Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Story Of Mankind: History Of The Middle East In 300 Words

click to enlarge the images
"The story of Mesopotamia is one of endless warfare and conquest. . .

"In the fortieth century before our era, the Sumerians had entered Mesopotamia.  They were soon afterwards overpowered by the Akkadians . . . A thousand years later, the Akkadians were forced to submit to the rule of the Amorites, another Semite desert tribe whose great
Damascus, the capital of modern Syria, is in the middle

King Hammurabi built himself a magnificent palace in the holy city of Babylon and who gave his people a set of laws which made the Babylonian state the best administered empire of the ancient world.  Next the Hittites whom you will also meet in the Old Testament, overran the Fertile Valley and destroyed what they could not carry away.  They in turn were vanquished by the followers of the great desert god, Ashur, who called themselves Assyrians and made the city of Nineveh the center of a vast and terrible empire which conquered all of western Asia and Egypt and gathered taxes from countless subject races until the end of the seventh century before the birth of Christ when the Chaldeans, also a Semitic tribe, re-established Babylon and made that city the most important capital of that day.  Nebuchadnezzar, the best known of their kings, encouraged the study of science and our modern knowledge of astronomy and mathematics is all based on certain first principles which were discovered by the Chaldeans.  In the year 538 B.C. a crude tribe of Persian shepherds invaded this old land and overthrew the empire of the Chaldeans.  Two hundred years later, they in turn were overthown by Alexander the Great, who turned the Fertile Valley, the old melting-pot of so many Semitic races, into a Greek province.  Next came the Romans and after the Romans, the Turks, and Mesopotamia, the second centre of the world's civilization, became a vast wilderness where huge mounds of earth told a story of ancient glory." (pp. 84-87)

This is from Henrik Van Loon's The Story of Mankind, the first book to win the Newbery Prize for outstanding contribution to children's literature in 1922.  It has over 500 pages and as you can tell, it's a little dated and Eurocentric.  The first index reference to China, for example, isn't until World War II. 

This is a book I got as a kid.  I don't remember how much of it I actually finished.  But with my son here looking through the closets and garage for stuff he's left behind, this book showed up. 

What strikes me is the much larger context it gives the events in the Middle East today.

Like, "In the fortieth century before our era."  Forty centuries.  That's 4,000 years.  Add two thousand years since the birth of Christ and we're talking about 6000 years.  Since the so called 'first Iraq war' in 1991, the US has been involved in Iraq and Afghanistan about 23 years out of that 6000.

Despite those who believe in American exceptionalism,  we're still a relatively young nation, and throughout history there have been many powerful nations that have ruled large portions of the world, and then have faded into obscurity.  I thought I'd put up these maps to remind folks of the geography - I have a modern map with the countries that border Syria here - and also to remind us that the limits of our knowledge plus our biases cause us to believe our version of Truth which inevitably will change as time goes on.  That's not a bad thing.  In fact it's inevitable.  But we're wiser and probably more effective human beings if we remember that and leave a keyhole of doubt in all our certainties. 

The Story of Mankind, it seems, was made into a terrible film in 1957 - the last film to have three Marx Brothers.  You can learn more about the film (and see a couple of clips) here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.