Every year, I take students through Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars. We are back at it again.
Before I say anything else, let me point something out… something that I point out all the time.
The New Testament is under constant attack by scholars. It withstands all attack. The current scholars will soon be dead, rotten, and forgotten.
The New Testament will chug along. It will conquer the world. You have two choices. Either get on the train or get out of the way. Have fun trying to stop this:
The New Testament is the most documented book from the ancient world. This is from Wikipedia:
“Parts of the New Testament have been preserved in more manuscripts than any other ancient work, having over 5,800 complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages including Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic and Armenian.”
Many of these early manuscripts show up within the first century. Some of them show up within 50 years of the resurrection of Christ. And, yet… it is quite popular to question the historicity of the New Testament.
Let’s compare the New Testament to Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars. I have never heard anyone question the validity of Julius Caesar’s book.
And yet, F. F. Bruce, the famous Biblical scholar from the last century said this:
“For Caesar’s Gallic War (composed between 58 and 50 B.C.) there are several extant manuscripts, but only nine or ten are good, and the oldest is some 900 years later than Caesar’s day.”
Did you catch that? The first copy of the Gallic Wars shows up 900 years AFTER those assassins “removed” Caesar from office. And how many copies of his book do we have? 12. For details, read this: http://www.timmitchell.fr/blog/2012/04/12/gallic-war/
So, back to the book. Why do I teach it?
For starters, I kind of like the book. Well, anyway, I find it interesting. I grew up in Europe. Many of the places Caesar talks about are quite familiar to me. I see the book as an important book in the history of Europe.
But, if you are a fourteen-year-old girl, this book is not Caesar’s Gallic Wars. No. You are reading Caesar’s Gallic Bore. Or, Caesar’s Gallic Snore.
Why do we ask children to read this book? I don’t think anyone knows why. We read it because everyone who studies Latin reads it. It has always been done this way.
Except that… it hasn’t always been done this way.
William Harris, once a classics professor at Middlebury College, Vermont once wrote this:
Why was Caesar selected for beginners as an example of Latin writing only in America?
After 1725, when the Caesarian grammars and textbooks began to appear, America was, or perhaps thought it was, in a position comparable to that of the Romans in Caesar’s time.
Men bearing a high form of Civilization, whether Romans or Anglo-Saxon colonists, were facing an uncivilized and dangerous race of savages (Gauls or American Indians).
War was waged against the savages in their own backyard, where they presumably had an advantage. They were brave, at times admirable, but of course doomed to be beaten in the name of Civilization, under Rome or under the American government.
But propaganda, Roman or American, had to show that they were a serious threat to the bearers of the burden of civilization so that no right-minded person would extend to them much sympathy or any degree of clemency…
The rest of the article is here: http://community.middlebury.edu/~harris/LatinAuthors/Caesar.html
So… We started reading Caesar as a propaganda piece to justify our treatment of the Native Americans? Um… okay.
I have another suggestion. Why don’t we read the New Testament in Latin?
Oh, that’s right. We can’t.
To pass the AP Latin exam, students must be quite proficient in two classical texts. Students must know how to read Caesar’s Gallic Wars and Vergil’s Aeneid. (Thanks, public education. Glad you know best.)
Sorry, kids. Learning to read the most important book on the planet… in Latin, will just have to wait.
Perhaps you can learn to read the New Testament in Latin some other time.
Maybe you can learn to read if after you have spent years learning to read the almost completely irrelevant Gallic Bore. Ooops. I mean… Gallic Wars.