The Navigating History Project has produced its first series of DVDs, selecting Egypt as their topic. Starting from a Christian worldview perspective, the creators of this series set out to portray the influence of ideas in this fascinating investigation of Egyptian culture. Four young men—David Noor, Steven Bowman, Chris Harper, and Isaac Botkin—take a journey to Egypt to investigate both present-day culture and religion and historical sites and artifacts.
However, they carry along with them their own Reformed Protestant and limited-government beliefs and incorporate them, sometimes with a fairly heavy hand. They are up front about this from the very beginning. In the first segment, they discuss the project and their plans.
On a more historical note, they reject conventional Egyptian dating in favor of a biblically-based timeline. David Noor explains flaws in the Egyptian chronology and the more logical alignment with a biblical timeline. They revisit the chronology problems in some of the segments. Note that the creators of this series hold to a young-earth and the biblical timeline laid out by James Ussher in the 1600s. The beautifully-illustrated companion timeline for this series is very helpful for understanding as the different Pharaohs and events are discussed. The timeline includes both biblical and other historical events so that the context of parallel events is visible.
While in the first segment it seems to me that there’s a bit too much “behind the scenes” information about cameras, computers, batteries, and solutions for potential technological problems, the next four segments are loaded with intriguing and thought-provoking content.
The series comes as a packaged set with three DVDs. On the DVDs are six, half-hour segments plus an additional 24 short “featurettes” that I will describe later.
While the first segment sets the stage, the following segments narrow down to specific topics: the Pyramids, Islam, Christianity, and Karnak (Luxor).
The Pyramids segment addresses the technology as well as the religious and cultural beliefs the pyramids signify. The segment on Islam helps us understand how Islam thoroughly transforms a culture, and it also reveals the stranglehold that Islam now has over the Egyptian population. The next segment on Christianity discusses the fact that Egypt was one of the earliest Christian countries, and remained so until the rise of Islam.
Egypt’s Christian heritage—largely as Coptic Christianity—seems to have been lost through the pressures of heretical teachings as well as the apathy of Christians themselves. The Christianity segment advances arguable positions such as the idea that the monastic movement in Egypt was a desertion of Christian responsibility, that a separate clergy with apostolic succession is not biblical, and, likewise, that a celibate clergy is not biblical. It implies that Egyptian Christianity as expressed in the Coptic Church is only ritualistic. This segment presents a heavily Protestant perspective of the Coptic Church that assumes that the Coptic Church has abandoned true Christianity, devalued the Word of God and elevated tradition in its place. Whatever your thoughts in this regard, the segment presents serious ideas that are well worth considering and discussing.
The segment on Karnak is extremely fascinating. It chronicles the group’s discovery of a huge panel of hieroglyphics recording King Thutmose III’s conquest of a neighboring country and the booty he captured, including drawings of what are most likely the great bronze altar, shields, basins and other furnishings of Solomon’s temple. Even the recorded counts of the articles (i.e., the number of basins and shields captured) closely matches the biblical record of how many were made. Detail of this panel can be viewed in the “Shishak Panorama” on the third DVD.
The Karnak segment is helpful for understanding the structure of ancient Egyptian civilization and the relative status of subjects to their Pharaohs. This helps us understand Egyptian history, but the commentators also claim that it explains why Egyptians have readily accepted totalitarian views and slavery. This segment is partly a critique of statism, not just in Egypt, but in any country where people look to the State to have their needs met. In this segment, the commentators also present their hypothesis that the complexity of hieroglyphics was an intentional way of enforcing illiteracy. This seems to me the same error that modern Protestants make in relation to the accessibility of the Bible during the Middle Ages. In both cases, they presume that without external limits from church or government, literacy would otherwise be easily accessible. But in both medieval western civilization as well as ancient Egypt, the reality was that writing materials and written works were extremely rare and costly, and few people had the leisure time to pursue reading and writing skills.
The sixth segment, “Conclusions,” follows our adventurers back to Cairo then to London where they sum up the series with their observations and conclusions. The general consensus is that the rise of Islam in Egypt as well as in England and other countries does not bode well for civilization, but there is hope if Christians will be faithful to the gospel and will stand firmly and visibly in the public square.
I have to mention that the quality of the videography is excellent. Also, the hauntingly-beautiful musical soundtrack for this series was created by Benjamin Botkin, and it deserves special mention since it greatly enhances the sense of “being there.”
Most of the featurettes I mentioned early are on the third DVD where you will find short clips where the commentators discuss among themselves topics such as the “evil eye,” Islamic holidays, Egyptian gods, and other topics. David Noor, who is very knowledgeable about the culture, has lots of interesting tidbits to share. There are also extras on the first two DVDs, and I would particularly recommend that you watch the commentary segment on the first DVD that offers more biographical information about some of the people interviewed in the series and the work they are doing.
I found this series so interesting that I watched the entire set in two days. While I don’t agree with all of their positions, I admire the courage and conviction it took to create this series. I think that even those who might disagree with some of the ideas will find the series informative. I highly recommend using points of disagreement for further research and discussion.
A 220-page book, Navigating the Worldviews of Egypt, was written both as a companion to the DVDs and as a stand-alone product. The book is heavily illustrated in full-color—it would make a great “coffee table book.” But it’s not just beautiful to look at. It explores the topics covered on the DVDs in much greater depth. For example, one chapter on “The Importance of Culture” expands on the underlying theme of the entire project, that culture is the external expression of religious beliefs. Another chapter compares Shariah law with biblical law and the Quran with the Bible. The DVDs were filmed in 2010 shortly before the Egyptian riots and overthrow of President Mubarak, but the book adds a chapter on those events that serves to reinforce the message of the entire series. There are also discussion questions for each topic and suggestions for further reading. Discussion questions serve to reinforce rather than challenge the presuppositions of the course. For example, among the questions are, “Why would the building of the pyramids not have taken place in a free-market economy?” (p.35) and “What steps has America been taking to trade away her heritage of freedom for a slave-system?” (p. 117). I would encourage you to pursue other questions regarding theological issues raised in the course such as the nature of priesthood, the role of the laity in the church, and hierarchical church organization, as well as politically-oriented issues such as the role of government, spheres of authority, and government control of religion.
You can purchase the DVD series by itself or you can buy the Navigating History: Egypt bundle that includes the DVD set, the timeline and the book.
I’ll be looking forward to the next Navigating History adventure!