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 What would have been your Golden Age?

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nordmann
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PostSubject: What would have been your Golden Age?   Thu 30 May 2013, 14:15

I'm not getting personal and wondering how old you are ...

Rather, if you could nominate any place and time in which you could see yourself quite happily fitting in and living out the rest of your days where and when would it be? We'll pretend of course that we're all polyglots with constitutions like oxes so language and food present no barrier to our time travel.

Personally I wouldn't mind being a person of means who had time and opportunity to spend each day in the coffee houses of late 17th century London.

(Though maybe ones a little more genteel than the one Hogarth found)

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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Thu 30 May 2013, 20:41

I've always liked the 30 years between 1790-1820. There's something unbelievably attractive about the Napoleonic Era although (ironically) I wouldn't have wanted to live in France during that time. However, England, Ireland, Switzerland, America, Italy, Austria and the Caribbean would all have suited. That is, of course, assuming one was of the better-off classes at that time.

In fact Lord Byron's lifetime fits the bill almost exactly. Born in 1788 and dying (at 36) in 1824. Perfection!
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Thu 30 May 2013, 21:47

Same here, and riches would be a must. I am just working my way through Georgette Heyers 50 books, have got to about 25. Tough life for poor people, but the upper classes lived as though there was no tomorrow.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Fri 31 May 2013, 04:39

It is a difficult question for women Nordmann, to wish ouseleves back to times when birth and infant mortality rates were high and the males in the family (father and then husband) would have had complete control over our persons and everything we owned. And as Gran says, to be poor on top of it would have been horrendous.

But as we are already in the realms of fantasy, I suppose we can pretend all that away as well. So I'll say I wouldn't mind a gander at Republican Rome, and only as an aristocrat mind, there are so many questions from the ancient world that I'd like the answers to.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Fri 31 May 2013, 07:59

Actually as a woman in Republican Rome I would imagine being a member of one of the really powerful aristocratic patrician families would almost have been as bad as being a slave - even worse in some respects. Women attached to powerful families visibly grew in influence with the advent of empire (at least occasionally) but prior to that the constraints on their lifestyle and behaviour were terribly repressive.

Why not demote yourself to the ranks of the equites? That's where all the fun was to be had! Just as many villas and parties but also a chance to run your own business, pursue an academic calling of your choosing and - crucially - pick and choose your mates of every description with a freedom at least sometimes equivalent to the plebs. All the perks, none of the headaches ...



Friday night back at the villa ...
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Fri 31 May 2013, 09:06

For me it would be the 1880s and 1890s. Not to far back that I can't enjoy the benefits of indoor plumbing and, in case of emergencies, a medical and dental profession acquainted with anaesthetics and antiseptics. With the money I have saved up in the present I could live quite comfortably in Late Victorian Britain. Get up in the morning and read the newspapers, check my shareholdings in Mr Lipton's Tea Company, Mr Rhodes' De Beers Company and Messrs Marks and Spencer's General Emporium before going to the front pages and reading about the 42nd giving Johnny Foreigner a dam good thrashing. Spend my spare time reading the scientific romances of Monsieur Verne and Mister Wells. Could afford to take a holiday abroad, Arles perhaps.
"Minheer Van Gogh, you're an artist I believe?"
"And what's this one called?"
"Sunflowers, eh"
"I'll give you twenty francs for it"
"Done!, you certainly have been"

And most definitely a visit to the Diamond Jubilee Fleet Review when it came around. Late Victorian respectability would suit me just fine.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Sat 01 Jun 2013, 01:09

I have been thinking of this off and on overnight and this morning, and still haven't come down on one era definitely. (Except for today, which generally suits me, though the irritating and constant need to see every aspect of life through the prism of economics and finance annoys me.) I think, being relatively conventional, that the 1950s would have been fine; the 60s threads talks of its repressiveness, but in some ways that gives people just slightly maverick, as I was in a sort of pre-feminist childish way, the chance to shine more.

I like others grew up (and old) on a diet of Georgette Heyers, and I also rather enjoy the 20s style, but actually life seemed very restrictive in Heyer's world - most of us wouldn't have managed to snare the lovely Mr Beaumaris - and the 20s gaiety would actually not have fitted me well at all.

I thought, like Trike, that I might like the later Victorian period too - all the new discoveries and inventions, exciting train trips opening up the world, intellectual understandings like geology, fossils, engineering, and the wonderful literature of the time appeal. (I wouldn't have liked to be one of those on the steerage area of ships coming across to my or other colonial countries though.)

There are aspects of WWII life in Britain that appeal too - I think there was a general heightened feel for life then; things felt important, work was important, just existing became valued. But constant worries of one's soldier/airmen relatives and friends take some of the shine off the thought of that era. Imagine losing a brother or son - or worse, several - and never really knowing how much they suffered. I don't know enough about places like China or Japan or Russia to know if there were periods in those places and others that I might have enjoyed.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Sun 02 Jun 2013, 00:05

Well, that serves me right. Last night I dreamt, in some sort of time warp, that I was hiding in the war, and having to hide my papers or something. There were ashes and vegetables in them and the enemy (were they German or just generic enemies?) made me take all the vegetables out for them, and I was worried they would see in the ashes my papers. (I'm not even sure it was 'me' who was the protagonist in this story, could have been someone I was watching or even a sort of imaginery event. Dreams are very confusing.)
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Sun 02 Jun 2013, 08:37

Has there ever been a "Golden Age"? Or, if there has, does it exist merely in a person's individual experience of life during an "era" that can span just a few years, even months; occasionally indeed just a few days? Such an experience is usually - but not always - associated with youth, and with, above all, that exhilarating sense of *connection* with others. And I don't mean "connection" merely in a romantic or physical sense, but a connection of mind and spirit.

I was very struck by Caro's comment about people actually being happy during WWII, not a period one would normally think of as being a "golden" time. Yet it is a fact that, despite fear of invasion, terrible bombing and the constant threat of death and loss, suicide rates and incidence of depressive illness went down. War as the ultimate "upper", I suppose; a constant adrenaline rush that gives life a purpose and makes - in that state of heightened awareness - even pain seem pleasurable. No wonder war is so addictive. Love - or real living - in the time of cholera? (Cholera - as it is used in Spanish, "colera" - can also mean human rage or ire, as in our word "choleric".)

I'm thinking too of Graham Greene's novel, set in wartime London - The End of the Affair - "Pain is easy to write," said Greene. "In pain we're all happily individual. But what can one write about happiness?"


And living in Trike's "golden era" was utterly depressing for some; and I am not just thinking of the poor and wretched. Thomas Hardy published his poem, The Darkling Thrush, on December 29th, 1900, although a deleted "1899" on the manuscript would indicate that it was written the previous year. 1899. What a time to be alive - and to be a successful writer. Britannia ruled the waves (and just about everything else), and Hardy was by then a famous man, living a comfortable, Victorian, middle-class existence. The golden years of the Edwardian heyday lay ahead. Yet this is what he wrote:

The Darkling Thrush



I leant upon a coppice gate

When Frost was
spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made
desolate
The weakening eye of
day.
The tangled bine-stems scored
the sky
Like strings of broken
lyres,
And all mankind that haunted
nigh
Had sought their
household fires.

The land's sharp features
seemed to be
The Century's corpse
outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,

The wind his
death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and
birth
Was shrunken hard and
dry,
And every spirit upon earth

Seemed fervourless as I.


At once a voice arose among

The bleak twigs overhead

In a full-hearted evensong

Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt,
and small,
In blast-beruffled
plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his
soul
Upon the growing gloom.


So little cause for carolings

Of such ecstatic sound

Was written on terrestrial
things
Afar or nigh around,

That I could think there
trembled through
His happy good-night air

Some blessed Hope, whereof he
knew
And I was unaware.


PS In a belated attempt to answer the question posed in the original post, I was going to say my "golden age" would be the 1590s in Shakespeare's London. But after watching Ian Mortimer's The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England I've changed my mind. I'll stick with Devon in 2013, thank you.


Last edited by Temperance on Mon 03 Jun 2013, 06:24; edited 1 time in total
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Sun 02 Jun 2013, 09:39

May I just add that MM's comment over on the 60s thread (made in response to my posting: "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven...") is perhaps relevant to this thread:

MM wrote:
And by the way I loved your quote from Wordsworth (I knew I knew it - but I admit I had to look it up to find the author), though such sentiments are not exclusive to the 1960's ... indeed Wordsworth was writing in the 1800's, wasn't he?

That "blissful dawn" was to herald in the bloody execution of thousands.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174787


So much depends how you look at things. One man's golden age could be another man's idea of hell.

And Rome - not Republican Rome, but Imperial Rome at the height of its power and glory, circa 50AD, with that nice Claudius in charge - surely a "golden age"? Not for St. Paul, it wasn't: he referred to his own interesting times as "the present evil age".

Apologies for yet another quotation, but this has to be the obvious one:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.


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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Sun 02 Jun 2013, 11:59

I would quite like to have been a woman in Sparta at the height of it's power. They had a lot of independence but did not have to do the full military training!
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Mon 03 Jun 2013, 10:08

The more history I learn the more puts me off choosing a time or place to be. So I must go for what I know I could cope with - Empire building Raj. They certainly had a very good time and lived well. I have experienced a shadowed life of that era and believe me it has been rich. In total contrast, the only place I could see an existance that would attract must be extremely rural and a long time ago in a remote place. May be I would have made a good Pilgrim Mother - but can't imagine making a meal of my younger neighbours. I would have been better able to survive off the land having less faith in the good Lord providing.

On the whole though I'd rather stay when and where I am though if that's all right with you? I like centralheating/airconditioning, clothes that wash, wear and dry well and much food that comes in tuk tuk pierce containers.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Mon 03 Jun 2013, 12:22

Whilst serving breakfasts, washing, ironing, making beds, and cleaning rooms – who said domestic service ended after WW2 ?! – I too have been pondering this question.

I tend to agree with P and Caro … I think the present is quite satisfactory for me for all its many faults and concerns. I might push that back just a few decades, to the 80’s, but then that is probably because I was young then and felt that even if I couldn’t make a difference, I was still, as Temp says, at least "connected" to the world. The young think they have it hard these days, and in many respects they do, but if you offered anyone over, say 40, if they would like to be 20 again I very much doubt many would decline.

The assumption with this thread is of course that whatever period we chose we would be living in health and relative wealth. While one might like to live on a Roman country estate, or in the finery of a mediaeval court, I doubt many of us would like to be the hypocaust furnace stoker or an over-worked domestic scullion suffering with bad teeth and rheumatism.

But even if I could be healthy, wealthy and wise, I still am not sure that life would be pleasant. The regular sights and smells outside my front door would be enough to put me off most periods and places. And then there’s also the over-bearing influence of religion, the tight constrictions of manners and rank, and widespread superstition, ignorance and prejudice that would deter me from settling in most historical periods.

I did consider Trike’s suggestion of late Victorian England (as a respected person of ample and independent means) but even that loses its appeal when one considers that to get real comfort: warm rooms, hot running water, quick private transport, clean clothes always available, ready access to music, books, news, information and ideas etc requires an army of servants and reliable tradesmen. And I don’t think I would be very good at managing a household of domestics … I would probably end up doing a lot of the work myself or alternatively feeling constantly aggrieved that they didn’t do things right and were taking advantage of me. That said it would be great to have the money and influence to be able to create a really great estate/house/home ... I'm modestly (!) thinking something like Lord Armstrong's "Cragside" .... but even so I'm not sure I'd be that comfortable with the huge divide in wealth, power and property, between myself and all the (potentially) revolting masses below me. Perhaps I would be better as just a financially secure gentleman farmer, but again even that life is starting to slip down in the comfort stakes when one considers the practicalities of it.

So all in all I think I’ll stay in the present, thankyou.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Mon 03 Jun 2013, 14:00

Quote :
Rather, if you could nominate any place and time in which you could see yourself quite happily fitting in and living out the rest of your days where and when would it be?

Unless I were to go back with my mind wiped clean, I doubt if I could survive for more than a few days without succumbing to seizures of frustrated choleric rage, exasperation and indignation at what could only seem to me to be incomprehensible attitudes, values and mores in almost any time in the past.
Just think how limited all aspects of your life would be: unable to travel for more than a few miles without it being a major undertaking (if possible at all), a social circle comprising just those in your locale and of a similar social standing. Any discussion of the likely outcome of current events, of history, the sciences and so forth would be so far behind the understanding of even the intelligent lay person today and bedevilled by your 20/20 hindsight as to be largely intolerable and since I would not be able to keep my mouth shut, I would at worst be burned as a witch, hung as a spy or at best incarcerated as a lunatic.

Even if I escaped all that, I suspect that my strange ideas about food, hygiene, animal welfare, religion and gender relationships for a start would see me ostracised as that deluded old nut case, to be avoided at all costs.

No, I'll stick with the present for all its faults http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904106704576583203589408180.html
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Wed 05 Jun 2013, 20:35

As an old Chinese proverb says: "May you live in interesting times". That, I suppose, covers most of historical times. I would need a time machine though. Wouldn`t want to catch anything nasty.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Sat 29 Jun 2013, 10:53

It depends whether one takes a linear view or a cyclical view of human history.

The linear view itself has two opposing narratives - ameliorative and deteriorative. The ameliorative narrative suggests that the further one goes back in time then the worse things become for humans while the nearer one gets to the present then the better they are. The deteriorative narrative holds the opposite view that the further one goes back in the past the better things were while the nearer one gets to the present the worse they are.

An example of an ameliorationist view would be that as outlined in the linked article by Steven Pinker. It is optimistic and at face value follows a simple and quite credible train of thought. Perhaps, however, it is too optimistic and also too simplistic and reliant on selective data.

The deteriorationist view was popular in ancient Greece where the very concept of a ‘Golden Age’ was coined and it seemed to have become even more popular in ancient Rome as evidenced in the work of the Ovid and Virgil. This view also has its modern adherents. For example the late Chris Harman of the Socialist Workers Party maintained such as view in his 1999 book A People’s History of the World. He saw the hunter-gatherer life as being when humans were at the one time both free and socialist. He then traced the economic history of mankind over the past thousands of years to the eve of the 2nd Millennium CE and suggests that, despite the massive human population of the modern world, real wealth and power has over time become concentrated in the hands of a smaller and smaller elite. This view too, however, seems to be too simplistic and deterministic. It’s significant, perhaps, that Pinker is a psychologist and Harman was a journalist. Neither was a historian.

A further view of the past is not linear at all but is cyclical. This sees history as advancing and retreating in waves. The wheel of fortune turns. For example, the Hindu religion, sees human affairs as being a series of alternate Dark Ages and Golden Ages. The human experience itself would seem to give credence to this view. The very fact that there have been periods of peace followed by outbreaks of war and that there have been lean times followed by boom times would tend to support this.

Whichever view one holds, however, it's a fascinating topic.
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Tim of Aclea
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Sun 30 Jun 2013, 07:09

Having the oppertunity to listen to Jesus preach!
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Sun 30 Jun 2013, 11:02

I imagine that was a very frustrating experience for anyone with a genuine interest in theology, philosophy and scripture - even given the assumption that there was a man who preached as the mythical narrative avers.

We are prone to imagine the mechanics of the exercise based on modern abilities to convey the spoken word live to a mass audience, and it is notable that modern depictions of the "Sermon on the Mount", for example, tend to the modern assumption but without the loudspeakers etc that make it possible (as brilliantly parodied in the "cheesemakers" scene from Life of Brian). The reality, common sense dictates, must have been very different.

When Daniel O'Connell addressed his "monster meetings" in Ireland in the early 19th century - to present just one apt analogy - he did so by appointing interpolators within earshot of himself on the podium, more interpolators within earshot of them, and so on throughout the throng, an estimated nearly one million people at the biggest of them all in Tara in 1843 (and this with speaking trumpets). Even then it was obvious to those present that unless one was stationed directly before the podium then what one heard being relayed through the nearest interpolator was exactly that, an interpolation; hence the name. Furthermore it was likely that this differed from that which the majority of the rest of the audience received by way of interpolation - the differences expanding the further away from the podium one stood and therefore the further down the chain in the great game of Chinese Whispers that such an event actually was. O'Connell knew this, and therefore kept his subject matter and its delivery as basic and terse as possible to minimise this effect, though even he laughed when told that an entire village who had attended one such rally went home in the abject certainty that he was now disowning his own repeal of the union policy.

Jesus, presenting complex theological and moral principles through a medium of metaphor and reference to scripture (amongst other departures from terse and direct communication), and without the the aid of loudhailers and such like, must also have employed interpolators (at least twelve of them I would imagine) for any crowd greater than a hundred or so in number. At the Sermon on the Mount he would also have been doubly disadvantaged by his rather silly insistence on taking the highest ground as the spot from which to speak - thereby showing his ignorance of basic acoustics, despite the ample evidence provided by his Greek and Roman antecedents and contemporaries who understood the function and concept of an amphitheatre in the successful transmission of the spoken word to as many people as possible. Natural examples of such a formation abound in the area in which he preached. To fail to employ them was a mark against the man's basic intelligence.

To have "heard" the man preach therefore, and in particular to have heard every word of that which is quoted in the narrative (and I assume the many things which are not, or else his reputation was based on about an hour's worth of talking), then I imagine one would have had to get as close to the man at all times as possible - possibly even to the point of getting really on his tit. Much like Judas, as it turned out.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Sun 30 Jun 2013, 11:13

PS - though it is most definitely a period and place I too would love to drop in on in my time machine - if only to sort out fact from fiction. If I can get hold of the dilithium crystals and other sundries I need to get my own machine in operation you are gladly welcome to join me, Tim. I imagine we'd have a ball (drowning our respective sorrows along with our respective assumptions)! Roman wine wasn't the worst ...
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Tim of Aclea
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Sun 30 Jun 2013, 13:12

Nordmann

 Perhaps I should have said teach.  As I once advised in response to a question from you on the BBC pages concerning the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5 to 7 of Matthew's gospel do not represent a sermon that jesus gave to the crowd at one time.  They would, as you say, be desperately straining to hear what he was saying, particularly as he was sitting and down not standing up!   It is rather Jesus' teaching to his disciples.  This is made quite clear in Matthew 'There he took his seat, and when his disciples had gathered round him he began to address them.' (NEB).  It is also generally agreed by scholars that the 'Sermon on the Mount' represents a summary of jesus' teaching to his disciples, probably repeated many times.  

Concerning the scene in Monty Python and the Life of Brian, I have been intending to write a post concerning 'the meek shall inherit' the earth and the problem the Greek word praus into English.   Trouble is have been very busy with weddings, lectures, papers for journal, holidays, sermon for son's wedding etc.  In Monty Python you may remember someone also mishears meek as Greek thinking that they, the Greeks, are going to inherit the earth.  However, another time.

regards

Tim
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Sun 30 Jun 2013, 13:28




PS - though it is most definitely a period and place I too would love to drop in on in my time machine - if only to sort out fact from fiction. If I can get hold of the dilithium crystals and other sundries I need to get my own machine in operation you are gladly welcome to join me, Tim. I imagine we'd have a ball (drowning our respective sorrows along with our respective assumptions)! Roman wine wasn't the worst ...



 
On the English history website, I do not think you have been on it for a while (too busy on this one, judgingby the number of your posts, I would think) someone did posit the idea of having a time machine what would posters most like to visit.  Finding out about who Jesus was and what actually happened at the ressurrection were high on the list.  Other ones, if I remember, included where Brunanburh was fought and why did Harold not remain in London rather than legging it down to Sandlake.  I guess on this website a popular choice would be to find out for certain who did murder the princes.

In a spoof novel I once glanced someone goes back in time, benefit of Dr Who,  to discover who killed JFK and finds that it is his older self.

If you do get hold of the crystals let me know and I will track down some babel fish so we can then understand what the hell is going on (much easier than me trying to learn Aramaic and possibly Greek as well - you, of course, my be quite a linguist but I am afraid I am not).  

regards

Tim
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Sun 30 Jun 2013, 13:59

Deleted.

Apologies, Tim and nordmann, for intruding on a serious discussion with silliness.

It won't happen again.


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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Mon 01 Jul 2013, 08:50

Actually I agree with you Tim completely regarding the "teaching" method to which the New Testamant (through the filter of several subsequent cultures) refers. A friend of mine has a special interest in Jewish history and archaeology and one of his pet bug-bears is the assumption, especially within the Jewish tradition, that the cellular rabbi/congregation/synod model through which Jewish theology and scripture has been transmitted, developed and taught since the diaspora reflects exactly that which preceded it in Israel. However what is far more feasible - and in fact corresponds not at all badly with the New Testamant which in itself is a rather detailed disquisition concerning one such rabbi - is that the traditional Muslim madrasah (itself a word with semitic roots connected with "doing" and "learning") must surely be a far closer analogy. Not only in terms of tradition but also in terms of its organisation, its function, and its importance as perceived in the surrounding culture. The interaction between the public and the madrasah is a complex one, far more so than ours with academia, for example. Madrasah fulfil several functions besides simple tuition, extending into debate and indeed entertainment of an intellectual nature which often intrudes in no small way into immediate political concerns.

With that model in mind when thinking about Judaean synagogues the Jesus narrative actually, in some places, makes considerable sense - more in fact than as perceived by the majority of people who subscribe to the more modern Christian assumptions derived from it. A rabbi whose discourses and arguments in a madrasah-type assembly (often ad-hoc) could draw audiences is not a million miles away from what actually has traditionally happened in the Muslim world. The mosque and the madrasah often are closely tied, but can often also be at loggerheads and represent two divergent political views within a community (sometimes with profound political results). Likewise the concept of the synagogue in Judaean terms actually contained two distinct roles which too could become just as contradictory - worship and education/debate. A Jesus-type rabbi, like the imam, can gravitate to either role but, even if this is exclusively the latter role, this does not necessarily preclude him from functions assigned to the former. The overlap is considerable. As with muslims today this can actually allow quite radical theology to develop and disseminate quite quickly "within the fold".

The notion therefore that the "Sermon on the Mount" was a series of private discourses attended by students of Jesus's particular theological slant, the subject matter then drawing large crowds to witness it, is actually quite a sensible one in the historical sense.
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Tim of Aclea
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Mon 08 Jul 2013, 16:00

Well Nordmann it cannot often be that we are in broad agreement when it comes to religious matters.

On the subject of moving from moving from Jesus' studnets to crowds, Matthew in the 'Sermon on the Mount' and elsewhere does precisely that.  Having started 'There he took his seat, and when his disciples had gathered round him he began to address them.' Matthew concludes 'the people were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as the Scribes.'  It also says the same in Mark's gospel of Jesus' teaching.

It can certainly be shown that if one looks at the teaching creditted to Jesus in the synoptic gospels that it is totally different with regard to authority compared to what is recorded of Jewish Scribes.  The charectoristic phrase of the Scribe, as recorded in later jewish writings, was 'There is a teaching that' and then buttress with quotes from earlier teachers.  Jesus, as recorded in the 'Sermon on the Mount' quotes the Jewish law more than once and then contradicts it.  He also on one occasion appears to contradict an Essene teaching.  

Philo, by the way, who understood the Torah to be the solution to the world’s ills, would have been absolutely fuming if he had ever heard of a Galilean tekton contradicting the Torah.  However, rather like Richard Dawkins will not debate with creationists, I doubt it Philo would have deigned to have responded to a tekton just as he appears to have ignored the Oniads.


regards


Tim
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Tue 09 Jul 2013, 08:51

@Tim of Aclea wrote:

Well Nordmann it cannot often be that we are in broad agreement when it comes to religious matters.

 

Though of course I do not see this topic purely as a religious one - for me it is a facet of sociology and a fascinating one at that. The description of the social dynamics prevalent in Judaea at this time as inferred by the popular interpretation of the Christian New Testament is, at various levels, in contradiction of the same dynamics as inferred from other sources. This is not unusual in reference to peripheral societies during the centuries of Roman dominance in the Mediterranean region where one is often handicapped by the sheer lack of unbiased documentation, and that even where documentation actually exists (not always the case as anyone trying to piece together Dacian society from what the Romans left will readily testify).

That Jesus as portrayed in the NT represents a new departure in Jewish theology is irrefutable - whether the character is a composite or even a dependable representation is quite another case entirely. In the absence of undoctored evidence remaining in the philological record, and of evidence at all in the archaeological record, I am afraid it is only through time travel that I feel the issue could ever be resolved to my own satisfaction.


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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Tue 09 Jul 2013, 10:23

Quote :
The description of the social dynamics prevalent in Judaea at this time as inferred by the popular interpretation of the Christian New Testament is, at various levels, in contradiction of the same dynamics as inferred from other sources. 



What are those other sourses and in what way are they contradictory?



Quote :
That Jesus as portrayed in the NT represents a new departure in Jewish theology is irrefutable - whether the character is a composite or even a dependable representation is quite another case entirely. 




There are numerous views as to the charector of the 'Historical Jesus', I would agree.  However, what the overwhelming majority and all NT qualified scholars (except one according to Bart Ehrman) agree on is that Jesus existed.  They also agree on a fair bit about him.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Tue 09 Jul 2013, 12:27

Tim wrote:
What are those other sourses and in what way are they contradictory?

Well, to name but one point of contention - administration. The NT infers that Iudea, despite being a satellite of Syria in the Roman administration with neither senatorial nor imperial province status and therefore nominally run by a prefect of the equites class (Pilate in the story), yet has a devolved justice system in keeping with that administered through provincial assemblies in which the said prefect can dispense and oversee internal judicial matters since he has an assembly to which adjudication can be referred (in fact must be referred). In the story Pilate behaves in a manner that would have seen him quickly withdrawn from his office and very likely disciplined harshly by his superiors - a prefect assuming the role of provincial adjudication reserved for men of higher rank would have been seen as a huge threat within imperial and senatorial circles. Not only that but he takes the action he does in the story at the time of a Parthian invasion, partial encroachment by Dacian and German tribes, and with Tiberius in self-imposed exile on Capri, meaning that the senate is now basically running the shop in a period of heightened military activity and with all provincial revenues and those responsible for collecting them under intense scrutiny.

There is no mention of these factors in the NT source even though they would have had a direct bearing on the conduct of the prefect, the administration of the prefecture, the requirement of the prefect to conform and play his expected role in the Parthian crisis. Instead it presents a man whose conduct would have been unique, questionable and in fact illegal even under more benign circumstances. In the context of a looming war with Artabanus and under the nose of Lucius Vitelius the Elder who might even have been stationed in Caesarea at the alleged time of this extraordinary action by a prefect the NT Pilate just doesn't make historical sense when compared against other sources.

The Roman sources on the other hand report no such aberration in Iudea (a sensitive zone anyway given its role as land access to the Egyptian bread basket and buffer region against Parthian expansion), and in fact ten years later report that the imperial authorities are satisfied enough that the prefecture has been run well that they return it to the Herodian dynasty without demur in return for continuation of the revenue collection they demanded and - we must assume - have had no difficulty collecting hitherto.

We have Livy, Josephus and Tacitus to help us reconstruct Roman administration in the region. They differ only in the classifications used of prefecture versus procuratorship. We have Tacitus who gives us the bigger picture about the crisis fomenting just outside Iudea and which coloured completely imperial policy in the region. We have the NT to blithely ignore all these factors and present us with a story that defies this other context. That's how sources differ and then differ.

Quote :
There are numerous views as to the charector of the 'Historical Jesus', I would agree.

I would agree too. The consensus you describe however does not improve the historical value of the meagre historical information to hand in the principal source cited. Hence my requirement of a time machine. If it's big enough the consensus crew can come along too.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Mon 15 Jul 2013, 15:52

Hi Nordmann
 
Thanks for your interesting post.  It is a pity, however, that it is, in my view, almost completely wrong.  Your knowledge of so much is so incredibly good but it seems to me that it tends to fail when it involves the New Testament.  There is, however, a sense in which this is hardly surprising as why should you wish to spend time studying a collection of writings concerned with someone of whom you question the existence.  Certainly your comments in the past have shown that your knowledge of New Testament is not as good as that of other documents.
 
In a previous post on your site you made a claim about the New Testament being in error concerning the Roman Administration in that it was assumed that the Roman governor was based in Jerusalem.  As I have already pointed out and you have not disputed. this is incorrect.  It made quite clear in the New Testament that the governor was based at Caesarea.  Josephus confirms that the Roman Governor used to go up to Jerusalem at the time of the Passover with a body of soldiers in case there was any trouble.  He also mentions that Pilate took Roman soldiers from Caesarea to Jerusalem to take their ‘winter quarters’ there and how Pilate was in Jerusalem at the time he used Temple money to improve the water supply to Jerusalem.  He refers to Vitellius, Legate of Syria, coming to Jerusalem at the time of the Passover.  He also mentions how during the Passover a Roman soldier, while on guard in the Temple cloisters caused a riot by exposing himself to the crowd during the governorship of Cumanus.  Borg suggests, by the way, that Jesus deliberately timed his entry into Jerusalem to coincide with that of Pontius Pilate as a prophetic statement.
 
Now what exactly was ‘this extraordinary action by a prefect, does he pull down the Temple? Does he take over as High Priest? Does he kill thousands?  No, he executes one man!  And you find it extra-ordinary that Pilate should execute one man without reference to the Legate of Syria, why?  Roman Governors such as Pilate had the power to inflict the death penalty. ‘The right of jurisdiction in capital cases was jealously reserved by provincial governors’ F.F.Bruce.  ‘There is good evidence for it [crucifixion] as a Roman death penalty in Palestine.’ Theissen and Merz.  According to Sherman Roman Societ’ the trial of Jesus before Pilate was a cognitio extra ordinem.  The condemnation of Jesus would have been to Pilate ‘a minor incident’. F.V.Filson. I could claim the support of many scholars that I have read but I would just mention Martin Goodman, Bart Ehrman, Michael Grant, Geza Vermes, Tacitus and Josephus; as none of them are Christians.  And your authority – Nordmann, as usual you do not provide any quotes from anywhere to substantiate what you claim. 
 
As you are no doubt aware, the only time that Pontius Pilate gets a mention by any Roman Historian is by Tacitus and that is only because he executed Jesus.  He expresses no surprise that ‘Auctor nominis eius Christus Tiberio imperitante per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio adfectus erat’ which one would expect if that was not what governors did.   ‘There are good reasons for concluding with the vast majority of scholars that this passage is fundamentally sound’ Robert Van Voorst.  ‘His [Tacitus] reference shows that high-ranking Roman officials of the second century knew that Jesus had lived and been executed by a governor of Judea.’  Bart Ehrman.  Prof Martin Goodman specialises in Roman History at this period of time and also comments on the fact that Tacitus was aware that Pontius Pilate executed Jesus.  He nowhere in his book Rome and Jerusalem suggests that Pilate exceeded his authority in this matter.  ‘He [Tacitus] knows ‘Christus’ is a Jew executed as a criminal under Pontius Pilate.’
 
Josephus lists several cases of Roman Governors of Judaea executing prisoners ‘[The Romans] took a great many alive, the principal of whom … Pilate ordered to be slain.’ ‘James and Simon, whom Alexander [Tiberius Julius] commanded to be crucified’.  ‘Yet did Felix catch and put to death many of those impostors everyday’.  ‘he [Albinus] brought out all those prisoners who seemed most worthy of death and ordered them to be put to death accordingly’.  Josephus does mention one execution that he considered to be in breach of the laws.  However, that was not by a Roman governor but by the High Priest Ananus and the victim was none other than Jesus’ brother James.
 
If one looks at the New Testament period then Judaea was originally under the Roman client king, Herod the Monstrous.  When he died in 4BC his kingdom was split between 3 of his sons, who did not get the title king.  Archelaus received Judaea, but he was such a bad ruler, ‘barbarous and tyrannical usage’ that the Jews and Samaritans complained to Augustus Caesar and he was deposed in 6AD.  Judaea was reorganised as a Roman province under the control of a prefect appointed by the emperor, ‘exercising capital jurisdiction’ (F.F.Bruce).  Judaea may have been attached to Syria but Coponius, the first governor, exercised ‘supreme power over the Jews’ (Josephus).  Minor provinces such as Judaea normally had their governors drawn from amongst the equestrian orders.  Tacitus comments on the poor quality of many of these governors and if the comment attributed to Tiberius Caesar s correct, Tiberius also thought so.  Pilate was the governor from 26 to 36AD and during that time, on his own authority, seems to have done far more than executing one prisoner.  According to Philo Herod Agrippa described him as ‘naturally inflexible, a blend of self-will and relentlessness.’  Against previous imperial instructions to respect Jewish objections to images, he introduced imperial standards into Jerusalem and was initially quite prepared to slaughter those Jews who had come to Caesarea to protest.  When the Jews also protested about the use of Temple money to improve the water supply to Jerusalem Pilate ordered his soldiers to beat the crowd with clubs and ‘there were a great many slain by this means’. (Josephus).  ‘Not only that but he takes the action he does in the story at the time of a Parthian invasion, partial encroachment by Dacian and German tribes, and with Tiberius in self-imposed exile on Capri, meaning that the senate is now basically running the shop [Sejanus might be said to be running ‘the shop’ up to 31AD] in a period of heightened military activity and with all provincial revenues and those responsible for collecting them under intense scrutiny.’  So you believe that Pilate could happily slaughter a crowd without due authority, but not execute one prisoner?  It was only when Pilate attacked a crowd of Samaritan pilgrims at Gerizem and the Samaritans appealed to the Legate of Syria that in 36AD Pilate was removed.
 
In 41AD Herod Agrippa I was appointed to rule Judaea, not because Judaea was a well run province, as you claim, but more because Herod Agrippa was an old crony of both the Emperor Gaius and Claudius (he appears quite prominently in I Claudius).  Judaea had after all only just gone through the crisis under the rule of Gaius when Publius Petronius was commanded to set up a huge statue of Gaius in the Jerusalem Temple.  He was met by delegations making it clear that if he did so then the entire country would rise in revolt, hardly my definition of a well run province.  Herod Agrippa I was, however, a seemingly good choice as he was acceptable to the Jews as he was descended from the Hasmonaeon monarchs.  That he was acclaimed by the Jews is made clear Mishnah Sotar 7:8.  Herod, however, was still subject to the Syrian Legate, Marsus, and twice got himself into trouble with Marsus.  Firstly over increasing the defences of Jerusalem and secondly over calling a meeting of client kings without getting Marsus’ permission.  Following Herod’s death Claudius decided that Judaea, despite having undoubtedly better run by Herod, was too difficult a place for Herod’s son, Herod Agrippa II, to run and it was instead again ruled by Roman governors.  Given the record of those procurators it is difficult to believe that Herod Agrippa II could have done any worst.
 
The New Testament does not unsurprisingly have a lot to say about the Roman administration.  After all Jesus was a Galilean and lived most of his life in Galilee and much of Acts and the letters are concerned with events outside Judaea.  Additionally the authors were not writing a history of Judaea under Roman rule.  However, what they do say is in line with that from Roman and Jewish sources. 
 
I would take this opportunity to mention 2 important sources for the existence of Jesus.  The first is a primary source.  He did not actually meet Jesus, but he met Jesus’ brothers and his disciples, was in Jerusalem and Judaea soon after Jesus’ crucifixion.  He also was initially totally hostile to the followers of ‘the way’ and, as he admits, persecuted them.  The reason that he persecuted the followers of Jesus was, by the way, that they claimed that he was the Messiah, but also that he had been crucified.  Paul, whose knowledge of the Torah was very good, knew that anyone who was crucified (hung on a tree) was cursed under the Law.  Therefore to claim a crucified Messiah was nothing short of blasphemy.  Mythicists have a terrible time trying to explain away Paul’s writings about Jesus, as you also seem to do.  You may remember (how could you forget as I keep reminding you) declaring totally incorrectly that ‘Paul, a near contemporary - seems never to have heard of him. he talks a lot about god, but nothing whatsoever of Jesus the character. He doesn't quote him once, says zilch about any miracles, teachings or crucifixion’.  In reality Paul says that Jesus was a Jew, ‘born of a woman’, and believed was descended from David.  Jesus had a number of brothers, one of whom was named James [James, as I said earlier, is also mentioned by Josephus].  He had 12 disciples, known as apostles, of whom he names Peter and John.  Paul met James, Peter (Cephas) and John more than once.  Jesus was rejected by the Jews.  Jesus initiated the eating of bread and wine in remembrance of him.  He was betrayed and he initiated that eating of bread and wine in remembrance of him on the night he was betrayed.  Jesus died by crucifixion at the time of the Passover.  He was buried.  None of the above has any mythical elements and is accepted by the over whelming majority of scholars.
 
Specifically referring to your previous claim that Paul ‘doesn't quote him once’  ‘To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.  To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.'  It is notable how Paul differentiates between his teaching and that of Jesus.  It is also clear that early church had problems with what Jesus had to say about divorce.  If they had been making it up they would have made up something different.  Paul also states that ‘In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.’
 
You once considered Paul’s evidence as crucial when you thought that he supported your views.  Once I pointed out how wrong you were about Paul you seem to have dismissed his letters as evidence.  Personally I think evidence should be judged consistently.  Regrettably on this topic you seem to consider that evidence should be judged purely on the basis of whether or not you agree with it.
 
Secondly there is Q the source document used by both the authors of Matthew and Luke.  It is free of those ‘mythical’ elements that you seem to think gives you due cause to reject the gospels as historical evidence, not that many scholars agree with you.  The make up of Q can easily be adduced from a study of the Synoptic gospels and its original existence is accepted by the great majority of scholars.  Those scholars have arrived at their conclusion based entirely on studying the evidence from the synoptic gospels.  I seem to remember that you rejected that Q had ever existed, but it struck me, based on your comment at the time, as being not based on scholarly grounds.  There are scholars who reject Q but they tend to be fundamentalists.  They do not see the need for Q as both Matthew and Luke were, in their view, inspired by the Holy Spirit, which explains the similarities between the 2.  I am rather amused by your alliance with such fundamentalists on this one.
 
Anyway I look forward to you coming up with some genuine differences, if you can.
 
Regards
 
Tim
 
Ps I was half wondering if Temperance’s concerns about you have turned out to correct and you have in fact ‘seen the light’!  Perhaps you consider that Pilate was judging the ‘Son of God’ and that Livy and Tacitus give explicit instructions that in all cases where a prefect finds himself judging the ‘Son of God’ he shall always refer first to the Legate before carrying out summary execution.  Still as they say, you cannot keep a good [son of] man down.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Mon 15 Jul 2013, 19:04

At what point in the philological record does Iudea have a "governor" - as you keep saying? I'll forgive you your faulty Greek, which indeed plays a huge part in misunderstanding gospel scripture, but in terms of actual records (ie. kept by the guys themselves who were running the show) can you please point me to a "governor" of a client state in the years 0 to 33 CE?

This time machine is going to have to make several stops, I think. A trip to Caesarea and of course Antioch (where the revenue collection was ultimately authorised, sent and dispatched under the authority of an actual governor at the time).

But since we've now included most of the Mediterranean region over a 200 year period for our stops can I request a small detour half-way and have a chat with Archimedes? I just want to see his face when I tell him about Leonardo Da Vinci.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Thu 18 Jul 2013, 13:22

I'll go with any time and any place which tolerated dangling fops.  As long as I can wear a frilly shirt, debauch inexpensive dollymops, start drinking claret at breakfast time, lose money on racehorses and have a private income steady enough to keep me out of the Fleet, I think I would be reasonably happy.

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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Thu 18 Jul 2013, 21:23

How would you like a Title with that Arwe, say Count Rheged?
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Fri 19 Jul 2013, 00:28

I was wondering if the dollymops would be quite so happy. You, Gran, have been reading Georgette Heyer, sounds like the Marquis of Vidal to me.  Are you also going to be trigger-happy, AR?
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Fri 19 Jul 2013, 04:58

I am just about to launch onto no. 27 of GH books but you wouldn't notice they are all much of a muchness its just what I need at the moment, you know within the first couple of pages who is going to marry who etc. aparently Georgette's husband used to write an outline and pass it to her and she used to fill in the interesting bits.
I think AR would make a good Marquis. It would probably be better if he refrained from participating in duels.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Fri 19 Jul 2013, 09:17

I'd avoid duels like the plague.  I'd be far too delicate for that sort of physical exercise and the idea of exposing myself to any danger other than the occasional dose of the French pox would be anathema to me.  Although I could see the sense in having a hot-headed younger brother in the Hussars who could be relied upon to pull me out of scrapes.

Definitely a title, though.  Enormous ancestral lands in Westmorland, tilled by hearty swains paid significantly less than a living wage.  I'd never actually go there, of course - terrible roads, far too close to Scotland for comfort and it rains all the time.

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Tim of Aclea
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Wed 24 Jul 2013, 16:04

Quote :

 At what point in the philological record does Iudea have a "governor" - as you keep saying? I'll forgive you your faulty Greek, which indeed plays a huge part in misunderstanding gospel scripture, but in terms of actual records (ie. kept by the guys themselves who were running the show) can you please point me to a "governor" of a client state in the years 0 to 33 CE?


Tut Nordmann, as you should well know there is no year 0, it goes straight from 1BC to 1AD.

As you forgive me my faulty Greek I will, in return, forgive you your extremely faulty knowledge of the New Testamant.

If you are referring to Galilee as a client state 0 to 33 AD (sic) then I am not aware of it having a governor, Herod Agrippa was the ruler [not king].  If you are refering to Judea, which after 6AD was not a client state, then Josephus describes Pilate, for example, as Procurator of Judea in the translation I have.  Tacitus also, as I have quoted referred to Pilate as Procurator.  In fact he was a Prefect, as recorded in the fragmentary inscription of Pilate.  "Governor" is widely used by historians as an English equivalent for both Prefect and Procerator, your comment therefore seems totally irrelevant.  I am not quite sure what your point is other to blow smoke over your failure to come up with any evidence to support what you claim, but then you never seem to.  

I rest on the evidence I have already provided.

regards

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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Wed 24 Jul 2013, 21:02

Nordmann

if you consider that the New Testament suggests that a client state had a Roman 'Governor', perhaps you will advise where it suggests this?  Judea was not a client state between 6 and 33AD, although it was between 1 and 6AD.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Sat 03 Aug 2013, 22:16

Tim wrote:
"Governor" is widely used by historians as an English equivalent for both Prefect and Procerator, your comment therefore seems totally irrelevant.


 If it is then it is not being used by these historians in its correct sense, where under Roman law it could refer to proconsuls or propraetors, not prefects or procurators who - as any historian should also know - did not have promagisterial authority, an essential authority for a governor.

You are correct about Iudea's status, both as client state and as part of the Syrian province. It therefore of course could never have had a governor even under direct or indirect Roman rule, and nor did it. Pontius Pilate, in exercising promagisterial authority as he does in the story we all know, would therefore have been perceived in Rome as a startlingly dangerous precedent and disciplined accordingly by his employers (with extreme prejudice I would imagine), not least the actual governor whose power he was usurping - one of Lucius Aelius Lamia, Lucius Pomponius Flaccus or Lucius Vitellius, depending on which arbitrary time scale one wants to apply to the narrative. This apparently did not happen, indicating therefore that this story is not actually history at all, no matter how many sloppy historians might state it as such or set Pilates up as "governor" in the process.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Mon 05 Aug 2013, 10:58

Tim and nordmann - I wonder if either of you has read Ann Wroe's book, "Pilate: the Biography of an Invented Man"? It's excellent; Wroe is definitely no lightweight, and her study examines how "each generation has unloaded on to Pilate its own hopes, fears, prejudices and obsessions. Yet he was probably an average, even ordinary Roman administrator."

"Administrator" seems to be a nice, safe, neutral term. Wroe does, however, use the disputed word "governor" in her introduction. Referring to Bulgakov's "The Master and the Margarita" she notes that the Master's novel is about Pilate, "the fifth governor of Judea"... She does, however, also use the word "prefect".

I had to smile when I read her wry comment: "Pilate would bring me up against two redoubtable tribes, biblical scholars and classical experts, both of whom would pick holes in whatever I wrote, no matter how careful I was..."


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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Mon 05 Aug 2013, 11:13

Sorry, but I can't resist adding this:

His (the Master's) novel about the fifth governor of Judea, the man who crucified Christ, has been rejected by his editor and savaged by the editorial board, so he has burned it in the stove, and now finds himself in Doctor Stravinsky's hospital for the insane.

The Master tells his story to Ivan Nikolayich Poniryov, also in the asylum for Pilate-related reasons. The demon (Woland) has sown thoughts of Pilate in Ivan's head. Because he cannot stop talking about Pilate, he is being regularly injected with ether and subjected to reflex therapy with hammers. He is told that it is hazardous to his health to think about Pilate at all. Of course he is not put off. He decides to try to struggle free and report everything to the police. The head of the asylum tells him (kindly) that if he were to turn up at the police station dressed as he is, in his underpants, saying he has met a man who has met Pontius Pilate, he would be rapidly recommitted.

"Because of my underpants?" Ivan asks.

"Chiefly because of Pontius Pilate."
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Mon 05 Aug 2013, 13:08

The problem here is not in the employment of semantic latitude when using the term "governor" but in the very real - and quite erroneous - implication in doing so that Pilate as a governor had promagisterial authority. This authority is crucial to the sense of the story as related in the New Testament. However it is totally at odds with the political reality of the day. This discrepancy is rarely adequately addressed in historical terms since for those who wish to believe in the story as historically factual in that respect it is rather an obvious fly in the ointment, while for those who dismiss the historical accuracy outright an examination of this aspect would tend to simply lend credibility to the other aspects of Pilates' office which they tend to have already dismissed as lacking evidence. A case of affirmation through strenuous denial, as it were, which every student of rhetoric is advised against and trained to avoid at an early stage of their studies.

For me however it is still a vital and interesting aspect to the mythification process as it applied in this case. The subtle way in which the term governor and its implicit ramifications has been interwoven into the tale over the years so that it has assumed the aura of historical fact in the minds of many - supporters and indeed detractors alike - is a classic example of how myth tends to be constructed and how it differs from legend and other folk tales. It is a case where Tim's "infinite number of monkeys" approach to scholastic credibility actually does indeed apply, at least in the manufacture of myth that rings true in a factual sense until of course it is rather more closely examined.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Wed 07 Aug 2013, 09:20

I couldn't sleep last night; like poor Ivan my head is full of thoughts of Pilate. I am finding this discussion fascinating, but very frustrating. What is the truth? On the one hand, we have Tim, clearly a passionate and committed Christian, and on the other, nordmann, who is determined to prove that there was no Christ, no trial, nothing and no one to believe in, not even an exceptional teacher with a new take on an old philosophy.

Could it be that you are both right and both wrong? Does truth, as it usually does, lie somewhere between two extremes?

So, could I try to get things a little clearer in my muddled head? What are we to make, if anything, of these extracts, taken from Ann Wroe's book which I am re-reading at the moment?

"He was the fifth prefect - a word that is best translated, for familiarity's sake,* as governor. The Greek word was hegemon, the title he would have been officially addressed by, although Greek-speakers under his orders would have called him Kratiste, 'your Excellency'. (p.55)

"In Judea he was not just the chief soldier; he was also the chief magistrate and head of the judicial system, carrying Tiberius' whole imperium into his tiny patch. Although most civil and criminal jurisdiction continued to be exercised by the Jews through their councils, the greater and lesser Sanhedrin, there was a tendency to refer the hardest cases to the governor, especially when they involved unrest or might require the death penalty. Pilate routinely used his troops to carry out crucifixions, the favoured punishment for thieves, bandits and all low-class troublemakers. These were performed, in peacetime, after a cursory hearing and, at times of rebellion, immediately and en masse...Under Pilate there is no record of mass crucifixions, but we can assume a steady run of them. The governor would have seen this as good administration; the policy that would later enable Tacitus to sum up his tour in Judea as sub Tiberio quies..." (p. 60)

"The governor's sentences were written into the record, filed in the archive and continually referred to, as were the records of his predecessors. They were annulled only if he fell into disgrace. Almost all such governors' records have disappeared with the passage of time. Historians and myth-makers alike have agonised over the disappearance of Pilate's archive, and the puzzle of whether anyone saw or consulted it while it still existed. Many suspect that, if it survived for any length of time, it was suppressed for the short, sharp reference to Jesus it presumably contained." (p. 61)


Forgive the long quotations, but they are, read after all the arguments above, confusing: Wroe is an Oxford trained historian (she holds a First in the subject and a doctorate from the same university) - is it naïve of me to assume that her research is to be trusted?

And then there's Robert Graves. In his "King Jesus" - a challenging book to say the least - Pilate is given the title of "Governor-General", making him sound like a plume-hatted representative of a King-Emperor. Made me think of Lord Reading actually, that governor-general in British India who, a no doubt a decent enough man on a good day, was not above mass arrests, racial snobbery and unbalanced trials. One of these trials was of an inoffensive-looking, clerkish man in a dhoti, who had come to visit Reading at the vice-regal palace some months before. Reading had to admit that Gandhi's moral thinking was "on a high altitude"; the governor-general was bothered by, but could not work out, the man's politics. "I have to admit I liked him," he wrote afterwards. Yet Lord Reading felt he had to crush the strange little man as "a fomenter of dangerous ideas".

Gandhi was tried and convicted on a charge of sedition, the same charge on which Pilate tried and convicted Christ.

PS * "For familiarity's sake" - a very dangerous expression, that must be admitted...



EDIT: Read this review this morning:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/aug/07/zealot-life-jesus-aslan-review

This is interesting, I think:

The gospels are not history. The idea that they are a wholly new form of literature might, in itself, be reason enough for us to read them more subtly. Aslan refers to Mark's gospel as being written in a "coarse, elementary Greek" – which nevertheless is supposed to appeal to cultural, Hellenised Jews rather than illiterate Galileans. One might, on a similar basis, say that Irvine Welsh not writing like David Hume is proof that he was not Scottish. Mark may not write like Xenophon, but the idea that he had a different audience in mind does not mean he is lacking in literary skill. Rather, his skills are more oblique and nuanced. Mark lacks the infancy narratives of Luke and the resurrection stories of Matthew because they were already known – things are written down as they pass from memory. But Mark, like the other Synoptic gospels and the gospel of John, has what I would call the divine comedy that other writings of the period lack.

Where else do we have such empathetic misunderstanding? Jesus is not impatient, but he is wry as time and again the disciples fail to get the message. Socrates was tetchy by comparison. Even Mark's Gospel includes sly interventions: when Pilate asks the crowd if they want Barrabas or Jesus, the earliest readers would have found the pun.

"Barabbas" was a name taken by zealous anti-Roman terrorists, and means "Son of the Father" – so the Son of the Father and "my ain Dad's bairn" are exchanged, literally. It also means that Jesus is crucified instead of the kind of terrorist Aslan claims he was, and crucified under the very name the Pharisees had sought to use as justification for his death – there is a profound, sardonic humour in Pilate's "What I have written, I have written".
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Sun 11 Aug 2013, 15:05

Yet people are prepared to blithely use that story as evidence for Pilate's promagisterial authority (as well as the practise of arbitrarily releasing convicts by public acclaim as a part of a presumed Passover celebration that strangely makes no other appearance in the historical record). The same people feel obliged to believe that Romans conducted censuses in their associated territories that involved the male population migrating temporarily to the place of their birth. This is the problem with drawing historical conclusions from a narrative designed for very non-historical purposes. One ends up like Wroe (who is by no means the only culprit) - applying the techniques of historical research and deduction to what is essentially weak data and then not having the grace to admit that the said deductions are therefore also as weak as the material on which they were based.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Sun 11 Aug 2013, 15:46

I'm ploughing through Graves' book again - read it ages ago and didn't understand a word of it. Not doing much better this time around. Torn between reading King Jesus and reading about King Alfred.

Graves is winning at the moment. Also been reading this which I found interesting:

http://www.robertgraves.org/issues/19/5550_article_46.pdf

Nothing obviously to do with Pilate, but I just wanted to ask whether Maccoby's scholarship is to be trusted? I'm thinking of ordering his The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity - the library hasn't got it and I don't want to waste £10 or so  if it's complete rubbish. Published in 1986, so no doubt it's completely out-of-date. Tim, what do you think about what Maccoby says about the Petrine/Pauline split? Differing views about this writer on the internet - as ever, one is perplexed.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Sun 11 Aug 2013, 20:33

@nordmann wrote:
Yet people are prepared to blithely use that story as evidence for Pilate's promagisterial authority (as well as the practise of arbitrarily releasing convicts by public acclaim as a part of a presumed Passover celebration that strangely makes no other appearance in the historical record). The same people feel obliged to believe that Romans conducted censuses in their associated territories that involved the male population migrating temporarily to the place of their birth. This is the problem with drawing historical conclusions from a narrative designed for very non-historical purposes. One ends up like Wroe (who is by no means the only culprit) - applying the techniques of historical research and deduction to what is essentially weak data and then not having the grace to admit that the said deductions are therefore also as weak as the material on which they were based.

I fully accept that the Gospel narratives were, as you say, "designed for very non-historical purposes", but other sources have been used by Wroe and all the other "culprits". Are all these sources to be dismissed as "weak data"? It does seem odd that so many respected historians and/or classical scholars - even Robert Graves - seem to have got, for example, the extent of the authority of the fifth Prefect all wrong. Graves' scholarship is beyond question - surely your "weak data" comment couldn't possibly apply to him?

I'm genuinely baffled by all this.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Sun 11 Aug 2013, 22:51

Graves, who claimed to have sole access to historical sources which he declined to name, still chose to write a novel rather than an historical thesis concerning the events in the New Testament narrative. This in itself, for a man of Graves' integrity and intelligence, speaks volumes.

My point is that if one excludes the specifics mentioned in that narrative which touch on the Roman administration of Iudea and approaches the subject from an examination of Roman government, history and law of the period in question, then the same specifics are unavoidably contradictory to what is otherwise known in many instances. The historian therefore has to make a value judgement in the case of each specific with regard to its probable authenticity as historical fact and in my experience the number who thus opt to believe in such probability do so using values that are not necessarily those employed in historical research normally, or at least rigorous research. Some authors point out the disparities revealed by setting biblical source data against non-biblical data but many do not. Wroe, whose book I have read, does not.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Mon 12 Aug 2013, 09:54

Just as an illustration of what I am on about; below is a link to an article Wroe wrote for the Independent newspaper about the "Pilate Stone" - an artefact discovered in 1961 and which is considered (though not by everyone) the only archaeological record of Pilate in existence. Wroe subscribes to this view completely, despite the fact that the dating of the stone - up to now a purely orthographical exercise - has led to considerable debate within Israeli archeological circles where several people have questioned the Israeli Museum's reticence to have the stone dated through more definitive means, radiocarbon dating, mineralogical analysis or pollen analysis, as had been done so famously with the so-called "Solomon Tablet" and which revealed it to be a fake. Even orthographically the lack of a complete name on the damaged artefact has also given rise to doubts being expressed as to whether such conclusivity regarding its subject and provenance should be so readily accepted.

Anne Wroe: Independent article from 1999

I am not inferring that the stone is either fake or even unrelated to the character who ended up in the New Testament narrative. My point is solely that the author who cites this stone as evidence upon which to theorise should be honest about its actual provenance in that regard. Allowing the artefact to be presented as indisputable evidence, as Wroe and others tend to do, is misleading the reader concerning the conclusions they then draw with such apparent certitude.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Mon 12 Aug 2013, 10:29

Well, it was probably ill-advised of me to introduce Robert Graves into this discussion: King Jesus was after all written by Graves by what he calls, in his historical commentary at the end of the book, "the analeptic method - the intuitive recovery of forgotten events by deliberate suspension of time". Such a method, it must be admitted, is of no use to an historian.

You have no idea how much I envy you and Tim: you so certain in your academic atheism; Tim so secure in his equally academic Christianity. I, on the other hand, stumble about from writer to writer, "authority" to "authority", in a desperate attempt to find out the truth, or at least a kind of truth. Pilate and I would have got on well. But then stumbling is perhaps not always a bad thing - you can, every now and again, stumble on something helpful.

Two authorities, one an Oxford academic and atheist, the other a Christian bishop, give some kind of hope in the midst of all the confusion and conflict. Again, please forgive chunks of long quotation, but the following offer some kind of creed for me: the atheist, Fox, and the unorthodox Christian, Spong, state my beliefs far more eloquently than I am able.

This is how atheist Robin Lane Fox (Fellow of New College Oxford, and University Reader in Ancient History) begins and ends his excellent book, The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible (he comments, incidentally, on several of the points about Pilate which you make, nordmann, but does not deny that Pilate tried and executed Jesus):

"In John's Gospel, Jesus tells Pilate, 'To this end I was born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice.' 'What is truth?' asks Pilate and does not receive a reply." (p13)

"If we read biblical narrative as a story, we abandon its historical truth, If we read it as literature, we will often find literary art in it, but this art takes us further from truth which corresponds to fact: the fourth Gospel is an author's strong interpretation, not an exact memoir. What, though, about the contents? They may be historically mistaken; they may be fiction, but can they not seem true to us, in the way that other great scenes in stories and fictions seem true, too, Hector's farewell to his wife, perhaps, in Homer's Iliad, or Prince Andrei's rather different farewell to his wife in Tolstoy's War and Peace? The biblical stories are usually religious, but we do not need to believe in their God in order to be drawn into them in this way...We respond to them because of a movement on our part, not on theirs: recognition, not revelation.

Recognition does not require historical truth, and so it reopens doors which parts of this book may seem to have shut..." (p. 399/400)


And then there's Bishop Spong, a man whom so many Christians have threatened with death in this world, and hellfire in their version of the next. Spong writes this at the end of his chapter on John's Gospel (in his Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism):

This Fourth Gospel, born out of decades of contemplation and meditation on the meaning of Jesus, was at the same time the least literal and the most accurate. The way it is used by literalistic Christian people today reveals the most profound biblical ignorance and the least understanding of the depth of Scripture. 'These things are written', this author said in conclusion, 'that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ and believing you may have life in his name.' Literalize John and you will lose this Gospel. For that which is literalized becomes nonsense, while truth that is approached through sign and symbol becomes the very doorway to God. It is a pity that those who seek to defend biblical truth so often fail to comprehend its message."

And Fox again. He ends his book with a chapter called "Human Truth". The final paragraph comments on the Gospel accounts of Peter's bitter weeping:

"The doings of servants and fishermen lay far below the horizons of dignified classical historians, but in all four Gospels this scene between a servant and a fisherman stands rooted in the Passion narrative. Perhaps, for once, it derived from a primary source, from Peter himself perhaps, or perhaps the beloved disciple who was with him in the high priest's house. Between the Gospels, its main details cohere, and the scene may correspond to primary, witnessed fact. At cockcrow, Peter confronts his own error, as it had been foretold by the one who knew 'what was in man'. Human truth coincides here with what may be historical evidence; Peter, therefore, answers Pilate's question with which this unauthorized version began."

Recognition - Pilate and Peter. One baffled, the other weeping bitterly. I can certainly recognise the truth of - and in - both characters, whether these men really existed - or did not.


EDIT: new post while I have been typing - will send this anyway.


Last edited by Temperance on Mon 12 Aug 2013, 16:55; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Mon 12 Aug 2013, 10:41

Yes, but this is "truth" in terms of recognising the scenes and behaviour depicted as all too human - one of the principal aspects to the gospels' literary context that does indeed distinguish them from more mainstream classical literature of the period (though not, it must be said, the rendition of tales in the oral tradition of the time - leading many to assume that the books started out in this manner).

This is not "truth" in the clinical sense of historical accuracy, and nor was it ever originally intended to be, I believe. The narrator did not need to establish historical provenance since it was neither expected by his audience nor indeed would have played any significant theological role in a system in which explicit faith was already being demanded as crucial on the audience's part with respect to far more extravagant factual claims than could ever be reinforced through historical pedigree.

I am not certain what you mean by "academic atheism" or what role it plays in advising caution regarding historians who fail to acknowledge accurately the true provenance of their source material. I would take the same stance in discussing any historical treatment of any subject in which the same laxness prevails.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Mon 12 Aug 2013, 11:43

Oh dear - I despair - yet again.

Historians - even the cleverest, most erudite and most rigorous of them, like you yourself, nordmann - seem so often to miss something somehow. And I say that with the greatest of respect.

Eu a-mousoi: I don't know which bit of that translates as "happily", but that's why I envy you - and ferval and dear ID (not being sarcastic).

I waffle on like a fool, and baffle/irritate you all (but not Priscilla and Caro perhaps, though I may deceive myself).

I'd better shut up, at least on this thread.

PS But thank you for the link to the Independent article - really interesting.
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PostSubject: Re: What would have been your Golden Age?   Mon 12 Aug 2013, 12:23

No need to despair - I am sure Tim will be along shortly to put us all in our place with the assurance that a majority of lax scholars outweighs a small minority of diligent scholars anyway.

The bottom line for me with regard to Pontius Pilate is that the very real desire to deaccentuate Roman involvement in the murder of the messiah on the part of those who formulated the texts that we now refer to as the gospels represents a considerably emphatic hindrance to any automatic acceptance of the content as being historically dependable on face value. Unless the author writing a book about the character of Pilate with a supposed intent to stick to historical probabilities can at least acknowledge this very substantial factor in how the data they are using as source has been compiled in antiquity then everything they draw as a conclusion is marred by this omission.
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