Twelve Books at Herculaneum that could Change History (2 of 3)

Here’s the remainder of Richard Carrier’s Twelve Books at Herculaneum (nearby Pompeii), that is changing the history our world’s been tricked into thinking. In his own recent words “There is a fabulous ancient treasure still buried at Herculaneum in the Bay of Naples.” continued on to explain much of it has been covered by Mount Vesuvius volcanic ash, since 79ad. Various other documentaries have been made, yet Italian Government restrict further works to be performed, for fear of safety/destruction/landslides.


1. Pliny the Elder’s History of Rome

Pliny the Elder is so-called because he was the uncle (and adoptive father) of Pliny the Younger, who is the first pagan writer to definitely mention anything about Christianity. The elder Pliny wrote numerous books, from grammar and oratory to biographies and histories, even a technical manual on hurling the Roman battle-lance. But we have only one of his works, an encyclopedia of nature called The Natural History. Yet most famously he continued in thirty-one books a History of Rome begun by Aufidius Bassus, which ended abruptly on the latter’s death in the 30s A.D. Tacitus and other authors used Pliny’s History as a source. And yet Pliny continued the Bassus narrative up to around the year 70. Which indicates Pliny likely dedicated a whole scroll to each year. He also would have been a contemporary to those events, even an eyewitness to them in Rome itself. Yet the younger Pliny, who revered his father’s literary opus (and so cannot have failed to have read it), signals he knew nothing of Christians, either what they believed or what crimes they were prosecuted for, which assuredly tells us that his father’s History never mentioned them either—which would establish Tacitus’s purported account of Christianity, and its relation to the burning of Rome, almost certainly a later forgery or interpolation (see Blom on the Testimonium Taciteum). 

That makes this the single most important history book we could find at Herculaneum. And since Pliny was a renowned author and naval commander stationed across the bay from this very villa, it would be incredible if its host did not have his famous neighbor’s complete works. Of course, I suspect Christians never get mentioned in Pliny’s History, and that instead (as I have argued in two academic studies) the people executed by Nero as scapegoats for the burning of Rome were actually ordinary messianic Jews maintaining the memory of a completely different hero hated by that city for their previous riots: Chrestus of Rome. Tacitus’s volume on the Chrestus era is lost, so we don’t know what he said about it there (and Josephus conspicuously avoids even a passing mention of it). But if we had Pliny’s History, we’d have his account of those riots as well (and who or what was actually responsible for them), and not just his account of the 64 A.D. fire, which also would be earth-shattering to have. Needless to say, this is a book quite a lot of people today want to be found. It’s very likely to be waiting for us.

2. Ovid’s Complete Fasti

The famous Roman poet Ovid wrote a detailed epic poem about the entire Roman sacred calendar, called the Fasti(“Holidays”), describing in religious and ceremonial terms what went on each day and why. Only the first half of this survives (covering January to June). It is highly likely any Roman elite would have a complete edition. So the odds it’s at Herculaneum are high. Apart from the boundless general value of recovering a detailed description of the second half of the Roman sacred calendar, there is another reason finding this would have a profound impact today:

Another strange loss concerns the annual festival of Romulus in which his death and resurrection were reenacted in public passion plays … That festival was held on the 7th of July … It seems strange that the text cuts off precisely before the month in which a passion play is described that was the most similar to that of Jesus Christ. 

The fact that we have other descriptions of this festival (albeit none as complete as Ovid’s would have been) does mean there was no organized conspiracy to doctor the record … but this along with all the other cases [I survey many—ed.] indicates a common trend among individual Christians to act as gatekeepers of information, suppressing what they didn’t like. Which collectively destroyed a lot of information.OHJ, P. 303

So, it would be nice to have it back. We could then directly compare Ovid’s account of Romulus cult with the Christian legends about Jesus. (Until then, see Richard Miller, Resurrection and Reception in Early Christianity.)

3. Celsus’s Complete Encyclopedia of the Sciences

As I wrote in The Scientist in the Early Roman Empire:

More impressive [than earlier encyclopedias of the sciences] was the Latin encyclopedia of Aulus Cornelius Celsus, written in the early 1st century A.D. His Arts covered multiple sciences in better detail, with many volumes devoted to each. Unfortunately only his volumes on the history and practice of medicine survive. What other subjects were surveyed in the lost volumes, and how many, is not entirely known, although it is certain rhetoric, agriculture and military science were among them, and that his work was highly prized for its excellence. Agricultural and military science were particularly suited to recently fashionable Roman interests and national character, while medicine and rhetoric were already [so]. His On Agriculture filled five volumes and was among the best surveys of the subject according to Columella, On Agricultural Matters 1.1.14. SCIENTIST, PP. 375-76 

Given that last fact, Celsus’s agro-volumes surely would have included discussions of what we know was then advanced yet common waterwheel technology (see my discussion in Ancient Industrial Machinery & Modern Christian Mythology), a treatment otherwise lost (we have to reconstruct their knowledge of automation from archaeology and indirect references; cf. Scientist, index, “waterwheel”). 

There may have been more subjects covered in the lost volumes (Science Education, p. 67 n. 155). The ones we have references to are the same treated by Varro in his own Encyclopedia of the Arts a century earlier (which was also famous, and also likely to be at Herculaneum, but less detailed and more out-of-date than we expect of Celsus). Hence as I wrote in Scientist (Ibid.):

[It] is conceivable that Celsus treated the same nine arts as Varro and added two or three others. His extant treatment of medicine is so excellent and incorporates such a quantity of first-hand reports that scholars still debate whether Celsus was himself a doctor. Though most conclude in the negative, all agree he was superbly educated in the field for a layman, and judging from the opinion of his peers he seems to have been as well versed in all the other sciences he wrote on.

Celsus began his section on medicine with a transition from the prior (lost) volumes on agricultural science … The logic of his transition from agriculture to medicine (as arts that nourish and heal the body) in his preface to the latter might suggest a twelfth and final topic was planned or completed, on philosophy (as the art that nourishes and heals the soul), although other subjects are possible (such as gymnastics or the graphic and plastic arts).

If that’s true, then we would also have a key source at last for an important period of ancient philosophy otherwise very poorly sourced: the turn of the era, when such massively famous personages as Posidonius and Musonius Rufus flourished, and an entire eclectic sect was developed that ended the dominance of philosophical dogmatism, importantly influencing subsequent Roman scientists (see Scientist, index, “eclecticism,” and my examples to follow). But even apart from that, any of Celsus’s encyclopedia would be valuable to have.

4. Varro’s Encyclopedia of Religion

We would still benefit from Varro’s more obsolete Encyclopedia of the Sciences, to be sure, and given how famous Varro was to Romans in the first century, it, too, stands a good chance of being at Herculaneum. Likewise any of his numerous other writings. But even more important a find would be his other encyclopedia, On Things Human and Divine, which was published in two sections, On Things Human in 25 volumes, and On Things Divine in 16 volumes (again, as I noted already, an ancient volume, scroll, also called a “book,” contained the equivalent material to a modern book chapter). Composed in the first century B.C., literally right before Christianity began, it would have to have had entire sections on the mystery religions and as much of their myths and rituals as could be made public—and possibly even material on Hellenistic Judaism. 

For example, as I explain in Historicity:

In [his essay the] Tabletalk, Plutarch is discussing the equivalence of Yahweh and Dionysus, and linking Jewish theology to the mystery religions, when suddenly the text is cut off. We have no idea how much is missing, although the surviving table of contents shows there were several sections remaining on other subjects besides this one.OHJ, P. 303

Plutarch will have written after the burying of Herculaneum, so that won’t be there. But Plutarch’s source might be; and the most likely known candidate is Varro’s On Things Divine. Many Christian writers cited it as a valuable source on pagan religion. Wouldn’t you like to know what it says?

5. The Flavian Memoirs or The Acta Diurna

Not only was there a sort of official newspaper of the empire called the Acta Diurna that any Roman elite, particularly in Italy, is likely to have many volumes of—which would be a priceless find, particularly for the years of our greatest interest, such as, again, the Chrestus riots under Claudius or the real targets of Nero’s persecution (these Acts most likely focused on decrees and events at Rome rather than the provinces, but you never know what provincial news might have found its way into them)—but we also know both Emperors Vespasian and Titus (Vespasian’s son and successor) wrote Memoirs, which would have included eyewitness accounts of their prosecution of the Jewish War and related matters.

6. Seneca’s On Superstition

As I explained in On the Historicity of Jesus:

Seneca the Younger wrote a treatise On Superstition sometime between 40 and 62 [A.D.] that lambasted every known cult at Rome, even the most trivial or obscure—including the Jews—but never mentioned Christians, an omission [that the Christian author] Augustine later struggled to explain. And that despite the fact that this Seneca was the brother of the same Gallio whom Christians are brought on trial before in Greece according to Acts 18.12-17 (he was the governor of that province in the early 50s). OHJ, P. 296

Seneca was a very popular and fashionable author, and a denizen of Rome, not that far from Herculaneum itself. The odds are good some of his Latin works would be there, and this important lost work among them. What might we learn from it of ancient religion? Or ancient Judaism? Or the mystery religions? And wouldn’t it be a curious thing if we confirmed it omitted any mention of Christians? We aren’t sure when Seneca wrote it, but he died the year after the burning of Rome. So it could be odd if we recovered it and determined it came out that year, yet had no remark upon the most famous tale of superstition Tacitus supposedly had pause ever to remark upon.

(Continued on from 1 of 3 and onto 3 of 3)

2 thoughts on “Twelve Books at Herculaneum that could Change History (2 of 3)

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