Ancient World revisionism...

TalkHistory Readers: Clio's (Pleasure?) Palace

Join LibraryThing to post.

Ancient World revisionism...

This topic is currently marked as "dormant"—the last message is more than 90 days old. You can revive it by posting a reply.

Edited: Aug 12, 2008, 10:48pm

I spent a few moments looking at abuse-flags today. One message popped out as flagged over and over, "There Was Never Any Biblical Jerusalem Ever in Palestine..." (

The message is spam in a special way. The "Author Chat" group is for specific named chats with authors. The page itself is just a paste from some MSN page.

But the content of the message interested me. It author contends that the name "Jerusalem" was invented in the 11th century:
"All historical records from time immamorial (sic) to the begining of crusades called it Aelia. ... Visitors from Palestine to Europe Did not Report Any Jerusalem Till 1074 AD, Why?"
It goes on in a similar vein. Apparently all references to Jerusalem before the 11th century were added in later. Needless to say, denying the existence of Jerusalem has appeal in certain quarters...

I'm fascinated by these sorts of claims, which--to someone on the look-out--appear rather frequently. The core is the assertion that some major piece of understanding about the ancient or medieval world is a complete fabrication, inserted into history and bamboozling everyone since. A common focus is the Bible, as here. Well-attested peoples, nations, religions and individuals end up as furtive cut-and-paste jobs by some malign individual or power. (Another popular one has it that the entire New Testament was forged by a single clever Roman writer!)

What's interesting to me here is the argument from sparse evidence.

A surprisingly large number of people think that evidence from the past is very thin--that Jerusalem depends upon a half-dozen documents, for example. Someone with some knowledge of the evidence, however, can think of sources stretching to the horizons here. Jerusalem does not, I recall, get mentioned by Greek sources until the Hellenistic period. But how on earth can one get to the eleventh century!?

Anyone who's stood before some body of church literature—the Acta Sanctorum, for example—can only marvel at the impossibility of the task. Consider only references to Jerusalem in saints lives, church histories and the acts of the various councils. The Greek and Latin sources here would fill a library. But these sorts of texts also "shoot out" into other languages quickly—Georgian, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Amharic, Arabic, Old Church Slavonic, Pahlavi... Those are some globe-trotting, linguistically capacious Crusaders! I can imagine only one other way to do it—a "glitch in the Matrix."

Where does this idea come from?

My theory is that these ideas get some of their impetus from a misunderstanding extension of Protestant Biblical criticism, which sometimes avoids, mostly for theological reasons, all non-Biblical evidence for ancient Christianity and Judaism. As a result, the impression arises that the books of the Bible stand alone not just theologically but as ancient evidence.

As an example, I was recently driven almost to tears listening to a radio preacher—the Maine dial is very sparse, what can i say?—re-derive the idea of inclusive reckoning of time in the New Testament from the New Testament alone, as if this weren't an every-day fact of Greek writing, attested in a thousand other texts and utterly unremarkable.

Does anyone have experience with similar ancient-evidence conspiracy theories?

Edited: Aug 12, 2008, 10:48pm

I have a tag for such things - pseudohistory.

Aug 12, 2008, 10:46pm

I recently heard an interview with a fellow who clamed that Nazareth didn't exist during the time of Christ. It all sounded fairly compelling, but I don't have enough of a background to be able to accept or refute his claims. I looked into his background and saw him to be an earnest layperson. Maybe his claims are right, maybe not, but I'd like to see the evidence survive scrutiny by a battery of Archaeologists and Historians first.

I think there's a lot of people out there who do, as you stated, take threads of spurious evidence from one discipline or another and then hold it out as golden without doing any cross-referencing. Combination of hopeful thinking, conspiracy theory, what have you, I suppose. I do know that even professionals don't always cross-check their work to other disciplines, so it's easy to see how these things can get flung out there by well-meaning (or agenda driven) laypeople, as seems to have happened here.

It's almost like "miracle herbs" or something. The chance that any one piece of evidence is going to turn up and turn the whole world on its head, or that somehow through time giant conspiracies have survived, is sometimes romantic, sometimes malicious, and pretty much always wrong.

We can always hope for the Ark of the Covenant or something like that, can't we? :)

Aug 12, 2008, 10:48pm

A surprisingly large number of people think that evidence from the past is very thin...

Amen to that.

Does anyone have experience with similar ancient-evidence conspiracy theories?

There's a conspiracy theory around that ALL of ancient history was written in (what we call) medieval times. (Wish I could recall more details of that one - I'll google around.)

This sort of pseudo-history has a parallel in pseudo-science: there are plenty of Literalists who will tell you that the fossil record was planted to test our faith, that physical constants aren't actually constant, etc.

Aug 12, 2008, 10:53pm

there are plenty of Literalists who will tell you that the fossil record was planted to test our faith

Of course, I don't agree with that idea, but at least it has a mechanism. If there is a God, he can change the Matrix without any repetitious cats, right?

Edited: Aug 12, 2008, 11:14pm

Sure. And I think it was Russell who pointed out that it's equally easy to assert that history started five minutes ago, complete with all of our memories.

There's a live thread on LT right now of Creationists who are playing around with "what would you have to do with 'radioactive decay' to make the Young Earth dating work out right".

(Oh, and I'm not having much luck finding that "There Is No Ancient History" theory. Though it's pretty impressive what Googling for it turns up.)

Edited: Aug 12, 2008, 11:22pm



New Chronology

The New Chronology is radically shorter than the conventional chronology, because all ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian history is "folded" onto the Middle Ages. According to the chronology, the history of humankind goes only as far back as AD 800, there is almost no information about events between AD 800-1000, and most known historical events took place in AD 1000-1500.

Aug 12, 2008, 11:21pm

Thank you for finding that, AYK_B. I didn't plan on sleeping tonight anyways....

Aug 12, 2008, 11:24pm

31 copies here on LT....

Aug 12, 2008, 11:26pm

But no reviews. It must leave people speechless.

Aug 12, 2008, 11:31pm

Oh, that's good, that's good.

It makes me wish I had lived around 800. Could have met that Jesus fellow, even if he was also a Chinese emperor.

Aug 12, 2008, 11:38pm

Just a few clicks and I'm reading about Polywater. Damn, Wikipedia is a time-suck.

Aug 12, 2008, 11:45pm

History: Fiction or Science is just non-stop crazy.

from the Amazon description:
Eminent mathematician proves that: Jesus Christ was born in 1053 and crucified in 1086 The Old Testament refers to mediaeval events. Apocalypse was written after 1486. ...

Edited: Aug 12, 2008, 11:59pm

I like that the top recommendation is Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, followed by similar books. Note that, on Amazon, you get straight-up crazy-person books.

Message: LibraryThing people aren't idiots.

Aug 13, 2008, 12:03am

(Why, fleela, you have a "fnord" tag!)

Aug 13, 2008, 12:08am

I love the fnord tag page,

Let's submit Fnord to the Library of Congress for entry into LCSH. Anyone with me? :)

Aug 13, 2008, 7:57am

#6, AYK_B, where is that thread with the young earthers, I can't find it or don't see exactly what
you're referring to.

This is a wonderful thread, I have learned about FNORD, and this crazy New Chronology stuff, wonderful
lunacy, right up my alley for time wasting and head-shaking! :)

Aug 13, 2008, 8:08am

>15 AsYouKnow_Bob:
Odd. Your post came up blank.

Aug 13, 2008, 8:11am

This thread makes me feel warm and fuzzy. I love, love, love, love conspiracy theories - pseudo history, archaeology, science. For me, it's the best kind of speculative fiction.

Edited: Aug 13, 2008, 9:10pm

#17: Here it is:

#18: blank?

at #15, I was merely enthusing how wonderful it was that you use the "Fnord" tag. (...Sharing your sentiment at #19)

Aug 13, 2008, 9:15pm

>20 AsYouKnow_Bob:

'twas just a joke. :)

Edited: Aug 13, 2008, 10:12pm

(Slaps forehead)


(In my defense - I'm just home from my day job, a bureaucratic IT nightmare, where seemingly half the documents that land in my in-box have various random insertions that just don't read properly: "Is this document supposed to have three images, or just the two that I can see?" etc.)