Thursday, March 1, 2012

Quote of the Day: Fredriksen on History

If we as historians seek to understand how people in the distant past made sense to each other, then we have to work hard to reconstruct their world, not to project upon them concerns from ours. . . . . The dead are not our contemporaries, and if we think they are, we are not listening to them, but talking to ourselves.
Paula Fredriksen, cited by Larry Hurtado in a post on Paul and the continental philosophers

What a cracker, should probably be on the wall of every historian's study. But of course if we didn't find these dead people's words reflecting or illuminating our own concerns in some way we wouldn't bother with them at all.  The trick is not to let our resonance with their words (or other remains, e.g. art, narrative, etc) obscure the fact that that may well not have been what they meant to say, even if that is what we hear them saying to us.  Even in communicating to our living contemporaries we constantly risk misunderstanding, how much more with those removed from us in time, space, language, and cultural context.

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