Over at Books and Culture, Timothy Larsen has an entertaining review of David Gange’s Dialogues with the Dead: Egyptology in British Culture and Religion, 1822–1922.
And what the Victorians wanted to know was what those who had dwelt beside the Nile long ago had to say about the Bible. A lazy assumption of secularization has infused accounts of modern history, making people imagine that a religious focus was decreasing as the 19th century progressed. Like the plagues of Egypt, however, it actually intensified at the end. Thus the Egyptology of the 1880s and 1890s was significantly more preoccupied with scriptural connections than was that of mid-century.
Larsen captures many fascinating details from the book, including these:
Even the most gifted scholars were so immersed in the scriptures that they often saw the Bible everywhere they looked. There was a serious theory that the Great Sphinx at Giza was a monument to Noah. It was decided that the pharaoh Akhenaten wrote the original version of Psalm 104. Petrie [an archaeologist] visited an orphanage and his trained eye could not fail to notice that two of the children were Hittites.
Enthusiastic amateurs set off to see the sites in such numbers that Petrie eventually took to excavating in just his pink underpants as a polite hint that he was not currently taking social calls.
There are many kinds of book reviews, but Larsen’s review is a good model of the kind that gives the full flavor of a book.