Tracy Hamilton asks, “How old is too old to be relevant?” Her musing is about sources and the tendency for people and groups to pay more attention to recency.
Maybe it’s my age, but I tend to find a great deal of value in things I learned long before Twitter, Facebook, and even YouTube. I have a fairly good visual memory for textual things; I can picture passages as being on the upper part of the left-hand page about a third of the way through a book, that sort of thing.
This isn’t a constant value. Sometimes “tradition” is code for “what I’m used to”–or for “what I never knew but think I’d prefer.” (It’s pretty clear that many Catholic traditionalists haven’t had to sit through five or six hundred grade-school weekday mornings of Latin mass.)
Tracy’s question did remind me of a striking explanation I heard in a presentation by Dr. Samuel Paley, an archaeologist. He was talking about excavations in Iraq, and showed this photo from an obelisk found near Niniveh:
A person in the audience asked about the cuneiform above the figures. “It’s a caption,” said Paley. “Captions began at the end of the ninth century [BCE].”
Now that’s a best practice for you: make sure and label your images. If it was good enough for Shalmaneser III of Assyria, it’s good enough for me.
According to my notes, this is Paley’s translation of the caption:
“The tribute of Yahua son of Khumri: silver, gold, bowls of gold, vessels of gold, goblets of gold, pitchers of gold, lead, sceptres for the King’s hand, (and) staves: I received.”
Yahua is taken to be Jehu, king of Israel circa 840 BCE; either Jehu or his representative is seen paying tribute to Shalmaneser III.