Topics are arranged alphabetically in the INDEX.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Assessing the Historical Reliability of Ancient Sources

Alice C. Linsley

I teach my students to evaluate the reliability and appropriateness of their sources. Is the source recognized widely? Does the time period pertain to the focus of the research being done? For whom was the source written? What is the purpose of the work, or the writer's intention?

When it comes to information about the archaic world (c.10,000-2000 BC) and the ancient world (c.2000-500 BC) students are faced with a great challenge because there are not many "primary" sources that they can read in their own languages. Generally, students will find these sources helpful:

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

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

Herodotus's 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's The Antiquities of the Jews.

Pliney's Natural History is too recent to be of value for study of the archaic world (4000-2000 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 of Genesis, Exodus, Job, and Ruth provide the widest focus and actually contain data about the ancient world (2000-500 BC). Much of the data mined from these books has been confirmed by archaeology, linguistics, DNA studies and biblical anthropology. Anthropological information mined from Genesis has enable scholars to reconstruction the movement of Nilo-Saharans and Saharo-Nubian populations into Arabia, Syria, Southern Europe, the Indus Valley, and Southern China. There is also much information about the religious practices of these dispersed populations that reflect their ethics and worldview. Biblical anthropology has also identified The Social Structure of the Biblical Hebrew.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment