Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
As I have progressed in my biblical studies these past 4o years, more and more I have come to comprehend and appreciate the fact that in the 66 book anthology, encompassing literature, history, archaeology, physics, biology, astronomy, cosmology, theology–and more–known as God’s Word, is a lot like a seven level chess game. But on learning about the Antikythera mechanism *, a relatively recent discovery of an ancient Greek calculating machine regarded as the first analogue computer, I am switching metaphors.
God’s Word is not a chess game given to chance or circumstance, rather, it is a precise device revealing His workings in time, space, matter and spirit for those willing to diligently search its contents and its contexts.
In this way both the Bible and the Antikythera mechanism, the oldest known device of its kind, are similar: sometimes surprising truths are revealed from antiquity that both challenge–and blow–the mind. An open mind, that is, matched with a spirit willing to search–and comprehend–the treasures.
The sponge divers back in 1901 who discovered the ancient mechanism, along with hundreds of other ship-wrecked treasures strewn about the sea floor off the rugged coastline of Greece, knew of nothing of its value. But due to the work of archaeologists, historians, physicists, engineers, and mathematicians since, we now do.
Of course, how could the divers know? It didn’t look like much of anything, at first (see photo, right), rather, a lumpy, corroded metal and wood artifact of some sort–in pieces–with few clues as to the intricate gears and dials beneath and their purposes. Meh…maybe nothing much to see, here…people may have thought at first glance.
This interpretation changed, however, when in the nineteen-seventies, Yale University professor, Derek J. de Solla Price and Greek nuclear physicist Charalampos Karakalos made X-ray and gamma-ray images of the 82 fragments (see photo, left, and schematic, below).
As it turns out, this compact, miniaturized measuring device comprising over 30 gears of various sizes and positions and related dials and pointers dates anywhere from 150 to 100 B.C., estimates vary. It was brilliantly engineered (although according to one engineer it did have a few flaws, see videos, below) to accomplish the following:
- follow the movements of the moon and the sun through the zodiac,
- predict both solar and lunar eclipses,
- model the irregular orbit of the moon, and show its phases,
- display the planetary positions,
- represent the Metonic Cycle (NOTE: this is a yet little-regarded but significantly important element of prophecy related to the nearness of Jesus’ return. See below*** for further information on this, though also note that the Antikythera device is valued for its engineering brilliance, not any prophetic import),
- track the four-year cycle of the athletic games (similar to today’s Olympic games), and
- represent the Callipic cycle.
The device even includes instructions, though due to the effects of time and corrosion, few remain discernible…
It goes to show: you just never know that what seems to be just some old thing of questionable value might, in fact, with research and an open mind, reveal new understanding and speak truth from antiquity with a little more searching, a little more probing. In these ways, I liken this amazing mechanism to the Bible.
Like many people, before I took the Bible seriously, I thought it was also just some dusty, boring old book.
For one, having been raised in a religious system that includes many non-Christian elements–but wields an incredible amount of power over minds and spirits–I also thought it was not a book for the rank and file to even try to make sense of. A great deal of pomp and circumstance surrounding the gilded tome resting carefully upon the lectern at the front of the church and opened only at precise moments during services to be read only by the presiding priest or his designates, was a visual reminder, too: this is not for you to comprehend, lay person. Leave it to us, after all, only we possess the centuries-old power of imprimatur.
I also suffered from another common misconception–Bible stories are silly or unbelievable for some reason or other. This was illustrated by a colleague of mine a few years ago. The topic of the Bible had come up. She told me, “Oh, that book! When I was six years-old somebody told me the story of Noah’s Ark and I though ‘that’s silly’! Even at six, I knew.”
(I wondered what other big decisions this woman made at the tender age of six that are still enshrined in her thoughts…)
A third reason many, including me, once (or still) thought the Bible was not to be taken seriously unless one referenced it for specific literary, archaeological, or religious reasons, was that the book was only the stuff of myth and metaphor for man’s spiritual side. Nothing of reality to see here, folks, move along.
And I had no interest of going further, bound in my mind and spirit by that trinity of compunction, assumption, and presumption. Until, one night back in 1973, I was reading a particular passage in that old book that was on my reading list because, well, it was and is the all-time “best seller,” and I was “into” best-sellers… (my story, if interested, is embedded in old posts, here).
(Aside: from this end of my decades-long close reading of the text, when detailing the above misconceptions I can almost hear the hiss of one highly invested in them, the same who knows–and has experienced–the full force of God’s Word. An anecdote about his attempt to waylay Jesus in the desert illustrates this along with the continuous potency of those “old words”. “It is written…” was how Jesus began three responses to Satan’s temptations that defeated our ancient foe back then–and that still works, now..)
THE TREASURE HUNT
Below is just a starter list of “maps,” so to speak, illustrating what else I have learned about the book called the Bible, along with all other people who follow the prompt of curiosity, adventure, and the call to a quest for the treasures embedded therein. By the way, they would be people who also, these days, exhibit some courage in doing so as the world becomes more and more militant in its desire to rid the planet of the “offensive” text. Interestingly, it is the only such religious text inciting such hatred…
But for those who do take the time and employ the diligence to explore the Bible, like those who took the time and diligence to discover the real treasure of the old artifact beneath the sea, there are guaranteed and unexpected discoveries beneath the covers of the old text, too. In the case of both treasures, however, it did and will take using the best tools of discovery we possess***.
Here are just a few of the “maps” leading to discerning the priceless collection called the Biblical Anthology. Consider:
On the historicity of the Bible. Warning: if you subscribe to the evolution hypothesis you might experience some cognitive dissonance at this point.This quest, like all others, includes challenges and dealing with Darwin’s relatively recent hypothesis is often one of them.
Of course, in citing the references above, I leave out thousands of others available to the adventurer along with one more category of interest: the Bible also interprets itself.
Enjoy the dig–for you just never know what you may find…and more with each exploration…
Even after all the years I have been at it, I feel I have really just begun ciphering the “wheels within wheels” of all that the Word of God reveals–like the gears of the Antikythera mechanism–each part unique but all related and functioning like extraordinary clockwork–that survives the test of time.
Images from Wikimedia Commons.
*For an excellent, virtual reconstruction of the Antikythera mechanism, see this 5 minute You Tube presentation. Standard You Tube licensing.
For a multi-session discussion of the mechanism by several experts and hosted by the Computer History Museum, click here. Standard You Tube licensing.
***Here are some tools:
…6“Do not forsake (the wisdom of God), and she will guard you; Love her, and she will watch over you. 7“The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; And with all your acquiring, get understanding. 8“Prize her, and she will exalt you” (Proverbs 4:6-8 NAS).
But how do you get this “wisdom”?
“The fear (reverence) of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).
How to get the “knowledge” considering how dense and dull and difficult to understand a lot of the biblical anthology seems?
Ask. As Jesus put it, “seek and ye shall find”. Additionally, He sends a Guide, the Holy Spirit, to “guide you into all truth; for He shall not speak from Himself, but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak; and He will show you things to come” (John 16:3).
But as with those who discovered the true value of the Antikythera mechanism, it is important to keep and open mind–and heart.
If you have not yet embarked on the quest, are you ready for the adventure of eternity?
It can begin now.