AO 8:04, Jul/Aug 2005
Myth and Politics in Ancient Near Eastern Historiography
(Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004) 214 pp., $75
We moderns tend to think of history as evolving from pristine ignorance to ever-increasing sophistication. Consciously or not, this way of thinking is often extended to areas that have nothing to do with advances in knowledge or technology. Christianity and other contemporary religions, for example, are widely seen as superior to “primitive” systems of belief, from which they are commonly thought to have evolved. This habit of thought often causes us to underestimate ancient cultures.
Nor is this attitude limited to innocent laymen. Sad to say, it is regrettably common among academics. All too often scholars read ancient texts naively at face value, without stopping to ask, Why, and by whom, were these texts written?