Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Thallus - What can we say?

This post continues on from this one.

A shade of a shade

This Thallus reference shows us just how hard it is sometimes for historians to piece together what happened back in the day. Only about 10% of the population around the time of Jesus were literate, so books and blogs were not a common thing; it also turns out that papyrus (being the main transport for writings) isn't indestructible. It is sometimes a wonder that we actually have anything from the past due to the elements over time, not to mention all the wars and ideological changes that happen over thousands of years.

George Syncellus (died after 810 AD) wrote a book called The Chronography, which was a collection of historical notes, a kind of chronological list of names, dates and events. Historicans think that his book copied the same structure as Sextus Julius Africanus' History of the World. Africanus died a few hundred years after Syncellus, (and since copyright wasn't much of an issue back then) Syncellus seemed to of added fragments of Africanus's work into his large chronological collection of historic things. (You can buy the full works of Syncellus here)

So all this is to say that to understand what Thallus said we need to realise that we have a response against his statement that was a generation or two after he had died in a collection of works that were collated 600 years later.

What can we say for sure?

I think the main point we can say about this Thallus reference is that he made a comment about the sky going dark in or around the time of Jesus' death. I know that doesn't sound very profound, but that is all I am seeing with this reference. To cut that down even further we can say:

1. Jesus died
2. Something is reported to of happened in the sky (it went dark?) around the time Jesus died
3. Sextus Julius Africanus didn't like what Thallus said about it

Anything else?


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