Rules of Historical Reasoning

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

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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.
MrMacSon wrote: Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:41 pm
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: Mon Sep 18, 2017 12:18 am
.. Let's say the Gospel of Mark is a historical document about the life of Jesus 40 years earlier.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.
Only if it was supported by primary sources such as specific, named, first-hand accounts*; or documented first-person accounts; official documents (such as a birth, death, or marriage certificate (unlikely for the 1st C ad, of course, but still), etc.

eg. -
  • Tom spoke about meeting Jesus during event X [in time B].
  • Dick also told me about what Jesus said about event X
  • Harry told me about Jesus' life in place K.

neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 12:18 am
But the Gospel of Mark is a primary source for the time, say, of beliefs that were held about Jesus at around 70 CE..
Only if it were an account about beliefs 'that were held about Jesus at around 70 CE'.

neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 12:18 am
The product of time A (70 CE) is a secondary source, arguably, of the Jesus event (X) 40 years earlier.
Only if it were based on suitable primary sources.

neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 12:18 am
I have a book here about Hitler. The book was published in 1978. It is a secondary source about Hitler.
Only if it is based on suitable primary sources about Hitler.


neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 12:18 am
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.
Such a book would only be an account about 'what people believed and wrote about Hitler' in 1978.

It would only be 'a primary source for what people thought about the war and Hitler' [in 1978] if it included documentation and first hand accounts of what certain, specific people thought.

..
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neilgodfrey
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

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MrMacSon wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 12:58 am
neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 12:18 am
.. 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.
Only if it was supported by primary sources such as specific, named, first-hand accounts*; or documented first-person accounts; official documents (such as a birth, death, or marriage certificate (unlikely for the 1st C ad, of course, but still), etc.

eg. -
  • Tom spoke about meeting Jesus during event X [in time B].
  • Dick also told me about what Jesus said about event X
  • Harry told me about Jesus' life in place K.
Any source that is removed from the time and place it is writing about is a secondary source. It may be based on primary sources or it may be based on other secondary sources. Either way it is still a secondary source in the sense that I quoted and as used by Mark Day.
MrMacSon wrote: Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:41 pm
neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 12:18 am
But the Gospel of Mark is a primary source for the time, say, of beliefs that were held about Jesus at around 70 CE..
Only if it were an account about beliefs 'that were held about Jesus at around 70 CE'.
What else could it be? Even if it were based on primary sources it would still be a secondary interpretation of those primary sources. It would be a secondary source. A secondary source is any source that is not part or eyewitness of the scene or event or person being described.
MrMacSon wrote: Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:41 pm
neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 12:18 am
The product of time A (70 CE) is a secondary source, arguably, of the Jesus event (X) 40 years earlier.
Only if it were based on suitable primary sources.
We can make up any definition we like so long as we all agree to use a word in a certain way for the sake of clear communication. But I attempted to explain at the outset what Mark Day's use of the terms meant and that's how I've been using them -- and the way many historians use the terms.

A secondary source might be based on primary sources or other secondary sources. We can't always tell what a secondary source is based on -- if the author doesn't inform us of his or her sources of information.
MrMacSon wrote: Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:41 pm
neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 12:18 am
I have a book here about Hitler. The book was published in 1978. It is a secondary source about Hitler.
Only if it is based on suitable primary sources about Hitler.
It may be based on both or either one. A secondary source might be based on the testimony of someone who heard something from an eyewitness. That is, it might be based on secondary sources, too. That's how Mark Day and I have used the terms at the outset.

If we want to go on and talk about tertiary or other types of sources with different nuances of source material, that's fine, but that's for another discussion and is not part of Mark Day's point and is not what is commonly done in discussions about the relative value of primary sources compared with later sources.
MrMacSon wrote: Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:41 pm
neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 12:18 am
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.
Such a book would only be an account about 'what people believed and wrote about Hitler' in 1978.

It would only be 'a primary source for what people thought about the war and Hitler' [in 1978] if it included documentation and first hand accounts of what certain, specific people thought.
If that's how you want to define a secondary source, fine. But you should decide to ignore this thread in that case because that's not the way Mark Day -- nor I -- meant it. What you say is true of some secondary sources, but not of all secondary sources in the context of the discussion and point about the primacy of primary sources over secondary sources.

I had meant this topic to be about historical methods that are valid for the study of Christian origins. The meanings of primary and secondary sources were clear in the OP in the context of what professional historians write, I had hoped.
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MrMacSon
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

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neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 1:37 am
I had meant this topic to be about historical methods that are valid for the study of Christian origins. The meanings of primary and secondary sources were clear in the OP in the context of what professional historians write, I had hoped.
neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 1:37 am I attempted to explain at the outset what Mark Day's use of the terms meant and that's how I've been using them..
I appreciate that. I'm disagreeing with the way Day and you apply the terms primary and secondary sources.


neilgodfrey wrote: Sun Sep 17, 2017 5:14 pm
From Mark Day, The Philosophy of History, 2008, pp. 20-21.
....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.
I agree.
Mark Day wrote:
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."
I contend documents have to do more than give 'a sense of being transported back to the time they describe' to be called 'primary sources'.


neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 1:37 am
Any source that is removed from the time and place it is writing about is a secondary source. It may be based on primary sources or it may be based on other secondary sources. Either way it is still a secondary source in the sense that I quoted and as used by Mark Day.
I contend that a secondary source can only be based on a suitable primary source.


We can't always tell what a secondary source is based on -- if the author doesn't inform us of his or her sources of information.
"if the author doesn't inform us of his or her sources of information" it shouldn't be called a secondary source.

I'll stop now. Other than to say we need a different word for things like the gospels, epistles, and other books in the Bible, as well as the apocryphal and pseud-epigraphical texts. I think they should just be called 'narratives' or something similar. They are not non-fiction. They are essentially just literature.

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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

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to Neil,
It follows that we have no primary sources for persons or events in Galilee in the 20s/early 30s.
But are you rejecting ancient historians' writings because written well after the narrated events?
(maybe these authors had primary evidence, but they were not telling. So that cannot be assumed, more so when some do not agree on the same event).
If you don't, you should not reject certain events in the gospels as unhistorical.
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.
But we can profile these authors through their writings, complete with biases & motives, and even, for some, other characteristics.
The first gospel written was in dialogue, it seems, with Paul,
That's an assumption. For examples, Capernaum, Nazareth, credited healing by Jesus, disturbance in the temple, "king of the Jews" do not come from Paul's epistles.
One does have to wonder at why other historians bother with any of the above rule
Ancient historians did not abide with all these rules.
These rules are idealistic, but that does not mean history of ancient times cannot be reconstructed with less data, as long as the overall result is not presented as a certainty.
Paul claims, according to many, that he learned about Jesus from other sources.
Assumption again. And what he learned from other sources (than human) are his gospel, alleged revelations from above, the OT & his own thinking. And that "learning" would be about the supposed resurrected heavenly Jesus, not necessarily the human Jesus.
So from where would he have learned about a Jew called Jesus crucified as Christ?
Not going outside Paul's epistles, a logical answer would be James, Jesus' brother.
Our aim is to understand they origins and nature of the epistles and gospels.
These questions cannot be answered with certainty and without controversy.

Cordially, Bernard
Last edited by Bernard Muller on Mon Sep 18, 2017 4:21 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

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to Neil,
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.
I can see it coming: the other sources are full fiction, the gospels are mostly fiction with no perceived non-fiction elements to be trusted as being factual (they can be explained away!), therefore the gospels are all fiction, just like the other selected sources.
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
As late as 170 CE is an assumption not shared by most critical scholars. And you consider that as a starting point!!!
That does not say much for your methodology.
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.
That may be besides the topic of that thread, but after my extensive analysis of this book, I concluded that the first half of the book was written a few years after Alexander the Great's death and the second part a few years before the Maccabees came to the fore (BTW, these conclusions are mostly compatible with the ones of John J. Collins (I discovered that after I wrote my piece on 'Daniel')): http://historical-jesus.info/daniel.html
Once again, I would not assume that historians agree on their literary analysis of a text.

Cordially, Bernard
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

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MrMacSon wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 2:41 am I'm disagreeing with the way Day and you apply the terms primary and secondary sources.
You're allowed to do that. You may have read other works that I haven't, of course. But I can't recall any of the historians discussing sources having a fundamentally different view on what some would see as the most basic difference between primary and secondary sources. -- Discussions can and do get very lengthy over a whole lot of different types of sources (news reports, diaries, etc), but fwiw, here is another one from Michael J. Salevouris with Conal Furay, The Methods and Skills of History: A Practical Guide, 4th ed. p. 171:
A primary source (also called an original source) is a piece of evidence written or created during the period under investigation. Primary sources are the records of contemporaries who participated in, witnessed, or commented on the events you are studying. They are the documents and artifacts—letters, reports, diaries, government records, parish registers, newspapers, business ledgers, photographs, films, works of art, buildings, and a host of others—that make the writing and study of history possible. A note of caution: even though an eyewitness or participant writes down memories many years after the event, the commentary is still a primary source. In sum, a primary source is to the historian what a mountain is to the geologist: the surviving record of events that took place a long time ago.

A secondary source is an account of the period in question written after the events have taken place. Often [i.e. my note: not always or exclusively] based on primary sources, secondary sources are the books, articles, essays, and lectures through which we learn most of the history we know.

MrMacSon wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 2:41 am
neilgodfrey wrote: Sun Sep 17, 2017 5:14 pm

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."
I contend documents have to do more than give 'a sense of being transported back to the time they describe' to be called 'primary sources'.
I don't understand your point, though. Day continued in the same sentence to say "and of which they were a part, permitting the historian knowledge of that past without the accretion of subsequent interpretation and tradition".


MrMacSon wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 2:41 am "if the author doesn't inform us of his or her sources of information" it shouldn't be called a secondary source.

I'll stop now. Other than to say we need a different word for things like the gospels, epistles, and other books in the Bible, as well as the apocryphal and pseud-epigraphical texts. I think they should just be called 'narratives' or something similar. They are not non-fiction. They are essentially just literature.
What I would like to see is biblical scholars actually doing what they claim to do -- apply methods that are common to all historians and treat their sources (NT writings) the same way historians treat any other ancient sources or documents. Sources can indeed be literary narratives, and that's what probably most secondary sources are.
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

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Bernard Muller wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 3:33 pm to Neil,
It follows that we have no primary sources for persons or events in Galilee in the 20s/early 30s.
But are you rejecting ancient historians' writings because written well after the narrated events?
I have said nothing at all about rejecting anything. I don't understand why you ask such a question.
Bernard Muller wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 3:33 pm(maybe these authors had primary evidence, but they were not telling. So that cannot be assumed, more so when some do not agree on the same event).
If you don't, you should not reject certain events in the gospels as unhistorical.
Sorry, Bernard, but you've lost me completely. You seem to be making a lot of assumptions and imputing all sorts of arguments and thoughts to me that I simply don't have.

You seem to think I have suggested that certain events in the gospel narratives should be rejected as unhistorical because they appear in documents that maybe were based on primary evidence.

I don't "reject" anything. I am not a black and white thinker like you. You have misread my point, it appears, on the assumption that I think in black and white terms like you do.

I am trying to point out what historians believe are solid methods. I don't understand why you are jumping the gun and assuming that I must be attacking your historical Jesus. I am sure if biblical scholars and you apply methods accepted as valid by historians generally you will have nothing to worry about. After all, don't you or others say that no modern historians doubts the historicity of Jesus? So what's wrong with looking at their methods?
Bernard Muller wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 3:33 pm
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.
But we can profile these authors through their writings, complete with biases & motives, and even, for some, other characteristics.
Indeed we often can profile their biases and motives. That fact does not belie the point I made.
Bernard Muller wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 3:33 pm
The first gospel written was in dialogue, it seems, with Paul,
That's an assumption. For examples, Capernaum, Nazareth, credited healing by Jesus, disturbance in the temple, "king of the Jews" do not come from Paul's epistles.
Please read my words, Bernard. I said "it seems". That is not "an assumption". It is based on considerable scholarly argument and is pointed out with full awareness that it is not an "absolute fact" or "unquestioned assumption" but something that I am presenting as an additional point, an additional point, with the status of "it seems". I am fully aware some people will disagree and I trust they will have enough awareness of what I am writing to get the point overall even if they don't agree with every "it seems" detail I add to it.
Bernard Muller wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 3:33 pm
One does have to wonder at why other historians bother with any of the above rule
Ancient historians did not abide with all these rules.
These rules are idealistic, but that does not mean history of ancient times cannot be reconstructed with less data, as long as the overall result is not presented as a certainty.
They don't? Why do you say that? I say they do -- at least when being seriously professional and writing for their peers. And if they fail to abide by these rules then their peers point out that they have failed to abide by them in their reviews of their work.

I can quote you Mark Day's words explaining all of that and how he thus arrived at those rules, along with the double-page spread he includes pointing out what peer-reviewers are most concerned about in their criticisms of their peers.

It sounds to me like you don't like the rules that are indeed followed by mainstream historians so you want to poo-pooh them and coddle up with the circular methods of biblical scholars.
Bernard Muller wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 3:33 pm
Paul claims, according to many, that he learned about Jesus from other sources.
Assumption again. And what he learned from other sources (than human) are his gospel, alleged revelations from above, the OT & his own thinking. And that "learning" would be about the supposed resurrected heavenly Jesus, not necessarily the human Jesus.
So from where would he have learned about a Jew called Jesus crucified as Christ?
Not going outside Paul's epistles, a logical answer would be James, Jesus' brother.
Omg, Bernard! Assumption again???? I am damn well repeating what the overwhelming majority of biblical scholars say about Paul: that he learned about the gospel according to tradition passed on to him as per 1 Corinthians 15. And notice, please do notice, I said "according to many". That is NOT assumption. That is simply repeating what many scholars actually say!!

You do begin to look like someone who just has to find a way to object to every single point I make simply because I am the one making it and you have to oppose me at every step you can. So you ignore my qualifiers and kick me for saying something I don't just because you can construe my words to mean that -- as long as you cross out qualifiers in my sentences!
Bernard Muller wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 3:33 pm
Our aim is to understand they origins and nature of the epistles and gospels.
These questions cannot be answered with certainty and without controversy.
You seem to be pretty certain about your answers.
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

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Bernard Muller wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 3:33 pm
One does have to wonder at why other historians bother with any of the above rule
Ancient historians did not abide with all these rules.
These rules are idealistic, but that does not mean history of ancient times cannot be reconstructed with less data, as long as the overall result is not presented as a certainty.
But your arguments are presented with the strongest certainty, Bernard. Your criticisms of me and mythicists are made with black and white dogmatism.

Here is how Mark Day introduced the rules:
Before describing the rules of historical reasoning in more detail, a brief note on my methodology. By examining what is recommended, praised and criticized, we can arrive at an approximation of the rules which govern the production of historical writing. For while one can’t infer a norm simply from observing what is and is not done - since people get things wrong ignorantly, negligently, and deliberately - the inference of a norm from others’ recommendations and responses to what is and is not done is more plausible. I have used ‘historiographical manuals’ - those books written for the student of history, and in particular postgraduate or PhD students of departments of history - to elucidate the method of source criticism. I have used peer review of professional historiographical monographs to investigate wider rules governing the practice.

From historiographical manuals we gain the appreciation that the historical practice has, at its heart, the Rankean method of source criticism. All historiographical claims should be based on the sources. . . . . What follows are five points concerning the use of sources, each of which is consistently emphasized by pedagogical material of the above kind. (p. 20)
I am sure you don't mean to suggest that PhD students aren't very careful to abide by the rules in their presentations. The critics Day discusses don't write in their reviews,
Well, Professor Jones wrote a pretty persuasive essay, but of course it did not follow the rules of historical research, but hell, they are all pretty ideal standards as we know, so we can still think Professor Jones' arguments deserves the highest praise and attention coz it was so damn persuasive anyway!
If you read any of the reviews you will see that they can sometimes get very savage and will crucify a peer if he is caught breaking the "rules".
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

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Bernard Muller wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 4:17 pm to Neil,
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.
I can see it coming: the other sources are full fiction, the gospels are mostly fiction with no perceived non-fiction elements to be trusted as being factual (they can be explained away!), therefore the gospels are all fiction, just like the other selected sources.
Bernard, my understanding of a serious intellectual exchange is for both parties to first acquaint themselves with each other's premises and arguments and base their exchanges on that mutual understanding. I don't recall ever discussing with you details of my position on Christian origins and I do not recognize in your imputation in the above quote anything I have written elsewhere.

In fact, I take your comment above as a fearful attempt to ward off serious argument for fear that it may require you to think a different thought from anything you have hitherto allowed to enter your heard.

Bernard Muller wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 4:17 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 not as narrow as we would like, obviously, but it is a starting point
As late as 170 CE is an assumption not shared by most critical scholars. And you consider that as a starting point!!!
That does not say much for your methodology.
Oh dear, Mr B. It is not an assumption at all. You seem to use that word a lot but I am beginning to think it does not mean what you seem to think it means.

You seem once again to object to a method on the grounds that it does not give you the results you want. That suggests you are open to a less than valid method if it will give you what you want..... Pst, if I give you $$$$ to use my method, will that be enough.....?

Or if I could show you how applying the "rules" of other historians (outside biblical studies) gave you the historical Jesus you believe in, would you embrace them?
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

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Bernard Muller wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 3:33 pm to Neil,
It follows that we have no primary sources for persons or events in Galilee in the 20s/early 30s.
But are you rejecting ancient historians' writings because written well after the narrated events?
I forgot to point out above another truism: sometimes a secondary source can give us far more reliable information about an event than a primary source. I have often pointed that out elsewhere when discussing historical research methods, Bernard.
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