Story Of The Atom Bomb

Brighter Than A Thousand Suns, by Robert Jungk (Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1958, 360 pp., $5), is reviewed by Eugene L. Madeira, Professor of History, Interamerican Biblical Seminary, Medellin, Colombia, South America.

For the Christian reader of this book, there are three outstanding impressions which can easily be overlooked in dealing with the story of the atom bomb. They are: (1) the intensely human elements in the story of the lives of the men whose research, findings, and failures have led to the introduction of our world to the Atomic Age, (2) the moral stature and great trials of the atomic physicists both within and without Germany during (and before) World War II, and (3) the overwhelming evidence of the hand of God in the lives of men and nations in the development of the atom bomb; or God’s direction that the free nations should develop it before other states.

For the average layman and pastor, atomic science may appear to be a world so remote and complicated that it makes intelligent conversation on the subject difficult, if not impossible. For those to whom this statement may apply, atomic scientists may appear as men who are otherworldly, semigods, men whose intelligence and dedication to science make them appear as above humanity. With this may go the feeling that they are impersonal, or even amoral, devoted only to science and not to God.

However, this book should dispel such thoughts, for it vividly and excitingly portrays the human (and not the scientific) side of the story behind the development of the atom bomb. We find that atomic scientists are men with joys and weaknesses, men who suffer temptations and failures, and who, with moral conscience, moral stamina, and great perseverance, have not only dedication to science, but dedication to men and God.

Jungk reveals what is commonly unknown in the United States, namely, that a German atomic scientist, by passive resistance, denied Hitler and the Third Reich the atom bomb by working on practical applications of atomic energy. He describes the personal danger to which scientists exposed themselves through secretly covenanting together, in heart to heart understanding, that Hitler should never have the ultimate weapon he so desperately needed. But more thrilling than this account of moral courage are the insights Robert Jungk gives of God’s role in history in preventing the totalitarian states (Germany and Russia) from getting atomic weapons first and achieving world-wide victory. He describes how for seven years physicists labored erroneously, up a blind alley, not realizing that they had already split the atom with neutrons in Paris, Cambridge, Rome, Zurich, and Berlin in 1932. He tells how scientists were not aware that nuclear fission had been accomplished:

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From 1932 until the end of 1938 they simply refused to believe what their instruments told them, and therefore the statesmen in their turn fortunately did not learn the nature of the extraordinarily powerful weapon that lay within their reach. It is interesting to speculate what the consequences would have been if the chain reaction in uranium had been correctly interpreted [italics my own] in Rome, in 1934, when it probably took place for the first time. Would Mussolini and Hitler then have been the first to develop an atom bomb? Would the atomic-armaments race have begun before the Second World War? Would that war, we may wonder, have eventually been fought with atomic weapons on both sides? (pp. 51–2).

Jungk then quotes from the lips of an atomic scientist the fact which Christians recognize to be basic for such fateful considerations in the world’s history.

The physicist Emilio Serge had taken part in those successful but wrongly interpreted [italics my own] experiments in the Italian capital. He later made an attempt to answer such questions, which he, like many other specialists in atomic research, had often asked himself. Two decades afterwards, at the funeral of his teacher Enrico Fermi, he said: “God, for His own inscrutable reasons, made everyone blind at that time to the phenomenon of nuclear fission” (p. 52).

Jungk does not stop there. He relates further evidence to show that God denied Russia the atom bomb. Fritz Houterman was a German nuclear physicist who emigrated to Russia on Hitler’s accession to power. He was not received, as were foreign scientists at the end of World War II, with large inducements to stay and use his knowledge for the benefit of science in the Soviet Union. He was caught in the vortex of espionage psychosis that affected Soviet Russia in 1937. He was beaten up and tortured for as long as 72 hours on end, and was finally released and expelled from the country after confessing and cleverly fabricating elaborate (but false) plans to pass on armament secrets to the Germans. Jungk states:

In 1937 he … actually lectured on neutron absorption to the Soviet Academy of Sciences. If the Communist secret police had not just then carried him off in the midst of his studies, it is quite possible that atomic fission and chain reaction would have been first discovered in Soviet Russia (p. 94).
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For the Christian, these “ifs” can only be explained by God’s active role in history.

The book then relates the long moral struggle that scientists had in bringing themselves and the free world to work on the development of the atom bomb as a safeguard and a preventive against totalitarian monopoly of the ultimate weapon. It also relates the self-condemnation many of these same men felt when it was used against the defeated and prostrate Japanese in the last month of the Second World War.


Fertility Of Thought

The World of the Old Testament, by Cyrus H. Gordon (Doubleday, 1958, 312 pp., $3.95), is reviewed by Edward J. Young, Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary.

The author of this work, Dr. Cyrus H. Gordon, is one of the most stimulating and capable teachers of ancient Near Eastern culture working in the field today. There are few who can match his ability to point out the relevance of all fields of Near Eastern study to the Bible. Recently he has distinguished himself by his decipherment of some clay tablets which were found at Hagia Triada in the island of Crete. These were economic documents, written in a script which scholars designate Linear A. Dr. Gordon has shown that this script is a Minoan transliteration of cuneiform Accadian, and that these tablets make it clear that there was a Near Eastern background to the Mycenaean Greek civilization.

The present work is a revision of the author’s earlier Introduction to Old Testament Times (1953), and contains a great deal of new material, important for every serious student of the Old Testament and of the ancient Near East.

There is much in this volume that can be discussed. Perhaps of particular interest is the chapter, “Homer and the Ancient East.” The author advances the thesis that to an appreciable extent the origins of Greek culture lie in the Near East. This is a theme that has not received the attention that it deserves, and Dr. Gordon has given us fascinating details, sufficient enough to convince anyone interested in the Near East that it is time to take out Homer and begin studying the poet in a new light.

There are a number of points in the author’s discussion which the reviewer is unable to follow. For example, I cannot agree that Daniel made a faux pas in designating Belshazzar king (p. 290). Considering the varied uses of the word “king” in ancient times, the fact that the “kingship” had been entrusted by Nabonidus to Belshazzar, together with the purpose and nature of the book of Daniel, I do not see how Daniel could have designated Belshazzar as anything other than king.

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There is, however, something more basic wherein I must part company with the author, and that is with respect to his fundamental approach. He states his intention “to go where the sources lead without fabricating or adhering to hypotheses” (p. 32). Such an approach, however, is itself loaded with hypotheses. One can see and understand the sources only in the light of the presuppositions (consciously or unconsciously adopted) with which one meets them. One who approaches the Old Testament as a source and then follows that source where it leads him will arrive at the conclusion that it is a revelation of the one living and true God. Dr. Gordon treats it, however, as though it were simply an account of what the ancient Hebrews thought and believed (cf. pp. 33 ff, for example). Until one approaches the source with true theistic presuppositions, he will not accept the Old Testament as special revelation from God.

Although we cannot share the fundamental presuppositions which underlie this work, we would pay tribute to the author for giving us one of the most candid and useful handbooks on the Near Eastern background of the Old Testament. To have included so much helpful material in so short and attractive a compass is a genuine achievement.


Archaeological Finds

Rivers in the Desert, by Nelson Glueck (Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1959, 302 pp., $6.50), is reviewed by William Sanford LaSor, Professor of Old Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary.

Dr. Nelson Glueck has previously given us a beautiful book, The River Jordan, and three scholarly volumes on his explorations in Transjordan which he made before that area was closed to Jews. In the present volume he has combined his abilities to give us a fascinating book, refreshingly written, and packed with the results of his scholarly investigations in the Negev and the borders of Sinai. Glueck is always reverent in his attitude toward the Bible, and he has constantly used it as the basis for his explorations, so convinced is he that it is true. But one sentence is so startling that I read it again to be certain that my eyes did not deceive me: “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference” (p. 31).

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The reader may therefore be at a loss to explain some of the author’s further observations, for Glueck does not hesitate in accepting the results of critical scholarship, occasionally finds the interpolations of some theologically minded editor, or deals with the biblical text in ways that evangelicals will not readily accept. We must understand that Glueck distinguishes between the theological elements and matters of objective fact. The Bible, he reminds us, “is primarily a theological document, which can never be ‘proved,’ because it is based on belief in God, whose Being can be scientifically suggested but never scientifically demonstrated” (pp. 30–31). Perhaps we need to be reminded that if mere historical accuracy is the test of inspiration, then a Bell telephone directory is the most inspired book in our possession!

The Negev, Glueck discovered, was inhabited during four periods of history: during the late Mesolithic and Chalcolithic eras (c. 8000–3000 B.C.), the Abrahamic period (21st to 19th centuries), the Kingdom periods (10th to 6th centuries), and the Nabatean-Roman and Byzantine periods (2nd century B.C. to 7th century A.D.) To the oldest, Glueck relates the Kenites (Moses’ father-in-law was a Kenite), the discovery of metallurgy (Tubal-Cain might be called Tubal the Kenite, or Tubal Smith), and associated cultural developments. He rejects, and rightly so, the notion that climate has undergone a major change in the past several millennia, and shows that the concentrations of population and development of culture in the Negev depended solely upon international conditions that would allow and encourage the building and maintenance of water collecting devices and careful use of the soil, including the application of dry farming and antierosion measures.

Glueck’s discoveries, both in the Negev and in Transjordan, make it almost impossible to date Abraham much outside of the 2000–1800 B.C. period. Likewise, his findings tend to support the low date (1290 B.C.) for the Exodus. I am unable to accept his suggestion that the Israelites followed the report of Joshua and Caleb, against the majority, and attempted foolishly to penetrate Canaan at once, and that the biblical account has been colored by “later theologically oriented historians” (pp. 111 ff.)

The most fascinating part of the book to me was the discussion of the Nabatean and Byzantine settlements in the Negev: this is a little-known area of history to most of us. And I must remark on the facility with which Glueck draws on all parts of the Bible for verses—many of which I had never associated with the Negev—to illuminate his discoveries. Dr. Glueck is a man who knows and loves his Bible, who knows the Negev as probably no other man alive, and who knows how to relate the two in a delightful way.

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Devotional Study

Teach Me to Pray, by James DeForest Murch (Standard Publishing Foundation, Cincinnati, 1958, 186 pp., $2.50), is reviewed by Van T. Crawford, La Grange Methodist Church, North Carolina.

It is always refreshing to discover a book that radiates a spirit of warmhearted, personal interest, convincing its readers that it was forged upon the anvil of experience. Such a book is Dr. Murch’s study of prayer. Beginning with the premise, “The true doctrine of prayer is to be found in the Holy Scriptures … the only source book on the subject which we can trust implicitly,” the author shows prayer to be the “heavenly communication system, the love device by which God poured out his heart to man and man poured out his heart to God.” Even after the image of God in man was marred through disobedience, “the line of communication between God and man had not been completely broken—there was prayer!”

The chapter on Prayer sets forth its origin and vital importance, and defines it in the words of Montgomery: “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire.” Chapters concerning the need and kinds of prayer provide opportunity for devotional study that will yield large rewards to the diligent student. The chapter on Prelude to Prayer deals with the law of prayer, time and place for prayer, one’s attitude, quietness, full surrender, touch with God, and faith and rejoicing. A brief but very helpful exposition of the model prayer is given, and many helpful illustrations are drawn from God’s prayer heroes, including our Lord’s own prayer life. Hindrances to effective prayer are faithfully portrayed. Growth through prayer is encouragingly dealt with, and the book concludes with a beautiful testimony to the blessings of prayer.


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