Nov 14, 2006

Essenes, ritual purity, and roundworms

All brought together in this ironically tragic story.
Following directions found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeologists have discovered the latrines used by the sect that produced the scrolls, discovering that efforts to achieve ritual purity inadvertently exposed members to intestinal parasites that shortened their lifespan....

Tabor and Joe Zias of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an expert on ancient latrines, went to the site and took samples.

Zias sent samples to anthropologist Stephanie Harter-Lailheugue of the CNRS Laboratory for Anthropology in Marseilles, France, who found preserved eggs and other remnants of roundworms, tapeworms and pinworms, all human intestinal parasites.

Samples from the surrounding areas contained no parasites. Had the waste been dumped on the surface, as is the practice of Bedouins in the area, the parasites quickly would have been killed by sunlight. Buried, they could persist for a year or longer, infecting anyone who walked through the soil.

The situation was made worse by the Essenes having to pass through an immersion cistern, or Miqvot, before returning to the settlement. The water would have served as a major breeding ground for the parasites.

"The graveyard at Qumran is the unhealthiest group I have ever studied in over 30 years," Zias said. Fewer than 6 percent of the men buried there survived to age 40, he said. In contrast, cemeteries from the same period excavated at Jericho show that half the males lived beyond age 40.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you think that's bad, look at the consequences of immersion in the filth that poured out of Martin Luther's guts over these past centuries.

The seat of the Reformation
By Kate Connolly in Wittenburg
Last Updated: 7:48pm BST 21/10/2004

German archaeologists have discovered the lavatory on which Martin Luther wrote the 95 Theses that launched the Protestant Reformation.

Luther frequently alluded to the fact that he suffered from chronic constipation and that he spent much of his time in contemplation on the lavatory.

Experts say they have been certain for years that the 16th century religious leader wrote the groundbreaking Ninety-Five Theses while on das klo, as the Germans call it.

But they did not know where the object was until they discovered the stone construction after recently stumbling across the remains of an annex of his house in Wittenberg, south-west of Berlin, during planning to plant a garden.

"This is a great find," Stefan Rhein, the director of the Luther Memorial Foundation said, "particularly because we're talking about someone whose texts we have concentrated on for years, while little attention has been paid to anything three-dimensional and human behind them.

"This is where the birth of the Reformation took place.

"Luther said himself that he made his reformatory discovery in cloaca [Latin for "in the sewer"]. We just had no idea where this sewer was. Now it's clear what the Reformer meant."

What makes the find even more fitting is that at the time, faecal language was often used to denigrate the devil, such as "I shit on the devil" or "I break wind on the devil".

Prof Rhein said: "It was not a very polite time. And in keeping with this, neither was Luther very polite."

The 450-year-old lavatory, which was very advanced for its time, is made out of stone blocks and, unusually, has a 30cm-square seat with a hole. Underneath is a cesspit attached to a primitive drain.

Other interesting parts of the house remain, including a vaulted ceiling, late Gothic sandstone door frames and what is left of a floor-heating system.

This presumably gave Luther an added source of comfort during the long hours he spent in contemplation.

Luther, who was professor of biblical theology at Wittenberg University, nailed his theses to the church door at Wittenberg, attacking the corrupt trade in indulgences.

The act led to his excommunication but he was protected by Frederick II of Saxony and was able to develop and spread his ideas, which he saw as much more than a mere revolt against ecclesiastical abuses but as a fight for the Gospel.

Prof Rhein said the foundation would prevent the 80,000 visitors who arrive in Wittenberg each year in search of the spirit of Luther, from sitting on the lavatory. "I would not sit on it. There's a point where you have to draw the line," he said.