Do Great Ruins Imply a Great Civilization?

399 The Palace Of The Parliament Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free  Images - iStock

The Palace of Parliament, Bucharest

Dr. Rodney Stark, professor of the sociology of religion at Baylor University, has an intriguing take on ancient ruins. I interviewed him, some years ago.

Dr. Stark says we who study archaeology and history have always placed way too much emphasis on monumental structures like pyramids, ziggurats, great walls, etc. He even suggests that since these monuments consumed so much wealth and labor, we may be justified in thinking “the grander the buildings, the more wretched the population.”

Sometimes these great ruins are all that’s left. After a certain amount of time goes by, the remains of ordinary lives perish. So we are left to wonder about those lives. How well did they eat? How comfortable and useful were their clothes? What was it like inside their homes? Remains that point to answers to those questions are fragile and rare.

Imagine the world two or three thousand years from now, with archaeologists judging the health and vigor of the world’s nations by their architectural remains. What would they think of the world’s grandest public building, the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest, Rumania? Surely that would survive. We know Rumania as an impoverished state with lots of unsolved problems. But if all that was left was the ruins of the Palace, what would historians think? Wouldn’t they conclude that Rumania was a world leader?

And think of all those opulent presidential palaces in Africa. The people are starving, but the tyrant lives la vida loca in his palace. If all that survived was the ruins of those palaces, might we not jump to all sorts of wildly inaccurate conclusions about the people who built them? Like, “Wow! This must’ve been a really rich and powerful country!” Not.

Judge not by appearances, the Bible warns us. That goes for archaeologists, too.

7 comments on “Do Great Ruins Imply a Great Civilization?

  1. A truly thought-provoking observation.

    Wish I could write more, but I still have many rounds on the hamster wheel to run. I’m exhausted. I was so tired during my third stop on my errand run this morning that I thought I was going to faint in the supermarket. But I made it home, fed the beast (Iggy), washed the veggies, cut up meat for the freezer, finally got some lunch for myself, and then sat down on the couch to rest and woke up an hour and a half later. Now I’ve fallen behind in my chores again. Grrr. 😬

  2. Nothing of the present world will remain that far in the future. The Scripture tells us that this world will be completely done over by the Lord long before that.

  3. A good thoughtful question and interesting thought pondering questions and musings. Gives me another thing to think about and ponder.

  4. I’m sure that the people that actually built the pyramids didn’t have great lives. There were probably many people that died during such projects, and the laborers were likely worked to death … literally. I doubt that it was any better when the ziggurats of Central America or the Great Wall of China went up.

    On a more modest level, municipalities and county governments seem to build monuments to their elected officials at the expense of taxpayers, without so much as a thought to the burden placed upon working people. Even private enterprise is known to do something similar; building huge headquarters structures, while freezing wages of their employees, as a cost control measure.

    Eccl 8:9
    “All this I have seen, and have applied my mind to every deed that has been done under the sun at a time when one person has exercised authority over another person to his detriment.”

    1. The county where I lived in Colorado built a “Government Center” that everyone celled the Taj Mahal. It was HUGE, and very opulent. The area was prosperous, so it made a degree of sense, but it would have made much more sense to have built a building adequate to the task, but less opulent.

      I’ve worked for governments, from local/municipal to the US Federal and the common thread I observed was inefficiency. I’m in the private sector now, and it’s better.

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