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Thread: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

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    LegionnaireX's Avatar Equites Cohortales
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    Default Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    I was debating a well informed Christian apologist the other day. He asserted that the bible has more bibliographic support than any other ancient works, including Tacitus' Annals and other histories. He stated that the Bible ought to be given historical weight because there are far more manuscripts in existence for the Gospels and they are closer to the time period discussed than the earliest known copy of the Annals.

    Much of what he said was correct. There is a several hundred year gap in between the earlist extant copy of Tacitus' Annals and the period in which the original was written. For many biblical books, there are copies still in existence that are 100 or 200 years younger than the original would have been. Having read books by Bart Ehrman detailing the copying process and the inherint human error in biblical manuscripts, I cannot help but apply the same logic to other ancient works that are relied upon for an understanding of the ancient world.

    This brings up the question, if Tacitus' Annals and other works could have been altered or embellished to varying degrees from the original, what do we really know about the ancient past? How have historians been able to corraborate the word of historians like Herodotus or Tacitus. I am aware of the doctrine of using multiple sources and archeological evidence when available to come closest to the historical truth. Maybe some of the more educated academics on this site could help me out with this. Interestingly, an apologist would probably say that the different gospels serve as corraborating sources because they were written by separate authors.

    How would one refute or combat the apologetic claims made? And more importantly, through what methods did scholarship come to trust certain historical works (such as Tacitus) and cast doubt on the historical accuracy of others (The Gospels).

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    Helm's Avatar Taishi
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    Default Re: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    Well there were an awful lot of gospels written they just picked 4 that bore the most resemblance to each other. Though I'm sure they were all based on someone, difficult to say who exactly Jesus was in purely historical terms there wasn't a great deal written about him at the time of his life.
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    Mikesmith08's Avatar Centurio
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    Default Re: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    A very interesting point and a question which I've wanted answered myself for a long time. What are the reasons why the Bible is so mistrusted, of course the claims are considered more illogical than Tacitus claims in the Annals for instance but none the less disregarding most of the ignorant accusations levelled against the Bible why is it held in such low regard as a historical document?
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    Default Re: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    Maybe there were thousands of undead magically wandered around Jerusalem at the death of Jesus, maybe whole world did magically darken at his passing, maybe the red sea magically parted and magically killed the egyptians. If we accept these claims as fact then we have to accept other mythological stories, like excalibur, achilles, Oedipus etc. It's a slippery slope.
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    Mortality's Avatar Sōkō no yari
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    Default Re: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    Wasn't the Bible edited by the Catholic Church?


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    Himster's Avatar Centurio Primus Ordine
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    Default Re: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    Quote Originally Posted by The Rifleman View Post
    Wasn't the Bible edited by the Catholic Church?
    Then why would the orthodox churches have basically the same thing, they're only slightly different translations.
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    Default Re: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    Quote Originally Posted by Himster View Post
    Maybe there were thousands of undead magically wandered around Jerusalem at the death of Jesus, maybe whole world did magically darken at his passing, maybe the red sea magically parted and magically killed the egyptians. If we accept these claims as fact then we have to accept other mythological stories, like excalibur, achilles, Oedipus etc. It's a slippery slope.
    I would say this:
    Research before you believe and realize that we are dealing with ancient things here, not Mickey D's fast food joints!

    Germain to the topic at hand now.....
    Archaeology is a wonderful tool!

    Cross referencing extra-biblical sources is a good thing to do.
    Finding archaeological discoveries which confirm biblical stories/people are even better.

    When one talks about Excalibur, Achilles, Oedipus or any so called myth, one needs to careFULLY examine the entire storyline/description/whatever that revolves around a person, place, thing.

    Ex. I saw a special on T.V. which talked about Excalibur being a sword drawn out of the rock.
    Sounds kinda weird...As I continued watching the T.V. special, it explained that in the bronze or iron age, whichever, the mold used to make swords was made up of stone and that pouring metal into the case and then removing the newly fashioned sword hilt fit the "Drawing Excalibur out of a rock" bit.

    What I'm saying is: Research before you judge. It's not like I believe in My Little Pony as being real!

    Completely imaginary things are just that but when you speak of particular people/sociological or cultural things/events/etc. there is now ALWAYS a way to research and come to logical, albeit sometimes partial, conclusions about so called "unconfirmable" things like Noah's flood, Darkness covering the earth during Jesus's crucifixion, etc.

    Regarding why Catholics and Orthodox have different bibles:
    Historical research will show you that the Catholic Vulgate was a translation by Jerome of the Greek Septuagint.

    The Septuagint was quoted by the New Testament writers many times btw.

    Of course, in the New Testament we see Paul for example quoting an Old Testament verse which doesn't match with the Septuagint.
    In that time period, Jewish scribes/scholars would create/use loose translations of a verse, these were called Targums.

    Research man, it costs $$ and time and TRUST me, I spent both.

    Let's think about this shite really hard...
    hellas1.5
    Last edited by hellas1; August 19, 2011 at 10:08 PM.

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    Default Re: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    Quote Originally Posted by Helm View Post
    Well there were an awful lot of gospels written they just picked 4 that bore the most resemblance to each other. Though I'm sure they were all based on someone, difficult to say who exactly Jesus was in purely historical terms there wasn't a great deal written about him at the time of his life.
    Please, if you aren't informed on a subject please don't post about it and spread misinformation.

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    Col. Tartleton's Avatar Tribunus
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    Default Re: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    History is a pseudoscience.
    "America sees the absurdities—she sees the kingdoms of Europe, disturbed by wrangling sectaries, or their commerce, population and improvements of every kind cramped and retarded, because the human mind like the body is fettered 'and bound fast by the chords of policy and superstition': She laughs at their folly and shuns their errors: She founds her empire upon the idea of universal toleration: She admits all religions into her bosom; She secures the sacred rights of every individual; and (astonishing absurdity to Europeans!) she sees a thousand discordant opinions live in the strictest harmony ... it will finally raise her to a pitch of greatness and lustre, before which the glory of ancient Greece and Rome shall dwindle to a point, and the splendor of modern Empires fade into obscurity." - Noah Webster, Lexicographer

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    LegionnaireX's Avatar Equites Cohortales
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    Default Re: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    Maybe there were thousands of undead magically wandered around Jerusalem at the death of Jesus, maybe whole world did magically darken at his passing, maybe the red sea magically parted and magically killed the egyptians. If we accept these claims as fact then we have to accept other mythological stories, like excalibur, achilles, Oedipus etc. It's a slippery slope.
    I understand this. I am not saying that one should believe all ancient myths because biblical manuscripts exist, but somewhat the opposite. The late Carl Sagan said extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and the third and fourth hand anecdotal evidence in the bible is not sufficient to diefy Christ or prove God's existence to a scientific mind.

    My point is, given the above, while Tacitus, Herodotus, Caesar, Pliny the Younger or any other ancient writer or historian may not have been making extraordinary claims, their writings, in effect, amount to a bunch of hearsay from often uncited original sources. In addition, it is true that many of our earliest manuscripts of historians such as Tacitus are several hundred years younger than the originals which have been lost. How do we know they have not been greatly altered, interpolated etc, if we don't have the original copies? Much the same argument is put forward by Ehrman to cast doubt on biblical veracity.

    My question is this: given that written sources are a huge part of understanding history, how do historians verify the claims made in such works? How do we know anything for certain about our past if our main sources are copies of copies of copies of books written by people with definate biases? Or is the answer that we don't know for sure, and can only approximate?

    Well there were an awful lot of gospels written they just picked 4 that bore the most resemblance to each other. Though I'm sure they were all based on someone, difficult to say who exactly Jesus was in purely historical terms there wasn't a great deal written about him at the time of his life.
    Not exactly true. The four gospels chosen for the Canon were thefirst four gospels written and generally had a bigger following than the rest, although many others were widely read. They also don't share that much in common necessarily. The synoptic texts (mathew, mark, luke) have the most in common with a very Jewish orientation, with John being markedly different, seeemingly written with a much more developed theology for a gentile, Hellenistic audience.

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    Tankbuster's Avatar Analogy Nazi
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    Default Re: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    Quote Originally Posted by Col. Tartleton View Post
    History is a pseudoscience.
    You say that as though it's remotely relevant.
    Quote Originally Posted by LegionnaireX View Post
    I understand this. I am not saying that one should believe all ancient myths because biblical manuscripts exist, but somewhat the opposite. The late Carl Sagan said extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and the third and fourth hand anecdotal evidence in the bible is not sufficient to diefy Christ or prove God's existence to a scientific mind.
    That is a fair point. Apologists often try to obscure matters and construct logical arguments from what little evidence we have, but the fact remains that the evidence we have (a few non-eye-witness testimonies written decades after the fact) will simply never be enough to prove the extraordinary claims which they profess.
    My question is this: given that written sources are a huge part of understanding history, how do historians verify the claims made in such works? How do we know anything for certain about our past if our main sources are copies of copies of copies of books written by people with definate biases? Or is the answer that we don't know for sure, and can only approximate?
    Absolute certainty does not exist, so obviously, our judgements about distant time periods will never be absolutely certain as well.
    However, we can work from the sources we have and study them with care; particularly trying to determine what biases they have, contrasting them with sources that have other biases, and going from there.

    It's not an easy job but it's far from impossible.
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    Himster's Avatar Centurio Primus Ordine
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    Default Re: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    Quote Originally Posted by hellas1 View Post
    What I'm saying is: Research before you judge. It's not like I believe in My Little Pony as being real!
    It should be sincere and unbiased research, that's all that counts.

    Completely imaginary things are just that but when you speak of particular people/sociological or cultural things/events/etc. there is now ALWAYS a way to research and come to logical, albeit sometimes partial, conclusions about so called "unconfirmable" things like Noah's flood, Darkness covering the earth during Jesus's crucifixion, etc.
    Noah's flood is confirmable.
    "waters prevail until all the high mountains are covered fifteen cubits deep." It's physically impossible for that amount of water to have ever existed on earth: Research before you judge.
    The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are so certain of themselves, but wiser people are full of doubts.
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    LegionnaireX's Avatar Equites Cohortales
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    Default Re: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    Quote Originally Posted by Tankbuster View Post
    Absolute certainty does not exist, so obviously, our judgements about distant time periods will never be absolutely certain as well.
    However, we can work from the sources we have and study them with care; particularly trying to determine what biases they have, contrasting them with sources that have other biases, and going from there.

    It's not an easy job but it's far from impossible.
    But when you take the unreliability of eyewitness testimony into account, and allow for possible copying errors in the available manuscripts, how accurate is The Histories or The Annals? It is true that the Gospels were written decades after the fact from second and third-hand sources, but so is the material present in the works of Herodotus and Tacitus which have become essential to our understanding of western history. Tacitus was not a contemporary of the time frame of his works, and neither really was Herodotus, and they very rarely cite their own sources for their writings.

    Given this, what can be said about the truth value of the seminal works of western history?
    Last edited by LegionnaireX; August 20, 2011 at 04:29 PM.

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    Tankbuster's Avatar Analogy Nazi
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    Default Re: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    Quote Originally Posted by LegionnaireX View Post
    But when you take the unreliability of eyewitness testimony into account, and allow for possible copying errors in the available manuscripts, how accurate is The Histories or The Annals? It is true that the Gospels were written decades after the fact from second and third-hand sources, but so is the material present in the works of Herodotus and Tacitus which have become essential to our understanding of western history. Tacitus was not a contemporary of the time frame of his works, and neither really was Herodotus, and they very rarely cite their own sources for their writings.

    Given this, what can be said about the truth value of the seminal works of western history?
    In my opinion, people greatly exagerrate this problem.
    First of all, we can talk about the possibility of our sources being completely deluded all we want, but unless we actually have other sources that cast doubt on them, this is just hypothetical hand-waving. We can only work with what we have.

    Second, oral traditions and the like are generally quite reliable when it comes to simple facts. People make a big deal about sources being second- or third-hand when it comes to ancient history, but really, this isn't too bad. The First World War is almost a century old, and yet here in Belgium it's simply in our collective memory that the Germans invaded us in 1914 because they wanted to push through to France, that they did not succeed but were stopped in West Flanders around the Yzer river and that a bloody four-year war was fought which the Germans eventually lost.
    I don't need to check wikipedia for this. I was told this when I was young by my parents, who had heard anecdotes about it from their grand-parents, whose parents were fighting in WW I. That's knowledge of what happened a century ago, passed on several times, with verifiable accuracy -albeit somewhat romanticised.
    I might have difficulty determining with a great amount of accuracy who was commanding which army and many of the specifics, but there's no question that I can draw a rough history of the First World War simply from the collective memory of my country -and this is all in a society much less dominated by oral traditions than those in Ancient times.

    So I don't see any reason to doubt that what Tacitus is telling us is going to be completely besides the mark on basic factual matters.

    Same story for the inherent unreliability of eye-witness testimonies. You might be wise to doubt them when they talk about how they saw ghosts, but when they're simply telling you who lost the election... not so much.
    Last edited by Tankbuster; August 20, 2011 at 07:12 PM.
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    Sphere's Avatar Centurio Primus Ordine
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    Default Re: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    I use this example to death, but I still think it works quite well.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 


    The Gospels have nothing in terms of evidence supporting them that is not at least matched by the book of Mormon. There are even roughly written under the same divine framework so theological prejudices can be brushed aside.

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    Helm's Avatar Taishi
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    Default Re: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    Some Christians seem to think that Moroni was in fact a demon sent by Satan to Joesph Smith corrupt the true Christian believers. Though he pretty obviously made it up, he was a man living in the 19th century who wrote the book of Mormon in 15th century English purely for dramatic effect, there's no other reason for it.
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    Setekh's Avatar Praefectus Legionis
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    Default Re: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    As long as the same approach used for Iliad is used for Bible there is no reason not to use it as a historical source.
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    Veliky Kaiser Theos's Avatar Sagittarius
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    Default Re: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    Quote Originally Posted by Col. Tartleton View Post
    History is a pseudoscience.
    No-one ever called history anything with the word science in it.

    The Bible shouldn't be trusted as a source of history because of the "unusual" claims it makes.

    Also, it was made with an agenda other than the recording of history, to convert people to Christianity.
    Last edited by Veliky Kaiser Theos; August 21, 2011 at 09:20 AM.

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    Default Re: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    Quote Originally Posted by TheDarkLordSeth View Post
    As long as the same approach used for Iliad is used for Bible there is no reason not to use it as a historical source.
    A source in a strict sense would be a contemporary document which is not the case for either. It is recommended not to use works of literature or religion as historic source at all because of the time gap between them and the events they report in general.
    Last edited by AdamWeishaupt; August 21, 2011 at 09:32 AM.

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    Setekh's Avatar Praefectus Legionis
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    Default Re: Historical Veracity: The Bible vs. Other Ancient Manuscripts

    Quote Originally Posted by AdamWeishaupt View Post
    I would recommend not to use works of literature or religion as historic source at all because of the time gap between them and the events they report. A source in a stricte sense would be a contemporary document which is not the case for either.
    So you're opposing what I said?
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