With all the disclaimers that accompanied the earlier Half Baked Thoughts on Scripture, I offer my kids these evolving thoughts on History and Scripture.
1) Chronological snobbery is a polite name for assuming that modern expectations, assumptions and paradigms are superior to those expectations, assumptions and paradigms that preceded them. Chronological snobbery is a bad thing. Don’t be a Chronological snob.
2) The ancient world’s expectations, assumptions and paradigms for written history are different from those of the modern world.
3) Thucydides seems a helpful guide regarding the most ‘objective’ pole of ancient historiography. He is considered the father of modern journalistic history. His method is famously distinct from all previous ‘histories.’ Those who recorded ‘history’ before him were on the other side of the journalistic spectrum.
4) Though he believed that his history was truthful and accurate because thoroughly researched; he also created lengthy and elaborate speeches based on ‘what was in my opinion demanded of them by the various occasions.’ (Thuc 1.21.1) In addition to being trustworthy and accurate, he believed his history to be of practical value because it illustrated the lessons of human nature. It is important to note that it was those presupposed lessons of human nature that determined ‘what was demanded of them by the various occasions.’
5) The ancients understood the concept and value of factuality, but Thucydides explicitly and openly employed non-factual data to speak truthfully about historical matters.
6) Clearly, taking the history of the ancients seriously does not require that we treat every account as factual. They knew otherwise when writing it- the ‘it’ being truthful history.
7) Taking Thucydides’ most objective of ancient methodologies as our calibration (though the compilation of the First Testament lay many, many (many) centuries on the other side of Thucydides’ innovative approach), when reading the First Testament as ancient history, we ought to expect creative elements to combine with historically factual elements to the end of conveying a truthful understanding of the theological meaning of Israel’s story.
8) The resulting demands on the reader seem similar to those required by movies that claim to recount a true story- Gettysburg, The Hatfields and McCoys, Chariots of Fire, etc. This suggests a couple o’three things to me.
9) First, it reminds me that history is distinguished from fiction by the intent of the author- not by whether an account contains factual inaccuracies.
10) Second, different people might have varying degrees of awareness about whether every portrayed conversation/action factually took place. Some may enjoy the story thinking that it happened ‘just that way.’ Others may profit from the story while suspecting otherwise.
11) Third, this really doesn’t matter as long as the story is ‘told’ by a production team that is knowledgeable about the events and trustworthy. Through the expanded story, we come to understand the event and individuals better.
12) It doesn’t matter because ancient history was a preparation for life- not a quiz.
13) (Meaty Rabbit Trail- It is our modern assumptions that cause us to look disparagingly on these historical accounts, and it is our modern assumptions that blind us to the reality that all knowledge is rooted in the subjectivity that causes us to disparage them.)
14) The question to ask of the story is ‘Who made it, and do we trust them.’ This fiduciary foundation cannot be avoided- even in the most ‘hard’ of historiographies/sciences.
15) Fourth, history in the modern sense matters. The catholic faith is defined by a commitment to a particular historical narrative, and scripture ought to be read as if it were affirming a particular truthful historical narrative.
16) Some particulars are necessarily factual in ways that others are not. For example, whether General Lee emerged from his tent praying Psalm 141 on the day he engaged Gen. Meade’s forces (as portrayed in Ronald Maxwell’s Gettysburg) is a different question from whether Lee engaged Gen Meade’s forces. Though a ‘good guess’ at best, the contrivance conveys the truth about the man/situation. We know him better for it.
17) Since God decided to give us an ancient historical narrative, it is impossible to say that all (or which of) the events are factual; but we can be sure that the accounts are as historically factual as is necessary because the writings were bequeathed to us by Christ, and we believe Christ to be trustworthy.
18) It seems reasonable that our understanding of the relative classification (in terms of factuality) of any given event in the text is likely to change as our historical understanding grows or falters. For example my classification of the details of Joshua’s conquest might change according to developing archeological evidence. The lesson to be learned from the account does not.
19) It is the account of the text that God intends us to learn. We know this because it is the text that God has given us. The ancient text has the advantage over the ‘objectively factual underlying history’ in that the text is actually available to us.