Folklore and legend are species of history. Folklore is history transmitted by amateurs rather than by official or professional or quasiprofessional tradition bearers. Legend is history with a ring to it. Neither folklore nor legend need be historically non-factual. Historiography as written by the modern academic discipline can be factually inaccurate too.
Here is an Atheist who considers the usual cant about "folklore" and "legend" a succient argument to argue against historicity of for instance Gospels.
Dr Johnson: Legend, Myth, and More
August 1, 2012 by Bob Seidensticker
We’ll begin with the big category, folklore. This is the traditional knowledge or forms of expression of a culture passed on from person to person. Folklore can be material (quilts, traditional costumes, recipes, the hex signs on Amish barns, etc.), behavioral (customs such as throwing rice at a wedding, what constitutes good manners, superstitions, etc.), or traditional stories.
Traditional stories is itself a large category, containing music, anecdotes, ghost stories, parables, popular misconceptions, and other things you might not think of.
Now on to the kinds of traditional stories that are most interesting to apologetics. These terms can overlap quite a bit, so consider these definitions approximations. First, let’s consider stories seen as true (or plausibly so) by their hearers.
- Legends are grounded in history and can change over time. They can include miracles. Urban legends are a modern category of legends that don’t include miracles, are set in or near the present day, and take the form of a cautionary tale.
- Myths are sacred narratives that explain some aspect of reality (for example: the myth of Prometheus explains why we have fire and the Genesis creation myth explains where everything came from). Epic poems such as Beowulf and the Odyssey are one kind of myth.
The difference between legends and myths is that a legend is set in a more recent time and generally features human characters, while myths are set in the distant past and have supernatural characters. Some stories are mixtures of the two—the Iliad tells the story of a real city, and the characters include gods, humans with supernatural powers, and ordinary humans.
Here is first a Christian commenter and then author commenting back and then my own take, I'll give the last in full, but quote only the parts of the other two that fit above and what I have to say about it.
- Rick Townsend
- 5 years ago
- Seems to me you left out a category—accurate history. Why don't you give us a definition for that, as well as examples from the period before, Oh, say, 35 AD. Give us the data you used to determine it was accurate as well, please. Unless of course you think it was all myth and legend before YouTube, CNN and Wikipedia. ....
- Bob Seidensticker
- -> Rick Townsend
- 5 years ago
- ... My focus was folklore and some of its many categories, not history. My examples of history before 35CE would, obviously, be the same as yours--the record of Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, and so on. ...
- Hans-Georg Lundahl
- - > Bob Seidensticker
- an hour ago
- Actually, you seem to share a presupposition which does not follow from premises in definitions.
That accurate history is something OTHER than traditional stories.
I would say it often may involve more diverse traditions telling the same story, but that is not a prerequisite for its factual accuracy.
Also, historiography of the modern type claiming to be accurate is obviously open to deformation too. How many Communist and pro-Communist historians mention the Bleiburg massacre at end of WW-II?
Also, a historiographer usually gives an interpretation of his material. An atheist historiographer will give an atheist interpretation, i e things like claiming the Angels of Mons were no actual angels, but "collective hallucinations" (apart from hypnosis at stage unknown outside atheist historiography).
Iliad and Odyssey to my mind are history. Homer left out the Hittites. Homer interpreted by inserting scenes with gods on mount Olympus. But he need not have included any or very many events that are totally misrepresented or even invented. Men turning to pigs is impossible, but a witch making it seem as if is not impossible (if a hypnotist can induce a collective hallucination, so can a witch). Penelope [and Ulysses] actually getting [older and] younger is impossible, but feeling and looking so is not impossible.
Fighting chariots are described in terms of individual exploits, not in terms of battles where teams of three took turns, horses also taking turns, as it probably was historically. Some exploits can have been transferrred from other wars, notably Kadesh battle between Egyptians and Hittites, from which some nobility would descend, but no one wanted to mention Hittites (like Commies don't want to mention Bleiburg).
So, Homer is more slightly falsified history than a really other kind of narrative than history.
Homer is, in terms of generations, if not years, as close to Iliad's and Odyssey's actual events as Moses is to certain earlier events of Genesis, the early 11 chapters. Homer is in terms of years as close to them as Moses is to sometime in the main and late events in the latter 39 chapters of Genesis. Though Moses was from a line of people living to old, so the minimal generation overlap has arguably fewer steps than with Homer.
Gregory of Tours was as close to Clovis - and as far as I know, we don't have much better and more contemporary sources for him, if he's mentioned by contemporary Byzantines, it is more briefly.
I will here answer another point which Seidenstecker makes. He said:
Why not the miracles of Jesus of Nazareth? Obviously, those wouldn't make my list of historical events because they're all rejected by the historical consensus.
What he means by "the historical consensus" is problematic. It arguably means "consensus of Academic historians today, as extant since 19th C. Germany".
But in order to be of a significant value in determining this, it ought to mean "consensus of historians back then, consensus of narrative sources from back then". It does not.
Tacitus and Josephus do not reject the miracles of Christ. They don't accept the miracles of Christ very clearly or at all either. They don't go into detail. Josephus' "paradox actions" could include miracles, but could also involve simply things like dring out merchants from temple or taking disciples from among fishermen and one converted sinner, which would not be the prime choice of a rabbi.
Toledoth Jeschu* in my view seems to conflate Our Lord with an earlier man, who really was just a magician, and founded a sect which really was idolatrous, namely Odin : but the charge of magic is not a rejection of miracles as things which never happened, it is an attempt at non-divine explanation for events at the time taken as miraculous - both in cases like Odin, where the thing really was just magic, appearing and disappearing before poor Gylfe up to a hundred years before Christ's work, and in cases like Jesus working real divine miracles.
No historian is actually saying, as historian** "Jesus never worked miracles, but somehow his disciples believed he did or claimed he did" - as far as narrative historians back then are concerned.
No historian is actually the direct opposite of "consensus of historians".
As to the consensus of modern historiography, like the consensus on Marcan priority among Bible scholars, it has more to do with Prussian dominance over Academia than with sound logic. And Prussia, as known, had already received Voltaire before developing either modern historiography or Marcan priority.
Now, back to the point : all history is tradition. It is not always tradition on as amateur a level of transmission as folklore. It is not always tradition as far removed from events when written down as Homer or Gregory of Tours. But it is always tradition and any writing down of it, whether disappearing before our time or preserved to us, is equally a part of the process called tradition.
When it is not tradition, it is reconstruction - usually termed conjecture - replacing either tradition completely lacking on a point or contradicting tradition on a point. And reconstruction has a weaker probability of being the truth than any tradition, unless it is one rejected for very solid reasons - among which I would obviously neither place the fad in reducing tradition to folklore, nor the atheist fad of presuming a tradition must on any point be non-factual just because it is miraculous.
Hans Georg Lundahl
St Michael's Mass
* Or alternative transscription : Toledot Yeshu. ** I have not checked what Celsus is saying, but he is not describing Christians as a historian, he is arguing against them as a polemicist.