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Biblical Studies and Classical Studies: Simple Reflections about Historical Method Author(s): Arnaldo Momigliano Source: The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 45, No. 4, (Autumn, 1982), pp. 224-228 Published by: The American Schools of Oriental Research Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3209767

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Bible, Archeology, and History

Biblical

Studies:

about

Studies

and

Classical

Simple

Historical

Reflections

Method

by Arnaldo Momigliano

-

-

-

  • I have never found the task of interpretingthe Bible any more or less complex than

that of

interpretingLivy or

Herodotus.

P

rinciplesof historicalre-

search need not be different from criteria of common

sense, and common teaches that outsiders must not tell insiders what they should do. I

sense

shall thereforenot discuss

what

directly

biblical scholars are doing;

they are the insiders. Perhapswhat I can do useful-

ly is emphasize as briefly as po?si-

ble three

closely interrelatedpoints

from my experience as a classical

scholar who is on

speaking terms

with biblical scholars:

(1)

Our common experience

in historical research;

(2)

The serious

problems

all have to face because of the

we

current devaluation of the notion

of evidence and of the correspond- ing overappreciationof rhetoric and ideology as instruments for the

analysis of the literary sources;

(3)

What seems to me the most

fruitfulfield of collaborationbetween classical and biblical scholars.

Let me admit from the start

that I am

rather impervious to any

claim that sacred history poses problems which are not those of

profanehistory. As a man trained

from

early days to read the Bible in

Hebrew, Livy in Latin, and Herod- otus in Greek, I have never found

the task of interpreting the Bible any more or less complex than that

of

interpretingLivy or Herodotus.

Livy is of course less self-assured

concerning the truth of

what he

tells us about Romulus than the

Pentateuch is

about Abraham.

But the basic elements of a sacred

history are in Livy as much as in

the

Pentateuch. It so happens that

the Romans entrusted their priests

with the task of registering events, and in one way or another the

priestly code of Rome contributed

to the later annals written by

senators or

by professional writers.

It is unnecessary to add at this eleventh hour that the prob-

lems about understanding the

texts, guessing

their

sources, and

determining the truth of their

information are

basically the same

in Roman as in Hebrew history.

The similarity extends to the means

and methods of

and

supplementing

checking our literary sources

by archeology,epigraphy, numis-

matics, and what not. Whether biblical or classical historians, we

have also learned that

archeology

and epigraphy cannot take the place of the living tradition of a

nation as transmitted by its liter- ary texts. At the same time we have been cured of early delusions

that the reliability of historical traditions can be easily demon- strated by the spade of the archeolo- gists. A nice example was provided two years ago by the discovery,by now famous, of an archaic Latin

inscription in the town of Satri- cum. What is now known as the Lapis Satricanus is a simple dedica-

tion to Mars (Mamers)by

the

companions (sodales) of Publius Valerius.This is the text from P.

Stibbe's

edition (LapisSatricanus,

Academy, 1980) of

something missing

Rome: Dutch two lines with

at the beginning:

.. .ei steterai Popliosio Valesiosio suodales Mamertei The date of the inscription is un-

likely to be

earlier than 530 B.C.

or later than 480 B.C. Roman tradi-

tion tells us of a Roman consul Publius ValeriusPoplicola for the

first year of

the Republic(tradition-

ally 509

B.C.),

but the reality of this

consul had been doubted, for good and bad reasons. Are we now to regardthe Publius Valeriuswho has appearedin Satricum as identi- cal with the Roman consul of 509 B.C.? And can we claim this identi- fication as a vindication of tradition- alism? Biblical scholars are used to such problems.

  • 224 BIBLICAL ARCHEOLOGIST/FALL 1982

U-*-

*gk

Daniel praying in the lions' den. From

Johann

Ulrich Kraus'sHistorischer Bilder-

Bibel (1705). Copy held in the Abram and Frances Kanof Collection of Judaic Art,

Rare Books Collection, Perkins Library, Duke University.

On the other hand, we have learned that archeology allows us to

pose problems which the literary

tradition does not even

suggest.

When we catalogue the furniture

of the tombs of

8th-century B.C.

Latium, we are by implication asking questions about the material

culture of Iron

Age Latium and its

ques-

But of course,

relations to Etruriaor Greece,

tions which are

simply outside

the literary tradition.

there is a differencebetween ask-

ing intelligent questions and produc-

ing

plausible answers. We have to

learn to live with a

disproportion

between the intelligent questions

we can ask and the plausible an- swers we can give. This is the

only consolation I can offerto

biblical

my

colleagues who have not

yet found

a plausible answer to their

intelligent questions about Gene- sis 14 and who do not delude themselves that the Ebla tablets

are

going to

oblige in this respect.

dangeroustype

of re-

The most

searcherin

any historical field is the

man who, because he is intelli-

gent enough to ask a good question, believes that he is good enough to

give

satisfactoryanswer. If I said there is no basic

a

differencebetween

writing

biblical

history and writing any other

history,it is because I wanted to

introduce what to

my mind is the

really serious problem about writing

any history today.There is

a

widespreadtendency both inside and outside the historical profes-

sion to treat

historiography as anoth-

er genre of fiction. The reduction

of

historiography to fiction takes

is justified with

variousforms and

varyingdegrees of intellectual sophis-

tication. It is sometimes

presented

in the simple form of reducingany literaryproduct (including histor- iography) to the expression of ideological points of view: that is, of explicit or concealed class inter-

ests. It is also offered,with greater sophistication, as an analysis of historical works in terms of rhetori- cal postures; and, finally, it is combining ideological analysis with the

elaborated by and rhetorical
elaborated by
and rhetorical

purposeof provingthat any histori- cal account is characterized by a

rhetorical posture which in its

indicates a social and

political

turn

bias. The conclusion is in all cases

the same: there is no

way of

distinguishing between fiction and

historiography. I shall not

speak about the

specificforms this rhetorical analy- sis takes in biblical studies. At

present, the most eminent repre-

sentative in this

country

of the

combination of the rhetoricalwith

the

ideological approach in order

to dissolve

historiography into fiction

Hayden White. He is

influence in the two

is my friend

a dominating

periodicalsHistory and Theory

and New

LiteraryHistory and, re-

markablyenough, has found strong

support in

The

at the

PeterMunz's recent

book,

Shape of Time. A New Look

Philosophy of History, pub-

support is

lished in 1977. This

particularly remarkablebecause Peter

Munz

by origin

and formation

representsGerman historicism filtered

throughEnglish analytical philoso-

phy.

Needless to

say,Hayden White's

main work

His volume

is Metahistory, 1973.

Tropicsof Discourse,

Essays in Cultural Criticism col-

lects

partly

importantpapers which are

earlierand

partly

later than

Metahistory.Among his most recent

papers I

note his discussion of

Droysen'sHistorik in History and

Theory, 1980, No. 1, and the

on

New

No. 2. In his earlierwork

essay

"Literary and Social Action" in

LiteraryHistory, Winter 1980,

Hayden

White emphasized the rhetorical

postures

of the historians. Going

back to Giambattista

Vico, he tried

to reduce all historiography to four

BIBLICAL ARCHEOLOGIST/FALL 1982

225

Bible, Archeology,

and History

Daniel has much in common with Iranian and Babylonian

texts, but not about the suc- cession of universal empires.

basic attitudes, expressed

or

perhaps

rathersymbolized by the rhetori-

cal figures

of

metaphor,metonymy,

synecdoche, and irony.Metaphor,

according to White, prevailed in 16th and 17th centuries, metony-

the

my in the 18th century,synecdoche

in

the

the

the early 19th century,irony

in

late 19th century, followed by present-dayirony about irony.

The book on Metahistory,however, proved that these chronological distinctions had little importance for White, as he showed there that

all four rhetoricalmodes were vital

and competitive

in the 19th centu-

ry when Ranke stood for synecdo-

che, Michelet for metaphor,Tocque- ville formetonymy, andBurckhardt

for irony.

Nor is it clear that these

figures of speech really represent

different political

and social

attitudes,

for three conservativeslike Ranke,

Tocqueville,

and Burckhardtwrote

White seems to

in differentrhetorical keys.

More

recently

attributeless importance to rhetori-

cal categories. He

has

been treating

literature (includinghistoriography)

as a commodity

tions of its own

which comes into

of

the market with the peculiarity

being

able to speak about the condi-

production.

He

has also stated that in the 19th

centuryhistoriographies of whatev-

er kind served to defendthe status quo, which may cause some sur- prise in regard to KarlMarx.

Now, all

wrong, but it

this may be right or is irrelevantto the

fundamentalfact about

history-

that it must be based on evidence as

a conditio sine qua non, whereas other forms of literature are not compelled to be so based, though of course nothing prevents a novel

or an epic poem from being pedanti- cally founded upon authentic ar-

chival documents. One is almost embarrassedto have to say that any statement a historian makes must be supportedby evidence which, accordingto ordinarycriteria

of

human judgment, is adequate

to provethe reality of the statement

itself. This has three consequences. First,historians must be preparedto

admit in any given case that they are unable to reach safe conclusions

becausethe evidenceis

insufficient;

like judges,historians must be ready

to say, "Not proven."Second, the methods used to ascertain the value

of the evidence

must continually

be scrutinized and

they are essential to

perfected,because

historical

research.Third, the

historians them-

selves must be judgedaccording to

their

ability to establish facts. The

exposition they choose for

form of

their presentation of the facts is secondaryconsideration. I have

a

of

course nothing to object in principle to the present multiplication in methods of rhetorical analysis of

historical texts. You

may have as

as

you

much rhetorical analysis

consider necessary,provided it leads to the establishment of the truth-or to the admission that truth is

regretfullyout of reach in a given case. But it must be clear that

Judgesand Acts, Herodotus and Tacitus, are historical texts to be examined with the purpose of recov-

ering the truth of the

past. Hence

the interesting conclusion that the notion of forgeryhas a different meaning in historiographythan it has in other branches of literature or art. A creative writer or artist

perpetratesa forgeryevery time he intends to mislead his public about

the date and

authorship of his

own work. But only a historian can

be guilty of forgingevidence or of knowingly using forgedevidence in orderto supporthis own historical

discourse.

One is never simplemind-

ed enough about the condemna-

tion of

forgeries.Pious fraudsare

frauds,for which one must show

no piety-and

I shall

no pity.

only add that I have

purposelyconfined my remarksto

  • 226 BIBLICAL ARCHEOLOGIST/FALL 1982

Judith holding the head of Holophernes. After B. Sprangerby H. Goltzius, no date. Courtesy of the
Judith holding
the head of
Holophernes.
After B. Sprangerby H. Goltzius, no date.
Courtesy of
the
Rare Books Collection,
Perkins
Library, Duke University.

rhetorical

analysis and refrained

from any generalization about form criticism, of which rhetorical anal-

ysis is only a variety. I am very conscious that at least in men like

Hermann Gunkel, form criticism

has been a

powerfulinstrument

for historical

understanding,not a

sign of helplessness beforereali- ties.

To conclude, I may well ask myself where a classical scholar can help biblical scholars most useful- ly. My answerwould be that in the

field of political, social,

and reli-

gious history differencesare more important than similarities-and therefore knowledge of Greco-Roman

history can be useful only for differential comparison. Hence the

failurein the

attempt to import

of amphictyony

complex history

the Greek notion into the farmore

of the Hebrew tribes.

But Jewish

historiography devel-

century

by

oped at least from the 5th

B.C. amidst conditions shared

Greek historiography.Both constant-

ly had to referto the

reality of the

Persian Empire.More specifically, there are questions of dependence

of later Jewish

Greek

historiography on

have

historiography which

seldom been formulatedwith the necessary clarity. I shall give two

examples. The idea of the succes-

sion of the universal

empires is to

be found first in Greek historians

from Herodotus to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, passing through Ctesias, Polybius, and that strange

Roman

disciple of the Greeks,

Aemilius

discovery

Sura,probably an elder

contemporary of Polybius. It is a

notion

dependenton the basic Greek

of

political history. Out-

thought, the

side Greek historical idea of succession of

empires ap-

pearsfirst in Daniel 2, if we date

this

chapter,as I believe we must,

I must state

to about 250 B.C.

explicitly that no theory of univer-

sal succession of

empires is to be

found in Tobit 14, whatever may

be its date. The idea of succession of

reigns with different degreesof perfec- tion is of course familiarto Iran-

ian

thought, but only with reference

to the IranianState. On the other

hand, the Babyloniansof the Hellen-

istic

age registeredin their chroni-

cles (orso-called prophetic chroni-

cles)

the succession of rulers of

different nationality in Babylonia.

Neither in

Irannor in Babylonia

have we so fardiscovered the notion of succession of universal

empires,

as Daniel knew. The

only propercomparison is with the Greeks. Daniel has much in com-

mon with Iranianand

texts,

Babylonian

but not about the succes-

sion of universal empires. Wemust

thereforeask the

question

wheth-

er the author or rather, authors of

Daniel-beginning

of

Chapter2-got

with the author

the idea from the

Greco-Macedonians ruling the East

afterAlexander. Personally, I answer

positively

to this

question.

Until

evidence to the

contrary is provided,

Jew,

or in Pales-

I take it that about 250 B.C. a

either in

tine, got

Mesopotamia

hold of the Greek idea of

succession of universal empires and

transformed it.

I am less

positive

about another

the

question

of this kind. In the last

VII, the

by

scene is dominated

half of Herodotus'Book

military

defense of the

The ideological

ed

by

pass of Thermopylae.

scene is dominat-

the conversation between

Xerxesand the

who

explains

SpartanDemaratus, to Xerxes why the

Greeks, and especially the Spartans,

will

not yield

obey

to the Persians: they

individual

men, but

Judith,

do not

the Law.In the book of

before Judith herself appears on

BIBLICAL ARCHEOLOGIST/FALL 1982

227

Bible, Archeology,

and History

-

Like

judges,

historiansmust

say, "Not proven."

be ready to

the scene, our interest is concentrat-

ed, on the military side, on the JewishThermopylae, the mysterious

place Bethulia. The

ideological

background is filled by

the conversa-

tion between Holophernes and

  • Achior- the latter of whom is not a

Jew, but unpredictably(because he

is an Ammonite)

will become one.

Achior

explains

to

Holophernes

yield so long

that the Jews will not

as they obey their Law.

When Judithappears, she pres-

ents herself to the Assyrians as

the person who can reveal the secret

path throughthe mountains, exact- ly as the traitorEpialtes does in

Herodotus.

The structure of the second part

first

of Herodotus VIIand the

section of the book of Judithis

articulatedon the same

sequence of an ideological dialogue and a peculiar military situation. We must ask ourselves whether the author of the original Hebrew Judithknew Herodotus directly or

indirectly. Here, as I have said, I

am less sure

about my answer,but

my inclination to give again a

positive answer is reinforcedby

another,better-known coincidence

between the book of Judithand a

Greek historical text. It has

long

been recognized that the five days

that the thirsty Jewswho were

besieged in Bethulia give to them-

selves before surrenderinghave

their exact counterpartin the five daysthat the thirsty Greeks who

were besieged by the Persiansin

Lindos give to themselves before

to the Greeks. But we are now beginning to make some progress.

This is

my change of information between

classical and biblical historians.

favorite field for ex-

surrendering.The Greek story is contained in the Chronicle of

Lindos, a compilation from previous sources written in 99 B.C.

Whateverhis date, the author of

the original Hebrew text of

Judith

seems to have been acquaintedwith

stories reportedby Greek histori- ans about the wars of the Greeks

against Persia.If there was any- thing which conceivably could inter-

est the Jews,it was what the

Greek historians

thought about ori-

ental empires and especially about

Persia.Daniel and

Judithmay per-

haps be defined as texts which in

Hellenistic time and under Greek

influence tried to present an image

of the Jewsas subjects of the previ-

ous universal

empires; this image

was of course very relevant to what

the Jewscould do or could hope under the Greco-Macedonianuniver-

sal empire. Notwithstanding

the example

providedby Eduard Meyer,classi- cal historians have been slow in

understandingwhat Persia meant

  • 228 BIBLICAL ARCHEOLOGIST/FALL 1982