Back to the Basics With MythVision Podcast

This article contains my show notes for my appearance on MythVision Podcast (MVP).

My presentation contains 3 main parts:
1 – Foundations of Chronology
2 – Fundamental Literary Sources
3 – Formation of the Disciplines

Foundations of Chronology

Eusebius (265-339) and Jerome (d.420) are typically considered to have laid the foundation for Western chronology until Scaliger (1540-1609) and Petavius (1583-1652) arrived on the scene. All of these people were religious. Eusebius is believed to have been a bishop, Jerome a priest who later became a saint, Scaliger a Protestant, and Petavius a Jesuit.

Eusebius & Jerome

Elias J. Bickerman was a prominent scholar in the field of Graeco-Roman history during his lifetime. He noted that history had long been put into the service of the Church, and that Jerome was the main founder of the framework in which the Church, and the rest of the Western world, navigated.[1, p.87-88] Anthony Grafton, a prominent scholar of chronology today, also noted basically the same thing.

“(Jerome) thus created what became the chronological tradition in Western Europe: one that taught simple Christian lessons, and used a single, coherent diagram to capture all of world history.”
– Grafton (2003)[2, p.83]

There are some issues with Eusebius and Jerome. Jerome based his chronology largely on Eusebius’ chronology. Paul L. Maier, the former Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University, reported that Eusebius is today “our principal primary source for earliest Christianity, and his Church History is the cornerstone chronicle on which later historians would build”.[3, p.9] However, as Bickerman noted,

““The datings of Eusebius, often transmitted incorrectly in manuscripts, are of little use to us today, except in a few cases where no better information is available.”[1, p.74]

To further underscore the nature of Eusebius’ chronology, I have a quote from Philip Schaff, a historian of Church history.

“He was, above all things, an apologist; and the apologetic aim governed both the selection of his subjects and method of his treatment. He composed none of his works with a purely scientific aim.”
– Schaff (1890)[4, p.33]

Eusebius’ history was not composed with scientific foundations, but with apologetic foundations. As was noted earlier, Jerome’s chronology was not much different. Jerome himself comes with some complications. As Bickerman noted,

“Errors were unavoidable. Jerome, a chronologist himself, writing after AD 374 congratulates a certain Paul on his hundredth birthday (Ep. Ad Paulum). Yet elsewhere (De viris ill. III, 53) he states that Paul knew personally Cyprian of Carthage who had died in AD 259.”
– Bickerman (1980)[1, p.89]

Basically, Jerome is believed to have misdated himself by about 115 years, and 115 years is no small amount of time.

To summarize, the common belief today is that the manuscripts of Eusebius are chaotic and practically worthless for historical studies, despite Eusebius being one of the four most important names in historical studies. Jerome laid the foundation for Western chronology, largely basing his works on those of Eusebius, but even his work has issues with the dating. Both of these people’s scientific interests paled in comparison to their ecclesiastical interests.

Scaliger & Petavius

Scaliger and Petavius’ chronology is the basis of chronology today, as noted by Grafton.[2, p.78] Scaliger is commonly referred to now as the “father of chronology”. He was among the first people to have attempted a more scientific approach to history. Scaliger published his works in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Petavius basically took his works and refined them for public consumption. Petavius had even laid out 29 fundamental points of chronology which were not to be questioned, which are still popular points today, such as the birth of Jesus Christ or the death of Alexander the Great.

Since Scaliger and Petavius, the general scheme of history hasn’t changed much aside from developments in “pre-history”.

“Before Scaliger there had been two schools of thought about the use of ancient sources for chornology. One school followed the Bible and the texts forged by Annius of Viterbo; the other school followed the Bible alone.”
– Grafton (1975)[7, p.164]

Annius of Viterbo lived from about the mid-15th century to the first decade of the 16th century. His activities influenced European circles of scholarship until about the mid-18th century, so around 250 years. What he is most famous for today are his forgeries which caused quite a bit of controversy, received condemnation by some notable characters including Scaliger himself, but it was still accepted by many, as is highlighted in Grafton’s quote above.[8, p.203]

“…the fabrication of antiquities had become big business since about the turn of the sixteenth century.”
– Stephens (2004)[8, p.206-207]

Fundamental Literary Sources

The Graeco-Roman timeline is the backbone of Western, and to a large degree, world, history. Bickerman goes into some detail about this on page 82 of [1]. His concise conclusion is:

“Where the link to Roman chronology is broken, we grope vainly for certitude.”
Bickerman (1980)

The basis for that timeline are almost exclusively literary sources, at least until recent times with new developments in archeology. The vast majority of surviving literary sources are dated much later than the times in which they are believed to have been originally written, which is a potential, if not major issue.

Another thing which I think is an issue is the lack of interest in shedding light on the ownership and history of these surviving literary relics. The majority of them are incredibly obscure, and they supposedly contain some of the most important writings to have ever been produced.

I’m only giving one Greek historian and one Roman historian as examples to show just what I’m talking about here. I have done this type of manuscript research for numerous other Greek historians, such as Thucydides, Xenophon, Ctesias, Polybius, Siculus, and Strabo. Also for numerous Roman historians, such as Livy, Sallust, Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Elder, and Dio Cassius. The majority of their surviving records are obscure and have been given little to no attention.

Herodotus & Varro

Herodotus’ (c.480-c.429 BC) earliest surviving manuscript (aside from the papyri) has been dated to the 10th century AD and has obscure provenance. Varro’s (116-27 BC) earliest surviving manuscript has been dated to the 11th century AD and has possibly 16th century provenance, but mostly obscure provenance. There’s a gap of about 1350 years between Herodotus and the earliest surviving MS and a gap of about 1150 years for Varro. And these are just the gaps based on the recent dating of the MSS. The reason provenance is important is because it helps strengthen the authenticity dating, and no provenance is sketchy at best. Again, the majority of surviving literary relics have had little to no attention given to them, especially in the realm of provenance.

Formation of the Disciplines

Let’s talk about how these manuscripts are dated. There are a number of disciplines which are used today for dating literature, but the two most important ones are paleography and diplomatics.

Paleography can be defined as, “the study of ancient documents and their provenance, of old types of handwriting and of obsolete forms of the language.”[5, p.28]

Diplomatics can be defined as, “the science of deciphering old official documents, as charters, and of determining their authenticity, age, or the like”.[6]

Mabillon & Montfaucon

These two disciplines were established in the 17th and 18th cc.. Jean Mabillon (1632-1707) is the uncontested founder of diplomatics, but the title “founder of paleography” is split between Mabillon and Bernard de Montfaucon (1655-1741). Regardless of the title, the two disciplines gained significant traction with these two people.

This is problematic in that the general scheme of history had already been agreed upon before any serious methods of determining validity had been created.

The sciences and humanities were mainly founded in the 19th century, well after the general scheme of chronology had been established.[9] Between these two categories, the natural sciences (chemistry, astronomy, physics, etc.) have had many overviews of their histories written. The humanities have not yet had this. The methods which are employed in constructing narratives about the past have not yet had their histories sufficiently written.

History mainly being a product of Christian hands, the sources being incredibly obscure, and the lack of an history of historical methods are all issues worthy of further exploration, in my opinion.

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References:

[1] – Bickerman, E. J. “Chronology of the ancient world” (1980). https://archive.org/details/chronologyofanci00bick/page/81/mode/1up?q=roman+dates. Accessed 18 Oct. 2020.

[2] – Grafton, Anthony. “Dating History: The Renaissance & the Reformation of Chronology.” Daedalus, vol. 132, no. 2, 2003, pp. 74–85. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20027842. Accessed 18 Oct. 2020.

[3] – Maier, Paul L. “Eusebius–the church history : a new translation with commentary” (1999). https://archive.org/details/eusebiusthechurc00euse/page/9/mode/1up. Accessed 18 Oct. 2020.

[4] – https://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/1819-1893,_Schaff._Philip,_3_Vol_01_Eusebius_Pamphilius,_EN.pdf. Accessed 18 Oct. 2020.

[5] – Leerssen, Joep. “The Rise of Philology: The Comparative Method, the Historicist Turn and the Surreptitious Influence of Giambattista Vico.” The Making of the Humanities: Volume II: From Early Modern to Modern Disciplines, edited by Rens Bod et al., Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 2012, pp. 23–36. JSTORwww.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt45kdfw.4. Accessed 18 Oct. 2020.

[6] – https://www.dictionary.com/browse/diplomatics. Accessed 18 Oct. 2020.

[7] – Grafton, Anthony T. “Joseph Scaliger and Historical Chronology: The Rise and Fall of a Discipline.” History and Theory, vol. 14, no. 2, 1975, pp. 156–185. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2504611. Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.

[8] – Stephens, Walter. “When Pope Noah Ruled the Etruscans: Annius of Viterbo and His Forged ‘Antiquities.’” MLN, vol. 119, no. 1, 2004, pp. S201–S223. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3251832. Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.

[9] – https://ctruth.today/2020/10/07/sciences-and-humanities/. Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.

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