Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Contemporary Relevance of History by Salo W. Baron

This is a short series of essays on the different approaches that the professional historian may take under his wing. I would like to mention just two points that Mr. Baron makes when discussing the researching and writing of history with the addition of my own thoughts.

The critical historical method: the comparison of different sources and accepting only that fact that has corroborating evidence has certain limits.  Mr. Baron points out that the method is only efficient or relevant during periods of ample written evidence.  He points out that when studying cultures or societies that rely heavily on oral transmissions or societies that rely on memory and the written evidence is often vary scarce, the research is difficult since no corroborating evidence can be analyzed.

This means that studying the ancient Jewish world, for example, during the time of a functioning Sanhedrin when oral transmissions were forbidden to write down, research is difficult.  For example, first century historian, Josephus writing for essentially a Roman audience inevitably must be compared to much later Talmudic sources because the Jewish world at the time of Josephus was functioning and firing on Oral cylinders.  The Roman world values written histories, whereas the Jewish world does not.  If the sources agree, then the historian is confident of the facts.  If, however, they do not agree, then the researcher has a quandary because there are so many possibilities to explain the differences, with no way to verify data.  Any re-creation or construction is basically founded on sand.

Secondly, Mr. Baron makes a very strong case that history (and certainly Jewish history) should be analyzed through a religious social lens.  Although he goes through many approaches: Psychohistory, Quantitative History, Social history, Secular State history etc., he shows that religion has played the most profound effect on civilization even in the most secular environments.  He shows that even at the height of the Enlightenment with the founding of a country that is the most secular in nature, with the greatest separation of Church/State (USA), religion, nevertheless, plays an incredibly dominant role in the animation of its people.

Mr. Baron was not known to be a religious nor observant Jew, nevertheless, he observed the theocracy that preoccupied the individual psyche of most of the world's inhabitants during every major epic and civilization.

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