Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book Review: American Egyptologist

Wall Street Journal (John Ray)

In 1922, the University of Oxford conferred an honorary degree on James Henry Breasted, who was at the height of his fame as an Egyptologist and historian of the ancient world. As he listened to the Latin oration, the great scholar's mind went back to his days as a boy in Rockford, Ill., barefoot and dusty, watching the local blacksmith shoe his father's only horse. Sooner or later, he felt, somebody would be bound to find him out as an impostor—someone who had risen beyond his merits. We know this because he was not ashamed to record these thoughts in his diary.

The origins of James Henry Breasted (1865-1935) were certainly humble. His small-town background was staunchly Congregationalist, and his family encouraged him toward the ministry. His early training was in pharmacy, but an increasing awareness of apparent contradictions in the biblical narrative began to trouble his faith. It also impelled him to turn to Egypt and Mesopotamia, the civilizations that lay behind much of the world of the Old Testament.

There was no institution in the United States where Breasted could study this sort of ancient history, Jeffrey Abt notes in "American Egyptologist," his authoritative account of Breasted's varied life. 


No comments: