The prospect of writing a universal history – a history that spans the beginning of time (sometimes time immemorial — wink) up until the writers’ own era – has captured the imagination of writers, since the earliest times of the Greek and Roman (Neo- Spartan) historians.
Interestingly, in the ancient Jewish historiographic tradition, Genesis begins such an effort, with a very foggy memory (to put it mildly) of the beginning of all things, up to the Egyptian-historic “present moment” of Pharaoh Djoser – with the D dropped, and the end finished with “ph” replacing the “r” on account of that temporal fog we were just talking about.
The first real “Jewish” effort at a total (if not universal) history stems from the book of Daniel, which takes up the task by walking through empires symbolically, one by one, bringing us not only up to the present moment, but into the purported future, by the addition of a belated punchline – the last 4 chapters.
Most people do not think of the book of Daniel as an effort to pen a total history because of its unusual typology – empire hopping (by way of symbolic and largish beasts from dreams). But this is in fact, a very interesting and somewhat obvious way to do historiography – one empire at a time — if you believe that the past is the key to the future, and that time runs forward in a linear fashion, branching out like a genealogy as it goes, with an unseen hand guiding the entire affair.
In fact, Flavius Josephus does something very similar. Although his focus remains upon the singular people of the Jews, he follows the Danielic lead, beginning with Genesis to write his “Universal history: a monotheistic account .” And notably, his Antiquities of the Jews does in fact contain a commentary on the Book of Daniel. But it includes only chapters 1 – 8.
Isaac Newton, the reader will recall, did something quite similar, writing a commentary on Daniel as well.
Continuing where Josephus leaves off, Edward Gibbon penned a French Enlightenment account of the Roman empire, with a focus on the decline (and the causes and reasons for it) of its latter years.
What should the person concerned with ideal studies think on such a matter? After significant consideration, and a bit of waffling on the topic, I have come to the conclusion that we ought to “filter the process” of discovery (research) and recording for a universal history through the lens of the ideal value system. This would mean that we would indeed write a universal history (after all), but it would contain only those elements whose value-construction extend on into the future.
That is, the ideal value system would render an account of a universal history in a cleaned-up English (or else French), purged of all the language that contains empty reference and the other linguistic problems mentioned previously on this blog.
This account would contain only birth dates and then flourit dates for biographical entires – no death dates, nor any references to the morbid whatever. Life and Joy construct the account, along with Wisdom and Understanding.
The challenge that this is not a “realistic” account fails in that it far-the-more entails realism by the removal of all those linguistic elements that foster empty reference, and by its commitment to Truth and Integrity.
This is actually a battle over the self-concept of the human a race, as one of excellence and great value, order and wisdom – remember, one’s self-concept is one’s destiny since people tend to walk according to their views of themselves over time — or else as a dismal “religious picture” that matches the accounts of the Bible – filled with war, bloodshed, rape, etc.
This is what they mean by “realism,” one that very much matches the biblical account of humanity – depraved as hell and chaotic. This justifies the need for “redemption” on this view. The ideal view would leave one supposing that humanity is excellent and destined for great things (the truth) and NOT IN NEED of redemption (also THE TRUTH). Here is the centerpiece of the dispute.
All accounts are selective. The bloody, religious historiography has no good claim to realism. It simply assumes that it does. But it is to history what the Horror Film industry is to Hollywood – unnecessary and counterproductive drama most people do not want their children to know about.
We should carefully follow the ideal value system in creating the best and most extensive multi-volume “Universal History” ever produced – a history of innovation, trade, profitability, science and technology, of maths and logics, of linguistic innovation, new ideas (maps and compasses), shipping, of heroism and excellent behavior.
This is realism because this is who we REALLY are. We should neither be remembered by our errors nor our folly; for none of us would ever wish to be remembered this way on a tombstone, or in the minds of loved ones who live on after one’s departure. I believe the so-called “realism” of the current accounts amount to little more than defamation of character (after the fact) accounts.
Good history needs more than just accuracy; it also needs kindness and gentleness in the ways that we manage the reputations of others.