The variegated wardrobe of historical truth in early narrative history helps to see shared concerns in the making and use of history

Tyrell, Eva Dorothea (23 August 2016). The variegated wardrobe of historical truth in early narrative history helps to see shared concerns in the making and use of history (Unpublished). In: The practical past: on the advantages and disadvantages of history for life. Ouro Preto, Brazil. 23.-26.08.2016.

Almost exclusively in the cognitive sphere, the conventions of present academic history and history writing are legitimate but too narrow in order to lay claim to sole representation of the field of history. There is a range of further interesting and relevant possibilities. Modern discussions can benefit from recent progress in the research of history writing in antiquity because it has increasingly learned to think of history in other terms than our own ones. The historization of the concept of “historical truth” has led to an engaging appreciation of the diversity of ancient historiography, and thus of the multiple answers as to what historiography is for and how it can be used. My ongoing comparative research into rhetorical strategies of persuasion in Herodotus’ Histories and the first nine books of the Hebrew Bible has taught me that it is helpful to define truth as it is understood within a specific work of history in the context of its interpretive community. In order to be effective, strategies of persuasion have to be consistent with the basic tenets of the group in which and for which the history is written. Therefore, dispensing with modern academic conventions as a necessary criterion for history writing does not do away with constraints for history. Rather, it helps to bring deeper levels of similar concerns to the fore. In past comparisons of ancient Greek and Hebrew narrative histories for instance, the former was considered much more meta-reflexive than the latter because scholars had based their analyses largely on explicit truth-claims. However, taking into account implicit strategies of persuasion as well, it can be shown that these narrative histories from separate literary and linguistic traditions differ not so much in the kind of truth-claims they make than in the rhetorical form in which they express these claims. The beginnings of history writing also show that practical uses of history were compatible with history as a field of scholarly occupation, and concepts of “knowledge” included also other domains of knowledge than cognitive (e.g. norms of behavior, the concepts that shape one’s identity). The aims of instruction, the search for truth and practical orientation do not have to be conceived as opposites. One of the purposes of Biblical history is providing orientation as to ‘how to live and act’. However, this is not achieved through a didactic narrative with bite-size lessons in practical philosophy but through the encouragement of the audience to think for themselves which meaning can be found in the ambiguous events of contingent history. Also Herodotus envisaged practical applications of his Histories, which can be read as a comment on current politics through history.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Speech)


01 Faculty of Theology > Department of Protestant Theology > Institute of Jewish Studies

UniBE Contributor:

Tyrell, Eva Dorothea


800 Literature, rhetoric & criticism
900 History


[39] Schweizerische Akademie für Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaften (SAGW)
[109] Theologische Fakultät - Doktoratsprogramm




Eva Dorothea Tyrell

Date Deposited:

13 Apr 2017 13:33

Last Modified:

18 Apr 2017 09:12


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