It is a refreshing read for anyone who has become mired in the sorts of apologetic nonsense too many believers who like to call themselves “historians” write. Here is a sample from his post:
The biographer Suetonius Tranquillus (Vit. 17.2) records the following [about the death of emperor Vitellius]:
“At last on the Stairs of Wailing he was tortured for a long time and then despatched and dragged off with a hook to the Tiber.”
However, the historian Cassius Dio (64.21.2-22.1) writes:
“At that the soldiers became enraged and led him to the Stairway, where they struck him down. Then they cut off his head and carried it about all over the city. His wife later saw to his burial.”
Wait! What happened to Vitellius’ body? Was his body thrown into the Tiber like a condemned criminal or did his wife have the opportunity to bury his body?
[My own bolding follows]
This was the subject of a graduate paper that I wrote during my Classics M.A. program at the University of Arizona. The two sources clearly contradict each other. Why is this and what does it entail?
Contradictions are not odd in ancient history. Different writers have different sources, opinions, versions of the event that they favor, and they will often report two different things. In the paper I did not begin by twisting myself in pretzels attempting to harmonize this contradiction. Nevertheless, there are many ways that I could have: “Perhaps Vitellius’ wife later found the body floating down the Tiber, got it to shore, and then buried it!” “Perhaps the soldiers merely dragged it to the shore of the Tiber, but despite all ordinary practice and effort, did not throw it in!” “Perhaps she only buried the head, which in Dio’s version was carried around the city, but the body was still thrown in just as in Suetonius!”
Notice how neither author says any of these things. Suetonius says nothing about a burial. Dio says nothing about the Tiber. They both provide two versions of the event, where if I were only reading one, I would have none of the impressions given by the other. In order to harmonize the contradiction, I would have to in fact invent a third, super version of the event, which would make the event unlike what either author had written.
That approach, however, would be a highly amateur way to approach ancient history. The only reason that I would undergo such ridiculous rationalization is if I had some presupposition that Suetonius and Dio can never disagree with or contradict one another.
I’m looking forward to taking time to look through more of Matthew’s posts. Looks like his blog should be compulsory reading for a good number of bible scholars who unfortunately think they are “historians” following normative historical methods.
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