Friday, August 29, 2008

The sometimes precarious cogs of scholarship

As I was cleaning out my office at the CSRS, an awesome place, I ran across an article in Phoenix that I had photocopied a year or so ago. The article, The Date of Augustus' Edict on the Jews (Jos. AJ 16.162-5), critiques the date attributed to this edict. Claude Eilers reveals that the date that scholars have associated with this document for at least the last fifty years is wrong. The story goes that a scholar in 1885 made note of a Roman numeral XI in the margin of the Latin manuscript. A later scholar then, without referring to the original manuscript, assumed this number must a reference to the year Augustus received Tribunician Power; she dated the document to 12 B.C., a date which gained wide acceptance. Unfortunately these numerals were one of a series that were used to denote chapters and not a date at all. Eilers argues for a date of 3 A.D., some 14 years later. Although some may be surprised that historians can be so precise and comment, "What is 14 years out of 2000?", this article highlights the need to check original references. There are many similar stories in many fields and it sometimes makes you wonder about the solidity of the bedrock of past scholarship upon which modern scholarship lies.

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