Often, history education consists of a short study of ancient history and several years of study about the time since the discovery of the Americas. There is so much information about the last 500 years that the sheer volume overwhelms earlier history. This emphasis is what most of us of the last generation experienced in our schooling.
There is a danger in this. We begin to think that the time before 1492 is in the same realm as myths and legends. Biblical stories, and perhaps Christ himself, are not seen as historically true. But if we have a more complete picture of history, preferably chronologically from the oldest known civilizations, we can see how God prepared the world for His coming, and how mankind responded. His Incarnation can be seen for what it is: the central event of all history.
The history of the most extraordinary people in history, the Jews, is documented in the Bible, and when ruins of Biblical cities such as Nineveh, Jericho, and Babylon were discovered and explored in the 19th century, the Bible's stories were validated The oldest known piece of literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh, bears a similarity to the Great Flood story.
But what about pagan civilizations? Should we bother with them? Funerary inscriptions from ancient Egypt, dating back more than 3000 years before Christ, are a powerful example of the fact that we know actual dates from ancient times. Even though all remnants of his belief were later wiped out, one ruler, Akhenaten, worshipped, and built a temple to, the One God. The Egyptians' quest for immortality is shown through mummification and elaborate burials in great pyramid tombs. These rituals show how their quest proved elusive.
The Greeks had a whole pantheon of gods. But Socrates, who is often called the greatest thinker of all time, said, before his death, “We go our ways – I to die, and you to live. Which is better God only knows.” In Plato's Phaedo, Socrates skilfully argues the case for the immortality of the soul. In Socrates we see traces of an awareness of God outside of God's Chosen People. The book The Founding of Christendom, by Warren Carroll, which is a great resource for history study for teenagers, explains the importance of this time of preparation for the Messiah's coming. Carroll says:
“The Greeks were, and are still, sometimes idolized, their pre-Christian thought set up as a sort of human substitute for revelation, seen as more refined and therefore more valuable and significant than the thought of the less intellectually oriented Jews. The Greeks themselves have not fallen into this error, however. They were thoroughly converted to the Christian faith and by and large have remained so.
The Greeks ultimately found Christianity intellectually convincing, as well as a gift; that of faith. As many of the early Christian writers pointed out, their own earlier triumphs of the mind had led them toward the fullness of truth in the fullness of time, preparing them for its reception, its teaching, and its exploration by the mind as well as by the heart and the soul.
Out of Greece came a glorious flowering of philosophy, poetry, art and culture which permanently transformed the world. The Greeks truly seemed to feel they might find something at the end of their minds' quest, while for Buddha and for Confucius there had been, at the end, only the void.”
If we want our children to see that our beliefs are based on faith and reason, the study of ancient history and the related archeology can confirm this. When we study the Bible and then see historical evidence of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel, Ramses II and Joseph – with details about these characters matching - it is fascinating! A renowned Palestinian archaeologist, Nelson Glueck, stated that “no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference.”
Our history study can, and should, embrace the ancient civilizations and their people; it is interesting, enlightening and very worthwhile!
Joyce Sehn is a WISDOM mom who assists her husband Louis in his work as a home school facilitator.