Originally posted by rogue06 View Post
I believe that we once went over the rarity of contemporaneous literature from the ancient world, including works that would definitely have been copied multiple times for decades if not centuries, but are totally lost to us.

And yet here we have not one but four complete works, not just fragments of quotes like so many other works of the era, with three of them being compiled not long (a few decades) after His death. Considering that the people back then were overwhelmingly illiterate, meaning societies where oral tradition was strong, there was no need to rush anything into writing, but we still have these books from a time when there would still be a good number of eyewitnesses alive -- including a few key ones.

That is pretty much what we have for the great Carthaginian general Hannibal. You know, the guy who took the elephants through the Alps. Utterly annihilated a couple Roman armies in battle. There had to be an awful lot of ink spilled about him, not just while he was active but for the next generation. But the first time he's ever mentioned is somewhere between 40 and 80 years later by Polybius.

But for someone like Hannibal, someone we should had a virtual library full of contemporary references and allusions to, the first reference not being for some four to eight decades is perfectly understandable.

And as I previously noted the very earliest mention of the eruption of Vesuvius killing nearly a quarter million people and was not far from Naples, a city, renowned for having a higher than average literacy rate, comes three full decades later in an oft-hand remark by Pliny the Younger. And we have no mention that Herculaneum was also destroyed until Cassius Dio in the third century.
If we ever have had an in depth discussion as to “the rarity of contemporaneous literature from the ancient world”, I do not recall it.

While many ancient literary sources have been lost and/or destroyed either by accident, war, or by over enthusiastic Christians [and later] Muslims we still have sources for confirming the existence of Hannibal and the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE. However, your comments on Hannibal and Pliny the Younger require a little context and qualification.

The evidence of the Punic Wars is far from evenly distributed over the period; and while the Second Punic War is well recorded by surviving sources, the Third and most of the First War are less well attested. We also know there were other, now lost sources, one such being that of Sosylus, Hannibal’s Greek tutor who accompanied him on his campaigns, as well as others that were clearly utilised by those sources that have survived. And of course we have nothing from the Punic perspective.

As for the Achaen nobleman Polybius of Megalopolis [c. 200-118 BCE] he lived through the Third Punic War. Having been one of thousands of hostages from the Achaean League taken to Rome at the formal end of the Third Macedonian War in 167 CE he became a close friend of Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus [who would later destroy Carthage] and Polybius accompanied Scipio Aemilianus on his campaigns in Africa and Spain. [Adrian Goldsworthy, The Fall of Carthage, Phoenix, 2003]

One can hardly dismiss Pliny the Younger’s account of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE as “an oft[sic]-hand remark”. As a teenager visiting his uncle he witnessed the event [albeit from the other side of the Bay of Naples] and later wrote two detailed letters to Tacitus on his experiences which included the reports he received concerning how his uncle met his death.

I recommend you read your sources before offering uniformed comments.

Nor, contrary to your contention regarding Hannibal and the Punic Wars was it necessary for there to have been “an awful lot of ink spilled about him, not just while he was active but for the next generation”.

The ancient world did not operate mass medium publications nor did Greek and Roman historians aspire to the same ideals as their modern counterparts and they did not write for a mass audience.

The ideal of ancient historiography was that it should be truthful as well as skilfully crafted, and from that it may be reasonably deduced that, at the very least, the bare narrative of their accounts conform closely to the actual events.. It also has to be noted that some authors are considered to be more reliable than others.

You also confuse differing forms of texts. The gospels are not inquiries [the Greek root of the English word “history”]. They were written to recount events purported to have taken place and to produce and confirm faith in Jesus the Messiah [i.e. “the Christ” the Son of God]. This was not a historical figure, but a mythological one. They are, in part semi-aretalogies, but they also share marked similarities with ancient Hellenistic and Hellenised Jewish fiction. In his paper “The Ancient Novel Becomes Christian” in Schmelling’s The Novel in the Ancient World [Brill, 1996] Richard Pervo observes that the gospels can be understood as fictional biographies roughly analogous to the Alexander-Romance, the Life of Aesop, or Philostratus’ novel about Apollonius of Tyana. Pervo notes that the techniques required for shaping various independent stories about Jesus into a coherent narrative plot required compositional strategies that show a marked similarity with those of ancient fiction.

You also make sweeping generalisations [as is your wont].

Hellenised societies were not “overwhelmingly illiterate”. Despite the fact that recent debates about literacy levels within the Roman world have proved somewhat inconclusive, it appears that, from the preponderance of graffiti as well as wittily written epitaphs [often in poetry with all the concomitant skills required] that at least among the urban populations literacy was taken for granted. In rural areas it is possible that the percentage of literate men may have been much lower [less than 20%] but within cities and larger towns it would of necessity have been higher with [at the very least] basic literacy and numeracy a requirement by traders, craftsmen, and some slaves to permit them to do their jobs. [Mary Beard, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, Liveright, 2016]

On what evidence are you contending that “oral tradition” was “ strong” in the Hellenistic world? Or have you just made that up?

Of course rumour, gossip, and urban myths abounded in the ancient world but those things are also prevalent in our societies today.

As to your allegation concerning key eye witnesses within the four canonical gospel narratives we do not know if any of Jesus’ alleged disciples and followers mentioned in those actually existed. There are also serious questions today concerning the reliability of eye witness accounts not to mention the complexity of the human brain that can create false memories.

We do know that each of these anonymous texts would later be attributed to one of four presumed Evangelists. However, there are also variants of those texts, including the longer Mark, and the additional chapter of John. One wonders who wrote those.

That a real life man existed behind the Jesus characters with which we are presented in the Synoptics, is generally and widely accepted; however, we have no idea what, if any, resemblance that man bore to those portrayals.

[The character we are presented with in John’s gospel is quite different. The alien figure in that text bears no resemblance to any real first century ascetic Jewish peasant holy man/teacher.]

Jesus’ apparent miracles are also representative of the beliefs in magical practises prevalent in both the contemporary Jewish and Gentile societies. Omens, charms, and spells, imprecations and appeals to deities, exorcisms to remove evil spirits, divination, and the wearing of amulets all underlay the social fabric. As Morton Smith notes in his book Jesus the Magician [Barnes & Noble, 1978] it is unsurprising that Jesus was regarded as a goētēs [wonder worker] and later as a magician. For Jews in particular, the sheer numbers of demons responsible for illness and evil could be overcome through the interventions of charismatic individuals who, because of their piety and closeness to him, God had granted supernatural powers. These individuals were frequently depicted as either coming from, or being active in, Galilee [Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew, A Historian’s Reading of the Gospels, Fortress Press1973]

We also have to consider the sheer number of copies of these gospel texts that were produced after the early fourth century. No other ancient texts were ever accorded that level of importance.

However, prior to the fourth century the only evidence of any of these texts is fragmentary, often found in rubbish heaps or as palimpsests, which indicates that they were not considered overly important, and certainly not “divinely inspired” by their readers.

In conclusion none of the internal narratives of these texts can be substantiated by any other contemporary first century sources and despite all Jesus’ wonder-working that is recounted in these four gospels we have not one shred of extraneous contemporary source evidence, even in fragmentary form, corroborating those purported events.