Book Review: The Biblical Engineer: How The Temple In Jerusalem Was Built

The Biblical Engineer: How The Temple In Jerusalem Was Built, by Max Schwartz

This is a book that, despite its flaws, has a modest charm that makes it a worthwhile book to read for those who are interested in some of the technical and logistical achievements of the building of the Temple of Herod. That said, this book is of interest when it comes to more than simply looking at the temple itself, which is interesting enough, as it also includes the placement of the temple within the context of Herod’s construction in general, including the artificial harbor for Caesarea Maritimea at the location of the previous settlement called Strato’s Tower, and also a look at the geography of the area of Israel as a whole which helps to explain its climate and its seasonal patterns. The book also does not only look at the construction of the temple but also of the temple mount itself and the Antonia, the Roman fortress that was immediately adjacent to the temple during the Roman period, as well as the city walls of Jerusalem going back to the city of David, and mundane matters such as the way that water was brought to Jerusalem. The book is full of pictures, maps, charts, and diagrams that provide a very visually engaging explanation of the material, which if it had been left in text alone would have been a very dry read. All of this material, including a history of how the Temple of Herod was destroyed by the Roman forces, with many quotations from Josephus, takes less than 150 fairly large but not particularly crowded pages.

It should be noted that this is a book that wears its sources very proudly. The author takes the viewpoint that the architectural splendor of Herod, especially with regards to the temple, either cancels out or even outweighs his immense moral evil. He quotes Josephus frequently and approvingly, which is well and good, but less praiseworthy is his frequent and approving citations of the Talmud. The author’s evident enthusiasm in the physical beauty of the temple, which he manages to convey through his descriptions and through his drawings, seems to overwhelm his moral sense. After all, the temple of Herod was built by a treacherous and paranoid and bloodthirsty ruler on funds largely taken from a sullen and resentful people. The priestly aristocracy, for all of its knowledge, was immensely corrupt, having allowed the duties of Levites to be usurped by the Pharisees while elite priestly families gained all kinds of unrighteous mammon through cheating religious pilgrims and selling overpriced and personally profitable sacrificial animals. The book does not reference the general lack of high regard for Jesus Christ for a temple that was obviously built in eye service and not with sincerity of heart, but the physical beauty of the temple is apparently far more important than the moral goodness of how it was fun, at least by the author’s standards, and this viewpoint is, at the very least, highly problematic.

This book can be seen on the one hand as a striking example of what happens when someone gets careless in the quotation of various ancient works and fails to view the Talmud with a suitable criticism, looking at surface beauty and failing to inquire at deeper questions of context and the morality of institutions. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, in the author’s description, seems a merely bloody and even somewhat accidental act of savage retribution for the rebellion of a few zealots that was reluctantly followed by Jewish aristocrats like Josephus who unsuccessfully sought to train an army of civic militia. The author also comments on the corruption of various Roman governors, although he strangely seems to skip over commenting much about Pontius Pilate, likely because of the fact that he is silent about New Testament history as a whole, but is entirely silent about the internal corruption within the Jewish leadership, or the fact that this corruption was condemned harshly by Christians and Essenes alike. The result is a book that is pleasant to look at, informative as to engineering techniques, many of them learned, apparently, from shipwrights, as well as an approving view of ancient technology [1], but a book that has particularly strong biases that reduce its value as a historical resource. In that sense, the book is a lot like the temple it views so highly, pretty on the outside surface, but corrupt on the inside.

[1] See, also:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History, Military History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Book Review: The Biblical Engineer: How The Temple In Jerusalem Was Built

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Book On The Book Shelf | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: To Engineer Is Human | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: The Archaeology Of Jerusalem | Edge Induced Cohesion

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