A distillation of the thought and research to which Herbert Butterfield devoted the last twenty years of his life to, this book, originally published in 1981, traces how differently people understood the relevance of their past and its connection with their religion. It examines ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia; the political perceptiveness of the Hittites; the Jewish sense of God in history, of promise and fulfilment; the classical achievement of scientific history; and the unique Chinese tradition of historical writing. The author explains the problems of the early Christians in relating their traditions of Jesus to their life and faith and the emergence, when Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, of a new historical understanding. The book then charts the gradual growth of a sceptical approach to recorded authority in Islam and Western Europe, the reconstruction of the past by deductive analysis of the surviving evidence and the secularisation of the eighteenth century.
1. The Origins of Historical Writing 2. The Annals of the Pre-Classical Empires 3. The Originality of the Hebrew Scriptures 4. The Rise of Classical Historiography 5. The Chinese Tradition of Historical Writing 6. The Establishment of a Christian Historiography 7. The Development of Historical Criticism 8. The Great Secularisation. Appendix: A Chinese Historian – Ssŭ-ma Ch’ien