When Do Contemporary or Early Sources Matter in Ancient History?

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by Neil Godfrey

PhD student Matthew Ferguson on Κέλσος blog has just posted When Do Contemporary or Early Sources Matter in Ancient History?. It’s reassuring to see some of the same fundamental principles that we have expressed here for some years now. But now you can read the fundamentals from someone in the process of completing his PhD in the classics and ancient historiography.

His article begins

One of the most misunderstood methodological issues that surrounds debates over the historical Jesus is the relevance of contemporary or early written sources to reconstructing a reliable biography of Jesus’ life. Very often comparisons are made to other historical figures, such as Alexander the Great, who (allegedly) do not have any contemporary sources for their lives, despite the reliability of our historical information about them. Apologists thus argue that the lack of contemporary sources for Jesus, and the fact that all ancient writings that mention Jesus date to a gap of decades and centuries after his death, do not make the historical Jesus more obscure or less knowable than other famous figures from antiquity.

As I exposed in apologist Lee Strobel’s interview with Craig Blomberg in The Case for Christ, this mistake is usually made by apologists confusing the earliest extant sources (those that have survived medieval textual transmission) with the earliest sources that were written (and available to subsequent historians) in antiquity.

Thanks to Leucius Charinus on the Biblical Criticism and History Forum for drawing attention to this blog article.

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Neil Godfrey

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4 thoughts on “When Do Contemporary or Early Sources Matter in Ancient History?”

  1. Persons who are not familiar with Matthew’s blog would be very surprised to know that he is a PHD STUDENT (net/email etiquette dictates not writing n all caps and I often deplore the practice when overused, so my apologies) but in this instance I must. Why?

    Imagine a Phd student crafting such an article! Nowhere is anti-vaccinationers nor conspiracy theorists nor creationists/id nor holocaust deniers mentioned nor are these the main thrust of his exposition. No ad-hominems. No credentalism. No smoke, no distraction .This student has put to shame: Theologian McG, Time Lord Jim West, Ivory Tower Larry Hurtado, Rabbi Hoffman, Apologist for Apologists Tim Oneil, Errorman Bart Ehrman, He does not direct readers to books that he has not read.

    His response tells the public exactly why scholars(or more precisely he) consider Jesus to be an historic personality.

    I do not agree entirely with the the reasons he has given. There are tonnes of questions to be asked about them *but* oh *but*, he has laid out the position with clarity and in a manner conducive to dialogue. No distractions in the presentation. No waffling.

    Great article.

  2. Mathew Ferguson, IMHO is consistently some of the best history if Christianity writing anywhere. I originally found him due to a link from Richard Carriers site, who he disagrees with on Historicity. That’s one reason I fail to see Carrier as petty, he appreciates a well reasoned argument. I would like to see he and Ferguson interact.

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