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Were preface-phrases like “from the beginning” used to denote historiographical intentions?

  • Question

    In Greco-Roman literature, did phrases like “from the beginning [ex arches]” function as technical terms often employed to donate historiographic intentions? If an author wanted to communicated to readers that he was writing a genuine truth-aimed history, would he be especially included to discuss the notion of “the beginning” (e.g. of the events in question).

  • Historians

    • Richard Bauckham: “[t]he phrase ‘from the beginning’ (ap’ archēs) can now also be seen as belonging to the same historiographic complex of ideas. [Jesus and the Eyewitnesses 2nd ed. (Eerdmans, 2017), 119.]
“Yes, after all…
  • Examples abound of historians using this lingo

    As Greco-Roman historiographical literature is surveyed, especially works produced around AD 100, historians often to incorporated the phraseology of “from the beginning” to denote historiographical intentions

    For example...

    • Plutarch (46-119+ AD) used it this way in his preface.1
    • Philo (64–141 AD) used it this way in his preface.2
    • Luke (c. 1-100 AD) used the phrase in his preface.3
    • Josephus (37-100 AD) used an analogue in his preface.4
    • Herod used the phrase to commend historiography.5

    This is relevant because such a slew of examples is unlikely to be a coincidence, especially given how historians might be inspired to mirror each others conventions, interests, and phraseology. For example, Plutarch is certainly a historian whose interests and phraseology others might be inclined to emulate.

    1. Plutarch (46-119+ AD): “Whoever relayed the details to you did not remember the conversations correctly, for it appears that he was not among those who were actually present. Since I now have a lot of free time, and old age is not trustworthy enough to delay telling my story, I will recount everything from the beginning,…” [Septem sapientium convivium (Symposium of the Seven Sages), 145.][Note: This quote only shows how historians wrote; Plutarch is here only mirroring true historiography; the work itself is a fun overt fiction]
    2. Philo of Byblos [Philon Byblius] (64–141 AD): “Sanchuniathon, truly a man of great learning and curiosity, who desired to learn from everyone about what happened from the beginning … quite carefully searched out the works of Taautos” [Quoted in Schmidt, “Rhetorical Influences and Genre: Luke’s Preface and the Rhetoric of Hellenistic Historiography,” in Jesus and the Heritage of Israel (Trinity, 1999). 52 n. 91.]
    3. Luke (c. 1-100 AD): “Since many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting to me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in an orderly sequence, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” [Luke 1:1-4]
      • cf. Luke (c. 1-100 AD): “When he began His ministry…” [Luke 3:23], “But they kept on insisting, saying, ‘He stirs up the people, teaching all over Judea, starting (archein) from Galilee” [Luke 3:23, 23:5]; “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach,”; “…men who have accompanied us… beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness… We are witnesses… [we] testify” [Acts 1:21-42].
    4. Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD): “[Herod writes the following:] It seems by what you have written, that you stand in need of no instruction, in order to our information from the beginning.” [The Life of Flavinus Josephus 362-367] (Notice: Herod's usage of the phrase “from the beginning” was meant to be complimentary of this historical work, as if this was some ideal.)
    5. Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD): “I, on the other hand, have written a truthful account of the whole war [My insert: i.e. from the beginning] and its individual details, having been present myself at all the events [My insert: i.e. having seen it all] [Against Apion (1.9) 1.47-50] (Cf. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 5.1-9; Against Apion 1.1-5.)
“No, after all…
  • Historians and no interest in histories beginning properly

    This is relevant because then it becomes less plausible that historians would bother with implying historiography via phrases like “[Witnessing/narrating-history] from the beginning.”

    But no...

    • The habitual phraseology of “From the beginning” precisely refutes this.
    • Historians disproportionately invest in justifying why an event is the proper beginning.1
    • Historians criticize other historians if they fail to choose a proper beginning.2
    1. Polybius stated precisely his starting point and justified his choice of it as the appropriate place to begin (archēn) (1.3.1-5; 1.5.1; 1.12.5). Similarly, • Josephus: “I shall therefore begin my work at the point where the historians of these events and our prophets [OT writers] conclude. Of the subsequent history, I shall describe the incidents of the war through which I lived with all the detail and elaboration at my command; for the events preceding my lifetime I shall be content with a brief summary” [The Jewish War 1.18](see: Josephus, Ant. 5.1-9; Against Apion 1.1-5)
    2. For example,...
      Dionysius of Halicarnassus: “Some critics also find fault with the order of his history, complaining that he neither chose the right beginning (archēn) for it nor a fitting place to end it. They say that by no means the least important aspect of good arrangement is that a work should begin (archēn) where nothing can be imagined as preceding it, and end where nothing further is felt to be required.”