Rules of Historical Reasoning

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

Post by Bernard Muller »

to Neil,
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.
You must have meant "should not" instead of "should".
I meant not systematically rejected because surrounded by embellishments and fiction. And I do not claim there are primary evidence (as you described it). More likely as heard from eyewitness(es) (for gMark).
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
Yes, I selected the options the most likely to be valid after thorough analysis. And then realizing these options when stringed together deliver a reconstruction which makes a lot of sense.
It's easy to say you don't reject anything because you have not written yet any comprehensive study on the topic (whatever it is). But if you don't reject anything, your so-called future literary research will be a confusing array of options at every turns.
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?
Not all historians followed methods as strict as you described them. And then I would not trust a historian to work on the very beginning of Christianity. A cold case investigator, with a lot of time, would be a lot more suited for that job, because of the nature of the available evidence.
But you are free to criticize biblical scholars. I would probably agree with you on many points.
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.
"it seems" means you are leaning toward something I would call an assumption, even if you base it on "considerable scholarly argument", which is, BTW, not primary evidence, not even secondary.
Anyway, I made a point that many items from gMark are not coming from the Pauline epistles.
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 think you are putting a lot of faith in these ancient "historians", who, for most of them, were just amateurs. As I said, they often did not agree in the description of the same events.
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.
I was mentioning ancient historians. And do not put me in the same bag than these biblical scholars.
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!!
First, 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 is most likely an interpolation: http://historical-jesus.info/9.html.
Second the gospel of Paul in 1 Cor 15:1 is about Paul's message (mostly here about future resurrections and the Resurrection) and not about the human Jesus.
Even if "That is simply repeating what many scholars actually say!!", are these many scholars saying Paul got by revelation from heaven his poor humble Jew named Jesus as Christ crucified? I doubt it.
If you think so, it is just a (false) assumption.

Cordially, Bernard
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MrMacSon
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

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neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 5:30 pm
-- 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 source1. 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 based on primary sources2 [ie. my note: not always or exclusively], secondary sources are the books, articles, essays, and lectures through which we learn most of the history we know.
I would agree with almost all of that.

1 commentary written down many years after the event is likely to have less veracity (depending on the event; what other sources say about it; etc).

2 I contend that, if a secondary source is not based on a primary source, it ought to be [has to be] based on at least two or more other secondary sources that are, in turn, based on two or more very reliable primary sources. Otherwise it'd just be dealing in hearsay or 'telephone' [gossip; 'Chinese whispers']



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."
MrMacSon wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 2:41 am 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 5:30 pm 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".
Unless "a primary [original] source is, as Michael J. Salevouris with Conal Furay (in The Methods and Skills of History: A Practical Guide, 4th ed. p. 171) say, a piece of evidence written or created during the period under investigation", it risks having what Day describes (in that quote): - 'the accretion of subsequent interpretation and tradition'.


neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 5:30 pm
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.
Likewise

neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 5:30 pm
Sources can indeed be literary narratives ..
It depends on what underpins them, and what surrounds them.

neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 5:30 pm .. and [literary narratives] is what probably most secondary sources are.
In the context of early Christianity (and the preliminary phases of other religions), they can probably only be sources about theology
  • (rather than being sources about the deity underpinning the theology. The fact biblical Jesus is portrayed as a man does not mean he was)

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neilgodfrey
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

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Bernard Muller wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 8:07 pm to Neil,
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.
You must have meant "should not" instead of "should".
No-one has stated that there is any rule that anything should be rejected or not rejected on the basis that it appears in a secondary source.

Your accusation to the contrary is misdirected.
Bernard Muller wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 8:07 pm
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
Yes, I selected the options the most likely to be valid after thorough analysis. And then realizing these options when stringed together deliver a reconstruction which makes a lot of sense.
It's easy to say you don't reject anything because you have not written yet any comprehensive study on the topic (whatever it is). But if you don't reject anything, your so-called future literary research will be a confusing array of options at every turns.
Why don't you actually try to understand another point of view, Bernard? Will it really hurt that much?
Bernard Muller wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 8:07 pm
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?
Not all historians followed methods as strict as you described them.
Which ones don't? Name them.


Bernard Muller wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 8:07 pm
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 think you are putting a lot of faith in these ancient "historians", who, for most of them, were just amateurs. As I said, they often did not agree in the description of the same events.
Please be specific. Which historians are you talking about?

Bernard Muller wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 8:07 pm
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!!
First, 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 is most likely an interpolation: http://historical-jesus.info/9.html.
Second the gospel of Paul in 1 Cor 15:1 is about Paul's message (mostly here about future resurrections and the Resurrection) and not about the human Jesus.
Even if "That is simply repeating what many scholars actually say!!", are these many scholars saying Paul got by revelation from heaven his poor humble Jew named Jesus as Christ crucified? I doubt it.
If you think so, it is just a (false) assumption.

Cordially, Bernard
You really are impossible, Bernard.

No matter what I say you will find a way to argue with it, won't you.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

Post by neilgodfrey »

MrMacSon wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 8:29 pm
1 commentary written down many years after the event is likely to have less veracity (depending on the event; what other sources say about it; etc).
As a general rule, yes.
MrMacSon wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 8:29 pm 2 I contend that, if a secondary source is not based on a primary source, it ought to be [has to be] based on at least two or more other secondary sources that are, in turn, based on two or more very reliable primary sources. Otherwise it'd just be dealing in hearsay or 'telephone' [gossip; 'Chinese whispers']
We can define any word to mean what we want it to mean. The only important thing is that all involved in a discussion agree on a common usage.



MrMacSon wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 8:29 pm
Unless "a primary [original] source is, as Michael J. Salevouris with Conal Furay (in The Methods and Skills of History: A Practical Guide, 4th ed. p. 171) say, a piece of evidence written or created during the period under investigation", it risks having what Day describes (in that quote): - 'the accretion of subsequent interpretation and tradition'.
Looks like we're all on the same page here. The rules are generalizations. There are always exceptions but we are not addressing those.


MrMacSon wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 8:29 pm
neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 5:30 pm
Sources can indeed be literary narratives ..
It depends on what underpins them, and what surrounds them.
Sources and sources and sauces are sauces, whether novels, news reports, diaries, letters both true and false, monuments, purchase receipts, coins, dna....
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Bernard Muller
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

Post by Bernard Muller »

to Neil,
But your arguments are presented with the strongest certainty, Bernard. Your criticisms of me and mythicists are made with black and white dogmatism.
Well, I did my home work and that allows me not to be wishy washy. And I don't think I pushed my reconstruction as being the final word on early beginning of Christianity.
On my intro page, I wrote:
However, these overlooked pieces of data, and many others, shed a lot of light on the real Jesus and why he set off unintentionally the evolution of Christian beliefs. Furthermore --and somewhat unexpected-- from them (& Josephus' works) the resulting reconstruction fits too well together (and explains so many things) that it cannot be easily dismissed.
I did not say it cannot be dismissed.
Also, I called my reconstruction "a reconstruction" and "this reconstruction". That does not say my reconstruction is infallible.

The problem with Mark Day's rules if they cannot be used for determining the very beginning of Christianity, because of the nature of the relevant evidence. Period.
But this is not a reason to say my reconstruction is false.
As for your approach (literary), I do not have a clue about what methods you are going to use. At least for me, I indicated them. But I read recently you are invoking argument from silence and irony in order to dismiss some historicist evidence. So I wonder.
And of course, no one can criticize your literary approach because you haven't done your study yet.

Cordially, Bernard
Last edited by Bernard Muller on Tue Sep 19, 2017 11:24 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Bernard Muller
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

Post by Bernard Muller »

to Neil,
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 wrote:
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
Yes, you are assuming the gospels (or at least one) were written as late as 170 CE. Yes you take an assumption as a starting point.
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?
It is very hypothetical because the rules of other historians cannot be applied in the case of the very beginning of Christianity.
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.
OK, I missed that.

Time to go in bed!

Cordially, Bernard
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

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Bernard Muller wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 8:56 pm The problem with Mark Day's rules if they cannot be used for determining the very beginning of Christianity, because of the nature of the relevant evidence. Period.
Here is the rub, Bernard. The rules actually would have historians treat the evidence for early Christianity no differently from the way they treat any other ancient documents, and with the same methods they use to work with other ancient documents.

Currently biblical scholars do not treat the NT documents like any other ancient documents and they do not apply normal historical methods. Their historical arguments are in effect, and by the admission of some of them, circular. And since they do not have primary sources for Jesus, they find ways to create imaginary primary sources to work with by doing something no other historian would dare do with his sources -- get "behind" or "beneath" them with circular "criteria".

What interests me is what would happen if we do treat the NT texts and related documents no differently from other sources and use the same methods ancient historians apply to their sources.

Your reaction is interesting. You seem to find the mere suggestion above very threatening.
Bernard Muller wrote: Mon Sep 18, 2017 8:56 pm As for your approach (literary), I do not have a clue about what methods you are going to use. At least for me, I indicated them. But I read recently you are invoking argument from silence and irony in order to dismiss some historicist evidence. So I wonder.
And of course, no one can criticize your literary approach because you haven't done your study yet.
Oh Bernard, please. Yes, I have argued literary approaches but that is not the only one I have argued. And no, no, no -- I do NOT "dismiss some historicist evidence" on the basis of arguments from silence. Good god, B, why don't you please please please read what I say and stop reading your own presumptions and prejudices into my words.

Some of us, Bernard, unlike what you have demonstrated you are like yourself here, are quite prepared to ditch arguments that are faulty for no other reason than that they are invalid, and they try their damnedest not to let the results of the outcome decide their choices.

You have made it very clear in the above exchange that you will reject an argument or method if it produces a result you do not personally like.
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

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Bernard Muller
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.
Taking Paul at his word, a literally logical answer is that Paul claims (Galatians 3:13) that the mechanism of salvation was that the Christ should become a curse for our sake. Deuteronomy 21:23 prescribes how to turn any human being into a curse. If that is so, then Christ crucified could be a conclusion, and need not be anything Paul heard from anybody earthside.

It is not obvious why Paul would need the Christ's brother to expect that the Jewish Christ would be Jewish, nor that the name of the Christ be one that appears in the Jewish Bible. Among those, Joshua will work fine.

There is a further difficulty that staying inside Paul's epistles and regardless of whether Galatians 3:13 is a rationalization rather than a reason, Paul claims in the same letter that he was preaching his gospel for years before he says he met James. He might have heard the word before then, while he was a persecutor; he never tells us why he persecuted the group. If he had a reason for being a persecutor, then this might be part of it, and anybody in the group might have told him or told an intermediate.

On a point repeatedly arising, which may be on-topic in a "methods" thread, so I'll ask you here,
A cold case investigator, with a lot of time, would be a lot more suited for that job, because of the nature of the available evidence.
In what ways do you hold that a "cold case" investigator's methods differ from any other "case" investigator's?

In the United States, some police organizations assign a small portion of their detectives to the task of trying to clear some of the unpromising cases that have long resisted resolution. Obviously, there are practical difficulties in these cases (some witnesses have died, some physical evidence has deteriorated or gone missing, etc.). Occasionally there are practical benefits (advances in technology allow new tests). But the core work seems to be pretty much the same as what other detectives are doing in the same department.

What difference are you pointing to, then?

Neil
...photographs...
So maybe Bart Ehrman had a point? I'll grant that he is sometimes a poor expositor of norms, but aren't we supposed to look past the deficiencies of the advocate, to examine the substance of what is advocated?
apply methods that are common to all historians
Ain't no such critter, so long as different students of the human past choose different questions with different amounts and kinds of evidence bearing on the questions.

I agree that it would be nice if some people explained themselves and their reasoning more coherently (speaking of Bart), but so what if they don't (speaking of Bart)?
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A plan, or Plan A . . .

Post by neilgodfrey »

A plan, or Plan A. . . as a suggestion for one approach to start an inquiry into the origins of the earliest Christian sources.

Among the earliest sources are the canonical gospels. Let's take the Gospel of Mark as the earliest of these. (This relative dating of Mark is a hypothesis that may be overturned in the future but it's as good a place to start as any right now.)

My "plan A" of attack is based on the model used by a number of "Copenhagen School" names who posit that much of the Pentateuch narrative was inspired by (created to meet a need for) new settlers in the land of Canaan at the time of the Persian conquest. The new inhabitants were brought by Persians to Canaan from Mesopotamia, and others came up from Egypt, to form the colony of Jehud. As was done elsewhere with mass migrations (forced) new ideologies and/or gods were created to justify the move and give the new inhabitants a new identity in their new land and (often) among native inhabitants with different language and customs.

I sometimes have wondered what would happen if we apply a similar type of model to the gospels. Would it work? Of course the above model is a thesis that derives from applying the standard techniques of historical inquiry I have set out at the beginning, at the OP here. So my interest is to work within those "rules" for the gospels, too.

To explain . . . .

Time period

I set aside the Casey-Crossley date of Mark as being within the 30s or 40s and concur with those who make 70 CE its earliest likely date.

I take Irenaeus's reference to the 4 canonical gospels as an indicator that the Gospel of Mark was known to him -- ca 170 CE as the latest possible date for its composition.

Of course it is possible to argue an earlier terminus ad quem -- Papias or Justin, but both of those references either contain difficulties or are so very slight so that they can scarcely be said to be decisive.

A question that might be worthwhile: what conditions or situations were prevalent throughout or at various moments through the period 70 to 170 CE that match the theme and interests expressed in the Gospel of Mark?

Condition 1

One suggestion (not mine) is that the Passion Narrative in Mark, with its ironic (anti-)imperial themes and focus on crucifixion as a potential fate of all steadfast followers of Jesus, addresses the situation of the masses of crucifixions outside Jerusalem in 70 CE. A related suggestion (again not mine) is that the midrash of the empty tomb points to the Isaianic prophecy of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.

Condition 2

But the gospel is about more than the crucifixion. One other theme is that of persecution of the followers of Jesus, and it is difficult to find evidence for that situation around 70 CE. Some have pointed to the 90s as the earliest evidence we have of persecution of Christians. I think the evidence for that is slight, however. It is based on the Jewish synagogue curse against heretics but the evidence that these heretics were Christians is not strong, iiuc.

Return to Paul's letters: he speaks of being a persecutor and being persecuted. Perhaps we need to be interpreting "persecution" in Mark through the somewhat "relatively mild" form persecution took in the case of Paul.

Other instances:
  • We have claims of Neronian persecutions but of course given the problematic nature of the evidence for those they need to be set aside for now.
  • Then we have Pliny's account of persecutions, but again we run into problems with this evidence. One of those problems is the apparent ignorance of persecutions or trials of Christians elsewhere. I keep this information on the back burner for now.
  • Then we come to the Bar Kochba rebellion. How reliable are the accounts of persecutions of Christians under Bar Kochba? At least such an event seems highly likely. But then we have other difficulties with the narrative of Mark that points to a 70 CE event. Bar Kochba's episode can probably be associated with crucifixions galore, though.
  • Justin, around 150, knows of persecutions of Christians.
  • There are other scenarios, e.g. Domitian, but evidence is slight in all cases, I think.
(I ignore the late fiction of Acts, of course.)

Other conditions

I have only mentioned the first two that seem most obvious. But I need to do considerably more reading to get a better handle on what this period was like.

I know plagues, diseases, were a horrific problem besetting the peoples of the empire, but I am hazy on details prior to 170.

Culturally, this is also a period when the first "erotic" novellas appear (I think -- need to be confirmed).

Much more needs to be filled out, but meantime ......

What is the Gospel of Mark?

What do some of the stronger literary analyses of the gospel say about it? One that I think is a recurring observation is that the gospel's narrative is nested in themes of the Second Exodus (i.e. Isaiah especially).

Was it based on Paul?

Is it an attack on "the 12" and if so, why?

What to make of the apparent Rome-Jerusalem overlap of motifs and imagery, especially in the PN?

Conclusion

The aim is to fill out the conditions and scenarios that were prominent features of the period (or any part of the period) between 70 and 170, and then to posit various varieties of gospel that seem to have a strong basis of one sort or another (strong basis based on sound literary and textual criticism, not on acceptance of theologically interested apologists or others succumbing to their influence) -- and to see IF there are matches between the two: period and gospel. If so, we compare those matches and their comparative strengths; if not, we check out Plan B.
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Re: Rules of Historical Reasoning

Post by neilgodfrey »

Paul the Uncertain wrote: Tue Sep 19, 2017 12:47 am
Neil
...photographs...
So maybe Bart Ehrman had a point?
No, his use of photographs as means of "proving someone existed" was logically fallacious. I referred to photographs as sources of historical data; not as "proofs X existed". Historical museums are full of photographs. Photographs are found in many archives used by researchers.
Paul the Uncertain wrote: Tue Sep 19, 2017 12:47 am
apply methods that are common to all historians
Ain't no such critter,
You sound flippant. I just copied five of them from Mark Day. I'd be interested if you could point to any historians who don't use them.

You may have missed Mark Day's justification for them:
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)
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