How Ancient Historians Constructed Dramatic Fiction: Thucydides and the Plague

The plague of Athens is one of the most detailed, vivid and life-like accounts of any event from ancient times. The historian who penned it (Thucydides) assures all readers that he relied upon eyewitness reports and that he personally investigated what had happened in order to be sure of leaving a record that would be … Continue reading “How Ancient Historians Constructed Dramatic Fiction: Thucydides and the Plague”


Ancient Historians: Thucydides, historian of realism, not reality

This continues from my previous post on A.J. Woodman’s argument. There are good reasons for approaching the Book of Acts and other historical writings of the Bible from the perspective of the wider literary culture of their day. Thucydides, the Greek historian of the Peloponnesian War, is generally thought of as an outstanding exception among … Continue reading “Ancient Historians: Thucydides, historian of realism, not reality”


How History Was Done in Bible Times: Myths about Herodotus and Thucydides

Was it acceptable for Greek, Roman and Jewish historians to invent accounts of the past? Did even historians imitate and creatively reproduce entire passages from the great epic poems and tragic plays of their day? Can we trust ancient historians who declare they relied upon eyewitness reports? How does our understanding of history differ from … Continue reading “How History Was Done in Bible Times: Myths about Herodotus and Thucydides”


How to Read Historical Evidence (and any other information) Critically

no claim is above the requirement of justification Anyone who reads widely about how historians work and how we can know anything about the past — as well as how to critically analyse news and media reports and any information at all — will likely at some point come across an interesting perspective in an … Continue reading “How to Read Historical Evidence (and any other information) Critically”


Jesus (and Paul) in the Ancient Philosopher Tradition

Think of the world from which Christianity emerged and mystery religions easily come to mind. That may be a mistake. A more relevant context, influencers and rivals were the popular philosophers and their schools in the first and second centuries. The Jew and the Christian offered religions as we understand religion; the others offered cults; … Continue reading “Jesus (and Paul) in the Ancient Philosopher Tradition”


Getting History for Atheists Wrong (Again – and not just Probably) — #2

Tim O’Neill makes a statement about history that I have never encountered in any work by any historian explaining to readers what he or she does. The only persons I have heard make the claim come from theological faculties when they try to place the evidence for Jesus on the same (or even higher) level … Continue reading “Getting History for Atheists Wrong (Again – and not just Probably) — #2”


Another (major) pointer to a late date for the Pentateuch

A question that for many years sat half-hidden, rarely if ever articulated, in the back of my mind — and no doubt in the minds of many readers with some awareness of ancient history: When did any culture in the ancient Levant start writing “books” as we would recognize them in, say, the first five … Continue reading “Another (major) pointer to a late date for the Pentateuch”


John the Baptist: Another Case for Forgery in Josephus

Of making many posts about John the Baptist there is no end, and much discussion may weary, or stimulate, the flesh. Here’s another one. This post is the first in a series of perhaps three that intends to raise awareness of Rivka Nir‘s case for the passage about John the Baptist in Josephus being a … Continue reading “John the Baptist: Another Case for Forgery in Josephus”


Understanding Historical Evidence

Speaking of Steve Mason’s historical inquiry into what we can reconstruct of the origins of the Jewish War from Josephus, here are some quotations I marked as I read his second chapter. I hope to post one more time on this book, sharing some specifics of how he approached Josephus’s writings as historical sources. I … Continue reading “Understanding Historical Evidence”


How Ignatius Cut Christianity Off From its Jewish Roots

(updated 2 hours after first posting) This post is a distillation of the chapter “Why Ignatius Invented Judaism” by Daniel Boyarin in The Ways That Often Parted: Essays in Honor of Joel Marcus. It covers the same questions addressed by Roger Parvus (see sidebox) but with a different hypothesis. Roger Parvus posted a series on … Continue reading “How Ignatius Cut Christianity Off From its Jewish Roots”


Guest Post: Further Thoughts on the “We Passages” in Acts

[I have copied the following comment by Greg Doudna to a post here so the thoughts do not get lost in the comments section and are easier to read and engage with. Format slightly changed — Neil] –o– The argument that the “we” passages of Acts are an origin story of the church at Rome … Continue reading “Guest Post: Further Thoughts on the “We Passages” in Acts”


Review, part 11. Comparing the Lives and Deaths of Aesop and Jesus (Litwa: How the Gospels Became History)

Chapter 11 of How the Gospels Became History again makes for fascinating reading as M. David Litwa explores in some depth the idea of the scapegoat in Greek myth as one part of the cultural and mythical context in which the gospels were written. The technical (Greek) term is pharmakos [link is to a brief … Continue reading “Review, part 11. Comparing the Lives and Deaths of Aesop and Jesus (Litwa: How the Gospels Became History)”


Answering James McGrath’s Questions for Mythicists

Recently James McGrath has addressed a point I have regularly made about a key difference between the canonical gospels and historical and biographical narratives by ancient authors: the latter generally attempt to assure readers of the validity of their accounts by mentioning their sources; the former generally do not. McGrath has put an anachronistic slant … Continue reading “Answering James McGrath’s Questions for Mythicists”


Two (More) Reasons Ancient Historians Fabricated History

Do ancient historiographers sometimes say things they know to be factually untrue? Emphatically, yes. The accusation of deliberate fabrication is made repeatedly. — John Moles Herodotus is dubbed the father, not only of history, but of lies; Polybius castigates historians not only for incompetence, but falsehood; Lucian tells of historians who claimed to be eye-witnesses … Continue reading “Two (More) Reasons Ancient Historians Fabricated History”