Jewish Journal

A Lesson From History

by  David A. Lehrer

January 21, 2010 | 8:49 pm

Between IPods, rovers on Mars and gene specific cures for various ailments it’s easy to think that we are at the pinnacle of human history. We can easily be convinced that all that preceded us was mere prelude to our incomparable achievements….and then you have an epiphany where you realize we aren’t all that innovative or exceptional.

Read yesterday’s New York Times’ article about a map on display at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. It was created by a Jesuit priest, Matteo Ricci, who lived in China in 1602—-

a mere 110 years after Columbus

The map he created for the Chinese Emperor is of the world, but you need only see the cartography of North America. It’s uncanny. Baja California, Florida, the Great Lakes, the Yucatan, Cuba are all in the right place in very much the right relative proportions.

Father Ricci didn’t have satellites, radar, or photos—-just the recollections and information provided by explorers of the New World—- and some genius. He did an amazing job. It’s quite extraordinary and humbling...could we come close to understanding the world around us stripped of virtually all of our fancy gadgets and tools?

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