BMCR 2000.07.27

Response: Rose on Spalinger on Rose

Response to 2000.01.17

Response by

The first version of Anthony J. Spalinger’s review of my Sun, Moon, and Sothis gave the title as Sun, Moon, and Sirius. That was subsequently corrected by Bryn Mawr Classical Review (at the request of KRONOS Press, the publisher), but getting the title wrong was merely the first of many errors.

Careful readers of the book and of the review will notice that Spalinger has not yet identified even one error on my part, and that much of what he does have to say about the book is no more accurate than his version of the title.

I have the greatest respect for the late Richard A. Parker, and I have always benefited from studying and restudying his writings. I do indeed think that his work on the 25-year lunar table, his analysis of the Canopus Decree, and his dating of the Middle Kingdom are mistaken, and my book makes all that plain enough. (On the Middle Kingdom, see also my article in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies LIII:4, pages 237-261.) Spalinger, however, seems to be of the opinion that you cannot respect a scholar except by swallowing his mistakes. Parker is a most worthy opponent for anyone, and especially for me. Spalinger, on the other hand, is an embarrassingly easy target.

Spalinger complains that “Rose virtually never informs us of the depth of previous scientific and humanistic research that has been progressing for more than 150 years”. But that is because I see only sporadic depth and insufficient overall progress. What am I supposed to do? When I find that the leading scholars get the 25-year lunar table wrong, that they get the Canopus Decree wrong, and that they get the dating of the Middle Kingdom wrong by 1477 years, how am I supposed to be pleased with the way things are going? To Spalinger, my absence from the Egyptological bandwagon merely proves that I lack “a candid scientific approach”. Isn’t that begging the question?

Spalinger’s attitude that “scholarship demands” footnotes is absurd. This is a matter for the author to decide, not the reviewer. Some authors use footnotes, some use endnotes, and some (like myself) may prefer to have the references right in the text, so that the reader can proceed consecutively and not have to jump up and down the page. My book abounds in such references, and also contains an extensive Bibliography and Index.

Spalinger complains that Schoch’s tables are not in the Bibliography. But look at the top of page 319, where Langdon, Fotheringham, and Schoch are listed. (That is of course the 1 book that contains Schoch’s tables.) In the Bibliography of his own book, Revolutions in Time, Spalinger himself listed multiply-authored works under the last name of the first of the authors. Thus Spalinger listed Parker and Dubberstein under “P”, with no separate listing for Dubberstein. Why am I not permitted to do the same?

Without discussion, Spalinger also dismisses Schoch as “unreliable”. On the contrary, I have found that Schoch’s tables for the Moon and for Venus are quite reliable, at least within the limits of the task at hand. Parker and Dubberstein relied heavily on Schoch’s tables. Why am I not permitted to do the same? Why do the rules suddenly change when I get into the act? By the way, in my Bibliotheca Orientalis paper (LVI:1/2, pages 14-34, especially 30-34), I too offered some criticisms of Schoch, but let us not overdo it the way Spalinger has.

I did include a string of excerpts from the Budge translation of the Canopus Decree, in part to give the reader some of the flavor of that text, but it is false that my book “follows Budge with regard to the latter inscription”. Budge is not even a player! My book contains six chapters on the Canopus Decree, and in those six chapters there are many references to both primary and secondary sources of the sort that Spalinger presumably wants. Why could he not find them? Please do not tell me that it was because they were not in footnotes!

Spalinger’s comments about whether the Egyptian day began at morning twilight or at sunrise have no bearing on Sothic dating. If he had actually read my book, Spalinger would know that the overall length of a Sothic period can be retrocalculated with considerable precision but that the actual dates of the heliacal risings of Sirius cannot. There are too many unknowns. We must rely upon ancient reports, notably from Censorinus and from the Canopus Decree, if we intend to arrive at an exact date on which this or that heliacal rising might have occurred. There is enough leeway in the retrocalculations themselves that it would not even matter whether that date started at morning twilight or at sunrise!

Some of Spalinger’s remarks are quite incredible. Thus he says that once we do decide whether the Egyptians began their day at morning twilight or at sunrise “one’s interpretation of P. Carlsberg IX…would have to be reinterpreted.” But one of the most striking features of the 25-year cycle table described in Papyrus Demotic Carlsberg 9 is that it works equally well with any synodic lunar months, whether those months began with last visibility, first invisibility, conjunction, first visibility, Full Moon, or whatever. Perhaps Spalinger should have said that his own“interpretation of P. Carlsberg IX…would have to be reinterpreted.”

Spalinger wonders why I did not discuss Wells, Spalinger, or Gryzybek. He does not say so, but he may have in mind that same book, Revolutions in Time, edited by him, which, among other things, includes a long paper by Wells and a very strong attack by Spalinger on Gryzybek. I have read that book, and as a courtesy to Spalinger I even included it in my Bibliography, though I found it to be of not much importance. To Spalinger, of course, my not having discussed his book is evidence of my inadequacy. (More question-begging?) The truth is that I felt no need to discuss the book — due to its inadequacies. It is simply false that these authors “have covered the same ground” that I was attempting to cover.

Spalinger repeatedly wonders whether I was able to handle the original texts. A more appropriate question would be whether Spalinger was able to find even one error that I made in handling the original texts. (The answer, of course, is not even one.) As for Spalinger’s own question, who is he to be asking me ? But let me put it this way. I can handle the original texts well enough that I was able to recognize that the long-touted “lunar” date on document B (or Papyrus Berlin 10103) has no extant day number. B’s putative dates of I smw 14 or 15 or 16 (depending upon which author is claiming to have “read” it) are merely conceits of the exegetes: there is a I smw, but, whatever the original day-number was, that number is now well off the edge of the surviving papyrus! As far as I know, I was the very first to say that B should be dropped from the data set. Borchardt, Parker, Krauss, and Luft all used B in their own data sets, and relied upon it in their chronological investigations, despite the fact that B is merely a speculative reconstruction, not a datum. (In Parker’s defense, it should be pointed out that he seems never to have seen B, and may never have known that there was a problem.)

Spalinger continually sets tasks that he thinks I should have performed and suggests that I ought never to have written such a book if I had not yet accomplished those tasks. The tasks that he sets for me are encyclopedic. Am I supposed to write volume after volume before I publish anything? That is silly. I wrote just the book that I would have wanted to write — except for about a dozen misprints that have come to light ( seven of which are on page 245, where in lines 2, 10, 11, 12, 13, 19, and 20 of the table ” smw” should have been ” 3ht“!), and except for the fact that I did not anticipate that so many “authoritative” voices would think that 1 January 2000 marked the beginning of a new century and a new millennium. I could easily have addressed that latter subject (it is merely a matter of arithmetic), but I was insufficiently aware of the depths that human ignorance has reached.

Much of what Spalinger wants me to discuss has to do with the New Kingdom. In fact, I did discuss some New Kingdom materials. But my book was originally intended as a study of calendars and calendar reforms in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, together with some of their implications for earlier Egyptian chronology. In the end, I did also deal with pre-Hellenistic materials such as the El-Lahun papyri — most of which I would date to the fourth century. Thus it is the period from about -400 to about +400 that is the main focus of the book. Even so, I did not totally neglect the New Kingdom. Some of the chronological clues from the New Kingdom are discussed in Chapters Seventeen and Twenty-One.

Those who think that Spalinger is right in saying that I ignore King-Lists should look up “Turin” in my Index and take it from there.

It is of course false that “Rose … believes in the unfailing accuracy of the primary sources and the ancient practitioners”. Is there anyone in the world who is stupid enough to hold such a belief?

The words quadrennium and triennium are very helpful in describing situations that the ancients would have had to deal with. Spalinger thinks that such words are “arcane”. I think that they are arcane only to those who want them to be.

As another devastating refutation of my work, Spalinger mentions that “Dynasties XI and XIII dovetail with the XIIth perfectly.”I would not say “perfectly”, but my book does stress that XII followed XI and that XIII followed XII. I never challenged that overall sequence, just its placement in time. What is Spalinger’s problem here? Why doesn’t he deal with me, instead of with this seemingly interminable series of straw men? (I realize, of course, that such a review as Spalinger’s is not even intended to be accurate or fair but seeks only to discourage others from taking the book seriously.)

No fewer than five times in his review, Spalinger declares in one way or another that I claim that Sopdet in the Canopus Decree refers to Venus. He even speaks of “the author’s Venus = Sothis equation”. But this is pure fantasy. The fact is that I explicitly and repeatedly rejected the idea that either Isis or Sopdet in the Canopus Decree referred to Venus. Both Isis and Sopdet in the Canopus Decree refer to Sirius. How could anyone read my book and manage to get that wrong? I also stated, more than once, that Venus itself is not even mentioned in the Canopus Decree! Is this the way Spalinger reads all of the other books that he opines about?

Spalinger even cites page xxxiv and page 4 as places where I assert that Sothis = Venus. What I said on page xxxiv was that “I disagree with Velikovsky’s suggestion that the Greek version of the Canopus Decree refers to Venus. As will be explained in Chapters Nine and Thirteen, both the ‘Sopdet’ of the Egyptian texts and the ‘Isis’ of the Greek text seem to refer here to the star Sirius, not to the planet Venus.” All I said on page 4 was that “we shall see that the Egyptian calendar not only was geared to Sirius, but that it may also have been geared to the planet Venus.” Spalinger says that “there is no documentation of this assertion”. Well, I did say “may”. Nonetheless, there is at least some documentation; see page 120. In any case, I did not say that “Sothis = Venus”. What I was talking about was that five mean synodic periods of Venus are nearly equal to eight years of 365 days. Claudius Ptolemy saw this, the Maya saw it, and Velikovsky saw it. The Egyptians may have seen it, too, and may have thought of this in terms of a Venus-oriented year, just as others have done. I suspect that they did precisely that, and I argued at some length that this might help to explain what was actually behind the Canopus Decree — despite the fact that Venus is not even mentioned in the Canopus Decree. (See Chapters Nine, Ten, and Thirteen.) I wish that Spalinger had paid more attention to what I actually wrote and less attention to his own fantasies!

“Rose fails to disprove the well established identification of Isis with the star Sothis (Egyptian Spdw), nor does he prove his own equation of Sothis with Venus.” This is totally asinine. Why should I want to disprove something that I accept and repeatedly asserted, and why should I want to prove something that I never said and do not accept?

The term “pseudo-scientific” came easily enough to Spalinger’s lips when he was attacking Velikovsky and me. I try not to use such language except by way of retaliation, but is it not obvious from this “Sothis = Venus” fiasco and from all of his other errors that Spalinger has revealed himself to be only the shadow of a scholar, with only the trappings of erudition?

Spalinger speaks of my“unwillingness to tackle the immense amount of historical, pictorial, and archaeological data pertaining to” Dynasty XII. But my Chapters Twenty and Twenty-One are at least a start on that sort of thing. It is Spalinger and his ilk who display an “unwillingness to tackle the immense amount of historical, pictorial, and archaeological” — as well as astronomical — work that has to be done if we are ever to get things right. I am more than willing to do my share, but there is far too much work for just one person, especially an old one. This book took me 25 years; who knows how long the next one will take?

My focus on the astronomical evidence was entirely appropriate. For decades, Egyptologists have been resting their case on an alleged fit between the El-Lahun papyri and retrocalculated lunar months. Gardiner called this “our only firm anchor”. I too used the El-Lahun papyri, but where several generations of Egyptologists had failed, I succeeded. The El-Lahun papyri do not fit in the early second millennium. The El-Lahun papyri do fit in the fourth century. (As does Sirius. And no, I still do not equate Sirius or Sopdet with Venus.)

Spalinger, who is nothing if not nasty, wants me to be more courteous. But I have learned from long experience that when you are routinely tarred and feathered in print by other academicians, courtesy is not a good remedy. What does work in academia is overkill: it at least keeps people out of your face.

Spalinger also wants me to be more humble. That probably means silent. But I have so little to be humble or silent about. I have beaten these people at their own game, by their own rules, and with their own data. No wonder that Spalinger does not like what my numbers show! No wonder that he and many of his colleagues are so angry! No wonder that he is reduced to spitting out insults about people who rely on what he disparagingly calls “arith-metic”! I did learn one thing from Spalinger’s review: 2 + 2 = 4 can be both terrifying and infuriating when that is not the answer that someone wanted. (Spalinger’s weird antipathy to mathematics is nothing new. See page xii of his book, where he scorns any type of writing that is “overtly mathematical”.)

It is time for people like Spalinger to stop fooling around and to get to work. There is so much still to be accomplished. The first thing that they need to do is to face the fact that I have a fit for the El-Lahun papyri and they do not.

Paraphrasing Spalinger’s own advice, I recommend to the reviewer of this book more honesty, more openness, and less fantasy.