1748: Future Archaeology
Title text: "The only link we've found between the two documents is that a fragment of the Noah one mentions Aaron's brother Moses parting an ocean. Is that right?" "... yes. Yes, exactly."
This Wednesday comic is a direct continuation of the previous comic 1747: Spider Paleontology from Monday about a time-traveler (the black floating energy Sphere) who has come back from far in to the future to see spiders (only known from fossils in their time). See 1747: Spider Paleontology for a more complete explanation of this part of the joke. This series ended with this comic. Both comics in this series have titles of a noun followed by a field of research.
Since Megan and Cueball now have access to the Sphere from the future they ask if it knows who will win the election. This is a reference to the United States elections, 2016 where the very controversial Donald Trump was up against former United States First Lady Hillary Clinton, who also had several controversies going on. This comic was released about three weeks before election day. It is likely one of the most discussed elections ever, especially in the rest of the world outside the US, where especially European leaders have made it clear that they are against Trump. That was mainly earlier on, before they realized he might actually stand a chance. Of course, anyone interested in any election would be interested to hear from the future how it went, but this particular election may interest a larger proportion of the world population than any prior election. (The election was the subject three weeks later the day before the election where Randall endorsed Hillary directly in 1756: I'm With Her.)
Sadly for Megan and Cueball, the sphere has come back from so far into the future, that even spiders have gone extinct. (Whether humans also have is unclear, see discussion about this in 1747: Spider Paleontology). The Sphere makes this clear by stating that its civilization hardly knows anything about our era, and they know little about our history and culture. (And by the way it only came back for the spiders, anyway). The idea is that history is filtered in similar fashion to fossils. What is contemporaneously important, like a spider's web, dinosaur feathers (see previous comic), or the United States presidential election may not survive. The Sphere tells them that only two written accounts have been reconstructed (note that they are not found in their entirety). And they do not know whether they even represent real events or myths. One of the two is indeed a myth, as it is about a man building a boat to survive a great flood. Megan recognizes this as being about Noah and his famous Ark from the Genesis flood narrative, as Cueball refers to. The other is a reference to a popular pop song.
The joke is that, in the future, the 2000 Aaron Carter hip hop song "That's How I Beat Shaq" (lyrics and video) is considered as valuable a historical document when researching humans as parts of the Bible. While secular historians consider the story of the Flood to be mythical, they still use it to infer facts about the early history of the Middle East, simply because there are a fairly small number of texts surviving from that era. "That's How I Beat Shaq" is, likewise, a fictional story including some true elements; it's just that as long as there are abundant sources documenting life in the year 2000, there's no reason to consult the song in any historical context. Yet it is the latter story that the time traveler assumes to be a clearly religious one, while seeing the former as a relatively straightforward survival story. A further layer of humor is that "That's How I Beat Shaq" is an archetypal David and Goliath story—the story of David and Goliath of course being a Biblical one as well.
In fact, the Spheres civilization believes Shaq (Shaquille O'Neal a professional basketball player 2.16 m (7 ft 1 in) tall) to refer to a god, which was then defeated by Aaron, a 14-year-old (and rather small kid) at the time of the release of his single in 2001. He beats Shaq on the basketball court one on one, so although this is a David vs. Goliath story it is not a fight till death. But to Aaron and his basketball fan friends, Shaq is probably seen as a kind of god. Megan comments that the pop song may have been mangled by the eons. The Sphere asks Megan and Cueball if it is true that Aaron (Carter's) brother Moses did part an ocean. Megan decides to refrain from trying to explain this, having already in the previous comic realized how hard it is to explain spiders to someone who is a fan, but has never heard of spider web, and thus just states yes, yes exactly. Of course according to the Bible she can say yes to the question about Moses parting the water, as long as she does not say anything about the connection with Aaron Carter.
There appears to be a major flaw in the comic on the fact that the Sphere speaks perfect English and understands Megan and Cueball. If they only have two written accounts from our time, why do they then speak English? Especially since they seem to come from another planet and are thus likely not humans (see discussion of the sphere in the previous comic). Of course if they are humans and have come from Earth (maybe travelled away), they may just have retained the English language. But given the fact that young people today probably would not understand their own grandparents' grandparents, and that the Sphere is from so long into the future that Megan calls it eons, spiders are extinct, and only two texts have survived, it should be impossible for the language to have stayed the same. Alternatively, they have also recovered some video clips, but then it would be strange the Sphere did not mention this. A final solution is that the Sphere's civilization is so advanced that it can learn the language instantly by just being in the room with other beings, simply reading it from their mind. Given the fact that it seems the Sphere has come to Earth from another planet, and has the ability to travel in time, this last option may not even be so far-fetched.
This comic was published the day after the what if? article Flood Death Valley, thus referring indirectly to a new possible flood history. It was the first what if? post in almost three months, the longest break between two post during 2016 (and third longest of all time at the time of its release), and it thus seems realistic that there should be some kind of connection between that and this comic. A later comic (1750: Life Goals) also referenced this what if? post more or less directly. In this comic, Randall managed to combine no less than four of his favorite recurring subjects with time travel, spiders, politics and religion.
The title text expands on the joke by letting the Sphere explain that the only connection they have found between their two historical documents is via the biblical story of Moses. As Moses is also one of God's chosen prophets and leaders, like Noah and Abraham before him, these two stories appear close together in the Bible, though not close together chronologically, and it would be likely that their document with the Flood story also has some parts about Moses. Moses had an older biological brother named Aaron and the Sphere's civilization has hastily concluded that Moses' brother and Aaron Carter are the same. According to the Bible, God parted the Sea of Reeds (commonly mistranslated as Red Sea) for Moses and the Israelites. This is often referred to, either erroneously or out of simplification, as Moses having parted the Red Sea. Along with Noah's Flood, this is one of the two major times in the Bible that God effects grand change on a body or bodies of water.
- [The Sphere, a time-traveler depicted as a solid floating black energy sphere surrounded by six outwardly-curved segments (first seen in the previous comic), is floating in front of Megan and Cueball who is walking after it towards the right part of the panel. The Sphere looks like this in all panels, but in the zoom in from panel two more details can be seen. A voice emanates from the Sphere.]
- Megan: Since you're from the future, do you know who wins the election?
- Sphere: Haven't the faintest idea. Hardly any text has been recovered from your era, so we know little about your history and culture.
- Sphere: We're mostly here for the spiders, anyway.
- [A close-up of the Sphere, still depicted as a black sphere, but not perfectly round at this zoom level and also clearly with some white dots in the dark area. It is still surrounded by six narrow rays with irregular dots between the rays.]
- Sphere: There are only two written accounts we've reconstructed.
- Sphere: We don't know whether they describe real events or myths.
- [The Sphere is now on the left side of Megan and Cueball who has stopped walking and has turned to look at the Sphere.]
- Sphere: One is a story about a man who built a boat to survive a great flood.
- Megan: Oh yeah. Noah.
- Cueball: We do like our flood narratives.
- [The Sphere has drifted further away from Megan and Cueball.]
- Sphere: The other is an account of how a man named Aaron Carter defeated a god named Shaq.
- Megan: That one may have been mangled a bit by the eons.
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