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March 9, 2014

Book Review || The Ancient World by IA Tenen

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Published in 1955, The Ancient World by IA Tenen history of the ancient world is a school textbook. I thought that I would try to read more non-fiction books to supplement the world of my imagination.

What I found interesting about the book was how much it will differ from a similar history published more recently. There is no mention made of southern Africa at all, and Africa only figures in story as much as it was necessary for it to be colonised and pilfered by the Greek and Roman empires.

Even Asia is largely left out of the history, except for Asia Minor, which was likewise conquered for resources and riches. Ancient China is only mentioned in passing, and it is clear that the history views the origins of civilisation as starting in central Europe, despite its admission that more civilised dwellings, sanitation, and construction were copied from Asia Minor and the Far East.

The Neanderthals are introduced as they were in the early Stone Age - no mention is made of the fact that they most likely came from southern Africa, and evolution does not even figure in any explanations. This is, however, because it is a history and not a scientific document.

The history also makes it pretty clear that any religion other than Christianity is simply not worth much time. The Greek and Roman gods are only mentioned in passing as a step towards the more civilised religion of the Christian believers.

It is interesting that it takes the Old Testament as historical fact, while it wasn't until someone found evidence of the city of Minos that anyone dreamt the myth could have been true. This despite admitting, "It is a strange thing that no Egyptian records tell us anything of these events."

Of course, discoveries of various other texts, tablets, and archaeological evidence later confirmed that at least some of the stories of the Old Testament had some basis in truth, such as the existence of cities like Jericho, Dan, Meggido, Beersheba, and others, Shishak’s invasion of Judah, and more.

However, others claim that there is no evidence for events in the Bible – such as the exodus from Egypt or the Ten Plagues, for example – at all.

Meanwhile, the history also makes it clear that any population group was only considered civilised – was only considered as making a ‘great advance’ – if it believed in a single god. Initially, the Christian god was thought of as being a ‘tribal’ god who abandoned its people, and some people believed that Jeremiah taught that worshipping God was more of an attitude toward the Divine Spirit than it should have been worship limited to a specific place or people.

It was only near the end of the Roman Empire – when Constantine declared Christianity the national religion – that it inspired masses of followers and became more organised hierarchically. In this history, the Greeks are considered as a sort of pinnacle for a perfect civilisation, because they questioned and thought about everything, except for the fact that their religion was not worthy of their spirit. All the different gods made it ‘obvious that their origin lies in the worship of various natural forces and the oldest arts’.

In essence, my point about writing about this history is just to point out how knowledge of the world and civilisation has expanded since the earliest histories. Greek historians mentioned Atlantis as though it was something real, and it is difficult for us to tell whether its supposed existence was mixed up with mythological oral stories or if it was utterly true, especially since Atlantis remains as yet undiscovered.

If one thinks about the expanding knowledge and consciousness of humanity, it is inspiring to think that if you had to travel back in time with your Smartphone just seventy years, any single person you encounter would never believe that in your pocket you have access to the entirety of human knowledge, right at your fingertips.

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