Saturday, September 01, 2012

Wiping the Backside of Asia

As I sit here in the dark with my vodka and cherry juice, I am thinking of Sir Barry Cunliffe, who in his great archaeological study of European history, Europe Between The Oceans, first demonstrated in magnificent detail that Europe was merely 'the western excrescence of the continent of Asia'. Vodka, of course, is a northern Asian brew — the word means 'small water' or 'distillate'; cherries are a central or west Asian fruit, named by the Greeks κέρασος (kerasos) — maybe they should really be called 'kerries'.

Earlier in the day, I had contemplated the oddness of a statement by a so-called Biblical historian in which he averred that direct contact between Asia and the Mediterranean was doubtful. Well, as my father used to say, one studies history in order to understand one's place in time, and geography in order to do the same for space. Without either, one's dimensions tend to be insufficient.

And so it is here. Europe, the western excrescence of Asia, was the origin of none of the world's major religions. Indeed, all of them come from a narrow belt that starts on the west coast of Asia (which lies along the Mediterranean Sea!) and proceeds westward in the direction of Japan. This too is a surprise for many, who fail to note that Jerusalem (31°47'N, 35°13'E) is only a little south of Tokyo (35°41'N, 139°46'E) and less than a third of the globe away.

How can Asia not have had contact with the Mediterranean when the east coast of the Med is actually Asian? What of the seven churches of Asia, all in Turkish Anatolia and just a bit south of Troy? Such odd thinking is sometimes justified by people saying, "Oh, the normal idea of Asia is something more oriental, you know, east of Suez."

I laugh at that idea. Why Suez was picked is obvious — the city is mostly in NE Africa but has parts in western Asia. Only Russia, of all the 'European' states, is wholly east of Suez. The reason I laugh is that Russians have forever denied that they are actually north Asians — although a good look at the map will tell you this is true.

And so, back to my vodka and cherry juice.

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