Re: historical/non-historical

Glenn Morton (
Mon, 08 Apr 1996 21:54:33

Alice wrote:

>Glenn -
>Since you brought up propositional logic, I want to say
> that I think you see a conflict between taking scripture
>seriously and science seriously because you are using the
>word "historical" as if it had one meaning, when
>in fact it has three.
>Events are historical (sense 1) by definition (that
> which occurs in time; let's leave aside the idea of
>"eternal events" for now).

I like your very clear approach to this issue and your
three definitions. While I and others may have mixed usage
of the word (and we may be using separate definitions of
the word thus miscommunicating), the definition for the
flood, etc that I want to use, is this one. That it
actually occurred in time. If the events in Genesis 1-11
did not occur in time, then I would define them as
non-historical. And as I will show below, definition 1 is
the only definition which is important.

>Truths (statements that describe relations that are the
> case) can be either historical (sense 2) (ie describe
>events truthfully: "Caesar fought in Gaul") or ahistorical
>(ie describe relations that obtain independent of
>time: "2 + 2 = 4").

This is a categoricalization of truth types. This is not
the usage one can apply to a discussion of the Bible's
historical veracity. The reason is that inorder for one to
classify "Noah built an ark" as a true statement ( to be
classified in the category of historical truth), one must
already have decided that "Noah built an ark" was
historical(sense 1) in the first place. It must have
actually happened. If "Noah built an ark" is false
according to sense one (i.e. didn't actually occur in time)
then the statement can not be categorized among the TYPE
(or category), "historical truth". It would have to be
classified in the category "historical falsehoods"

I might add that truths of philosophy (at least part of
philosophy) and logic are also "ahistorical" But this is a
classification system.

>Reports are more or less historical (sense 3) depending
>upon the relationship between what is reported and the
>reporter (closeness in time, eyewitness or second hand
>status, etc). Note that this definition involves
>no theology and a bare minimum of metaphysics. (this
>doesn't mean that a "Life of Caesar" written in the
>twentieth century is less historical than
>"Caesar's Gallic Wars"; such a biography is an analysis
>of reports, not a report itself).
>Here is a criterion independent of theology and literary
>criticism that allows a reader to distinguish among the
different parts of scripture.
>According to it, we could make the following scale:
>reporter most distant from events
>reporter closest to events
>Genesis Flood Exodus Kings
>life of Jesus
>This offers a rational, non-theological reason to treat
>the accounts of Genesis and the flood differently than
>the accounts of King David and Jesus. Note that all
these accounts might include truths that are
>ahistorical; those have to be judged by other,
>non-historical criteria.
The example of the category of ahistorical that you gave
was mathematics. I might add that philosophical, and
logical statements are "ahistorical" But these events you
mention above might be determined to be non-historical but
ahistorical? They don't refer to math, logic or
philosophy. These events are purported to be about
historical events and thus must be classified as a
"historical truth" or a "historical falsehood" They
certainly are not philosophical statements.

>I'll add at this point that the evidence convinces me
>that all four gospels were almost certainly written before
>70 A.D. and that the authors of Matthew and John were
>eyewitnesses. My belief in this is based on
>historical, philological and literary grounds and does
>not depend upon shared theological premises. The new book
>by Carsten Thiede, "Eyewitness to Jesus" describes the
>evidence that the Magdalen fragments of Matthew were
>written mid-first century (probably c. 62); it includes
> citations to most of this evidence and is fascinating in
>its own right.

Here we might disagree a bit. If I say, "Caesar was
Imperator of Rome", the statement is to be judged not on
when it was written but according to sense 1. This
statement is historical (or not) depending upon sense 1,
not depending upon the time it was written. Obviously, the
further one is from an event the greater is the danger of
mis-remembering, mis-interpreting or simply making it up.
Your scale should be a valid scale for reliability of the
report. But in and of itself it does not measure the
"history" (sense 1) content of the statements of the

A case in point is Herodotus' report of Pharoah Neco (d.595
B.C.) building boats in the Red Sea and sending a bunch of
Phoenicians to try to circumnavigate Africa. Herodotus
disbelieved part of the report. He wrote:

"On their return, they declared--I for my part do not
believe them, but perhaps others may--that in sailing round
Libya they had the sun upon their right hand. In this way
was the extent of Libya first discovered." Great Books, vol
6, p. 131

Herodotus lived between 484 and 425 B.C. and wrote the
History sometime after 440 B.C. His report that the sun
was on the right hand of the Phonecians is well removed
from the event. Is it a true statement (historical in
sense 1)? YES. Consider that southern Africa is south of
the Equator and south of the Tropic of Capricorn. The sun
is always to the north of anyone south of the Tropic of
Capricorn. Since the Phoenicians were traveling west, the
sun would be on their right hand!

The statement is true in sense 1 even though it was written
well afterwards and would be low on the scale of

Beroesus, (c. 290 B.C.) a Babylonian historian only vaguely
knew of the Sumerians (c. 3000 B.C.) from some vague
fables. But their existence was a historical fact. Even
though all detail was obliterated of the Sumerians, their
existence was, and is a historical(sense 1) fact.

And since we know that the Nile River civilization arose
sometime after 4000 B.C., I will guarantee you that there
are political leaders whose existence is a historica (sense
1) fact, but whose names and deeds are lost to history.
But their existence is no less real for that loss.



Foundation,Fall and Flood