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June 21, 2004

"Proof" of history

A few months ago, I read The Barbarian Conversion, which detailed the transition of post & extra-Roman peoples from paganism to Christianity. One chapter, "Rival Monotheisms," dealt with the challenge posed by both Islam and Judaism. The author makes the case that conversion to Judaism from Christianity was a common event during the early medieval period (ergo, the later institutionalization of anti-semitism), in large part because of the familial similarity between the two faiths.

The above book was sent to the printers late in 1999, and 6 months later, a paper was published that suggested that the male lineages of European Jews were predominantly non-European in origin (an admixture rate on the order <0.5%.per generation). The point of course is that history is supposed to be a description of the past, and to a lesser extent, a theoretical model explaining how and why the past came about as it did (one can assert I have this ass-backwards, which is fine, go read your Spengler and Toynbee and leave me alone). In reality, historians seem so narrow in their focus, and so dependent on their traditional methodology (in particular, a small number of literary sources), that most (there are exceptions) seem ignorant of the avalanche of data coming out of genetics. The rise of a Post-Modernism in departments of history is especially shocking in light of the fact that more tools are now available for a scholar to form a multi-dimensional model of the past (eg; The Human Web)-there is frankly far less excuse to write an invented narrative than ever, though perhaps more inclination .

Posted by razib at 01:10 PM