Friday, June 08, 2007

The Bible and Historical Writing

In 1099, Jerusalem fell to the First Crusade and the ensuing carnage has never been forgotten. The words of Raymond d'Aguiliers are probably the most famous excerpt from a medieval chronicle:

In the Temple and porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and
bridle reins. Indeed, it was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place
should be filled with the blood of the unbelievers, since it had suffered so
long from their blasphemies.

The image of the horses died red with blood sticks in the mind of all who read the passage. It is quoted in every book on the crusades and almost every book on how horrible Christians are. There is a reason, which might not be immediately obvious, why this single anecdote stands as the reference point for the entire massacre. Raymond was making a conscious attempt to tie the fall of Jerusalem in with the apocalyptic prophecies in the Bible. Here is Revelation 6:4 which Raymond clearly has in mind when he describes the blood-drenched horses.

And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that
sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another:
and there was given unto him a great sword.

The question I want to ask is, did the scene described by Raymond actually happen? After all, it is clearly derived from a biblical passage. I ask this, because many scholars and amateurs seem to believe that if an event in the New Testament can be linguistically linked to an event in the Old Testament, then it didn’t happen. Jesus Mythers go further and try to find parallels to everything in the Gospels so that they can declare the whole thing fiction, which is a bit like saying the crusades didn’t happen. They are, after all, wildly implausible ventures.

I would like to make another suggestion. Both the Gospel authors and the crusade chroniclers thought they were writing sacred history. It is natural, therefore, that they were always on the look out for biblical parallels that could hammer the point home. The Bible is a long book and these authors new it very well, so finding these points of reference was not very difficult. I think Raymond did see the blood-drenched horses and it reminded him of the red horse of war from Revelation. Likewise, just because the Gospel writers can link their narrative to the Old Testament is not, in itself, good evidence for ahistoricity.

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