Rules of Historical Reasoning

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
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neilgodfrey
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Rules of Historical Reasoning

Post by neilgodfrey » Sun Sep 17, 2017 5:14 pm

From Mark Day, The Philosophy of History, 2008, pp. 20-21.

Mark Day bases the following "rules" on
‘historiographical manuals’ - those books written for the student of history, and in particular postgraduate or PhD students of departments of history 4. . . .

4
  • Arthur Marwick' The Nature of History (1970)
  • John Tosh's The Pursuit of History (1991/1984)
  • Howell and Prevenier's From Reliable Sources (2001)
Day writes that
....All historiographical claims should be based on the source.... What follows are five points concerning the use of sources, each of which is consistently emphasized by pedagogical material of the above kind.
The first rule:
(1) ..... the historian should prioritize primary sources, though should nonetheless be critical of these sources.
Primary sources are those which
transport the historian directly back to the past that the documents describe and of which they were a part, permitting the historian knowledge of that past without the accretion of subsequent interpretation and tradition.
It follows that we have no primary sources for persons or events in Galilee in the 20s/early 30s.
(2) Criticism of sources is two-fold; not only with regard to the claims of those sources concerning their intended topic, but with regard to the implicit claims of those sources concerning themselves. The second sort of criticism is the investigation into the document’s authenticity, established by asking whether the author could have written it, whether they could have been where they claimed to be, whether the paper, authorial style and handwriting permit the truth of the self-proclamation of the author. ...
The historian of Christian origins who wishes to start in Galilee in the 20s is behind the eight-ball at the start. None of the above basic criticism can be applied to primary sources because there are no primary sources.

So we move to secondary sources: we still cannot apply the above rules to our gospels because we don't know who their authors were or claimed to be, and we have in the case of the epistles only a name, Paul, with no independent means of assessing any of the internal claims.
(3) Source criticism is extended beyond the establishment of the identity of the author, to so-called ‘internal’ features of the source: the author’s aim, their ideological background and their intended audience. It is assumed that knowledge of these facts will aid the historian’s use of the source. (Exemplification of this point has already been suggested, in the case where the historian would be wise to find out whether the author had reason to lie, and why they might have done so.)
Again, fundamental questions that historians normally apply to primary sources cannot be asked by anyone wanting to address events in Galilee in the 20s. If we apply this rule to secondary sources we still find ourselves in something of a circular trap given that we do not know the authors apart from the self-testimony of one of them. But still, we can make some tentative assessments of the internal features of the sources.
(4) Source criticism should also trace the path connecting the source with the historian, asking why it has survived and in the form that it has. ...
Definitely.
(5) The historian is warned not to depend too much on a single document, but rather to utilize a wide range of evidence. This warning is to some extent implicit in the demand for source criticism, since it is obvious that no serious source criticism can proceed without employing knowledge gained from other sources.
Again the historian who wishes to explore persons in Galilee in the 20s is greatly disadvantaged since not only do we have no primary sources at all, but even the secondary sources all derive from a common ideological bucket. The first gospel written was in dialogue, it seems, with Paul, and the other three gospels were in dialogue with that first gospel. We do not have a "wide range of evidence". It is all very incestuous.


Yet some historians claim to be able to do better without any of the above rules and that they can even go right back to the gist of words spoken between X and Y etc by means of going "beneath" the secondary (not even primary) sources by means of criteria and memory theories. One does have to wonder at why other historians bother with any of the above rules when biblical scholars can bypass all of that and get more detailed information from late secondary sources by means of totally different methods.

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MrMacSon
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

Post by MrMacSon » Sun Sep 17, 2017 5:27 pm

neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 5:14 pm

From Mark Day, The Philosophy of History, 2008, pp. 20-21.

The first rule:
(1) ..... the historian should prioritize primary sources, though should nonetheless be critical of these sources.
Primary sources are those which
transport the historian directly back to the past that the documents describe and of which they were a part1, permitting the historian knowledge of that past without the accretion of subsequent interpretation and tradition.
1 ie. primary sources are, by definition by Day, and widely elsewhere, contemporaneous

neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 5:14 pm

It follows that we have no primary sources for persons or events in Galilee in the 20s/early 30s.
Correct.

neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 5:14 pm

So we move to secondary sources: we still cannot apply the above rules to our gospels because we don't know who their authors were or claimed to be, and we have in the case of the epistles only a name, Paul, with no independent means of assessing any of the internal claims.
Most commentary about the Historical Method say secondary sources are those reciting or those based on primary sources.

We probably need another name for things like the gospels or the epistles attributed to Paul.

neilgodfrey
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

Post by neilgodfrey » Sun Sep 17, 2017 6:20 pm

Gospels are not primary sources for Jesus; they are generally believed to be secondary sources by biblical scholars: that is, they are based on oral reports or primary or other secondary sources.

Paul claims, according to many, that he learned about Jesus from other sources.

I don't think we need new labels for either gospels or epistles.

But every secondary source, so-called, is also a primary source for its own time and place. So I am not a nihilist with respect to studying Christian origins. I believe we can turn to primary sources, and that means treating the epistles and gospels as primary sources for their own time of composition. The potential or possible period of their composition covers a wide range (we rely upon a combination of internal evidence and external witness) and our critical analysis of them as primary sources requires us to apply them with literary and textual analysis and comparative studies with other sources from the same period. Our aim is to understand they origins and nature of the epistles and gospels. That's a pretty good start to understanding Christian origins, I would suspect.

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MrMacSon
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

Post by MrMacSon » Sun Sep 17, 2017 7:07 pm

neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 6:20 pm

Gospels ... are generally believed to be secondary sources by biblical scholars: that is, they are based on oral reports or primary or other secondary sources.
That is b/c the gospels have assumed to have to have been based on oral 'sources'.

neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 6:20 pm

But every secondary source, so-called, is also a primary source for its own time and place.
No. A secondary source cannot be a primary source. As you admit, we don't know 'their own time' [of composition] or 'place' [of composition].

neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 6:20 pm

So I am not a nihilist with respect to studying Christian origins.
Nor am I.

neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 6:20 pm

I believe we can turn to primary sources, and that means treating the epistles and gospels as primary sources for their own time of composition.
I think that's highly disingenuous commentary because, as you say, :The potential or possible period of their composition covers a wide range"

neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 6:20 pm
(we rely upon a combination of internal evidence and external witness)
Sure.

neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 6:20 pm

and our critical analysis of them as primary sources requires us to apply them with literary and textual analysis and comparative studies with other sources from the same period.
That is fallacy: begging-the-question, circularity - 'the same period' is not known; nor are 'sources' from the 'same period'.

neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 6:20 pm

Our aim is to understand they origins and nature of the epistles and gospels. That's a pretty good start to understanding Christian origins, I would suspect.
Sure.

neilgodfrey
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

Post by neilgodfrey » Sun Sep 17, 2017 10:11 pm

MrMacSon wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 7:07 pm
neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 6:20 pm

But every secondary source, so-called, is also a primary source for its own time and place.
No. A secondary source cannot be a primary source. As you admit, we don't know 'their own time' [of composition] or 'place' [of composition].
You misunderstood me. Obviously a secondary source for event X cannot also be a primary source for event X. But if the secondary source for event X happened to be written in time A then it is a primary source for Time A. It is a product of time A. It is the sort of thing someone wrote at time A so it is a primary source for time A.

The problem with the gospels is that their possible date range extends from 70 to 170 years, so we have in them primary sources for some time between 70 and 170 CE. That's not as narrow as we would like, obviously, but it is a starting point -- and the question then becomes "What was it that led to the creation of these documents, with their narratives, their ideas, in that period?" They are primary sources to help us with that question.


MrMacSon wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 7:07 pm
neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 6:20 pm

and our critical analysis of them as primary sources requires us to apply them with literary and textual analysis and comparative studies with other sources from the same period.
That is fallacy: begging-the-question, circularity - 'the same period' is not known; nor are 'sources' from the 'same period'.
If we know the gospels are from a certain period in history (and we do know that), then they are clearly primary sources for that period.

neilgodfrey
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

Post by neilgodfrey » Sun Sep 17, 2017 10:15 pm

Compare the Book of Daniel. Daniel might be considered a secondary source for Babylonian and Persian empire periods, but it is of most interest to historians as a primary source for the time of the Maccabees.

Every work by definition is a primary source for the time in which it was produced. Every work tells us what some people thought and wrote about at a particular time and place in history.

Paul the Uncertain
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

Post by Paul the Uncertain » Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:36 pm

Neil

As is so often the case in our discussions, yours and mine, there is little or no disagreement about what should be done in the presence of copious evidence of the very best kind. We only disagree about how to investigate the real world, where human beings ask questions about the past (and other things) for which evidence is thin or costly.

"Don't ask, don't tell" is one way to approach those questions. "Do the best you can with what you've got and can reasonably get" is another.

I think the Guild, or selected members of the Guild, can be criticized for failing to do the best they could with what they've got. However, it's another thing to criticize anybody for interest in questions for which there isn't hot and cold running evidence on tap.
That is b/c the gospels have assumed to have to have been based on oral 'sources'.
That raises an entirely different issue, since in the sense that some Guild members seem to use the term, "oral source" means a transmission channel for which there is no extant evidence. In American English, they pull it out of their butt.

The phrase doesn't have to mean that. In the case I mentioned in the earlier thread, I have documentary evidence (autobiographical writing published in the author's lifetime) that stories featuring the subject were transmitted orally within the first generation after the subject died.

What's at stake is the Guild developing hypotheses about evidence which are then pressed into service as an evidence substitute. That may well be criticized, and not only for failing to make the best use of what is available. They simply aren't reasoning from evidence here. Yikes.

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MrMacSon
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

Post by MrMacSon » Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:41 pm

neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 10:11 pm

... if the secondary source for event X happened to be written in time A then it is a primary source for Time A.
Yes it is "It is a product of time A".

It may well be "a primary source for time A", but will not be a primary source for event X unless it is an account about event X written in the time of event X - ie. unless time A = time X.

neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 10:11 pm

The problem with the gospels is that their possible date range extends from 70 to 170 years, so we have in them primary sources for some time between 70 and 170 CE.
That's illogical; it's mostly a non-sequitur.

The gospels are supposedly about events that occurred before 33 CE and about people associated with those events.

I think it is quite possible that the gospels do include events that occurred between, say, 33 CE and 170 CE (and people associated with them) but, even then those accounts may have been written after those events eg. from other accounts.


neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 10:11 pm

If we know the gospels are from a certain period in history (and we do know that), then they are clearly primary sources for that period.
But they are not about people or events that occurred in the time period/s they were written.
Last edited by MrMacSon on Mon Sep 18, 2017 12:46 am, edited 2 times in total.

neilgodfrey
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

Post by neilgodfrey » Mon Sep 18, 2017 12:18 am

MrMacSon wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:41 pm
neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 10:11 pm

... if the secondary source for event X happened to be written in time A then it is a primary source for Time A.
Yes it is "It is a product of time A".

It may well be "a primary source for time A", but will not be a primary source for event X unless it is an account about event X written in the time of event X - ie. unless time A = time X.
That's what I am saying. Your strikeout is misplaced. Let's say the Gospel of Mark is a historical document about the life of Jesus 40 years earlier. That would mean GMark is a secondary source for Jesus. But the Gospel of Mark is a primary source for the time, say, of beliefs that were held about Jesus at around 70 CE.

The product of time A (70 CE) is a secondary source, arguably, of the Jesus event (X) 40 years earlier.
MrMacSon wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:41 pm
neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 10:11 pm

The problem with the gospels is that their possible date range extends from 70 to 170 years, so we have in them primary sources for some time between 70 and 170 CE.
That's illogical; it's mostly a non-sequitur.

The gospels are supposedly about events that occurred before 33 CE and about people associated with those events.

I think it is quite possible that the gospels do include events that occurred between, say, 33 CE and 170 CE (and people associated with them) but, even then those accounts may have been written after those events eg. from other accounts.
You don't understand.

Try this:

I have a book here about Hitler. The book was published in 1978. It is a secondary source about Hitler.

But the same book is a primary source for what people believed and wrote about Hitler in 1978. It is a primary source for what people thought about the war and Hitler in 1978. But it is a secondary source about Hitler himself.

MrMacSon wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:41 pm
neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 10:11 pm

If we know the gospels are from a certain period in history (and we do know that), then they are clearly primary sources for that period.
But they are not about people or events that occurred in the time period/s they were written.
I hope the above example clarifies the point.

neilgodfrey
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

Post by neilgodfrey » Mon Sep 18, 2017 12:27 am

Just another illustration to hopefully clarify. A few scholars have written that they believe the Gospel of Mark was written in response to the crucifixions of Jews around Jerusalem at the time of the war around 70 CE and the destruction of the temple at that time. They argue that the Passion and resurrection narratives were composed as a response to the events of 70 CE.

That is, they argue that the Gospel of Mark is a primary source for how some people responded to the events of 70 CE.

But the same Gospel of Mark purports to be about Jesus who lived 40 years earlier. Clearly the Gospel of Mark cannot be a primary source for Jesus. It is a secondary source for the events of Jesus' life, if we believe it is a historical narrative about Jesus.

So the Gospel of Mark in that way can be both a primary and a secondary source: it is a primary source for how some people responded to the events of 70 CE while at the same time its narrative is believed by many to also be a secondary source for the life of Jesus.

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