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Posted March 1, 2009
I rarely bother to write reviews, but the paucity of information available on this book, and the fact that the only previous reviewer gave it five stars, provoked me to make an effort to save others from making the mistake of purchasing it.
As a history, this book fails on two fronts. First, it's written in a manner reminiscent of a high school essay project: uninspired lumps of data presented in succession with very little input or analysis from the author herself. Each chapter treats a different area of the globe and the prominent ritual traditions of its inhabitants, and each is a largely stand-alone laundry list of facts, many of which are details too fine to be apposite in such a short overview of the subject. I.e., once we are informed of a certain culture's reasons for making various types of sacrifice, we are taken on an arcane step-by-step walk through many of the various rites, usually untouched by analysis, drawing of parallels, or any real marks of historical scholarship. This level of detail is painfully out of place here, as it's more than is needed for an overview of the subject, but not enough to really do anything with research-wise. These passages come off like the book itself as a whole: filler material, packed in to make each chapter a certain length, and inflate the resultant sum into something long enough to be called a book.
The other, and far more serious, flaw is the egregious number of errors present. A dry, unimaginative list of facts, though not at the pinnacle of historical scholarship, has its place in the literature -- but due to a cornucopia of misinformation and stupefyingly dense errors that deal a fatal blow to the trustworthiness of the rest its assertions, this book loses any shot it had at even that status. Here are a few of the errors:
- pg. ix: Friederich Nietzsche is said to have been a Lutheran pastor (his father was, and he began education to be, but never became one)
- pg. 48: Minerva is said to have been Zeus's wife and the persecutor of Io (as opposed to Hera. Minerva wasn't even a Greek goddess -- she was the Roman equivalent of Athena, Zeus's daughter)
- pg. 54: The Olympic games are said to have taken place on Mount Olympus (they took place at Olympia, near Elis in the northwest Peloponnese)
- pg. 65: Constantine's ban on pagan activity in the year 353 is said to have been unsuccessful (in 353, Constantine had, in fact, been dead for sixteen years)
- pgs. 137, 142: Quin shihuangdi's underground terracotta army is said to have been 7,000 strong, then, several pages later, 6,000 (which is it?)
Several other failures fall more properly under "misinformation", such as usage of "Jehovah", a transliteration of YHWH long recognized as being incredibly inaccurate, an unscholarly treatment of the beliefs and traditions of the Pentateuch as synonymous with those of ancient Israel from the beginning, a statement that Christianity was adopted throughout the Roman Empire after 313AD, and a very strange en passant mischaracterization of Nietzsche's declaration of God's death.
In summation, Ms. Lewis is not a very well educated historian, is eminently unqualified to write on such a huge, globe- and millenia-spanning topic, and this book is not worth reading, let alone buying. It avoids a one-star rating solely on account of the pictures, which are quite good.
Posted November 13, 2008
Ritual sacrifices really opens the mind to the very different reasons people though out time have given of their time, money, livestock and other resources in honor of the Gods or God as the case may be. It helps the modern westerner to see back in time when the world was alive with Sprits of many kinds, a time when we humans were aware of them in a way we no longer seem to be. The information form an anthropological view is wonderfully presented so the layman can easily understand what is being taught. A wonderful book that should and will stimulate your minds.
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