21 May 2008

"The Story of Mankind" - Prehistory to the Greeks

I'm starting to wonder how different the 1990s edition is from the original. Other than being longer, that is.

The original (and also the 1972 reprint) contain thinly disguised doses of religious history. A good example is Moses - the author skipped the whole Moses-in-a-basket-raised-by-Pharaoh's-daughter childhood and instead has Moses appear back in Egypt (after communing in the desert) to lead the Jews (mostly Jews, rarely Hebrews, never Israelites) out of Egypt to Sinai (he does not part the Red Sea). At Sinai he takes two tablets into the mountains and returns with the word of God on them....gee, I wonder what those are. Anyone with a modicum of Sunday School instruction can fill in the blanks and recognize the Judeo-Christian ideology behind the surface ("Old Testament" gets a mention, too, as well as Noah at one point).

Another strange section consists of two pages on the Phoenicians and the alphabet (the book is a little confusing because the timeline jumps around, i.e. all of a sudden we're looking at a nineteenth-century archaeologist digging for Troy, and the maps are very poorly drawn). Apparently the alphabet was developed by the Phoenicians (who did not want to waste time with heiroglyphs or nail-writing) and passed to Greece and Rome. "The Romans modified the figures somewhat and in turn taught them to the wild barbarians of western Europe. Those wild barbarians were our own ancestors, and that is the reason why this book is written in characters that are of Phoenician origin and not in the heiroglyphics of the Egyptians or in the nail-script of the Sumerians" (p 43). Really? The "wild barbarians" are all our ancestors? Maybe for me (I'm German/Scotch/English and those societies did acquire the alphabet and Romanic/Germanic language as part of the Roman Empire) but perhaps not for someone with Asian, South American, or African ancestry?

Makes me wonder if there was a specific children's audience for whom this book was intended.

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