Book Review: A History Of Ancient Egypt: Volume 2

A History Of Ancient Egypt: Volume 2: From The Great Pyramid To The Fall Of The Middle Kingdom, by John Romer

This book follows from the author’s previous volume and contains many of the same flaws. The author makes his anti-biblical bias more obvious and demonstrates even less self-awareness of how he falls into the same traps as previous generations of historians whose views and approaches he treats with contempt. Given the way that the author falsely views the Bible as a source whose approach matches that of Hellenistic Greeks (quite the opposite, rather), the author’s capacity for insight about anything would appear to be deeply limited. This is a serious fault when the author wishes to prove himself as a competent historian in dealing with first artifacts and then texts, which the author submits to his crushingly ahistorical approach. Rarely has been the case that an author’s ambitions to try to create a new narrative history of ancient Egypt founder on both basic ignorance of ancient texts and an extreme disinclination to recognize that one is doing exactly what one criticizes others for. The end result is a book that is occasionally full of interesting speculations but which has the drawback of being from an author who fancies himself to be scientific and whose efforts at every point contradict his stated goals and approach.

This book is a bit more than 500 pages and is organized in a somewhat haphazard fashion. The author begins with a preface and an introductory section (I) that reviews the previous volume’s contents and discusses the relationship between history and hieroglyphs (1, 2, 3). This is followed by a look at how our view of ancient Egypt was made by Champillion and his successors (II), with a look at the view of Egypt in the beginning (4), Champillion’s efforts to translate ancient Egyptian (5), and the aftermath in the setting of the high chronology (6). This is followed by a discussion of the Old Kingdom Giza king rulers from 2625-2500 (III), including the author’s attempt to interpret statues (7), the excavations to find Menkaure (8), royal households (9), and the history after Giza (10). After that comes the latter part of the Old Kingdom from 2500-2000 (IV), including Abusir and Saqqara (11), the economy of offering (12), the living court around the palace (13), the living kingdom (14), and religious matters (15). This is followed by a look at ancient records and ancient lives (V), such as the transition from papyrus to stone (16), writing in the pyramids (17), processing the past (18), interpreting the pyramids (19), and courtiers (20). After that comes a discussion of the first intermediate period (VI), including history without pyramids (21). This abbreviated account is followed by a discussion of the re-making of the state in the Middle Kingdom from 2140-1780 BC (VII), including chapters on the binding of the kingdom back together (22), the court of Thebes (23), the workings of the court (24), and Egyptian relations with the Levant and Nubia (25). This is followed by the re-made state from 2000-1660 BC (VIII), with chapters on the court at hoe (26), living in the state (27), an epilogue on a supposed golden age, as well as a chronology, bibliography, list of maps and figures and plates, acknowledgements, and an index.

If one is indeed a less than charitable reader of this book, a motive for this book’s existence comes to mind that suits the subject matter of ancient Egypt. Throughout the history of ancient Egypt changes in belief and practice and political fad led for rulers to try to efface the existence of the past to destroy the memory of those rulers whose mere existence demonstrated ways of life that were a contemporary embarrassment. Such a situation exists in contemporary academia, where those of the author’s ilk seek to destroy historical records of the past whose insights and whose perspectives are embarrassing and awkward for the author to deal with. And so a book like this is created in the attempt to serve as a narrative history to replace previous ones, whose existence is only to remain alive as a subject of hatred and contempt, even though the current work shows the same flaws as the previous ones, only being less enjoyable to read than those older histories with their seeing Egyptian history through Western eyes. It is to be lamented that contemporary historians like the author are no more insightful than writers from the past, are a good deal less skilled at writing prose, and are immensely less charitable to others than those they criticize. The author and this work contain the vices of previous narrative histories but sadly few of the compensating virtues, and new vices of self-righteousness to boot.

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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2 Responses to Book Review: A History Of Ancient Egypt: Volume 2

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    I was looking at the span of years which separated the various Egyptian eras. The “re-made” era (2000 -1660 BC) is especially interesting, as it covers the time period from Abraham through that of Joseph.

    • Yes, that’s correct, this particular period is the Middle Kingdom, and unsurprisingly the author has nothing to say about biblical insights into what was going on in Egypt.

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