Ancient Sky Watchers and Mythic Themes

Book Review by Ted Denmark, Ph.D.

(Huge thanks to Ted for this amazing review of Volume One in the Sky Lore Anthology series. It’s a thrill to hold two decades of work in my hands. If you’re tempted, there’s purchasing info for both volumes at the end of his review. Thanks in advance!)

If you were ever a reader of Atlantis Rising magazine over the course of its impressive twenty-year flight, you will likely have seen, and been drawn to read, some of Julie Loar’s regularly-featured and highly-polished astrology articles upon first publication.  The recent good news is that they have just become even more accessible together in this self-published retrospective anthology collection—without having to wait to catch the next one on the fly—in the wake of her extensive interest in and wide-ranging knowledge of this fascinating and always controversial subject, whether ancient mythic, modern discursive, or cutting-edge technical (!). 

The subject of astrology stimulates a lot of creative writing in our time as it has for many centuries, having been the commonality and primary core subject, as C.G. Jung noted, of many if not most traditional wisdom traditions leading up to and including his own most impressive additions to modern psychology, as the mix and clash among religious, scientific and pop variants still contend for mind and shelf space.  Of course there is a lot of student-level enthusiasm as well as some amount of backsliding in all this robust output of writing—not to mention the entertainment genre—so something has to be good to maintain its position on the front lines of conversation at the astrology brew pub.  Julie’s selection of forty articles in five major categories of her highly varied and successful previous outings, virtually as they first appeared, are still highly topical, in this first, Ancient Sky Watchers volume, and they do indeed rise to a high level of interest and accessible value, being well worth the read—one at a time before and after tea or in binge mode—especially if you are looking for a fresh,  comprehensive and well-researched take on this perennial subject, either as student, professional consultant, critic, or occasional curious onlooker.

It is a real treat to find an author in this fascinating subject area so simultaneously knowledgeable, sophisticated and articulate about the prehistoric mythic traditions of Egypt and Sumer vis-a-vis those of  ancient Greece and Rome, the approaches and strategies of an experienced modern astrological consultant, and the more recent discoveries in space science from ground-based telescopes and satellite instrumentation—all referencing the impact or influence on our lives of many kinds of very real celestial objects now known and understood in greater detail than ever before.  It’s not easy to provide an entry into the basics of celestial mechanics, whether for students of qualitative astrological interpretation or quantitative scientific rigor, but Julie goes to some length to make this subject approachable with her writing and teaching skills for either group.  Being able to visualize (and understand!) the varied daily motions of Earth, Moon, and Planets, not to mention the longer-term cycles of eclipses, comets and the grand Precession of the Equinoxes, is the point of entry into the cosmic sky-watcher game (beyond just looking, which is cool enough), and if you have not bothered to look up at the sky—urban dwellers in night-lighted areas are most disadvantaged—then this is a place to begin to get your bearings.

Like Julie, I have been a lifelong sky-watcher as both astrologer and amateur astronomer (and unlike her, a design engineer of space-satellite instruments), and I have to admit that I have learned an enormous amount from the original publication on her articles over the years before meeting her in person a decade or so ago.  As an astrologer, I was most lacking in knowledge of the mythic and historical origins of ancient astrology, and in that, she is probably as good as anyone now in print, to help us understand the viewpoint and philosophy of the ancient interpreters of this universal cosmic art-science or pre-scientific art that has been continuously available to all people of all cultures virtually for all time—in fact it is probably the most universally shared common human experience ever on our little ”blue dot” (to echo Carl Sagan) of a water planet in the outer reaches of the Orion Arm of the ever-so-glorious Milky Way Galaxy.  Julie ranges through many familiar subjects on the astrology agenda, often with a tip of the hat to Joseph Campbell and a few other luminaries, to making strikingly original observations about ‘sky paintings’ on the cave planetarium walls near Lascaux in France (‘animals of the hunt’ as a very early “Zodiac” with the Pleiades depicted) to the Dendara Zodiac in Egypt (symbol for Zodiac sign Cancer correctly interpreted and understood, possibly for the first time).  

If we ever wondered what was going on with the mytho-poetic stories of the legendary gods and goddesses in the ancient Mediterranean world, many of whom are now up in the constellational sky, go no further than any number of sophisticated recapitulations and explanations along the way of the Titans and Olympians who, then as now, populate our astrology archetypes.  Julie presents the pantheon with sympathy and insight—and scholarship.  One can spend a great deal of time spinning through various re-tellings of these yarns without much accumulated insight, as I did, before focusing on Julie’s understanding, among other things, of the category of the feeling for “the Sacred” in the ancient world.  In a sense these poetic stories were the religions as well as the ‘movies’ of those times and, though varied and ever-changing, they had a similar cultural place understood by the natives, just as their story-board correspondences are understood by us today.  The truth is that the people of these earlier times, though certainly less educated and knowledgeable scientifically, were mostly just as smart and passionate within their range as modern people, however much our somewhat condescending idea of “progress” may be in need of remedy.  Of course times were very different then—the very thing astrology helps up to understand in the most meaningful way!  If you have not yet been initiated into the grand scheme of the Platonic Year, this is the place to perk up to a more than merely fascinating historical hypothesis.

In the middle span of her territory Julie, as a very well experienced consulting astrologer, fills in all the blanks that many readers will be looking for in the always telling areas of personal interest with “cook-book lists” of astrology planets, signs and aspects, the working tools of the trade in astrology chart art, which will tell you, from time to time, about wherever you might begin to fit into various developmental sequences, as a Sun in Aries, Moon in Pisces, cuspal ascendant and the standard stops in between.  Her approach in such thematic articles adds immeasurably to the flat newspaper entertainment style (which, sadly, is all many people will ever know about astrology), and brings it all back home with insights only an experienced and conceptually sophisticated analyst can succeed with in a brief offering.  It’s not a substitute for an in-depth ‘reading’, but her itinerary is always thought-provoking and often spot-on. She’s been a guide on many Egyptian tours, too, and has specialist knowledge in this area of ancient sky watcher lore for mainline Graeco-Roman astrologers who came in at the intermission of the astrology movie.

Perhaps the most intriguing and possibly surprising aspect (there’s a timeless astrology term) of Julie’s presentation is her enthusiasm and detailed knowledge of state-of-the-art scientific discoveries in more modern astronomy and astrophysics (more interpretative scholarship).  The impact they will have on the meaning and development of astrology for astrologers (note: we are not astrologists but hope you get the gist of astrology ) in the future will doubtless be great—even revolutionary—as it attempts to assimilate the existence of various big moons, little asteroids, dwarf planets, the rocky Kuiper Belt, the icy Oort Cloud and the mysterious—and quite likely astounding—discovery of either a huge new planet termed, “Planet Nine” (was that where John Lennon was from?), orbiting in the far reaches of the outer solar system, or as Nemesis, a small companion proto-star in an extreme orbit nearby our solar system.  This is the modest tip of the iceberg of Julie’s more ambitious project of revisioning astrology, now going forward as we may look back at her musings over the course of the astersand disasters of our still new Century 21.  Julie Loar is a star in her own right who knows about the real stars way out there—the real subject of astrology that, sadly, has been lost behind much of the yet most valuable modern planetary astrology (a very complex subject in its own right  in any event) … and much, much more.

This is how Volume One of Julie Loar’s “Sky Lore Anthology,” Ancient Sky Watchers, ends—in an exciting rush into anticipation of future science breakthroughs … and of course, the meaning of them to be discerned by and for those of us who know … it ain’t all random grains of sand on the beach, folks.  If you are one of us, you will not be disappointed, and if you are a sceptic, you will learn a lot that will make you very thoughtful.  This is a major publication event in the astro-theme world … with Volume Two (As Above, So Below) also available now … and also to be acknowledged in review ASAP.

Click the first link below to buy Volume One on Amazon in print or ebook. It’s also available from Barnes and Noble, Apple Books, or Kobo.

https://smile.amazon.com/Ancient-Sky-Watchers-Mythic-Themes/dp/1792335148/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=ancient+sky+watchers&qid=1596734532&sr=8-1<><><><> 

Volume Two, As Above, So Below: Sun, Moon and Stars is also available. This is the Amazon link.

Trusting

Dolphin

   “Trust in dreams, for in them is the hidden gate to eternity.”  

Khalil Gibran

An intrinsic wisdom lives inside a seed. The small miracle trusts that if planted in rich soil, watered by rain, and warmed by sunlight, the seed will break out of its shell, sprout, and grow according to its template of hidden potential. Perhaps that potential will yield a fragrant lily or a mighty oak. The seed doesn’t doubt its future, and it unfolds and grows according to an inherent destiny.

Perhaps it is only humans who fear what is contained within our potential. For many reasons we lack the will or heart to follow the path of our own becoming. We hold back, doubting our gifts and our deep longings. Maybe we define success in the wrong way, believing we need fame and fortune, rather than joy and fulfillment, as indicators that we’ve “made it.”

I have come to believe the key to the dilemma lies in our inability to perceive the nature of our unique and individual templates. Because we don’t really know ourselves, we don’t know the nature of our “seed self.”  Therefore, we can’t comprehend the vision of our expanded expression, and we remain blind to what is possible. Or, we try very hard to become a pine tree when we are meant to be a lilac.

A teacher of mine once shared a humorous anecdote to illustrate our reluctance. A caterpillar once gazed up at a butterfly and proclaimed, “You’ll never get me up in one of those things.”  And so, rejecting the metamorphosis of the cocoon, and the exquisite creature he could become, the caterpillar continued to crawl on the ground. Sadly, the caterpillar never tasted flight or grew glorious wings. That is a loss for all of us.

What does it take to reach out of our own element and sense of safety and trust? What can be gained by risking? Sometimes, after a risk, life is never the same. Maybe we experience a loss as a result, but we are deeper, wiser, and hopefully more compassionate. Maybe the risk brings great joy. Either way we learn what we’re made of by taking the leap and seeing where we land. It’s often been said to watch where we light up, know what excites us, and when we lose a sense of time when doing something we love. This knowledge is precious.

. . . take a chance today–it could change your life . . .

Julie

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Metamorphosis

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A butterfly emerging from a chrysalis

“We must let go of the life we have planned to be able to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

Joseph Campbell

Metamorphosis is a total change of form, or morphology. We are familiar with the caterpillar that spins a cocoon and is completely transformed inside the chrysalis, changing from a crawling creature into a majestic being with glorious wings. In biology the chrysalis is the hardened outer shell that protects the vulnerable caterpillar as it goes through the stages of transformation. Symbolically, the chrysalis has been used to represent a sheltered state or stage of being in which something or someone is utterly transformed.

For those who are committed to spiritual growth, it seems that life is a constant chrysalis. The Buddha taught that life in form is temporary, and if we cling to the form, we suffer. We are constantly challenged to leave the past behind and embark upon an unknown journey.  We are often tested by what life presents, and I believe the measure of our “suffering” is equal to the amount of our resistance and expectation. We have to be willing to surrender in order to be transformed–willingness changes everything.

We live in a time of profound change, even turmoil, and if we are to survive we must also be transformed by the change occurring around us. Joseph Campbell also said, “You enter the forest at the darkest point where there is no path. Where there is a way, it is someone else’s path. If you follow someone else’s way you won’t realize your potential.” I find those words equally thrilling and terrifying. Entering that dark forest takes courage, but our willingness to take the unknown step leads to metamorphosis.

A Chinese proverb states that a  teacher opens a door,  but we must enter by ourselves. Looking back at times of profound change in our lives we can see how our choices made all the difference and where courage changed our lives. As we face the dark forest, or ponder an unknown path, we have a choice. We can cling to the familiar but illusory safety of the ground, or embrace the dissolution of our earthbound consciousness, pass through the open door of transformation, and soar on wings of spirit.

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April Fools

Aprilsnar 2001

The trouble with practical jokes is that very often they get elected.                              ~Will Rogers


A dramatic April Fools hoax marked the 2001 opening of the Copenhagen Metro, Denmark’s new subway. The “joke” was a rail car bursting up through the ground, looking as if one of the cars had broken through the square in front of the town hall. It was actually a retired subway car from the Stockholm subway that had been obliquely cut with the front end placed onto the tiling and loose tiles scattered around the car. The effect created a dramatic April Fools hoax.

The origin of April Fools is uncertain. However, the most commonly accepted explanation originates with Pope Gregory XIII and the calendar that was named after him. The Gregorian calendar is an adaptation of a calendar designed by Italian doctor, astronomer, and philosopher Luigi Lilio (also known as Aloysius Lilius), who died six years before his calendar was officially introduced. The calendar is a solar measurement based on a 365-day common year divided into twelve months of irregular lengths.

The Gregorian calendar is the most widely used in the world. It was introduced by papal bull in October of 1582, but the complete transition took more than two centuries. In 1752 the shift in North America was like the “spring forward” aspect of Daylight Savings Time. When people went to bed on September 2, 1752 they woke up on September 14, and eleven days were lost forever.

The intention of the new calendar was to adjust the date of Easter. The inaccuracy of the preceding calendar of Julius Caesar had caused Easter to slip further from its proximity to the March equinox full moon. Easter is the only Christian holiday that is still lunar. Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. The Julian Calendar did not properly reflect the actual time it takes Earth to circle once around the Sun, known as a tropical year. Although Julius Caesar’s earlier calendar reform of 46 BCE had made January 1st the beginning of the New Year, after the Roman god Janus and the month of January, European countries continued to celebrate New Years on March 25, Lady Day, a feast of the Virgin Mary, until 1752.

Gregory’s papal bull only had authority in Catholic nations, and European Protestants strongly resisted the change on principle because of its ties to the papacy. Two hundred years passed before most places let go of the Julian calendar, and some locations held out even longer. New Year’s Day continued to be celebrated on March 25 in most European towns. In some areas of France, New Year’s celebration was a week-long holiday, ending on April 1, which brings us to April Fools.

It’s speculated that those who clung to the old dates became the butt of jokes. The April Fools were those who resisted change and held on to the old ways. Hoaxes and jokes became ways of tricking (and ridiculing) those who were thought to foolishly refuse to face the future. Over time April Fools practices spread to many countries and is now a tradition in quite a few places.

Calendars are a way of marking time. We “modern and sophisticated” people live in a world of artificial light, and we have lost touch with the seasons and the cycles of the Moon and stars. We have become prisoners of clocks, calendars, and many other devices that have nothing to do with the motions of the Earth and the constantly shifting cycles of light and dark that actually create time.

If we are honest, we might wonder who are the fools? We are tied to artificial timepieces and electronic devices that prevent us from even seeing the night sky. What wisdom have we lost that those who still watch the stars and move in rhythm with the seasons retain. Perhaps the biggest April Fools joke of all is that without our clocks, calendars, and cell phones we have no true idea of the passage of time and its significance.

Has your astrological sign changed?

I’ve had lots of questions since recent newspaper articles reported the sensational claim by Minnesota astronomer, Parke Kunkle that people’s astrological signs have changed. Well, that’s not true, but it does require a bit of technical explanation. Rest easy, your sign has not changed, and your identity is not at risk, but there is a bigger picture to consider.

The astrological signs are based on the seasons, and are divisions of time, beginning with spring equinox, which is the symbolic birth of the year. This is the point when the balance of light and dark achieves momentary equilibrium, before tilting toward increasing light. The opposite point is autumn equinox. Every year the Earth makes a full circle around the Sun, and every year without fail, the sign of Aries begins at spring equinox. Then, every month (or so), in thirty-degree segments of the yearly circle, a new sign begins.

However, what does change is Earth’s position relative to the stars over a very slow passage of time. Scientists believe it’s caused by the Earth’s wobble. Earth wobbles as she spins and is also inclined on her axis of rotation. This tilt creates the seasons, and the wobble creates the phenomenon called Precession of the Equinoxes. This movement goes “backward” through the zodiac instead of the annual direction that is more familiar. This slow motion causes two changes in the sky from our viewing perspective on Earth. Like a slowly spinning top, our planet’s axes trace imaginary circles in the heavens drawn by the Earth’s poles. As the orientation of the North Pole shifts relative to the circumpolar stars, a different North Star slowly moves into position over thousands of years. The same is true of the Earth’s south pole and the southern stars. This imaginary stylus moves at the rate of roughly one degree of arc in seventy-two years.

An additional byproduct of this wobble causes spring equinox sunrise (in the northern hemisphere), to occur due east against a backdrop of stars which slowly shifts. Because this event occurs on the ecliptic, (the apparent path of the sun through the year), the stellar backdrop is formed by the slowly moving starry curtain of the twelve zodiacal constellations. Astronomically, the zodiac constellations are in a circular band of sky, eight degrees above and below the ecliptic. This space contains the familiar star patterns from the Ram to the Fishes, as well as stars and deep sky objects.

Called the Great Year, and composed of twelve cosmic months, which are the astrological ages, this cycle lasts roughly 26,000 years. Because the sky shifts, the astrological signs are no longer aligned with the constellations that gave them their names. About 4,000 years ago the stars of Aries rose at spring equinox. Now it is the last of the stars of Pisces, but it is still the annual onset of spring in the northern hemisphere that heralds the sign of Aries.
In the past, different cultures have imagined the stars as different “pictures” and had different zodiacs, but since 1930 astronomers around the world have agreed on eighty-eight constellations. Zodiacal constellations are twelve of the eighty-eight divisions of space recognized by the International Astronomers Union. Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, also mentioned by Kunkle, is a thirteenth constellation that is also in the zodiac region, but is ordinarily not part of the traditional zodiac. However, the indigenous Maya have thirteen constellations in their zodiac.

For roughly two thousand years, spring equinox sunrise has occurred against the stars of Pisces, The Fishes, which rise in pre-dawn darkness before the Sun. Soon, as the backward march shifts, the “dawning of the Age of Aquarius” will be heralded as this constellation moves to center stage and defines the new world age. Three to four thousand years ago the stars of Aries provided the backdrop for spring equinox sunrise. Before that the stars of Taurus held the distinction. As the ages changed, sacrifices of bulls shifted when Moses chose the ram as the sacrificial animal of the new age of Aries. At the shift of the ages of Aries into Pisces, Jesus was both Lamb of God and Fisher of Men as the sacrificial symbol for the age of Pisces, the Fishes. Now, due to the gradual movement of precession, Aquarius has advanced to the springtime place in the northern hemisphere, and a new symbol for the Aquarian age will emerge. Perhaps the figure of the Waterbearer will be a galactic human?

Astrologically, the duration of an age is characterized and defined by the archetypal energies of the constellation whose stars rise before the sun at spring equinox dawn. Each phase of the Great Year is like a month, possessing a distinct and overarching quality of experience. The ages are like spokes of the cosmic wheel, presenting a phase shift of archetypal energy designed to provide an evolutionary schoolroom for developing humanity. Since the great cycle of the ages is a repeating pattern, perhaps we can learn about our present and future from a better understanding of the past.

As the zodiac presents an annual circle of archetypal experience, so too does the Great Year. The changing of ages has longs cusps or transitional periods, and there are no precise demarcations of the circle where one influence stops and a new one begins. We can only look back in time to sense approximately which archetype held sway and what experience humanity drew from to unfold our emerging pattern.

The signs of the zodiac are a function of the year, while the apparent shifting of the stars is a measure of an age. Like the larger cycle of the ages, the circle of the year also represents successive phases of experience. The zodiac signs have been described like stained glass windows that “color” the solar and planetary influences. Symbolically, the signs of the zodiac form a cycle of experience that provide the template of evolution through which Earth receives the influences of the Sun and planets.

So, while you are definitely still an Aries or Libra, Pisces or Gemini, it’s very worthwhile to go outside on a clear, dark night and contemplate the majesty of the stars and the vastness of the Universe of which we are a part. Humanity’s story is an ancient one, and contrary to apocalyptic notions at the current changing of the ages, the tale is far from over.

Julie Loar
January 2011

Why I wrote Goddesses For Every Day

A resurgence of the sacred feminine is sweeping the planet, and I wanted to know who the goddess really is.  What characterizes the feminine side of the divine?  It seemed to me that these realities profoundly affect the way women view and value themselves and likewise how men perceive everything feminine.

The idea of wisdom, especially divine wisdom, is considered feminine in every tradition where it’s named as a construct. That includes Judaism and Christianity.  But this idea has been forgotten.  In the Middle Ages it was heresy to revere the sacred feminine, so this reverence went underground.  An example is Sapientia,  “lady wisdom,” in Latin.  She was a hidden goddess of philosophical inquiry when the sacred feminine was heresy.  Beautiful antiphons are still chanted to her as part of Catholic advent liturgy.

I also believe that humanity has a deep need to revere the feminine side of the divine, and this unmet need is resurfacing in our time in such examples as the phenomenal popularity of the The Da Vinci Code book and film, which featured feminine symbols.  Apparitions of Mary, mother of Jesus, are on the rise around the world.  One of the best documented instances in recent times took place in Zeitoun, Egypt, where hundreds of thousands of people of diverse beliefs stood side by side, over a period of twenty-three years, watching in awe as Mary appeared over a small church in a suburb of Cairo.  Millions make annual pilgrimages to Fatima, Lourdes, and the site of the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico.  The site in Mexico is the most-visited Catholic site, second only to the Vatican.  The tremendous outpouring of love and concern in response to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, also spoke to our need to revere a feminine archetype.   The goddess has been known as Queen of Heaven and Great Mother in many cultures, and it seems vital that she reclaim her throne.

Did Goddess precede God?

My search to understand this phenomenon led me back in time nearly 4,000 years. Thousands of years ago there was a Great Goddess who manifested as a trinity long before the masculine version of the bible.  She was revered around the world as Maiden, Mother, and Crone, or Elder.  She is still honored in many places by indigenous people.  She was complex, and not always gentle, but understanding her nature, and moving in rhythm with her, was related to hunting cycles and growing seasons.  Her worship involved a reciprocity with the Earth and the creatures she gives life.

As I studied the myths and religions of other cultures, I learned that powerful goddesses were diminished, even demonized, with the rise of the patriarchy.  In the absence of a feminine divine presence, half of humanity becomes inferior, without a direct connection or relationship to divine nature.  As a result, in western culture, we have devalued aspects for the feminine for 4,000 years, effectively pushing these archetypes beneath our conscious awareness.

Serious scholars of myth have noticed that the tenor of the stories began to change nearly four millennia ago.  Symptoms of this shift in Greek myths included an increasing glorification of war, accompanied by a deteriorating value of agriculture and cyclical time.  The importance of the goddess has essentially been buried alive in western consciousness.

The resulting loss of half of the divine has ruptured mind and heart, reverberating through the centuries in violence, alienation and growing environmental devastation.  We no long move in harmony with natural cycles, and I believe our lack of balance with natural seasons of earth an sky has brought us to a precarious place.

Joseph Campbell, author and scholar of myth, demonstrated that stories of the hero’s journey, and the essential aspects of myth, are echoed in every culture.  Psychiatrist Carl Jung, who popularized the term archetype, warned that unacknowledged aspects of our collective consciousness do not disappear, instead they go underground, emerging in dreams and sometimes psychoses.  I believe it is vital to restore the many-faceted powers of powerful feminine icons to conscious awareness and help humanity become more sane.

Why is a Goddess important?

The question begs another question.  Whose god are we discussing?  Scholars have assumed that the concept of monotheism emerged rather suddenly with the Hebrews, but increasingly biblical archeology, and a wider study of other cultures, are revealing a different picture.  The idea of an overarching and unifying divine principle has existed in diverse cultures, including Egypt and some so-called primitive groups.  But the idea certainly took hold in the patriarchies of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and has dominated religious orthodoxy for more than two millennia. It also seems that followers of monotheism, or what are called the Abrahamic religions, are not very tolerant of dissent when they are in a position of power.

The male god of the Abrahamic religions is not a warm and welcoming deity.  Rather, he is an aloof, vengeful and authoritarian father figure who, in Christianity, sent his son to be murdered, and dooms his wavering children to eternal damnation in a fiery hell. Missing from this picture is the nurturing warmth and love provided by a mother goddess.  As a result, half of humanity has been devalued and stripped of power. That’s changing, but I believe it’s vital to restore balance by reclaiming the feminine side of the divine.

Things were different in the early days of Christianity.  There was a rich diversity and sense of exploration in the days following the death of Jesus and final destruction of the Jerusalem temple.  Later, the emerging Church of Rome declared many of these beliefs to be heresy and priceless text were burned, forgotten and suppressed for eighteen centuries.  Then in 1945 and 1947 the stunning Nag Hammadi codices, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, were unearthed in Egypt and Israel.  The contents of these caches caused quite a stir in biblical scholarship.