Book Reviews, History, Reading

5 Cities that Ruled the World? post 1

Currently, I am reading Douglas Wilson’s book 5 Cities that Ruled the World: How Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London and New York Shaped Global History. Eventually, I will have to do my formal review, but I did not see how I could possibly get everything I need to say about this book into one 200-word post.

Each of these posts will deal with the sections on each of these five cities and will address the topics of context, history and accuracy. Let me preface by saying that this book feels poorly researched. I do not mean that Wilson did not check his biblical references. I do mean that it appears to me that he did not consult much in the way of archaeological or historical information outside of the standard Bible college library (which, sadly, often does not contain any research more recent than the 1960’s).

The premise of the book is great – here are the five most influential cities of the Western world. The problem is that at least in the chapter on Jerusalem, the author continually makes sweeping assumptions, offers wild theories with no proof (or footnotes) and tends to adopt whatever interpretation of the Scriptures fits his theories.

Here is just one example:

In 63 BC,  these two descendants of the Hasmonean line asked Rome – in what must have seemed like a good idea at the time to arbitrate the dispute. When the Hasmoneans refused the results of the arbitration, the Roman general Pompey took advantage of the situation and easily took over…Pompey tried to rule through Hasmoneans at first, but that didn’t work too well. In 37 BC, Herod the Great came the throne.

First of all, would it have killed him to mention the ‘two descendants’ by name? Their names were Aristobulus and Hyrcanus by the way.

Second, the Hasmoneans did not refuse the arbitration. Pompey refused to give them an answer, and Aristobulus saw that as a sign that he was going to side with Hyrcanus. He entrenched himself in a fortress, but then chickened out and came running to the Roman summons, willingly handing over Jerusalem. The Jews at Jerusalem, however, refused to allow Pompey in, so he took the city by siege.

Third, Pompey placed Judea under the proconsul of Syria, who divided it into five regions. The Hasmoneans did not have a throne to rule from.

Fourth, Pompey died in 48 BC. He had nothing to do with Herod coming to the throne. Herod bought the throne, was deposed by the Scythians (in favor of Arisobulus’ son Antigonus), and then received the title “King of the Jews” by senatorial proclamation. His advocate in the Senate was none other than Marc Antony.

Needless to say, the chapter is full of these simplifications which play well in the narrative I know Wilson is building but bear only a passing resemblance to the historical record. As another example, his decision to simply consider Darius, Ahaseurus and Artaxerxes as one person would meet with considerable criticism among people who specialize in Persian history. I have studied this time period and the Bible for well over a decade now and consider myself fairly well read in the subject and I have never read such a thing.

And don’t get me started on his narrative about the House of David and the subsequent divided kingdom!

As you can probably tell, I am not particularly pleased with this book thus far. It is the kind of history book I loathe – one with a definite agenda and poor research. The combination of these two things drives me nuts because if writers would just do their diligence, they would see the absurdity of their simplifications.

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