As a good church of Christ girl, I faithfully attended Sunday morning Bible class, Sunday morning worship, Sunday evening worship, and Wednesday evening Bible class. Over the years, we studied Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Israel as a unified kingdom, and Israel as a divided kingdom. Rather skipping over the prophets, we forged ahead to the New Testament, gave the Gospels a passing glance, undertook several iterations of Acts, and then gave particularly serious attention to the Roman and Corinthian letters.
I therefore thought I knew about the Bible.
I also thought I knew about history. I took International Baccalaureate history classes, Advanced Placement history classes, and history classes at university (in spite of the fact that it was an engineering school). And I was a good student — attentively taking notes, never skipping class, reading every assignment, and writing every paper.
Then, I started to homeschool my children.
Our wall of famous historical figures, beginning with Egyptian Pharaohs about 3000 BC and ending with Roman Emperor Constantine about AD 300.
This year in our curriculum, we studied ancient history, from the first recorded accounts in Mesopotamia, to the fall of Rome. This means our studies covered the entire time period of the Bible, including both testaments.
And I discovered: I did not know as much as I thought I knew.
I had studied history, and I had studied the Bible, but I had never integrated the two. I had never placed Bible stories in the context of world history. I never even thought about the surrounding cultures, much less the geographic landscape of the Biblical stories. We studied those ancient cultures this year, and I started putting Bible history into a world history grid for the first time ever.
I’m pretty sure I was more excited than my children.
I gained even more respect for Abraham’s faith when I studied a map of the area, with his original home Ur at the bottom of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, his intermediate home Haran somewhere north of there (but still likely close to the rivers), and Canaan all the way across the desert to the west. I wondered if I could have obeyed God like Abraham, who left behind the security of that fertile river valley to become a desert nomad?
I learned that those dreaded Canaanites were what history textbooks call “Phoenicians,” the famous sailors and creators of an alphabet similar to our own. I learned that those Phoenicians eventually sailed to North Africa and settled as Carthaginians, who later fought the Romans in the Punic Wars. (What? Canaanites fighting Romans? Yes. Yes, indeed.)
I grasped how truly fearsome those ancient Assyrians were, both to the Israelites, and to all the ancient people groups. I placed the violent Assyrians in the context of the Bible stories I knew – Assyrians who captured and intermarried with the northern kingdom of Israel, and whose King Sennacherib later threatened the southern capital, Jerusalem.
I witnessed the grandeur of the Babylonian empire, which eventually conquered those wretched Assyrians. I learned about Nebuchadnezzar and his wondrous Hanging Gardens – gardens he had built for his wife, a woman living in flat Babylon (modern-day Iraq) who missed the hills and mountains of her Persian home (modern-day Iran). That led me to remember the Babylonian capture of the southern kingdom of Judah, and we re-read the book of Daniel.
We studied the Persians, whose leader Cyrus conquered Babylon at the end of the reign of Belshazzar, the doomed king in Daniel’s mene mene tekel parsin story. And I suddenly had a historical place for the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
Then to top it all off, we studied Alexander the Great, the Macedonian-Greek conqueror-of-all-conquerors. Sitting on the couch reading to the children one day, I had this epiphany: “I understand Daniel’s prophecy!” In my head I traced through the timeline of the Middle Eastern rulers of antiquity, beginning with the Assyrians, and moving on to the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans – that great empire which ushered in the birth of Christ, and which eventually grew so large it crumbled. I remembered Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the successive kingdoms of gold, silver, bronze, iron, and iron mixed with clay, and finally the rock (Christ) that was stronger than all of them. I had been taught about that prophecy in relation to ancient empires, but as we worked our way through our home school curriculum, favorite Bible stories and world history continued to be woven together.
All these data points converged in my head, and I felt giddy discovering these things “on my own” for the first time. Perhaps I should have learned this stuff before, but the truth is, I hadn’t. I think I learned more from our elementary school history curriculum* than I did from all those years studying history in high school and college — and I know I’ve only just begun to learn Bible history.
To have a fresh understanding of God’s people throughout the ages was such a gift. I would even go so far as to say Bible history changed my life. That may sound cliché, I know, but it is the true story of this past year.
*We use a combination of Sonlight and Veritas Press curriculums.