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

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

Post by outhouse » Sat Jun 17, 2017 4:42 pm

DCHindley wrote:prove that Jesus was a fictional character because the account had emplotments usually associated with legend,


DCH
When I hear words like "prove" I think of law classes.

The fact this is theology means the authors had to use myth and legend no matter how historical something is or is not, but one thing we can count on is that they wrote what was important to them. So by us knowing what they were selling combined with the rhetorical prose used, we have a decent evidence trail of what they believed.

To date no matter how many have tried, EVERY last attempt to explain the evidence we do have has failed dramatically to explain what actually took place.

What does explain the evidence 100% in full, is a martyred Galilean who took over Johns movement who made at least one trip to the temple during Passover and was crucified, and this generated a new theology in Hellenism that was busting at the seams already ready to divorce cultural Judaism for a Judaism light.

A working hypothesis is what makes a story historical, and in this case there are no other hypothesis at this time that even makes half sense.

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

Post by neilgodfrey » Sat Jun 17, 2017 11:04 pm

outhouse wrote: What does explain the evidence 100% in full, is a martyred Galilean who took over Johns movement who made at least one trip to the temple during Passover and was crucified, and this generated a new theology in Hellenism that was busting at the seams already ready to divorce cultural Judaism for a Judaism light.
Yeh, right. And all the problems that this thesis raises are neatly tucked away in a "we don't know what exactly happened at this point that the Bible says was a miracle, but there was evidently something real that we can speculate about" --- over and over and over and over again, with every problem that that thesis raises, beginning with the baptism of Jesus, the call of the disciples, the healings, the followings by people who did not understand him, the resurrection appearances, the subsequent conversions....

Don't worry about all those details: just find some natural explanation for each one even though the sources say there was no natural explanation, and paraphrase the gospel and Acts stories, and hey presto, we have an "explanation" that makes perfect sense of the data!

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

Post by DCHindley » Sat Jun 17, 2017 11:20 pm

Out,

What is left for us to pick through has left a skeleton sturdy enough to hang our widely differing modern POVs. I suppose that the fewer the details available, which limits our attempts to make sense of them and their apparent contradictions (reconstruct them), the greater the need to construct explanations that utilize some sort of social theory.

It's like the movie Jurassic Park where a billionaire theme-park developer took dinosaur DNA fragments found in the stomachs of mosquitoes preserved in amber, which he spliced into the DNA of frog embryos, which in turn grow up to be live dinosaurs for his island park. In reality he would have not had enough DNA fragments available to crack the genome of any breed of dinosaurs much less all of them (the genome for chicken DNA was only cracked in the 1990s I think), but most folks are inclined to suspend disbelief more for fiction than for history.

Nowadays academics and theologians have numerous imperfect social theories to choose from. One extreme are overtly Marxist socio-economic theories. Communist intellectuals have contributed some fairly interesting books on the subject of early Christian development, but you see it utilized in books by Crossan and others. Yet Anthropology/Sociology has other social models available as well. Studies that concentrate on power relationships have really resonated in Latin American and Women's studies, and this has bled over into biblical studies. Since money = power, Socio-Economics and Anthropology/Sociology have long shared an interest in power relationships.

DCH
outhouse wrote:
DCHindley wrote:prove that Jesus was a fictional character because the account had emplotments usually associated with legend,

DCH
When I hear words like "prove" I think of law classes.

The fact this is theology means the authors had to use myth and legend no matter how historical something is or is not, but one thing we can count on is that they wrote what was important to them. So by us knowing what they were selling combined with the rhetorical prose used, we have a decent evidence trail of what they believed.

To date no matter how many have tried, EVERY last attempt to explain the evidence we do have has failed dramatically to explain what actually took place.

What does explain the evidence 100% in full, is a martyred Galilean who took over Johns movement who made at least one trip to the temple during Passover and was crucified, and this generated a new theology in Hellenism that was busting at the seams already ready to divorce cultural Judaism for a Judaism light.

A working hypothesis is what makes a story historical, and in this case there are no other hypothesis at this time that even makes half sense.

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

Post by neilgodfrey » Sun Jun 18, 2017 12:49 am

Just dropping in an observation deriving from my own too-ancient history:

In the later 60s in high school I was in one of two senior classes led by two teachers who, I believe, pioneered the teaching of history in Australian high schools. They taught us that the essence of history was "interpretation" and different interpretations inevitably led to debate about "what happened" in the past. Our senior history classes were often given over to debates about a topic we were studying.

We were also taught -- this is the late 60s -- about historical narrative. Our core narrative for examination (and debate -- we were free to disagree on the basis of the evidence) was Toynbee's thesis of "challenge and response". Civilizations face challenges that require responses that will enable them to change and survive or respond badly etc etc etc. Was this narrative "true" according to the periods we were studying?

Then on to university as an undergrad and among our first texts to read and study were a host of debate questions: "How was the evidence for the emergence of the Middle Ages to be interpreted?" was the first one, followed by many others. Was the "fall of the ancient world" and emergence of the "Dark Ages" a consequence of the Arab conquests throughout the Mediterranean or of other factors? Some said the Arab conquests were irrelevant; others that they were critical. We had to study the evidence to see "which thesis was the more justifiable" according to our own inquiries into the evidence, the arguments, etc.

At the same time undergrads were introduced to E.H. Carr's "What Is History?" -- Wallop! What was a historical fact? Now that was a pretty fundamental question. And did we agree with Carr's analysis of how historians worked, the way narratives were created, etc.....

So when in more recent years I began to read about how postmodernists suddenly discovered the interpretative character of history and the various thematic narratives with which data was put together, I thought for a while I must be misreading stuff and they had to be saying something much "deeper" than what it seemed like they were saying. What they seemed to be saying about the way history was done in the past was bollocks.

I mean what they were saying was bollocks. (Not that they were saying it was done bollocksy in the past, though they were saying that, but that was what was bollocks. It is bollocks to suggest previous historians did not understand the role of subjective interpretation and creative narrative in their work. I subsequently made the time to read Ranke and Collingwood for myself and discovered that lots of bollocks have been written and seemingly widely accepted about the writings of those two names, too. I used to think biblical scholars were in a class of ignorance of their own, but I have had to reluctantly expand that isolated circle to include in the embrace a good number of postmodernists, too.)

neilgodfrey
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The rhetoric of "history" in Iamblichus's Pythagoras

Post by neilgodfrey » Sun Jun 18, 2017 2:40 pm

IT is said, therefore, that Ancaus who dwelt in Samos in Cephallenia, was begot by Jupiter, whether he derived the fame of such an honorable descent through virtue, or through a certain greatness of soul.
The author (Iamblichus) does not present himself as the omniscient narrator but informs his readers that he is limited by his sources: "it is said".

The sources or "traditions" allow for various interpretations and Iamblichus, presenting himself as not having any reason to presume one over the other, cites both.
In consequence, however, of this nobility of birth being celebrated by the citizens, a certain Samian poet says, that Pythagoras was the son of Apollo. For thus he sings, . . .

It is worth while, however, to relate how this report became so prevalent.
Iamblichus expresses his reliance upon sources. Further, he seeks to understand the background to his sources; e.g. how did they come to express what they did?
Indeed, no one can doubt that the soul of Pythagoras was sent to mankind from the empire of Apollo, either being an attendant on the God, or co-arranged with him in some other more familiar way: for this may be inferred both from his birth, and the all-various wisdom of his soul. And thus much concerning the nativity of Pythagoras.
Again Iamblichus sets himself apart from his subject by relating what he knows of Pythagoras to what we could call today his (I's) "religious beliefs".

I further expresses his arms-length distance from his subject by informing the reader that he has completed the first detail of the life of Pythagoras, and implies he is now about to relate the next.

We are not immersed in a story from which the narrator hides his presence. We share Iamblichus's distance from the subject, and are constantly reminded that we are being told information that our author has drawn from various sources and various "traditions" or accounts, and that we are studying the life in some sort of objective order.

I do not suggest that we therefore can conclude that what Iamblichus says is "historically true". Obviously that is not always the case. For example, he writes in the next section:
But, when Mnesarchus considered with himself, that the God, without being interrogated concerning his son, had informed him by an oracle, that he would possess an illustrious perogative, and a gift truly divine, he immediately named his wife Pythais . . . .
This is the rhetoric of fiction. Here Iamblichus switches to the omniscient narrator conveying to readers even the inner thoughts and motivation for an immediate response to those thoughts of Mnesarchus.

I am commenting on what I see as the "rhetoric of historical" narrative and not on the historical reliability of the content itself. That's another story and discussion. The point, I think, is that readers/hearers of Iamblichus's bio of Pythagoras are being informed that they are hearing the results of the author's investigations into the details of P's life. That is, they are listening to/reading what we might call a "historical biography".

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

Post by neilgodfrey » Sun Jun 18, 2017 4:50 pm

neilgodfrey wrote: Postmodernists have too often gone way too far and tossed out babies with bathwater, though.
To illustrate by analogy what I find problematic with certain postmodernist views of "historical knowledge"....

Earlier I was commenting on the different perspectives of authors, and how they necessarily edit their narratives and such editing must always derive from a personal perspectives, interests, biases, cultural matrix, etc. Some postmodernists argue that it follows that we can have no "objective" knowledge of any "absolute" truth or "fact of history".

I drew the analogy with witnessing from a balcony where I was having breakfast a barge chugging down the canal. I could only see, and therefore could only describe, the exterior of one side of the barge and the little I could see of the pilot. The pilot, however, had a different perspective and could describe quite different scenes from where he was standing.

If I understand the arguments of some postmodernists, it is said by some that since we can only know of different subjective viewpoints it is impossible to know any historical event as it really happened.

That sounds to me as if it would logically follow that we cannot know anything more about the barge apart from two perspectives. But that is surely not true. We can know that there really is a barge going along the canal being directed by one pilot -- and we can know it has a motor, and we can know there is much to the barge that neither myself nor pilot can see or describe. Someone can take our two accounts (the pilot's and mine) and conclude the "absolute fact" that a barge really was going down the canal and that it had many properties and much could be truly inferred that neither pilot nor myself might actually say we experienced.

I cannot accept the postmodernist argument (at least from some postmodernists) that we can know nothing of the past because all witnesses or sources are necessarily subjective, biased, tendentious, etc.

Most historians have "always" (at least in modern times) understood the place of interpretation and subjectivity in their sources and in their own narratives. (Read almost any discussion of the philosophy of history and historical methods prior to postmodernist claims.) It does not follow that "everything" must be at some level a "fiction" or "unknowable" as a "historical fact".

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

Post by Paul the Uncertain » Mon Jun 19, 2017 4:55 am

Neil

What your example of Iamblichus seems to show is there are many voices in which a skilled writer can offer truth-respecting discussion about the human past. Suetonius and Josephus sustain a fair degree of forthrightness about the disputable. Tacitus, like Iamblichus, can both be discreet when discussing whether or not Nero was an arsonist, but can also jump in with both feet about the "voices in the Jerusalem Temple." There're lots of ways to play this game.

Shorter works cannot be overlooked. When Pliny writes to Sura about three "real-life" supernatural stories (Letter #83) with three distinct levels of personal knowledge of the facts, he seems to get his brief explanation of "where he's coming from" out of the way before each story, then pretty much dives into each one (and in what seems to be much the same way, despite different quality of information).

The idea that such explanation is authorial "distancing" may be a pure projection. It needn't be distancing in Pliny's case; it might be just the sort of thing he knows Sura would want to read. As such, it is an organic part of each anecdote.

Why does Iamblichus' "subject" not include the diversity of stories about Pythagoras in Iamblichus' own time (parading which knowledge places Iamblichus in the elite company of the well-read)? Why must his subject be only some one true story of Pythagoras perhaps 750-ish years earlier (which one story Iamblichus doesn't know, as he does well to acknowledge, and may use the acknowledgment artfully)?

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

Post by neilgodfrey » Mon Jun 19, 2017 8:47 am

Paul the Uncertain wrote:Neil

What your example of Iamblichus seems to show is there are many voices in which a skilled writer can offer truth-respecting discussion about the human past. . . . . There're lots of ways to play this game.

Sorry, Paul, but I am having difficulty in understanding your argument and how it apparently pulls the rug from under mine.

Can you take a specific comment of mine, perhaps, and address that with some specificity.

I am addressing rhetorical techniques that are in fact common to all works we deem to be "historical" in nature (Josephus and Tacitus included) and pointing out their use by Iamblichus because he was one of the case-studies that was addressed earlier in this discussion.
Paul the Uncertain wrote:Shorter works cannot be overlooked. When Pliny writes to Sura about three "real-life" supernatural stories (Letter #83) with three distinct levels of personal knowledge of the facts, he seems to get his brief explanation of "where he's coming from" out of the way before each story, then pretty much dives into each one (and in what seems to be much the same way, despite different quality of information).
I don't see how this changes my argument, sorry. I don't understand how the point you are expressing addresses my own.
Paul the Uncertain wrote:The idea that such explanation is authorial "distancing" may be a pure projection. It needn't be distancing in Pliny's case; it might be just the sort of thing he knows Sura would want to read. As such, it is an organic part of each anecdote.
There is no "pure projection" in the clear literary devices Iamblichus uses, surely. They are as clear as the words on the page. "They say..." is a clear expression of a certain position between a narrator, the content of his message and his audience.
Paul the Uncertain wrote:Why does Iamblichus' "subject" not include the diversity of stories about Pythagoras in Iamblichus' own time (parading which knowledge places Iamblichus in the elite company of the well-read)? Why must his subject be only some one true story of Pythagoras perhaps 750-ish years earlier (which one story Iamblichus doesn't know, as he does well to acknowledge, and may use the acknowledgment artfully)?
I don't see the relevance of what he decides not to express. That is irrelevant to my point as far as I can see. I don't understand the relevance or point of your second question either, sorry.

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

Post by neilgodfrey » Mon Jun 19, 2017 9:10 am

Paul the Uncertain wrote: Shorter works cannot be overlooked. When Pliny writes to Sura about three "real-life" supernatural stories (Letter #83) with three distinct levels of personal knowledge of the facts, he seems to get his brief explanation of "where he's coming from" out of the way before each story, then pretty much dives into each one (and in what seems to be much the same way, despite different quality of information).

The idea that such explanation is authorial "distancing" may be a pure projection. It needn't be distancing in Pliny's case; it might be just the sort of thing he knows Sura would want to read. As such, it is an organic part of each anecdote.
Pliny's letter is equally rich in the distancing techniques that I am addressing. By distancing, I don't mean that the author is somehow being "objectively aloof" from the content he is conveying (-- perhaps that explains what seems to me to be a real disconnect between your reply and my post?)

No, in my comment on Iamblichus I was trying to say that the author is making it evident to readers that the subject matter is derived from sources "out there". The narrator makes the audience aware that he is not the source of the story.

That is, though the narrator makes his presence known to the reader (he uses language to regularly remind the reader of his presence) at the same time he also makes it clear to his audience that he is not the source of the story, that he is relating a story that derives from his (the narrator's) inquiries into sources of various kinds.

Pliny of course does exactly the same in the letter you mention. So do Josephus and Tacitus.

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

Post by outhouse » Mon Jun 19, 2017 12:21 pm

neilgodfrey wrote: , with every problem that that thesis raises, beginning with the baptism of Jesus, the call of the disciples, the healings, the followings by people who did not understand him, the resurrection appearances, the subsequent conversions....
Your adding way more details then I would ever attribute.

John the Baptist probably existed, and he was murdered by authorities, at that point with such a popular movement, it is more than highly plausible, someone took over his movement and did so by NOT drawing large crowds as to not meet the same fate as John.

That alone dictates plausibility of a historical core for a Jesus, let alone crucifixion.

Baptism and crucifixion are almost a given here, beyond that it gets dicey with much less plausibility.

I am a minimalist at best.

Fact is we know what they were selling, and we know they placed value in the martyrdom. We also know what kind of people culturally found value, and which ones did not.

A fictional story would not place their hero in front of half a million people at Passover dying an embarrassing death within a few years of the story breaking where it could be refuted.

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