What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
iskander
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Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by iskander » Thu Jun 15, 2017 7:02 am

neilgodfrey wrote:
iskander wrote:In the video , Ten commandments or 613, in Minute 38:29. because of the disciples of Jesus.
Torah cafe
Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Tell me what it says.
Listen to the video for only one minute , beginning at minute 38 and ending at 39.

andrewcriddle
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Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by andrewcriddle » Thu Jun 15, 2017 11:19 am

neilgodfrey wrote:

andrewcriddle wrote:We do use the Augustan Histories (which is genuinely a work of historical fiction) as a source because it used good sources which do not survive.
I'm not sure who you mean by "we" or in what ways and how you are saying we "use" them.
Hadrian for the years 117-284 the principal source is the Historia Augusta,
neilgodfrey wrote:
andrewcriddle wrote:In studying the historical Pythagoras an important source is the Life by Iamblichus a deeply anachronistic retelling of Pythagoras as the prototypical neo-Platonist written about 300 CE. Iamblichus quoted and rewrote much older sources now lost.
A biography is not entitled the presumption of "historicity" simply because of its author or genre. Demonax is a case in point. Classicists may defer to historicity in his case but nearly always with reservations and cautions. Doubts are always kept in easy reach. Pythagoras is given some more credence than Demonax and as having a varied number of traditions about his historical existence on the basis of evidence prior to (external to) Iamblichus. The oldest testimony goes back to Xenophanes of Colophon of the 6th/5th centuries bce cited within Diogenes Laertius.
The bare historicity of Pythagoras can IMO be clearly established (without using Iamblichus). I'm talking about the use of Iamblichus as evidence for such things as the organisation of the early Pythagorean communities. (Burkert and others use Iamblichus in this way Zhmud is critical.)

Andrew Criddle

neilgodfrey
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Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by neilgodfrey » Thu Jun 15, 2017 4:42 pm

andrewcriddle wrote:
neilgodfrey wrote:
andrewcriddle wrote:We do use the Augustan Histories (which is genuinely a work of historical fiction) as a source because it used good sources which do not survive.
I'm not sure who you mean by "we" or in what ways and how you are saying we "use" them.
Hadrian for the years 117-284 the principal source is the Historia Augusta,
I am not sure that the link demonstrates that the Historia is "the principal source" for Hadrian. Of the several historical and biographical studies on Hadrian and his reign the all focus on "what H did", not on his "inner life" -- simply because that's all the reliable sources allow us to reconstruct.

Historical questions are framed in accordance with what the evidence allows us to ask and answer. If methods for finding more from hitherto unreliable sources are discovered then fine, they can be tested and we can see where they go in the long run. But that's not the same procedure as holding one's nose and using something scraped from the barrel simply because it's all we've got to help us find out what we want to know.
andrewcriddle wrote:
neilgodfrey wrote:
andrewcriddle wrote:In studying the historical Pythagoras an important source is the Life by Iamblichus a deeply anachronistic retelling of Pythagoras as the prototypical neo-Platonist written about 300 CE. Iamblichus quoted and rewrote much older sources now lost.
A biography is not entitled the presumption of "historicity" simply because of its author or genre. Demonax is a case in point. Classicists may defer to historicity in his case but nearly always with reservations and cautions. Doubts are always kept in easy reach. Pythagoras is given some more credence than Demonax and as having a varied number of traditions about his historical existence on the basis of evidence prior to (external to) Iamblichus. The oldest testimony goes back to Xenophanes of Colophon of the 6th/5th centuries bce cited within Diogenes Laertius.
The bare historicity of Pythagoras can IMO be clearly established (without using Iamblichus). I'm talking about the use of Iamblichus as evidence for such things as the organisation of the early Pythagorean communities. (Burkert and others use Iamblichus in this way Zhmud is critical.)

Andrew Criddle
Wrt the question of how we know something/person is "historically real", I am not sure that Iamblichus alone gives us the answer that with any strong confidence. We have confidence in the historicity of something when we have independent confirmation of any one source.

Having established a strong likelihood of historical authenticity we are then in a position to use a very late source like Iamblichus -- but our interpretation and assessment of the value of the different bits of data Iamblichus gives us is guided by what we know from information external to Iamblichus.

If all we had was Iamblichus we would have no way to get a handle on his narrative in order to assess the historical value of certain data in its narrative.

neilgodfrey
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Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by neilgodfrey » Thu Jun 15, 2017 5:42 pm

iskander wrote:
Listen to the video for only one minute , beginning at minute 38 and ending at 39.
He doesn't answer the question till the 44th minute, but thanks.

Did you notice the rabbi doesn't give any evidence for his claims about what the christians were saying. He just makes it up. He's just imagining what he thinks they must have said to support his theory that the Jews removed the 10 commandments from the liturgy because of the disciples of Jesus.

[For anyone else interested, his reason is that the Christians were saying that the 10 commandments were all that people needed to be saved and the other laws could be dispensed with; they could say, look, even the jews only recite the 10 commandments in their liturgy, so the rest of the laws don't matter. So the rabbis removed the 10 commandments so their less educated people would not be confused by the Christian claims.]

But also notice that there is no evidence for Jesus being a rebel in what he says. He is only talking about the "disciples of Jesus". But we know that some disciples did say that all the law should be kept and others said it should be rejected. The former, many believe, were truer to the original teachings of Jesus; the latter, to Paul.

iskander
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Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by iskander » Thu Jun 15, 2017 6:22 pm

neilgodfrey wrote:
iskander wrote:
Listen to the video for only one minute , beginning at minute 38 and ending at 39.
He doesn't answer the question till the 44th minute, but thanks.

Did you notice the rabbi doesn't give any evidence for his claims about what the christians were saying. He just makes it up. He's just imagining what he thinks they must have said to support his theory that the Jews removed the 10 commandments from the liturgy because of the disciples of Jesus.

[For anyone else interested, his reason is that the Christians were saying that the 10 commandments were all that people needed to be saved and the other laws could be dispensed with; they could say, look, even the jews only recite the 10 commandments in their liturgy, so the rest of the laws don't matter. So the rabbis removed the 10 commandments so their less educated people would not be confused by the Christian claims.]

But also notice that there is no evidence for Jesus being a rebel in what he says. He is only talking about the "disciples of Jesus". But we know that some disciples did say that all the law should be kept and others said it should be rejected. The former, many believe, were truer to the original teachings of Jesus; the latter, to Paul.
For me the important statement was at 38:29.

At 38 to 39 the video says that the 10 C ( “words,” “utterances,” or “statements”)(‘Aseret haD’varim ) were removed from the liturgy because of the talmidei Yeshu = disciples of Jesus. It is not a theory but the explanation for removing the 10C (‘Aseret haDibrot (“Ten Commandments”,) from the liturgy.

After that he proceeded to explain why the teaching of the disciples of Jesus was a threat to Jewish theology and how Christianity further reduced the 613 mitzvot to only one, this one Christian commandment , he said is , faith in the Christian God is all what is needed .

Thank for your interest.

neilgodfrey
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Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by neilgodfrey » Thu Jun 15, 2017 8:29 pm

iskander wrote:
neilgodfrey wrote:
iskander wrote:
Listen to the video for only one minute , beginning at minute 38 and ending at 39.
He doesn't answer the question till the 44th minute, but thanks.

Did you notice the rabbi doesn't give any evidence for his claims about what the christians were saying. He just makes it up. He's just imagining what he thinks they must have said to support his theory that the Jews removed the 10 commandments from the liturgy because of the disciples of Jesus.

[For anyone else interested, his reason is that the Christians were saying that the 10 commandments were all that people needed to be saved and the other laws could be dispensed with; they could say, look, even the jews only recite the 10 commandments in their liturgy, so the rest of the laws don't matter. So the rabbis removed the 10 commandments so their less educated people would not be confused by the Christian claims.]

But also notice that there is no evidence for Jesus being a rebel in what he says. He is only talking about the "disciples of Jesus". But we know that some disciples did say that all the law should be kept and others said it should be rejected. The former, many believe, were truer to the original teachings of Jesus; the latter, to Paul.
For me the important statement was at 38:29.

At 38 to 39 the video says that the 10 C ( “words,” “utterances,” or “statements”)(‘Aseret haD’varim ) were removed from the liturgy because of the talmidei Yeshu = disciples of Jesus. It is not a theory but the explanation for removing the 10C (‘Aseret haDibrot (“Ten Commandments”,) from the liturgy.

After that he proceeded to explain why the teaching of the disciples of Jesus was a threat to Jewish theology and how Christianity further reduced the 613 mitzvot to only one, this one Christian commandment , he said is , faith in the Christian God is all what is needed .

Thank for your interest.
Claims rabbis make in their sermons should be challenged and their audiences should demand they produce evidence to support their assertions. His "explanation" would never pass in a serious critical academic journal. It is simply a made up explanation without evidence.

Paul the Uncertain
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Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by Paul the Uncertain » Fri Jun 16, 2017 1:53 am

Neil

I think we agree that "Marc Antony was Julius' ally" is in the first instance a plot point within the play. I am confident (and you aren't?) that a typical undergraduate can recognize that some plot points are also fact claims about the real-life Julius. That's how some of the plot points came to be incorporated into the play: Bill thought that maybe that's how things might really had been.

The casual student needn't be complete nor inerrrantly accurate about such classifications in order to learn from the play. The students' world will not come crashing down if they think the comet is entirely fanciful, for instance, nor if instead they think they could easily identify the comet in some astonomical database (but won't bother to, at least not now). And yes, it is perfectly clear that in attempting the classification problem, the students will use background information such as what people have said about the play and its author. There's nothing wrong with that, IMO.

I don't think we drifted very far from the OP: it's a hard problem with many aspects. Also, I don't think we're moving in circles YET, but as a precuation against that, I'd like to push on in the light of something that a third party recently contributed to our discussion.

I noted in your reply to andrewcriddle the following:
If methods for finding more from hitherto unreliable sources are discovered then fine, they can be tested and we can see where they go in the long run.


That doesn't sound very Bayesian. A key feature of Bayes since the time of Laplace is the "anytime" character of its norms. In the long run, we're all dead (as John Maynard Keynes remarked, a vigorous Bayesian critic). A useful-to-mortals heuristic guide to uncertain reasoning must address the meantime, making the most we can here and now of whatever little we may have.

Applied to Julius Caesar, we have the luxury of consulting better sources than the play (including, as andrew pointed out, Shakespeare's own sources). We can instead consult the play alone, if we judge that is satisfactory for whatever moved us individually to seek information about Julius.

If all I know about Julius Caesar is what I read in Shakespeare, then I won't be teaching ancient history at Yale anytime soon. As it happens, I won't ever be teaching anything at Yale anyway, so I'd be foolish to bother much about that when making my information consumption decisions.

In a similar vein,
If all we had was Iamblichus ...
That, too, is an important feature of Bayes, that we can do counterfactual hypothetical reasoning about what we would believe if we had more or less information than we actually do. But methodological caution number one: we never have "only" some one piece of potential evidence, there is always background information, otherwise we could neither understand the meaty questions (we'd be stuck at "What's a Pythagoras?") nor appreciate the evidence's potential.
... we would have no way to get a handle on his narrative in order to assess the historical value of certain data in its narrative.
But we could make some estimates, because there is at least the serious possibility that some historical information has survived its incorporation into the narrative in hand. Maybe we get no further than the formulation of viable hypotheses ... that's still better than "What's a Pythagoras?" and it's heursitic reasoning about the human past - what I, if not you, call "history."

neilgodfrey
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Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by neilgodfrey » Fri Jun 16, 2017 8:33 am

Paul the Uncertain wrote:Neil

I think we agree that "Marc Antony was Julius' ally" is in the first instance a plot point within the play. I am confident (and you aren't?) that a typical undergraduate can recognize that some plot points are also fact claims about the real-life Julius. That's how some of the plot points came to be incorporated into the play: Bill thought that maybe that's how things might really had been.
I am no longer sure I know what the question is. I don't feel as if we are addressing the same point.

Is the question
  • A. How do we know if certain data in a work of fiction is actually a reference to something historical?
or
  • B. How do we know if a claim or piece of information is fictional or historical?
Paul the Uncertain wrote:
If methods for finding more from hitherto unreliable sources are discovered then fine, they can be tested and we can see where they go in the long run.


That doesn't sound very Bayesian.
Is not the very process of testing over time to see where propositions lead the very essence of the Bayesian approach? We propose, we bring in background information, we test, we re-propose...
Paul the Uncertain wrote:Applied to Julius Caesar, we have the luxury of consulting better sources than the play (including, as andrew pointed out, Shakespeare's own sources). We can instead consult the play alone, if we judge that is satisfactory for whatever moved us individually to seek information about Julius.
I don't follow you here. I have to return to my above question: what is it we are discussing?
Paul the Uncertain wrote:
... we would have no way to get a handle on his narrative in order to assess the historical value of certain data in its narrative.
But we could make some estimates, because there is at least the serious possibility that some historical information has survived its incorporation into the narrative in hand. Maybe we get no further than the formulation of viable hypotheses ... that's still better than "What's a Pythagoras?" and it's heursitic reasoning about the human past - what I, if not you, call "history."
How can we make estimates if we have no background information -- that is, if we have no way to get a handle on the narrative that can prise the narrative to yield information external to itself, then all we can do is make chilish ignorant speculations without any basis in science, history.... without any basis in anything apart from imagination... which would leave us with no way of testing anything.

Paul the Uncertain
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Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by Paul the Uncertain » Fri Jun 16, 2017 10:30 am

Neil

A or B: As I understand your dichotomy, we are discussing how (whether?) people might recognize references to historical subject matter (seriously possibly real events and personages from the human past). That would be A, right?
Is not the very process of testing over time to see where propositions lead the very essence of the Bayesian approach?
That is the dynamic component of Bayes, but in some domains (like much of ancient history), you may be waiting a long while before the next chunk of important new evidence turns up. Bayes also has a static component, about using whatever information you have here and now.
We propose, we bring in background information, we test, we re-propose...
Almost. In many of the domains popular on this forum, we propose, and we bring in background information, then we wait until something new turns up that we haven't already used to formulate the proposal. Then we can test and re-propose. Then we wait some more...
I don't follow you here. I have to return to my above question: what is it we are discussing?
Well, "here" we are following up on andrew's discussion of a known relationship between Shakespeare and Plutarch.

Intuitively, Shakespeare can offer no "better history" than his source, and in using his source, Shakespeare was probably willing to alter source information for dramatic purposes. Thus, he is likely to be strictly less historically reliable than Plutarch (however reliable that may be). I think we agree so far.

Does Shakespeare thus being "inferior history" mean that Shakespeare is not historical at all, but "just fiction?" I don't think so, and I suspect you do. Partly, that's because I have no problem with works being treated as mixtures, and you do.
How can we make estimates if we have no background information...?
We can't. My turn. When do college undergraduates ever have literally no background information available to them on subjects about which they might be asked questions on a formal test?

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DCHindley
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Re: What makes a writing "Fiction" versus "History"?

Post by DCHindley » Fri Jun 16, 2017 1:26 pm

Just to add my 2 centavos to this valuable discussion, the OP was an attempt to determine whether noting that a "historical" narrative was "emplotted" in some manner makes it automatically a piece of fiction, because "everybody knows" that plot is the domain of fiction.

I noted that there are modern historians who believe that "plot" is invariable in any explanative narrative, whether historical or fictional.

Neil had suggested, on the basis of Dorrit Cohn's book The Distinction of Fiction, which posited that fiction betrays itself by means of the relationship between the implied narrator and the implied audience of the narrative.

However, if anyone has read Hayden V. White and thought you could get lost in the technical terminology of the philosophy of history, then you will be even more bewildered by Cohn's use of the technical terminology of the field of Narratology. I'm having trouble finding a clear cut statement of what Dorrit means by the relation between narrator and reader.

I'm not sure what recent posts have to do with that kind of thing. It seems to be revolving around the difference between "real" history and historical(ly based) fiction, which is not the same thing at all.

I will note that Narratologists (such as Cohn) are particularly fond of analyzing historical fiction, as almost none of them are involved in the philosophy of history or history proper, as noted by Alun Munslow in Deconstructing History, and perhaps this has something to do with the derailment of the OP into the subject of the history to be found in historical fiction.

DCH

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