29 October 2013

Four Women, Four Hymns.

Perhaps my favorite presentation at the ChLA 2013--which I attended in Biloxi many months ago--was that of Alisa Clapp-Itnyre, "For the Children Who Played... and for Those Who Didn't: Nineteenth-Century Hymnbooks for Home, Sunday-Schools, and Orphanages." This was the second time I have heard Alisa present, and, since I share her interest in Victorian hymnody,  I eagerly await her book Nineteenth-Century British Children’s Hymnody: Re-Tuning the History of Childhood with Chords and Verses. Studies in Childhood Series: 1700-Present series.  Claudia Nelson, series editor.  Anticipated publication 2015.

I have much enjoyed her article ,“Writing for, Yet Apart: Nineteenth-Century Women’s Contentious Status as Hymn Writers and Editors of Hymnbooks for Children.”  Victorian Literature and Culture. Vol. 40.  Issue 1.  (March 2012): Pp. 47-81. Clapp-Itnyre advocates "for the woman hymn writer for children – she who, as hymn writer or editor, surely enacted the role of religious “priest” for countless generations of children during and after her lifetime, but who is all but forgotten today."
In much the same way, I have asserted that women writers of hymns and Christian didactic literature function as theologians, shaping the doctrine and practice of the church. (See my introduction for SEASONS's reading of Evelyn Whitaker's Laddie.)

Later this week, I will teach a short class on the Hebrew word
  בֵּית
ba yith 
which means"House, Household, Home, Family, Temple, Shelter, Stronghold, Door..." and the meaning of the phrase "The House of the Lord" in the biblical Psalms. Since this is a devotional rather than a literary presentation, I selected several hymns written by women for the group to sing. These songs were chosen for their commentary upon the selected Psalms and because they were written by 19th Century Women.
Four Women Writers of Hymns:

Dorothy Ann Thrupp (1779 – 1847) was born in Paddington, England. She was deeply involved in the Sunday School movement. The first Sunday Schools were founded to provide some education to the children of the poor. These children often worked during the week to help support their families. Having Sundays free, they often ran wild and engaged in dangerous and immoral activities. Dorothy Ann Thrupp was a life-long Sunday School teacher. She wrote many materials and songs to be used in the curriculum. Many were published under the name "Iota" and some are noted as by D.A.T.  Alisa Clapp-Itnyre in her presentation discussed the Sunday School movement and  cited the "democratizing influence" of hymns and their importance in a "move from selfish pursuit to core Christian values." Attributed to Thrupp, "Savior like a Shepherd Lead Us" appears in at least 831 hymnals.


Anna Laetitia Waring (1823 – 1910) was born into a Quaker family in Wales  but like her uncle, Samuel Waring, was baptized into the Anglican church in 1842. Both her uncle and her father, Elijah Waring, were also writers. She was a life-long daily reader of the Psalter and learned Hebrew in order to read the Psalms (Yes! a kindred spirit, indeed!) and other Old Testament scripture in the original language. Her first small collection of eighteen hymns was published in 1850 and titled Hymns and Meditations by A.L.W. There was an 1855 publication of Additional Hymns. In 1863 the 10th edition of Hymns and Meditations was published. Here is a link to the American edition which contains 32 poems.  In 1886 she published Days of Remembrance: A Memorial Calendar. For many years she was active in a prison ministry visiting Bridewell in London  and later Horfield, Bristol, and worked with the Discharged Prisoners Aid Society. When a friend asked how she could bear this ministry, Waring replied: “It is like watching by a filthy gutter to pick out a jewel here and there, as the foul stream flows by.” Many of her hymns are reflective of pain and suffering. In our hymnal she is represented by "In Heavenly Love Abiding" which appears in at least 453 hymnals.

Anne Ross Cundell Cousins (1824 – 1906) was born in Yorkshire, England. She married William Cousins, pastor of the Free Church of Scotland. They ministered for twenty years in various locations with the Free Church of Scotland and with Presbyterian congregations. She was the mother of six children. She began writing hymns to be used in her husband’s worship services and some of these became very popular in Britain. Her hymns and poems for various publications were most often published as by A.R. C.  She was an accomplished pianist having studied with John Muir Wood. Here is a link to the 1876 edition of her collected works. She said her hymn, 'The Sands of Time," was inspired by the last words of the great 18th Century Calvinist and leader of “the second Reformation,” Samuel Rutherford, whose tombstone is engraved “Acquainted with Immanuel’s Song.”  
 Caroline Louisa Sprague Smith (1827 –1886) was the wife of Rev. Charles Smith of the South Congregational Church, Andover, MA.  She is listed in Hatfield’s Poets of the Church, New York, 1884, p. 564. Her hymn “Tarry with Me. An Old Man’s Prayer” appeared in The Sabbath Hymn Book 1858. She described writing this hymn:  “About 1853 [in the summer of 1852] I heard the Rev. Dr. H. M. Dexter preach a sermon on ‘The Adaptedness of Religion to the Wants of the Aged.’ I went home and embodied the thought in the hymn “Tarry with me, O My Savior.’ I sent it to Mr. Hallock, for The Messenger. He returned it as ‘not adapted to the readers of the paper.’ Years after, I sent it, without any signature, to the little Andover paper…. I send it to you in its original form, in a little paper of which my sister, Mrs. Terry [Rochester, NY] is editoress.” Here is a link to a 1909 edition of her collected writings.

There are at least three other tunes more commonly used with Smith’s words.  The tune in our hymnal #783 is not listed in the references. It is by Knowles Shaw (1834 –1878) who was the “singing evangelist” of the Stone-Campbell Movement. The story of his conversion--he was in the middle of playing the fiddle at a dance--is rather amusing. He was both an accomplished violinist and pianist. Having no objection to instrumental music in the Disciples of Christ fellowship, he frequently played in churches and revival meetings. Smith’s “Tarry with Me” with Shaw’s music was published in Zion’s Harp #165.

 

23 October 2013

Distant Voices

SEASONS, my women-reading-theology group will discuss the now twenty-year old book, Distant Voices. Discovering a Forgotten Past for a Changing Church by C. Leonard Allen. Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 1993,  which focuses on the "minority voices among the churches of Christ." p. 4 
I read this book when it was newly published but have certainly benefited by a second reading. As a church librarian I have had the opportunity to browse some of the 19th and early 20th century publications that make up the written history of the Stone/Campbell movement and have long known that I am more often in sympathy with the voices that were silenced than those who defined the traditional doctrine and practice of the Restoration Movement, particularly as expressed in the churches of the South. One might call me a "Stoneite" but never a "Campbellite."
Quoting Allen: "...in Stone's view, heresy involved not so much believing wrong doctrines but a lack of love and a rending of the body of Christ. He did not believe that a set of correct doctrines would ever unite believers." p 18 Nor do I.
He would not deny fellowship or Eucharist based on whether a person claiming the name of Christ had been baptized by immersion. Nor would I.
"He opposed the "mania for uniformity" that allowed people to exclude from fellowship those who differed in interpretation or opinion." p. 44 As do I. In my 40+ years in the churches of Christ, I have been more than once named a heretic (always by a male) which I usually take as a compliment. After all, they called Jesus a blasphemer.

In his book, Allen makes use of a couple of my favorite Barton Stone quotations:

"I hear much said about obedience, and too many confine or almost restrict the term to baptism and the weekly supper: prayer is sadly neglected, [along with] love to God and man."

"If our faith be ever so imperfect, and blended with error, yet if it leads us to do the will of God, and bear fruits of the Spirit; if it works by love; if it purifies the heart; if it overcomes the world--it is the faith of a Christian." p. 44

SEASONS decided to focus our discussion on the chapters dealing with women:
  • Chapter 4 Your Daughters Will Prophesy,
  • Chapter 17 The New Woman,  and
  • Chapter 18 Phoebe's Place.
Thomas Rolandson (1815)
from the digital collection of the New York Public Library.
 
Chapter 4:
I am struck with how very much the "Restoration Movement"
reflects the general societal views of women in the late 18th, through the 19th, and in the early 20th Centuries in America and in Victorian England with which I am more familiar.  I notice some interesting parallels between the criticisms of "female preachers" lacking "that delicacy of mind, which is the ornament of her sex" p. 25 to similar invectives directed at the Bluestockings.  I've recently been sampling some of the writings of Hannah More (1745 - 1833) and other proponents of education for women.
Allen notes that in the churches of Christ in America "the predominant cultural model of "true womanhood," which limited woman's role strictly to the domestic sphere, became the predominant model of the restoration movement. It remained so throughout the rest of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth." And I fear follows us still into the twenty-first.

Chapter 17:
Likewise the exchanges between David Lipscomb and Silena Moore Holman (1850 - 1915) give a theological setting to the "New Woman" questions that were being debated in the society at large. Allen quotes Holman:
"The days of the 'clinging vine woman' are gone forever... a husband will find walking by his side the, bright, wide-awake companion, ...a helpmeet in the best possible sense of the term." She is well educated, and her education has not "impaired her feminine grace or lovable qualities in the slightest degree."  p. 132
"Men may change with the changing conditions of modern life, but when women find themselves trying to keep step with their fathers, brothers, and husbands in the new order of things, the brethren stand in front of them with a drawn sword and demand a halt, because, they say, the Bible forbids, when it does nothing of the kind." p. 133

I find it telling that Lipscomb in his opposition to suffrage warned against women who "break the bond of subjection" divinely laid upon them. p. 131 The fact the he used the word "subjection" rather than the biblical word "submission" seems to me a clear demonstration that his opposition arose out of a entitled position of power and domination rather than the spirit of Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Mitigating my heretofore negative view of Lipscomb is Allen's Chapter 13 God's Chosen Vessels about the 1873 cholera epidemic in Nashville and Lispcomb service to "the poor and destitute, especially among the black population." p.92 I may disagree with Lipscomb's doctrine or dogma but, in the face of a life sacrificially and courageously lived, I am awed and humbled by the man.


 Chapter 18
The Phoebe's of the Stone/Campbell movement are part and parcel with the deaconess movements that were rampant in all religious circles. They are very much the same as the "gray ladies" of the Anglican sisterhood.  {A really delightful novel touching on this topic is The Perpetual Curate by Margaret Oliphant, part of her Chronicles of Carlingford, a free Kindle book which I greatly enjoyed. It's a sweet romance that will delight the gentle reader.} This sisterhood and Margaret Oliphant are of particular interest to me because of their association with the Christ Church Albany Street St. Pancras which was the church attended by Evelyn Whitaker and her sisters. SEASONS read Evelyn Whitaker's novel Laddie as a study in the woman novelist as theologian.
The increasingly public role of women in the 19th and early 20th Centuries found religious expression in
many social movements: abolition, temperance, education, work place conditions, child labor, public health, orphans and children, health care, missions...
We in SEASONS are blessed to attend a church that has been at the forefront of the women's issue in churches of Christ for a couple of decades. In fact, our own Steve Sandifer wrote one of the best references on this subject.

In Allen's book I noted that women's service gave them credibility. Nancy Cram (1776 - 1815) had begun a teaching ministry among the Oneida Indians. Her prayer at a funeral touched the audience before she became a "female preacher." Abigail Roberts (1791 -1841) preached in "out of the way places." Nancy Towle was a school teacher who spent 4 years in Bible study and prayer before in 1821 beginning her fourteen years as a full time itinerate preacher "wherever a platform was open to her." p. 28 "I was astonished that professed Christians can be so much more willing souls shall perish, than that 'the rules of their society' shall be broken." I share Towle's astonishment. 

We Christians would do well to remember and not to repeat or continue the errors of the past. Allen quotes Henry May's 1949 book: "In 1876, Protestantism presented a massive, almost unbroken front in its defense of social status quo." p. 111 The path of truth, wisdom, unity not uniformity, and peace demands that we 21st Century members and leaders of the churches of Christ hear those Distant Voices.

The Jesus I know is a revolutionary who rejects the status quo and repeatedly engages the marginalized people he encounters. The Christ embodies the teaching of Torah, Psalms, and Prophets: a Holy God is less concerned with liturgical practices than with the compassionate care of those in need. When we do not do likewise we are failing in our witness to the world.

Communings in the Sanctuary

SEASONS has been reading C. Leonard Allen's book, Distant Voices. Several of the women who read theology have mentioned that they would like to read more about the "Holy Mysteries" spoken  of Robert Richardson (1806 - 1876) in his five or ten minute meditations at the communion table. I found Richard's book available to read on-line or as a .pdf download at archive.org which  is an excellent source for pre-1923 publications in the public domain which have not generated enough interest to be made available as kindle books. The link:
 Richardson, Robert: Communings in the Sanctuary.

Dealing with Division: Quotation

"I am as apt to be wrong as my brother."
"I propose never to stand identified with one special wing, branch, or party of the church. My aim is to preach the gospel, do the work of an evangelist, teach God's children how to live, and, as long as I live, to live as nearly an absolutely perfect life as possible."
T. B. Larimore (1843 - 1929)
from Allen, C. Leonard: Distant Voices. Discovering a Forgotten Past for a Changing Church. Abilene: ACU Press, 1993, p. 156

18 October 2013

"...for keeps..."

I hosted two dinner parties last week: an evening party with a group of friends who have gathered monthly for what must be at least a quarter century and a ladies luncheon in honor of David's mother's birthday. As we walked Betty to her car, I bemoaned the fact that I had once again failed to snap any photos of the event other than those I took of my table before the guests arrived. Betty replied, "Well, at least you got the most important shot." She was perhaps being a bit sarcastic. Or not. She is an old school lady of the South and understands about silverware.

I almost always manage to get a pic of my table setting but I'm so busy serving the meal that I never again think of grabbing a camera. {Sigh!}
I'll comfort myself with the thought that perhaps I'm just so entirely "in the moment" that I don't think of preserving the history. I do not much like to have my own photo taken so perhaps I'm being a considerate hostess. Yeah, let's go with that until I have serving staff--a butler, a footman, and a maid in a crisp white apron. Oh, yes! I do love the dining room in Downton Abbey. David will tell you that he once had to drag me out of shop in New Orleans that had a beautifully set dining table to seat twenty-four. "Nothing succeeds like excess."

For those readers who are not of the South, I pull a couple of books from my library, both funny but in many ways oh-too-true:


I particularly enjoy "Chapter Four: Silver Patterns" in Schwartz's book, p. 41 which describes Betty's "Rosepoint. Wallace International. Old-fashioned girls pick this pattern." It's my secret favorite sterling pattern. I might have chosen Rosepoint if I hadn't picked my silver pattern before I started to first grade.

From the opening paragraph of Being Dead: "Polishing silver is the Southern lady's version of grief therapy. [They] have a thing about polishing silver.... Maybe it has something to do with an atavistic memory of defending our silver from the Yankees, but it does ensure that the silver will be sparkling for the reception, which almost always follows a funeral."

My love for silverware predates my learning to read. Stacked under a table in the my grandparents' bedroom were magazines, mostly dating from WWII through the very early 1950s, which pre-school me leafed through. Since I could only read a few words, I was mostly looking at advertisements and making up stories about the pictures. My favorites were the Community silverware ads.

This is probably my all-time favorite image via http://envisioningtheamericandream.com/2012/05/29/victory-homes-for-the-vet/


"You hear his special footsteps (glory be that's your heart pounding). You see his special smile (he's been saving it for you). Your head finds its home-place on his very special shoulder. It's true--praise be--it's true--he's home for keeps...."
These ads were really very short romance novels, popular pin-ups for "the girl he left behind," and undoubtedly foundational to the weaving the American dream. The illustrator/artist for these ads was Jon Whitcomb 1906 - 1988.

The words "back home for keeps" were easy to read and some of the first I learned but I loved this ad with its dark-haired beauty and her sergeant in an army uniform because it reminded me of my parents' love story. Their courtship spanned his enlistment in the Army Air Corps and they married in 1947. At the end of each date she would say, "Gimme your dimes." He'd pull the change from his pocket and pick out the dimes, adding them to those she had collected. They were saving to buy their silver.

 They bought Milady which is the pattern near the bottom of the ad and was frequently featured in Community advertisements. I grew up using this silver--yes, every day. I still have a spoon from the original service. For my parents' 60th wedding anniversary I shopped eBay and bought them a almost-good-as-new service. Mostly as "show and tell" for their grandchildren. I also collected several pieces and make frequent use of the iced tea spoons, the soup spoons, the butter spreaders which are great for soft cheeses, and a few forks when my entertaining ambitions exceed my sterling.

Milady was one of the first few patterns to come back into production following WWII. Whether a bride selected silverplate or sterling, most got promises until several years after the war. Oneida Ltd. (Yes! Oneida Community) manufactured this high quality silverplate and continued to advertise it through the war years but the plants had been retooled to make surgical instruments, combat knives, ammo clips, and shell casings,  for the war effort as they had done during WWI.

The company had emerged from the Great Depression as the only profitable silverware manufacturer and would lead the way in the 1960s to the move to stainless steel flatware for home use.

Community/Oneida had other ad campaigns.  "These are the things we are fighting for" was much like the more famous "Four Freedoms" series by Norman Rockwell.

 The "Back Home for Keeps" series would give way to the post-war "Let's Make It for Keeps" which was also a favorite of mine. "The Happiest Brides have Community" is undoubtedly a true statement and it's great advertising but I was not too fond of that series; most of the illustrations were of a bride only. Somehow I always thought the guy was more important than the wedding or even the silverware.
Christmas advertisements frequently pictured multiple generations. The bride's mother and grandmother might also be dreaming of setting her table with Community silverplate. 

Gran Cummings set her table with Oneida's Vernon silverplate.
Her pattern was Romford. 






I was delighted to shop for and gift my God daughter with her grandmother's Community silver.
The pattern is Old Bess.





Most of today's brides select stainless. Most people entertain casually. One young friend presents beautiful tables using her collection of Fiesta pottery. I always enjoy such gatherings. But it is not my style. This is my style:
 
The salt and pepper shakers graced Gran Cummings's table.
Silver: Prelude by International. 1939
China: Colburn by Noritake. 1960 - 1988
Crystal: Boopie by Anchor Hocking
The turquoise plate is the first thing I bought at an antique auction.
 
I sprinkled the pedestal tray with flor de sel because a bit of salt makes the good chocolate bloom.
The words we read and the illustrations we admire help shape the people we become. I was perhaps overly influenced by those Community advertisments. As a child, I had no idea what it meant to be married but I was absolutely sure it involved good silver.
 
 
 
Scroll through this small gallery of my favorite "for keeps."



17 October 2013

Quotation: Books


"Better economize in the purchasing of furniture or carpets than scrimp in buying good books or papers.
"Our sitting-rooms need never be empty of guests or our libraries of society if the company of good books is admitted to them."
p. 354
Benham, Georgene Corry: Polite Life or What is Right in Etiquette and The Social Arts.  Illustrated. Copyright 1895 by Robt. O. Law.
A book in my collection written for "the ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of America."

The 1891 edition is available in digital text: from Google books.

http://books.google.com/books?id=GSYMAAAAIAAJ&pg=PP1&lpg=PP1&dq=Benham+georgene+corry&source=bl&ots=UCbaC66bhZ&sig=YmpT3JGmrTf5dmz4rwUEE4JYYhM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=uNhfUojMNaKo2wW4-oC4Dw&ved=0CCkQ6AEwADgK#v=onepage&q=Benham%20georgene%20corry&f=false


Mrs. Georgene Corry Benham
from the frontis with signature
 

09 October 2013

Research notes: biblical honey


Random thoughts:
“…milk and honey…” combines the produce of herd and agriculture.

There is honey from domestic hives but also from wild bees of woodland and dessert.

Honey may have been a sacrifice to the "hill top gods" of Canaan.

Despite my previous blog, it is possible that there is provision for today e.g. milk and provision for tomorrow e.g. honey in the phrase.

The Proverbs and Song of Songs reference may be rife with sexual innuendo.

Biblical Citations:

Hebrew              דְּבָשׁ    debash Strong # 1706
“honey/honeycomb” from “to be gummy” e.g. “honey” from its stickiness and
by analogy “syrup”  also “date honey” “grape honey”

Genesis               43:11    “a little balm and a little honey”
Exodus 3:8        “a land flowing with milk and honey”
               3:17     
              13:5      
              33:3      
Levit      20:24
Jerem   11:5
              32:22
Num      13:27    “surely it floweth with milk and honey”
              14:8       “land which floweth with milk and honey”
              16:13
              16:14
Deut      6:3
              11:9       “land that floweth with milk and honey”
              26:9      
              26:15
              27:3
              31:20
Josh      5:6
Ezek      20:6       “for them, flowing with milk and honey”
              27:17    “for them, flowing with milk and honey”

 Exodus 16:31    “it was like wafers made with honey”

 Levit      2:11      “shall burn no leaven nor any honey”

Deut      8:8         “a land of olive and honey”
II Kings  18:32

 
Deut      32:13    “him to suck honey out of the rock” Rock = Strong's 6697
Psalm 81:16       “with honey out of the rock”
http://biblesuite.com/hebrew/6697.htm
Hebrew                             צוּר      tsur       “rock” “stone” “strength” “cliff” “refuge”

 Judg      14:8       “honey in the carcass of the lion”
              14:9
              14:18    “what is sweeter than honey”

 
I Sam    14:25    “there was honey upon the ground”
              14:26    “the wood, behold, the honey dropped”
              14:29    “I tasted a little of this honey”
              14:43    “I did taste a little honey”

 II Sam   17:29    “and honey and butter and sheep”

 I Kings   14:3       “cracknels and a cruse of honey”

II Chron 31:5       “of corn, wine, and oil and honey”

 Job        20:17    “the floods, the brooks of honey”

 Psalm 119:103   “yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth”

 
Prov      24:13    “My son, eat though honey because it is”
              25:16    “Hast thou found honey?”
              25:27    “It is not good to eat much honey”

 Song      4:11      “honey and milk under thy tongue”
 Song       5:11      “have eaten my honeycomb with my honey”

Isaiah    7:15      “honey shall he eat, that he may know”
              7:22      “honey shall everyone eat that is”

 Jer         41:8       “barley, oil, honey”

 Ezek      3:3        “in my mouth as honey”

              16:13    “thou didst eat fine flour and honey”
              16:19    “fine flour and oil and honey”

              27:17    “what of Minnith and Pannag and honey”

 
Honey with Honeycomb Strong's # 5317 unless noted otherwise:
http://biblesuite.com/hebrew/5317.htm
               Hebrew                            נֹ֫פֶת  nopheth “dripping” flowing honey from the comb

Psalm    19:10    “sweeter also than honey in the honey comb”

 Song       5:11      “have eaten my honeycomb with my honey” Strong's honeycomb #3293
              Hebrew                            יָ֫עַר       ya’ar     “thicken” “hived in trees”      ?wild honey?      

 I Sam    14:17    “in his hand, dipped it in an honeycomb”

 Honeycomb Strong's # 5317 unless noted otherwise:

 Prov      5:3         “strange women drop as an honeycomb”

              16:24    “pleasant words are as an honeycomb”

              24:13    “honeycomb which is sweet to thy tongue”

              27:7       “the full soul loatheth an honeycomb”

 Song      4:11      “lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb”

 

 

02 October 2013

Gathering honey from a weed...

"They whom truth and wisdom lead, can gather honey from a weed..."                William Cowper.
 

Several times in the last couple of months, I've come across references claiming that honey has no expiration date, a shelf life of thousands of years. Such references pepper the websites of beekeepers and honey vendors. It is part of the legend and lore of honey. I offer as an example this link to Natasha Geiling's "Surprising Science" at the Smithsonian blog:  "The Science Behind Honey's Eternal Shelf Life" which appeared in my facebook feed.

I fell in love with this idea and became like Cowper's "bee of most discerning taste Perceiv'd the fragrance as he pass'd" and, in my mind, my blog post was half written. The "eternal shelf life of honey" would provide a profound twist to the biblical phrase "a land flowing with milk and honey." Like a seeker of truth and a wise researcher, I decided to check and confirm facts and references before I started writing. My favorite part of any project is always the research which is probably why I so seldom write.
Alas, my lovely blog is not to be and like Cowper's bee "Thus having wasted half the day, He trimmed his flight another way."
My blog must be about the evaluation of sources and the development of reliable references.

But first a meander:
I have always loved honey. I love listening to my mother, Dorthy Wieland Cummings, tell tales of her childhood in Leon County, Texas, where her father kept bees. She and Aunt Gladys used their "shooters" to break up the swarming hives. Grandma filtered the honey through cheesecloth and bottled it in canning jars sealed with beeswax. I remember Daddy once bringing home a giant honey comb and how we children chewed the sweet wax and honey dripped down our chins while mother followed in her mother's footsteps. What a treat with hot, buttered biscuits throughout the winter! We could taste the flowers.
My friends know that a jar of honey is always a most welcome gift from their travels.

I know that unadulterated honey does indeed have a very long shelf life if not exposed to air; it may crystallize but it does not spoil. I have opened a well-sealed glass jar of honey stored in a cool pantry almost a decade after I put it on a shelf and forgot it. The honey had darkened a bit but was otherwise still good. A decade is far short however of a millennium. I am skeptical of "eternal shelf life."


Cartouches of Ramses II, Karnak, showing honey bees. A public domain photo: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Karnak_titul_ramses_2c.jpg
As a former medical librarian, I know that honey has medicinal uses, both historically and currently.  Honey's curative powers are written on Sumerian clay tablets (1500 - 1250 B.C.E.) and in in the earliest extant medical texts. Many of the cures in the Papyrus Ebers (1550 B.C.E.) mention honey.   Its antibacterial properties, its wound protection, and its use to heal skin irritations is well documented. I myself often use honey as an ingredient in herbal tesanes and homemade cough syrups, and I often mix honey with yogurt and oatmeal as a hydrating/calming facial.
Honey was also used during the process of embalming and mummification in ancient Egypt. Honey is often included among the provisions for the afterlife and has been found not only in the Egyptian tombs but in Mayan tombs and in other ancient burial sites.
It is not unusual to find containers, stained with honey, which contain pollen from the flowers that fed the ancient bees. Paleobotanists identify the plants of long gone meadows, reconstructing climates. Here is a link to one such recent discovery of a tomb in the Caucasus: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/65204.
Jars marked with bees indicate "good honey" and "honey from the dessert."
Honey stains and pollen are not the same as jars full of honey that remains edible after millennia.
Multiple references flood the pages of my carefully constructed Google searches but I am not finding credible sources with the citations to original publications that my librarian's soul craves.

I returned to the original Smithsonian blog. The expert quoted in the blog (Amina Harris with University of California, Davis) is credible; the science seems solid but it was the first paragraph of the article that had grabbed my attention:
"Modern archaeologists, excavating ancient Egyptian tombs, have often found something unexpected amongst the tombs’ artifacts: pots of honey, thousands of years old, and yet still preserved. Through millennia, the archaeologists discover, the food remains unspoiled, an unmistakable testament to the eternal shelf-life of honey."
I need that connection to Egypt at the time of The Exodus to make my argument and my carefully constructed searches were not yielding results.

Why did I not take the information at face value? 
I wanted it to be true and I badly wanted to be able to use it to make my exegetical point which is all the more reason to be skeptical. As a researcher, I was taught by my friend and mentor, Rice University Professor Robert L. Patten, to question assumptions, especially my own.
The Smithsonian blogger offered the introductory paragraph as an item of common knowledge, but:
  • It was not part of the information offered by the credible expert.
  • There was no reference, no footnote, no link given for the information. 
  • Countless websites offered by beekeepers, honey vendors, alternative medicine health care practitioners also contained this assertion, often verbatim, of honey found in Egyptian tombs but bore no citations to the original archaeological publications. Neither did they offer the name of a single one of these discoverers.
  • Repeating something does not make it true. Neither do 300,000+ search engine hits. Internet searches open up a world of information, often raw, unfiltered, and too often incorrect. One of the reasons, I could not find what I was seeking because of the sheer volume hits.
  • Smithsonian Magazine is a highly respected publication but a blog on the website is not the same as the edited and vetted publication. A periodical intended primarily as a public relations tool for the general reader is not as trusted a source as a peer-reviewed journal.
  • Lore and legend may be charming but I need confirmation from a respected archeology journal or text.
The most famous discovery of an Egyptian tomb is that of King Tut--and yes, dear readers, that fact is common knowledge. So I googled "King Tut tomb discovery" and the sixth item on the list was to a 1923 article in the National Geographic archives. National Geographic photos are often beautiful and always irresistible; well worth a click through. Eureka! one of the photos  was captioned:
"Young Egypt has a well-developed sweet tooth. The ancient Egyptians were likewise fond of sweets. One of the most remarkable finds ever made by archaeologists was a jar of honey, still liquid and still preserving its characteristic scent after 3,300 years, in the tomb of Yuaa and Thuaa, the parents of Queen Tiyi."


I am now reasonably sure that I have found the source of the legend and lore. Google search "Yuaa Thuaa tomb" and at last a reliable source with a proper bibliography yields two citations:

  1. Quibell, J. E.: The Tomb of Yuaa and Thuii. Cairo 1908.
  2. Davis, T. M.: The Tomb of Iouiya and Touiyou. London 1907.

Now let's hope that these books are available on-line or I'll have to "find it a library."  I love Google books and the multiplicity of on-line archives!

In Quibell's book, I find this note on page 75:
"Oil from alabaster vase in tomb of Yuaa
The sample, of which there was only about 5cc., was very rancid and sticky, and in appearance resembled honey. The smell and taste however were both oily..."
Taste! They tasted of something they found in a tomb? Oh, my!
But whatever it was, it was not honey.

And, in the book by Theodore M. Davis and on page xxxiii I read:
"I looked into the vase... it contained only a liquid which was first thought to be honey, but was subsequently proved to be natron."
What is natron? It ain't honey. https://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Natron.html

Once again, lore and legend--no matter how charming--must yield to careful bibliographic practices.
So end the wanderings of this "bee of most discerning taste"
who has "wasted" far more than " half the day," and who will now have to hope that one day all this knowledge about tombs and honey will be half as useful as it has been interesting, to me at least.

"They whom truth and wisdom lead, can gather honey from a weed..."
William Cowper, 1731 - 1800.
Follow this link to read Cowper's poem:  "The Pine Apple and the Bee. "
http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/ecco/004792651.0001.000/1:30?rgn=div1;view=fulltext