Warring States Project

The modern world began when people asked, What is the world out there actually like? In the sciences, the question was: Never mind Aristotle, what really are the laws of motion? This led to Newton and the calculus and the Principia Mathematica (1687). There was strong resistance to this at first, especially in France, but it survived, and still flourishes today. In the humanities, similar questions were raised with Spinoza's critique of the Hebrew Scriptures (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, Amsterdam 1670), followed by Richard Simon's Critical History of the Old Testament (Paris 1678; immediately suppressed). This too spread, but it has remained under attack. In recent years, it has been almost lost in a preference for regarding "the texts as we have them" as the only valid object of study. At present, Ranke's hope to recover the past "as it really was" is ridiculed or forgotten, and the"historical-critical" approach survives in only a few places. The Project is one of those places.

So far cultural politics. But supposing we do want to see what the texts were really up to, in their own time and on their own terms. How do we proceed?

First, just what are we dealing with?. Something that someone wrote, like Job, or a mixture from different authors in different periods, like Exodus? Has our Shakespeare had its hard words simplified, or are we getting it straight? Is our Red Badge of Courage what Stephen Crane wrote, or was it rewritten by his publisher? Is it a forgery, like the Donation of Constantine (exposed by Lorenzo Valla in 1440), or the Gospel of Jesus' Wife (exposed by investigative reporter Ariel Sabar in 2016? The ways to answer these and like questions we have grouped as Philology, in the sense of Friedrich August Wolf, the same who blew the whistle on "Homer" in 1795.

Understanding a text requires that we take account of its literary qualities. Has rhyme forced the use of a synonym, rather than the term we are studying? Does convention require that some persons be named indirectly, like Sywndz, in the Mencian side of the Mencius/Sywndz debate on human nature? Do we know why Horace chose the Alcaic for his Cleopatra Ode, and why he put it at the end of Book 1 of his Carmina? Do we know what Puccini was aiming at, in the denouement of Madama Butterfly? Or the Iliad, with its final scene of mourning? And for that matter, why does the Iliad have two final scenes of mourning? Or Deuteronomy, two final songs of Moses?

As a new aid in investigating these questions, we may mention our Style test. It can contribute data which are independent of any human preferences. Is this seemingly different passage in Corinthians a sign that Paul was suddenly angry about something? Does the biographical speech of Phoinix to Achilles in Iliad 9 have the same inner structure as the description of the making of the Shield of Achilles by Hephaistos, in Iliad 18? It has been known since antiquity that these are later additions to the Iliad; were they added by the same person? Does either resemble the forensic structure of the argument of Master Mwodz against war, in 0390?

Finally, the recovered texts can be used as evidence for the past. This too has its subtleties. How far might Exodus reflect real events? In relying on Justinian as the rules under which Republican Rome operated, are we missing something? How long did the Twelve Tables remain valid? What do the addenda to 1 Peter (and are they really addenda?) tell us about the shifting fortunes of the early Jesus Movement? This is the History question, and for answers, we end as we began, by going back to Ranke.

Philology: The Preliminaries
Literature: Some Generalities
Style: An Addition to the Toolkit
History: The Maxims of Ranke

It will be noticed that, with many of these ancient texts, the way forward historically is often literary (not to say, musical) in character.

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