The word “listserv” feels abrupt to me, as if someone couldn’t be bothered to type one more “e” to give the reader a sense of satisfied completion. Technology terms are often like that—not really descriptive of what they are and leaving us older folks wondering about the words and not quite comprehending what they’re supposed to signify. Back in the early 1990s I joined a listserv that eventually came to be known as “Agade,” since it carried news of the Ancient Near Eastern variety. Since I seldom have the opportunity to work in that field any longer, I long ago ceased to be on the Agade listserv and consequently have lost track of what’s happening in real time. Or at least close to it. An author with whom I was working recently asked me to post about his book on Agade so I had to resubscribe. It’s nice to see the listserv, whatever that is, still alive and kicking.
One of the articles posted recently had the intriguing title “Burnt remains from 586 BCE Jerusalem may hold key to protecting planet.” I’m not sure, beyond evangelicals chomping for Armageddon, who doesn’t want to protect the planet, so I read on. Archaeologists, I know, sometimes feel put upon to defend their work. Yes, it’s sexy and cool, but it’s also expensive and not as well funded as it needs to be. It does occasionally lead to real scientific breakthroughs. This particular story is about Earth’s magnetic field. It is vital for life as we know it, and we know that it is constantly shifting. In fact, some pundits are fearing a flip in magnetic poles which, for a guy who can’t even understand listserv, sounds really catastrophic. The article, however, is about the fact that the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by fire that led to a trapped picture of the magnetic field at the time, and we know the date. Magnetic materials under high heat preserve indicators of the Earth’s magnetic field, whether it had been discovered or not.
The book of Genesis says nothing about the creation of the magnetic field that makes life on our planet possible. Knowing that we understand so little about something that makes our existence possible, I suspect, indicates that there are many factors of life we haven’t even begun to comprehend. There are further discoveries to be made. We’re not even sure if our definition of “life” is entirely accurate. One thing our history has taught us, however, is that if we build great structures there will be those eager to burn them. As we sift through the rubble we might discover something about the direction in which we’re going. And a listserv will be there to share the news.