Yesterday I ran across a perfect example of why it’s always dangerous to rely on what people say about historical sources, rather than going back and fact-checking. Sometimes, the sources don’t say what the modern scholar says they say. (In fact, I wrote a whole paper on the subject, debunking a claim about Augustines City of God in a modern scholarly book on pagan Europe, as part of my work in the Troth Loremaster program.)
But the example I have in mind is much simpler than having to slog through hundreds of pages of Augustine to prove a negative. This involves a paper written by T. C. Lethbridge in The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland Vol. 83, No. 2 (Jul. – Dec., 1953), pp. 175-181, available via JSTOR (readable with a free account), entitled Christian Saints or Pagan Gods? The Lough Erne Figures. I’m doing some research on Christian saints that had their origin in Heathen deities, so this seemed interesting.
Now, the author makes the following statement about one of the figures:
One of them, that of a male (a), is claimed to have a crozier in his hand and a bell, and to be in the attitude of cursing. He is therefore Saint Patrick. The bell, however, on inspection appears to be a typical Irish short-sword; the crozier may be a scepter or some other wand of office and the man appears to be stroking his chin in thought. There is nothing about him to suggest that he is a saint.
Fine. Fair enough. And the author has also included some illustrations to make his point clear:
In Fig. 1 I have drawn five of the figures (a-e) after a study of various photographs, omitting such signs of weathering as seem to obscure the details of the carving. I have not included the carving of a single isolated head on a flat stone slab, because it does not appear to belong to the same series as the others and may not even be of the same date. Two other fragments may be architectural.
Great! Now we can see exactly what he’s talking about in his Figure a:
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|Photo by Jim Dempsey|