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Old June 15 2014, 01:58 AM   #1336
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Re: Cosmos - With Neil deGrasse Tyson

Christopher wrote: View Post
Some things are just objective information. It's the context that gives them meaning.
Overall, I agree with you. However, given the source of the information (which has repeatedly misrepresented otherwise objective information) as well as the erroneous context (the new show which did not mention Hypatia's death at all) provided by that source, this particular bit of information was not objectively, or accurately, presented.
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Old June 15 2014, 03:32 AM   #1337
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Re: Cosmos - With Neil deGrasse Tyson

I don't deny that, but if our side resorts to weaselly phrases like "Well, the show didn't say they were Christian" when it's a historical fact that they were, then we're the ones failing to be objective. We have to be critical of our own tactics, not just those of the opposition. That's part of having integrity, and it's part of thinking scientifically.
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Old June 15 2014, 03:47 AM   #1338
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Re: Cosmos - With Neil deGrasse Tyson

Yes, well, I'm not sure what you're objecting to with my posts, then. Because I never said that the original show didn't acknowledge that the mob was Christian in origin (to be clear, though, the new show - which was the only contextualization provided for the post in question - made no mention of Christianity, and I still made sure to acknowledge the origin of the mob). I was very clear that my point was that the original show didn't explicitly label the mob that killed Hypatia as a "Christian mob" - rather, it made a point of distinguishing and contextualizing that it was a "fanatical mob." The key point for the show was that this was a murder by fanatics, rather than Christians - which is an all-too-general term to use to describe the specific fanatical subset of its followers that carried out a heinous crime - because that episode was, explicitly, an activist message to protect against fanatical (nationalistic, anti-environmental) beliefs.
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Old June 15 2014, 05:03 AM   #1339
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Re: Cosmos - With Neil deGrasse Tyson

Well, first off we don't know that she wasn't doing her darndest to get Orestes to crush Cyril and his followers, as the city roiled in a nasty series of massacres (apparently first of Christians lured into an ambush by Jews, and then the Christians expelling all the Jews and taking all their stuff). This upset other Christians like Orestes, whose city just lost a big hunk of its population. Hypatia taught Christians, Jews, and Pagans, included Orestes, and Orestes often sought her counsel.

The threats were flying thick and fast, people were being killed, and even Orestes had been bloodied by a rock hurled by a monk, who Orestes then put to death. If Hypatia was in the middle of it (and given her philosophy and position, how could she not be?), then the people involved in the violent dispute would view her as a threat and a valid target, and perhaps a convenient way to sent a brutal message to Orestes.

How anyone gets a clear-cut anti-science message out of that is beyond me, because the details are so sketchy that you could make up almost any message about it, and indeed people have. Some of those would have been the basis of Sagan's retelling, perhaps this one from 1720, titled "Hypatia: or, The history of a most beautiful, most vertuous, most learned, and every way accomplish'd lady; who was torn to pieces by the clergy of Alexandria, to gratify the pride, emulation, and cruelty of their archbishop, commonly but undeservedly styled St. Cyril." That book used her in an attack the Catholic Church, and the Catholics responded the following year with "The History of Hypatia, a most Impudent School-Mistress of Alexandria: Murder'd and torn to Pieces by the Populace, in Defence of Saint Cyril and the Alexandrian Clergy from the Aspersions of Mr. Toland"

Some books even say Hypatia was a Christian.

And then we have the confusion over the Great Library of Alexandria being burned by a mob in 391 AD versus Julius Caesar accidentally burning it in 48 BC. Perhaps it seems like a nitpick, but that's like thinking the Inca empire was conquered by the Spanish in 1971 instead of 1523, and it's longer than the span of time that's elapsed since the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock.
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Old June 15 2014, 05:19 AM   #1340
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Re: Cosmos - With Neil deGrasse Tyson

gturner wrote: View Post
And then we have the confusion over the Great Library of Alexandria being burned by a mob in 391 AD versus Julius Caesar accidentally burning it in 48 BC. Perhaps it seems like a nitpick, but that's like thinking the Inca empire was conquered by the Spanish in 1971 instead of 1523, and it's longer than the span of time that's elapsed since the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock.
Source:
Alexandria underwent a slow decline beginning in 48 B.C., when Julius Caesar conquered the city for Rome and accidentally burned down the library. (It was then rebuilt.)

By 364, when the Roman Empire split and Alexandria became part of the eastern half, the city was beset by fighting among Christians, Jews and pagans. Further civil wars destroyed much of the library’s contents. The last remnants likely disappeared, along with the museum, in 391, when the archbishop Theophilus acted on orders from the Roman emperor to destroy all pagan temples. Theophilus tore down the temple of Serapis, which may have housed the last scrolls, and built a church on the site.
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Old June 15 2014, 06:18 AM   #1341
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Re: Cosmos - With Neil deGrasse Tyson

Alexandria was also hard hit many times in between 48 BC and 364 AD, but it's doubtful many scrolls survived the initial fire (if the fire actually involved the Great Library) as the scrolls were stacked and highly combustible. The library complex was rebuilt (if actually destroyed), which probably wasn't too hard because it reportedly had one reading room, several meeting rooms, and one hall with scrolls stacked along the wall.

The entire area it was in, the Bruchion district, was said to have been turned into a desert by a brutal war in 270 AD, so perhaps there's little need to proceed.

Anyway, in episode 13 NGT says:

"Estimates vary on the total number of scrolls. They range from 500,000 to nearly a million."

Wow. He knows how many scrolls it had to within a factor of two, while scholars can't quite decide if it still existed after 48 BC, or if the fire in 48 BC actually burned the library at all, or whether there were really two libraries from the start. We do know there was a daughter library that at one time contained 42,800 scrolls, according to the librarian, and Seneca says only 40,000 scrolls were destroyed in Caesar's fire. Yet Mark Anthony claimed to have added 200,000 scrolls from a different, non-Egyptian library as a present to Cleopatra, but that was probably mostly his pr0n collection.

NGT: "So in the 4th Century AD when the mob came to destroy the Library and the genius of classical civilization, there weren't enough people to defend it."

We can be certain that such an event never took place because a period source states that the temple complex that was destroyed in 391 did not still contain a library, and none of the people involved on either side mention any scrolls or books being destroyed, and the first claim of such destruction dates back only to the 1780's, which is apparently were Sagan picked it up (Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.")

Here's one pretty good page on it, but there are many others. What we know is sketchy, at best, which isn't surprising considering how far back in antiquity we're going. One thing to always keep in mind for studying that era (and up until the industrial age) is that the people were, by our standards, innumerate or sloppy when it came to large numbers, using them in the way that small children do (look at all the people in the mall, mommy, there must be a million of them!). There are some battles where their claims of the number slain in a day were over a billion, cut down by intrepid thousands. Historians have to sift through that kind of thing.
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Old June 15 2014, 06:43 AM   #1342
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Re: Cosmos - With Neil deGrasse Tyson

gturner wrote: View Post
Anyway, in episode 13 NGT says:

"Estimates vary on the total number of scrolls. They range from 500,000 to nearly a million."

Wow. He knows how many scrolls it had to within a factor of two,
Another disingenuous post. If NDT says, "estimates vary" and then reports on those estimates, how can any post definitively state, "He knows"?

Oh right, the post can't - not without misrepresenting what was actually said in the show (that there is no known total).
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Old June 15 2014, 07:30 AM   #1343
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Re: Cosmos - With Neil deGrasse Tyson

Um, because he said estimates vary from from 500,000 to a million, and those numbers differ by a factor of two, so he's stating that the estimates vary by a factor of two. They actually vary far more than that, and many scholars think even 500,000 is ridiculously high due to storage space issues. Basically, there are no real estimates, only guesses of varying wildness.

And he moments earlier said these scrolls contained the sum of human knowledge, or some such term, and implied that only at Alexandria were there such vast libraries dedicated to collecting knowledge (at least until evil, narrow-minded Christians burned it). Actually, the library complex in Alexandria was based on a similar complex in Athens (is that surprising for a Ptolemy?), and vast libraries were all over the place, which is why Mark Anthony could offer up a random one as a present. And to gather the store of human learning was the goal of the founder, not an accomplished fact (obviously they were missing some Mayan codices, etc).

He also doesn't point out that a scroll is not a book as we use the term, it's a "book" as in the Bible, which contains 66 books, each of which would take up a scroll, which is how the Bible got divided up into its "books". And they'd have many multiple copies of each book, because they weren't exactly picky if they're copying any text that shows up, and period sources mention the library as holding many copies of each scroll. Assuming an average of four copies per book, even NGT's 500,000 figure (which is disputed even as a high-end estimate), you'd only have about 2,000 books like the Bible. If you go from the period estimates of 42,800 scrolls in the second library, and assume the branch only kept one copy of each scroll (all unique), you'd have 648 Bibles, and the vast center of learning is sounding more like the cr*p in my attic.

Given what you now know, and what scholars know about the library of Alexandria, was there really any point in continuing with a worthless myth about it's majesty and destruction just to make you hate the nasty Christians who didn't burn it? Politically, perhaps there is, and as an added benefit the show's misguided viewers will get to run around as a myth-fueled angry mob thinking they're impassioned warriors for science and knowledge.
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Old June 15 2014, 01:53 PM   #1344
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Re: Cosmos - With Neil deGrasse Tyson

gturner wrote: View Post
just to make you hate the nasty Christians who didn't burn it?
That's a lovely theory - or would be but for the fact that NDT didn't mention Christians at all. That means the identity of the mob was irrelevant to the narrative he was telling. If he really wanted to "make you hate the nasty Christians" why would he explicitly avoid mentioning them onscreen? That's a rhetorical question, because it's obvious that such an assertion was nowhere near close to the intent behind the segment.

*****


In other news, my daughter and I watched the final episode together this morning (on Blu-Ray). She was transfixed by the Pale Blue Dot sequence, saying "the Earth looks so small! We should take care of it." Which made me very proud. She also made a connection between the evolution of life and Dr. Doofenshmirtz's De-evolution-ator in an episode of Phineas and Ferb. So there's that, too.
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Old June 15 2014, 03:17 PM   #1345
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Re: Cosmos - With Neil deGrasse Tyson

^ Damn, you almost made me cry!
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Old June 15 2014, 04:04 PM   #1346
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Re: Cosmos - With Neil deGrasse Tyson

Ancient Mariner wrote: View Post
I was very clear that my point was that the original show didn't explicitly label the mob that killed Hypatia as a "Christian mob" - rather, it made a point of distinguishing and contextualizing that it was a "fanatical mob." The key point for the show was that this was a murder by fanatics, rather than Christians - which is an all-too-general term to use to describe the specific fanatical subset of its followers that carried out a heinous crime - because that episode was, explicitly, an activist message to protect against fanatical (nationalistic, anti-environmental) beliefs.
See, it's that "rather than" that I find dishonest. It's not an either-or proposition. They were Christians, but they were fanatical Christians who misunderstood the tenets of the Christianity they purported to follow. I object to sweeping the question of their religion under the rug, because it is important to make clear that many people who claim to be devout adherents of Christianity are actually misunderstanding and corrupting its principles -- like many in the religious right today. Like people who deny the overwhelming truth of evolution because they mistakenly believe that religion is about taking an Old Testament myth literally, or who condemn homosexuality because of a sentence or two in Leviticus rather than honoring Christ's teachings about loving others and not judging them. We mustn't pretend to remove religion from the equation, because we need to showcase and confront the hypocrisy of people who identify as Christian while abusing the meaning of that word. So avoiding a mention of religion altogether is wrong. I see what you're trying to do here, but I think the way you're going about it works against your goals.
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Old June 15 2014, 05:03 PM   #1347
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Re: Cosmos - With Neil deGrasse Tyson

Christopher wrote: View Post
I see what you're trying to do here.
If you really think each of my posts that have acknowledged both religion and Christianity are "sweeping them under the rug", then no, you really don't understand what I am trying to do at all. It surprises me because as an author I am sure you understand that word choices matter. What I am doing is pointing out the fact that Cosmos made very deliberate narrative decisions to not identify the mob as a "Christian" mob, but rather as a "fanatical" mob, or just "the mob" in the new version. It did so because labeling it as a "Christian" mob would have irresponsibly painted all Christians with the same brush. Because yes, the mob was made up of Christians, but the salient point isn't that they were Christian, but rather anti-intellectual fanatics.
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Old June 15 2014, 05:34 PM   #1348
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Re: Cosmos - With Neil deGrasse Tyson

Ancient Mariner wrote: View Post
It did so because labeling it as a "Christian" mob would have irresponsibly painted all Christians with the same brush.
No, it would not! That is my entire point. Gturner is claiming that it would, but that's dishonest, an attempt on his part to twist the message of the series into something it wasn't. By accepting his premise and going along with it, you're letting him define the terms of the debate, and he's defining them dishonestly.

Calling them a Christian mob does not paint all Christians with the same brush. It merely acknowledges a historical fact. Gturner is trying to twist that simple acknowledgment into an attack as a way of pressuring us to be afraid to assert simple facts, and you're letting him.

I'm reminded of Phil Plait's recent column about the "Not all men" phenomenon in response to the mass murder committed by a misogynist on May 23. He wrote:
Over the weekend, as the discussion across Twitter turned to these horrible events, a lot of men started tweeting this, saying “not all men are like that.” It’s not an unexpected response. However, it’s also not a helpful one.

Why is it not helpful to say “not all men are like that”? For lots of reasons. For one, women know this. They already know not every man is a rapist, or a murderer, or violent. They don’t need you to tell them.

Second, it’s defensive. When people are defensive, they aren’t listening to the other person; they’re busy thinking of ways to defend themselves. I watched this happen on Twitter, over and again.

Third, the people saying it aren’t furthering the conversation, they’re sidetracking it. The discussion isn’t about the men who aren’t a problem. (Though, I’ll note, it can be. I’ll get back to that.) Instead of being defensive and distracting from the topic at hand, try staying quiet for a while and actually listening to what the thousands upon thousands of women discussing this are saying.
Much the same applies to what's happening here. You don't need to get defensive and point out that "not all Christians" are like that, because every reasonable observer already knows that. And the people who are trying to make it about all Christians are doing that in order to sidetrack the conversation and undermine the point we're trying to make. And you're letting them.
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Old June 15 2014, 05:44 PM   #1349
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Re: Cosmos - With Neil deGrasse Tyson

Yes, it does, Christopher. In the context of a narrative, the one has the explicit decision to label the mob as either "Christian" or something closer to the actual fact. YOU might make the distinction, but you are not the entire audience. Therefore, narratively, it is the responsibility of the authors to provide a description of the mob that best suits the purpose of the narrative - and this is about anti-intellectual fanatics, not Christians. And no matter how long you argue with me about it, the fact remains: Cosmos deliberately avoided calling the mob a "Christian mob" and instead opted for "fanatical mob" instead. And that is precisely the point I am making. Talk about getting sidetracked...
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Old June 15 2014, 06:15 PM   #1350
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Re: Cosmos - With Neil deGrasse Tyson

And what makes you think they were anti-intellectual fanatics?

What Cosmos didn't mention is that the original mob was organized and Jewish, and they lured hundreds of Christians into a trap by knocking on their doors to tell them their church was on fire. That allowed them to herd all the Christians (armed probably with water buckets) into the same place in an open street where they could be attacked and cut down from all sides, which they were.

They took such an action because Cyril, who was ambitious and powerful and involved in an ongoing power struggle with the Roman governor, Orestes, had issued a decree threatening all the Jews because of an earlier act by Orestes, in which he had one of Cyril's agents publicly tortured for stirring up a protest against Orestes' edict about the popular mime shows (mimes are agents of darkness, much like evil clowns). The torture was a very prominent message that Orestes runs things, not Cyril.

Outraged at the massacre of Christians, Cyril had his followers cast all the Jews out of the city (and who can comfortably live in a city with folks who do things like luring fellow citizens into a planned massacre?) Orestes took a stand against such an action, not wanting his city to be emptied of Jews. Monks from outside the city showed up and ambushed Orestes and his bodyguards, hitting Orestes in the head with a large rock. Orestes bodyguards fled but citizens surrounded the monks and captured the rock thrower. That's open rebellion against a Roman governor, and the Romans aren't known for looking the other way when that kind of thing happened. So reprisals followed, and Orestes had the stone thrower tortured to death. Cyril tried to laud the stone thrower as a martyr, and even the Christians weren't buying it because the monk was killed for being a hot-headed instigator, not a defender of the gospels. I'd say the city was pretty darn tense at that point.

Hypatia, who was close to Orestes (as he often sought her advice and attended her lectures), was advising him against reconciliation with Cyril, and in at least one version of the story the people who came and kidnapped her weren't a mob, they were Cyril's bodyguards, who took her to a place where they killed her, skinned her, and then took her body somewhere else and burned it.

Cyril sought more and more power within the church (and used it), but he was also a prolific and important author, hardly an anti-intellectual. Nor did Alexandria fall into intellectual darkness. It remained a center of Helenistic and Christian philosophical and scientific thought, and many of Hypatia's students, both Christian and otherwise, became very prominent.

So what Cosmos presented was a very strained reading of events, a mythical version stripped of any facts or nuance that might make a viewer think twice about the need to oppose those mindless, anti-intellectual, murdering Christians. In that it's no better than the bizarre tirades about Hypatia a thousand years after the original dispute was settled.

Of course NGT didn't have to directly point out that it was a Christian mob, because by episode 13 anyone following the series would already know the theme, starting with the execution of Bruno in episode 1.
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