Re: Some Light relief

From: Chris Taylor (
Date: Fri Aug 31 2001 - 16:38:48 BST

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    Vincent Campbell wrote:
    > Amongst the explanations of the ten great plagues of Egypt, the most
    > difficult one is the last one- the death of the first born Egyptian kids,
    > with Israelites not affected.
    > Assuming this actually happened, as the researchers have done, they came up
    > with a fantastic solution. This does link to what you're asking BTW!
    > Basically they posited that the effects of previous plagues (of insects,
    > diseases and sandstorms) meant that the Egyptians stored their wheat etc. in
    > large underground chambers, possibly for much longer than normal. This
    > became a rife breeding ground for poisonous thingies (how annoying I can't
    > remember what they're called at all....) to grow on the stored wheat/grain.
    > The cultural tradition of the Egyptians was to feed the first born kids with
    > the "best" food, the most of it, and before everyone else- hence the first
    > born kids got most of the diseased crops (without anyone realising this, of
    > course). The Jews, on the other hand eating their unleven bread (as slaves
    > presumably they weren't allowed near the crops they were forced to work to
    > produce), and as such they didn't get ill.

    That's a rather neat explanation for the first born one - ergot would be
    a good candidate, and would produce some horrific deaths (many a 'witch'
    turned out to be a patsy for ergot poisoning cases).

    Actually now that I think about it the poisoning case in the 'secrets of
    the dead' I saw, which was about ergot, said that it occurs worst after
    a really wet growing period - the preceeding plagues must have played
    hell with the weather (one of them was hail I think)...

    > I wonder if washing followed a similar path, of at one time a possibly
    > insightful connection being made between the survival of a group of people
    > when faced with an illness or whatever who washed and the deaths of those
    > who didn't, with that insight being lost in subsequent generations, whilst
    > the ritual was retained.

    I think you're right that washing must've passed on the way old wive's
    tales and folk cures do - some are spurious but most have some truth
    (boiling willow bark is the best I suppose).

    > I have heard recently that Muslim prayer rituals owe a lot to the orthodoxy
    > of christian worship of the time, at least in that part of the world, so I
    > don't know how much their washing rituals owe to previous religions. Given
    > the current different between the largely symbolic baptism of most
    > christians (leaving aside the evangelicals who like doing the full body
    > soak), and the feet and hand washing of most muslims, it would be
    > interesting to see if there were any environmental factors that could
    > explain that difference.
    > I wonder also how come both Islam and Judaism retain traditions of food
    > preparation rituals- halal and kosher-(I used to wind up a Muslism friend of
    > mine with the persistent bad joke when passing any halal butcher 'That Hala
    > fella must be worth a bob or two'), whilst christianity doesn't. Kosher's
    > quite interesting because the list of right and wrong things is in Leviticus
    > (in the Bible) IIRC, and whilst it says not to eat creepy crawlies, it does
    > say you can eat crickets. I saw a programme about a Shoma (spelling?) in
    > London, the Jewish guys who go around checking that food is kosher. Very
    > interesting.

    I always thought that the kosher thing was an aid to digestion more than
    anything, and the stuff in judaism and islam about pigs was just cos
    pork is the fastest spoiling meat. What would be a nice test is if there
    was originally a prohibition against 'dirty' animals in early
    christianity (inherited from judaism) that faded as christianity became
    a temperate-climate religion (even though it has reinvaded the tropics
    since, it is now a very european religion (we could call it memetic
    drift). Actually I donn't know much about the coptic lot - how recently
    did they start up (post-Constantine?) and do they have a thread going
    back to the first lot?

    > BTW Chris, couldn't agree more on the GCSE pass rates thing. Good to see
    > also that the first cohort produced erudite intellectuals like yourself and
    > I :-)!

    Oh yes. A triumph for the DfEE as was :)

    > Vincent
    > > ----------
    > > From: Chris Taylor
    > > Reply To:
    > > Sent: Friday, August 31, 2001 2:57 pm
    > > To:
    > > Subject: Re: Some Light relief
    > >
    > > > So, my education included a religious studies teacher who didn't believe
    > > in
    > > > religion, and a biology teacher who didn't believe in evolution.
    > >
    > > Lol :)
    > >
    > > I was also in the first year of GCSE - I got some of the last 'O' levels
    > > going the previous autumn too - what puzzles me is that I only did half
    > > my French GCSE paper and got an A (hey look how well the kids do on
    > > these new exams - marvellous). What I don't get is how abilities can
    > > improve - I always thought that the national exam results were fitted to
    > > a curve that assumed the same profile of grades every year, but
    > > apparently that was wildly inaccurate. Apparently, pedagogical science
    > > is making vast strides...
    > >
    > > Back to the Asimov-inspired larks:
    > >
    > > Sorry, I've not gone bonkers (honest).
    > >
    > > My point was that if you're going to engineer some stability into a
    > > fairly anarchic version of humanity, you give them a codified set of
    > > behaviours that will allow reciprocal altruism (love your neighbour,
    > > don't kill people or nick stuff), protected by stranger exclusion (only
    > > trust subscribers of the religion), and importantly you give them some
    > > simple public hygiene tips (wash to avoid diseases like dysentery,
    > > cholera and typhoid) which are engineered into the memeplex as religious
    > > rites to keep them healthy and spreading the word; cleanliness is next
    > > to godliness, but why - the fairy tales you mention Phillip - good
    > > stories to engage simple folk, avoiding having to give courses in
    > > epidemiology.
    > >
    > > These days, the washing stuff is a stylised echo of the past, but why
    > > was it there at all? With or without my joke aliens seeding these ideas,
    > > how does washing get in there so regularly? The easy answer is that all
    > > these religions have a common root, which for arbitrary reasons
    > > contained a washing ritual, but again, why (considering that it took
    > > pasteur+ to work it out for us).
    > >
    > > And of course your new clan of converts will survive clashes with other
    > > groups much better if they have a super weapon like the ark of the
    > > covenant...

     Chris Taylor ( »people»chris

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