Ancient Historicity and Why it Isn’t


You find a lot of theists who seem convinced that just because they found something in an ancient book of mythology, that must mean it actually happened because, weren’t the authors historians too?  Weren’t they just recording what they saw and experienced accurately?  Can’t we trust that the primitive shepherds that wrote the Bible are telling us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

In short, no we cannot.  Lots of theists ask why and never seem satisfied with the answers, which is why I’m going to produce a single example that demonstrates why so much of ancient “history” isn’t historical at all.  To do that, I think we need to go back to the best known ancient “historian” of all, Herodotus.

Herodotus is generally regarded as the “Father of History”, at least he was so claimed by Cicero, in the sense that he was the first one that we know of to systematically record accounts of important factual events.  However, his stories were not only historical in nature, they were not the kind of accurate, documented and peer-reviewed history that we’re familiar with today, his stories are ‘seasoned” here and there with “spicy” rumors and gossips about divine interventions, miraculous events and juicy sex scandals among royalty.  The histories of Herodotus were filled with tales that he heard from the people, with religious myths that were commonplace of the day, in fact, he’d change details that he didn’t favor for those that he did.

Yet, in this day and age, there are “researchers” who believe they’ve found evidence, in Herodotus, that ancient astronauts existed. For example, they take an instance from the narration of the battle of Marathon circa 490BC, between Athenians and Persians, in which there’s this Greek warrior, who instead of a spear he uses a weird crescent weapon that emits light rays. So they go and say “here, there’s proof that in ancient Greece they had handguns that fire laser beams”. And the list of absurdities  goes on and on.

Should  a modern person take Herodotus at his word about all the strange events he chronicles?  Of course not. But if you shouldn’t take the word of an educated man born in 484 BCE, why should you take the word of ignorant peasants born much earlier?  The fact remains that a factual recording of history is a relatively modern invention. That concept is entirely unknown among ancient peoples, they were simply not interested in presented a wholly factual account of events, untarnished by their beliefs and opinions, not colored by their myths and views.  This should be clear to anyone remotely interested in the truth.  Some eyewitness did not write down the account of Noah’s Flood through a modern historian’s eyes, it was a combination of myth, a primitive understanding of the world, stories they had heard from others, especially those of other cultures, personal biases, etc.  The Bible is full of this pseudo-history, tidbits of something that might have happened, combined with a mess of details that never actually did.  We have to accept that and take all of these accounts with a large amount of salt, yet theists, who are emotionally attached to these stories, refuse to do so.  They want to think that if the Bible says it, it had to have really happened and that’s just not so.

“History” isn’t necessarily history and pointing to something written in an ancient book as though it shares the rigors of a modern-day historical reference is foolish.  They are not the same and pretending otherwise just betrays your own ignorance of the facts and your distaste for reality.

Let’s stop making that fundamental mistake, shall we?

3 thoughts on “Ancient Historicity and Why it Isn’t

  1. Great Post. This is a topic that I often have problems with, as I realize there is fact in many ancient documents but you really have to sort through all the extras to find out what is true. The other problem that arises with this, is that instead of doing all the leg work yourself you try get modern books that have researched these events to better understand them. However, then you have to search to see if the authors are not flavored by religion either.
    My recent post Tecahing with creationist textbooks

  2. I've always been interested in ancient accounts of history, but I take everything with a grain of salt. It's a wonderful field for entertaining speculation and attempts at playing historical detective, but how can it ever be much more? I've never understood the value of various debates on whether or not there was a historical Jesus that the myths are based on…..there's no way we can really know…..well, except I'm pretty damn sure that fish and bread don't spontaneously come into existence, and that people don't come back from the dead. As far as restless rogue preachers, I'm sure there were plenty of them.

    ….for some reason, this subject reminds me of a theory I heard, that fossils of mammoths being revealed after storms might be one of the things that gave birth to legends of giants and cyclops in Greece and elsewhere….for some reason, I rather enjoy the thought. Human imagination punked by mother nature….

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