Dear Nergal-Sharezer the Rabmag: Last night I had a dream in which a biblical scholar of my acquaintance was telling me that he had uncovered good evidence that Herod Antipas had pursued the twelve apostles with unstoppable giant steam-powered robot penguins. I expressed some doubts, but he pointed out that his book on the subject had become a New York Times bestseller, which he believed settled the question definitively. What do you think it means? I should mention that I normally dream of Mary Pickford, so this dream was a bit out of the ordinary for me. —Sincerely, Pindar Osage-Orange, Ph.D., Mt. Oliver (borough).
Dear Sir: Although it is uncommon for you, it is not in general out of the ordinary for educated individuals to have dreams involving problems of ancient history. Indeed, often these dreams present, in disguised form, solutions to otherwise intractable problems in historical research. Dreams often substitute monstrous imagery for the facts your brain is trying to piece together, so the interpretive key is to find plausible equivalents for the implausible monstrosities of the dream-world. In this case, penguins, a family of bird found exclusively in the southern hemisphere, are very unlikely to have been known to anyone at the eastern end of the Mediterranean in classical times. The Levantine shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan), however, has a superficially similar black-and-white coat and is also mostly aquatic, but is well known in the eastern Mediterranean region. It is therefore entirely plausible to suppose that Herod Antipas pursued the twelve apostles with unstoppable giant steam-powered robot Levantine shearwaters, and you may unwittingly have solved a thorny problem in biblical history.