This was the R&D "top ten list" posted back in September:
By necessity (due to lack of time and the enormity of the task) I have been "cherry picking" the Christian Era this year, and it has been surprisingly effective (although not particularly systematic).
I'm sure that we would continue to gain more insight by studying additional Shakespeare plays. For example, the little known play, "Two Noble Kinsmen", complements Midsummer Night's Dream in its emphasis on Elizabethan England's identification with ancient Athens.
Timon of Athens is also an obscure Shakespeare play that includes Athens in the very title.
Shakespeare's Troilas and Cressida deals with the question of whether or not Queen Elizabeth (a kind of female Christos/Chrestos) would remain faithful to the Empire (Troy/Ilias standing in for the Holy Roman Empire), or reassert her independence.
Shakespeare's King Lear is a postmortem assessment of Elizabeth's reign.
Another possible direction is Spain in the age of the caliphs. There have been a slew of books on the subject. I saw yet another brand new one in the bookstore this week:
The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization
by Jonathan Lyons
I didn't buy that one (yet), but have several others like it:
1) A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain, by Chris Lowney
2) Moorish Spain, by Richard Fletcher
3) Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, by Maria Rosa Menocal
4) Lost History: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers, and Artists, by Michael Hamilton Morgan
The Umayyad Dynasty of Spain was a break-away kingdom (after the Fall of Umayyad Damascus to the Abassids), and so there are similarities with Elizabeth's England (which occurred much later and after Constantinople fell to the Ottomans).
Certainly the present crisis in the Middle East makes a study of Islam's origins and relationship with contemporary Christian kingdoms and rulers much more of interest (and perhaps needed). However, there isn't much interest in genuine explanations, so what's the point? To that point, who wants to consider that vizier Hasdai ibn Shaprut was a new Mordecai (i.e. another royal figure dressed in Jewish clothing) and appointed for the purpose of uniting world-wide Jewry in support of Umayyad prosperity? The person of Maimonides is another such "court Jew" of Moorish Spain. He is the subject of a new biography by Joel Kraemer, which I purchased and hope to study (eventually!).
Finally, there is still the Persia study to conclude. The patterning of the Herodian dynasty after the earlier Macedonian one has been demonstrated, but there are still a few details left to consider. For example, one of the most potent figures of Macedonian history was Antigonus Monophthalmos (Antigonus-the-One-Eyed). The name Phthalmos is a play on Ptolemy. He like Ptolemy Soter was of the Levi ("third son") line descending from the Macedonian figure Ptolemy of Alorus. His dangerous precedent was neutralized within the Herodian family by giving the role to the Herodian prince voted least likely to succeed, the prodigal son Agrippa, who was of the Herodian Levi line descending from Herod the Great through his "third son" Aristobulus!
© Charles N. Pope, US Library of Congress. All rights reserved.