« PreviousContinue »
but Grecians, when we are inquiring about the most andi ut facts, and must inform ourselves of their truth from them only, while we must not believe ourselves nor other mien ; for I am convinced, that the very reverse is the truth of the case. I mean this, if we will not be led by vain opinions, but will make inquiry after truth from facts themselves; for they will find, that almost all which concerns the Greeks happened not long ago; nay, one may say, is of yesterday only. I speak of the building of their cities, the invention of their arts, and the description of their laws; and as for their care about the writing down of their histories, it is very near the last thing they set about. However, they acknowledge themselves so far, that they were the Egy ptians, the Chaldeans, and the Phenicians, (for I will not now reckon ourselves among them,) that have preserved the memorials of the most ancient and most lasting traditions of mankind; for almost all these nations inhabit such countries as are least subject to destruction from the world about them; and these also have taken especial care to have nothing omitted of what was (remarkably] done among them ; but their history was esteemed sacred, and put into public tables, as written by men of the greatest wisdom they had among them. But, as for the place were the Grecians inhabit, ten thousand destructions have overtaken it, and blotted out the memory of former actions ; so that they were ever beginning a new way of living and supposed that every one of them was the origin of their new state, It was also late, and with difficulty that they came to know the letters they now use ; for those who would advance their use of these letters to the greatest antiquity, pretend that they learned them from the Phenicians and from Cadmus ; yet is nobody able to demonstrate, that they have any writing preserved from that time neither in their temples, nor in any other public monuments. This appears, because the time when those lived who went to the Trojan war, so many years afterward is in great doubt, and great inquiry is made, whether the Greeks used their letters at that time ; and the most prevailing opinion, and that nearest the truth is, that their present way of using those letters was unknown at that time. However, there is not any writing which the Greeks agree to be genuine among them ancienter than Homer's poems,* who mus! plainly be confessed later than the siege of Troy ; nay, the report goes, that even he did not leave his poems in writing, but that their memory was preserved in songs, and they were put together afterward, and that this is the reason of such a number of variations as are found in them. As for those who set themselves about writing their histories, I mean such as Cadmus of Miletus, and Acusilaus of Argos, and any others that may be mentioned as succeeding Acusilaus, they lived but a little while before the Persian expedition into Greece. But then for those that first introduced philosophy, and the consideration of things celestial and divine among them, such as Pherecydes the Syrian, and Pythagoras, and Thales, all with one consent agree, that they learned what they knew of the Egyptians and Chaldeans, and wrote but little. And these are the things which are supposed to be the oldest of all among the Greeks, and they have much ado to believe that the writings ascribed to those men are genuine.
3. How can it then he other than an absurd thing for the Greeks to be so proud, and to vaunt themselves to be the only people that are acquainted with antiquity, and that have delivered the true account of those early times after an accurate manner ? Nay, who is there that cannot easily gather from the Greek writers themselves, that they knew but little on any good foundation when they set to write, but rather wrote their histories from their own conjectures ? Accordingly, they confute one another in their own books to purpose, and are not ashamed to give us the most contradictory accounts of the same things: and I should spend my time to little purpose, if I should pretend to teach the Greeks that which they know better than I already, what a great disagreement there is between Hellanicus and Acusilaus about their genealogies : in how many places Acusilaus corrects Hesiod; or after what manner Ephorus demonstrates Hellanicus to have told lies in the
* This preservation of Homer's poems by memory, and not hy his own writing them down, and that thence they were stvled rhapsodies, as sung by him, like ballads, by parts, and not composed and connected together in complete works, are opinions well known from the ancient commentators; though such supposal seems to myself, as well as to Fabricius, Biblioth Græc. i. p. 269. and to others, highly improbable. Nor does Josephus say there were no ancienter writings among the Greeks than Homer's poems, but that they did not fully own any ancienter writings pretending to such antiquity, which is trưe.
greatest part of his history ; as does Timeus in like manner as to Ephorus, and the succeeding „riters do to Timeus, and all the later writers do to Herodotus :* nor, could Timeus agree with Antiochus and Philistius, or with : Callias, about the Sicilian history, no more than do the several writers of the Athidæ follow one another about the Athenian affairs ; nor do the historians the like, that wrote the Argolics, about the affairs of the Argives. And now what need I say any more about particular cities and smaller places, while, in the most approved writers of the expedition of the Persians, and of the actions which were therein performed, there are so great differences ? Nay, Thucydides himself is accused of some of writing what is false, although he seems to have given us the exactest history of the affairs of his owo time.
4. As for the occasions of so great disagreement of theirs, there may be assigned many that are very probable if any have a mind to make an inquiry about them ; but I ascribe these contradictions chiefly to two causes, which I will now mention, and still think what I shall mention in the first place to be the principal of all.. For, if we remember, that in the beginning, the Greeks had taken no care to have public records of their several transactions preserved, this must for certain have afforded those that would afterward write about those ancient transactions, the opportunity of making mistakes, and the power of making lies also ; for this original recording of such ancient transactions hath not only been neglected by the other states of Greece, but even among the Athenians themselves also, who pretend to be
* It well deserves to be copside ed, that Josephus here savs, how all the following Grerk bistorians looked on Herodotus as a fabulous anthor, and presently, $14. how Manetho, that inost authentic writer of the Egyptian history, greatly complains of his mistakes in the Egyptian affairs; as also that Strabo, B. xi. p. 507, the most accurate geographer and historian, esteemed him such; that Xenophon, the much more accurate historian in the aft irs of Cyrus, implies, that Herodotus's accounts of that great man are almost entirely romantic. See the note on Antiq. B. xi. ch. ii. § 1 vol. ik and Hutchison's Prolegomena to his edition of Xenophon's Rupe Ildefell, that we have already seen in the note on Antiq. B. viii. ch. x. $3 how very little Herodotus knew about the Jewish affairs and country, and that he greatly affected what we call the marvellous, as Monsier Rollin las lately and justly determined; whence we are not always to depend on the authority of Herodotus, where it is unsupported by other evidence but onght to compare the other eviilence with his, and, if it preponderate, to preter it before his. I do not mean by this, that Herodotus wilfully related wla he helieved to be filee (as Ctesias seems to hive done) but that he often w nind cidence, and sometimes preferred what was marvellous to what was nog o pdas really true.
aborigines and to have applied themselves to learning, there are no such records extant ; nay, they say themselves, that the laws of Draco concerning murders, which are now extant in writing, are the most ancient of their public records; which Draco yet lived but a little before the tyrant Pisistratus. * For, as to the Arcadians, who make such boasts of their antiquity, what need I speak of them in particular, since it was still later before they got their letters, and learned them and that with difficulty also ?
5. There must therefore naturally arise great differenres among writers, when they had no original records to lay their foundation, which might at once inform those who had an inclination to learn, and contradict those that would tell lies. However we are to suppose a second occasion, besides the former, of these contradictions ; it is this : That those who were the most zealous to write history were not solicitous for the discovery of truthgt although it was very easy for them always to make such a profession ; but their business was to demonstrate that they could write well, and make an impression upon mankind thereby ; and in what manner of writing they thought they were able to exceed others, to that did they apply themselves. Some of them betook themselves to the writing of fabulous Darrations ; some of them endeavoured to please the cities or the kings, by writing in their commendation : others of them fell to finding faults with transactions, or with the writers of such transactions, and thought to make a great figure by so doing. And indeed these do, what is of all tlie things most contrary to true history; for it is the great char* About the days of Cyrus and Daniel. .
of It is here well worth our observation, what the reasons are, that sich ancient authors as Herodotus, Josephus, and others, have been read to 80 little purpose by inany learned critics; viz. that their main aim has not been chronology or history, but philology, to know words, and not things, they not inuch entering oftentimes into the real contents of their authors, and judging which were the most accurate discoverers of truth, and most to be depended on in their several histories, but rather inquiring who wrote the finest style, and had the greatest elegance in their expressions; which are things of small consequence in comparison of the other. Thus, you will sometimes find great debates among the learned, whether Herodotus or Thucydides were the finest historians in the lonic and Attic ways of writing, which signibed little as to the real value of each of their histories; while it would be of much more moment to let the reader know, that. quence of Herodotus's history, which begins so much earlier, and reaches so much wider than that of Thucydides, is therefore vastly greater; so is the most part of Thucydides, which belongs to his own times, and fell under his owh observation much the most certain,
hat, as the conse
acter of true history, that all concerned therein both speak and write the same things ; while these men by writing differently about the same things, think they shall be believed to write with the greatest regard to truth. We therefore, [who are Jews,] must yield to the Grecian writers as to language and elegance of composition ; but then, we shall give them no such preference as to the verity of ancient history, and least of all as to that part which concerns the affairs of our own several countries.
6. As to the care of writing down the records from the earliest antiquity among the Egyptians and Babylonians ; that the priests were entrusted therewith, and employed a philosophical concern about it; that they were the Chaldean priests that did so among the Babylonians, and that the Phenicians, who were mingled among the Greeks, did especially make use of their letters, both for the common affairs of life, and for the delivering down the his tory of common transactions, I think I may omit any proof, because all men allow it so to be. But now, as to our forefathers, that they took no less care about writing such records, (for I will not say they took greater care than the others I spoke of, and that they committed that matter to their high-priests and their prophets, and that these records have been written all along down to our own times with the utmost accuracy ; nay, if it be not too bold for me to say it, our history will be so written hereafter ; I shall endeavour briefly to inform you.
7. For our forefathers did not only appoint the best of these priests, and those that attended upon the divine worship, for that design from the beginning, but made provision that the stock of the priests should continue unmixed and pure ; for he who is partaker of the priesthood must propagate of a wife of the same nation, without having any regard to money, or any other dignities ; but he is to make a scrutiny, and take his wife's genealogy from the ancient tables, * and procure many witnesses to it. And this is our practice, not only in Judea, but wheresoever any body of men of our nation do live; and even there an exact catalogue of our priests' marriages are kept ; I mean at Egypt
* Oft'.is accuracy of the Jews before, and in our Saviour's time, in carefully preserving their genealogies all along, particularly those of the priests, see Josephus's Life
Life, 8 1. vol iv. This accuracy seems to have euded at the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, or however at that by Adriaa.