The History of the Ancient World by Susan Wise Bauer

SnakAncient History

Bliv bruger af LibraryThing, hvis du vil skrive et indlæg

The History of the Ancient World by Susan Wise Bauer

Dette emne er markeret som "i hvile"—det seneste indlæg er mere end 90 dage gammel. Du kan vække emnet til live ved at poste et indlæg.

Redigeret: jun 4, 2010, 10:31 pm

I started a book last weekend that I will deliberately leave unfinished.

I was really looking forward to The History of the Ancient World by Susan Wise Bauer because I was in the mood for a strong overview to fill in the gaps I may have accumulated from my tendency to focus upon specific historical periods.

In less than 50 pages, Bauer really let me down. She is a compelling writer, but she tends to present ideas and concepts that are open to interpretation as established fact. Moreover, she has a strong religious bias that was immediately apparent.

Most prominently with regard to the latter, she discusses the prevalence of flood myths in varied cultures (including the Americas!) and infers that these must hearken back to a central single event. I have never heard a modern historian suggest such a thing!

Summing up the Near East flood myths – which may very well echo a shared experience of geography – she dismisses the recent Ryan-Pittman hypothesis (as supported to some degree by the Robert Ballard expeditions) that traces this back to the massive inundation that turned the freshwater Euxine Lake into the brackish salt water Black Sea by incorrectly stating that the flood of Ryan-Pittman’s theory dates to 7000 BC (putting it too early in the chronology), which it does not (I own & read the book and the flood they discuss occurred in 5600 BC ). After drawing links between the Mesopotamian and Mayan flood stories in a kind of Erik van Danikan television style, she firmly concludes: “Surely it is not a coincidence that the creation stories of so many countries begin with chaotic waters which must recede so that man can begin his existence on dry land.” This is followed by a weird psychological discussion of our ongoing fascination with inundation that even cites a shared obsession for the Titanic (Ballard redux)!

I did a little Google research on her bio and learned that along with many impressive degrees she has a Masters in Divinity and is of a pronounced religious bent. Now there are many, many religious people who are also outstanding historians (no I don’t mean Paul Johnson!), but I was appalled to see Bauer’s own religious views so dominate what purports to be history. While some reviewers have taken her to task for this, I found no one else who pointed to this ridiculous flood dissertation and its egregious error on Ryan-Pittman’s work . In fact, I was surprised that most reviewers awarded her high marks over all.

Of course I have, as I said, only read 50 pages of her book, but based upon what I have encountered so far, I have read quite enough. I would be most concerned for those without a background in history who would read this book and take her assertions for established fact.

I should point out that on the same day I also began reading David Anthony’s The Horse, the Wheel and Language, and Anthony introduces a somewhat controversial theory of his own while taking great care – as an historian must – to present the real evidence on the ground and to point out where this fits his thesis. He does not announce out of hand that his thesis is the sound one and dismiss all others as if they hold no merit. I expect I will read the Anthony book to completion.

(Footnotes that don't paste here:
1.note that she announces that she will use BC & AD rather than the current common convention of BCE and CE, because “using BCE while still reckoning from Christ’s birth seems, to me, fairly pointless”
2. Ryan-Pittman is only a theory, as such, albeit an attractive one and I don’t mean it would acceptable to adopt it as “fact,” only that her dismissal is based upon a misreading of it)

Has anyone else Susan Wise Bauer? Am I being unfair to her here? Is this one minor stain -- is the rest of the book worth reading?

jun 4, 2010, 10:35 pm

I've not read the Bauer book but it is high up on my TBR pile. I'm saddened to learn of the religious bias in her writing; that kind of thing can ruin a book for me completely.

side note: I'm reading the Anthony book as well, and enjoying it immensely.

jun 4, 2010, 10:38 pm

I haven't read any of Susan Wise Bauer's work, so I can't give you my opinion, really. However, that said, between her inaccuracies and pronounced (but apparently not announced) religious bent, I would have put her book down too. I don't have a problem with religious interpretations of history, but the writer should be up front about it and mention this in their introduction as part of their methodology.

Redigeret: jun 4, 2010, 10:44 pm

Bauer sounds fairly dreadful. I can't really abide that sort of project--talented writers, without any of the knowledge and skills necessary to evaluate let alone do original work in the field, trying to tackle something as deeply "different" as ancient history. (For a good book of essays by a top scholar in the field, that bring out the unexpected--like the importance of divination in the development of science and the demolition of the notion that the "Code of Hammurabi" was a law code at all--check out Mesopotamia : writing, reasoning, and the gods.)

I rather agree with her on BC and AD, though.

I bogged down in The Horse, The Wheel and Language, despite having been enraptured by In search of the Indo-Europeans and similar books.

PS: Pretty awesome response here...

jun 4, 2010, 11:16 pm

The Anthony book is worth wading through, Tim. Parts of it get a little rough with the intense archaeological data, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I saw it as sort of an updated version of Mallory, with all the data that was hidden behind the Iron Curtain for decades. The only slight negative I can say about Anthony's book is that parts of it feel a little "cut and paste", for lack of a better term. Anthony has been writing about this stuff for years, so it almost sort of felt like he wrote the first 50 pages as a kind of introduction to the rest of the book, which would seem to be papers Anthony had written on the subject previously. The tone in the middle of the book definitely strikes me as more "academic", whereas the ends seem to reflect more of Anthony's actual personality, I'd imagine (something of which I'm sure some of you know, academic journals tend to disapprove ;-)).

As for Bauer's book, I'm sad to hear that. I absolutely can't stand it when people present religiosity as fact.

Redigeret: jun 5, 2010, 12:02 am

I have to say, I don't care much about the religious coloring. It might add some element of bias, but it sounds like it's on top of a great sea of easy ignorance and, well, at least she may know the Bible fairly well.

Imagine a rural Sudanese peasant who doesn't speak English or any other western language, has no training in history, knows no culture but his own and had never left his village, and you have someone better qualified to write a history of the United States than some a kids' homeschooling textbooks author with no relevant skills or education has about, say, Sumerian civilization 5,000 years ago.

To give an example, I did three years of PhD work in Greek and Latin and have studied Egyptian and Syriac (on the side, not seriously) and Hittite (at the graduate level, fairly seriously), as well as a fair bit of archaeology--courses and field work--and such not. I'd like to think I came close to being a minor expert on one or two small areas of Greek history. But if I ever wrote a general history of any of these topics, let alone some quite different topic like Harappan civilization, you should throw it in the garbage immediately! You should laugh me out of the room.

In short, I know the gap between ignorance and understanding. I know how much studying a topic deeply, with the requisite skills, changes what you thought you knew about it. People who toss off general histories of this kind--well, I can only guess they've never had the sobering experience of studying something deeply enough to see that gap.

Redigeret: jun 5, 2010, 9:42 pm

Dr. Bauer is a graduate of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University with a Master of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D in American Studies from the College of William and Mary, concentrating in the history of American religion. She is a leading light of the homeschooling movement, and editor-in-chief of a small press specializing in homeschooling titles. She teaches writing and literature classes at William and Mary. These are not shabby accomplishments in any way, but they do not qualify her as an expert in ancient history.

Dr. Bauer's book should not be marketed as an authoritative historical survey. The publisher (Norton) should market the book for what it apparently is, a high-school level home-schooling text that retells and embroiders on the traditional ancient literary and mythological accounts of history without contradicting Christian holy texts. The author in her preface scornfully dismisses archeological and anthropological study in favor of ancient written source material.

This approach enables her and her audience of homeschoolers to rely on chronological narratives that can be absorbed without need for any background other than the ability to read.

Dr. Bauer's book meets the specialized needs of a particular audience. It is not an adequate overview of current thought about ancient history (while dismissing prehistory out of hand), and Dr. Bauer is not qualified to produce such an overview.

In my view the fault, if any, is with the marketer. The information I draw on is widely available on the Web. Dr. Bauer does not appear to be trying to put anything over on anybody. When exploring history or anything else, check your sources before diving in.

Redigeret: jun 5, 2010, 9:59 pm

Excellent point Anthony, but it isn't just Norton. This book is featured at brick-and-mortars Barnes & Noble & Borders in the adult history section, and on the web at Amazon and elsewhere purporting to be a mainstream history. And you do kind of have to dig to uncover her true credentials, although I think you are right in that she is not deliberately concealing them.

Here is the Booklist review:

"From Booklist
Bauer's annals, which span the millennia between the traces of Sumer and the Roman emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity in 312 CE, are an attractive introduction to a subject vast in time and geography. She writes briskly and interpretively, and is attuned throughout to the challenge of rulers: appearing to the ruled as legitimate holders of power. This sensibility makes her narratives acutely interesting, as Bauer pierces the biases inherent in most ancient sources to discern the sincerity or the cynicism with which power seekers pursued their goals. Above, approval of the divine was invaluable; on Earth, a loyal army was indispensable. Acquiring both enabled lawgivers to make their writ stick, and Bauer's chronicles exhibit the interaction of priestly, military, and legal powers as empires and dynasties wax and wane. This endows continuity to her accounts of polities as disparate as the Harappan civilization of the Indus River or the states that emerged from misty prehistory along the Yellow and Yangtze rivers to form China. Nonacademic and sometimes colloquial in composition, Bauer's survey will spark the imagination"

The Publishers Weekly review is similar, although to their credit they also include this bombshell, although almost as an aside: "some of her assertions—for instance, that the biblical book of Joshua is the clearest guide we possess to the establishment of an Israelite kingdom in Canaan—contradict general scholarly opinion or are simply wrong."

Anyway, I'm not bitter ... I just want my $35 back ...LOL

jun 5, 2010, 10:14 pm

Luckily, I got my copy with a B&N gift card so I may put it up on BookMooch rather than wasting any time on it. We'll see.

jun 5, 2010, 10:26 pm

I haven't read Bauer, but I'm surprised that so many people are surprised by the religious bias in her books. I guess it's just because I'm a part of the home school community, but the reason I never read her books is because I already knew that the point of them is to present history from a Christian perspective. Research before purchasing...

jun 6, 2010, 1:21 am

@ 8 Garp83 - You're right, Garp, this book is being way oversold, and not just by Norton. The professional reviews seem to be cribbed from the publisher's promo verbiage. I was willing to cut the author some slack unitl I read her obnoxious preface.

jun 6, 2010, 2:49 am

I have purchased her book on the mediaeval period, primarily because it covers China and south Asia wher I am weak. However if she follows in the same pattern as in the ancient period I will give it a miss. I will attempt to read but pass on my thoughts to this group.

jun 6, 2010, 9:36 pm

I am making a comment really because the others on this thread are so negative. I thought Bauer's book was seriously refreshing. I'm amazed that so many people are unwilling to consider an independent take on what we know about ancient times, just because it is "religious". So far as "errors", I don't see much in the above comments that substantiates such. I can't see that Bauer's dismissal of the absurd Black Sea flood theory (I read that book and found it to be lacking in any credibility) to be evidence of ignorance or bias. Furthermore, surely it's time to think about the primacy of literary evidence, in light of the increasingly evident weakness of archaeological or (even worse) sociological interpretations.

Redigeret: jun 6, 2010, 10:22 pm

Like I said, Ryan-Pittman is far from proven although it is also far from absurd. The inundation seems actually to have occurred -- it was once a freshwater lake that was drowned by saltwater, somewhere around 5600 BCE based upon the science of it; what is hypothetical is whether it had any basis for the later flood myths, and whether it had anything to do with the origins of the Indo-European peoples of later fame.

That Bauer chooses to dismiss Ryan-Pittman was not my point, it was simply that she dismissed them based upon an incorrect reading of their clearly stated chronology.

In any event, I hardly condemned her for this, but rather for inferring that a single universal worldwide flood is historical fact. That, my friend, clearly is absurd in a work of history.

I have no idea what you mean by: "Furthermore, surely it's time to think about the primacy of literary evidence, in light of the increasingly evident weakness of archaeological or (even worse) sociological interpretations." Do you mean to suggest that the Judeo-Christian bible should be taken as historical evidence for pre-history? If so I believe you are confusing theology with archaeology/history. These are vastly different disciplines that do not often play well together.

Redigeret: jun 6, 2010, 10:39 pm

13 Dr. Bauer has a lively style, at least in parts. She can tell a good story and reimagine things left out of the ancient sources better than most. She has a great way of telling us verbatim what was going through the minds of ancient people at key junctures in their real or mythical careers. The question on this thread is whether this book is a reliable guide to what is actually known today about the subject, and it is my admittedly nonprofessional opinion that it is not reliable, because it is based on unreliable sources and rules out important evidence when that can't be found in antique texts. I would not hesitate to call this approach obscurantist.

I am far from rejecting the book because it is religious. I do not consider it religious. It attempts to avoid contradicting fundamentalist biblicist beliefs, but in fact seems to me to bend over backwards to accept all traditional beliefs, Jewish-Christian or not.

The alleged "weakness" of archeological and anthropological evidence for history and prehistory, is far from "increasingly evident." To say so is a canard, a talking point for some strands of apologetics. The importance of archeological and anthropological findings has been established now for centuries, and increases daily, illuminating the scholarly study of history and enlightening the general reading and TV-watching population. It particularly opens up major epochs such as the early Central American, that Dr. Bauer is forced virtually to eliminate from history because of lack of original literary sources.

Some here find good reasons to disagree with me, but I think Dr. Bauer is open about her aims and approach to history. The publishers and booksellers however have not been so open. Anyone who enjoys this book for what it is has good grounds to do so. We have on this thread, however, been encouraging each other, mostly more or less amateurs, to apply a quasi-professional skepticism to claims of historiographical authority by authors or publishers.

Redigeret: jun 9, 2010, 3:16 am

I enthusiatically recommend M.I. Finley's Ancient History: Evidence and Models as a curative to your (in Finley's words) "touching faith" in the so-called "primacy of literary evidence" and your strange disparagement of archaeological research.

jun 13, 2010, 9:33 pm

i'm afraid you "inferred" from my comment rather more than I intended. I certainly did not intend to say anything about the Bible as "historical evidence for pre-history". I don't really see how anything could be "historical evidence for pre-history". I really can't see anything in my comment that would justify the accusation of fundamentalism that seems to underlie your response. I'm sorry if I touched some sort of nerve in somebody's worldview. That was not my intent/

As to whether Ms. Bauer "inferred" that there was a single universal worldwide flood, I suppose I'd have to reread that part of her book, which I don't have with me now. Possibly you mean she implied that such was the case, but I don't even recall that. Can you quote me the reference you objected to?

As to my criticism of "archaeological interpretations", I was too cryptic. I suggest that now that we have several generations worth of interpretation of archaeological data to review, it seems that this kind of evidence is particularly subject to being fitted into the interpreter's preconceptions Of course any evidence, including literary, is subject to this problem, but it seems to me, at least, that where there are no speaking voices to contend with, the risk of overinterpretation and of interpretation according to preconceived notions is greater. I think there is also a danger in that archaeological evidence is sometimes presented as somehow more scientific, more certain, more free from bias, than literary evidence, when in fact its fragmentary nature makes it particularly difficult to generalize from.

jun 13, 2010, 9:37 pm

In response to Mr. Willard, what "strands of apologetics" would those be? I'm not aware of this. As to the enlightenment of the tv watching public, can you give me an example of a television program that in fact has enlightened anybody on the basis of archaeology? I don't watch a lot of television, but I've never seen such a show.

jun 13, 2010, 9:41 pm

in response to Makifat, I'll have to check out Prof. Finley's comments on touching faith in literary evidence. I'm not sure how easy it will be to find the book you mention. I don't remember much about Finley from my schooling a long time ago. I do seem to recall that he was an academic with a very definite ideology. I didn't disparage archaeological research--I just commented that it can be misused. I thank you for this reference, because the point is one that I am interested in.

jun 13, 2010, 11:07 pm

@ 18 cstebbins

I am assuming #17 responds to garp83 14.

You would like an example of an apologetics that rejects archeology and anthropology. I suggest Young Earth Creationism. If you are "not aware" of Creationism's position on science, Wikipedia has a serviceable introduction (in the article: Young Earth Creationism, see especially the heading: Attitude Towards Science.)

As for finding television offerings on archeological topics, let me suggest the following channels in the United States:

A&E The Arts and Entertainment Channel (cable)
DCIVU Discovery Civilizations (U.S. Cable)*
DISCU Discovery Channel (U.S. Cable)
DTC Discovery Times Channel (U.S. Cable)
HBO Home Box Office (cable)
HINT History International (U.S. Cable)
HISTU The History Channel (U.S. Cable)
NGU National Geographic Channel (U.S. Cable)*
PBS Public Broadcasting System (U.S. National Schedule)
PBSU PBS You (U.S. National Schedule)
TLC The Learning Channel (cable)
SCI The Science Channel (U.S. Cable)

Judicious viewing will repay the time spent. That any such program might be found enlightening by any individual, is, of course, my opinion. You may determine otherwise. As the man said, 'One man's meat is another man's poison."

jun 14, 2010, 12:20 pm

The book isn't hard to find. As far as Mr. Finley being an "academic", would you find his conclusions more convincing if he were, say, a plumber?

There is a lot of frustrating crap with regard to television programming on archaeology. It tends, as does the majority of television programming, to be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. Still, programs such as NOVA do a pretty good job when they do examine recent archaeological finds. I seem to recall a good series on ancient Egypt by John Romer many years ago.

Still, the fact that tv programming done by lazy laypersons does a disservice to archaeology does not mean that the archaeology upon which it is based is faulty. Generally, when I see a shoddy program on an interesting archaeological topic, there is usually some more scholarly material available that one can locate with a little effort. It just involves taking some initiative.

jun 14, 2010, 1:49 pm

OK I will cede the point. Television coverage of archaeology has an overall negative effect on the public's knowledge of archeology.

That changes my argument from this: "The importance of archeological and anthropological findings has been established now for centuries, and increases daily, illuminating the scholarly study of history and enlightening the general reading and TV-watching population."

To this: "The importance of archeological and anthropological findings has been established now for centuries, and increases daily, illuminating the scholarly study of history and enlightening the general reading population."

All better, though I may now and then sneak a look.

Redigeret: jun 14, 2010, 2:05 pm

Most non-academics expect the wrong things from archaeology.

For example, you'll frequently hear the question "What does archaeology tell us about the New Testament?" And the sort of response they want is "It confirms it!" or "It proves it wrong!" Scholarly will sometimes front this or that piece of evidence along these lines--for example, the inscription that mentions Pilate. But no ancient historian seriously doubted Pilate existed—he's mentioned in a number of literary sources, including non-Christian ones—and the inscription tells us precious little new. Mostly archaeology speaks to contextual questions here, like "How Hellenized was 1c. Galilee?"

Here's a good example, from a UMich Christian group (source):
"The accuracy of the Gospels has been supported by archaeology. The names of many of the Israelite cities, events, and people described in them have now been located."
This just misses the whole point. Nobody think that the evangelists made up quotidian details about a fake world—like Tolkien or something. The Gospels were first and foremost written by and for late 1c. people, many of whom knew the environs well and all of whom were familiar with, say, how Romans crucified people or the names of cities. I suppose it's useful to know that Acts mentions people in various cities and they turn up in inscriptions. It underscores that Acts has lots of concrete historical data in it. But no serious historian thought the "Acts is a fairy tale" argument was strong to begin with.

The page in question ends with a good quote from A. N. Sherwin-White:
"For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. . . . Any attempt to reject its basic historicity must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted."
Roman historians have long taken it for granted. Archaeology didn't tell us something we didn't already know.

The situation is somewhat different for OT archaeology, where basic facts about the world of the Bible are in doubt--ie., what was the nature of Solomon's Kingdom. But here also archaeology answers context questions, rather than the historical-narrative questions that laymen want answered.

Redigeret: jun 14, 2010, 3:25 pm

Well, being a non-academic layman and a very lazy one at that, I think I will mosey on out of this discussion and leave it to the professional archaeologists, who have finally arrived, and who will be sure not to do any disservices to archaeology or expect any wrong things.

BTW, the aforementioned M. I. Finley book is available as a digital reprint on Amazon, and the real book can be found used at online secondhand booksellers. I bought a copy and am waiting for it to arrive in the mail. I will read it eagerly, though I am aware that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. ;=) If I detect any ideology I will emerge and try to alert the unwary.

jun 14, 2010, 7:41 pm

replying to message 20:

Maybe you've got me on "Young Creationism", since I would have to admit that I've heard such a thing exists, but I've never read anything by one of its advocates. I did not realize they tried to use historical data, which I am assuming based on your reference they do. That is certainly new to me, but I wouldn't think it would likely be sufficiently plausible to send a history related person like me out to see what they say.

I also have not watched all the various channels you mention above. I have occasionally seen programs on the Discovery Channel and the History Channel, but the ones I've seen provided a great deal more misinformation than information. Some years back I watched some programs on state media PBS that had to do with (I believe) the Trojan War, but again, they seemed to consist mainly of dumbed down and rather sensationalistic speculation.

Anyway, as you say later, I guess tastes vary.

jun 14, 2010, 7:46 pm

responding to message 23

thanks for your interesting comment. I have to say, the quotation from the U Mich group site is downright funny.

Redigeret: jun 14, 2010, 8:35 pm

#23 Tim -- well said.

This whole thing speaks to the kind of see-saw that Biblical archaeology has been over the last 150 years or so.

At first, the 19th century stated purpose was to utilize archaeology to demonstrate the “truth” of the Bible: we have located the walls of Jericho, so the Judeo-Christian Bible is vindicated for those who doubted it. The reaction to that movement was the equally extreme one that considered the very phrase “Biblical Archaeology” as an oxymoron of sorts, where the stories of the testaments were seen as anchored in convenient historical place names but beyond that represented little more than fiction written into maps of the times.

The more mature version of all of this is today’s archeological approach which relies upon field archaeology to establish the factual basis that may or may not connect with the Biblical touchstones as part of the narrative. In this sense, we have located the walls that were once Jericho, but that does not establish that an angel caused them to fall. There is a paucity yet nevertheless still real evidence for an historical Jesus, but that does not establish that he cured those afflicted by leprosy, fed the multitude from a loaf of bread nor rose from the dead.

The current archaeology neither assumes that the Biblical narrative is accurate nor mythical, only that it is what it is. According to the Exodus, ancient Hebrews discussed a Moses in Egypt (and Moses is not a Hebrew name, but one with an Egyptian etymology) who turned a staff into a serpent (a clever but common trick back in the day); there are indeed parts of this story that could be true, but the science of archaeology is not concerned with that as a primary objective. There is no reason to assume that the Bible is lying about anything, but neither is there a reason to assume that what it speaks to is the truth, in an historical sense. It could be a wonderful guidepost to material archaeological finds – or not. That is the only way we can utilize it in a historical or pre-historical manner that makes any sense. Beyond that it is just literature.

As David Anthony says in The Horse, the Wheel and Language “The only field in which we can find absolute certainty is religion.”

We have a similar issue with the historicity of the Trojan War. This is an excellent metaphor because The Iliad is the probably the closest the ancient Greeks had to a sacred text like the Torah. Latacz’s brilliant scholarly Troy and Homer: Towards a Solution of an Old Mystery makes a pretty good case (beyond Schliemann’s hyperbole) for a real Bronze Age Troy and the veracity of a war between the Mycenaean Greeks and the Hittite vassal at Ilium as an historical episode, (although there is far less evidence for this than many Biblical events), but no one in their right mind would suggest that gods from the Olympic pantheon actually visited the battlefield to help or hinder Hector or Agamemnon in the bloody conflict.

What’s the lowest-common-denominator bottom line? Never confuse religion & archaeology…

jun 14, 2010, 8:07 pm

Really? I don't it funny. I don't think, for example, this is really an example of religious naïvete--which is perhaps the humor. You see the same thing so often when archaeology, because it deals in objects, is treated as "scientific," which is to say truth, and literary texts as something else. I mean, if someone finds some Carthaginian armor somewhere in Italy some newspaper will, I predict, report that we finally have confirmation that Hannibal invaded Italy.

jun 14, 2010, 10:13 pm

Replying to cstebbins, 25.

I have been corrected, by you and by several of the other professionals in the group, on the usefulness of archeology to history, especially the popular archeology we meet in television, journalism, and books aimed at non-archeologists. As you see from the preceding several posts, the consensus is that not only the archeology available to non-professionals, but even legitimate archeology can do very little to inform history, and must be approached very cautiously at best. I find this view uncongenial, but I accede to it because in fact I am sort of out of my league here.

That returns us to the interesting original question of the value of Dr. Bauer's history, which I now see has greater professional credence than I gave it credit for. I will have to take another and better informed look at her book. I should also do more reading and less writing.

jun 14, 2010, 11:33 pm

I should also do more reading and less writing.

What?! No. The more, the more! :)

jun 14, 2010, 11:39 pm

As sort of a side note to your point, Garp, I had a discussion with one of my favourite profs the other day about "biblical archaeology". In short, he suggested I get into that field because I'm interested in the ancient Middle East (though honestly I know quite a bit more about ancient Europe), and my biggest point was that I don't think I could wade into a field which I'm sure was populated by people who are trying to "prove" the Biblical Flood, find the "real" Tower of Babel, etc. He corrected me and said that it's just an antiquated label from the 19th century, and modern biblical archaeology is no less scientific nor more religion-based than any other field. My tongue-in-cheek rebuttal was that if that were true, they could just rename it "ancient Middle Eastern archaeology".

I'd imagine he's probably right, but I still don't think I could hack it, if for no other reason than I don't have time to learn a bunch of new (well, old) languages :-D

jun 15, 2010, 2:53 am

>31 Feicht:

They can rename it whatever they want, as long as they don't call it "archeology." Shiver.

Redigeret: jun 15, 2010, 5:38 am

#29 Anthony -- "As you see from the preceding several posts, the consensus is that not only the archeology available to non-professionals, but even legitimate archeology can do very little to inform history, and must be approached very cautiously at best."
I assume (hope) you are being facetious?

#31 Feicht -- your professor is correct, however I'm sure there are still lots of hangers on at the periphery "trying to "prove" the Biblical Flood, find the "real" Tower of Babel, etc." I'm certain Bauer et al sit at the sidelines with baited breath ...LOL

#32 Tim -- NO -- NOT "archEology" .........!!!!!!!!

Redigeret: jun 15, 2010, 5:51 am

The first time I saw it spelled that way, I was sure it was a spelling error...


Redigeret: jun 15, 2010, 6:05 am

33 Garp83 - Not being facetious. It doesn't sit well with me because academic exclusivism in possession of knowledge seems to me fatal to the public acceptance of academia. But I thought I should yield to timspalding and makifat's opinions that archaeology doesn't have much to contribute to history, and that popular archaeology is pretty much worse than useless. I think I may understand why they want to say that, so I climbed down in deference to their far greater knowledge of the subject.

I do think Tim's position in ##23 and 28 legitimizes Dr. Bauer's historiographical approach as described in the preface to her book.

jun 15, 2010, 6:09 am

Maybe I'm reading it wrong but I don't think Tim is saying that at all. Tim has something of a background in archaeology if I'm not mistaken, so I don't think he would ever suggest " archaeology doesn't have much to contribute to history". I think the point being made is that Archaeology does not exist in a vacuum.

Tim does make the point that "Most non-academics expect the wrong things from archaeology" with reference to proving or disproving the bible as a holy testament, if I'm reading him correctly.

As I said in #27 above, archaeology can confirm certain historical references in the biblical narrative, but by no means can it confirm or deny the supernatural elements that make it a sacred book for believers.

Redigeret: jun 15, 2010, 6:17 am

>35 anthonywillard:

What did she say in the preface that I'm validating?

If it's about the reliability of the OT, the sticking point is the far, far greater distance in time between the events and the writing-down of it. (Contributing factors: fewer independent sources for events, higher miracle quotient, etc.)

Tim has something of a background in archaeology if I'm not mistaken

Not really. I did 6 mo. in Turkey at a dig. After that I did three years toward a PhD in Classics--emphasis on history, not archaeology. I took a few archaeology classes as an undergrad, including a semester in Turkey where I got to know a lot of sites, but zero as a grad student. As a grad student we had a tiny amount on the quals, and occasionally used archaeological data in papers.

jun 15, 2010, 6:24 am

Sorry Tim if I exaggerated your curriculum vitae, but I am reading you correcting, right? You are nowhere insinuating that "archaeology doesn't have much to contribute to history", right? I'm just clarifying ...

jun 15, 2010, 6:30 am

>38 Garp83:

I dunno. That's a question for a seminar—or two. It depends on what kind of history. It doesn't often provide answers for narrative political-military history of the "rulers and battles" type, at least for better-documented periods of Greco-Roman antiquity. It probably provides almost nothing to, say, the history of philosophy. But it has a lot to contribute to other aspects of history.

Redigeret: jun 15, 2010, 10:37 am

But I thought I should yield to timspalding and makifat's opinions that archaeology doesn't have much to contribute to history, and that popular archaeology is pretty much worse than useless. I think I may understand why they want to say that, so I climbed down in deference to their far greater knowledge of the subject.

I think there's a misunderstanding here, perhaps due to my own clumsy phrasing. I think archaeology contributes enormously to history! If anything, it is vital to the - for want of a better word - validation of written documentation.

What I was disparaging was the way that television programming, with an emphasis on entertainment, have a tendency to sensationalize or present the latest (often crackpot) theories without benefit of a critical eye. I'm thinking of some of the "Riddle of the Sphinx" nonsense that had the Sphinx exhibiting "evidence" of having been submerged, or the more recent "evidence" for a massive Chinese flotilla circumnavigating the globe in the 13th century. (The former was the subject of a contentious LT thread a while back that I'd just as soon forget, and the latter I recall watching with my son as my frustration grew, saying "no, no, that doesn't constitute evidence!") You also get the garbage trying to draw connections between Ancient Egypt and the Aztec Empire, even though the two existed millennia apart!

I'm glad when archaeology is popularized! I just want it to be done with the input of actual, respectable, archaeologists, instead of being "presented" by some guy who happened to once read a book on Ancient Egypt. Of the media outlets, PBS does the best job of this in this country, and the BBC has done some good programming as well (I think they did the Romer series I mentioned above).

For the record, my archaeological "expertise" is limited to a few years tromping through and digging up paleoindian sites in the barren reaches of the Lone Star State. This was archeology (as it was insisted upon by my peers) and I'm glad to be out of it. It's really bad for the knees.

Redigeret: jun 15, 2010, 8:46 pm

@ 37 timspalding said: "What did she {Dr. Bauer} say in the preface that I'm validating?"

As I understand it, Dr. Bauer's method of "history from the bottom up" involves relying on textual sources to the exclusion of material evidence, which she regards as impersonal therefore not matter for history, defined as the study of individual lives, with an emphasis on "individual".

Rereading, in a cooler frame of mind, the Preface which I deemed anti-scientific a few days ago, I think it is capable of a more benign interpretation. But I can't disagree with Garp83 in the post which initiated this thread.

jun 20, 2010, 9:38 am

@39 Tim -- so I have been thinking about your post for a few days now and trying to digest what you are saying. I must admit I'm not really sure I understand.

While it is not 100% confirmed, recent excavations seem to provide evidence for the lost army of the Persian Great King Cambyses II, buried in a cataclysmic sandstorm in 525 BCE according to Herodotus. If true, wouldn't this archaeological discovery confirm an otherwise unverifiable historical account?

As far as the biblical narrative goes, I will state up front that I am not a believer in the sense that it is a not a sacred text to me. On the other hand, there is no reason to dismiss the narrative any more than we would something similar by the Sumerians, Egyptians, Hittites etc. On the other hand, a healthy skepticism must be maintained. As far as I know, there is absolutely no evidence outside of the bible for the existence of the Davidic Empire of David and Solomon, neither in the historical records of contemporary states of the period nor in the archaeological record.

Wouldn't an archaeological find that ascertained the existence of David or his palace or a contemporaneous temple establish that the narrative reflects real history, at least to some degree? (Naturally, that would have nothing to do with establishing that Yahweh chose David to betray Saul, align himself with the Philistines, and make himself king. It certainly would not make me believe in Yahweh or any other supernatural aspect of the narrative ...)

Anyway, I am curious what your thoughts on this are as a follow-up to your comments above. I really want to try to understand what you are saying here.

jun 20, 2010, 11:20 am

What I took Tim to mean was (something to the effect that) archaeology is very useful for determining questions about material culture, but is only more difficultly applied to verifying things like king lists, narrative history, etc. I think you're right though Garp in that from time to time it can be used to verify battle sites and whatnot (whether it's the Teutoberger Wald disaster, or the lost Persian army).

jun 20, 2010, 7:36 pm

Well Josh, Tim said it was "a question for a seminar—or two" -- and I could use a damn good seminar don't you know ...

jun 20, 2010, 7:44 pm

Yeah I like it when they're in English, too! I have to savor all these kind while I still can ;-D

jun 20, 2010, 9:59 pm

When do you leave for Germany? Time for lunch & Book Barn before you quit the continent?

jun 21, 2010, 12:49 am

Well I'm coming over in a few weeks but I will have zero time because it's for my friends' wedding and it'll just be for a couple days anyway. But I'm sure I'll be back in August, and I won't be leaving till the second week of September

sep 6, 2011, 1:03 pm

Regardless of how the text is marketed, by book sellers, the intention of this book is as a FIRST GRADE read aloud. The associated curriculum, worksheets, and coloring sheets, as well as SWB's Well-Trained Mind book all make it clear that this book is intended for First Graders.
It is unfair to the author to criticize the book for not being what it never intended to be.

sep 6, 2011, 4:21 pm

>48 John_Perling: I think Garp was referring to The history of the Ancient World and I believe that you are referring to The Story of the Ancient World.

Redigeret: sep 7, 2011, 12:49 am

While it is not 100% confirmed, recent excavations seem to provide evidence for the lost army of the Persian Great King Cambyses II, buried in a cataclysmic sandstorm in 525 BCE according to Herodotus. If true, wouldn't this archaeological discovery confirm an otherwise unverifiable historical account?

So, first, the whole thing is apparently bogus--another example of non-archaeologists, hype and even the last refuge of scounrels, intercontinental pyramidologists!

See and follow links at:

The whole thing resembles nothing so much as the "discovery" of Alexander's tomb. As here, the press jumped on the story big-time, but the archaeologist wasn't licensed and hadn't done any actual archaeology, the evidence was bogus and there was spooky nonsense--in that case it came out that the chief "archaeologist" was inspired by mystical snakes. Far more articles were written announcing the "discovery" than discrediting it. People were dazzled by the news. Reporters wrote stories without asking anyone remotely credible. Rinse. Repeat.

Archaeology can do many things. In theory it could confirm such an event. The fact is, however, that archaeology very rarely preserves events of this kind--military campaigns, etc. The largest and most significant battles in ancient history leave less of a direct impression on the archaeological record than a tiny hilltop settlement lived in for a few decades. Huge political changes often leave little in the way of physical changes, especially once you remove inscriptions and coins. This is not surprising. You could conclude a lot from my garbage--including many things that will, no doubt, never be included in any history--but you'd have no idea about presidential administrations, US wars in foreign countries or US budget fights.

sep 7, 2011, 1:12 am

> 50 " The largest and most significant battles in ancient history leave less of a direct impression on the archaeological record than a tiny hilltop settlement lived in for a few decades. "

On point, I just finished Peter Wells The Battle That Stopped Rome: Emperor Augustus, Arminius, and the Slaughter of the Legions in the Teutoburg Forest. It took centuries of looking to find this battlefield. Perhaps 15,000 were butchered there. And the site was located not in a remote desert but in densely populated Germany.

okt 20, 2011, 4:48 pm

Why you guys wouldn't like The History of the Ancient World is beyond me. It was packed with information, and the topics she chose to write were EXTREMELY interesting. I would think that any ancient history lover would love this amazing book. It was by FAR the best history book i have read in a long time.

okt 20, 2011, 5:43 pm

You didn't read the original post, did you?


okt 20, 2011, 6:48 pm

53 Durick -- thanks for summing up the response so well!

okt 20, 2011, 6:57 pm

All i am saying is that i liked the book very much. Nobody can stop me from saying that.

Redigeret: okt 20, 2011, 7:30 pm

Hey man, it's a free speech place at LT. No one is denying your right to say you liked or disliked the book. Your post said "Why you guys wouldn't like The History of the Ancient World is beyond me" and Durick was clarifying. I don't believe there was any disrespect intended towards you. If you took it that way, let me apologize, for my part.

I was very clear as to what my objections are to the book as a work of history. I stand fast on those, but you have no obligation to concur.

PS Do you have any other books? I only see 6. I am curious as to what you like in the historical arena.

okt 20, 2011, 10:10 pm

It took centuries of looking to find this battlefield.

What did they end up finding anyway?

okt 20, 2011, 11:20 pm

Archeological excavation ultimately found a great many things that helped to illuminate details of the battle. "Massacre" is probably a better word, because the Romans were attacked from a well-prepared and well-chosen killing zone, and effective defense would have been difficult. Many fragmentary Roman weapons were found, and thousands of other items: coins appropriately dated, glass game beads, clothing, cavalry equipment, tools. Human bones, some with cut marks, and animal bones.

If you look at the cover image of The Battle That Stopped Rome, you will see a beautiful iron face mask taken from a Roman fighter.

All together, the analysis has allowed for considerable interpretation of the events of the fighting.

okt 20, 2011, 11:36 pm

>58 stellarexplorer:

It's probably fairly unique in that it took place very much in the wilderness, and the losers didn't have a chance to bury their dead.

Redigeret: okt 20, 2011, 11:49 pm

>59 timspalding: According to Wells, "The rules of German warfare stipulated that military victories be celebrated by the common sacrifice of some of the weapons of the defeated army -- and of surviving members of that army -- to the martial gods." Some of what was found may represent these celebrations.

Apparently there was much post-battle rearrangement of bodies, bones and artifacts. Some by the victors; some a few years later by Romans when the general Germanicus visited the site and attempted to bury exposed bones out of respect for dead comrades; and some through German attempts to undo the Roman effort.

okt 21, 2011, 1:46 am

Yeah I have visited the museum near the site. It was interesting to see the exhibits of the "eventually buried" remains found in the area, which were apparently buried years after the massacre by re-visiting Roman troops, likely Germanicus as you say, Stellar. What I found most intriguing was how it appeared to me that they must have been hastily interred, as if the troops were worried of the same thing happening again, or else that the area had some kind of bad omen or spirits thereafter.

okt 23, 2011, 7:13 pm

Its quite the tangent, but here it goes: it's only been 35 years & we are having difficulty "excavating" the microprocessor most closely associated with the foundation of the home PC. Certainly underscores the challenges of Bronze Age archaeolgy ...