«Edited by Mladen Popović LEIDEN • BOSTON © 2012 Koninklijke Brill NV CONTENTS List of Figures and Tables Preface List of Contributors The Jewish ...»
narratives, scarcely distinguishable from fiction, by new stakeholders.6 In this first part I shall not try to defend history, or to classify or rationalize its many expressions and modes. Assuming an audience that considers the historical investigation of Roman Judaea worthwhile and also possible in some fashion, I want only to describe what seems to me a sound and productive method.
I.1. Debates and Confusions It is not easy to find scholars’ explicit statements about their method
in the study of Roman Judaea, or in ancient history generally. Specialists in our field come from an unusually wide range of disciplines:
history-of-religions, biblical, New Testament, rabbinic, Semitic- or classical-philological, Jewish-historical, theological, Near Eastern, and archaeological studies, to name some obvious candidates. Not all scholars working in the area consider themselves historians, therefore, or primarily historians, though most would grant that some conception of history plays some sort of role. They may describe their field as post-biblical literature or parabiblical, Jewish, or religious studies; they may see themselves as archaeologists, numismatists, exegetes, or social scientists. This diversity, which is not found to a similar degree in the study of Roman Britain, Egypt, or Syria, helps to explain the unusual variety of perspectives. That diversity is more than welcome. It opens unparalleled possibilities for dialogue, checking one’s assumptions, and sharpening the requirement for clarity. But it can also make communication difficult, or perhaps lead to reticence in declaring one’s method. The following examples illustrate some basic differences.
I.1.i. History goes with Archaeology, not Historiography I wrote the heart of this paper in Oxford, where nowadays a distinction is made within the Faculty of Classics between the sub-disciplines “Classical languages and literature” and “Ancient history and classical archaeology.” History is ever more closely aligned with material culture, while the interpretation of ancient texts pairs with a philology that is not necessarily historical in aim. This marks a significant shift. The archaeologist and historian of Roman Britain, Robin G. Collingwood (1889–1943), became Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical See the deft survey in M. T. Gilderhus, History and Historians: A Historiographical Introduction (7th ed.; Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson, 2010), 86–125.
© 2012 Koninklijke Brill NV160 steve mason
Philosophy at Magdalen College in 1936, after years of tutoring at Pembroke College in the same university. His observation in 1926 that “Our tradition, in Oxford, is to combine historical with philosophical studies,”7 reflected the old “Greats” course in literae humaniores. It summarized his own career too. Since that time, ongoing revisions of the undergraduate programme, notably the inclusion of a major paper in Classical Art and Archaeology, have reflected the gradual realignment of the professorial complement. Nowadays, even scholars who work on ancient historiography in order to clarify the nature of such writing for the benefit of historical work (e.g., Christopher Pelling, John Marincola, Christina S. Kraus, Anthony J. Woodman)8 tend to be grouped with philologists rather than with historians, on the assumption that the latter deal primarily with material culture.9 I mention Oxford in part because of the great influence it has exercised on these fields worldwide.
In many other universities the distinction is even sharper, with Ancient History institutionally separated from Classical Literature.
The fusion of ancient history with archaeology has a firm base also in popular culture. Archaeology’s great prestige, enhanced by the Indiana Jones and Lara Croft franchises in cinema, explains why many of us have met the assumption that ancient historians must also be archaeologists. In professional contexts the bond between history and archaeology reflects a basic orientation in the discipline, emanating from the nineteenth-century Berlin of Barthold Georg Niebuhr and Leopold von Ranke: that the task of history in the university was to challenge long-familiar elite literary accounts and the sweeping historical syntheses based upon them by focusing on hard evidence—archival documents for the late medieval and modern worlds (official declarations, deeds, correspondence, church records, diplomatic dispatches) and for the ancient world inscriptions, papyri, coins, and excavated sites. The hunger for such material paved the way for the flood of ancient material evidence that colonial explorers brought home in the late nineteenth century.
Collingwood, The Idea of History, 359.
A. J. Woodman, Rhetoric in Classical Historiography: Four Studies (London:
Croom Helm, 1988); J. Marincola, Authority and Tradition in Ancient Historiography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); C. S. Kraus, ed., The Limits of Historiography: Genre and Narrative in Ancient Historical Texts (Leiden: Brill, 1999);
C. Pelling, Literary Texts and the Greek Historian (London: Routledge, 2000).
I am grateful to Christopher Pelling, Regius Professor of Greek at Christ Church College, for discussion of these changes in Oxford over the years.
© 2012 Koninklijke Brill NV what is history? 161
I.1.ii. History goes with Historiography, not Archaeology The opposite view, which would separate history from archaeology, is also well represented, most notably among archaeologists. The first chapter of Harry Leon’s landmark study The Jews of Ancient Rome surveys “The Historical Record,” which is an account patched together from literary sources. Perhaps historical here means in part “old and familiar,” for it frames his original research into archaeological finds.10 In the same year Leo Kadman surveyed “The Historical Background”— essentially Josephus—before proceeding with his original study of the Judaean war’s coinage.11 This distinction is expressed programmatically by archaeologist Jodi Magness. She sees archaeology and history
as different ways of knowing the past. History is:
the study of the past based on information provided by written documents. In other words, although both archaeologists and historians study the past, they use different methods or sources to obtain their information. Archaeologists learn about the past through the study of the material remains left by humans, whereas historians study written records (texts).... [S]ince many texts were written by or for the ruling classes (elites) of ancient societies, they tend to reflect their concerns, interests, and viewpoints. In contrast, although archaeologists often uncover the palaces and citadels of the ruling classes, they also dig up houses and workshops which belonged to the poorer classes.12 This connection of history with elite interests would come as a surprise to most historians. The university discipline has a pedigree from the European Enlightenment and the reaction against all traditional authority, whether of the church or of canonical secular texts, which were thought to have kept western thought in a straitjacket.
In the nineteenth century, the concern for scientific respectability led many historians to join the positivist programme of Auguste Comte (d. 1857), which posited “the laws of sociology” as the highest order of discovery, as humanity finally emerged from its prolonged infancy.13 Positivists looked for these laws in historical periods, eschewing the “great man” model of the Romantics. Within a few decades, following a sharp turn from such speculative approaches, “history from below” (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1960), 1–45.
The Coins of the Jewish War of 66–73 c.e. (Tel Aviv: Schocken, 1960).
The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids, Mich.:
Eerdmans, 2002), 4–5.
A. Comte, The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte (2 vols.; trans. and ed.
H. Martineau; London: Chapman, 1853).
© 2012 Koninklijke Brill NV162 steve mason
became the mantra of the Annales school, founded in Paris by Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch, later led by Fernand Braudel. For nearly a century now, social history has provided the dominant themes of the discipline. Families, women, children, gender, slaves, the periphery, and the Other remain prominent concerns of many or most professional historians. In general the lives of average people, whether recovered from medieval church records or the excavation of ancient dwellings, or studied in the aggregate (demographically or economically), are for many scholars the stuff of history.14 Writers on historical method have recognized that for study of the remote past, the study of material culture provides the crucial window into these matters.15 The nineteenth century already witnessed an explosion of discovery and on that basis the comprehensive rewriting of Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern history, in manuals whose value has endured to the present.16 Although no one could disagree with Magness about the importance of reconstructing ordinary life, then, that concern is central to history. It does not seem possible to distinguish archaeology from history according to their interests in different social classes. My own view, influenced by Collingwood and Bloch, is that material and literary remains alike furnish potential evidence of the past, depending on our questions. Such greats as Arnaldo Momigliano (d. 1987) and Sir Ronald Syme (d. 1989) remain models of the ancient historian, equally concerned with the interpretation of literary evidence (Tacitus or Sallust) and of relevant material remains.17 Cf. G. G. Iggers, The German Conception of History: The National Tradition of Historical Thought from Herder to the Present (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1968); idem, Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England [for] Wesleyan University Press, 1997).
M. Bloch, The Historian’s Craft (trans. P. Putman; New York: Vintage, 1953; repr.
Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1992), 57.
We need only consider E. Schürer, Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi (2d. ed.; 2 vols.; Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1886); T. Mommsen, The Provinces of the Roman Empire from Caesar to Diocletian (trans. W. P. Dickson; 2 vols.; New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887); A. H. M. Jones, The Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces (Oxford: Clarendon, 1937); and M. I. Rostovtzeff, The Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World (3 vols.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1941).
For fascinating insights into the Syme-Tacitus connection see M. Toher, “Tacitus’ Syme,” in The Cambridge Companion to Tacitus (ed. A. J. Woodman; Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2009), 317–29.
© 2012 Koninklijke Brill NV what is history? 163
I.1.iii. History Is About Conclusions: Are You a Maximalist or Minimalist?
Especially in biblical and religious studies, whose professors are among those most interested in Roman Judaea, there is a notable tendency to see history as a matter of conclusions or beliefs, no matter how those conclusions are reached. Do you believe that the Pharisees were the most influential pre-70 sect, that there was a standing Sanhedrin, that the James ossuary is genuine or a forgery, or that Essenes lived at Qumran? These kinds of questions one encounters all the time, though it is difficult to imagine similar camps forming in other areas of ancient history: over the reasons for Tacfarinas’ revolt in Africa or debating whether Boudica was motivated more by financial or sexual outrage.
I do not know where this inclination comes from, but it seems to me inappropriate to history and indeed anti-historical, for reasons I shall try to explain.
To avoid singling out examples from individual scholars’ work, I cite programmatic statements from a recent survey in our field: Leo Sandgren’s Vines Intertwined: A History of Jews and Christians from the Babylonian Exile to the Advent of Islam. This ambitious and admirable 864-page history synthesizes a vast range of scholarship. Sandgren’s reflections on the state of the field are worth pondering precisely as a diligent scholar’s perceptions. For example, on the distinction I have
raised here he writes:
There are two contemporary and competing approaches to historical investigation that require an introduction. One is called minimalism, the other maximalism. The approaches involve the question of what constitutes evidence, and the quest for certainty of knowledge. The minimalist applies the so-called hermeneutic of suspicion to our sources. Every witness has an ulterior motive, or may be outright lying, unless it can be proven otherwise. As in Jewish law, two witnesses are required; a single source is not a source. The minimalist has a high standard of proof and is reticent to affirm a statement about history unless it is certifiably factual.
Minimalists tend to be bold revisionists of what we thought we knew by undermining previous assumptions and the gullible acceptance of testimonies. The maximalist leans in the other direction, though hopefully well shy of gullibility. Some call this approach a hermeneutic of trust.
People (especially religious people?) are prone to tell the truth and not perpetrate falsehood that in their own times can be exposed. Memory may fail our witnesses, but it is an honest failure. After we have stripped away the miraculous, the accouterments of legend and hyperbole, our witnesses, even one, should be accepted, unless they can be proven in error. Burden of proof lies with the historian, not the hapless source.
© 2012 Koninklijke Brill NV164 steve mason