Bible and Greek Myth (Own Answer on Quora) · Bible and Greek Myth (Other Answer, Own Comments) · More on Greek Myth and on the Bible
- Same Q:
- Why do Biblical literalists cite the Bible as a historical record, but not count Greek mythology as historical record?
- Toni Shuma
- Answered Oct 17, 2011
- Originally Answered:
- How is it possible to cite the Bible as a historical record, but not count Greek mythology as historical record?
- I believe that the most historically reliable document from Greek mythology is the Iliad, so I will base my answer on this document. I'm not an historian, so I look forward to additional answers, but here is my attempt at answering your question.
The first factor is historical accuracy: There is an ongoing debate as to how much of the Iliad is historical fact & how much is myth. I was once taking a course on Ancient History when they pointed out that some of the armor and weapons described in the Iliad are historically accurate to the time period of the battle (& would constitute the only written historical record of armor from that time period!) Yet right alongside the accurate information there is wildly inaccurate information such as anachronistic armor and weapons from later time periods. We can understand from this that oral traditions about the Battle of Troy (and other ancient battles) morphed and new heroes and pieces were added.
The Bible is not like this. We don't see wildly inaccurate stories & a hodgepodge of details that don't match with the particular time period where the events are said to take place. I think it is likely the Iliad was based on some historical fact when the oral tradition first started, but unlike the Bible we see clear evidence of the Iliad changing over time as new stories were added.
Are the Gospels Accurate Historical Books?
The second factor is authenticity: If we know stories were added to the Iliad later, then we know the entire work is not the work of an eyewitness. This makes the Iliad more like a "fairy tale" and less like a record of history. Fairy tales and oral traditions are works of a society, not an individual. They are added to over time and give us great insight into the values and fears of a culture, but they are not useful as records of actual fact. Contrast this to the gospel accounts which contain many eyewitness details & do not contain the historical inaccuracies like I mentioned above.
One example - The Name Test:
New Evidence the Gospels were Based on Eyewitness Accounts
Peter J. Williams
The third factor is the manuscript evidence: How accurate is the transmission of the information we have from the events to the present day? The biggest difference I can think of is that 500 years passed between the events described in the Iliad and the first existing copy that we have of the text. Compare that to a less than 100 year span between the first full copy of the New Testament and the events of Jesus's life. Also, we have fewer copies of the Iliad than the New Testament, and the copies that we have of the Iliad are less accurate and less consistent than the New Testament manuscripts. So we can trust the version of the story of Jesus's life that we're getting has had less time to evolve into myth via oral tradition & less possibility of corruption than the Iliad.
Manuscript evidence for superior New Testament reliability
by Matt Slick | 12/10/08
There are, of course, other ways to determine the historical accuracy of a document:
- Hans-Georg Lundahl
- 29m ago
- “Yet right alongside the accurate information there is wildly inaccurate information such as anachronistic armor and weapons from later time periods.”
So? Precisely like bad theology (idolatrous such) that does not preclude historicity of events. Note, I am talking about historicity as opposed to fictionality or symbolicity, not exact degree of historic accuracy.
One little extreme in this respect, anachronism, it seems all Mycenaean palaces had been destroyed earlier than the relevant level of Troy.
So, when Telemachus is received in the “palace of Pylos” we can presume it was a tent or a later more modest and less permanent type of building than the archaeological palace of Pylos.
Speaking of which, since Troy had been mighty and basically capital of Luwians, the probable destroyers of Hattusha, it is very possible the war was kind of a retaliation for destruction of Mycenaean palaces - but waiting until they took one extra bad move, like the enlevement of another king’s wife, so as to be sure to have the gods on their side.
Other inaccuracies would involve transfer of things concerning Hittites (and perhaps battle of Kadesh with its clear presence of chariot fights) to war of Troy.
“There are, of course, other ways to determine the historical accuracy of a document”
This answers about relative accuracy, but not about the categorisation of (relevant parts of) “Greek myth” as historic record, in opposition to entertaining fiction.
“If we know stories were added to the Iliad later, then we know the entire work is not the work of an eyewitness. This makes the Iliad more like a "fairy tale" and less like a record of history.”
No, historical witness at second hand is still historical document, while fairy tale is made for entertainment. We have Second Punic war from Livy and from authors depending on him, and he lived as removed from First Punic War nearly as Homer from Trojan War. His distance from Second Punic War is about half or a bit more of Homer’s from Trojan one.
Rumpelstilzkin and Little Red Riding Hood are fairy tales, Richard the Lion-Hearted in Dürnstein is not a fairy tale, it’s a local legend. Local legends are basically historic, though accuracy may vary and some apocryphal such are “fairy tales in disguise”.
- Hans-Georg Lundahl
- 24m ago
- “The biggest difference I can think of is that 500 years passed between the events described in the Iliad and the first existing copy that we have of the text.”
No, about 400 years between events and traditionally attributed redaction.
With events and first actual copy we have, all copies of the Iliad are Anno Domini.
So, more like 1200 years to even partial fragmentary copies. But that matches Caesar’s conquest of Gaul and redaction compared to oldest manuscript of Corpus Caesareum, including obviously De Bello Gallico.
Very early manuscripts for Gospels are not the standard ancient history accuracy test, they are very exceptionally good guarantees of accuracy for ancient history.