Gathered around great philosophers in antiquity were schools, and schools were about training. Training, in turn, was about putting ideas into practice. Simple dialogue formulas and creative epigrams held the contours of a great teacher’s personality, but most importantly they defined the manner in which the philosophy was a lifestyle.
In antiquity, schools were not buildings but societies. They were social forces that defined the art of presence in the world.
Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews, isn’t writing a history in the modern sense of engaging a critical investigation of events. He is quick to express his biases, to present his opinions as fact, to condemn groups or persons with little or no evidence, and to offer tall tales as history.
Even though Josephus is an important ancient historian, there is a sense in which he doesn’t write history at all. He writes legendary accounts of things, which allows him to present his own personal and political spin without a second thought.
Goal in Writing
Josephus’ goal is to give an account of things in the style of an apology or defense acceptable to those of his social class. It could be said he was more like a modern politician than historian.
Ancient writers almost always wrote as apologists. Their purpose was to defend the integrity of a class or a people.
Homer’s Epic Poems Homer’s epic poems define and defend the cultural identity of the Greeks.
Virgil’s Aeneid Virgil’s Aeneid rooted Roman cultural identity in a fabled Greek past, an act that boasted of Roman self-esteem.
Plutarch’s Parallel Lives The historian Plutarch’s Parallel Lives matches Greek personalities with great Roman ones to show how, in a stretch of his imagination, great heroes hold similar characteristics – especially Greek and Roman heroes.
Biblical Deuteronomist The Biblical Deuteronomist is the writer who told the story of ancient Israel found in the books from Deuteronomy to 2 Kings. In this history, the writer portrays the Israelite kings Saul and David in all their tragic faults. The presentation is primarily a theological one rather than historical account that defines and shapes a specific interpretation of history. Many archeologists today hold that the Deuteronomist version of history is largely fiction.
Early Christian Writings Early Christian writings hold similar apologetic and fictional characteristics as the Deuteronomist writings. Though the Christian gospels contain some historical information, the writing is largely designed to defend Christianity. The gospels are not biographies. The writers are not really interested in who Jesus was, which means many questions simply cannot be answered.
Classic describes moments when the human mind peaks in its grasp of the true, the good, and the beautiful. There is no canonical agreement of what makes a classic a classic. However, there do seem to be certain qualities without which the term classic would seem a compliment misapplied:
The excellence of a classic is such that it seems to enjoy an inexhaustibility of meaning. The opposite of a classic is a period piece, fad, momentary, or provincial thing with glitzy celebrity.
Classics melt borders geographically and temporally. Classics are as at home today as they were yesterday – and maybe even more so today as new developments make their insights even more relevant and more obviously true.
Classics jostle how we see the world. Classics are subverse of petty and sectarian orthodoxies and ideologies. In a classic, the might be triumphs over the grip of the status quo.
Hope follows like a corollary to excellence, universality, and shock. Hope has universal appeal and opens previously unexpected horizons. Hope enlarges our sense of possibility and invites participation.
Classics are fruitful in two ways: they spawn other classics, and over time, more is found in them than was even suspected by the original authors. Classics are perennials that rise to new life with each new opportunity. Millennia later their insights may be vindicated as they could not have been when first created. In the presence of a classic, standards rise and thus critical thought is encouraged.
In the 1st century CE, the Roman Empire spanned an area from the Persian Gulf westward to Spain and Britain and from the Rhine frontier in Germany southward to the Sahara Desert. The Empire encompassed the entire perimeter of the Mediterranean basin, while its trade networks extended to Bactria (central Asia), India, Arabia, and Nubia (area along the Nile).
Roman expansion began in the 3rd century BCE, but the high-water mark for imperialism was the reign of Augustus (29 BCE-14 CE). Nonetheless, the empire continued to expand throughout the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. The result was a “global economy,” or at least the closest to one that can be imagined for the ancient Western world.
The Greek term often used to refer to the empire was oikoumene, often translated as “world”. From it we get the English word “economy,” but it originally carried the sense of “the managed realm.” From a Roman perspective, fit meant “the world we inhabit and control” – in other words, the Roman empire.