Judea’s high priest. According to Josephus, the younger Aristobulus, “let it be plainly seen that if only he should get the opportunity, he would not leave his mother any power at all.”16 In 67 B.C.E., Salome Alexandra became ill. She was 73 years old and had ruled Judea for nine years. Aristobulus took advantage of her physical limitations and staged a coup. She ordered her son Hyrcanus and her officials to use any means necessary to quell the rebellion. Salome Alexandra spent her final hours leading the nation. Before her death, she likely appointed Hyrcanus as king. His reign lasted only three months, however, before he relinquished the throne to his bellicose brother. Unfortunately, at the urging of his friend Antipater—father of Herod the Great—the inept Hyrcanus tried to regain his former titles. The Romans took advantage of this sibling rivalry and, in 63 B.C.E., invaded Judea. Hyrcanus was restored to his position as high priest, but not as king. Judea was now declared a Roman possession. The Hasmonean age was over. Direct Roman rule had begun. The last word belongs to Josephus: [Salome Alexandra] was a woman who showed none of the weakness of her sex; for being one of those inordinately desirous of the power to rule, she showed by her deeds the ability to carry out her plans, and at the same time she exposed the folly of those men who continually fail to maintain sovereign power.17 Although largely forgotten today, Salome Alexandra was likely the greatest Hasmonean ever to have sat upon the throne. Additional Reading from the BAS Library: Salome’s Dance BR 18:01, Feb 2002 Footnotes: I'm not going to copy all of them here, but I wanted to make sure this gets translated. It's footnote 'a', about Salome's name: But she is also known by several other names—Shel-Zion, Shalmonin, Shalmza and Shlamto. The esteemed historian of ancient Judaism Jacob Neusner has called her “a queen whose name no one can get straight.”3 The Dead Sea Scrolls have now revealed for the first time in more than 2,000 years her real name: Shelamzion. Its shorter version is Salome.4.
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