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Friday, March 28, 2014

Ancient Sources and Historical Reliability

Alice C. Linsley

    Of these books which is most reliable historically and why? 

    Herodotus' Histories
    The Old Testament
    Pliney's History
    Flavius Josephus' The Antiquities of the Jews
    Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars

I suppose the answer to that question depends on the historical period and focus of one's study.

Here are my thoughts, as one who is especially interested in the ethics of archaic communities.

Herodotus' Histories contains much that is factual, but he was concerned mostly about his own Roman people so the scope is sometimes too limited. The same can be said for Josephus' history of the Jews.

Pliney's Natural History is too recent to be of value for study of the archaic world (4000-1000 BC). It is a great encyclopedic work covering botany, agriculture, zoology and minerals, but it makes statements about Africa that are wrong. It dates to around 75-77 AD.

Caesar's Gallic Wars is a classic example of Roman propaganda and hero worship. Julius Caesar's wars were to promote himself by expansion of the Roman Empire into France and Belgium. It dates to about 54 BC and focuses on his successful military campaigns.

Of these writings, the Old Testament books - in particular the books of Genesis, Exodus, I and 2 Samuel, Judges and Ruth - provide the widest focus and actually contain data about the ancient world (4000 -1000 BC) that has been confirmed by many branches of science. Anthropological information mined from Genesis has enable scholars to reconstruction the movement of Nilo-Saharans and Saharo-Nubian populations out of Africa to Southern India, Japan, the Philippines and North America.

Related reading:  Ethical Concerns of Archaic Communities; Seats of WisdomEthics of Archaic Communities; Themistoclea of DelphiAncient Wisdom, Science, and Technology; Religion of the Archaic Rulers; The High Places

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