Ah, dag nam it. You wouldn’t let it lie, Armstrong. You wouldn’t let it lie! ;)
Okay, I’ll spare you all the previous, readers. Here are the links:
- Debunking the Exodus V: Moses’ Birth
- Exodus Sidebar: Refuting Armstrong’s “Refutation” on Pitch (but Oddly Not Sargon)
- Exodus Sidebar: More on Moses and Sargon
- Exodus Sidebar: Sargon and Moses – the Final Word…?
- Exodus Sidebar: The Final Pitch Battle
The reason I am putting in all of this effort is that this will eventually become part of a book project, so I need to be as accurate as possible. Thanks to Armstrong for pushing, here.
Before I get started (again), I am going to open with a different tack.
The problem of a pitch-covered basket to safeguard a baby
I think we have perhaps been concentrating on the historical aspect of pitch without thinking about putting a baby in a pitched reed basket. One of my next articles details the utter incredulity of the story in general.
Pitch is heavy. Baskets are holey. The idea of putting the baby in a basket and into a river (full of crocodiles) is not to kill it. It’s a lot of effort to go to, otherwise. So this is a carefully thought-out plan to offload the baby to someone else without doing what actually happens in society: giving it to someone else or leaving it somewhere. Instead, the mother places it in a pitch basket and sends it downstream. Baskets are, to some significant degree, holey. You wouldn’t use them to carry sand. so to make this waterproof – and I mean totally waterproof, since any single hole means the death of the baby – the mother has to completely cover the reed basket in thick, sticky pitch. To ensure total covering, the basket will be properly daubed in the stuff. This would be one heavy basket.
And then you place a baby in it.
Furthermore, I am yet to see any contemporaneous evidence for pitch-covered baskets. Putting a baby in such a thing and sending it packing to be fortuitously picked up by the royal household is fantasy. This is more Disney fantasy than history, I’m afraid. That Armstrong has been brainwashed by cultural normalisation is his problem, evidently.
You see, to pitch-cover a boat’s hull, the heaviness of a coat of pitch in ratio to the buoyancy of the vessel is negligible. Or you wad and pitch the gap between the planks. Either way, not a problem. But to waterproof a reed basket so that it definitely has no hole whatsoever (or baby dies), that makes one heavy basket, somewhat counter-productive. And that’s a lot of pitch (which differs in weight to, say, pine resin as used elsewhere in the world) before even putting the baby in! Pitch that we have no evidence for in this part of Egypt and used for this practice.
It’s possible, of course. It’s just no very probable.
Back to it
Okay, so was pitch available to make a pitch-covered reed basket in New Kingdom time in the Nile River basin? Aside from the utter ridiculousness of the overtly mythical story, it looks like the birth story was appropriated from the Sargon of Akkad birth myth that predated the Moses birth myth, evidentially, and, to boot, pitch was common (for waterproofing) in Mesopotamia, and not in the relevant time and place in Egypt. I originally stated that pitch was “an anachronism in the Exodus story”. I stand by my claim.
Armstrong had previously “refuted” me by using this source: “The significance of petroleum bitumen in ancient Egyptian mummies”, by K. A. Clark, S. Ikram, and R. P. Evershed, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 10-28-16.
Significantly, none of the mummies dating before ca 1000 BC contained detectable bitumen biomarkers. . . .
The earliest evidence obtained herein for detectable bitumen was obtained from the Glasgow male mummy (MTB G44), which dates to the Early Third Intermediate Period (ca 1064–927 BC; figure 3b). . . .
The earliest evidence for the presence of bitumen in a mummy balm derives from a single individual dating to the end of the New Kingdom (1250–1050 BC; ). The use of bitumen in balms becomes more prevalent during the Third Intermediate Period, ca 750 BC and was extensively used during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods.
This is important for what Armstrong has subsequently said, so I must remind you of my point:
None of this is about waterproofing. Initially, according to his own source, “it was thought that the trade route for the Egyptians to the Dead Sea was only available in Ptolemaic [330 BCE] and later times” but there is now earlier evidence. Is this earlier evidence good for Armstrong? Not really.
So what of these mummies? Well, the Glasgow male mummy (MTB G44) does not fit into the timescale. A number of others did not include bitumen biomarkers, thus indicating its use was not widespread. The ones that did contain bitumen were described as “bituminous”, containing low levels thereof. The conclusion to his lauded paper?
It has been demonstrated that for the first 2000 years in which mummification was practised prior to the New Kingdom petroleum bitumen (or natural asphalt) was not used in embalming as a general practice. The earliest evidence for the presence of bitumen in a mummy balm derives from a single individual dating to the end of the New Kingdom (1250–1050 BC; ). The use of bitumen in balms becomes more prevalent during the Third Intermediate Period, ca 750 BC and was extensively used during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. Radiocarbon analyses have shown that even when present, balms were likely never wholly composed of bitumen. This might reflect its initial rarity, or the belief that some of the traditional materials had to be used if the mummification were to be efficacious. [My emphasis]
So Armstrong’s source actually supports my claim. This is about embalming, not waterproofing, and then this is one single mummy dating to hundreds of years after the life of Moses. This changed my probability assessment of pitch being used to waterproof a basket by some 10%, as I admitted previously.
Give Armstrong his dues, he’s persistent. He really wants to “win” this argument.
His latest comment finds another source to survey: