Herodotus

According to the Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Classical World “Few historians have equaled Herodotus as writers.he accomplished an attractive history, swiftly told and read, with fascinating character portrayals, dramatic passages and moments of insight into the deep forces of human life.” 1Herodotus was the first man to use investigation and research to write history. For this reason he has been dubbed the “father of history.” He is known for his Histories, in which he tells about the history, customs and people of the lands he visited. The main theme of his work is the conflict between East and West. Besides being the first historical work written using research, it is important as the first long work in Greek prose and is confirmation the historical reliability of the Bible.

Herodotus was born in c. 484 in Halicarnassus in modern southwestern Turkey. To be born at this time and place meant to be born under the great Persian Empire. According to A. R. Burn growing up in this environment “may have helped to foster the breadth of vision with which Herodotus surveys the great conflict [The Persian Wars] from both sides.”2 His family was wealthy and probably aristocratic. While he was still quite young, the tyrant Lygdamis drove the family out of town and they were forced to live in exile on the island of Samos.

Throughout his life Herodotus traveled extensively, probably as a trader, as his writings show great interest in the products of the various lands he visited, and very few people at that time would have been able to travel simply for pleasure. In his travels he visited Egypt and Cyrene, Palestine, Phoenicia, Babylonia, the north Aegean, the Black Sea, Scythia and many other Greek cities on the Mediterranean. In the ancient and even modern Near East a traveler with a wealth of stories from foreign lands was and is often the recipient of spontaneous hospitality. No doubt such was also the case for Herodotus. He made good use of his traveling by talking to the people of the land. He would often seek out the most promising sources of information, such as priests, whom he mentions conversing with in Egypt. He frequently talked to eyewitnesses of the events he later wrote about.

Sometime before 454 Herodotus took part in overthrowing the tyrant Lygdamis in Halicarnassus. However, he soon found himself to be disliked, a common occurrence for Greek politicians, and so he left for Athens. It was there that he first began to work on his book The Histories, which in Greek means “inquiries” or “research” He is said to have given public readings of sections of his work while in Athens. He stayed in Athens for some time, but because of the law of that time he was unable to become a citizen. He thus chose to take part in the colonization of Thuria, a city founded by Athens in Southern Italy. He remained there for some time, possibly till his death between 430 and 424. It was there that he did most of his writing, compiling his travel notes and the historical material he had collected.

Herodotus’ great work was the writing of The Histories. It was the first historical work ever written (as far as we know) as well as the first large, well-planned prose work in Greek. The purpose of his book was to “preserve the memory of the war [Persians Wars], to record the achievements of the Greeks and the Persians, and to explain why the conflict began.”3 In order to achieve this goal, Herodotus presented all the information he had collected, weather or not he believed. The book is significant because in it Herodotus establishes the ideas that investigation and research are essential to history. Its scope is also significant, covering the Eastern Mediterranean world from the time of the Lydian Empire(c. 672 BC) to the defeat of Xerxes in 479 BC. In his book Herodotus writes not only about the history of the lands he visited, but its customs and people. According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, Herodotus “had a remarkable gift of telling a story clearly and dramatically, often with a dry ironic sense of humor; the best of his stories have delighted, and will continue to delight, generations of readers.”4

Also important is that in many instances Herodotus’ writings confirms the reliability of the Bible. In order to test that the Bible is reliable we can compare it to other records to see that it is accurate in reporting what was known at the time it was written. Herodotus’ writings coincide with the Bible in numerous places. In Genesis 42:32 is says, “the Egyptians could not eat bread with the Hebrews, for that is loathsome to the Egyptians.” Herodotus tells of the same contempt the Egyptians had for foreigners. He writes, “no native of Egypt, will kiss a Greek, or use the knife of a Greek, or his spit, or his cauldron, or taste the flesh of an ox, known to be pure, if it has been cut with a Greek knife.”5 The Bible and Herodotus also agree in their description of Babylon. In Isaiah 45:2 we hear of Babylon’s “gates of bronze” and Herodotus declared there were “a hundred gates in the circuit of the wall, all of bronze.”6 These are only a few of the numerous times when Herodotus “provides unwitting testimony of the accuracy of the Old Testament.”7

Herodotus was given the title “the father of history” by Cicero and became very popular, sparking an interest in history. But he was not the first person to use ethnology, geography, research and investigation to describe past events. He was also not the first writer to put together a long historical narrative in which the main thread is never completely lost. Although Herodtus demonstrated an amazing degree of neutrality, showing very little of the usual Greek bias, there was another historian that lived 1000 years eariler that reported with even better acuracy. Herodotus wrote broad and informative descriptions of ancient Near East cultures. In one of those cultures lived Moses who wrote what is known as the Hebrew Torah. It traces the history of humanity back to the begining and then focuses on the family of Abraham (which grew into many nations including today’s Arabs and Jews). The vibrant and intriguing narrative of Moses takes the reader through the Exodus from Egypt without pretense to hide any blemishes in persons or culture. Although Herodotus was the first great European historian, Moses stands alone in the annals of world history for his meekness and honest reporting of a nation’s response to their God. In geography, history, and flowing literature, Moses is obviously an inspired author. Cicero labled Herodotus the “father of history”. Jews, Christians, and Muslims recognize Moses as the man who spoke with the real Father of history, the Alpha and Omega.

Men trust their ears less than their eyes.

Herodotus / book 1 ch. 8

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