Testament: The Bible And History
- Konecky & Konecky,U.S.
- Publication Date:
- 01 August 2006
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"Testament: the Bible and History," by John Romer, is a powerful and compelling book, a fitting vehicle for relating the story of the long historical creation of the Bible.In the 1990s, I was always thrilled to find a John Romer documentary on TV. My favourite was the 6-part "Ancient Lives: The Story of the Pharaohs’ Tombmakers," in which he documented the archaeological evidence from a little Egyptian village near the Valley of the Kings, known now as Deir el Medina. Unlike what we see these days on the cable channels, there was no sensationalism about Romer’s presentation, Romer didn’t need that, because he knew the archaeology so thoroughly that he could let it speak for itself. He had a friendly, informed, matter-of-fact style that carried us with him as he described the work the villagers did in the tombs, and how they spent their time at home in the village.He brought exactly the same balance of careful scholarship and friendly, down-to-earth interest to the BBC Channel Four television series, "Testament," and its accompanying book. He looks thoroughly at the history and mythology behind the Bible, beginning his study of the Old Testament in ancient Mesopotamia, and moving to Canaan and Israel. He gradually works outward from Israel after Jesus’ day, following the expansion of Christianity and its documents through the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine worlds, following European history from the fall of Byzantium to the rise of the Catholic church, through the Reformation, and into modern times. He ends with the effects of Higher Criticism and Darwin’s theory of evolution on the way the Bible is viewed today.What Romer excels at is finding meaningful, personal details of history and archaeology and demonstrating how they contributed to the greater whole. For example, he explained very plausibly how several tribes of poor, endangered people in the hills of Canaan could look below at the sophisticated cities of Philistia, and slowly band together in protection against them to become a self-confident nation, using the earliest biblical tales about tribes escaping from Egypt as the cement to glue them together.Or, later, he described how Charlemagne and his descendants tried to recreate a cultured, educated kingdom using the misunderstood remnants of kingdoms that had risen and fallen before. He takes such details and weaves the stories of individuals through the great book, or collection of books, whose history he describes.From the creation myths of ancient Sumer to the great Church Councils that decided doctrine based on Constantine’s political goals, to Jerome’s Vulgate Bible (and his problem with women), to the home life of Martin Luther, Romer leads us through history and helps us understand how the biblical texts became what they are today. And how, if one ancient politician had had slightly different goals here, or a troubled monk had taken a different route to resolve his theological questions there, the Bible might have ended up a completely different book.
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