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Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition
Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition
by James Karl Hoffmeier
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $43.76
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A convincing study of the evidence for the Exodus, May 4, 2008
One of the reasons I bought this book is that Kenneth Kitchen in his "On the Reliability of the Old Testament" draws extensively upon the research findings of Professor Hoffmeier in the Sinai and elsewhere. In this book, Professor Hoffmeier uses his extensive knowledge of the archaeology and geography of the Sinai to review the many suggested alternatives put forward as to the location of the various toponyms cited in the description of the Exodus from the biblical books of Exodus and Numbers, and states that "What this study attempts to do is to draw attention to the wilderness episodes in the light of archaeological evidence, textural materials, geography, toponym, and personal names."

Chapters 1 and 2 are on the subject of the Wilderness Tradition and the Historians of Religion, which includes a critical review of the Origins of the Israel Debate, and the various positions put forward by past and present scholars, as well as a thorough review and justification for using a "Phenomenological" approach to the study of the religion of Ancient Israel - which is to say, that the theophanies of the prophets must be considered from the view point of the believer, and "suspends judgment on the phenomenon in question and examining it empathetically"

Chapters 3 and 4 examine the geographical nature of the Sinai and its climate, and the geography of the Exodus as described in the Biblical sources. The main toponyms referred to in the Hebrew versions of the biblical sources which are examined in these chapters are Rameses, Pithom, Succoth, and Etham. The discussion focuses on the various alternatives put forward as to the possible geographical locations of these places, taking into account the latest archaeological findings and the possible derivation of these names from the original Egyptian.

Chapter 5 is on the subject of the location of the Red (Reed) Sea, and starts with a discussion on the account in Exodus 14:2 - "Tell the Israelites to turn back and camp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol, and the sea, in front of Baal Zephon ...". In a tightly reasoned and detailed analysis, and the author concludes that the place names associated with the Red Sea (yam sup) demonstrates that the author has a specific location in mind, and that the terms correspond best to Egyptian toponyms of the 13th century.

Chapter 6 is on the subject of "The Mountain of God", in which the author reviews the itineraries from Exodus and Numbers, and provides a detailed analysis of the proposed locations which have been put forward in Northern and Central Sinai, locations outside the Sinai Peninsula, and in Southern Sinai.

Chapter 7 is on the subject of the journey from Egypt to Sinai and the requirements for traveling and living in the wilderness. There is a full discussion on the perplexing problem of the number of Israelites, the possible locations of the toponyms which are referred to after the crossing of the "Red Sea", as well as culinary considerations such as the source of food (i.e. Manna and Quails) and the lack of vegetables

Chapters 8 - 10 cover the subject of the Sinai Legislation, the Desert Sanctuary, and Egyptian Personal Names and other Egyptian Elements. The purpose of these chapters is to show, quite clearly, that all of these could have had an origin in Egyptian practices of the 13th to 12th centuries BCE.

Chapter 11, the final chapter, is on the Wilderness Tradition and the Origin of Israel in which the author states that his study tends to support the view that Israel entered Canaan from the outside, either as invaders or peacefully infiltrating emigrants. The topics covered are the origins of Israel's God, the Israelites as "Shasu", and the Israelites depicted in Egypt.

Professor Hoffmeier has been very careful to examine the pros and cons of the various arguments that other scholars have put forward as to why each particular location matches a biblical toponym, and in selecting what he believes to be the most likely locations based on the brief physical descriptions mentioned in the text, he provides a thorough examination of the geographical and physical nature of the various alternatives, as well as what has been recorded about these locations in ancient and not so ancient times. While he clearly believes in the historicity of the accounts of the Exodus, he demonstrates a very objective approach in selecting his own preference as to the most likely route (and numbers) of the Israelites on their journey in the wilderness of Sinai. One of the most striking examples of this is a comparison of names, religious procedures, format of the covenant, etc, with known practices of similar societies of the time in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and other areas of the Middle East.

In his conclusion the author states that "the Bible accurately preserves an authentic picture of the travels and life in the Sinai wilderness during this period." I think the facts he presents are about as complete as one can expect with the current state of archaeological knowledge and is a very thorough exposition of the evidence for the presence of the Israelites in the Sinai following their Exodus from Egypt in or about the 12th Century BCE. I think his analysis and conclusions are well reasoned and convincing. I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this thoroughly scholarly book to all those who are interested in the verification of the biblical text with archaeological discoveries on the ground.


The Black Pharaohs: Egypt's Nubian Rulers
The Black Pharaohs: Egypt's Nubian Rulers
by Robert G. Morkot
Edition: Paperback
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting introduction to the Kushite Kingdoms o f Nubia, June 22, 2007
Robert Morkot's contribution on Nubia in "Centuries of Darkness" by Peter James prompted me to buy this book. His chapter on the origins of the Kushite kingdom interested me primarily because, quite apart from the chronological controversy, I knew very little about the civilisations of the African kingdoms to the south of Egypt and only a passing familiarity with the pharaohs of the 25th Dynasty of Egypt.

In an introduction to the Notes section of his book, Professor Morkot states that there are still relatively few general accounts of the 25th dynasty and much of the detailed argument and discussion has appeared as articles in academic journals or proceedings of Nubian and Meroitic conferences. He goes on to point out that most books published on Nubia have tended to discuss the 25th Dynasty in the context of monuments in the Sudan and treat the Egyptian monuments and to some extent the events and policies as tangential. This book, then, sets out to address this gap in the record.

The book can be divided into the following sections:
* Chapters I to III review the geography and European rediscovery of Nubia first by wealthy travellers, and then by archaeologists from about the middle of the 19th century onwards. These are important chapters because they clearly lay out the most significant hypotheses put forward by the earlier archaeologists who tended to base their assumptions on preconceived notions of the superiority of the Egyptian kingdoms over those of the their southern neighbours, resulting in misconceptions which influenced the study of the kingdoms of Nubia and Meroe up to fairly recent times.
* Chapters IV to VIII deal with Nubia and the Egyptians in Nubia during the period of the Old Kingdom, 1st Intermediate Period, Middle Kingdom, 2nd Intermediate Period and the New Kingdom which ended about 1069BC. These chapters primarily discuss the role of the Egyptian state in Nubia - with the exception of Chapter V which reviews the rise of the Kushite kingdom of Kerma during the 2nd Intermediate period.
* Chapters IX and X deals with the 3rd Intermediate period; Chapter IX with the Libyan Dynasties up to the first appearance of the Kushite Kings in Thebes around 750BC, at a time when little is known about what was happening in Lower and Upper Nubia, the areas along the Nile above the 1st Cataract at what is now Aswan; and Chapter X with the emergence of the Assyrian empire and appearance of their armies in western Asia and the eastern coast of the Mediterranean.
* Chapters XI and XII describe records and monuments of Alara and Kashta, the founding kings of the Kushite Dynasty of Napata.
* Chapters XIII to XXI describe records and monuments of the four Kushite pharaohs who ruled over the whole of Egypt - Piye, Shabaqo, Shebitqo, Taharqo. The Egyptian and Nubian records are now supplemented by those of Assyria, Babylonia, western Asia, and Biblical sources. There are complete descriptions of Piye's campaign into the Delta and subseqent re-unification of Egypt, and the incursions of the Assyrians into western Asia and finally into Egypt itself with the campaigns of Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal in 674BC, 671BC, 669BC and 667BC.
* Chapter XXII, the final chapter, covers the reign of the Tanwetamani, the last recognised Kushite pharaoh of Egypt and the unification of Egypt under Psamtik I, the first king of the 26th Saite Dynasty.

I found the book to be eminently readable and most interesting, although there often seemed to be frequent repetitions about artefacts and events, which didn't detract from the reading so much as to make me wonder how the book was put together. Professor Morkot is also quite fond of the word "doubtless" - which is a warning flag - since what follows is his interpretation of events without much evidence to back up the statements. Notwithstanding this, I now have a clear idea of the difficulties of developing a coherent picture of the Kushite kingdoms, and I think Professor Morkot has succeeded in being fairly even-handed with the more egregious controversies, including those various hypotheses concerning the geneaology of Kushite royalty and the Kushite succession. The chronological topic in "Centuries of Darkness" plays only a minor role in this book as it is primarily an issue with respect to the period before the accession of kings Alara and Kashta.

Invariably, owing to space limitations if nothing else, I needed some references to hand to help fill in the gaps and my lapses of memory when I was reading this book. These included
* Ian Shaw's "Oxford History of Ancient Egypt" for the periods up to the end of the 3rd Intermediate period
* Several websites which provided more information about the pharaohs of the confusing period of the 3rd Intermediate period, and detailed maps for those inevitable places which do not appear on any map.
* George Roux's "Ancient Iraq" when it came to the accounts of the emergence of the Assyrian empire into western Asia.
The book has many interesting illustrations, the maps were helpful for understanding the geography of the Nile up to Khartoum, the notes on each chapter are extensive and helpful, and for further reading there is a useful bibliography of works of about 170 notable scholars and archeologists of the past 100 years.

This book has certainly enhanced my knowledge of this subject, and I recommend it to those persons who want a good overview of the Nubian civilisations up to the end of the 25th Dynasty. It has also renewed my interest in the 3rd Intermediate Period, and Kenneth Kitchen's book on that subject is one of the next books on my reading list.


The Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Stories, Instructions, Stelae, Autobiographies, and Poetry; Third Edition
The Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Stories, Instructions, Stelae, Autobiographies, and Poetry; Third Edition
by William Kelley Simpson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $25.20
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Readable translations of selected texts from Ancient Egypt, June 22, 2007
Having read with interest Miriam Lichtheim's Ancient Egyptian Literature - Volume I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms, I debated for some time whether to follow that up with her second Volume (The New Kingdom), or to get this book. My decision came down to whether I should continue with the translations of an author with whom I was familiar, or whether I should opt for what I thought were later translations by a different group of authors. It wasn't until I received the book that I learned that the first edition of this book had been published a little earlier than the translations of Professor Lichtheim, and that, 21 of the 57 texts included in this work, were either included in Volume I of her work, or were included in The Ancient Near East - Volume I - Anthology of Texts & Pictures by James Pritchard which I had read some time before that. So inadvertently I had given myself the opportunity to compare the translations styles of several authors. Considering the difficulties which scholars have in reading these texts and the ambiguities in attempting to translate them, this turned out to be quite a useful choice.

In his introduction, the editor, Professor Simpson, explains that this third edition of the book contains a number of texts not included in the earlier editions, and that the texts were selected on "the basis of literary merit or pretensions thereto" with the contents arranged according to type rather than date. He goes on to explain the characteristics of each genre, the considerable problems in translating Egyptian texts, conventions used in determining specific reading of the texts, the methodology used in the translations, and some details of earlier translations by other scholars. There is an extensive 65 page bibliography at the back of the book which includes a general section, followed by a bibliography for each of the selected texts.

The scholars whose translations are included in the book are Professor Simpson himself , Robert K Ritner, Vincent A. Tobin, and Edward F. Wente, Jr. The translated texts are subdivided into the nine sections:
Part I - Narratives and Tales of Middle Egyptian Literature (4 texts)
Part II - Late Egyptian Stories (9 texts)
Part III - Instructions, Lamentations, and Dialogues (13 texts)
Part IV - From the Religious Literature (6 texts)
Part V - Songs and Royal Hymns (2 texts)
Part VI - Royal Stelae (9 texts)
Part VII - Autobiographies (4 texts)
Part VIII - Scribal Traditions (2 texts)
Part IX - Demotic Literature (8 texts)
Each text is preceded by an introduction by the translator which explains the nature and content of the text, and there are extensive notes which expand on the meaning of certain phrases and explain where there are ambiguities in interpreting the text.

Also in his introduction, Professor Simpson discusses two main approaches to translations - one being to attempt to render an Egyptian sentence so that its characteristics are retained in English, which often makes for a rather artificial translation "a kind of language not represented in everyday speech", - another being an attempt to render the sense which might give a smoother translation which can "result in a paraphrase and leads to interpretative retelling". His team of translators have attempted to a strike a compromise between the two, and in this I think they succeed very well, as the translations are generally easy to read and understand.

My prime motivation in wanting to read the Egyptian texts is gain first hand knowledge of some on the primary sources of information and to compare these with histories of Egypt which often rely heavily on scholarly interpretations of these texts. In other words. I wanted to be able to judge for myself the validity of some of the underlying assumptions which scholars must make when dealing with the political details of imperfectly documented ancient civilizations. For me the most interesting were the texts of the Middle and Late Egyptian Tales; Instructions and Lamentations; Autobiographies; and Demotic texts, even those which I had read in other translations. The texts of various royal stelae included in this book also make fascinating reading, particularly The Victory Stela of Piye, which was completely new to me.

In comparing translations. while I found those of Professor Lichtheim to be a bit more difficult to follow - probably because she prefers to adopt the first approach outlined by Professor Simpson - in general, I found her introductions to be the more informative, with more extensive notes explaining the difficulties in the reading and translation of the texts.

In summary, I am very happy to have bought this book, and I recommend it to others who may be considering purchasing it. I believe that the selected texts are generally representative of the various genre and types of preserved texts, and do provide a useful source (and reference) for the modern accounts of the history of Ancient Egypt
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 20, 2010 4:13 PM PDT


Earth from Above, Third Edition
Earth from Above, Third Edition
by Yann Arthus-Bertrand
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $40.22
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful photographs but some rather polemical commentaries, May 10, 2007
This is a book with some of the most beautiful and interesting photographs I have ever seen, all of which have been taken from the air above by the well known photographer Yann-Arthus Bertrand. It also comes with an alarming and urgent message that we (the citizens of the world) must all do our bit to bring to a halt the continuing and escalating damage to our environment before it is too late.

It's a big heavy book (38cm by 30 cm by 5cm), and one could say that its weight matches the importance of the topics being addressed. The book is divided into twelve sections:

* Building an Eco Economy

* World Population and the Environment

* Urban Landscapes, Landscapes of Urbanism

* Farmers of the World, the Price of our Future

* Water, Humanity's Heritage

* Biodiversity, a Question of Survival

* Seas and Oceans, Red Alert

* Climate Change, Doubts and Certainties

* Rethinking the World s Energy

* Sustainable Development

* Microcredit and the Future of Poverty

* Antartica, the Continent of hope

Each section is beautifully laid out, commencing with a 3 page commentary on the particular topic, which has been written by a well known scholar or expert, followed by a page of supporting facts and figures which provide the evidence to show the importance of the particular environmental issue under discussion. This is followed by a summary page of the 15 photographs in the section, and the double page photographs themselves. Because of its size, I found the best way to read this book was to put it down on my dining room table, and read a few pages at a time. And I did read it line by line and from cover to cover!

I would like to say that I am convinced by the scholarly nature of the commentaries, but I found myself "tuning out" some sections because of the unrelieved gloom and doom portrayed by the author of the article. The main problem I had with the style and tone of the commentaries was I was never quite sure as how much of what was being presented was fact as opposed to opinion masquerading as fact. There were some very interesting statistics, most of which seem to have been published in reports of the United Nations reports, but, again, I was never quite sure whether the author was just selecting those statistics which supported his case.

One of the underlying messages of the book seems to be that any progress we may make towards improving the way we live only ends up endangering Mother Earth and to make it worse for those who are struggling to survive in an ever more deteriorating environment, and that nearly all of the present solutions which have been offered to correct our environmental problems will also make matters worse. This means that the only hope we have to avoid disaster is for us (humanity) to change our ways. This requires, of course, that we should return to a simpler way of life, and that governments should be concerned with changing our attitudes accordingly.

My problem with this kind of reasoning is that human beings, by their very nature seem first and foremost to be self-oriented, It is true that at times we do display magnificent examples of altruism, but we are not colony insects like bees and ants. In my opinion, this means that solutions to our environmental problems HAVE to take into account how humans actually behave, individually and en masse, and not how they SHOULD behave! In my opinion, many of the solutions offered were rather high level and top down, and as is clear in most current political issues, the devil is usually in the details. I think that to be successful in persuading people to change their minds on important issues like this, you must appeal to their intelligence rather than employing the faith based reasoning of some of the commentaries For me, the most useful section was on Sustainable Development because I felt that the author of the commentary had done a very even handed job of presenting both sides of that particular issue.

Notwithstanding these comments, the commentaries are VERY interesting and did present many new facts which I was hitherto totally unaware of. I am very happy to have acquired the book, and I do recommend it to other readers. I am sure I will read it again , since it does successfully convey a vitally important message - and it is still open on my dining room table.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 1, 2011 10:28 AM PDT


The Everything Torah Book: All You Need To Understand The Basics Of Jewish Law And The Five Books Of The Old Testament
The Everything Torah Book: All You Need To Understand The Basics Of Jewish Law And The Five Books Of The Old Testament
by Yaakov Menken
Edition: Paperback
55 used & new from $0.25

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good book for learning about Jewish faith and philosophy, May 10, 2007
This is the third book I have read in the past two years on the history of the Jewish people and the Jewish faith. After my daughter converted to Judaism one of my Jewish friends thought it might be helpful to me in gaining a better understanding of Judaism - and so it has. For me, the book can be separated into four distinct parts:

The first six chapters concentrate on explaining the Jewish faith - the Torah, the Oral Law, Kabbalah, Mysticism, and Meaning, Maimonides "Thirteen Principles, and Torah Principles for all Humanity" which establish the basic beliefs on what is to follow.

The next seven chapters follow the history of the Jewish people and their faith to the end of the period of the Ghettos which had been forced on the Jewish people by the Christian kingdoms of Western Europe. This part describes the Chain of Transmission from Moses receiving God s word on Mount Sinai, the development of the Mishnah, the Talmud, the diaspora to Babylonia after the suppression of the Jewish faith by the Roman Emperors as a result of the tumult of the second great Jewish revolt, and from there the slow movement to Europe after the collapse of the Western empire ,and the decline of the Eastern one. It continues with detailed information of the commentators and codifiers of the High Medieval period, the Kabbalah and Chassidic movements, and the development of Yeshivos and Mussar when the Jewish people started to emerge from their ghettos in Europe.

There are three chapters which cover the Enlightenment and Modern Jewish Movements, the survival of Torah during the Holocaust, and a discussion on Modern Challenges and Torah. This was an imprtant section for me because I was very confused about the various Jewish movements, how their beliefs differ, and their position on the creation of the State of Israel.

The five final chapters comprise a study for each section of the five books of the written Torah

It took me over three months read this book and to complete my studies of its contents but, of course, what is that to those Jewish scholars who have spent a lifetime studying the Written Torah, the Mishnah, the Talmud, and the important Jewish commentaries on these works? But I do think I have done the book justice!. It was very helpful that there is a dedicated Everything Torah website within the Torah.org website itself, which has discussion groups on questions of other readers. It was through that website that I really started to concentrate my studies on the lessons of the Written Torah. If you are not Jewish, and you want to gain some understanding of the Jewish faith and philosophy, it is in these final five chapters that you can start to do so.

In order to grasp the mountain of detail provided in this book, I found it absolutely necessary to check out the Net for additional information on the various Jewish leaders mentioned in the book, and to set up a workfile for detailed notes on people, definitions of words, the Jewish calendar, commentaries on the Torah, the structure of the Mishnah, etc. which will serve me as an easy look up reference system in any of my future studies.

In comparing this book with World Perfect (by Rabbi Ken Spiro) and The History of the Jews (by Paul Johnson ), I have concluded that while they are all on the same topic, they each have a different focus, and so are complementary to one another. All of them have helped me gain a better understanding of the somewhat unfamiliar culture of my son-in law s family and circle of friends, which was my prime motivation for reading these books in the first place. In the process I also gained a great respect for Jewish philosophy and a respect for the Jewish people who have experienced so many the trials and tribulations over the past 2500 years.

In addition and very important to me, these books have also strengthened my background knowledge for my studies in the history of the ancient civilizations of the Middle East and Mediterranean basin (in particular those of the Sumerians, Babylonians, Hittites, Assyrians, Egyptians ), the later ones of Greece and Rome, the development of early Christianity and its impact on the Roman Empire and the barbarian states which came into being after the collapse of the Western Empire.

I am very happy to recommend this book to other people who, like myself, have a desire to have a better and more complete understanding of Jewish philosophy and the Jewish faith.


The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings: A Reader
The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings: A Reader
by Bart D. Ehrman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $52.13
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A helpful guide but more explanatory notes would be useful, May 10, 2007
I bought this book to learn more about the events and issues of early Christianity from the actual texts that have survived from that period. The book includes up to date translations of the 27 books of the New Testament and of 26 other non canonical books which are believed to have been written within a hundred years of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. There is a brief 6 page introduction on the development of early Christianty, followed by the translations themselves. These are divided into sections which are consistent with the order of the books in the New Testament itself. That is:

* Early Christian Gospels - the 4 New Testament books followed by eight others

* Early Christian Acts - Acts of the Apostles followed by two other writings

* Early Christian Letters attributed to Paul - the 13 canonical epistles plus one other epistle

* General Epistles & Other early Christian writings - the 8 canonical epistles plus 13 others

* Early Christian Apcalypses - Revelations plus 2 other much loved apocalpytic books of the early period

Each book is provided with a brief introduction describing the content and purpose of the book, and identifying the purported author and probable date of its writing. The 27 books of the New Testament are from the New Revised Standard version Bible of 1989, while 17 of the 26 non canonical books are translations by the author himself. 8 books are from the Apocryphal New Testament translated by J K Elliott and published in 1993, and one, the Gospel of Thomas, is from the Nag Hammadi Library translated by Thomas Lambdin and published in 1988.

My reactions in reading this book are decidedly mixed. On the one hand, I wanted something which was readable, which it certainly is, and I certainly wanted to read the texts which were unfamiliar to me and to gain some understanding of the context of the times in which they were written. But on the other hand, I also wanted some explanation of what it was that I was reading. This book was certainly successful in illuminating my mind on the first goal, but much less so on the second. Perhaps I should have chosen one of the other books by Professor Ehrman - either "The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings" or perhaps "Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into the New Testament".

Be that it may, I certainly got many benefits from reading the book. In order to understand what I was reading, I really had to read the books from a different perspective. For example, I had never noted the many similarities and differences in the Gospels and in the Epistles before, with respect to the events as well as the issues which the Apostles had to address in establishing the new faith in the cities of the Middle East, Asia Minor, and other parts of the Roman Empire, and I had never really properly absorbed the content of Revelations. I found it absolutely necessary to have my own Bible close at hand, and to develop a workfile on my PC to summarize the content of each book, to list the people mentioned in these books, and to check the text of biblical quotations against the actual text in the books to which they were supposed to refer. In this last item, I was surprised at the extent to which many quotations differed from the original.

My motivation for this approach was that I wanted to understand the development of early Christianity in the context of what had gone before, particularly with respect to Mosaic Law, and the messages of the Prophets. I also wanted to understand more on how the early church interpreted the actual sayings of Jesus Christ, and how these were further developed by the later institutions of Christianity, since it seems to me that His message of love and forgiveness is rather different from the preaching (and actions in the name of Christ) of the historical and modern institutions of Christianity, be they Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, or Protestant denominations.

I would have liked to have read something more about the provenance of these books, particularly the non-canonical ones, but the introductions did not cover that particular topic. I would have liked to see some titles and headings for the chapters and various sections within the chapters - but the book did not provide that either. I would have also liked to have seen notes on some of the hidden meanings of the more obscure statements within the texts. So for this information I had to go to my Jerusalem Bible for the canonical books, and to various Internet websites containing the late 19th century translations of texts of the books by the Ante-Nicene Fathers.

That turned out to be very helpful, but it did mean that I spent rather more time on reading and rereading this book than I expected. Nevertheless, I am happy I bought the book, and the translations were certainly easy to read. For those people wishing to study the surviving texts of Early Christianity, they should first decide what is the important information they wish to learn about. If it is mainly for the texts themselves, then this book certainly provides that.


On the Reliability of the Old Testament
On the Reliability of the Old Testament
by K. A. Kitchen
Edition: Hardcover
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A most thorough, balanced, and convincing study,, May 10, 2007
After reading several books on archaeology of ancient Israel, I found it important to read a book which deals fairly and squarely with those scholars who question whether the United and Divided Kingdoms really existed, or whether the Old Testament is a distorted history to serve the needs of the priests of Israel and Judea. This is important issue, because of the bearing it has on the current turmoil in the Middle East and the claims by some states that the State of Israel has no right to exist.

Dr Kitchen tackles the task of proving the reliability of Old Testament by working backwards, starting with the time of the Divided Kingdoms of Israel (Chapter 2), for which there is considerable archaeoligical evidence to corroborate the biblical accounts of the these kingdoms, the conquest of the Israel by the Assyrians, the later dispersal of the inhabitants of Judea by the Babylonians, and the occupation of the country (Chapter 3) during the Babylonian, Persian and Greek periods.

The point of working backwards becomes very clear when he moves to the analysis of the period of the United Monarchy of David and Solomon (Chapter 4), where there is only circumstantial archaeological evidence at best. This period follows the invasions of the Sea Peoples and coincides with the beginning of the Third Intermediate Period of Egypt (on which Dr Kitchen is a foremost expert), and immediately before the establishment of the Assyrian Empire. The archaeological data and historical inscriptions are not only sparse, but seemingly full of contradictory evidence and he describes the evidence such as it is, showing that it is not inconsistent with the biblical accounts.

For the period of Joshua and the Judges (Chapter 5), he dissects these books in great detail, pointing out that they show quite clearly that the Israelites infiltrated into the land of Canaan rather than by rapid conquest. This is consistent with the archaeological record which indicates a group on incomers infiltrating the land of Canaan over a period of about a 150 years. There is, of course, no historical inscriptions that can verify this view, but the consistency of the archaaeological and biblical record is there. Dr Kitchen uses a similar technique in comparing the biblical account of the Exodus (Chapter 6), with the archaeological evidence in Egypt and Palestine which which he believes to have occurred in the last decades of the 13th century - this being the period of the reigns of Ramesses II of the 19th Dynasty of Egypt and his son Merneptah. He shows that the descriptions of the culture and behaviour of the Israelites who left Egypt are consistent with the culture recorded on many inscriptions in tombs, temples, etc of that period of the New Kingdom

I think these two chapters are the key parts of the whole book. Dr Kitchen clearly shows that the archaeological record does support the biblical account for the later periods, but here it is mainly the matter of comparing cultures and behaviour, and I think it best to read these chapters with the appropriate Biblical books in hand for reference.

Some people would argue that the biblical record in Genesis is simply a legend and bit of a fairy tale, but Dr Kitchen (in Chapters 7 and 9) does show that the culture of the Patriarchs, their predecessors, and the genealogical lists of peoples, is generally consistent with records on inscriptions of the first half of the 2nd millenium BCE but, of course, there is no direct evidence of the Patriarchs, only of peoples who seem to have had a culture similar to that ascribed to the Patriarchs

Chapter 8 is an interesting analysis of the culture of Prophets and Prophecy during the late 2nd millenium and 1st half of the 1st millenium BCE, and the final chapter (10) is a glorious polemic on the misinterpretations, mis-statement of facts, etc of those who deny the reliability of the Old Testament

The book is 650 pages long, has 100 pages of very detailed notes, 40 pages of maps and illustrations of objects, a subject index, and 14 pages of biblical reference. It is a very thorough book, and Dr Kitchen provides a full description and analysis of the archaeological evidence, and its relevance to the accounts in the books of the Old Testament. In doing so, he provides detailed notes on the findings and differing views of the various scholars, irrespective as to whether those views coincide with his or not. He is, of course, in major disagreement with many of these views, and is quite outspoken and often quite scathing about the "sloppy thinking", "blunders", and "failure to understand" of some of the most famous scholars. While this is quite amusing to read, it is somewhat disconcerting because, this kind of scoffing can be seen by some to be hiding a weakness in his own position. In his defence I would observe that where he does so, it is usually with a very thorough exposition of the weakeness of the other party s view and analysis of the facts. So even though his strongly held views permeate the whole book, I have to applaud his objectivity and overall fairness.

It took me a while to complete my study of this book. I read it from start to finish, and then read it in reverse order to make sure I had captured the major points. Dr Kitchen has done such a thorough job on this subject that I think it should be required reading by any serious scholar who has doubts about the Reliability of The Old Testament, as well as those students who wish to find the truth for themselves from their own studies.


Dilmun and its Gulf Neighbours
Dilmun and its Gulf Neighbours
by Harriet Crawford
Edition: Paperback
Price: $45.39
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short in length + Long on Detail = Much Study, April 6, 2007
In my studies of Mesopotamia, I had never really known much about Dilmun and Magan, places which are mentioned in several Mesdopotamian texts. My choice was between Geoffrey Bibby's book on Dilmun published in 1972, and this book which was published in 1998. Having read Professor Crawford's book `Sumer and the Sumerians' I finally decided on her book primarily because it was more recent.

The book, which focuses on the period 5000-1700BC, is a detailed survey of the findings from about 125 archaeological sites on the Arabian side of the Persian Gulf from the island of Falaika at the head of the Gulf, the `Eastern Province' of Arabia including Tarut Island and the Bahrain Islands, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates to the Musandum at the Straits of Hormuz, the interior sites of Oman and the coastal sites along the east side of that peninsula down to the most easterly point of the Arabian Peninsula at Ras al Junayz.

Chapter 1: The Setting, describes the physical setting of the area, and provides the rationale for identifying Dilmun with the Eastern Province and the islands of Bahrain, while noting that references to Dilmun in the Mesopotamian texts may have referred to different parts of this area at different times The copper rich sites in Oman is the reason for identifying it with Magan whose copper mines were of considerable importance to the Sumerian and Akkadian dynasties.

Chapter 2: The Earliest Settlements, covers the archaeological sites for the earliest period period of human settlement in the Eastern Province and Bahrain from about 5000BC to 3000BC which is the time of the Ubaid, Uruk, and Jemdat Nasr periods in Mesopotamia. Current archaeological evidence is sparse, but it seems that after the initial settlement phase during the 5th millenium, these were largely deserted during most of the 4th millenium until the Jemdat Nasr period when contacts between these areas and Mesopotamia revive.

Chapter 3: The Development of Dilmun, covers the archaological sites and textual evidence of the 3rd millenium. There is little evidence of settlement in the Eastern Province and Bahrain until about 2500BC, when the first urban settlement developed on Tarut Island where workshops for pottery manufacture, and other material such as lapis lazuli, copper, and steatite have been excavated. On Bahrain Island itself, the vast area of ancient burial mounds at Saar date from around 2500BC and were built and often reused over a period of about 2000 years lasting into the Hellenistic age. Professor Crawford points out that over the past 30 years surveys and excavation of newly identified towns and villages show that enough local people lived on the island to fill the graves, arguing against the hypothesis that Bahrain was a necropolis for Mesopotamian royalty and aristocracy.

Chapters 4 and 5 cover the period 2000-1750BC when there was a dramatic expansion of settlement on Bahrain This is the so-called period of `Early Dilmun', when it appears that Bahrain traders acted as the middlemen between the states of lower Mesopotamia and the mining businesses of the Oman Peninsula. The evidence for settlement, the architecture of domestic, workshop, and temple buildings, graves, and artefacts is described in considerable detail.

Chapters 6 and 7 cover the same things for the Oman Peninsula, where direct contact with Mesopotamia seems to have been replaced by contacts with cities in Central Asia and with the Harappan cities on the Indus River.

Chapter 8 provides an overview of the Development and Decline of Dilmun.

This is a thorough and up to date study of the findings from the archaeological sites along the south side of the Arabian (Persian) Gulf and the Oman Peninsula. Of the 250+ references in the bibliography, fully two thirds were published in the 15 years immediately prior to the publication of this book in 1998. The descriptions of the architecture of buildings and tombs is well supported by photographs and illustrations, and the differences and similarity in styles between the two areas is also very clear. There are several maps showing the general area of most settlements, but only about half of the named sites are shown on any map. I eventually found a more detailed map of Oman and the UAE on the web, but still had to resort to Internet searches for information on those sites which I couldn't find on this map. Even so, this left about a dozen which were not listed in the index, and for which I have no idea as to even their general location. A small point perhaps, but I find that knowing where things are is helpful to my understanding.

A similar observation can be made about dates. I recognize that it is obviously very difficult to pinpoint 3rd - 5th millenium dates with any certainty, but it would have helped if the author had included some kind of dating line even if it was broken down into every 250 years. I eventually developed one for myself but I still have some doubts about its accuracy.

This is a fairly short book (the main body of the text is only 156 pages), but the level of detail is such that I found a single reading was insufficient for me to truly absorb what I was reading. As a result I had to reread it several times and make copious notes on the findings by site and time period. While this is not a criticism of the book it does mean that if you want to get the most from this book, then a quick read through is not going to do it unless you are very familiar with the latest archaelogical information.


Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary
Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary
by Jeremy A. Black
Edition: Paperback
Price: $21.32
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent reference dictionary, April 13, 2006
Even though I have read a number of books about ancient Mesopotamia, many of which are focussed on political and economic history rather than on beliefs and religious practices, I am was still very confused about who were the principal gods and goddesses, during what period of time and where they became prominent, and why they were worshipped. The uniformly positive customer reviews of this 192 page book were what persuaded me to buy it , and I was not disappointed.

When I buy a book, however, I do prefer to read it from start to finish, so reading a dictionary in this way is somewhat difficult and it is probably not the best way to read this one. The "gods and goddesses " entry in this dictionary indicate that more than 3000 names have been recovered, and while the book doesn't attempt to describe all of these, it does provide a significant amount of interesting reference material about the beliefs and religious practices of the peoples of Ancient Mesopotamia. Perhaps it would be better to use the term "ruler" or "the elite" rather than the term "peoples" since it is clear that nearly all the available information about the gods, demons, and symbols comes from inscriptions which were either from the rulers or from the priests of the religious institutions.

At the beginning of the book there is a useful author's note on the variant spellings of ancient names which explains the scholarly consensus on the probable pronunciation of the Akkadian and Sumerian languages. This is followed, by a concise introduction which provides summaries on the places and peoples of Mesopotamia, their mythology and legends, their art and iconography and the periods of the various dynasties and a helpful one page chronological table. At the end of the book there is also a short bibliography listing books recommended for further reading.

The bulk of the book consists of about a thousand entries (I didn't count them) on the different deities, religious objects, icons, symbols, and practices, of the peoples of ancient Mesopotamia. Most of these are quite short, although there are a few which run to three or four pages. At least half of them refer to one or more illustrations which are liberally sprinkled throughout the book, and this approach definitely enhanced my understanding of what I was reading. I did get the impression, though, that much of the information about the earlier period comes from the Assyrian kings of the 1st millennium, and while they were heirs to the Sumerian and Akkadian traditions, it is still not clear to me how much of a bias they brought into their inscriptions in order to better serve their own interests

There are 159 illustrations in all, which are a mixture of drawings and very clear black and white photographs. The drawings by Tessa Rickards, the illustrator, are beautifully done, elegantly simple, and in my opinion, bring out the essence of the object of the illustration. While most illustrations are embedded in the text close to the most relevant entry, there are a number which are referred to by several different entries. I found it was quite time consuming to flip around the book to find the references of those which were not close by, so I ended up by using book markers to speed up my search for the most important, which were the groups of illustrations on demons, monsters, and symbols for the gods, and the genealogical table of gods and goddesses. Perhaps there is no way around this, but I think it would have been helpful if there had been an index of the illustrations referenced by time period and page number. It may also have been easier to refer to them if they were included one place, perhaps at the back of the book.

Notwithstanding these minor quibbles about the organization and content of the book, I found that reading it the way I did, was an effective and time efficient way of increasing my depth of knowledge about this aspect of ancient Mesopotamia. It will serve as a useful reference tool for my other books on the civilizations and dynasties of Mesopotamia, and I certainly recommend it to other students who are focussing their studies on this particular subject.


Canaanites (Peoples of the Past)
Canaanites (Peoples of the Past)
by Jonathan N. Tubb
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.98
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction on the peoples of the land of Canaan, April 13, 2006
After reading "Archaeology of the Land of the Bible" by Amihai Mazar and "Who were the Early Israelites and Where did they come from?" by William Dever, it seemed to me that this book on the Canaanites would be a useful complement to these two works. It was published relatively recently (1998) as part of the "Peoples of the Past" series, and I felt that the author has sufficient scholarly credentials for it to be reasonably objective. It is a fairly short book (160 pages) and its primary focus is on the archaeological and written evidence of the peoples of the land of Canaan from the earliest the period c 8500BCE up to the conquest of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great in 332BCE.

As with other informative books on archaeology about "The Land of the Bible", there is an introductory chapter which reviews basic assumptions, and this is important because it lets the reader know in advance where the author is coming from. In this chapter, the author defines the ancient land of Canaan as covering the modern states of Israel, Jordan, and Parts of Syria and that the evidence presented in his book demonstrates a population continuity such that the Canaanites known to the writers of the biblical texts are to be seen as the same people who settled in farming villages in the 8th millenium, and that these peoples spoke a Semitic language whose closest modern relatives would be Syriac and Hebrew

The findings from the major archaeological sites up to the end of the Bronze Age are described in Chapters 2 to 5:

Chapter 2: Prehistory: The Neolithic and Chalcolithic Periods (8500 to 3300BC)

Chapter 3: The Early Bronze Age and the Rise of Urbanism (3300 to 2400BC)

Chapter 4: Economic Recession: The Early Bronze IV Interlude (2400 to 2000BC)

Chapter 5: The Middle Bronze Age and the Hyksos (2000 to 1550BC)

Chapter 6: The Imposition of Empire: The Late Bronze Age (1550 to 1150BC)

After reading Chapters 2 and 3, I realized that the author was covering much of the same ground as Dr Mazar in his book "Archaeology of the Land of the Bible". So from then on I read the two books in parallel, which was a useful comparative exercise. While there are some differences in emphasis, Dr Mazar provides considerably more detail, is more analytical about the archaeological evidence and very careful about his conclusions. Professor Tubbs, on the other hand, has a more interpretative approach which becomes clear, for example, in his analysis of the Hyksos Dynasties of Egypt (Dynasties 15-17). He considers this era to have been an imposition on Egypt of the Canaanite civilization which was probably directed by an aristocratic elite of non-Semitic people known as the Maryannu and Hurrians, who seem to have infiltrated and integrated into the Semitic population of Syria during the beginning of the 2nd millenium BC.

Chapters 7 to 10 deal with the invasions of Egypt and Canaan by the Sea Peoples and the rise, division, and destruction of the kingdoms of Israel

Chapter 7: Sea Peoples and Egypto-Canaan

Chapter 8: The Early Iron Age and the Rise of Israel (1150 to 900BC)

Chapter 9: The Late Iron Age (900 to 539BC)

Chapter 10: The Persian Period (539 to 332BC)

I found the discussion on the origin, invasion, and settlement of the Sea peoples to be most interesting, since I have yet to find a book which adequately covers that particular event. In Chapters 8 to 10, however, the descriptions seem to rely more on the biblical texts than on the archaeological evedence, although the author does present fairly detailed descriptions of the excavations at the important site of Tell es-Sa'idiyeh with which he has first hand knowledge. This is a site on the E side of the Jordan valley about 30 km east of Samaria, the capital of later kings of the northern kingdom of Israel.

The final chapter entitled "The Canaanite legacy: the Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians and beyond" briefly covers the return of the Exiles, the Hasmonean (Maccabean) monarchy, and the fortunes of the last Canaanites - the Phoenicians of the Lebanon, and their North African colony of Carthage - before those people were absorbed into the main stream of the Roman dominated Mediterranean civilization.

The maps showing major sites at the beginning of the book, and the photographs, particularly the colour plates, were quite helpful, while the notes, chronological chart, books for further reading, and the index at the end of the book were less so. In summary, I found Prof. Mazar's book to be generally more informative, although Prof. Tubbs does provide some interesting insights on the topics which are more completely covered in his book. I do think, though, that his book provides a good introductory overview on this subject, but if you are interested in detail, then I would recommend Mazar's book. For my part I am quite happy to have both!


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