Apr 19

The Origin of Civilization, by Scott McEachern ??
This series by the Teaching Company is about archeology, and the discoveries of archeology in various parts of the world, including Africa (esp. Northern Africa/Cameroon and the great Zimbabwe), Egypt (though formally a part of Africa), the mid-east, India, China, and Central/South America (Mayan and Incan civilizations). Scott first spends six lectures detailing his philosophy for doing archeology. During this time, you get a delightful flavor of his biases, and intentions for doing archeology. Dr. McEachern spends most of his time working in Northern Cameroon, digging up ancient garbage.
You are not given a historical perspective in this study. Compared to an excellent Teaching Company series on the origins of civilization by Kenneth Harl, this series leaves you swimming a bit. You are told considerable amounts about what kinds of food are thought to have been eaten by ancient civilizations, and perhaps what sort of structures for housing they may have built for themselves, but that is it. The remainder of what we are left with is pure guesswork. Much of this guesswork presupposes that ancient civilizations might have been similar to the various cultures and civilizations you see today. Unfortunately, that gives you no information at all, except the obvious, that is, that mankind has remained similar over the course of its short history. I really don’t find it fascinating to imagine that people ate similar foods in ancient times as today, and that famines might have happened. Scott lacks better stories to tell, and though he is careful not to extrapolate to wildly, extrapolate he still does, and refuses to remain silent where the evidence is only foggy or unclear. He seems to suggest social structures based on remnant housing and graveyard goods, yet this could be utterly deceiving. In the end, I’ve learned very little about what we are to think about ancient civilizations, other than that they had analogous social systems and political constructs as we have today. It was very challenging actually making it through 48 1/2 hour lectures in order to glean this truth. This course has also persuaded me to stay far away from archeology.
Is there any benefit that I see for archeology? Yes. When we have purported historical narratives from the past, archeology might help substantiate the legitimacy of these stories. This is particularly true of the fall of Troy, the stories of Greece, historical narratives from China, etc. Most importantly, archeology could assist is further substantiating the veracity of Scripture. Yet, McEachern dares not tread on such a subject, even when it would have been entirely admissible. As an example, he is overwhelmingly astonished at how early urbanization occurred in civilization, yet Genesis suggests specialization (and thus urbanization) from very early times. He is amazed at the amount of trade occurring in ancient times, yet much Scripture speaks of international trade and commerce from quite early on. It is chronological arrogance that overwhelms some of the thinking of Scott that does not allow him to constructively best put together the data at hand.
I could not recommend this series to anybody, except for those who are deeply interested in archeology and the various schools of thought. Scott is not difficult to listen to, but his content would have a hard time grasping most people’s interest.

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One Response to “The Origin of Civilization”

  1. Uncle Dennis says:

    Don’t lose heart over marginal archaeology, Ken. There are good archaeologists out there, like the top Egyptologist in the world, Kenneth A. Kitchen, retired from the U. of Liverpool, whose book, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, (Eerdmans, 2003) is one you must have for your library. He utterly demolishes the old 19th-century rationalist-fantasist school of biblical history of Graf and Wellhausen and their JPED successors, with elegance, charm, and mainly, overwhelming mastery of the subject-matter.
    The only place I disagree with Kitchen is on his late dating of the Exodus. While Kitchen is an ardent supporter of biblical historicity, he goes with the late mid-1200s date of Shiskak as the Exodus pharaoh instead of the biblical chronology, placing it in the mid-1400s BC. Two archaeologists in recent years independently went to Egypt and studied the kings lists. Both concluded that, in spite of our penchant for taking lists serially, that some of the kings on the list were in parallel (concurrent). Consequently, the dates move to an earlier chronology. The biblical dating also keeps the 490 year Exodus-to-David timing correct, placing David near 1000 BC.

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