Book Review: 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed

1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed, by Eric H. Cline

Perhaps a more accurate title for this book would be: 1177 BC: The Year That Bronze Age Civilization Reached A Point Of No Return. This book, the first book in the Turning Points In Ancient History series, bodes well for future books in the series, although it simultaneously comes with some issues that are worthy of examination and reflection. As a fond reader of ancient history, I appreciated the way in which this book presented the arguments and research of many more obscure scholars in a form that is likely, on account of its title, to be widely read. If Cline is not a particularly original scholar, he is skilled at distilling the wisdom of others and in providing a nuanced case, with a compelling narrative, for the various factors that led first to the development of a complex international system of trade and diplomacy in the Levant and surrounding areas (the book covers the area from Greece down to Egypt and over to Elam), and then to the collapse of that system into smaller successor states at the dividing line between the Bronze and Iron ages. The story is far broader than its title would indicate, but much of the book exists as context to understand what was lost when the Bronze Age ended in destroyed cities and lost civilizations, some of whom (like the Mitanni) remain lost even now.

In terms of its structure, the book is divided into four clever titled acts between the 1400s and 1100’s, each chapter covering about a century or so. The fifth chapter then presents the various theories that are brought forward as to why the Bronze Age world collapsed as it did, presenting the Sea Peoples as refugees and opportunists, wandering troublemakers just looking for a home, something many of us can personally relate to. Some would argue, of course, that this whitewashes the record of the Philistines and their allies. The epilogue looks at the aftermath of the collapse, in the building of the Iron age world that we are more familiar with today. The book takes a little less than 200 pages of core material to discuss a worthy historical mystery and popularize the research of scholars in a field that is quite worthwhile and vibrant. The book also manages to put a human face on these people, from young leaders of important minor kingdoms of whom it is said that they don’t know anything, to women attempting to hold on to power after their husbands die, to a brave and victorious Pharaoh assassinated in a harem conspiracy that ended up marking the decline of Egypt as a major power, to desperate Hittite rulers seeking grain wherever it could be found to feed their hungry and doomed empire, to a bitter Elamite king sacking Babylon after being denied the throne of that city, despite the fact that he had plenty of close family connections with the ruling Kassite kings, one of whom was his maternal grandmother.

Despite the considerable achievement of this book, though, there are several problem areas that require careful and critical reading. Among these areas, perhaps the most important is the fact that the author has a great deal of open and unwarranted hostility towards the biblical account of history, making his contempt for and lack of understanding of the biblical record patently obvious. Clearly, this massive failing makes the book’s chronology and interpretation more than a little bit dodgy as a result. Beyond these failings, this book also seeks to make ancient history relevant by stepping into the climate change debate, arguing that at least part of the problem of the Late Bronze Age crisis was related to analogous climate change to our current threat. Thankfully, the author does not directly argue that it was anthropogenic climate change, as is typically argued by contemporary partisans of the left, but the relationship between a world beset by natural disasters, including climate change that threatens food and water supplies, a world of both internal and external conflict, and a world that is so complex because it is tied together by long and vulnerable trade networks that a crisis in any one part threatens the viability of all other regimes in the system, is clearly portrayed in a way that seeks to make the ancient world relevant to modern times, but in a way that denies the importance of morality. Here we see again that the hostility to biblical history also extends to an ignorance of the importance of biblical law in sustaining a nation. This book is worth reading, and contains worthwhile research and a secular version of a prophetic warning about our current society, but it must be read critically to counteract its strong biases.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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20 Responses to Book Review: 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed

  1. Jim says:

    A tragic and ignorant misrepresentation of a book such as one usually normally only finds on Amazon from anonymous uninformed dilettantes. Or did you even actually read it?

  2. Diarmaid Walshe says:

    Reading this review brought to mind a child trying to catch out his teacher. Cline has written an excellent book that is a worthy read for anyone vaguely interested in this fascinating period in human history. It is sad to see his bias belief in the bible taint his review of this excellent book.

  3. Rupert Chapman says:

    Eric Cline is a senior and very distinguished scholar, who takes the biblical account seriously for what it is, and also takes the archaeological record, which, unlike the biblical account, dates to the period of the events discussed, and wasn’t laid down (in the case of the biblical account written) hundreds of years later. Professor Cline’s scholarship takes full account of the bias in all of the sources, including both the contemporary accounts from Egypt, Anatolia, and Syria, and the later retrospective accounts such as those in the Bible. The difference between a ‘religiously correct’ reading of the Bible and the scholarship of archaeologists and historians is that for those who want a literal reading of the Bible (and their own literal reading, as opposed to anyone else’ literal reading) is that the archaeologists’ and historians’ scholarship has to take account of all the known evidence, and where the hypothesis doesn’t explain, or is contradicted by, the observable evidence, the hypothesis must be abandoned in favor of one which does. The theological interpretation of the Biblical account alone doesn’t have to be critically evaluated against the evidence, or to explain anything. This review says far more about the reviewer’s lack of understanding of critical scholarship than it does about Professor Cline’s book. As a scholar specializing in the study of the Ancient Near East, I regard it as an extremely misguided and misleading review.

    • I strongly disagree with you, but clearly you thought my book review important enough to write about at length, even if you apparently could not be bothered to read as seriously as you wrote.

      • Rupert Chapman says:

        Oh, I read it very carefully and seriously, and what I could see was two things. The first is someone who, without having spent years studying the mass of detailed data which is available, assumes that he understands that data better than someone whose life’s work it has been to not only gain the knowledge to command that data, but has substantially contributed to increasing it. The second thing I could see is someone who assumes that the biblical account is a simple, straightforward, and completely accurate historical record, which the mass of available evidence clearly shows that it is not. Your book review is important enough to be rebutted because it is Professor Cline’s life’s work, and mine, to set the truth before the public, and efforts such as this, which undermine that effort, and mislead the public, need to be responded to. I hope that you have seen, read, marked, and inwardly digested, what Professor Cline himself has said to you on Amazon.

      • I have not read yet what Professor Clone has written to me on Amazon. I clearly state my perspective and approach for my blog, and my disinterest in negative comments here, and the level of respect I demand for my views on this space. No rebuttal is warranted nor appreciated.

  4. Andrew Samuel says:

    You do realize that you have responded to each of these comments with an insult, right? You have no reason to believe that Reader A is illiterate. Reader B has a single mistake caused by fast typing. And, you have no reason to believe that Reader C was not reading seriously. Rather than blindly lashing out, you might take a moment to reflect on the possibility that they could each have a valid point, and that perhaps the part of your review concerning the Bible reflects more about your biases than about the author’s. Further, If you are going to be critical in book reviews, even on your own personal blog, you also have to be prepared to receive criticism in return, and not respond merely with nasty comments, but rather with a valid defense of the points being questioned. Notice also that I have not insulted you in this comment, but am merely making observations and suggestions.

    • I’m impressed that you took the time to read my replies. On the top bar of my blog there are two notes of relevance here. One of them, my about page, tells of my own bias/perspective. The other, Don’t Press The B Button, comments on my approach to negative comments. My review was mostly positive, but contrast the previous commenter, the author has a bias. So do I. So do you. So does everyone else.

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