CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

I recently began reading Literary Texts and the Roman Historian, by David S. Potter. He begins by quoting a letter Pliny the Younger had written to a friend:

I heard a true story, but one that seemed like fiction, and one worthy of your broad, deep, and plainly poetical genius. I heard it at a dinner party when various extraordinary stories were being passed back and forth. I trust the person who told it, although what is true to poets? Still, the person who told the story is one of whom you might think well if you were to write history.
Literary Texts and the Roman Historian, page 5 (citing Pliny the Younger, 9.33.1).

What I found interesting is the distinction Pliny draws between "fiction" and "history." As Potter writes, "What is perhaps most interesting is the conceptual framework within which Pliny introduced the story. Reliability is defined in terms of dichotomy between poetry and historia, forms of narrative that are at the opposite ends of the spectrum of narrative representation. Pliny's framework is worth thinking about because it rests upon two assumptions: that history will be "true" and that the expression of this "truth" will be in the form of a narrative." Id. Although ancient authors could blur the lines or fail to live up to their own standards, just as they can today, Pliny demonstrates a desire to pursue history as truth rather than as simply useful or exemplary fiction.


There's no doubt that ancient people were just as interested in distinguishing fact from fiction as we are. The only thing I would caution is that these comments come from a member of the Roman aristocracy, someone with the leisure and cosmopolitan experience to think long and deep about these issues. He would also have been exposed to any fashionable skepticism currently prevailing in Rome. The early Christians, on the other hand, came from a wide variety of social classes and most likely did not share the scrupulous mindset of a Roman noble. I think some authors have pointed out that parts of the Gospels and Acts resemble popular history more than the academic treatises of people like Thucydides or Polybius. Not to say that they weren't concerned with accuracy, but I do wonder whether their standards were quite as stringent.

Use of Content

The contents of this blog may be reproduced or forwarded via e-mail without change and in its entirety for non-commercial purposes without prior permission from the Christian CADRE provided that the copyright information is included. We would appreciate notification of the use of our content. Please e-mail us at