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Thursday, July 10, 2014

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Archeology and the cinema

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The Bible and the Ancient World have been fertile ground for Hollywood and the cinema. Almost from the beginning the Ancient World has fascinated cinematographers, and it is interesting to see how archeology and archeological discoveries have affected the portrayal of the Ancient World on film. For most of us, it is the cinema that has affected the way we think of the Ancient World and arguably its most important gift to us – the Bible.

Archeology has revealed the earliest civilization as being that of the Sumerians. The famous Yale scholar Samuel Noah Kramer wrote a book awhile back with the apt title, History Begins at Sumer. It was the Sumerians who built the first cities with populations in the tens of thousands, more than 5,000 years ago, in what is now southern Iraq. They invented the first type of writing, which we call cuneiform.

Cuneiform was subsequently adopted, adapted and used by the Babylonians, Assyrians and Persians. The Sumerians invented the epic literature in their tale of Gilgamesh, who it turns out was an actual king of one of their cities called Kish. The tale speaks of a flood and even has a Noah-like character in it.

Their civilization was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century. Hollywood discovered it in the 1950s, when they made a film called The Mole People, about a group of Sumerians who had survived by going underground. Unfortunately, not much historical veracity survived the movie.

Babylon, which was a successor to Sumer, and adopted much of its culture, has also been fertile ground for Hollywood. It was Babylon that would have an important impact on the Bible and the development of our people. It has been the source of archeological activity for the last century and a half. Sadly, the last 11 years have destroyed many of the sites that could have told us so much more.

Hollywood discovered Babylon in its infancy when the famous director D. W. Griffiths made the film Intolerance in 1916. It managed to combine 2,000 years of civilization in a few hours by mixing Sumerian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian motifs. Considering the state of scholarship at that time, the film was not that bad in its archeological depictions.

Another forgotten civilization rediscovered by Hollywood was that of the Hittites, who were virtually unknown until German archeologists found their capital. The Hittites made their appearance in the 1954, 20th Century Fox epic, The Egyptian, based on a novel by the Finnish writer Mika Waltari, about a Moses-like character. The movie starred that stalwart of biblical epics, Victor Mature, as well as Peter Ustinov, Edmund Purdom and Michael Wilding (who was famous at the time as Mr. Elizabeth Taylor). The film was surprisingly accurate, especially in showing that the Hittites were the major adversaries of the Egyptians in the latter half of the second millennium BCE and the first to use that new wonder metal – iron. But it is the Egyptians themselves that we look at next. The Bible and the Ancient World have been fertile ground for Hollywood and the cinema. Almost from the beginning the Ancient World has fascinated cinematographers, and it is interesting to see how archeology and archeological discoveries have affected the portrayal of the Ancient World on film. For most of us, it is the cinema that has affected the way we think of the Ancient World and arguably its most important gift to us – the Bible.

Archeology has revealed the earliest civilization as being that of the Sumerians. The famous Yale scholar Samuel Noah Kramer wrote a book awhile back with the apt title, History Begins at Sumer. It was the Sumerians who built the first cities with populations in the tens of thousands, more than 5,000 years ago, in what is now southern Iraq. They invented the first type of writing, which we call cuneiform.

Cuneiform was subsequently adopted, adapted and used by the Babylonians, Assyrians and Persians. The Sumerians invented the epic literature in their tale of Gilgamesh, who it turns out was an actual king of one of their cities called Kish. The tale speaks of a flood and even has a Noah-like character in it.

Their civilization was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century. Hollywood discovered it in the 1950s, when they made a film called The Mole People, about a group of Sumerians who had survived by going underground. Unfortunately, not much historical veracity survived the movie.

Babylon, which was a successor to Sumer, and adopted much of its culture, has also been fertile ground for Hollywood. It was Babylon that would have an important impact on the Bible and the development of our people. It has been the source of archeological activity for the last century and a half. Sadly, the last 11 years have destroyed many of the sites that could have told us so much more.

Hollywood discovered Babylon in its infancy when the famous director D. W. Griffiths made the film Intolerance in 1916. It managed to combine 2,000 years of civilization in a few hours by mixing Sumerian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian motifs. Considering the state of scholarship at that time, the film was not that bad in its archeological depictions.

Another forgotten civilization rediscovered by Hollywood was that of the Hittites, who were virtually unknown until German archeologists found their capital. The Hittites made their appearance in the 1954, 20th Century Fox epic, The Egyptian, based on a novel by the Finnish writer Mika Waltari, about a Moses-like character. The movie starred that stalwart of biblical epics, Victor Mature, as well as Peter Ustinov, Edmund Purdom and Michael Wilding (who was famous at the time as Mr. Elizabeth Taylor). The film was surprisingly accurate, especially in showing that the Hittites were the major adversaries of the Egyptians in the latter half of the second millennium BCE and the first to use that new wonder metal – iron. But it is the Egyptians themselves that we look at next.

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