What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

Is it just subjective opinion?

Discussion and analysis of past events and their causes and effects.

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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#61  Postby MS2 » Jun 28, 2015 11:46 am

Leucius Charinus wrote:
MS2 wrote:I'd be interested to hear whether other people think historical research ultimately amounts to anything more than subjective opinion? (And, if so, why and how!)


I found this response to a similar question on another forum very interesting and copied it below.

This relates to the method of history.

    History's method is quasi-scientific; more exactly, it is as scientific (rigorous) as it can possibly be, given its particular circumstances.

    Given that strict scientific methodology (i.e. up to double blind controlled trials plus metanalyses) is inherently impossible for History, the postulates of the historical hypotheses (often miscalled "theories") are subject to what is often called "mental experiements", in a nutshell rigorously controlled "what-if" speculation.

    The traditional scientific methodology is reversed in one critical point; the results of the "mental experiment" (i.e. the present conditions of the issue at hand) are known in advance; it is the "methodology" of such process which is trying to be logically induced from such results.

    In fact, the results are essentially the only potentially truly objective part of the process; ergo, extreme rigor is required for recording such results.

    The process as a whole is superficially similar to pure philosophical research, given the ostensible relevance of logical reasoning (actually shared by any scientific discipline).

    The critical difference is that, contrary to pure philosophical research and analogous to any scientific discipline, the method of History is restricted by the regular rules of evidence; the core falsifiable criteria of Popper are required too.

    Even if in principle any past may be considered "History" in practice it is regularly restricted fundamentally to the study of the recorded (basically written) development of humankind; ergo, it is no surprise that the History method so often tends to overlap with the methodology of several other Humanities, notably anthropology and sociology.

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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#62  Postby Spearthrower » Jun 30, 2015 7:19 pm

Clive Durdle wrote:Maybe the problem is that the notion of two cultures is mistaken?

There are sets of tools and processes and algorithms and ideas that may be used in any area in various combinations.

There are however, broken tools, illogicalities and similar that should be screened out.

Doing science is therefore a goal orientated process with quality control mechanisms.

So art and history use scientific tools. Physics isn't actually a science, is it's main tool, maths a science?

What is "a science"?

Maybe the mistake is creating these things "the arts" and "the sciences"? Maybe the questions should always be about the quality and effects of the various tools?



I think science, or a methodological process which runs similarly to science, is really how we've been honed to think about things, even if we do make continual screw-ups.

When you, or I think any human, encounters some system for the first time, you immediately and almost unconsciously formulate what can only be described as working hypotheses about how that system operates. You continue operating under your hypothesis until you notice that something didn't go as you would have predicted, and then you reformulate your working hypothesis accordingly.

I find myself doing that a lot in my life, perhaps because I've spent so much time living in foreign cultures where the reasons for even every day things aren't immediately apparent, but also in more casual examples, like playing a game and slamming into the learning curve before figuring your way through the system.

It seems to me that the only knowledge we can ever be sure about is the stuff we've actively discounted: shown it to be false. Everything affirmative is held cognitively as a model which can be changed on the fly. Wrong ideas destroyed, our approximation of truth is that which remains and seems to work.

To go back to History, another important point is the debate - this is so in many fields where ancient data has to be interpreted into a narrative like palaeontology and archaeology - when 2 professional historians argue over the data, they are effectively proposing two competitive models which are, perhaps at first glance, equally plausible. As the data is combed, one or both models might show to be lacking and will eventually lose favour, even if it retains some ardent supporters. And all it takes is just one new piece of outlying data to throw everything into a paroxysm of model-reformulation.

The problem is the whole ego, prestige and career element - no one wants their life's work to be shown false and based on entirely erroneous notions, so people will cling on. Eventually though, while truth might not out, bullshit will! :)
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#63  Postby Spearthrower » Jun 30, 2015 7:22 pm

MS2 wrote:Many thanks for your constructive responses, here and above. :thumbup:


You're most welcome, it's an interesting topic and I am not sure why there was hostility to it early in this thread. It's kind of sad you have to thank someone for being constructive! :(
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#64  Postby Spearthrower » Jun 30, 2015 7:36 pm

Leucius Charinus wrote: *snip*

Anyway that's something I put together some time ago but looks like it fits the discussion of the OP.

Criticisms are welcomed.




Great post! :cheers:

It's 2am, and I expect my brain's not really going to explain this well, but the one key element that I feel lacking in your model is something indicating that the process continues looping around and around over the years and generations as new evidence comes to light. The 'theoretical conclusions' don't exist in a bubble, isolated from the past, and nor, really, do the items of evidence; they exist within a tradition or a paradigm where 'theoretical conclusions' will tend to amass and be consilient with each other, but a new discovery can throw them all out or transform them beyond recognition. While the model obviously hopes to simplify this chaotic function of thousands of human minds over generations, perhaps a simple arrow from theoretical conclusions back to the evidence would be enough to suggest that the value of these conclusions are dependent on future corroborating or falsifying evidence and, as such, are all provisional.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#65  Postby iskander » Jun 30, 2015 8:50 pm

Every historian is a collector of facts, wrote a well known historian of our ancient past.

Which facts are there to collect about precisely what? We will choose a very famous king, the great Alexander, conqueror of Persia.
Robin Lane Fox, in his book , Alexander the Great , writes.

General notes on sources.
For convenience throughout the book, I write many quotations or opinions in the name of Alexander's historians ...
I cannot stress to strongly that all these quotations and opinions are only known at second or third hand, as rephrased by other classical writers often four hundred years later,...
No word or phrase can be assumed to have been retained from the original...



The sources mentioned by Lane Fox have reached us because dedicated copyists made new copies from the perishing exiting ones, otherwise we would know very little about Alexander. This repeated effort to preserve the history of Alexander may be of no use to anybody since we cannot rule out forgery, interpolations and so on.

Paperback: 576 pages
Publisher: Penguin; Film Tie-in with Oliver Stone's "ALEXANDER" Ed edition (4 Nov. 2004)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0141020768
ISBN-13: 978-0141020761
Page 499
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#66  Postby MS2 » Jun 30, 2015 10:58 pm

iskander wrote:Every historian is a collector of facts, wrote a well known historian of our ancient past.

Which facts are there to collect about precisely what? We will choose a very famous king, the great Alexander, conqueror of Persia.
Robin Lane Fox, in his book , Alexander the Great , writes.

General notes on sources.
For convenience throughout the book, I write many quotations or opinions in the name of Alexander's historians ...
I cannot stress to strongly that all these quotations and opinions are only known at second or third hand, as rephrased by other classical writers often four hundred years later,...
No word or phrase can be assumed to have been retained from the original...



The sources mentioned by Lane Fox have reached us because dedicated copyists made new copies from the perishing exiting ones, otherwise we would know very little about Alexander. This repeated effort to preserve the history of Alexander may be of no use to anybody since we cannot rule out forgery, interpolations and so on.

Paperback: 576 pages
Publisher: Penguin; Film Tie-in with Oliver Stone's "ALEXANDER" Ed edition (4 Nov. 2004)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0141020768
ISBN-13: 978-0141020761
Page 499

It seems we love to have stories and good historians tell us stories that are consonant with as many of the 'facts' as possible. Some of the 'facts' will turn out not to be facts, either because some new evidence turns up or reexamination of the old 'fact' shows it to be something else. In that case a new story has to be told. And the process is always going to be more tentative than (hard) science (a) because there is a higher level of subjectivity, and (b) because some (most!) facts are simply irrecoverable. Beyond that is the problem that some subjects become politicised for whatever reason, and on these the subjective desire to tell a story supporting a particular viewpoint becomes paramount.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#67  Postby iskander » Jul 01, 2015 12:42 am

MS2 wrote:
iskander wrote:Every historian is a collector of facts, wrote a well known historian of our ancient past.

Which facts are there to collect about precisely what? We will choose a very famous king, the great Alexander, conqueror of Persia.
Robin Lane Fox, in his book , Alexander the Great , writes.

General notes on sources.
For convenience throughout the book, I write many quotations or opinions in the name of Alexander's historians ...
I cannot stress too strongly that all these quotations and opinions are only known at second or third hand, as rephrased by other classical writers often four hundred years later,...
No word or phrase can be assumed to have been retained from the original...



The sources mentioned by Lane Fox have reached us because dedicated copyists made new copies from the perishing exiting ones, otherwise we would know very little about Alexander. This repeated effort to preserve the history of Alexander may be of no use to anybody since we cannot rule out forgery, interpolations and so on.

Paperback: 576 pages
Publisher: Penguin; Film Tie-in with Oliver Stone's "ALEXANDER" Ed edition (4 Nov. 2004)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0141020768
ISBN-13: 978-0141020761
Page 499

It seems we love to have stories and good historians tell us stories that are consonant with as many of the 'facts' as possible. Some of the 'facts' will turn out not to be facts, either because some new evidence turns up or reexamination of the old 'fact' shows it to be something else. In that case a new story has to be told. And the process is always going to be more tentative than (hard) science (a) because there is a higher level of subjectivity, and (b) because some (most!) facts are simply irrecoverable. Beyond that is the problem that some subjects become politicised for whatever reason, and on these the subjective desire to tell a story supporting a particular viewpoint becomes paramount.


Yes that is also my understanding of ancient history based on the comments of Lane Fox .

The problem is made worse because it is very difficult to be aware of the facts to be investigated. All what we have is the written word of some writer preserved for us by some people who over the centuries kept making a fresh copy of something.
All what it takes for a historical event to disappear for ever is to stop replicating the narrative that informs of its existence.


Let us choose another ancient event. We will choose the Muslim invasion of Spain in 711 CE.
What do we know about that?
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#68  Postby Leucius Charinus » Jul 01, 2015 1:57 am

Spearthrower wrote:
Leucius Charinus wrote: *snip*

Anyway that's something I put together some time ago but looks like it fits the discussion of the OP.

Criticisms are welcomed.




Great post! :cheers:

It's 2am, and I expect my brain's not really going to explain this well, but the one key element that I feel lacking in your model is something indicating that the process continues looping around and around over the years and generations as new evidence comes to light.


Thanks for making that point. It's probably not clear from the diagram but the process being described is supposed to be completely dynamic. That is, it is iterative. Change one hypothesis and the hypothetical conclusion could change. Add one new item of evidence, allocate hypotheses about that item, and then rerun the process again. ETC ETC ETC. The schematic was designed to represent a computer simulation and as such is dynamic. That was the intention.


The 'theoretical conclusions' don't exist in a bubble, isolated from the past, and nor, really, do the items of evidence; they exist within a tradition or a paradigm where 'theoretical conclusions' will tend to amass and be consilient with each other, but a new discovery can throw them all out or transform them beyond recognition.


I totally agree that the theoretical conclusions can and do influence the selection of hypotheses one chooses to be associated with the evidence items. This aspect of the process is not really made explicit in the schematic of the process, and perhaps it should be. Theoretical conclusions obviously - via consilience - will ultimately begin to influence researchers to select those hypotheses (associated with the evidence) which generate known conclusions. The question then needs to be asked whether there is also a process of consilience in the selection of hypotheses. And there obviously are many such examples of consensus.

And yes, the schematic does allow the entry of new evidence and the mandatory creation of hypotheses to represent this new evidence in the system before the entire set (along with the new hypotheses about new evidence) is submitted to the process of deriving a new hypothetical conclusion.

While the model obviously hopes to simplify this chaotic function of thousands of human minds over generations, perhaps a simple arrow from theoretical conclusions back to the evidence would be enough to suggest that the value of these conclusions are dependent on future corroborating or falsifying evidence and, as such, are all provisional.


I will take that observation on board because the process described is completely iterative - change one hypothesis and rerun, tweak another hypothesis and rerun, introduce a new hypothesis on old evidence, or a new hypothesis about new evidence and rerun.


I guess the basic question is this: Should the hypothetical conclusions feed back into the series of hypotheses being used as input. In theory probably not. But in practice, they obviously can and do feed back. This is how I see it at the moment. Some people for example could begin the process with a hypothetical conclusion and then examine how the hypotheses might be arranged and defined in order to reach such a conclusion. Is this still doing history?



Thanks for your comments.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#69  Postby Spearthrower » Jul 08, 2015 1:26 pm

MS2 wrote:It seems we love to have stories and good historians tell us stories that are consonant with as many of the 'facts' as possible. Some of the 'facts' will turn out not to be facts, either because some new evidence turns up or reexamination of the old 'fact' shows it to be something else. In that case a new story has to be told. And the process is always going to be more tentative than (hard) science (a) because there is a higher level of subjectivity, and (b) because some (most!) facts are simply irrecoverable. Beyond that is the problem that some subjects become politicised for whatever reason, and on these the subjective desire to tell a story supporting a particular viewpoint becomes paramount.



I'd say that's a pretty fair analysis.

I might not be an illustrious historian, but my undergraduate degree was Anthropology & Ancient History at one of the UK's top 3 universities for History (and for Anthropology), so I did go through a rather arduous and prickly process to gather what I have learned! (All the arduousness and prickliness was on the History side of the curriculum divide! ;) )

Again, one minor pedanticism, if I may? Facts never turn out not to be facts - facts are intrinsically irrefutable: they just are. It's our interpretation or modelling of the meaning of that fact which might be turned on its head. When Phlogiston was falsified, it wasn't because the direct observations of combustion and rusting were false or turned out to be something else - they were the facts! It was the description accounting for those facts which was in error. Of course, far too many people in this life thrive on certainty, so those people might consider some explanations to themselves be facts. Ultimately, those people are most likely to be disappointed as the universe is fundamentally far queerer than pretty much any of us can imagine.

One critical thing that needs to be addressed in the distinction between History and the 'hard' sciences. Many people erroneously perceive hallmarks of hard science to be methodological rigour, objective measurements, and certainty - that which can be unequivocally established as true.

But the real distinction is much simpler.

Chemicals, atoms, cells and the like do not think - they have no inner existence which can be in contrast to their observable outer existence. Knowing what an atom is equates to knowing why it does what it does.

This is obviously the opposite with the 'soft' sciences. Knowing what a human is or was does not tell you anything of certainty as to why he/she did something, or why he/she thought she did something.

Studies in this field are addressing a series of events which are all caused by human agency, yet the study has no methodological process of actually plumbing the human actors' minds about their motivations. Even a signed, sealed, and preserved written confession might have had an ulterior motive: how could we ever know? We can't even know with certainty why another person alive today does something, even if we ask them - how sure can we really be that it's accurate or even true? Humans are masters of social, and even self, deception.

So, a very important point that's perhaps been lost here is that an agenda of seeking truth in a soft science is actually a vastly more difficult proposition than in the hard sciences, which is itself an incredibly gigantic enterprise. I very much doubt any physicist, chemist, or biologist would tell you they're anywhere near to achieving complete truth in any of those fields!

Now, imagine if each of the causes in the universe's physical systems also had unique, undisclosed motivations, rich psychological experiences and a consequent inner life! The hard sciences just wouldn't exist: everything would be too chaotic to describe.

So the historian's job is nearly an impossible one, but they can at least suggest a way of navigating the chaos and telling a good yarn while they're about it.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#70  Postby Spearthrower » Jul 08, 2015 1:33 pm

iskander wrote:The problem is made worse because it is very difficult to be aware of the facts to be investigated.


If there's something we don't know of, we can't possibly know we need to know it! :grin:
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#71  Postby iskander » Jul 08, 2015 4:12 pm

Spearthrower wrote:
iskander wrote:The problem is made worse because it is very difficult to be aware of the facts to be investigated.


If there's something we don't know of, we can't possibly know we need to know it! :grin:

Excellent. :grin:
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#72  Postby hackenslash » Oct 01, 2015 11:16 am

igorfrankensteen wrote:Agrippa: [sic]


As our resident historian, you should take careful note of all documentary evidence, not least that which appears appended to each of Agrippina's posts (not least because of who the original Agrippina was). Your mouth is issuing condescending cheques your brain simply can't cash here.

I appreciate what your post tried to do, but you said some things which are on the wrong side of things, I think.


Let's see how far off the mark you manage to land here:

Which then leads to an examination of what evidence there is. As there is no evidence for the existence of people wandering around the desert for 40 years, it may be assumed that it didn't happen. This is where assumption and deduction come in.


Error. Assuming something didn't happen because you've found no support for it yet, isn't scientific, and doesn't demonstrate good Historical research practice either. The correct way to handle such things, is to say simply that there is no evidence to support such and such a Biblical claim. "Assuming" is NOT a recommended, or respected act by any disciplined Historian.


Actually, this is total bollocks. I would tend to agree that, while dismissing something as non-existent on the basis of nothing other than lack of evidence is problematic, being skeptical of claims is still and always the rebuttable position. Moreover, in the case of something like the preposterously fictitious exodus, it isn't simply the absence of evidence (which is evidence of absence, regardless of absue of a particular mantra), it's the absence of evidence where we should expect to find a fucking abundance of it. No movement of such a large group could be expected to occur without leaving masses of physical evidence behind.

and to assume as well that after the fall of the Empire, that it's conquerors carefully preserved all of those records, is silly, as soon as one actually looks at it.


Here's the real problem, and it displays an ignorance of history so profound that, from here on in, when you describe yourself as a historian, I'm going to laugh my cock off at the very idea. The Roman Empire wasn't conquered, it morphed into the Christian empire, and guess where all the fucking records are?

You should try to curb your condescension, not least because every time you glibly assert your authority on anything, you follow it up with abject fuckwittery.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#73  Postby Thomas Eshuis » Oct 01, 2015 11:29 am

iskander wrote:


The sources mentioned by Lane Fox have reached us because dedicated copyists made new copies from the perishing exiting ones, otherwise we would know very little about Alexander. This repeated effort to preserve the history of Alexander may be of no use to anybody since we cannot rule out forgery, interpolations and so on.

:picard:
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#74  Postby Darwinsbulldog » Oct 01, 2015 4:02 pm

I dispute that there is a lack of evidence for the absence of gods.

1. The universe does not behave as if there were gods.
2. Gods are unnecessary to describe and predict the world [universe]
3. By unbelievable coincidence, gods disapprove of everything the believer want them to disapprove of.
4. There are way too many gods.

Of course, if I push with my mind, I can move that pen on my desk. Damn! It does not work! I do have the power of telekinesis!! Just not right now. And even if I don't succeed with my mind, that is not absolute disproof that I don't have the power to do so. I am having an off day.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#75  Postby Agrippina » Oct 02, 2015 9:52 am

hackenslash wrote:
igorfrankensteen wrote:Agrippa: [sic]


As our resident historian, you should take careful note of all documentary evidence, not least that which appears appended to each of Agrippina's posts (not least because of who the original Agrippina was). Your mouth is issuing condescending cheques your brain simply can't cash here.


Thank you.
There are a lot of things I don't know, but when it comes to the ancient world, I do know what I'm talking about, and if I am in error about something, it is a challenge to me to find where my error is, and to correct it, or otherwise to show why I haven't made a mistake.

I appreciate what your post tried to do, but you said some things which are on the wrong side of things, I think.


Let's see how far off the mark you manage to land here:

Which then leads to an examination of what evidence there is. As there is no evidence for the existence of people wandering around the desert for 40 years, it may be assumed that it didn't happen. This is where assumption and deduction come in.


Error. Assuming something didn't happen because you've found no support for it yet, isn't scientific, and doesn't demonstrate good Historical research practice either. The correct way to handle such things, is to say simply that there is no evidence to support such and such a Biblical claim. "Assuming" is NOT a recommended, or respected act by any disciplined Historian.


Actually, this is total bollocks. I would tend to agree that, while dismissing something as non-existent on the basis of nothing other than lack of evidence is problematic, being skeptical of claims is still and always the rebuttable position. Moreover, in the case of something like the preposterously fictitious exodus, it isn't simply the absence of evidence (which is evidence of absence, regardless of absue of a particular mantra), it's the absence of evidence where we should expect to find a fucking abundance of it. No movement of such a large group could be expected to occur without leaving masses of physical evidence behind.

There's even more.
In Exodus chapter 7, the writer claims that Moses and Aaron walked around Egypt, touching every single container of water with their "rods" to change the water contained in such vessels, into blood. At the very outset of the story of the exodus we find a ridiculous claim that two 80+ something men were able to walk the length and breadth of a country that is almost 400,000 sq miles, and to touch every single vessel of water that people were using to contain water, in the matter of a few hours, or even days. If the first part of the story is total and utter bullshit, then why should we even read the rest of it? Why should we bother to begin to look for reasons why the changing of the Nile into a bloody mess could've been possible if the verse say not just the river but:

Verse 19: And the Lord spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.


Then in the next few verses, it says that the king's magicians helped them:

Verse 22: And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments


So not only would the writers have us believe that the two old coffin-dodgers were able to achieve this, but that the king's magicians helped them! And there's not a single record on the walls of the Egyptian edifices that tell this story. It would be a big deal don't you think? Two old farts change all the country's water into blood and the magicians, seeing the magic, helped them!

and to assume as well that after the fall of the Empire, that it's conquerors carefully preserved all of those records, is silly, as soon as one actually looks at it.


Here's the real problem, and it displays an ignorance of history so profound that, from here on in, when you describe yourself as a historian, I'm going to laugh my cock off at the very idea. The Roman Empire wasn't conquered, it morphed into the Christian empire, and guess where all the fucking records are?


Indeed.

You should try to curb your condescension, not least because every time you glibly assert your authority on anything, you follow it up with abject fuckwittery.

Indeed.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#76  Postby Leucius Charinus » Jan 31, 2016 2:33 am

In a nutshell:


    History is, in short, a problem-solving discipline.

    A historian is someone (anyone)
    who asks an open-ended question about past events
    and answers it with selected facts which are arranged
    in the form of an explanatory paradigm.



"Historians Fallacies Toward A Logic Of Historical Thought"
by David Hackett Fischer
https://archive.org/stream/HistoriansFa ... t_djvu.txt
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the fabrication of the Christians is a fiction of men composed by wickedness. "

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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#77  Postby Leucius Charinus » Dec 18, 2016 5:08 am

:coffee:


    "It has been said that though God cannot alter the past, historians can;
    it is perhaps because they can be useful to Him in this respect
    that He tolerates their existence."


    ~ Samuel Butler (1835-1902) Erewhon Revisited


:coffee:
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the fabrication of the Christians is a fiction of men composed by wickedness. "

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