I often hear the debate about whether or not Jesus actually lived or did not, (I think the SD did a column on this). Anyway I was wonder what is the OLDEST person we can actually document as being alive. I mean in some sort of written permenent record, be it through paper, or a painting, something that would provide a record and actual proof this person existed.
I guess you couldn’t pull a name but about how far back can we go with absolute proof. I imagine the royalty of Europe would have the best records of actually existing.
The problem is it’s all a matter of degree. It’s up to the individual to decide if a historical source is credible or not.
Using the Bible as an example: Was Adam real? Was Abraham? Was Moses? Was Elijah? Was Jesus? Was Paul? Where do you draw the line between a fictional character, a real person who’s become the subject of mythology, and a historical figure?
The Icelandic church records, going back to the tenth century, are pretty convincing. I think Caeser is pretty convincingly documented. Beyond that, I don’t know. It is not absolutely clear if there really was a Euclid. But I think Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato are well-documented. Beyond that, I think things get increasingly hazy.
to diversify a bit, the chinese record their dynasties (I think the first was Emperor Shun) back to 2070 BC (Xia Dynasty). However, these are based on records written around 100 BC, so suffer from the same problem as the Old Testament records.
The earliest verifiable person mentioned in the old testament is possibly Nebuchadrezzar (bout 600 BC) though there may well be an earlier person (archaeological evidence for say David or Solomon is sketchy to say the least).
In terms of the pharoahs Narmer as mentioned by capybara looks likely to be the most likely true person from written records from King Den (only 150 years later, bout 2950 BC)
as far as the babylonians go, King Sargon (2300 BC) and the Sumarian King Enmebaragesi (2600 BC) have solid archaeological evidence to back them up
Anyway, proof is a tricky thing. I tend to think Samuel Morse is the oldest person I’ve seen a photograph of. While not a written record, he is one of the few people born in the 18th century we have a photo of.
Without getting into theology, what’s “actual documentation”? The question is a really valid one, and an essential one to answering this inquiry, because the writing of objective history is a 19th or 20th Century invention. What preceded it may have distinguished between legend and supported-by-evidence information, but only in passing towards an end we might not recognize as valid.
“Historical” and “biographical” writing from before roughly the Civil War days had a noble purpose in mind. It might have been to lead you to belief, it might have been to support the idea of the Destiny of the N-ian People, etc. But it most emphatically was not in pursuit of objective truth.
And that’s the point where things get very confusing. If anything has been debunked thoroughly, it’s Arthurian legend. And yet, the figure of Vortigern, who supposedly invited in Hengest and Horsa in the classic Arthur-against-the-Angles-and-Saxons form of the legends… There’s a pillar in Powys erected by Vortigern’s great-grandson and noting his lineage on it. Go figure.
As noted, there are near-contemporary records of Nar-Mer, who was probably Menes in the Manetho recension of Egyptian history, and of a shadowy predecessor designated “King Scorpion” from his scorpion-bearing cartouche. (Which has nothing whatsoever to do with the character played by The Rock in the beefcake extravaganza of that name.)
As SCM notes, the dating for the earliest Mesopotamian records of actual historical people is significantly later than the earliest Egyptian ones. And while Chinese records claim to go back further, they are not contemporary or even close to it.
I know one counterexample doesn’t really invalidate your point, but Gibbon’s *Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire *predates the Civil War by quite a bit, and is reasonably objective (and backed up by an impressive amount of research). On the subject of King Arthur, for instance, Gibbon states “the severity of the present age is inclined to doubt the existence of Arthur”, and he wisely refrains from repeating the Arthurian legends as fact.