Autographs, MSS and REAL Historiography Re: Methods in biblical scholarship

Ken Litwak kdlitwak at
Thu Dec 30 02:38:46 EST 1999

   In response to Niels' statements and question "where is this
heading", let me make a couple of comments.
1.  Niels is correct that ancient Hellenistic historiographers did not
write history simply to report it as it actually happened, but had
pedagogical goals.  And?  What does this prove?  It has been a common
place in recent historical research that 19th cent. Rankean historicism
is impossible.  No one can report history exactly as it happened.  All
historical writing is highly selective, ideologically based, and goal
oriented.  How is Thucydides different from modern historical works in
these regards?  None at all.  

      Furthermore, if you look at a relatively recent historical work
which is well-known, Gibbons' The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,
you can see a work written in a very selective way with a very focused
ideological aim, viz., to show that those nasty Christians were bad for
society and they all by themselves caused the ROman empire to collapse. 
Gibbon not only has to be selective but has to significantly spin the
data to get to this.  Or, look at the recent article in the latest issue
of Life on the historical Jesus.  That's not even an attempt to e true
to Rankean principles of history writing.  It is not, in fact, even
historically informed at the most minimal level.  Yet, it is presented
as sound scholarship.  So , to get back to he real issue, no one should
consider condemning the books of the Tanach that are historiography
because they are partial or ideologically based, or selective or
whatever, because they are absolutely identical in these regards to any
historical work I can think of or find in any library anywhere.  Some
have more facts about their topic than others, but they are all
selective, and that selection is based on the writer's ideology and
goals.  Most people would agree that the modern effort to rewrite the
history of this century with no Holocaust in Germany is
ideologically-based.  I think that the Japanese high school book an
exchange student we had used which omitted Japan's attack on pearl
Harbor but made much of the bombing of Hiroshima is selective on
ideological and goal-oriented grounds.  So how does this fit with what
von Ranke wanted?   

    Finally, as for where this is heading, nothing that Niels has said
about Hellenistic historiographers as such is a surprise to me.  There
are, however, two points worth mentioning.  Lucian, in a work whose nam
I can't remember right off, explicitly states that he is going to write
a historical work that is like that of he history writers he condemns,
i.e.., it contains fictional events and speeches, things the writers
made up and which never happened, and especially accounts of Hades. 
Lucian and other historiographers knew the difference quite well between
fact and fiction.  Just because I have an aim and a world view is no
reason to assume that I am incapable of presenting facts about the
past.  It only means those facts will be selective and presented in a
way compatible with my world view and aims.  This holds true for modern
historiography, for Hellenistic historiography, and Israelite
historiography.  I think we can drop the discussion of Hellenistic
historiography because 1 Samuel or 2 Chronicles was not done with
Thucydides' preface in mind.  The author of Judges never heard of
Thucydides.  Instead, Israelite historiography should be studied as its
own form of history writing, just like Tacitus and Seutonius don't
follow the rules of Thucydides a such.  Seutonius, unlike Thucydides,
makes many asides and analyses the events he describes, which is a
fairly unique approach among Hellenistic historiographers.  In any case,
the Former Prophets, unless you force them into  say the 1st century BC,
and written under Hellenistic influence, do not fit into Hellenistic
historiography, so what Cicero says about history is irrelevant to the
Hebrew Bible.  

    That's why I pointed to History/Writing, for a good, short treatment
of Israelite Historiography and a comparison to Hellenistic
historiographers.  I'd like to see you read that book a nd then come
back and we'll talk about Israelite historiography.  Till then there is
really nothing else to say about Hellenistic historiographers that is of
relevance to this discussion.  

    I'd rather go back to issues like, 
1.  If the Hebrew Bible was done in t he Persian period, why does it us
2.  Why does the Hebrew of the TaNaKh use much more primitive Hebrew
forms than the Hebrew found in the DSS non-biblical texts?  If it was
written in or near the 2nd century BC, why is the Hebrew so different
from Qumran Hebrew?  In fact, how can a Persian period authorship
account for very primitive Hebrew forms in Exodus and Leviticus as
compared to the entire corpus?  Why use Hebrew at all, and how do we
account for the apparent unevenness of development of the language
including spellings and vowel representation (defective versus full)? 
Niels wants to deal with hard evidence.  This is hard evidence that
seems to require documents written over a very long period of time, not
just 100-200 years? .  

Ken Litwak

Niels Peter Lemche wrote:
> >   Asking whether Herodotus had clear purposes or not is not really the
> > issue, as I see it.  The issue is twofold:
> > 1.  What did Hellenistic historiographers say they were trying to
> > accomplish?
> > 2.  Has anyone ever written ideologically free history or written
> > history without an ideological agenda?
> >
> > For the first, history should be accurate, based on eye witness accounts
> > primarily, and only secondarily, well-written and entertaining, or as
> > Lucian puts it, a "well-seasoned soup" or some such thing (the word is a
> > hapax and difficult to translate).
> >
> >     As for 2., the answer is no.  No one, not me, not Lemche, not
> > Thucydides, no one ever wrote an ideology-free, aim-free historical
> > work.  It cannot be done.  It's of little moment to say that an ancient
> > writer had purposes.  All history writers have purposes.  When I was in
> > high school I had to read an American history text called "land of the
> > Free", a book that a Democrat would love and Republican would hate, as
> > it was clearly written from a specific political perspective and with a
> > specific political agenda in its selection and presentation of events,
> > and I don't think for one solitary moment my teacher was unaware of
> > this.  This is simply illustrative of how all historiography is done.
> > It's methodologically improper to treat ancient historigraphy as
> > different in kind than modern.
> >
> > Ken Litwak
> >
>         [Niels Peter Lemche]  While agreeing with most at this--as I wrote
> in some article published in Germany--at least my version of Israelite
> history was my own version and not just another paraphrase of the biblical
> account (but still it wasd mine--Ken will without doubt have a different
> one), we can see from Cicero, from Quintilian, and other classical sources
> that the purpose was not to describe 'wies es eigentlich gewesen', but
> more--as part of the academic curricukum--to educate the next generation by
> drawuíng its attention to the good and bad examples of the previous
> generations. On the other hand, ancient authorities were able to distinguish
> between the kind of history in Herodotus and in Thucydides. That Thucydides,
> however, was not a historian in any modern sense of the word can be
> demonstrated by his version of Pericles' speech at the funeral of the KIAs
> in the first year of the Pelopponesian war, a famous example of an invented
> speech--which was acceptable to the ancients.
>         So where is this leading?
>         NPL

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