I have added to my table some quick off-the-top-of-my-head references to the sources I was thinking of when I constructed my original table (see previous post). Some people on Jim McGrath’s site have chosen not to register any problems with my chart here, but have opted for a giggle-and-poke session on Jimmy’s blog and Doctor James McGrath even said my entries on the chart I myself devised were “arbitrary”. But I think everyone who knows the history of this Explodingourcakemix scholar knows he knows nothing outside a few set texts in theology classes, some Mandean texts that need translating, and all the Dr Who scripts. Here in this post I add to my original chart some quick references to the sources that were on my mind at the time I designed it.
Some people have even challenged me for my entries and asked what I would assign for this or that other historical person. In doing so they have missed the point entirely. Who cares what I enter into the table? If I made some mistakes, then fine, tell me and I’ll change my choices. What matters is what most people who know anything about the historical sources for any supposed historical person choose to enter. It’s not a subjective exercise. Choices of Yes or No etc are open to discussion and correction.
Gosh, some people seem to think that “mythicists” are just like “historicists” — that they have some ideological or professional interest to defend and are prepared to construct bogus charts with “arbitrary” entries somehow thinking that everyone will be fooled. 🙁
Here is the chart again, along with my introductory explanation, and some names added to indicate the sources that guided my initial decisions.
If I read a document, the first version of which without doubt originated from the pen of Seneca, and if I have independent, verifiable reasons for knowing who Seneca was, and if the document is a personal letter complaining about the pompous attitude of a rival philosopher named Publius, then I can be reasonably confident that Publius really did exist and was another philosopher in Seneca’s time. (I’ve discussed this particular example in more depth at Stronger Evidence for Publius Vinicius the Stammerer than for Jesus.
Here’s a checklist. I am sure I have overlooked some details. Corrections welcome. The persons with green background are supported by primary (contemporary archaeological) evidence so their historical existence is not in doubt. Their appearance in the literature can be used as a control when comparing the literary evidence for the “minor actors” — those persons whose existence lacks any external material support. “N-f” is short for non-fiction, though I know that such a term is anachronistic and some ancient historiography is riddled with fiction.
Of course the check-list can be cheated. A forgery, an interpolated name, can give a full deck of false positives. I suggest that if a name does not meet all the criteria, however, that you will more than likely find some nook or cranny in the scholarly world where the historical existence of that person is thought to be open to question. But does it matter?
One quickly sees the importance of genre. A mythical figure may appear in an otherwise piece of historiography, but one must also understand that not everything in ancient historiography was treated as historical in the same way contemporary events were. Herodotus speaks of Europa and Heracles, but his references do not support their historicity.
When I speak of “literature confirmed by primary evidence” I mean that key aspects of the larger narrative of the source are confirmed by external controls (material evidence), thus giving us reason to have some confidence in its narrative. (I do not mean merely that there are references to real places and persons, however. Even ancient romances included real names and places in their popular novellas — see Ancient Novels Like the Gospels: Mixing History and Myth.) Similarly, “confirmed by independent literary sources” means that the general contents or core details are confirmed by independent sources, thus enhancing the credibility of any one of the sources.)
(Green – primary evidence exists so historicity certain)
|Name appears in n-f literature confirmed by primary evidence
|Name appears in n-f literature confirmed by independent literary sources
Verifiable and credible author / provenance of n-f literature.
Thus can be reasonably confident the author’s sources are likely traced to time of the person/events.
|Genre supports historicity
|Alexander the Great
|Yes (e.g. Arrian — compare coins and epigraphic evidence)
|Yes (e.g. Diodorus Siculus, Plutarch, Curtius, Plutarch, Pompey Trogus/Jerome)
|Yes (see Comparing Sources for Alexander and Jesus)
|Yes (e.g. Caesar — coins, fort . . .)
Yes (e.g. Appian, Cassius Dio, Plutarch, Suetonius)
|Yes (see Appian, Suetonius . . . )
|Yes (e.g. Josephus — inscription)
|Yes — Tacitus, Philo)
|Yes (see Josephus et al)
|Publius Vinicius the Stammerer
|Yes (e.g. Seneca — Nero and coins)
|Yes — (Tacitus, Cassius Dio)
|Yes (Seneca — see Evidence)
|Honi the Circle Drawer
|Yes (Josephus — archaeological artefacts)
|Bernice (daughter of Herod Agrippa I)
|Yes (Josephus — archaeological artefacts)
|Yes — (Tacitus, Cassius Dio . . .)
|Tiro (Cicero’s slave)
|Yes (e.g. Cicero — archaeological artefacts)
|Yes — (Plutarch . . . )
|Yes (e.g. Aristophane — archaeological artefacts)
|Yes — (Plato, Xenophon )
|Yes (Xenophon. . .)
What this table indicates is that no-one has to worry about all the other historical names falling out of the ancient history books if it was thought there was insufficient evidence to classify Jesus Christ as historical.
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