So How Tall is the Staff of Ra?

Yaacov Apelbaum - 3 Amah

We were going over some Indiana Jones trivia during dinner recently and one of the questions that came up had to do with the length of an item that appeared in the Raiders of the Lost Ark called the “Head of the Staff of Ra”.  The discussion must have triggered some long lost memory because I suddenly remembered that in the movie, that object—which is a sort of a medallion—had an inscription on it.

Hoping that there was a quick way to figure out the math, I searched online for the phrase “head of the staff of Ra” and got an image of the original prop used in the movie. Sure enough, both sides had a clear and legible engraving in none other than ancient Hebrew script (also known as Paleo-Hebrew).

Yaacov Apelbaum - Headpiece to the staff of Ra

Transliterations and translations of the inscriptions are as follows:

Obverse Side

Reverse Side

vamh aht mel kds kbd yhvh vhmskn

tt amh qmtw

ואמה אחת מעל קדש כבוד ה’ והמישכן

תת אמה קומתו

And one amah above holy to honor G-d and the Tabernacle

TT amah is its height

As soon as I translated the text, I realized that it had some glaring stylistic and contextual problems. First, the writer chose the word for “add” to be מעל which usually means ‘above’ or from’ as in Kings 1:20:41:
וַיְמַהֵר–וַיָּסַר אֶת-הָאֲפֵר,מעל עֵינָיו; וַיַּכֵּר אֹתוֹ מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל, כִּי מֵהַנְּבִיאִים הוּא
And he hastened, and took the headband away FROM his eyes; and the king of Israel discerned him that he was of the prophets.
The proper form should have been a word based on the root יסף. Second, the form of קדש כבוד is never used together in reference to holy offerings. The form should have been קדש ל’ה as in Exodus28:36:
וְעָשִׂיתָ צִּיץ, זָהָב טָהוֹר; וּפִתַּחְתָּ עָלָיו פִּתּוּחֵי חֹתָם, קֹדֶשׁ לַ’ה
And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and engrave upon it, like the engravings of a signet: HOLY TO THE LORD.
Also, from the paleography its clear that the author mixed several glyph styles when creating the inscription. As can be seen from the table below, the word “TT amah” uses letters Yaacov Apelbaum - Staff of Ra Text that are a mixture of 9th and 10th century BCE glyph styles. It should have been written using the 6th century BCE style. The reason for this is that the Temple of Salomon where the Ark of the Covenant was kept was built between 950-850 BCE and was destroyed in 586 BCE by the Babylonians. If the medallion is a record of the secret location of the Ark, it should have been written in an alphabet style from the period of the temple destruction not its construction.
Yaacov Apelbaum - Early Hebrew Alphabet
Paleo Hebrew alphabet styles from the 13th century BCE to 6th century BCE
Beyond the inscription itself, the script contains some artistic and contextual problems as well. The candelabra (Menorah) at the top of the medallion only has 6 branches, the biblical description of the temple Menorah as well all ancient depictions of it had 7 branches like in these examples on coins, lamps, jewelry, mosaics, tombstones, monuments, and inscriptions:
Yaacov Apelbaum -Seven branch Menorah
The other obvious problems with the text and content are:
Problem 1 – The movie script doesn’t jibe with the text in terms of translation
Problem 2 – The staff height measurement units used are inconsistent
Problem 3 – The seared imprint on Major Toht’s right hand is the obverse side of the inscription

Problem 1

When Imam translates the text for Indy (see script below), he says: “This is a warning not to disturb the Ark of the Covenant”, yet that warning doesn’t exist in the inscription. It’s also a puzzle why Indy can’t translate it himself considering that he is a professor of archeology who graduated from the University of Chicago with a major in linguistics. Also, contrary to Imam’s claim that Indy should “…take back one kadam to honor the Hebrew G-d whose Ark this is”, the obverse inscription clearly calls for exactly the opposite: to ADD one amah to the base value.

Problem 2
Imam further states that the base height of the staff is six kadam and according the Salah’s calculation, this is about 72” (it’s actually 69”). The problem with this calculation is that we don’t know where Imam is getting the 6 kadam figure from. The inscription uses the term amah on both sides of the medallion. Interestingly, Egypt abandoned the use of the kadam in favor of the metric system in 1891, 45 years before the timeframe of the scene in the movie. Technically, then, Imam should not even be using the term.

Assuming that the reverse side of the medallion is the form found in Kings 1:6:2 and it is following the formula ‘amount x cubit’:

וְהַבַּיִת, אֲשֶׁר בָּנָה הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה לַ’ה–שִׁשִּׁים-אַמָּה אָרְכּוֹ, וְעֶשְׂרִים רָחְבּוֹ; וּשְׁלֹשִׁים אַמָּה, קוֹמָתוֹ
”And the house which king Solomon built for the LORD, the length thereof was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof twenty cubits, and the height thereof thirty cubits.”

than the height for the staff should be indicated in the first two letters of the word  HeMemAlephTawTaw(Hebrew is read from right to left). In Hebrew, each letter of the alphabet has an associated numeric value and the value of X (or ת value in post sixth century BCE Hebrew typography) is 400. So XX could be read as 400+400=800 amah or 472 feet. Even if we read the first two letters XX as the spelling of the letter Teth Teth which equals 9, it would make the staff about 13 feet. This doesn’t make any sense as we can see clearly from the movie that the staff is about 7 foot tall.

Length Measurements Used
Amah [aka cubit) = 48 cm. (18 in.)
Kadam = 29 cm. (11.5 in.)

So in the case of problem 2, either there is a special way to read the XX value as 69” or the value in the inscription is wrong and should have been written as HeMemAlephDaleth, i.e. 4 amah.

Problem 3
The seared imprint on Major Toht’s right hand is actually the obverse side of the inscription. This means that contrary to Indy’s statement, Belloq had no way of getting the base staff height because the reference is located on the reverse side. On the other hand, if Belloq managed to get the base height somehow, he than had all of the missing information to construct the right height staff and in fact his staff was not too long.

Yaacov Apelbaum Major Arnold Ernst Toht-

So how long is the staff or Ra? It’s impossible to tell using the inscription. One thing is for sure, just like in anything else in life, G-d is in the details. Creating a plausible fiction that relies on an actual ancient language, epigraphy, biblical scholarship, historical facts, and math, and then wrapping the whole thing up in a dramatic screenplay seems to be just too complex of an undertaking. To paraphrase Mark Twain “It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense”.

Movie Script
Imam: Come, come, look. Look here… look. Sit down. Come, sit down.
Indy:   What is it?
Imam: This is a warning not to disturb the Ark of the Covenant.
Indy: What about the height of the staff, though? Did Belloq get it off of here?
Imam: Yes. It is here. This was the old way,
this mean six kadam high.
Sallah: About 72 inches.
Imam: Wait! And take back one kadam to honor the Hebrew God whose Ark this is
Indy: You said their headpiece only had markings on one side. Are you absolutely sure?
Indy: Belloq’s staff is too long. They’re digging in the wrong place.
Indy and Sallah: They’re digging in the wrong place!!

Yaacov Apelbaum - ROLA Script

© Copyright 2017 Yaacov Apelbaum, All Rights Reserved.

Descend, ye Cedars, Haste ye Pines

Yaacov Apelbaum-Solomon Temple

After much procrastination, I’ve finally taken the plunge and digitized our CD collection. It was a colossal, multi-month project but now, hundreds of hours of streaming music later, I got the opportunity to reevaluate Bach and Handel, two of my favorite composers.

Bach and Handel share some interesting history. They were born only 4 weeks apart (Bach 31 March 1685 – Handel 23 February 1685), grew up 60 miles from each other, used the same snake oil salesman eye surgeon (John Taylor), and even passed on the opportunity to marry Buxtehude’s daughter Anna Margareta.  Despite their parallel lives, each eventually developed a distinctive musical style and while both had strong religious convictions, Bach raised a large family (20 children), Handel remained a bachelor.

Yaacov Apelbaum-BachFor me, Bach’s music is a pure intellectual experience. I find his work to have an almost algorithmic quality.  With a few descending organ notes in the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, Bach rips the universe wide open revealing God’s mathematical handiwork everywhere.

Yaacov Apelbaum-HandelHandel, on the other hand, mounts a direct assault on your emotions. He first floats the theme, and then in repeating iterations he drives it in (almost all of his oratorias follow this MO).  Never verbose, he creates the ultimate expression of the human kinship and longing for the divine through minimalist orchestration.

As for artistic evolution,  Bach’s style remained more or less constant throughout his career and he showed little or no interest in new technologies (he rejected the piano forte because it sounded too mellow and was limited in its expressiveness as compared to the harpsichord). Handel, on the other hand, was a great experimenter and his style was agnostic. He wrote Esther almost a decade before it was performed privately but then shelved it because he realized that the audience wasn’t ready. It is noteworthy that in the end, it was Handel—the undisputed master of the Italian opera—who eventually did away with this pompous and pretentious genre and replaced it with clean and concise style of the oratorio.

One example of how Handel uses simple orchestration and words as an effective substitute to the contemporary Broadway mega operas can be found in the closing part of Esther. Handel, dedicates over eleven minutes to a choral tour de force discussing the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.  This finale is only made-up of 8 lines of text with trumpet accompaniment, a simple chorus line, and dueling basses, but the effect is breathtaking.

Yaacov Apelbaum-Solomon's Temple

For ever bless’d be thy holy name,
Let Heav’n and earth his praise proclaim.

The Lord his people shall restore,
And we in Salem shall adore.

Mount Lebanon his firs resigns,
Descend, ye Cedars, haste ye Pines
To build the temple of the Lord,
For God his people has restor’d.

No siree!  They don’t write music like that anymore.

© Copyright 2010 Yaacov Apelbaum All Rights Reserved

Only the Racially Pure Need Apply

Yaacov Apelbaum-Fritz Kuhn On February 20, 1939, over 20,000 American supporters of the Nazi party packed Madison Square Garden in New York City. They anxiously awaited the appearance of Fritz Julius Kuhn, the newly anointed Führer of the German−American Bund. The event took place two days before George Washington’s birthday and a 30−foot-portrait of the first president (who was described by Kuhn as the first fascist) hung behind the podium along with Nazi flags and swastikas.

Kuhn entered the arena together with thousands of uniformed Nazi guards. During the rally he and his fiery fellow orators held back no punches, calling President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Franklin Rosenfeld,” and referring to his New Deal as a “Jew Deal.”

Yaacov Apelbaum-George W and Bund Being a creature of the night, Kuhn loved nightclubs, drinking, and the company of women (among them his two mistresses, Virginia Cogswell AKA “The Marrying Georgia Peach−on account of her previous seven husbands”, Florence Camp, Frau Hedwig Munx, and others). Just like many petty dictators, he was pompous, dishonest, idiotic, and didn’t understand his own limitations.

Once during a testimony before the Dies Committee, he was asked by Congressman Starnes if the reason why 23 of 71 Bund units concentrated in and around New York City was because the aircraft and naval manufacturing facilities were handy for sabotage. He replied: “That’s the same thing Lipshitz said. You know who Lipshitz is? That’s Walter Winchell [referring to Winston Churchill]. Lipshitz is his real name.”  No one was amused.

Shortly after his rock concert−like appearance in Madison Square Garden, New York city’s mayor, La Guardia, who was fed up with the constant anti−Semitic and anti−American agitation, started an Al Capone−style financial investigation of the Bund’s taxes.

When asked about his relationship to Florence Camp during his trial, Kuhn denied that he had asked her to marry him and noted that Mrs. Camp was too much of a lady to accept a proposal after just a few days’ acquaintance. Herman McCarthy (the prosecutor) whipped out a Kuhn letter and read it aloud:

“Florence : I am terrible in love with you. I beg you to become my beloved wife. I will always be true to you. . . .”

In another letter to Florence he said that he loved her with his “whole soul and body and was about to have [his] teeth fixed.”

In the course of the trial, it was established that Kuhn had pilfered $14,548 from his organization ($717.02 of it having been spent on moving expenses for Mrs. Camp). Kuhn was swiftly convicted on charges of embezzlement, grand larceny, and forgery and was first sent to Sing Sing Prison.  After the war, he was deported to Germany, where he managed to get into trouble again.

Yaacov Apelbaum-The Escape of Fritz KuhnIn 1949 when he again stood trial in front of a Munich court this time on charges of escaping from jail and being a major Nazi organizer, he claimed that the Bund was strictly “an American patriotic organization,” that he had used the swastika only because it was “an old American Indian design,” and that he had patterned the Bund’s uniforms after the US National Guard, not  the SS. As for his 1944 meeting with Hitler he said: 

“It was purely a social call. If I went to England today, I would naturally like to call on King George.” 

When the US. entered the war, whatever was left of the German−American Bund organization quickly disintegrated, however, that didn’t spell the end of Nazi activity in America. Another high profile organization waiting in the wings was the Steuben Society. In comparison to the Bund which was composed of common National Socialist riff raff, the Steuben Society represented the cream of the crop to the US Nazi aristocracy.

Although Steuben Society members avoided public Nazi displays such as hailing Hitler, the differences between the two organizations were only skin deep. When it came to hard core issues such Nazi ideology, they were indistinguishable.

While visiting the reception room of the Steuben Society in New York, John Roy Carlson observed:

“One could find a large American flag standing in one corner. On the walls were pictures of Von Steuben, Washington, and Lincoln, The Pledge to the Flag and the Bill of Rights hung framed between them. There was also no lack of red−white−and−blue. Patriotism oozed from every crevice in the room.”

True to its nature, the Society published “The Steuben News” a newspaper for Patriotic Americans which described itself as:

Yaacov Apelbaum-The Steuben News . . . a patriotic, civic and educational political society endeavoring to awaken in the hearts and minds of American citizens of German extraction the necessity for taking a more active part and interest in the political affairs of our great country.

Its program demanded “strict discipline” on the part of its members, and rejected “persons who are shifters and trimmers, or who are known to possess no race pride.” The Steuben Society strongly emphasized Racial (Aryan) consciousness and political objectives.

In his 1943 investigative book Under Cover, Carlson wrote:

“…The Steuben News reprinted articles from the pro−Fascist Italian daily, Il Progress Halo−Americana. It recommended books by the notorious Ausland Institute and ran many articles by Nazi agents. The Steuben News praised as “extraordinary and valuable” the book Scarlet Fingers published by Flanders Hall, the propaganda mill financed by Nazi agent George Sylvester Viereck. The Steuben News followed the accepted party line of pro−Nazi isolationists. It headlined the speeches of Lindbergh. It championed the late senator Ernest Lundeen−some of whose speeches were written by Nazi agent George Sylvester Viereck−and on one occasion devoted eleven columns to one of his defeatist speeches. It reprinted from Social Justice and The Herald, American Fascist weekly. It ran large advertisements for the America First Committee, reprinted its bulletins and urged its members to support it financially. The Steuben Society fought desperately all measures to arm those European Democracies which resisted Hitler’s brutality. And it also quoted liberally from the New York Enquirer, published by William Griffin, who was later shown to have associated with Viereck.”

Now, you’re probably thinking: “This is a fascinating piece of history, but what’s the relevance of all of this 1939 Nazi stuff to our current 21st century jet−set life style?” Well, wonder no more.

This past Sunday morning on our way out of our local diner, I caught sight of the newspaper stand in the entrance vestibule.  I usually don’t read printed media, but the name of the paper and the motto “A Newspaper for Americans” caught my attention. Curious about how the Steuben Society’s defines “American,” I picked up my free copy and read on. 

Yaacov Apelbaum-Steuben News

At the top of the cover page on each side of the title “The Steuben News” were the mission statements: (1) United for Common Interests and Common Needs” and (2) DUTY, JUSTICE, TOLERANCE, CHARITY.

I flipped through and read some of the articles. There was an announcement of a presidential proclamation regarding the German−American Day, a story about the treaty between German settlers of Texas and the native Comanche Indians. My first impression was that it all seemed rather banal. Then I got the last page. Under the calendar of events, I ran into some terminologies like “event sponsored by Unit #998” and “contact Brother Erick or Sister Hildegard.” That seemed a bit cryptic and militant. At the bottom of the page I saw the membership form which prompted an unexpected double−take.

The membership form, unlike any other application I have ever seen,  had questions about the nationality of the applicant’s father and mother, political affiliation, and—most surprising of all—about naturalization. For some reason, the Steuben Society (acting in the capacity of a quasi−government organization?) will only issue membership cards after careful evaluation of the applicant’s naturalization certificate, which includes scrutiny of the certificate number and place of origin. (I’m kind of curious to know who at the INS helps them validate these applications.)

Yaacov Apelbaum-Are You Naturalized

From what I can tell, this membership application has remained consistent over the years. After conducting a quick search on−line for similar historical documents, I found one for the Silver Shirts, and as you can see from the contents, not much has changed in terms of drilling down to pedigree and other über eugenics.

Yaacov Apelbaum-Silver ShirtWhen, I checked out the Steuben Society’s website for the name and location of the chapter nearest me, I discovered that they are all named after some distinguished German American figure. I was hoping to find a chapter honoring the likes of  von Stauffenberg, but alas, no such luck.

I am not sure what to make of all this. I hold German culture,  ingenuity, work ethics, and organization in the highest esteem. I’m an avid admirer of Handel’s music and Nietzsche’s, Kant’s, Goethe’s, and Leibniz’s  writings. My family originated from Germany and in my travels there I have found most German people to be kind, polite, friendly, and exceedingly intelligent.

On one hand, it’s laughable that anyone would be willing to complete an application detailing his mother’s nationality or his naturalization number in order to join a civic organization. On the other hand it’s really disturbing that in 2010—the age of the internet—a nationwide fraternity that draws its philosophy from one of humankind’s darkest moments, continues to operate in the mainstream with apparently unrestricted access to leading politicians and public figures.

If you are considering joining an organization such as this, take a breather and dedicate some time to learning the German language, literature, philosophy, and music instead.  You will discover that the richness of Germanic culture has a lot to do with individuality and little with purity of race and blood.   

Et si omnes ego non

© Copyright 2009 Yaacov Apelbaum All Rights Reserved.

The Vatican Loves Me, it Loves Me Not

Yaacov Apelbaum-GalileoVsVatican

A few years ago, I read a series of articles about the Vatican’s plan to reconcile the Galileo affair.  The decision to reach this important milestone was by no means a hasty one; it was concluded after the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (the church’s leading scientific minds) deliberated every aspect of the case for almost 13 years.  To the average person, pondering a question for 13 years may seem a bit excessive, but when dealing with a 400 year old grudge, you can’t hurry love, you just have to wait. Net-net, I was delighted to witness the curtain descending on this, the final act of one of the saddest episodes in the history of science.

In a follow-up article I read that the Vatican was even prepared to go one step further. In a gesture that could only be described as brotherly love, they were planning to immortalize the father of modern science by erecting his statue near the apartment where, in 1633, he was incarcerated while awaiting his inquisition trial. This was getting better and better.

Yaacov Apelbaum-Swiss Gaurd

So, on a recent trip to Rome I decided to seize the opportunity and drop by the Vatican to pay my homage to Mr. Galilei. Not being familiar with the neighborhood, I consulted one of the Swiss Guards for guidance. The soldier, in a somewhat disinterested voice, informed me that there was no statue of Galileo in the Vatican.  Here, I thought to myself, was an opportunity to one-up the Swiss mercenary guard. “Haven’t you heard about the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the decision to erect the statue?” “Oohh, that?” he replied, “that project was canceled“. 

I have to admit that at first I suspected my guard friend was out of the loop, but after performing a quick internet search on my phone I confirmed that indeed, the Holy See had decided that the funds originally allocated to the project were re-appropriated instead to an African educational program aimed at teaching about the interdependency of science and religion. Clearly the hand that gives can easily take away; but why? Why would the Vatican go through all the trouble of 13 years of meetings, making news announcements, and publicly committing to erect a statue no less just to renege at the last moment? 

Last week, as I was rummaging through some magazines I fell upon an article written by Father Jose Funes, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory. In the article, Father Funes theorized that if aliens existed, they were absolved from redemption because, contrary to us sinful humans, they were already in “full friendship with the creator”.  After rubbing my eyes and rereading the article a few more times, (it read like something Father Ghido Saraduci might have written), the answer to the whole Galileo affair finally came into focus.

The explanation for the church’s apparent Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality disorder had nothing to do with Galileo being right or wrong or the validity of any specific theory. At the core of the issue were the Pandora box that Galileo unlocked and the resulting devastation the scientific reasoning unleashed on the church’s authority. Where before the scientific revolution, natural disasters, war, disease, and poverty could easily be explained as by-products of sin and demonic forces, now these explanations were no longer believable.

The statement that theology and science share a common interest in questions such as the origin of the universe could be true, but there ends the commonality.  Legitimate scientific discoveries are driven by strong individual curiosity and doubt. The church’s scientheological research is driven by orchestrated attempts to harmonize dogma.  Where true scientific research is concerned with tangible results and the generation of derivative value such as useful technology, the Vatican’s scientific examination produces explanations to questionable theological concepts such as the redemption of aliens.

For a scientific theory to flourish, everything must be open to examination; the observer must constantly reevaluate the universe and construct models that better fit his observations.  This almost cannibalistic process results in the wholesale destruction of old theories (most serious scientists no longer advocate explanations that are based on theories such as the aether or the four elements). But for the church, this constant construction and deconstruction of ideas makes it impossible to maintain a consistent position on any subject.  Being fully aware of the pending doom, they fought tooth and nail to preserve the status quo by enforcing models like the Ptolemaic system.

From the historical prospective, it is interesting to note that Galileo’s scientific revolution coincided with several critical events in the 30 year war. The Vatican quickly realized that the opening floodgates of scientific reasoning coupled with significant changes in the European political map would pose major threats to its hegemony—a fear which within 50 years (starting with the treaty of Westphalia) became a reality upon the birth of the sovereign nation-state and the rise of the secular society where science and free speech would thrive. Not having an effective antidote, the Vatican concluded that the Counter-Reformation did not work and the only cure to halting the pandemic spread of scientific thought was the re-mobilization of the Inquisition, the Jesuits, and a new edition of the Index of Forbidden Books containing writing by such troublemakers as Giordano Bruno and Johannes Kepler.

Having a monopoly on truth and its interpretation goes a long way towards building one of the best selling product brands in history. Being the oldest, largest, and most successful multinational corporation made the church perfectly adept at playing the public relations game and mastering of the art of simultaneously speaking from both sides of its mouth. Now, I know, some would argue that this is a cynical simplification of the church’s attitude toward science and that the Holy See would never utilize such tactics.  If you are one of the skeptics, I invite you to read the following completely contradictory papal statements regarding Galileo:

Loves Me
Pope Pius XII, in his speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, described Galileo as being among the “most audacious heroes of research … not afraid of the stumbling blocks and the risks on the way, nor fearful of the funereal monuments”.

Pope John Paul II admitted the Church had made a “tragic mistake” in rejecting Galileo’s views and offered Galileo a sincere apology.

Loves Me Not
Joseph Ratzinger, (at the time still yet to become Pope Benedict XVI), described the Galileo affair as “a symptomatic case that permits us to see how deep the self-doubt of the modern age of science and technology goes today.” He then quoted Paul Feyerabend, saying “The Church at the time of Galileo kept much more closely to reason than did Galileo himself, and she took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s teaching too. Her verdict against Galileo was rational and just and the revision of this verdict can be justified only on the grounds of what is politically opportune.”  Cardinal Ratzinger further commented about Galileo’s trial and concluded that it was “fair and reasonable”.

I encourage you to reconcile these statements. If you do, please drop me a line and I will do my part to ensure that in the future, your statue too gets erected in the Vatican.  Where specifically, you ask? Why, right next Galileo’s.


© Copyright 2009 Yaacov Apelbaum All Rights Reserved