Part II of “Pitch / Bitumen in Moses’ Egypt”
Anti-theist atheist Jonathan M. S. Pearce wrote the article, Exodus Sidebar: Refuting Armstrong’s “Refutation” on Pitch (but Oddly Not Sargon…) (6-11-21), to which I respond. He was replying to my older article, Pearce’s Potshots #29: No Pitch / Bitumen in Moses’ Egypt? (5-26-21)
His words will be in blue.
Oh David, David, David.
David “I love science as much as any atheist” Armstrong
Yes I do. It’s been one of my favorite things for over fifty years, back when I was following the NASA space launches with avid interest. For many years as a kid, I thought I would grow up to be an archaeologist (so I love doing “amateur archaeology” and reporting on the scholars’ findings in defending the Bible).
You see that as a mocking opportunity. I see it as common and fertile ground for constructive discussion, with the few atheists who are willing to engage in normal discussion about the usual issues. Should I call you Jonathan “I love to encourage on my blog insults towards Christians as much as any atheist” Pearce, since that is manifestly true? But you can’t prove that I do not love science.
It’s much of what I have been writing about lately, after five straight archaeological replies to another atheist Bible skeptic named Adam Lee (and likely many more to come). I’ve rarely enjoyed myself so much in my forty years of Christian apologetics. It’s exciting to see the Bible confirmed again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again (I’ll stop for brevity’s sake) by secular archaeology.
likes to see himself as the white knight, tackling my
“screeds” articles and refuting them. Except, this is rarely what actually happens. He recently claimed to have refuted me on camels but after further inspection, er, hadn’t.
Whether I refuted you many times is for readers to decide. I think it kind of / sort of suggests that I have done so several times, in light of the fact that you haven’t responded at all to probably fifteen of my critiques. It took three times mentioning this “pitch” issue (an entire paper and two mentions, after you threw out the same tired claim that I already refuted) to get you to actually grapple with a serious counter-claim. It’s progress, but there is a lot more left to go. I offered no less than six replies to claims in just one of your articles:
I wrote a 2500-word piece on this that included the 250-word section at the end on whether pitch was available contemporaneously in the Nile region at the time. This was an additional nugget to my piece, but not the main thrust at all.
What I responded to with my “pitch” refutation was your article, “Debunking the Exodus II: A Ridiculous Story with Ridiculous Claims” (5-19-21). It was not devoted solely to Sargon: who was mentioned in only one section. It was a laundry list of all the supposedly “ridiculous claims” regarding the Exodus. You included 21 bullet-points. I dealt with six at length, in as many reply-papers (listed near the top). I chose to write about (as one of my six reply-topics) pitch: mentioned in your potshot about Moses’ birth, precisely because it was a concrete issue which could be objectively considered by means of archaeological analysis.
This is what you don’t understand about what I’m doing. It’s a deliberate methodological strategy, so to speak. Wrangling about subjective matters with atheists rarely accomplishes anything, though I do discuss the problem of evil (as I did again this very day) and other non-scientific topics with them occasionally, because the former is a serious objection and deserves — even demands — to be dealt with. But by and large I want to deal with specific objective matters that can be addressed by archaeology or other forms of science, by a method Christians and atheist both accept.
As I explained to someone recently: I’m not trying to prove biblical inspiration. That’s several steps down the line and a much more involved and complex argument. What I’m doing is “defeating the defeaters” offered up by atheists. If they argue that such a town wasn’t in existence when the Bible said it was, then I go to archaeology and prove that it was.
I have done this recently with regard to the Edomites in the Late Bronze Age in Jordan, whether Beersheba was a city when Abraham visited it (in this case it wasn’t, and the claim that the Bible claimed it was, is incorrect), whether Arameans derived from the Amorites, and details of the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers: all utilizing massive archaeological support. I did it with you, on this issue of pitch, the camels, and other things.
This defends the Bible’s accuracy. So I am showing that atheist arguments against biblical accuracy are almost invariably incorrect and fallacious. In other words, if an atheist says, “The Bible is inaccurate history and therefore, not inspired because of errors a, b, c, d, e, and f”, I go and show through secular archaeology that supposed errors a, b, c, d, e, and f are actually not errors and that it’s merely atheist mythology and polemics regarding the Bible. In doing so I also show how these matters can almost always be resolved in a way that is consistent with belief in biblical inspiration.
If the Bible is inspired, then it should and would be historically accurate and not self-contradictory as well. And so I deal with biblical archaeology and also (repeatedly and in-depth) alleged Bible contradictions (basically an internal textual issue). This was my overwhelming emphasis in my 72 unanswered and ignored refutations of atheist Bob Seidensticker and my 44 unanswered and ignored replies to David Madison. And I do mostly the same with you. You also saw it in my debates with one of your friends about the star of Bethlehem, which entailed all sorts of fascinating scientific elements. I had a blast doing that, and learned so much.
I described myself recently as a “termite”: eating away at all these atheist false premises, one-by-one, until one day the anti-theist atheist “house” collapses because the foundation was so weakened by the constant eating of the termite. So you and your minions can mock and ridicule my writing about pitch all you like. My rationale for it and other objective, historical issues that we can analyze through the means of scientific analysis is perfectly reasonable and logical, as explained.
You initiate your erroneous argument about pitch in Egypt with a guy who has a blog, who goes by only a nickname: about whom we can learn nothing further (by his non-existent profile). So we know nothing about his credentials, but hey: I’d bet the farm that he’s not an archaeologist. I cite actual archaeologists (!!!) when I make my argument about, well, archaeology.
The same anonymous person thinks himself qualified to argue physics with Einstein. Very impressive. You’d read me the riot act if I tried to pull a stunt like that. The next article down delves into JFK conspiracy theories. His murderer was CIA director John McCome, dontcha know!: according to your source for pitch in ancient Egypt, “Straw Walker”. In a 2015 article he states dogmatically — massively against current cosmological consensus — that “Dark Matters [sic] does NOT exist.” In February 2014 he remarked: “The universe has existed and will exist forever” — except that the vast majority of cosmologists disagree, since they hold the Big Bang theory, which says that the universe had a finite beginning and will have an ending as well.
Yeah, great source there, Jonathan. This is who you went to to support your view from “science.” It’s a joke, and embarrassing (especially given all your shots taken at me as if I am hostile to science). At least I cite scientists and studies from peer-reviewed journals when I am talking about a scientific issue.
Let’s remind ourselves of Moses’ supposed dates:
Generally Moses is seen as a legendary figure, whilst retaining the possibility that Moses or a Moses-like figure existed in the 13th century BCE. Rabbinical Judaism calculated a lifespan of Moses corresponding to 1391–1271 BCE;Jerome suggested 1592 BCE,and James Ussher suggested 1571 BCE as his birth year.[note 2]
So somewhere between 2171-1571 BCE. (Already, Armstrong is outside of what people generally believe, but that us to be expected.)
And how is it that you arrived at this cynical conclusion? You pulled it out of a hat and then chided me for supposedly believing it. I swear I don’t know how you arrive at many of your conclusions. I made it quite clear in my reply, which cited the same information from my previous reply to you, what I thought regarding Moses’ birth and death dates:
Encyclopedia Britannica (“Moses”) informs us that he “flourished 14th–13th century BCE”. . . . “the most probable date for the Exodus is about 1290 BCE.” Therefore, Moses’ birth was “probably . . . in the late 14th century BCE.” The latter is deduced from the Bible’s statement (Ex 7:7) that Moses was eighty in the year of the Exodus, which would makes his birthdate around 1370 BC, his death in 1250 BC . . .
What part of “1370-1250 BC” is so difficult to comprehend? Is Encyclopedia Britannica “fundamentalist” too? Actual fundamentalists place Moses’ life 100-200 years before this. I reiterated again in the most recent article I wrote, posted yesterday: “I accept the life and death dates of Moses to be c. 1370-c. 1250 BC.”
You go on to make an analysis that seems to totally misunderstand what I was driving at. I see no sense in responding to it. It looks like you just rushed off this response with little thinking: just to “get Armstrong off my back.” You write:
None of this is about waterproofing.
I didn’t say it was. I was documenting from archaeology that bitumen was used for mummification in Egypt, but only after a certain date (1250-1050 BC) which postdates Moses. Then at the end I wrote: “But of course, mummification was not the only use of pitch / bitumen in ancient Egypt. Therein lies the rub, and Pearce’s blatant error.”
The source relies a lot on radiocarbon dating and mass spectrometry – so I hope Armstrong and his supporters also defend its use in evolutionary theory, right?
Armstrong does! Because I am a theistic evolutionist, and have utilized the data of carbon dating in most if not all of my many recent articles about archaeology and the Bible. I did yesterday in my most recent article (go see!). What my “supporters” may believe on this and that is irrelevant to my own opinions.
This is a really important point: Armstrong’s case is built on science that creationists do not accept. So if you are a creationist lauding Armstrong’s case, you are being dishonest and employing double standards.
Then that’s their problem, isn’t it?: not mine. It has nothing to do with me. Most folks who follow my writing regularly are Catholics, and most Catholics are not creationists. But we all believe that God was the Creator. How He did that is a separate matter. This is just more obfuscation and silliness, to divert from the main topic at hand. But it is entertaining. I’ll give ya that.
So what of these mummies? Well, the Glasgow male mummy (MTB G44) does not fit into the timescale. . . . So Armstrong’s source actually supports my claim.
Mummies had absolutely nothing to do with my argument. That stuff was only a prelude to the data that (rather dramatically) supported pitch being in Egypt during Moses’ lifetime.
So his claim of my “blatant error” is blatantly erroneous.
Not at all. I was referring to your error of saying that pitch wasn’t present in Egypt during Moses. The mummy stuff isn’t directly relevant to that because it was from after the time of Moses. The relevant portion came from later in the same article:
archaeological discoveries and chemical analyses have revealed molecular evidence for trade during the earlier Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age periods (3900–2200 BC; ).
Or is it?
Armstrong’s second piece , however, is a better defence of his position, although he only quotes the abstract. I have read the piece.
Ah; now I have found the entire article for free, too. And I’m delighted that I did, because now my case is that much stronger. You do your best to minimize the compelling evidences found in the entire research article, by means of summarizing without citing more than literally only thirteen words of it. But the evidence is too strong. I quote (all bolding mine):
This study demonstrates that detailed organic geochemical analysis permits the identification in Maadi excavations (3900-3500 BC) in Egypt of asphalt imported from the Dead Sea and enables the reconstruction of the bitumen trade routes within Canaan and to Egypt. (p. 2743)
Remember, folks, that I was responding to Jonathan’s bald statement: “pitch was not available in Egypt at the time of Moses.” Here, even the latest date is 2130 years before the approximate date of Moses’ birth. This is a pretty spectacular mistake on Jonathan’s part (not only being wrong about its presence, but wrong about up to 2130 years or more of its presence; and as we shall see soon, he resolutely refuses to retract it in the face of this hard evidence.
USES OF DEAD SEA BITUMEN IN ANTIQUITY
Natural asphalts were widely used in the ancient world. Perhaps their earliest use was in making reed baskets impermeable to liquids. (p. 2743)
Well, ain’t that somethin’?! The first use mentioned is precisely the one in question: sealing reed baskets to waterproof them. The article couldn’t be any more relevant to our inquiry than it is.
Evidence for this was found in the preceramic Neolithic excavation of Gilgal, Israel, dating back to about 9000 BC (Connan and Nissenbaum, unpubl. data), and in the Neolithic excavation of Beidha (9000-6500 BC; KIRKBRIDE, 199 1 ), north of Petra in Jordan. (p. 2743)
AND the only actual example of bitumen caulking referenced in the paper is not actually in Egypt but in Samaria, Israel, in Gilgal.
This is incorrect, as anyone can see, above. There is also evidence from “Beidha, . . . north of Petra in Jordan”: the same use as the Moses story, from 7,630-5,130 years earlier. And the most well-known ancient Gilgal was near Jericho: not in Samaria at all: which was north of Jerusalem.
This would also accord with my claim: that “Israelite” biblical authors would be using their own cultural knowledge to project onto events that happened in Egypt!
It could also be that a practice that has been verified as in Israel from 7,630 years before Moses’ birth, had become common knowledge (several thousand years of use have a tendency to do that). After all, it was Israelites in question, who resided in Egypt. They still would have had knowledge of these things. It’s not rocket science to figure out that pitch could serve as caulk on a basket, anyway. Any smart, inquisitive 4-year-old child could figure that out within an hour.
Twice more on this same page, mention is made of using pitch “to caulk boats” and “for waterproofing vessels.” The latter is described as a “major” use. We learn that asphalt was actually available in Egypt, too (so that it wouldn’t necessarily have to come from outside trade):
[A]sphalt is found in only a few localities in Egypt (in oil springs at Jebel Zeit, termed Mons Petrolius by the Romans, or in sandstones at Helwan, south of Cairo; . . . (p. 2744)
I won’t bother to figure out exactly where Moses was born, and how close it would be to these two sources, but they may not have been all that far away. I didn’t know this before I accessed the entire article, so I thank you for your intransigence. When atheists fight against hard scientific (or internal biblical) evidence, I dig in and find more, and my case becomes all the stronger. So keep it up! This is already two major new revelations from the article (specific use of pitch for reed baskets, and native asphalt in Egypt) in the first two pages.
See further archaeological verification for Gebel El Zeit (Jebel Zeit) as a source of bitumen in Egypt: from the western shore of the Gulf of Suez. Another article from Archaeometry (12-16-02) states:
Bitumen used as a preservative in ancient Egyptian mummies was previously thought to come only from the Dead Sea in Palestine. Other, closer sources of bitumen were investigated at Abu Durba and Gebel Zeit on the shores of Egypt’s Gulf of Suez. Bitumen from these localities and from five mummies was analysed using molecular biomarkers derived from gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. It was found that four of the mummies contained Dead Sea bitumen, and the fifth and oldest (900 bc) had bitumen from Gebel Zeit, thus providing the first evidence for the use of an indigenous source of bitumen in ancient Egypt.
Moreover, your goofy “source” who has no discernible credentials as an expert on archaeology or ancient Egypt, stated (and you cited a few days ago and again in this article of yours):
Contrary to Moses [sic] account, bitumen does not exist in the Nile river or the Nile delta. In Moses [sic] haste to plagiarize Sargon’s birth account he failed to realize that the Nile and the Euphrates have a different geology. A simple mistake, but with huge ramifications.
This is untrue, also, according to the article (written by real, not pseudo-scientists), since Helwan is “part of Greater Cairo, on the bank of the Nile, opposite the ruins of Memphis.” Those pesky facts! They’ll getcha every time!
Between 3900 and 3100 BC, the raw asphalts from the floating blocks of the Dead Sea exported to Egypt were not used there for mummification purposes. Embalming with conifer resins mixed with bitumens did not appear before the Fourth Dynasty, i.e., around 2600 BC (PECK, 1980; BUCAILLE, 1987). Consequently, the most likely utilization of bitumens during the earlier epoch would be for using glue to attach flint implements in sickles, as in Arad ( NISSENBAUM et al., 1984), or as a waterproofing agent to caulk baskets, as seen in Gilgal (9000 BC, Israel) and elsewhere (Beidha, Jordan; Mehrgahr, Pakistan; Susa, Iran; Tell el Oueili, Iraq, etc.). (pp. 2757-2758)
Thus, the “most likely” use of pitch in Egypt, 1730 to 2530 years before Moses was born, was “as a waterproofing agent to caulk baskets.” That’s a good confirmation of my argument once again, wouldn’t you agree, Jonathan? I fail to see what else I could find to make my argument any stronger than it already is. The article concludes:
Unfortunately, the utilization of the raw bitumen discovered in excavations cannot be discerned; but, most likely, uses for the raw bitumen are as a glue to fix flint implements to wooden handles and as a proofing agent for caulking baskets. (p. 2758)
This is scientific rigor: the desire not to go beyond the facts. Yet they can’t help (being inquisitive) at least speculating in passing about the uses, and when they do, they come up with two things: one of which is “caulking baskets”: a use already mentioned several times in the article.
But there is further compelling archaeological evidence closer to the time of Moses. Steve Vinson’s article, “Seafaring” [see link], in Elizabeth Frood and Willeke Wendrich (editors), UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, Los Angeles, 2009, stated (my bolding):
A fascinating letter, in Akkadian, from the court of Ramses II [1303-1213 BC; r. 1279-1213, which overlaps the life of Moses] speaks of an Egyptian ship that had been sent to the Hittites, evidently for the purpose of allowing Hittite shipwrights to copy it (Fabre 2004: 96). The only constructional details we get are that the ship apparently had internal framing (ribs), and that it was caulked with pitch (Pomey 2006: 240), a practice now paralleled archaeologically by a water-proofing agent observed on some planks salvaged from New Kingdom sea-going ships found at Marsa Gawasis [see link on that] (Ward and Zazzaro fc.; cf. Vinson 1996: 200 for the practice in Greco-Roman antiquity and one occurrence in Roman Egypt). Whether this was a traditionally constructed Egyptian hull, or a new-style hull based on Eastern Mediterranean/Aegean principles, is unknown.*SOURCES
Fabre, David 2004 Seafaring in ancient Egypt. London: Periplus.*Pomey, Patrice 2006 Le rôle du dessin dans la conception des navires antiques: À propos de deux textes akkadiens. In L’Apport de l’Égypte à l’histoire des techniques: Méthodes, chronologie et comparaisons, Bibliothèque d’étude 142, ed. Bernard Mathieu, Dimitri Meeks, and Myriam Wissa, pp. 239 – 252. Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie orientale.*Vinson, Steve 1996 Paktou/n and Pa,ktwsij as ship-construction terminology in Herodotus, Pollux, and documentary papyri. Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 113, pp. 197 – 204.*Ward, Cheryl, and Chiara Zazzaro 2007 Finds: Ship evidence. In Harbor of the pharaohs to the land of Punt: Archaeological investigations at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis, Egypt, 2001 – 2005, ed. Kathryn Bard, and Rodolfo Fattovich, pp. 135 – 153. Naples: Università degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”. fc. Evidence for Pharaonic seagoing ships at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis, Egypt. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.
The New Kingdom of Egypt is the period from 1570-1069 BC, which includes the entire lifetime of Moses.
[undaunted, Pearce was still claiming on 6-15-21: “They wouldn’t have the first clue that pitch wasn’t particularly available in Egypt, and there is no evidence it was used at all for caulking, during the supposed Moses time.”]
You conclude about me: with the utmost charity:
Wow, a lot of effort for little payoff. What have I learnt? That Armstrong is disingenuous, and that’s putting it mildly, in his claims about refuting me, employing cherry-picking, and even then not reading his sources correctly.
Let the reader decide!
Has his work made me change my mind? Broadly, no. I will concede this: there is a possibility pitch might have ended up in the Nile area in the time required and used for the purposes see out in Exodus. There is no positive evidence for this, only an inference from some raw material found once nearby, and then seemingly only as a rarity.
I have probably moved my probability analysis about 10%. So, thanks to Armstrong for making me more accurate. Was it worth it? You decide.
I have more than proven what I had to establish. Was pitch present in Egypt at the time of Moses? It was, according to archaeological research long before, by trade, and it was also available near Cairo, probably relatively close to where Moses was born.
Archaeology can’t prove absolutely everything: every minute particular. It operates in generalities. But for what it has shown us in this regard, everything fits perfectly in harmony with the biblical account of a basket of bulrushes being waterproofed by pitch and bitumen in c. 1370 BC. To put it another way, it’s very difficult for you to assert, in light of this: “pitch was not available in Egypt at the time of Moses”, and your conspiratorial, goofball “source” saying that “bitumen does not exist in the Nile river or the Nile delta” has also now been shown to be wrong.
But you won’t actually concede what is quite obvious (not to a Christian!), so you play this game of “10%” more probability, as if that proves that you are open-minded and accept scientific findings that just blew up the myth you constructed. You’re grasping at straws (no pun intended).
So, Dave – if you’re going to litter your pieces with grand (Danth’s Law-style) rhetorical flourishes, make sure your claims back them up.
Good advice; but of course it applies far more to you than to me in this instance.
Jonathan wrote in a related paper on 6-15-21:
The pitch thing is incredible in the technical sense – or more accurately “improbable”. But not in the Torah being constructed in a place that uses pitch and by a culture that uses pitch. Because it is only by doing modern archaeology that we have come to find this out. This isn’t modern palaeontologists finding a rabbit skeleton in the pre-Cambrian rock strata. This is ancient parochial people developing their own national identity, because they are in exile, and using ideas from the culture within which they are set.
This is ingenious spinning and obfuscation, I’ll give you that. The pitch debate was as simple as can be. My two responses, with massive archaeological evidence presented, were a reply to 15 words of yours (written on 5-19-21): “pitch was not available in Egypt at the time of Moses, but was in Sumeria.”
These words were part of your effort to show that the Exodus was “ridiculous”: as were claims supporting it.
I have shown from secular archaeology (not biblical arguments) that it was available then and there. Case closed. Game, set, match. You can spin and obfuscate and say I am disingenuous and dishonest all you like, and ignore archaeological data. I definitively proved that case with as much archaeological evidence as is possible to muster.
We’re not gonna find a reed basket that says on it “this is the one that Moses floated in, in 1370 BC!” with residue of pitch. But even if we had, you’d find a way to avoid the evidence anyway.
An open-minded thinker who followed archaeological evidence, as some sort of objective criterion for determining various factual claims for antiquity, would concede the point and move on. But not you. That would mean conceding to a Christian and that can never happen. But as they say, “there’s always a first time . . .”
As I have said, whether pitch existed in Egypt in Moses’ time is not the foundation of your atheism, which can exist whether that is a fact or not. It would simply be one less argument you can use for the Exodus being so “ridiculous”: as you claim.
After I pointed out to him research from Vinson about boats in Egypt in Moses’ time caulked with pitch, Jonathan replied directly to it:
Even before I begin to look into this – again let me refer you to the claims of general pitch usage, and particularly in the Nile River basin. No evidence for caulking baskets (the nearest comes from Israel) or even gluing tools (again, Israel iirc); such use in Egypt, and then in our reference period and exact place, is inference only from some sparse evidence of raw pitch being found a few times about the whole nation – ie uncommonly.
Egyptian vessels generally didn’t need caulking because they were too light, or were caulked between planks with reeds. This we have a whole BUNCH of evidence for.
Now, because I am a skeptic, I check sources. Here is the quote from Ward & Zazarro (that returns no “pitch” results in the paper):
A 3–4 cm wide black coating along plank seams (T13, T14, T41) probably represents a waterproofing agent on the outer planking surface. The coating has not been analyzed chemically. No petroleum-like odour, such as bitumen might produce, was detected when a small fragment was burnt. In 2005–06, all Type 4 planks were acacia or sycomore; in 2006–07, Zazzaro and Claire Calcagno recorded a Type 4 plank of cedar, reworked from a Type 2 hullplank. Acacia and sycomore planks were less well preserved than the thicker Type 2 cedar examples. All examples excavated in 2005–06 had been recycled as ramps leading into the entrances to Cave 3 and Cave 4 (Fig. 1).
It absolutely does not support your claim in any way whatsoever. This is waterproofing with a different substance altogether. So the whole mention of New Kingdom and reference to Marsa Gawasis is irrelevant. They did not use pitch for caulking. I’m sure you went to the trouble of checking your own sources to verify this yourself, right?
Now let’s think about the boat mentioned by Pomey. This is fsr more nuanced. I will forgive you for not checking this source as it is in French. Bear in mind that he is sending a letter to the Hittites detailing what appears to be a NEW design and technology precisely because it had not been seen before (certainly by the neighbouring Hittites).
Luckily, I have a degree in French, so I’ll give the analysis tht proceeds the Akkadian letter a stab:
“…For the outside, the Pharaoh recommended using asphalt, that’s to say mineral pitch, in order to seal the hull so that the boats wouldn’t sink. [ie, this is new to them.] The interest in the last passage concerns sealing procedures highlighted by Dimitri Meeks. He notes, in effect, that the original character of the testimony appears unique for the Pharaonic era. [ie, that such suggestions are unique for this age.]”
So far, this looks pretty understandable. The Pharaoh advises the Hittites take on this new-fangled technology, not seen before, for caulking boats. This would also imply it was not being used to caulk baskets, because you can rest assured, the King’s navy would be using this tech before washerwomen or randos on the edge of the Nile who want to send their babies downstream. And it doesn’t look like it is actually widespread (or even occasionally used!) with the Egyptians since there is precisely zero evidence of it being used. From your previous source, we know that IF THEY DID caulk,. they would use alternative oils.
The next part I disagree with. I will include it (being honest with my sources), though I somewhat disagree with the analysis:
“He also deduces, rightfully, that the usage of pitch or bitumen for the sealing of seafaring ships hulls however had to be well-known to the Egyptians in order for it to be an object of recommendation by the Pharaoh.”
This should play into your hands. Except I would argue not. So Pomey agrees that this letter is asking the Hittites to copy this new tech, including pitch caulking, because it looks sensible, but Pomey then states (in reference to Meeks) that the Pharaoh must have well known about this already in order to recommend it. Well-known? Hardly, since next door have no idea about it, he is having to explain it, and there is no evidence of it being used in Egypt during this time. This looks like a pretty new tech to the Egyptians because ALL the evidence we have elsewhere is that they caulked between planks (if they did at all) with reeds and other wadding. I’m not even sure there is widespread contemporaneous use of the ribbing either, though I haven’t looked in detail. He is sharing a new thing, I would reason.
The whole point of the letter is to say “look what we’ve got- new fangled awesomeness! I recommend you copy it!” Which is the point of Pomey’s paper – about new ship design for the Egyptians.
Now, I am admittedly doing some inference myself here because we have to fill in the gaps. I definitely know this is new tech to the Hittites because that’s the whole point of the letter and why Rameses is explaining it. He literally explains what pitch does in his letter. Now, the Hittites are literally next door. Part of this letter is about, I presume, offering a fig leaf after the peace treaty they had just signed.
So I would conclude somewhat opposite to this paper, though using other inferences as well: knowing that there is no actual evidence that the Egyptians did widely use (or at all?) this technique themselves as we have no extant evidence of them doing so, though there IS evidence they waterproofed with a DIFFERENT natural oil substance. So perhaps they recognised the usefulness of pitch, but opted to use more locally available substitutes.
What have we learnt from this? Not a lot. We’re pretty much back to where we started. (6-15-21, in his combox)
I see. So your argument runs as follows:
1. Pitch was indeed used for this Egyptian ship referenced by a Pharaoh in the general time of Moses. I don’t deny it.
2. But hey, it was a new practice at the time.
3. Because it’s new, it’s [Dave: somehow, in some alt-logic] not evidence that pitch was known and available and used in Egypt during this period.
4. Therefore, this admitted use of pitch in Egypt supports my initial claim: “pitch wasn’t particularly available in Egypt [Dave: it was, by trade and a few local spots, including in the Nile Delta], and there is no evidence it was used at all for caulking, during the supposed Moses time.”
5. And this proof of use of pitch that proves [Dave: doublethink!] there was no use of pitch for caulking at that time, certainly has no relevance to the outrageous impossibility of “washerwomen or randos on the edge of the Nile who want to send their babies downstream.”
I certainly can’t argue with that! But I can’t, of course, because it’s not logical or rational in the first place.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane, to recall how you have shifted your position on this, every time you have been proven wrong. First you wrote:
1. “pitch was not available in Egypt at the time of Moses” [what started this whole debate]
2. I showed that it was available long before Moses’ time, by trade and also in at least two spots in the country (which was expressly denied by your conspiracist kook anonymous “source”; endorsed by yourself), one right in the Nile Delta: in Helwan, which is “part of Greater Cairo, on the bank of the Nile, opposite the ruins of Memphis.”
3. Having been shown to be dead wrong, you then switched to saying it wasn’t in use at exactly the time of Moses, and not for caulking (which is a completely different claim: going from outright denial to now quibbling about times and uses of what was formerly denied altogether as being present, let alone used).
4. So I showed with the information we are now discussing that, yes, pitch was used precisely for caulking boats during the period of Moses, according to his dates that I accept from the Encyclopedia Britannica.
5. Faced with this horror of being proven wrong a second time about the same topic, you play the game of conceding the fact of the presence of pitch, but denying that it has any significance at all, because it was 1) “new”, and, anyway, 2) would never ever (in any conceivable universe) have been used to caulk / waterproof a reed basket by a woman putting her child in such a basket, in the Nile, because, well, “you can rest assured, the King’s navy would be using this tech before washerwomen or randos on the edge of the Nile who want to send their babies downstream.”
You concede that this evidence shows pitch being used for caulking boats in Moses’ Egypt, yet somehow simultaneously also assert: “there is precisely zero evidence of it being used.” This is doublethink and literally nonsense. It makes no sense because it’s viciously self-contradictory. But in your rush to defend the indefensible and defeat the “disingenuous” / “dishonest” Christian, who can never be right about anything, even this crazy irrational “thinking” will do.
It’s one of the most amazing displays of intransigence and absolute refusal to concede an error that I’ve ever seen, and I’m in a line of work where one observes such things regularly. (in his combox on 6-15-21)
Have you accepted your terrible use of sources in this discussion? (6-16-21)
Pearce tried to chip away at some of my sources (delving into highly technical textual disputes), in order to bolster his relentless skepticism, in a new paper. I found additional evidence (four different instances) of use of pitch in Egypt or (in the case of Nubia) an Egyptian-occupied area, during the lifetime of Moses:
“Bitumen from the Dead Sea in Early Iron Age Nubia”, Kate Fulcher, Rebecca Stacey & Neal Spencer, Scientific Reports, 5-20-20:
Bitumen has been identified for the first time in Egyptian occupied Nubia, from within the town of Amara West, occupied from around 1300 to 1050 BC. The bitumen can be sourced to the Dead Sea using biomarkers, evidencing a trade in this material from the eastern Mediterranean to Nubia in the New Kingdom or its immediate aftermath. Two different end uses for bitumen were determined at the site. Ground bitumen was identified in several paint palettes, and in one case can be shown to have been mixed with plant gum, which indicates the use of bitumen as a ground pigment. Bitumen was also identified as a component of a friable black solid excavated from a tomb, and a black substance applied to the surface of a painted and plastered coffin fragment. Both contained plant resin, indicating that this substance was probably applied as a ritual funerary liquid, a practice identified from this time period in Egypt. The use of this ritual, at a far remove from the royal Egyptian burial sites at Thebes, indicates the importance of this ritual as a component of the funeral, and the value attributed to the material components of the black liquid.
Black materials were excavated from different contexts in the pharaonic town of Amara West in Upper Nubia, dating from around 1300 to 1050 BC (19th–20th dynasties), and its cemeteries (1250–800 BC). The materials were of three types: black paints on ceramic sherds used as palettes; a black coating on a coffin plaster fragment; and a black friable material excavated from a tomb. . . .
Amara West lies between the Second and Third Nile Cataracts, in the heart of Nubia, a region that stretched from Aswan in southern Egypt southwards to the Sixth Nile Cataract (Fig. 1). This region was intermittently occupied by pharaonic Egypt in the third and second millennium BC; during the New Kingdom (c. 1548–1086 BC), pharaonic towns were founded to control and administer resource extraction. . . .
Molecular evidence for bitumen from the New Kingdom (pre-dating the Third Intermediate Period) [prior to 1070 BC] is limited to the black coating on the coffin of Henutmehyt [c. 1250 BC; the approximate death date of Moses] in the British Museum (EA48001)46 [see source], the balm of a mummified man from Thebes13, an identification of Dead Sea bitumen in a 19th Dynasty [1292-1189 BC, which overlaps the life of Moses] “mummy balm”12, and the presence of hopanes in the black coatings on an 18th Dynasty [1550-1292 BC, which overlaps the life of Moses] canopic chest and anthropoid coffin49. . . .
. . . Given that evidence for bitumen use in Egypt in the New Kingdom has previously been limited to a few individual samples from objects with poor provenance, this study provides proof for a much more extensive use than might have been suspected, with a secure archaeological context.
See also: “Pigments, incense, and bitumen from the New Kingdom town and cemetery on Sai Island in Nubia”, Kate Fulcher, Julia Budka, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Volume 33, October 2020.
See a further listing of articles (many on related topics) by Kate Fulcher.
Pearce responded with his usual cavalier, clueless dismissal: “This is entirely consonant with what we previously discussed of raw bitumen trade, and to do with mummy embalming. You are rehashing the same old stuff. These might even be the same specimens mentioned.” (6-16-21)
You read very poorly (especially when you are determined to disagree with what you’re reading). None of the new evidence had to do with embalming.
You wrote: “Pitch appears not to have had widespread use, including for waterproofing, at the time and place (Egypt, New Kingdom era).”
Egyptologist Kate Fulcher of the British Museum, who actually works in a field having to do with these things, wrote, on the other hand, just 13 months ago in a peer-reviewed scientific journal: “Given that evidence for bitumen use in Egypt in the New Kingdom has previously been limited to a few individual samples from objects with poor provenance, this study provides proof for a much more extensive use than might have been suspected, with a secure archaeological context.” [my bolding and italics]
You still haven’t retracted your original statement: “pitch was not available in Egypt at the time of Moses”. This is what started this entire debate. Isn’t it funny how soon we forget what we ourselves stated not long ago? Once I refuted that, you retreated (minus retraction or concession) to “pitch wasn’t particularly available in Egypt, and there is no evidence it was used at all for caulking, during the supposed Moses time.” [my bolding and italics, to show the sneaky evolution]
You dispute the caulking of boats now, with more textual arguments. That’s fine. As they say, two archaeologists have three opinions about any given thing; so they disagree with each other. What else is new?
Then you make your usual sweeping claim, which is refuted by Fulcher, who has now produced compelling molecular evidence of several previously unknown uses in an Egyptian-occupied area (Nubia), during the general time of Moses (and refers to three other instances from his time that I had not mentioned before in my presentation of evidences).
You can be sure that if it comes down to the report of an expert in the field, vs. your opinion as a non-scientist (that you have essentially forced yourself to take, because of having to shore up your several past ridiculous, unfounded, and unduly dogmatic statements), I will go with the former, because she is 1) credentialed, and 2) doesn’t have the outside agenda that you do (to disprove any remote harmony between archaeology and the Bible as regards Moses in Egypt).
Hilarious. I’ll get to the main thrust tomorrow as it is bedtime now. However, I do like the accusation that I haven’t retracted something but, hang on, I’ve changed what I had said. Exactly, I’ve changed what I’ve said. That’s the point. That is exactly what I admitted above. Well done. (6-16-21)
Yes, you tried to act as if you had never made the dumb statement of a universal negative about pitch in Egypt, so you wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of your fan club. All I had to do to refute that from the beginning of this, was show any evidence at all of pitch in Egypt during Moses (which wasn’t hard to do). Then it became more technical, with you demanding proofs of caulking, etc.
But your original point that I responded to has been decisively refuted. An open-minded thinker would have conceded or retracted and admitted that he was wrong in his initial comment (which would also entail changing several of your articles to reflect that). And you have done none of those things. Instead, you upped your rhetoric and accusations against me as “disingenuous”, anti-science, etc.
The increased insults you throw out are yet more proof of your overall shaky case.
Sorry, just to confirm that I am the one insulting you? Really? Do you want me to list all of the insulting things you have said to me across all of your pieces? (6-17-21)
Yes, really, and sure, go ahead. To my knowledge, I haven’t insulted you as “disingenuous” or “dishonest” or questioned whether you love science. I haven’t attacked you personally, as you have increasingly done to me. Now, of course, I may have slipped here and there, as we all do. If you show you where I have done so, I will apologize here (publicly), retract, and remove it. Would you do the same? Well, we’ll see. I challenge you.
Otherwise, it’s all about the strength of arguments, which is fair game.
Dude, all my articles are there for you to see. And I have not redacted any of them. You know, like you did. I stand by my original statement: pitch was an anachronism. That was the strength of my statement. We have now looked at a whole bunch of extra data you have provided and I have changed my probabilities on that by a small amount, all of which I said in my articles. I am not being dishonest in any way. Can you say the same? (6-17-21)
Yes. Dishonesty (including intellectual dishonesty) is a form of lying. That’s one of the Ten Commandments, and Jesus said that the devil is the father of lies. It’s not a trait viewed very favorably by Christians (or any other major ethical system in the history of the world).
Modifying a paper (which could be for any number of legitimate reasons) is not necessarily “dishonest.” There is a dishonest form of it, but it doesn’t follow that any change is of that nature. I openly explained why I removed the Sargon stuff.
Pearce put up yet another paper on the topic (dated 6-17-21), which he claimed will be the last one.
There’s a lot I could say in response to this, but there is no reason to waste further time on this. You still completely misinterpret what I was saying about mummification, even though I explained that. But now that you have reiterated several times that you don’t even read my papers (in one case you said you stopped right in the middle, even before I presented new archaeological evidence that I had found), I can see why you repeat things that are absurd: arguments that never crossed my mind. That’s what people do when they don’t read the replies of their opponent in a debate.
You throw in my face a portion of the latest article I cited: “Given that evidence for bitumen use in Egypt in the New Kingdom has previously been limited to a few individual samples from objects with poor provenance…” You then use that to “prove” that I refuted myself.
It never occurs to you that if I were special pleading and not properly exercising a scientific attitude, that I never would have included that in my citation (which was just a small portion of the article). But because I have a scientific attitude and am honest and open about research being done, I included it. It’s her opinion. But so also is what she concluded immediately after saying this: “this study provides proof for a much more extensive use than might have been suspected, with a secure archaeological context.” This shows her own open-mindedness. She acknowledges that the evidence was rather weak overall, but that now she has produced “proof” for “much more extensive use.”
So once again, your original statement was roundly refuted, because it was more evidence for bitumen use in Egypt and areas it dominated (Nubia) during the time of Moses: precisely what I had to prove, according to my original interest in your false sweeping statement. I never set out to prove, or claim that one could find an actual reed basket covered in pitch. I was merely disproving your false sweeping statement (which if true would expressly contradict the biblical account), just as I did regarding camels and many other alleged anachronisms. What I replied to in the first place with all this “pitch” business was eleven words in one of your papers: “pitch was not available in Egypt at the time of Moses”.
Note that you were not saying that it wasn’t used for caulking, or for reed baskets, etc. Your “argument” was much more sweeping than that (and thus much harder to prove from archaeology): it was not available, period. End of story. No subtleties, no academic / scholarly nuances, no exceptions. And this was one of the many reasons given in that article for thinking that the Exodus story was absolutely “ridiculous.”
And this tidbit (like many along the same lines) you got from an archaeologist who wrote a chapter in one of John Loftus’ books. She should know way better than that, by simply surveying the literature on the topic (as I have now done). But she apparently didn’t do that (the first major counter-article I produced was written in 1992). You and I are not archaeologists, but she is, and thus has no excuse for saying such a false statement in the sweeping way that she did. I don’t say it was dishonesty, but at best it was incompetence and letting her atheist bias overcome her professional expertise.
I have since produced many instances of bitumen use in Egypt, that you yourself tacitly recognize; you simply say it’s a weak argument because isn’t about caulking / waterproofing or reed baskets, etc. But you don’t deny that there was any use or presence at all, when you get down to analyzing particulars. And (I can’t emphasize enough) that was all I set out to prove from the outset: that it did exist in Egypt during the time of Moses. That’s all! I got into more particulars as time went on because you kept demanding it, so I kept looking.
This is how you were self-contradictory all along: acting as if you had never made the statement you did. And I called you on it. I don’t say it is intellectual dishonesty, but I would speculate that it was embarrassment that you were shown to be so wrong from archaeology, and a failure to retract that.
Again (repetition is a great teacher, and you still don’t seem to grasp this), my task, when all was said and done, was simply to prove that pitch / bitumen was available in Egypt at the time of Moses (what it is used for is a different question, and not what I was setting out to prove at first). You have in effect admitted that several times, though now you want to say that you still believe it was an “anachronism.” That makes no sense, but neither does much of your reasoning in this debate, so I can’t figure out this odd Orwellian “logic” you apply, where a thing can both exist in a certain place and time and not do so.
To end on a positive note: glad to hear that you “enjoyed doing this.” So did I (notwithstanding all the frustrations), because I always enjoy a challenge and a debate. So we have that in common, if nothing else. Maybe we both like pizza and beautiful sunsets, too.
More evidence for bitumen use in Egypt (and for caulking reed baskets) during the time of Moses might possibly be found in the shaduf: “an early crane-like tool with a lever mechanism, used in irrigation” (Wikipedia). This very useful machine was “invented in Mesopotamia and Egypt around 2000 BC” (The Technology of Mesopotamia, by Graham Faiella, Rosen Publishing Group, 2006, p. 27). That’s about 630 years before Moses.
The article, “Evolution of Water Lifting Devices (Pumps) over the Centuries Worldwide” by S. I Yannopoulos et al in the journal Water (9-17-15) stated that the shaduf “appeared in Upper Egypt sometime after 2000 BC, during the 18th Dynasty (ca. 1570 BC).” That’s 200 years before the birth of Moses. And: “Danus of Alexandria in 1485 BC dug the wells of Argus on the coast of Peloponessus and installed the Egyptian chain-o-pots as pumps, in place of the ‘atmospheric’ or ‘force’ pump.” That’s about 115 years before the birth of Moses.
The Wikipedia article adds (importantly for our discussion):
The sweep is easy to construct and is highly efficient in use It consists of an upright frame on which is suspended a long pole or branch, at a distance of about one-fifth of its length from one end. At the long end of this pole hangs a bucket, skin bag, or bitumen-coated reed basket.
The sources it lists don’t appear to mention bitumen, however, or reed baskets covered with them, in Egypt during Moses’ time; so it will require more digging to verify that practice. I could find nothing, after quite a bit of searching. Many sites mention it, but they are not from scientists or professional historians, and that’s not good enough to nail down the point.
Photo credit: Moses with the Tablets of the Law, by Guido Reni (1575-1642) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
Summary: Atheist Jonathan M. S. Pearce insists on the non-availability of pitch (bitumen) in Moses’ Egypt. I offer massive archaeological documentation that supports the notion of wide availability.