"AS I SEE IT" 

Volume 16, Number 1, January 2013

 

“I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.

For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me;

Inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.

I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.

I will show partiality to no one.  Nor will I flatter any man.”

Job 32:17-21

 

“That which ordinary men are fit for I am qualified in, and the best of me is diligence.”

Earl of Kent

Shakespeare’s King Lear

Act I, scene iv, ll. 32-34

 

[“As I See It” is a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek.  Its purpose is to address important issues of the day and to draw attention to worthwhile Christian and other literature in order to aid believers in Jesus Christ, especially pastors, missionaries and Bible college and seminary students to more effectively study and teach the Word of God.  The editor’s perspective is that of an independent Baptist of fundamentalist theological persuasion.

 

AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at: DKUTILEK@juno.com.  You can be removed from the mailing list at the same address.  Back issues sent on request.  All back issues may be accessed at http://www.KJVOnly.org

 

All articles are by the editor (unless otherwise noted) and are copyrighted but may be reproduced for distribution, provided the following conditions are met: 1. articles must be reproduced in unedited, unabridged form; 2. the writer must be properly credited; and, 3. such reproduction must be for free distribution only.  Permission to distribute in any other form must be secured in writing beforehand.  Permission for reproduction in Christian print periodicals will generally be given upon request.]

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A Biblical Perspective on Environmentalism: Part I

 

[Note: this is the first in a series of articles that have been percolating in my mind for years, even decades, as I have waited, hoping that someone would address the subject of modern environmentalism from an informed Biblical perspective.  Having so far found no adequate treatment (which is not to say such does not exist; I just haven’t met with it yet), I have decided to address the subject myself--Editor]

 

Introduction

 

From time to time, I run across a statement in modern environmentalist literature of the frothy-mouthed extremist sort that summarily accuses conservative Christians of justifying the plundering of the environment--the natural world--by the mandate of Genesis 1:28--

 

“God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.’ “

HCSB, italics added

 

‘See--you Bible-thumpers think you have Divine approval to over-populate the earth, pollute the air and water, destroy the lakes, rivers, fields, forests, and soil, and drive species after species into extinction!!!’

 

Such is the gist of their accusation.

 

Frankly, I have NEVER, not once, read or heard anything by any Christian writer or speaker that suggested in even the smallest way that this verse authorized mankind to exploit and plunder the planet and its natural resources, animal, vegetable and mineral, to gratify his own whims and feed his own cravings, without a thought or care for the consequences to the ecosystems of earth or the effects on subsequent generations.  To impute such a view and interpretation to conservative Christians is pure caricature, the strawiest of straw men.  In fact, the environmental emphasis of the Bible is one very much to the contrary, one of wise use and long-perspective stewardship, the very thing environmental activists claim to be in favor of (though I suspect that there is another agenda afoot among modern “greens” under this façade).

 

The plainest reading of Genesis 1:28 (along with Psalm 8:7-9) discloses that God has given to man, His designated viceroy over creation, the authority to manipulate the phenomena and features of the natural world.  This by reasonable deduction would include the domestication of plants and animals, and the manipulation of their genetic features by selection and breeding to develop newer varieties with qualities more useful or pleasing to man.  Man may with Divine acquiescence dam rivers and streams, create lakes and reservoirs, dig canals, build roads, utilize forest products, build houses and business structures and public buildings of wood and stone and metal, mine minerals, produce chemicals, smelt metals, and combust so-called fossil fuels for light, heat and other uses.  He may plow up the grasslands, clear forests, and even reclaim ocean bottom land to create fields for the growing of crops.  He may also drain swamps, suppress populations of harmful or over-populated species (such as malaria-carrying mosquitoes on the one hand, and over-populated deer and mustangs on the other), develop vaccines and antibiotics to protect himself and his livestock against disease and death, and promote the proliferation of desirable (to man) animals both wild and domesticated.  He may do all these things and considerably more by Divine permission, though not with a careless disregard for the immediate impact on his environment or on those who are around him, or the long-term effects on those who will come after him.

 

The earth was designed “to be inhabited” by man, not left as a vast man-free pristine wilderness--

 

“For this is what the LORD says--God is the Creator of the heavens.  He formed the earth and made it; He established it; He did not create it to be empty, [but] formed it to be inhabited--I am the LORD and there is no other.”

Isaiah 45:18, HCSB

 

Mankind’s habitation of this planet necessarily requires human use of the Divinely-created resources of this planet to sustain his life and to enable him to fulfill the Divine command to propagate and fill the earth.  This situation obtained even in the pre-Fall days when man and his environment were both still “very good,” and as yet uncorrupted by sin and decay.

 

Even more so, the Divine judgment decreed on human sin (Genesis 3:17-19) not merely allows but actually compels man to manipulate the natural world by agrarian pursuits to provide for his nutritional needs. 

 

“And He said to Adam, ‘Because you listened to your wife’s voice and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, “Do not eat from it”: The ground is cursed because of you.  You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field [or, wild plants].  You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it.  For you are dust, and you will return to dust.’ “

(HCSB)

 

In the very next chapter, we find that Cain was a “tiller of the soil” (4:2), manipulating for his own benefit, indeed his very survival, the Divinely-made “natural” world, though later in punishment for his fratricide, he was compelled to adopt a restless foraging lifestyle (4:12, 14).  And while there have been since time immemorial “hunter-gatherer” cultures where only wild plants and wild animals are employed for human food--some still persist in isolated areas--, with no cultivation of the soil or tending of domesticated livestock, such activity is incapable of supporting anything more than a minimal human population, and that only precariously.

 

Farming and gardening, along with domesticating livestock, are vastly more productive of food and therefore better capable of sustaining an immensely larger human population than primitive hunter-gatherer activities.  Contrast the population of North America in A. D. 1500 (variously estimated at from 2 to 5 million inhabitants and stagnant) with that of 1900 (before fossil-fuel powered agriculture)--150 million-plus and rapidly growing.  Today, the figure is more than 400 million, which is nowhere close to the maximum sustainable human population capacity of North America; if we had a population density approaching that of India, 2 to 3 billion well-fed residents is not unrealistic (whether that is desirable or not is another issue).

 

In a word, keeping or restoring the world at large to a pristine, untouched, “wilderness” condition unaltered in perpetuity by man is neither necessary nor possible, given the existence of mankind on the planet.  But, since man has and will be altering the planet and using its resources, we may ask, how should we use the earth’s resources, what should be our perspective on this? 

 

It is beyond dispute that throughout history--reaching back to the remotest antiquity--much of human use of the resources of the earth has been in the worst tradition of “immediate gratification” / exploitation with not the least thought of the short- or longer-term consequences to the environment, the air, the water, the native flora and fauna, the food, fuel or mineral supply.  Cases of ruinously over-grazed grasslands, forest-devastating cut-and-get-out logging, massive soil erosion and river-choking silting, excessive harvesting of game and fish, soil- and water-poisoning toxic wastes from coal and mineral mining, oil drilling, oil and chemical refining, metal smelting or processing, and waste dumping sites of all sorts can be cited ad infinitem.  Man has often been very abusive and wasteful of the rich resources of God’s creation.  But Bible-dependent practices and ethics are not to be blamed for this desolation; much to the contrary, Biblical ethics requires a careful husbanding of earth’s resources, with a clear understanding of present effects and future consequences, as we will show. 

 

The ancient Greeks, Etruscans, Carthaginians and Romans, as well as later medieval inhabitants of the Levant and elsewhere (to mention just a few that come immediately to mind) all destroyed their forests and the fertility of their soils by exploitative agricultural and forestry practices, and none of these civilizations can be by any stretch of the imagination identified as guided by Biblical principles.  In more recent times, it is notable that of the “world’s ten most polluted places” spotlighted in the June 1991 issue of National Geographic magazine, six were in the former Soviet Union (Chernobyl in Ukraine, Copsa Mica in Romania, among them), created under a system that was officially atheistic (and where government had absolute control over the scene of the pollution; there’s a lesson in that fact, as well). 

 

My Qualifications to Speak

 

Before I venture too far into my topic, let me lay out my qualifications to speak with more than an “armchair theoretician’s” authority regarding man’s legitimate use of the world’s resources.  Nothing is less valuable in this discussion than the pronouncements of mere theoreticians, who are smugly sure that their own views are precisely correct and the sure remedy to every environmental ill--and are ready to impose them on you,--yet who have themselves little or no actual experience in dealing with environmental issues in the real world.  My reading on this subject is rather extensive (everything from Rachel Carson’s alarmist book Silent Spring to Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac to Governor Dixy Lee Ray’s Trashing the Planet to Steve Milloy’s Green Hell and very much in between, besides whatever is in the news on the subject), as is my writing (numerous published articles--enough for a book or two).  Yet I am persuaded that my actual experience is at least as extensive as either my reading or my writing, and quite likely more extensive.

 

A major portion of my sizeable library consists of shelf upon shelf of books about nature, agriculture, gardening, grasses, soils, composting, conservation, pomology, trees, forestry, flowers, fungi, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, fish, ecology and environmentalism.  Most (excluding the reference works) have been read completely through, and in several cases re-read repeatedly.  I have college credits in botany (and have taught the subject on a high school level), and when no course was available locally, bought and read through cover to cover a college text on forestry, and later another on the agricultural history of North America.

 

When my “zeal with very limited knowledge” in this area was first kindled around 1970, I was for a couple of years a fervent member of the Sierra Club (the only extremist organization I have ever belonged to).  For a couple of decades, I also subscribed to Organic Gardening and Farming magazine, and a bit later was a member of the American Forestry Association for a similar period of time. 

 

I have been active as a gardener for nearly fifty years.  As teenagers, my older brother and I had a two-and-a-half acre market garden and sold vegetables.  I have gardened in diverse climates in five different states (Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee), and have helped friends with gardens in Romania.  Currently I have over 5,000 square feet of garden that I tend entirely by myself, with nothing more than hand tools.  I garden chiefly for family consumption, but also to have enough to give away.  I have acquired by much reading and even more experience a detailed understanding about how plants grow, and what conditions either help or hinder the process.  I understand what is necessary to create conditions for continued food production in perpetuity, and I work to attain and maintain those conditions.  I do, after all, plan to continue to eat regularly and well for years to come.

 

I have been active as a tree planter for almost 55 years.  My first experience planting trees came when I was 6 years old, serving as assistant to my father as he transplanted ten or so seedling cedars from a shelter belt a few miles from our suburban Wichita house to the back property line of that residence (some of those trees are still alive).  I began working full-time for a landscaper during the summer when I was fifteen, and liked the work to the degree that I worked for him again for four subsequent summers, and in later years secured employment from time to time with landscapers in Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee, and have had my own small-scale landscaping and tree trimming business for more than twenty-five years.  I can say with certainty that I have planted not less than 10,000 trees in my lifetime, and even now regularly plant personally or give away 150 to 200 trees per year, virtually all of my own raising from seed (part of my garden is a tree nursery).  In the past decade, I have grown more than a hundred oaks from the acorns of a tree I personally planted in 1969.

 

I have also been actively engaged for almost a decade in reclaiming some six acres of badly overgrazed formerly native tall-grass prairie.  I have worked to suppress the coarse weeds, promote the growth and spread of the grasses, reduce and eventually eliminate the serious erosion problems along the creek that passes through the parcel of land (about 90% successful at present), manage the existing trees and plant many others to reduce the prairie winds, improve soil fertility, enhance wildlife habitat, provide future fuel wood, produce food for human consumption and improve the esthetics of the place.  Most of the initial planting is complete after a decade’s labors, with the majority of the work now being routine maintenance.

 

In my horticultural pursuits, I am a self-described “wise use conservationist” (to adopt a term employed by Aldo Leopold, author of the justly famous and influential, particularly on me, A Sand County Almanac).  I am a practitioner of the “land ethic,” claiming my God-given right to utilize earth’s resources for my own and other’s benefit, while at the same time accepting my serious and solemn obligation as a steward, a trustee, of the resources under my care, to pass them on in as good or better condition than I found them, with a view to perpetual availability of sufficient resources to support human and other life, not merely on a level of biological subsistence, but also with a view to our esthetic needs as well.

 

If recycling and sustainable living merit acclaim (they might rather be characterized as merely acting with expected personal responsibility), I should get at least three, maybe four stars.  Besides recycling the small stuff (which I do primarily to satisfy my inner urge to never waste anything useful)--burying in the garden all kitchen waste, recycling all newspapers, catalogs and corrugated boxes, taking to the recycler the five or so gallons of waste motor oil my vehicles generate each year, and selling the slowly accumulated metal scrap to a dealer--, I annually “recycle” between 15 and 25 tons of “waste” organic material, including perhaps a ton of leaves each fall, 8 to 12 tons of woodchips, 8 to 12 tons of firewood, dozens of wooden shipping pallets (great for kindling), several hundred pounds of wood ashes, and the occasional pickup load of organic equine bio-solids.  Every bit of this “waste” material--leaves, chips, ashes, wood, manure--is perfectly “natural” and 100% renewable, so if feeling good about oneself is what environmentalism is all about (and that seems to be the chief aim of many an environmental zealot), then I should rest at night with a serene self-satisfaction.

 

By wisely promoting the well-being of my fields and gardens, I benefit others around me directly by not wrecking the landscape, decimating the wildlife, polluting the water, creating an eye-sore, and thereby harming their property values or their enjoyment of “the great outdoors.”  “Love does no harm to its neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law,” wrote Paul in Romans 13:10.  And positively, I commonly have seedling trees to give away to neighbors and friends, and firewood or good quality fresh vegetables to sell (and sometimes give away) at prices equal to or even better than the local stores.

 

While there is an element of altruism in my efforts, there is also a great deal of “enlightened self-interest.”  I will readily admit that I do these things for my own benefit and that of my family.  By maintaining and improving this parcel of ground, to which I have secure title under the law, I do several things that directly benefit me--I get good regular exercise, sunshine and fresh air, without having to pay a dime to join some health club or the Y, and then after joining, drive 12 to 15 miles to use their facilities.  I can get--and do get--all the exercise I need here.  And not only do I get exercise, it is productive exercise.  The only benefits from jogging, cycling or pumping iron are to the body--and there is no disputing their benefits.  But working up 5,000 square feet of garden with nothing more than a shovel, a rake and a hoe, or splitting and stacking a rick of firewood, or loading, unloading and spreading a pickup full of wood chips or manure gives a comparable amount of exercise, and leaves a valuable by-product in its wake--a ready-to-plant garden, wood to warm the body and soul, or organic matter to enrich the soil and increase its productivity.

 

As you may have already deduced, I am not a panicked environmentalist who fears for the future of the planet, and who is therefore scrambling desperately to “do something” before it’s “too late.”  Rather, I am a small-time capitalist who has his own self-interest, including financial self-interest, in view.  Most of this waste material--which I secure entirely for free--is invested in my capital base, my land.  The leaves, the chips, the manure and the ashes all go into the garden or in my landscaping beds, to improve the growth of plants and to enrich the soil so that my gardening efforts are more productive, as well as to increase the value of my land, bringing me a greater return on my investment, should I ever decide to sell the place.

 

I gladly work hard in the garden and among my trees and grasses, because I know that I will be directly rewarded for my efforts, and to the degree that I exert myself.  Were I an unpaid or poorly paid forced laborer on someone else’s property (such as a collective farm in soviet Russia or communist Cuba), who was not rewarded proportionate to his efforts, I would have little incentive to do more than the absolute minimum required.  But as a property-owning capitalist, albeit on a very small scale, my native self-interest is harnessed to highly productive ends.

 

A major motivation for me, then, is not that I fear for the soon-demise of planet earth (which I don’t), but that I see the personal obligation and opportunity to be both productive and to not waste or squander resources.  That autumn leaves by the ton, an ideal soil conditioner and fertilizer, would be discarded in landfills when they could be easily and immediately put to very good use for agricultural and horticultural uses drives me to distraction.  Why spend money for fertilizer when simply collecting leaves and working them into the soil will accomplish the same thing, and more?  That literally hundreds of tons of “waste” wood are not utilized locally to heat houses (or generate electricity)--and are not even left to at least decay and return to the soil on which they grew also makes me shake my head in incredulity.  That used motor oil is being dumped on the ground or into ditches (where it does adversely impact ground water) instead of re-refined into new oil, or burned for the production of heat or electrical generation is senseless waste in my thinking.  “Waste not, want not” is a creed I had drilled into me growing up, and which I have long practiced.

 

And as I have improved the grassland, the stand of trees, the gardens, the creekside, and the landscaping around the house, I have added “sweat equity” to my property, some $10,000 to $20,000 worth, I would conservatively estimate.  In the mean time, I have been able to provide a considerable fraction of the family’s food (which is also invariably fresher, cheaper, and more nutritious than comparable store-bought produce would be).  I could with a bit more effort make that virtually 100%--and should I ever need to, there is plenty of already-improved land available to expand production.  There is considerable satisfaction and assurance in knowing that you already are largely independent of the grocery stores, and could be, if necessary, essentially self-sufficient.

 

I have spent nine years and more thinning out and improving the trees on my 6+ acres of over-grazed former cow pasture, systematically removing the thorny honey locusts and replacing them with other more desirable species.  The trees I have cut down, rather than being disposed of quickly and easily in a bonfire, have been converted with saw, axe and maul into firewood.  At present cut and use rates, I will be another three to five years, at least, before I get through the first thinning, by which time many of the trees of my own planting will be ready for thinning or extensive pruning to supply my future firewood needs.  By design, I will never run out, as each year’s growth equals or exceeds each year’s cut.  I also get some firewood from the trees I professionally remove each year, as well as wood acquired for free from a couple of nearby city tree and brush dump piles (I could cut two, even three ricks of firewood--each about 52 cubic feet of wood--every single day from the wood people throw away, if I had the need--or customers).  I commonly use seven to eight ricks of wood to heat my home in winter each year, and have four to six ricks to sell.  I could spare myself the trouble and simply heat with electricity (which we sometimes do; our water-source heat pump is very efficient), but using wood is essentially heating the house for free.  I could, if it were necessary, also cook with wood year round and never run short.

 

And I haven’t even mentioned my extensive experience raising small livestock.

 

I do have broad knowledge of nature, the environment, and man’s activities therein, as well as long and extensive experience in sustainable food and energy production.  I am neither uninformed nor inexperienced regarding these things about which I dare to write, but very much to the contrary.

 

Summary

 

I am, to repeat, not driven in my actions by a gripping apprehension that “we’re all about to die” from famine, global warming, polluted air, acid rain, poisoned water, oil spills, or even Alar on apples and whatever the latest environmental extremist cause might be.  I do like and want clean air, pure water, abundant wildlife, and lots of green things.  But I also want fuel for vehicles, materials for home and industry, abundant and diverse food for the populace, green space for recreation, and more.  We cannot have now an “all-wilderness” America, or world.  “Disturbing” the natural world by farming, logging, building, paving, and a thousand other human activities is an unchangeable reality.  The real issue is: how shall we manipulate and utilize the world and its resources, what are the legitimate limits, and what are our responsibilities to others, present and future?

 

So with extensive knowledge and even more extensive experience to guide me, we shall further address in future issues our chosen topic of a Biblical perspective on environmentalism.

---Doug Kutilek

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Greek Self-Taught: Some Suggestions

 

“Sir:

 

What would you recommend for one who wanted to learn Koine Greek at home?

 

N--- J------”

---

 

Mr. J------

 

For learning Greek at home--I would acquire:

 

1. a good beginning Greek grammar (see my review of H. P. V. Nunn’s The Elements of New Testament Greek in AISI 5:4 where I actually review and make recommendations regarding 6 different beginning Greek grammars; of these, Nunn is the best at explaining, comparing and contrasting Greek and English grammatical features for the beginner).

 

2. an inter-linear Greek NT (for this I would recommend The Interlinear Literal Translation of the Greek New Testament  by George Ricker Berry (Zondervan reprint) which has a useful brief Greek dictionary in the back; or Zondervan’s interlinear Greek NT with parallel NASB / NIV (they also have an edition with parallel NASB / KJV).

 

3. H. E. Dana and Julius Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek NT (Macmillan, 1927). This is a good, comprehensible intermediate grammar that explains such things as "the objective genitive," "the nominative case" and the "aorist tense" and much else (in short, all the basic grammatical features of NT Greek).  New copies are absurdly expensive; used copies are easy to find.

 

4. A. T. Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament--get the unabridged 6-volume set (it covers the whole NT).  Begin to regularly consult this commentary, even if you don’t understand it well at first.  Robertson regularly notes the grammatical features of a passage; you can find his grammatical terminology ("dative of means"; "purpose clause"; “aorist subjunctive passive”; et al.) explained in Dana and Mantey as necessary.

 

5. Abbott-Smith, Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament--a small handy dictionary of all NT words.

 

6. Possibly also, The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English--by Lancelot C. L. Brenton (Zondervan reprint).

 

Why so many tools to start with?  Simply put--if you don't have them, you certainly can't consult or use them.  If you do have them--and have invested money in them, you are much more likely to consult them.  Having both a Greek NT (with interlinear and parallel English translation) and a Septuagint with parallel English version will encourage and facilitate your continuing use of them.

 

I know there are computer-based Greek programs, but I have never used one, and so have no recommendations along these lines.

 

With at least the grammar in hand, for starters you need to learn to read and write the Greek alphabet.  If you know someone who has studied Greek, they should be able in an hour or so to help you do this (I in my Bible college days with some difficulty taught myself the Greek alphabet out of the Greek dictionary in the back of Strong's Concordance).  After the alphabet, begin to learn the vocabulary in a beginning grammar, and just work through the grammar lesson by lesson.  It is always helpful if you have someone to consult who knows Greek--perhaps a pastor, or a layman.  Ask around; you might be surprised who has studied Greek ("way back in college") who might be willing to help, maybe even a Catholic or Orthodox priest, in a pinch!  I have tutored several "self-teaching" students of Greek, helping them with their exercises, answering questions, etc.

 

After learning the alphabet (and continuing to orally recite it and write it, until you have it down cold, as a first-grader can recite by rote his “A, B, Cs”) and a few lessons of the grammar, begin to memorize short passages of Scripture in Greek.  John 1:1, John 14:6 and Genesis 1:1 are always where I start my memorization when learning a new language.

 

You might check with some of the Christian colleges to see if they have any kind of "Greek correspondence course."  Perhaps Liberty U. or one of the others (There is a school in Louisiana that I expressly do NOT recommend, but that's another issue).

 

To learn Greek with or without a teacher can be done, though it will of course require regular, disciplined application to the task.  Naturally, if you have studied any other foreign language, it will be a bit easier (the first obstacle is learning how to learn a language), but it is possible even for a complete neophyte willing to make the effort.  After having formally studied Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic in college and seminary, I taught myself to read (and somewhat speak) German one summer; it took me 3 to 5 hours per day, 5 days per week, over a 10 week period, to get through a first year grammar entirely on my own (I also read dozens and dozens of chapters in the German Bible from the Gospels and OT historical books for the sake of vocabulary and to get a "feel" for the flow of the language).  A dozen years ago, I went through a beginning church Latin grammar in about a month, investing from 1 to 2 hours per day on the task (see “A Recent Experience in Studying Latin,” AISI 3:8).  I had had two years of high school Latin in the 1960s, so had some previous exposure to vocabulary and verb and noun forms; my knowledge of Romanian and Spanish also helped.  And my knowledge of Spanish (my “second-best” modern foreign language) is almost entirely self-taught via grammars, the Spanish Bible, and watching Spanish-language television. 

 

But above all--start, and resolve not to stop until you have gained some real competence in the Greek.  You will never regret the time and energy invested.

 

Doug Kutilek

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BOOK REVIEWS

 

The Etruscans by Michael Grant.  New York: Charles Scribners’ Sons, 1980.  317 pp., hardback.

 

The Etruscans enter the stage of history in the 1st millennium B. C., first rise to considerable prominence in the 8th and following century, decline in the 4th and later centuries and gradually fade away, being absorbed into the growing Roman Republic.  The Etruscans occupied the region of the Italian peninsula north and west of Rome, essentially the land west of the Tiber River all the way to the Tyrrhenian Sea, and as far north as the Arno River, and a bit further, with influence to the northeast into the Po River Valley and to the coast of the Adriatic Sea.  This region is roughly 150 miles north to south and about 95 east to west.

 

There was a fairly widespread ancient legend to the effect that the Etruscans migrated to the Italian Peninsula from west central Turkey (the region of ancient Lydia) just after the end of the Trojan War (about 1100 B. C.), but their cultural remains (pottery, art, architecture, etc.) as well as their language firmly discredit the ancient legend.  Apparently, the Etruscans were an “indigenous” people who long occupied their part of the Italian peninsula before their appearance in history, much like the Umbrians and Latins. 

 

The Etruscans are frequently mentioned by Greek and Roman writers, but only sketchily; such ancient writers often mention events that were hundreds of year old at the time of writing.  True, they no doubt did have access to writings and oral legends now lost, but even so, they tell us a lot less than is necessary to get a full picture of the Etruscan age in Italy.

 

What brought the previously agrarian Etruscans to an important place among the peoples of the Mediterranean world was the presence of metallic ores in the mountains that are characteristic of Etruria, particularly ores of copper and iron, and to a lesser extent, tin.  The heavily-timbered local mountains provided the huge quantities of wood necessary to fuel the smelting of these ores.  These “industrial metals” were in high demand, and a heavy trade developed with the Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians (all of whom had colonies or trading posts scattered throughout the peninsula), who offered gold and silver, which the Etruscans lacked, in exchange. 

 

The Etruscans were never under one unified government, but were divided up into numerous small city-states (anywhere from 8 to 12 or a few more, depending on the period) each of which ruled a few dozen to a few hundred square miles, and most of which had subservient ports on the Tyrrhenian Sea.  While there was commonly a large degree of co-operation between these city-states, yet at times they were at war among themselves.

 

Much of the land in the valleys between the mountains of Etruria was very fertile and highly productive agriculturally.  The Etruscans developed extensive irrigation works to fully utilize this fertility.  Many of the rivers of the region were navigable by small craft well upstream from the sea, facilitating trade and travel.

 

The Etruscans were culturally rather advanced well before Rome itself had grown to be much beyond a mere village (a considerable part of the celebrated ancient Roman civilization was ultimately derived from the prior Etruscan civilization).  The Etruscans dominated Rome for centuries, and there were even some Etruscan kings ruling in Rome for nearly the whole of the sixth century B. C.   The Etruscan culture was a combination of Greek, Phoenician, and Middle Eastern influences as well as local elements, which when amalgamated produced a very distinctive civilization.  Most of the archaeological remains of the Etruscans are from their often elaborate and expensive tombs, with their grave goods (metal objects, pottery, terracotta and more), paintings and representations of Etruscan daily life as well as its mythology.  Such known graves number in the many thousands, not a few of them not robbed in antiquity.

 

The Etruscan language is an enigma.  It is clearly not related to any known language of that region in ancient times, not Greek or Latin or Gaulish or Phoenician / Punic or any other tongue, and not to any modern language.  Furthermore, while we can “read” the multitude of inscriptions in this language, since it is written in a modified form of the Phoenician-derived Greek alphabet (the Etruscans in turn passed on the alphabet to the Romans), it is still not well understood.  There are something like 13,000 known Etruscan inscriptions, but most of them are tomb-inscriptions, with very limited vocabulary and are very “formulaic” in phrasing (just how much would be known or knowable about English if all we could learn was what was inscribed on tomb stones in the average cemetery?).  There is no preserved Etruscan “literature,” no poetic epics, no histories, and the extant ancient writers, Greek and Roman, while occasionally giving the meaning of particular Etruscan words, or commenting on the peculiarity of the language, give no systematic treatment of it, even though Etruscan persisted as a spoken language into the first century A. D.

 

The Etruscan religion was akin to that of other contemporary Mediterranean cultures--pagan, idolatrous, polytheistic (with some “native” gods, and some borrowed from the Greeks and Phoenicians), and pre-occupied with divination, with numerous shrines and temples.  The absence of written Etruscan religious texts makes detailed information about their religious practices hard to come by.

 

The author, Michael Grant, was during his life time a well-respected scholar and historian of the ancient Mediterranean world.  This particular volume, more informative than interesting, is well-supplied with documentation, many photos, numerous maps (without which much of the text would be largely unintelligible), and an extensive bibliography.

---Doug Kutilek

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Some other books on the Etruscans that the reader might find informative include:

 

The Etruscans  by Werner Keller (New York: Knopf, 1974); and

 

Daily Life of the Etruscans by Jacques Heurgon (New York: Macmillan, 1964);

 

On the Etruscan language, Reading the Past (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), “Etruscan” by Larissan Bonfante, pp. 321-378 (a very extensive treatment).

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