July 18, 2024

Lest some continue to be (unintentionally) misled about what Lucian of Samosata taught about writing history, let’s look at two passages of his.

As many of you know, Lydia McGrew is a vocal critic of the view, generally speaking, that the Gospel authors had certain liberties in their writings. Although she herself allows for certain literary liberties, she remains steadfast in her criticism against New Testament scholars and their supposedly dubious conclusions. A couple days ago she wrote, “I have been spending the last couple of days going through a very useful collection of quotations about historical truth from the ancients.” McGrew shares an excerpt from Lucian, an ancient historian. She posts it with the intention that this excerpt helps to support her view of the Gospels (i.e. lending toward the more straight-reportage end of the spectrum). Indeed, she jests with her husband against her critics who have claimed that her view of historiography is a post-enlightenment perspective. Here is the quotation of Lucian’s:

[blockquote2]Above all, let [the historian] bring a mind like a mirror, clear, gleaming-bright, accurately centred, displaying the shape of things just as he receives them, free from distortion, false colouring, and misrepresentation. His concern is different from that of the orators — what historians have to relate is fact and will speak for itself, for it has already happened : what is required is arrangement and exposition. So they must look not for what to say but how to say it.[/blockquote2]

You can read Lucian’s work “How to Write History” here.

Now to my concerns:

First, what does the historian have to arrange if they were supposedly providing straight reportage? Lucian wrote that “what is required is arrangement and exposition.”  How much room is allowed to arrange events or narrative? This McGrew does not say; though what we know for now is that she believes Jesus cleansed the Temple twice and (for all intents and purposes) she believes the Sermon on the Mount is not a compilation of teachings. These positions are compatible with a rigid, straight-reportage approach to the Gospels.

Second, and more importantly, if one were to continue reading Lucian, one would see that he also wrote, “If a person has to be introduced to make a speech, above all let his language suit his person and his subject, and next let these also be as clear as possible. It is then, however, that you can play the orator and show your eloquence.” Note how Lucian implies that the author does not have the words of the speaker and so must supply those words: “let his language suit his person.” It should become clear that the author puts words into the orator’s mouth, even more so because Lucian describes the literary license an author has: “you can play the orator and show your eloquence.” Other passages from Lucian provide credence to the literary license position but this one about speeches suffices to disprove McGrew’s implied takeaway.

If McGrew’s single excerpt were to be believed, *without providing the whole of Lucian’s instruction*, are we fairly reading Lucian … and accurately understanding the context of the Gospels? Or are we simply hunting for advantageous quotations to suit our own preconceived agenda?

NOTE: This is not an ad hominem attack as one brother in Christ thought. Here is William Lane Craig explaining what an ad hominem is. My observation of her motive is not a critique of her argument, but of her temperament and approach to this subject.

Not at this time
Not at this time

Kurt Jaros

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