Now that I am back writing month book reviews, I find myself bursting with options as during the brief sabbatical from editing the site, I didn’t stop reading. During the last twelve months there have been some really excellent books published, such as, a long awaited life of E J Young and biographies of men like Abraham Kuyper. However, I want to make my first two reviews about a pair of books that deal with the topic of the Bible and Archaeology. Both of the authors, know one another – not just professionally but, personally. The second book, which I hope to cover next month, is really more of a life of its author (and a rather vivid life it is too – it would make a good gift for a young lad who just wants an interesting tale). However, I felt it was appropriate to lead not with a biography but, instead an illustrated history.
The book is simply called Treasures from Bible Times and is written by Alan Millard, who for many years taught at Liverpool University (and whose lectures I have heard!). The book was first published in 1985, so for those readers who appreciate a book that they can pick up cheaply second-hand then perhaps, this is the review for you!
The book is replete with pictures of the sites and artefacts associated with the various time periods. My own ‘young’ children have been fascinated by these images and it has provoked one or two conversations. It begins with a brief history of Biblical Archaeology and takes the reader through various key names, such as, Champollion, Flinders Petrie, Kathleen Kenyon and Austen Henry Layard. The discoveries of these people still enthral me whenever I have a few hours spare in London and get the chance for a quick wander in the British Museum.
The first topics look at language, with a section of the Rosetta Stone and another on the Rock of Behistun. The next couple of topics look at the process of Archaeology and the danger of jumping to conclusions, using as his theme the evidence around the Biblical flood.
The next key topic is Ur, and I had the pleasure of showing my own kids around the British Museum last summer, and doing this they were all struck by Woolley’s find of the golden goat and its clear parallels with Abraham’s life. Equally, my father was preaching through the gallery of faith in Hebrews 11 at the point that I read this chapter, and it was striking how Abraham had left all the sophistication and ease that he would have seen in Ur to become a nomadic tribesman.
The book moves through areas like Mari, which although not strictly Biblical do shed a lot of light on the contemporary culture. We then are treated to the discoveries of the Hittites (there non-existence was once used as evidence that the Bible was inaccurate!) and then the treasures in Egypt where he shows that the basic technology behind things, like the Ark of the Covenant, was in use at the time. The Egypt section ends with two pages on the Israel Stele of the Pharoah Merenptah.
Millard then moves to the Philistines, Solomon and features like the use of Ivory Beds and everyday features like seals. This section ends with the ‘black obelisk’ which in many ways is my favourite piece in the British Museum, as it contains the only contemporary portrait of a Biblical King as Jehu son of Humri is shown bowing to Shalmaneser.
The section on the Babylonians is not only full of images of their carved cities but, also of the tells and landscapes where they are found. It is a real concern, how much these areas of world history have been damaged in the recent strife in Iraq and the broader region.
Niftily at the end of the Old Testament, we see the scribes and the rise of Alexander and the Greek Empire. The book ends with New Testament features, such as, the Scrolls found at Qumran and the building work of Herod (the overhead pictures of both Herodium and Masada are quite impressive).
So in brief, if you want an easy read that takes you through a lot of Biblical History and is heavily illustrated with lots of pictures to keep you bouncing along from page to page – then this is probably a book for you.
If you want lots of heavy text and much more detailed work – then look at my other review on Millard’s colleague, Kenneth Kitchen. Kitchen’s tome on the Reliability of the Old Testament is really catering for a different audience – and both books are a useful addition to your library.