Ancient history

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a speech given by Rob Shearer at Lipscomb University on Dec 3rd, 2011
part of a Limited Government Seminar sponsored by the Lipscomb University College Republicans

My topic today is the birth of liberty in Europe.

Well, it was born in Europe wasn’t it?

Every generation thinks it was the first to discover sex, so I guess every nation believes it was the one to discover liberty.

I hope to shatter a few illusions this morning. I want to broaden your horizons.

I am going to boldly assert that as young healthy American college students there are a number of things that you believe that aren’t true. Just as a fish never really notices the water, all of us, are usually oblivious to what Emmett Tyrell calls the Kultursmog.

Let me start with three small observations:

  1. the world did not begin in 1492
  2. human nature has not changed.
  3. progress is a myth

The one assertion you can confidently make about human nature over the course of 4,000 years of recorded history is that it has not evolved. In fact, it would be difficult to prove that human nature has appreciably changed.

I would challenge you to read the literature of the ancient world, or the medieval world, or the renaissance or the reformation. If you do, I think you’ll find something surprising. The thoughts, emotions, desires and aspirations of those people will be instantly recognizable and understandable. In truth, they are just like us.

Read the Bible. Read the Hymn to Aton by Pharaoh Akhnaton. Read the Epic of Gilgamesh. Read Homer. Read Augustine. Read Chaucer.

The people they describe are JUST. LIKE. US.

And they aspired to liberty – individual liberty, political liberty, JUST. LIKE. US.

We didn’t invent the idea of liberty.

It has a long pedigree, with roots back into the ancient world.

And the record of European history, of Western Culture, shows some remarkable periods in which political liberty was achieved.

We are the heirs to that rich European culture.

Our ideas about religion, philosophy, politics, and government have all come to us directly from Europe or through Europe.

But the development of liberty in western culture has followed a long and tortured path. It has not been the steady path of progress. There have been fits and starts. Achievement and decay.

It was anything but inevitable.

Now there is a school of history that believes that the course of history is pre-ordained, and unfolds by inexorable laws.  Macaulay, Hegel, Marx and Calvin all have one thing in common. They all believe in predestination.

Calvin… well, let’s leave Calvin out of this. He gets enough grief as it is. I don’t wish to trouble him this morning.

Thomas Babington Macaulay was the great Whig historian of 19th century Britain. For Macaulay, all of recorded human history was simply documentation of the unfolding idea of freedom which came to its fulfillment in that best of all possible representative constitutional, representative governments – 19th century Britain.




Hegel is the great German philosopher of the 19th century. For Helgel, all of recorded human history was simply the record of the unfolding and developing idea of freedom, which, by way of the dialectic, revealed itself in ever more refined and perfect fashion until it reached its culmination in 19th century Germany.




Marx believed that all of recorded human history is simply the clash of economic classes and forces and that the course of history was certain and determined and would inevitably lead to the overthrow of each imperfect intermediate form of government  until history was fulfilled in the workers’ paradise of a true communist state where the private ownership of capital would be abolished, and rule by the dictatorship of the proletariat. He thought that this would inevitably happen first in the most industrialized nations of the 19th century: either Britain, Germany, or the United States. Such a revolution, of course, could never occur in the less developed more rural nations on the edge of Europe or outside of European civilization. Certainly never in a country as backward and agricultural as Russia (where they still had serfs when Das Kapital was written!)

We laugh at the naiveté of these historians now… and think them parochial for advancing their own nations as the high point of history.

And then, of course, we’re guilty of the same thing.

We order the past to show how several thousand years of history were but prologue to the inevitable and pre-ordained emergence of the American republic.

This notion of history (quite widely and popularly held) is why many of the American historians of my generation have gone out of their way to attack the virtues of the founders.

The truth is, the founding of the American Republic is a remarkable and rare event in history.

Let me reassure you that I admire and revere the founders of the United States. I believe that Washington, Adams, Jefferson, & Franklin were remarkable and praiseworthy men.

But I want to suggest to you this morning that the founding of the American Republic was not as original as we sometimes think… nor was it inevitable.

So let me go back to the western European history and highlight places where Liberty appears.

But first, let me point out that Liberty & Law are inextricably intertwined.

Liberty is not license or lawlessness.

In fact, there can be no liberty without a recognized body of law (Hobbes & Locke had much to say about this, but let me come back to them later.)

Liberty depends upon a shared, recognizable concept of law – natural law.

Liberty and natural law are intertwined.

The notion that there is a natural moral law that is intrinsic, built-in to the universe, and discoverable is an idea with a long pedigree. It was something the Jews, the Greeks, and the Romans all agreed upon. They might have disagreed with each other over who was the author of this law, or over some of the particulars, but they all agreed and acknowledged that natural law was an objective fact.

The birth and expansion of liberty has deep roots. It is a long tale.

Now of course, modern Europeans have abandoned the idea of natural law – just as they have abandoned the notion of objective truth. This doesn’t mean that either have ceased to exist – only that the Europeans have ceased believing in them.

But a belief in natural law and a devotion to discovering, or at least outlining, its details is a central part of the story of liberty in western culture.

But natural law by itself does not generate personal liberty, or political liberty.

Personal, political liberty depends upon the notion that natural law limits the actions of everyone in society.

Tyranny, despotism, oligarchy, aristocracy all are antithetical to liberty, because they all believe that there are some people who are not obligated to obey natural law.

Liberty is achieved to the extent that the wealthy, the privileged, the aristocrats, the king and his officers are all forced to obey, equally the natural law.

So long as there are some people who are above the law, liberty is curtailed.

When all are equal before the law, there is liberty.

THAT idea as you might imagine took a long time to succeed.

To achieve liberty, you must limit government. You must limit the king. You must limit the kings officers.

And they’d rather NOT be limited or held accountable, thank you very much – so they resist.

The struggle to achieve liberty then is a struggle to limit government – not to throw off the natural law, but to bring everyone under the law.

Let me outline for you briefly some highlights in the history of the struggle to achieve liberty – the struggle to limit government

It is useful to remind us how costly the struggle has been, how much patience and perseverance it has taken to guard the spark and flame over long centuries, and how irregular the course was. The many setbacks are a useful reminder to us that the unfolding of liberty was anything but inevitable.

In the ancient world, you can do no better than to make a comparative study of the political history of Israel, Greece, and Rome – coincidentally, the three streams of political thought & philosophy which lie at the heart of western European culture.

And in all three you find a curious sequence of events. The unfolding of liberty is not a linear tale of progress. Israel is ruled by Patriarchs & Judges, then by Kings. The kings (as prophesied) are more oppressive in their rule than were the judges, and to make matters worse the Kings, over time get progressively worse, not better! In fact you could argue that a graph of the political history of Israel has a downward slope – the opposite of progress.



Well, let us turn to Greece. The political history of the Greek city states is rich and varied. And the Greeks give us the democracies of the city-states like Athens, Corinth, and… Sparta? Wait. How many of you saw The 300? The Spartans represent a strand of Greek culture that values honor and the battle-skills of well-trained soldiers far above liberty. And over time, which strand of Greek culture came to dominate. Did the Greek city states gradually merge into a larger, representative political union? No, in fact the Greek city states either succumbed to their own demagogues and tyrants, or in the end they were conquered by Alexander and his Macedonian phalanxes, and came under what can only be described as a military dictatorship.

How would you graph liberty over the history of ancient Greece?

And now, let us turn to Rome.

The Romans achieved remarkable stability in their government and successfully pacified and governed the entire Mediterranean world – the pax romana. And Rome was a republic. The republic held elections for the office of consul every year. And the Roman republic achieved political stability by dividing political authority – not just between two co-equal consuls, but between consuls and senators and a host of other prominent officials.

But what happened to Rome? How do we explain/ what answer do we give to Gibbon’s great historical work titled The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire? (published in 1776, by the way – this is called foreshadowing)?

Actually, I think Gibbon’s work asks the wrong question. It’s not really even all that very interesting a question. He thought the answer was that Christianity had undermined the old Roman virtues and weakened Rome. I think that’s a preposterous answer by the way. But Gibbon work asks the wrong question.

The much more interesting, much more important question is “Why did the Roman Republic fail?” Not the Empire, the REPUBLIC! Why did Rome cease being a Republic and become an Empire.

The peak of Roman civilization is during the days of the Republic. When the Republic fails and Rome becomes an Empire it is a sign that things have already gone badly wrong. The Roman Emperors were not nice men. That fact is masked for us, because in the movies they always speak with British accents and seem refined and cultured. But they were not nice men. Almost every single one of them was a general and owed his title to the backing of the army. The ugly truth (seldom spoken) is that the Roman Empire was a military dictatorship. And like many military dictatorships, the most frequent method of regime change was a military coup. Roman Empire is a misnomer. It was not so much the Roman Empire as it was the Roman Banana Republic – 500 years of military dictatorship.

So the real, important question to be asked of Roman history is not why did the Empire fall, It’s why did the Republic fall? Why did it cease to hold elections and turn into a military dictatorship?

I challenge you to take up the study of Roman history. The answer to that question is fascinating, and frightening.

I could say much about the Middle Ages and the Germanic kingdoms that succeeded Rome. Here again, our nomenclature is misleading. Rome was not conquered by the Germanic tribes. The Germanic tribes had no kingdoms of their own. They were homeless. They crossed the frontier of Rome (the Danube River) as illegal immigrants. And the hollow and rotted out shell of the Roman Empire collapsed under the weight of their migrations.

And in one of the great ironies of church history, barely a century after the urban, lower-class persecuted Christian church had succeeded in converting the Roman aristocracy, Rome was conquered by pagan barbarian tribes and it would take several more centuries for the conquered Roman Christians to convert their Barbarian masters.


Much could and should be said about the development of law and liberty in medieval and renaissance Europe. The struggles of the 12th & 13th century led to The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, and of the Liberties of the Forest – a radical notion that the king was bound by the law.

That notion was more prominent in the late Middle Ages and then was rejected by the monarchs of the 16th & 17th centuries who claimed to rule by direct authority from God. England went through a civil war and ten years of military dictatorship sorting that out. The result brought the king’s back under the authority of the Magna Charta and the law. One could argue that Locke, Hobbes, and the Glorious Revolution were a recovery and revival of early medieval notions of kingship.

But I want to come back to that bit of foreshadowing I spoke of before. I don’t want to steal the thunder of the next figure, but I want to make an important point about the connection between liberty in the United States and liberty in Europe.

I mentioned that Gibbon published The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in 1776. His work typified the ongoing study of the ancient world which had been revived in Europe at the end of the middle ages.

At the end of the Middle Ages came a period of time dubbed the renaissance or rebirth because of a widespread movement which sought to revive the ancient world. Across European culture, for several centuries, there was an intense interest and devotion to studying Greece and Rome. It began with a revival of languages and literature. It spread to a revival of artistic styles and subjects. The protestant Reformation itself fits organically into this cultural preoccupation with reviving the classical world. This fascination with the ancient world persisted for several centuries. It was the exact opposite of our modern notion of progress. Renaissance men did not believe that everyone who had lived before them was stupid and insignificant. Rather, they believed that the wisdom of the ancient world had been tragically lost and that it could and should be rescued and revived. The motto of the Renaissance was “ ad fonts” – back to the sources.

The culture of the 18th century, the 1700s in America was still the culture of the Renaissance, with an emphasis on studying the classics of Greece & Rome. The culture of the Enlightenment and the rejection of authority and the past was just developing in Europe – but not yet in North America. The colonies were not on the cutting edge of cultural trends. They were a cultural backwater, lagging behind and maintaining the attitudes and culture of earlier centuries.

And what model did the American colonists turn to when they wished to establish a new form of government, independent of the British monarchy? They consciously chose the form and features of the Roman Republic – with an eye towards avoiding its deficiencies, but with a thoughtful recognition that it had governed the Roman World successfully for 500 years.

And so I would assert that the founding of the Roman Republic is the last expression and accomplishment of the spirit of the Renaissance. It looks backwards to the ancient world for guidance and wisdom. The renaissance began with language and literature and spread to the arts. The spirit of the renaissance, when applied to the problems of the church produced the upheavals of the protestant reformation.

And then finally, the renaissance results in the revival of ancient political thought and forms and the founding of the American republic.

The American revolution looks back to the ancient world. The French revolution is a horse of a different color. Its spirit is almost the antithesis of the renaissance. It rejects all past authority. It treats all ancient authority with suspicion and contempt. The proximity in time is misleading. They not the expressions of the same cultural movement, they are the antithetical expressions of two separate and opposite cultural movements.

So. The origin of Liberty in Europe took us back to ancient Rome, via the Renaissance.

And the cautionary part of that tale is that each expression of liberty which I have mentioned was not marked by a slow, steady progressive improvement. Rather in Israel, in Greece, in Rome, in the Middle Ages there are brief, compressed, miraculous expressions and instantiations of Liberty. But they do not last. They decay, they decline, they rot. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowy. But they do not build upon each other brick on brick, course on course.

The course rather is a sawtooth pattern. Liberty is achieved… and then begins to fade, and often seems to disappear – until another generation comes along and is miraculously empowered to create a culture, a movement, a political nation where liberty becomes real.

May your generation be such a miraculously empowered generation. Because we do not need progress. We need a renaissance of liberty. We need a revival of liberty.

Thank you.

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A few more new books worth adding to your library. Figures in Motion is a neat concept to add to your study of the ancient world. DK continues to add well-designed titles to their Eyewitness series. And we continue to find some often over-looked treasures in the new books being published

Without further ado, here are two new titles worth reading:

Famous Figures of Ancient Times

Famous Figures of Ancient Times
by Cathy Diez-Luckie

Yes, these action figures really move! All you need is this book, a hole punch, and easy-to-use fasteners for assembly. Move their arms and legs, use their swords and shields and act out the real stories of history or make up your own and travel through time with moving figures!Famous Figures of Ancient Times includes a short biography of each historic figure, from Narmer, who united Upper and Lower Egypt, to Augustine, a leader of the Church at the fall of the Ancient Roman Empire.

This book makes a great activity book to use with your Greenleaf Study Package on Old Testament History, Egypt, Greece, or Rome. The set includes 20 figures in all:
  • Narmer
  • Khufu
  • Sargon
  • Hammurabi
  • Moses
  • King David
  • Ashurbanipal
  • Nebuchadnezzar II
  • Cyrus the Great
  • A Greek Hoplite
  • Qin Shi Huangdi
  • Aristotle
  • Alexander the Great
  • Hannibal
  • Hannibal’s Elephant
  • Julius Caesar
  • Caesar Augustus
  • Jesus
  • Constantine
  • Augustine
Each of these figures comes to life as children create their moving figures. Printed on heavy cardstock, 20 figures, 96 pages, $19.95. You can order by clicking on the image above or on this link.

Eyewitness Expert Ancient Rome

Ancient Rome
Eyewitness Expert

The DK Eyewitness series have set new standards for reference books for children & young adults. Each is conceived and laid out as if it were a museum exhibition. The most significant and most well known artifacts in each category are beautifully photographed and displayed with lengthy explanatory captions. The format of all 136 books is identical: hardback, 64 pages, glossy paperstock, four color photography on each of the 25+ two-page spreads.

The Eyewitness Expert series takes this concept several steps further. Along with the Eyewitness reference book (in paperback), the large slipcase includes:

  • a wall chart / poster
  • profile flashcards
  • a clip-art CD to use in computer illustration programs
  • a separate “Expert Files” paperback (64 pages) which is a hands-on guide to Ancient Rome, as explained by professional archeologists in the field
  • a large folded map of the Roman World
  • a paper model of the Colosseum printed in color on card stock to be punched out and assembled.
The publisher describes the book as targeted for ages 8-13. Younger children will certainly be fascinated by the pictures. Older students will find the text intriguing and informative.

Eyewitness Expert Ancient Rome

The total package is neatly packed in a fold-up portfolio which slides into the heavy-duty slipcase. Can be ordered direct from Greenleaf for $29.99 by clicking on either of the images or on this link.
bookshelf divider
Watch this space for more book reviews! We have three new titles close to release that we are very excited about, and a small stack of worthy books from other publishers to recommend.

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It will be some time before we are able to get these printed, but in the meantime we wanted to make them available to anyone who is interested. You can browse online here or download a .pdf to your own computer. You can even print your own copy if you’d like.

Our history study packages are typically designed for use in one semester, so now’s the time to order for the new year. Break out of the textbook box. Give your children real stories about real people. Reclaim history for them and for yourself.
Greenleaf Press 2010 Retail Catalog

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With the imminent publication of Famous Men of the 16th & 17th Century, I decided to review, revise, & update the Greenleaf scope and sequence for the study of history.

After 20 years of teaching history, talking to homeschooling parents, and continuing to read and write on historical topics, I am more convinced than ever that the keys to teaching history to children are Chronology and Biography.

And I am also equally convinced that we need to be teaching the Bible to our children as a historical document. The Bible is not a collection of morality tales like Aesop’s Fables. The Bible is a historical account of God acting in history from the call of the Patriarchs through the Exodus, the Conquest, the Exile and the Restoration. I believe strongly that our kids should know the history of Israel as their first “model” for how to approach history. And the Bible’s pattern is to tell the story in chronological order and to focus on one key person at a time. The historical books of the Bible tell the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, etc… down to Daniel, Esther, Ezra, & Nehemiah.

With the new Famous Men book (and with a few excellent books from other publishers), Greenleaf is able to offer a complete history program for grades 1-8, and a plan for a second study of western civilization in the high school years.

You can download our 3-page Scope and Sequence here. Feel free to copy, forward, and/or print out as many copies as you’d like.

Page One is the plan for the elementary grades.

Page two is the plan for high school students:

And page three are alternate plans to do Western Civilization in four, five, six, or seven years of elementary school:

I’ll have more information about the imminent publication of Famous Men of the 16th & 17th Century over the next few weeks.

– Rob Shearer, Publisher

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Several weeks ago, we drove over to Knoxville to watch our oldest daughter receive her Masters Degree in History. Chinese history to be more precise. All my fault, actually. I took her with me when she was thirteen when I went to China to complete the adoption of her younger sister (you can read all about this if you want to, over at the Greenleaf Press website on the page titled “Corrie’s Story“).

Adobe Photoshop PDFWhile there, I picked up a book in Micah’s apartment with the intriguing title, “The Sayings of Mrs. Solomon: Being the Confessions of the Seven Hundredth Wife.

As I started reading, I found myself smiling, then chuckling, then laughing out loud. The book was originally published in 1913, and the author (Helen Rowland) had a comedic gift and a skill with words that was both astonishing and entertaining.

The premise of the book is that Mrs. Solomon is passing on her hard-earned wisdom about men to younger women. There are chapters on Husband, Bachelors, Flirts, Damsels, and Sirens. My daughters loved it. And I must admit, it is funny.

Here are some sample lines:

And Verily, a Woman Need Know But One Man Well, in Order to Understand ALL Men;

Whereas a Man May Know All Women and Understand Not One of Them.


He muttereth unto his wife, “Lo! I will go
unto the corner for a cigar” – and behold, he
wandereth unto many corners and returneth
by a circular route.

Rowland has 120 pages of these pithy sayings, illustrated with period engravings and very stylized Egyptian border-art.

The Shearers (especially the Shearer daughters) enjoyed the book so much, that we decided we would bring it back into print. Mrs. Solomon, in fact, now has her own web site ( and twitter account (

The books are being produced for us by CreateSpace (which is an subsidiary, so the best way to order a copy is to go directly to their web site.

The Sayings of Mrs. Solomon is a paperback, 120 pages and may be ordered directly from CreateSpace by clicking on any of the links in this message.

– Rob Shearer,
Publisher, Greenleaf Press


The importance of understanding Egyptian history and culture can hardly be over-estimated. Egypt is the country mentioned most often in the Old Testament. Israel’s prophets foretell the future not just for Israel, but for Egypt as well.

Abraham had dealings with Pharaoh, as did Jacob and Joseph. The founding of Israel as a nation is rooted in Moses’ struggle with Pharaoh. The kings of Israel & Judah wrestled with Egypt as a regional power and puzzled over whether to treat her as an ally or an enemy. Jeremiah goes into exile in Egypt rather than Babylon, where he loses his life. Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod.

In Roman history, it was Egypt which played a crucial role in the lives and fortunes of Julius Caesar and his nephew Octavian, better known as Caesar Augustus.

For all of these reasons, we have always made the study of Ancient Egypt a key part of our children’s introduction to history. It is a tremendous aid in understanding the Old Testament – and a study of the Ancient World which only touched the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome leaves much of ancient culture incomprehensible.

Among other things, Egypt is the archetypal example of the determining influence of geography on history. Ancient Egypt is really the civilization developed by a string of towns and villages up and down the Nile River – like pearls on a rope. The entire civilization is a narrow corridor, only a few miles wide on either side of the Nile. There is a sharp delineation between the green fertile fields, irrigated by the annual Nile flood and the desolate sands of the uninhabited desert, which begins within sight of the Nile.

So Pharaoh’s Boat (just published by Houghton Mifflin in May, 2009) is not a plaything or a diverting bit of aquatic recreation. The Nile is central to the existence of Egypt. Egyptians worship the Nile as the giver of life. One of Pharaoh’s most sacred duties was to intercede with the gods on behalf of Egypt to insure the annual flood which irrigates the fields on either side of the long valley. Cheops and the Great Pyramid of Giza which formed his tomb belong to the earliest period in Egyptian history. Perhaps as early as 2600 BC, in the Old Kingdom of Egypt 100,000 workers labored for 20 years to build a stone pyramid over 400 feet tall.

The first part of this delightful book tells the ancient story of how and why a boat was built for Cheops and buried in a pit on the river side of the Great Pyramid. The author and illustrator, David Weitzman, uses the flat 2-dimensional style of ancient Egyptian wall paintings to show/explain why boats were so important to the ancient Egyptians and to show the steps which were taken to build and bury two boats for Pharaoh Cheops. The twist is that the boats, after being designed and built by an ancient shipwright, were disassembled and the pieces placed in an orderly layered arrangement in the pits.

To tell the story of their discovery and re-assembly, Weitzman switches to a more modern 3-dimensional representational style. The story of the painstaking research that went into re-assembling the boat is as fascinating as the story of their original construction. It was a 3-dimensional jigsaw puzzle with 1,200+ pieces, and no pictures or instructions. Before the Egyptian archeologist, Ahmed Youssef Moustafa, chief of the Restoration Department of the Egyptian Antiquities Service was satisfied, the boat had been put together and taken apart five times. Each time, the team of archeologists learned something new. To solve several particularly difficult problems, Ahmed went to modern Egyptian boat-makers on the banks of the Nile and served as an apprentice, asking questions about the details of the techniques they used. It turns out that many things have stayed the same for over 4,000 years.

This book is a masterpiece. Although the publisher says that the target audience is children ages 9-12, my estimate is that students up through middle school will find the book quite interesting.

The book carries an endorsement by David Macaulay (and makes a great companion to his book, Pyramid):

Pharaoh’s Boat is an immensely gratifying book as skillfully crafted and assembled as its subject. In this beautifully written and illustrated account, David Weitzman weaves past and present into a truly satisfying story of technology and discovery, scholarship and craft. While much of the art is done in the familiarly flat Egyptian style, the journey on which it take us is absolutely four dimensional.”

Pharaoh’s Boat is a hardback, 32 pages. It is available directly from Greenleaf Press for $18.00 by clicking on any of the links in this review.

– Rob Shearer, Publisher

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The end of the Roman Republic was signaled by the transformation of political disputes into criminal prosecutions.

The Romans had always dabbled with a dangerous brew of political trials and private prosecutors. There were no public prosecutors, so even criminal charges had to be brought by a citizen. From time to time, Senators and prominent Roman figures would launch an attack via a criminal charge – but though the motives might have been political, the substance of the charges usually rested on a ciminal act which violated the Roman legal standards.

Ominous things began happening in the 2nd century BC. The great wealth acquired by the Republic during its expansion around the Mediterranean aroused great passions, rivalries, and jealousy. Triumphant generals became wealthy men. Wealthy men became generals commanding great armies. The armies of the Senate and People of Rome became the army of Marius or the army of Sulla. And, in the next generation, the army of Pompey or the army of Julius Caesar.

At the same time, political rivals sought not just to achieve political victory over their rivals, they began to seek their rivals destruction. When they began to seek the criminal conviction of their political rivals over policy differences the end of the Republic was at hand.

Julius Caesar

Case in point. Julius Caesar had immunity from criminal prosecution so long as he was the commander of the army of the Roman Republic in Gaul. But once he surrendered that command, he could be charged and tried as a criminal in the Roman courts. This is what his political rivals threatened to do.

Facing the threat of criminal prosecution, there was little to deter Caesar from leading his army south from Gaul and using it to seize power in Rome. His rivals demanded that he surrender his command. He knew that if he did, he would likely be destroyed. He justified his march on Rome as an act of self-defense.

If the leaders of one political party threaten to prosecute the leaders of a rival political party as criminals, once they acquire control of the government, they create a powerful incentive for the other party to fight, by fair means or foul, to retain power.

This is not a happy development in our political life.

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When Cyndy started homeschooling our children in 1985, we talked (a lot) about what we wanted to teach them, and how. For the first few years, the basics of Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic were fairly obvious and straightforward – Cyndy had taken several education methods courses and already understood the phonics vs. whole-word controversies.

It took us a while to settle on an overall scope and a method for teaching history.

After several disappointing experiences with textbooks, Cyndy discovered that our children loved biographies (surprise!), and that textbooks were useful only as references to be consulted briefly for overview.

As we talked and thought about that, we were strongly persuaded that teaching history chronologically was the simplest, most direct, most effective way to cover history for our children. I had spent two years in college in a chronological humanities program, based almost entirely on original source readings (at Davidson College). My grad school experience was a delight when I discovered that Stanford offered a joint degree in History and Humanities. I joined a two-year seminar with graduate students from a variety of departments as we went through a two-year chronological humanities program, based almost entirely on original source readings.

As we started to speak to other homeschool support groups and at convention seminars, one of the most frequent first questions was, “Where do I start?”

Our answer was always the same: with the Bible and the history of Israel.

About a third of the books of the Old Testament are grouped together as “Historical” books (12 out of 39). In addition, over half the Pentateuch is devoted to the history of the Patriarchs and the origins of Israel. And all of the prophetic books contain some historical narrative, with over half of Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Daniel being devoted to history.

It is an understatement to proclaim that History is an important part of the Old Testament.

It is important that our children know the history of Israel. The best way to teach them the history of Israel is to read the Bible to them.

The Old Testament is neither too hard, nor is it too difficult for children to understand. Just because they don’t understand every detail (or the implications of every event) does not mean that there is not immense value in reading the stories of the Old Testament to them.

We have always begun our study of history with our children by reading the Bible to them and studying the history of Israel.

Parents often ask us, what reference books or resource material do you use to teach the Bible to children. We have always answered, “The best resource for teaching the Bible to children, is the Bible.” All of the books ABOUT the Bible are less important than the Bible itself.

It is the Bible that Moses is describing when he tells parents in Deuteronomy 6:6 & 7:

6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.

7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.

For years, we encouraged parents to read the Bible to their children, and for years parents kept asking us for a study guide that would help them teach the Bible to children. Finally, in 1994, AFTER we had written study guides for Egypt, Greece, Rome & the Middle Ages we wrote The Greenleaf Guide to Old Testament History.

I’ll repeat the assertion from the title of this post. This is a book you don’t need to buy. The important book is one you already have, your Bible. But, if you have decided to teach the history of Israel to your children AND to use the Bible as your text, you may find that The Greenleaf Guide to Old Testament History will be helpful to you.

It is NOT a workbook for students. It is a guide for parents and teachers. It organizes the historical books of the Old Testament into 180 daily readings (the length of one school year). The readings average one, sometimes two chapters a day. The basic pattern is to read the chapter from the Bible to your children. Then ask them to tell you the story in their own words. Then, we include some discussion questions that will help you to profitably discuss the chapter. If this sounds a bit like the Charlotte Mason principles of narration – that’s what we were aiming for!

I’ve uploaded the Table of Contents and the first four lessons in a sample .pdf.

And I’ll repeat, one more time, the title of this post: This is a book you don’t need to buy. The most important book you can teach to your children is the Bible.

If The Greenleaf Guide to Old Testament History has helped and encouraged families over the years to teach the Bible to their children, then it’s probably the most important book that Cyndy and I have done.

You can order it (if you must!) directly from Greenleaf Press for $12.95.

– Rob Shearer, Publisher
Greenleaf Press

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Just published this week – three new reference works for children on Egypt, Greece, & Rome.

Each is built around a clever premise, very well executed. These three full-color glossy paperbacks are great introductions for kids in elementary and middle school to three of great ancient civilizations. The stories are factual (they’re not imitating the grocery store tabloids), but they are spiced up with punchy headlines. This is not just a gimmick. It helps communicate to students that the history book facts were news when they happened – and often unexpected or surprising or sometimes downright shocking!

The Egyptian News
by Scott Steedman

Sample headlines:

Exclusive: Boy King Murdered?
Sudden Death of Tutankhamen Stuns Nation

Crazy King Causes Chaos
Egypt’s priests rejoiced at the death of Amenhotep IV in 1336 B.C. During his 16 years as pharaoh, he had made their lives miserable – and had turned our religion upside down!

There are also feature stories on such topics as “The Longest Boat in Our Country,” an exclusive interview with the royal mummy maker and (Egyptian) advice on marriage, pets, and house-hunting.

32 pages, paperback, $7.99 from Greenleaf Press

The Greek News
by Anton Powell & Philip Steele

Sample headlines:

Greece in Peril!
Xerxes leads Persian Invasion

Sparta Attacks!
Civil War Rages On. . .

Alexander Wins!

The news stories are following by feature pages on trade, sports, theater, housing, health, food, fashion, etc.

32 pages, paperback, $7.99 from Greenleaf Press

The Roman News
by Andrew Langley & Philip De Souza

Sample headlines:

Hannibal Invades!

Caesar Stabbed!
Rome in Turmoil after Brutal Murder!

City Destroyed! (on the destruction on Pompeii)

Colosseum Opens

There’s a very interesting 2-page spread exploring the topic of “Empire or Republic?” The Advertisements, fashion pages, food pages, and women’s pages give a wealth of interesting details.

32 pages, paperback, $7.99 from Greenleaf Press

In addition to being light-hearted and entertaining, there are refreshing details common to all three books. They all use BC/AD dating and explain that BC = before the birth of Christ and AD is after the birth of Christ. They’re also modest about the Egyptian dates with a note that states “As the events in this book took place so long ago, historians cannot be sure of the exact dates. You may find that the dates we have given vary a little from those found in other sources.”

Each of these can be ordered directly from Greenleaf Press by clicking on the book cover or on the underlined links.

– Rob Shearer, Publisher

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Lives of the Ancient Egyptians: Pharaohs, Queens, Courtiers and Commoners
by Toby Wilkinson (Thames & Hudson, 2007)

100 biographies – Many Pharaohs, but there are others, including Imhotep the Architect; Metjen, Pharaoh’s servant; Perniankhu, court dwarf; Hemira, priestess from the Delta; Senenmut, Hatshetsup’s Architect.

Of course Hatshepsut, Akhenaten, and Tut get their own chapters as do a host of other, more obscure rulers. I’m looking forward to it. And one day, I’m going to write a Famous men of Egypt for Greenleaf to publish.
The Montefeltro Conspiracy: A Renaissance Mystery Decoded
by Marcello Simonetta

An Italian Ph.D. student at Yale (himself a descendant of one of the Renaissance Chancellors of Milan) uncovers evidence of the involvement of the Duke of Urbino in the plot to murder the Medici carried out (with the blessing of the Pope) in 1478.

Murder, mystery, conspiracy, coded letters, Renaissance history – what’s not to like?

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