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Open letter to science editors

 

KRONOS Vol VI, No. 2

Vox Populi

THE STONE OF SHAMIR

To the Editor of KRONOS:

There have been many tales of wonderful minerals or stones over the centuries which have related strange and powerful properties of these exotic, deviant objects. Among such was the Philosopher's Stone of the alchemists, which purportedly could change lead and other base metals into gold. The earliest reference to this stone dates from about the seventh century, but because of the mysticism associated with it there is doubt that it could be characterized as a real object, and certainly not with the properties ascribed to it. Another, which was quite real, was the bezoar stone, found occasionally in the stomachs of ruminants, which some enterprising alchemists of the Middle Ages found to be effective in certain cases of arsenic poisoning. This bezoar calculus gained an enhanced reputation over the years to do even more fabulous deeds, but modern research found it to be an accretion of brushite, a form of calcium phosphate, blended with particles of swallowed hair, and which merely provided a modicum of protection against arsenic toxicity.(1)

Then there was the Shamir, mentioned occasionally in the Talmud and Midrash, as one of the prized possessions of Solomon. Medieval scholars, among the most notable, Maimonides (1135-1204), considered this Shamir to be a worm-like creature. However, medieval scholarship was highly characterized by a preoccupation with symbolism, not the least of which was that of the worm (or serpent) Ouroboros in the act of biting its own tail. In this fashion Shamir became the mystical "symbol of the eternal cycle of world changes, as also of the cycle of chemical transformation, distillation, and condensation"(2) of the alchemists. And, in a manuscript dating from 1478. a copy of that from St. Mark's prepared in the tenth or eleventh century. this cryptic alchemical message is presented:

"Here is the mystery: the serpent Ouroboros this composition which in its ensemble is devoured and melted, dissolved and transformed by the fermentation and putrefaction. It becomes a deep green and the color of gold is derived from it. It is from it that is derived the red called the color of cinnabar. This is the cinnabar of the philosophers. Its stomach and back are the color of saffron, its head is a deep green, its four feet constitute the tetrasomie.* Its three ears are the three sublimed vapors.** The One furnishes the Other its blood; and the One gives birth to the Other. Nature rejoices in nature; nature triumphs over nature; nature masters nature; and that not for a nature opposed to such another nature, but for one and the same nature proceeding of itself by the process, with trouble and great effort. A serpent is stretched, guarding this temple, and he who has subdued it commences by sacrificing it, then roasts it, and after removing its flesh up to the bones, makes of it a step to the entrance of the temple. Mount upon it and thou shalt find the object sought. For the priest at first a man of copper has changed color and nature and has become a man of silver; a few days later, if thou wishest, thou wilt find him changed to a man of gold."(3)

Note: *Tetrasomie was a term widely used to signify the four base metals: copper, iron, lead, and zinc, which latter often included antimony and tin as well.

Note: **Most likely these three are sulfur, mercury and orpiment (arsenic trisulfide). Cinnabar is the red sulfide of mercury, the only important source of this liquid metal, and which was extensively used as a pigment.

One would be inclined to dismiss such arcane disclosure as gobbledegook, as the keys to the allegory are either missing altogether or are fragmentary at best. Much of this medieval literature was based on the Greek alchemists who wrote during the first through seventh centuries, when a transformation was taking place to give the practical arts a more philosophical basis in an attempt to rationalize the inchoate discipline of chemistry.(4) But even this early effort was based on the antedated work of more ancient Egyptian and later Creek metallurgists, who were more practical-minded, yet not without their own version of mysticism.

About the year 290 a decree of Emperor Diocletian ordered the destruction of all manuscripts on the alchemical arts, to forestall any attempts to amass a huge fortune by any adept who could change base minerals into gold or silver, and thence foment a revolt against the empire. This unilateral decree effectively erased much of the early history of chemistry, but two papyri were found written in Greek from an Egyptian tomb in Thebes during an excavation in the early nineteenth century, which were descriptive of early chemical recipes used in Egypt. These papyri are dated from about the time of Diocletian, and thus escaped the general destruction. Both are remarkably well-preserved, one being Papyrus X at the University of Leyden and the other Papyrus Graecus Holmiensis at the University of Upsala, with the last section of the Leyden papyrus containing extracts from De Materia Medica by Pedanius Dioscorides of the first century.

Neither of these papyri discuss anything magical, but rather are conversant with empirical chemical knowledge, such as the imitation of gold and silver through alloying techniques - which make the Emperor Diocletian's concerns understandable as well as the dyeing of wool and the use of mordants to set the various dyes. These same techniques were similarly treated by pseudo-Democritus in his Physica et Mystica, even though his writing has been expanded upon in subsequent centuries by later workers.(5) This pseudo-Democritus may have flourished in the third century, but might have been a contemporary of' Pliny in the first century since the latter mentioned two persons named Democritus. Nevertheless, pseudo-Democritus belonged to the Alexandrian school of Neoplatonists and was not the philosopher. Democritus of Abdera. who first propounded an atomic theory.

There is a Syrian manuscript dating from the fifteenth century at the University of Cambridge (Ms. M.M. 6.29), containing a treatise attributed to Zosimos, who was one of the most important Alexandrian Greek alchemists living at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth century, and who considered pseudo-Democritus as a great authority. The biggest volume of known Greek influence apparently came from Zosimos, who also seemed to mix indiscriminately clear, pragmatic subjects with the more mystical, obscure material, and thus set the stage for the approach of later alchemists.

Zosimos, also called the Panopolitan, or Zosimos the Theban, belonged to the cult of Gnostics, who believed that material things were inherently evil and that emancipation would come from esoteric knowledge in spiritual truths. Zosimos discussed the origin of the word Chemeia, and may have actually coined it himself, from the myth that sacred arts were revealed to mankind by fallen angels who were removed from on high because of their carnal love for mortal women. These secrets were revealed in an apocryphal Book of Chemu, which was derived from the Greek word for black, chemi, which in turn came from the Greek term for Egypt, Kemi And, when the Arabic definite article was later added, it became alchemeia, the black art.

With the development of alchemy as the precursor of modern chemistry, additional source material was referenced and included from theretofore untapped Syrian, Hebrew, and pre-lslamic Arabic knowledge. As Midrashic and Talmudic literature was searched it was quite probable that the Shamir of Solomon became equated with the concept of the Philosopher's Stone, and the mystique of the Middle Ages then added its own luster of transcendental symbolism to this effort. Originally, the obscurant terminology of Zosimos and others may have been an attempt to circumvent the decree of Diocletian, but having learned an important lesson from this experience cryptography became the standard procedure for language with the Neopythagorean alchemists who came after. And, although we might lightly dismiss the Philosopher's Stone as something of a medieval fantasy, we cannot do so quite as easily with Shamir. Yet there is still the problem of precisely determining its character .

Velikovsky raised the issue again regarding the nature of Shamir, concurring analytically with several scholars that it could have been a green stone, a mineral, about the size of a barleycorn.(6) Additionally, Velikovsky concluded that if Shamir had the property of damaging any other metal or mineral except for lead then it must have been a very potent radioactive source, fortified by the ancient commentary that it became inactive after a period of four centuries. This brief but daring thesis requires some exposition, part of which has already been related with respect to medieval thought.

A barleycorn is an old unit of measure equal to one-third of an inch (slightly less than one centimeter), and if this was the actual size of Shamir and of the approximate shape of a barleycorn then it was rather small indeed. We shall not speculate on how such a tiny object was ever found in the first place, but its potency must have been exceptional. If it was truly highly radioactive then the handlers of Shamir or more likely their survivors would have had to learn to treat it with profound respect, and eventually find that a leaden tube would contain its wrath.

There is the alternate possibility that Shamir was more the size of an ear of barley rather than a kernel, or about two and a half inches in length (approx. 6 cm.), in which case its radioactivity could be less intense, but it would be no less treacherous with indiscriminate use. However, since the only evidence for its existence is documentary, bordering on hearsay, the actual size and shape of this "green stone" Is relatively moot.

Assuming that it was of the dimensions of a barleycorn. its chief attribute when it may have been originally found was that it would be slightly warm to the touch, quite unlike that of a normal mineral fragment. Since, also, its color was supposedly green, one might be tempted to consider that it came from native copper sites in Armenia, or Cyprus, or the Sinai, where such efflorescence as malachite (chrysocolla) or verdigris (ios) would also be found associated with the parent ore bodies. These two minerals are the green basic carbonate salts of copper, and malachite was especially prized for ornamental objects.

At any rate, the finding of a radioactive fragment in a copper ore body may be a most unusual occurrence, especially when a myriad of particles are all of the same general greenish color. There is no documentation which says that Shamir was crystalline or had any peculiarity which differentiated it from other green stones. So, one might with equal facility consider that its color contrasted with the area in which it was found, and because it exhibited radioactivity its source may have been the black uraninite (pitchblende) deposits of Bohemia, from which the Curies extracted radium in 1898.

There are copper-containing radioactive minerals, such as torbernite (copper uranyl phosphate), which has a green color, and is also found in Bohemia.(7) It usually occurs in mica-like aggregates, but can be found as a pyramid shape, although rarely. It is this latter configuration that would be most likely to attract the attention of the finder, perhaps initially as a symbolic amulet and later, when its other property was discovered, as an enhancement of the metaphysics of pyramidology which might have been in vogue even at this early age.

An associated mineral, autunite, contains calcium in place of copper, and is a variety of uranium-mica, or chalcolite (which is also a synonym for torbernite).(8) It would not be classed as strange for calcium and copper to be juxtaposed in the same mineral, and by congruency, since radium belongs to the same family group as calcium in the Periodic Table, this highly radioactive element may replace all or part of the calcium in the mineral aggregate.

Radium-226 isotope has a half-life of about 1620 years. This means that it loses one-half of its radioactivity in that period of time, or approximately one percent every 25 years or so.*** If, under the terms of this hypothesis, Shamir contained the radionuclide of radium, and its activity diminished to a negligible value after the approximately four hundred years between the time of Solomon and Nebuchadnezzar, as postulated by Velikovsky, then the mineral itself must have been formed not too much earlier than about 3800 BCE. But such extrapolation may be unwarranted speculation, because over a period of 3200 years (3800-600 BCE) radium-226 would lose some three-quarters of its relative radioactive intensity, and in the four centuries (1000-600 BCE) it would lose but some 17%.

***Half-life measurements are exponential functions, and the use of linear coefficients as 1% every 25 years is misleading. If for example a radionuclide lost about 17% of its activity in 400 years, then in an additional 400 years it would lose about 17% of the remaining activity.

Gem stones such as the diamond, sapphire, emerald, and topaz are discolored by the action of radium,(9) as are many minerals. The practice of "engraving" the names of the tribes of Israel on the semi-precious stones which decorated the breastplate of the High Priest was a simple procedure. The radioactive mineral would be enwrapped in tufts of wool and packed in barleycorn within a leaden tube, as Velikovsky described; the wool and bran would be transparent to the radiation while the lead would be relatively opaque. If the ink used to write upon these stones contained a salt of lead, such as the acetate, when the stone was exposed to an open end of the leaden tube for a period of time the salt would be decomposed by the ionizing alpha radiation and the writing would appear to shrink or contract, giving a slight bas-relief appearance. The writing would also be highlighted by a graduated discoloration on the stones themselves, which might be due to gamma rays from the radionuclide.

If the leaded ink were ever removed, or worn away, the calligraphy on the stone underneath this ink, which was unexposed to the "glance" of Shamir, would stand out in contrast to that which was radiation discolored. Moreover, the pragmatic Hebrew artisans may have found that certain mineral inks would also change color upon exposure to Shamir, as well as forming a permanent chemical bonding with the semi-precious stones, so that a leaden ink would not be necessary in all cases. Thus, the phrase "stood up." or "stood out," may be merely an expressive description of the contrast rather than an actual tactile relief.( 10 )

Such gems as opal are silicates which contain considerable water of crystallization. Exposure to alpha radiation would disintegrate these crystals by releasing this chemically bound water, which would volatilize and leave no apparent residue, while the surface of the gem would present a cloudy or granular texture.

That Shamir had the capacity to "cut" diamonds is open to question. Since it is known that irradiation will discolor diamonds, it is likely that lack of this knowledge by medieval commentators has led to some confusion and misunderstanding. In the Greek manuscript of St. Mark, attributed to Zosimos, it is stated:

"The diamond is cold and dry to the fourth and highest degree. Seldom are these two qualities so united in one mineral, therefore when rubbed upon other minerals it breaks and cuts them. Only a kind of lead is an exception which in spite of its softness and ugly form acts upon the diamond, breaking and wearing it off, just as the small gnat has power over the elephant."(11)

This association of lead and diamond is again allegorical, which became a metaphysical fantasy carried on by Arabian scholars of the Middle Ages, since lead was actually used as a dopping compound to secure a diamond firmly during the delicate process of faceting.(12) Therefore, the connection of lead with Shamir became blurred over the centuries, leading to misinterpretation. So, too, the stricture that Shamir must be kept in no other metal container except lead, for fear of its bursting asunder, was a precautionary measure born of experience. However, it is doubtful that any vessel other than lead would actually burst, because the amounts of daughter product, radon gas, produced by the disintegration of radium is very small. This radon, or radium emanation, has too short a half-life to significantly increase the pressure within a hermetically sealed container. The use of lead, in a practical sense, was for the protection of the handler.

Shamir did not really become "inactive" by the time of Nebuchadnezzar and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (ca. -587), but it had lost enough radioactive intensity so that a much longer period of exposure would have been necessary to accomplish the same ends. (Unless, of course, the original was stolen and a dud substituted in its place.) The ancient alchemists would not have been cognizant of radionuclides and other future knowledge, but their method of documentation in describing the inactivity of Shamir after 400 years gives us a clue.

We, today, do not know what the radionuclide was that made Shamir effective. It could not have been radium, because there would be only a decrease of about 17% over four centuries in the stone itself, not near enough to account for the documented discrepancy. The question of what it actually was may be academic, although we can say with reasonable certainty, and concurring with Velikovsky, that it was a very potent source of radioactivity - and an equally potent source for the concept of the medieval Philosopher's Stone.

Frederic B. Jueneman, FAIC

Newark, California

REFERENCES

1. Frederic B. Jueneman, "The Stone of Bezoar," Industrial Research/Development, April 1979, p. 17.
2. John M. Stillman, The Story of Early Chemistry (N. Y., 1924), p. 171.
3. Marcelin Berthelot, Collection des Anciens Alchemistes CGecs, I (Paris,1887). p. 171,as quoted by Stillman, op. cit., pp 171-2.
4. Stillman, op. cit., p. ] 69.
5. Hermann Kopp, Geschichte de Chemie (Braunschweig,1843), p. 152.
6. Immanuel Velikovsky, "Shamir," KRONOS VI: 1, pp.48-50.
7. J. W. Mellor, A Comprehensive Treatise on Inorganic and Theoretical Chemistry, Xll (London,1942), p. 133.
8. Ibid., pp. 134-5.
9. Ibid., Vol. lV (1929), pp. 74-5.
10. Immanuel Velikovsky, op. cit., p. 49.
11. Stillman,op. cit., p. 216.
12. Edmund O. von Lippmann, Entstehung und Ausbreitung der Alchemie (Berlin. 1919). p. 385.


KRUPP AND KINTRAW

To the Editor of KRONOS:

Congratulations on the fine exchange over the Kintraw platform [in KRONOS V:3, pp. 71-96 - LMG]. . I'm not convinced by McCreery's argument, at least not yet, but I can recognize I may yet have to be. In any case, MacKie's reply is game and substantive. I want to hear what Bibby says. A point that has been missed, however, by most parties in the controversy, is that a hillside platform at Kintraw may well be expected, whether the site was a precise astronomical observatory or not. Design and construction of the cairn may have demanded it. In any case, your publication of McCreery and MacKie (and Bibby I hope) is a real contribution to the archaeological literature on this site.

E. C. Krupp. Ph.D.

Director, Griffith Observatory


TYPHON

To the Editor of KRONOS:

The first chapter of Immanuel Velikovsky's Ages in Chaos demonstrates that the ephochal departure of the Israelites from Egypt and the capture of royal power in that country by the Hyksos took place in the same period - according to my own calculation, in the year 1448 B.C.(1) At that time, a colossal comet was ravaging the Earth. which classic chronicles named Typhon.(2) To the Greek and Latin information about the comet that Velikovsky gathered with truly marvellous painstaking, I am now able to add a notice I found in Gershom Scholem's Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah.(3) On page 438 of this fascinating volume we learn that, in the year 1666, a young man called Moses Suriel from Brussa, Turkey, presented himself to fellow Jews as a prophet, upholding the claim of Shabatai Zevi (Sabbatai Sevi) to the crown of anointed (christ) sovereign and savior of the Israelites. "By way of confirming his message he pointed to a comet that had appeared in those days, and explained that the same sign had appeared in the sky at the time of the exodus from Egypt. . ." Professor Scholem obtained his quotation from an extremely rare book.(4) He made no comment on the analogy offered by young Moses Suriel, though his perusers would have been glad to get at least a conjecture on the possible sources of the visionary's knowledge. The comet that inspired Suriel seems to have been the one that prompted Giovanni Alfonso Borelli's discovery of the parabolic forms of comet paths in 1665.

Dr. Bronson Feldman Elkins Park, Pa.

REFERENCES

1. The derivation of the date is from concord between I Kings 6:1; Josephus, Against Apion,1:17; Justin's Epitome of Trogus Pompeius's lost Philippic History, 18:6;and the traditional (Varro) date for the foundation of Rome.

2. Worlds in Collision, "The Comet Typhon".

3. Translated by R. Z. Werblowsky from the original Hebrew, printed in Tel Aviv in 1957; published by the Princeton Univ. Press, Bollingen Series XCIII, 1973, issued again with corrections in 1975.

4. Memoire . . . contenant diverses Relations tres curieuses de l'Empire Ottoman by one Chevalier de la Croix (Paris, 1684), Vol. 11, p. 359.


MORE ON SOTHIC DATING

To the Editor of KRONOS:

Some cautions on the subject of Sothic dating may not come amiss, particularly when people start making rather loose claims - such as John Dayton on p. 75 of KRONOS VI: 1, when he claimed ". . . all primitive peoples recognize the lunar cycle, which, however, repeats itself every 25 years". This 25 year cycle derives from the work of Professor R.A. Parker; it is an ingenious invention but it is rather strictly limited in its potential applications. John Dayton presumably meant "every 25 Egyptian years", which is not the same thing as "every 25 ordinary years". Parker actually points out that 25 years of 365 days sum up to 9125 days, which is substantially the same period of time as 309 months of 29.53059 days (= 9124.95 days).

The more usually quoted repetitive lunar cycle is the Metonic one of 19 years, known since 432 B.C. Nineteen "natural solar years" of 365.2422 days sum up to 6939.60 days, and 235 "natural lunar months" of 29.53059 days sum up to 6939.69 days.

If Egyptians of the time of Sesostris III really did count years of 365 days and successfully maintained their "three season plus five epagomenal day" system of recording dates within the year, despite natural months which averaged 29.53059 days, there can probably be little complaint about Parker's scheme. It is fair also to enquire what these Egyptians might have meant by a "year", however, as they would not have to continue counting 365 days per year for very long before the term "year" would seemingly become little short of meaningless for the average man in the street. As Dr. Velikovsky has already pointed out, probably the only thing it could have meant for any length of time was the interval between certain conjunctions of Venus (or, more precisely, one eighth of the interval between every tenth conjunction of Venus a period which happens to be approximately equal to a modern solar year, but which also has other significance, as the writer hopes to demonstrate in a future article which seeks to integrate information recorded on the Ninsianna tablets with information recorded in the Ramesside star tables). The Venus connection may not be quite the outlandish suggestion it can seem to be at first sight, if only because people who live in a low latitude are often almost unaware of the solar cycle, so little does it affect their daily life.

Most readers of this journal will, of course, be very dubious as to whether anybody counted solar years of anything approaching 365 days at the era of Sesostris III: if they did not, the whole elaborate argument based on the 25 year cycle collapses. Many will also query whether synodical months averaged 29.53059 days at this era, but that is another story.

John Dayton also suggests that perhaps Egyptians might not have bothered to count the number of days in a year at all before Roman times; but if so, how did they come to recognise the epagomenal days as being different from any other? . . .

Michael G. Reade
Oxfordshire, England

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