by Cormac O'Brien
304 pages. Murdoch Books, 2009.
If you love ancient history, or if you want to know some background to the time of the Bible, this is a great book for you. In about 25 pages each, O'Brien briefly covers the history 16 ancient empires, all but two making at least a brief appearance in the Biblical world. The entries are bigger than a typical encyclopedia article, yet smaller than a book and easy enough than the average non-historian can easily manage reading them. This book gives information on these empires that will help you understand why Cyrus sent the Jews home from Babylon, why the Israelites lived in mortal terror of the Assyrians, and by describing the religious nature of Babylonian society even gives a clue as to why Nebuchadnezzar was so open to Daniel's interpretation of his dreams.
Rather than calling the book The Rise of Empires, in his title O'Brien has focused on their collapse.He partially explains this with a quote from Edward Gibbon, "All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance." O'Brien is forcing his readers to think on the fleeting nature of human existence and the fleeting span of even history's most powerful empires. As someone else once said, "The grass withers, the flower fades..." and mighty empires are no different at all.
For the most part, O'Brien links the rise of his empires to Biblical narratives though this isn't his focus. Drawing the links this way makes life just a little simpler for the student of Biblical history.
Cautions: If you're looking for links to Biblical history, the section on Egypt is missing them. Though the Israelites played an apparently significant role in this nation's history at one point, it goes unmentioned.
The book, though eminently readable, is poorly bound (at least my copy was) so treat it with extreme care.
Conclusion: The book is very readable and a great background resource. Despite the poor binding it's well worth having.
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