“History is not a science,” I tell Wes. “It is a way of thinking about the past. I am tired of listening to people talk about ‘the Jews’ or ‘the Romans’ as if they were one unified group who all thought the same. There really is nothing reliable about the past.”
I speak in hyperbole and Wes indulges.
“What do you mean nothing is reliable?” he asks.
“I look back at history. Just look at recent history. Our founding fathers now all have a mythology of their own. If we look at events from history, we have to recreate them from primary documents from the people who were actually there. We have autobiographical works and letters from people who were living only 200 years ago, and scholars still cannot decide exactly how such events happened.”
“Yeah,” Wes said. “But we do have an idea of some of the major events. We have sources and documents to create a semi-balanced picture of American history.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “But that is only the tip of the iceberg. As we go further and further back, we begin to realize that documented evidence of the past is less and less. We have to rely on pictographs and symbols for the earliest parts of history. How can we ever expect to connect with the earliest people groups in history like the Jews who wrote the Bible?”
“We can’t,” Wes said. “That’s the point. We live in the present as a culmination of all the choices of all people in all places everywhere. People made choices that have led to these events. We can attempt to reconstruct those events, but we can’t know those events as the people who experienced them did. They know the truth of their perspective, but we have to read all the different perspectives from history and decide which is best.”
“We just have to be so careful,” I said. “That we don’t treat history like science.”