Culture > Books
Helayne Seidman

Worlds apart

Books | A book on ancient history shines, while another makes a case against its importance

Issue: "Geo-gizmos," April 25, 2009

Lots of ancient history books glorify Athens and sneer at Jerusalem. Susan Wise Bauer's The History of the Ancient World (Norton, 2007) is the book homeschooling parents and others should read to understand more about what they should teach. Its 777 readable pages cover beautifully several thousand years.

Bauer narrates so well the stories of the great Mediterranean empires that her brief segments about China and India seem to block the flow. She memorably sketches the character of leaders, noting in her brief mention of one small empire that King Solomon "was an executive with a fixation on size. . . . In a more recent age, David would have been the American frontier evangelist who spoke in tongues and succumbed to visions and fainting fits; Solomon, the suburban megachurch pastor shepherding an increasingly huge congregation into his plush auditorium."

Bauer also shows us the perspective of Rome on what turned out to be more important than anything else: "While Tiberius was troubling the Romans at home, a wandering prophet named Jesus, down in Galilee, annoyed a large and powerful group of priests in Jerusalem. . . ." We can read this and smile because we know the importance of the empire-periphery events that we celebrate two millennia later.

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And that leads me to question the purpose of another big book of ancient history, The Biblical World: An Illustrated Atlas (National Geographic, 2007). It's a lavishly illustrated, gorgeous book of the size appropriate for coffee tables, but its writers and editors refuse to acknowledge that miracles happen. For example, we learn that the walls of Jericho come tumbling down because the priests blew their trumpets, which "could have created an acoustic concussion that smashed against the walls, loosing the mortar and causing them to crumble."

Here's one more: The Israelites crossed the Red Sea "during low tide, when the sandbanks were exposed. Of course, the bottom of this marshland would be mud-solid enough for a person, but certainly too soft to support Pharaoh's heavy armored chariots. Their wheels would have gotten stuck in the sandy bottom. Other chariots may have been sucked under the wet earth altogether."

Question: Why shell out $40 for a book that tries to knock down the reasons for spending the money? After all, if no miracles occurred to help Israelites move into a little patch of dirt at the eastern end of the Mediterranean over three millennia ago, who cares? We pay attention to what happened there only because the Bible shows us that each miracle proclaims God's power and kindness. The Biblical World, like many other theologically liberal presentations, is living off the interest on past contributions by those who cared.

Briefly noted

By Marvin Olasky

The essays in J. Budziszewski's The Line Through the Heart (ISI Books, 2009) make a case for natural law; a particularly fascinating one asks how, in some prominent groups within our culture, what seems to run against the grain of human nature can become "second nature." John Piper's Finally Alive (Christian Focus, 2009) goes beyond natural law to give a biblical explanation of what it means to be born again.

William Naphy's The Protestant Revolution: From Martin Luther to Martin Luther King Jr. (BBC Books, 2007) provides useful information but shows no real understanding of why heroic individuals would risk their lives (and by doing so, gain them). Joel Rosenberg's Inside the Revolution (Tyndale, 2009) shows how jihadists are willing to give their lives in a bad cause, and ex-Muslim followers of Jesus do the same for the best of causes.

The title of David Meir-Levi's History Upside Down: The Roots of Palestinian Fascism and the Myth of Israeli Aggression (Encounter, 2007) makes clear the book's bias, but it's a bias based in fact, and a good antidote to anti-Israel propaganda. Linking Arms, Linking Lives, by Ron Sider, John Perkins, Wayne Gordon and F. Albert Tizon (Baker, 2008) gives practical do's and don'ts for partnerships between urban and suburban Christians.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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