Do Gospel Authors Owe Us The “Truth”?

Do Gospel Authors Owe Us The “Truth”? February 23, 2013

I read the words below in an article in today’s New York Times about the blurriness of the lines between history and historical fiction in recent movies. How do you think its points relate to the depictions, reworkings, and interpretations of history in the Gospels? I for one doubt that the majority of people in the audience of movies about historical events, any more than the majority of readers of the Gospels, have the kinds of historical discernment and sensibility that the author of the article suggests…

Audiences are used to reading the words “based on a true story” as a hedge rather than a promise (or a threat!). And we are often in the dark about just what has been changed or omitted. Even devoted history buffs may not remember the tally of votes in Congress nearly 150 years ago. But thinking adults can tell the difference between a fiction film and a nonfiction one, despite the worried warnings from politicians and others who have recently been moonlighting as movie critics. Behind some of the most inflamed concern over works like “Lincoln” and especially “Zero Dark Thirty” is a thinly veiled distrust of the American public — that, well, moviegoers are just not smart or sophisticated or schooled enough to know the difference between fact and fiction, on-screen lies and off-screen ones.

Given some of the stories that politicians themselves have peddled to the public, including the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, such concern is understandable. It can often seem as if everyone is making stuff up all the time and in such a climate of suspicion and well-earned skepticism — punctuated by “gotcha” moments of scandal and embarrassment — movies are hardly immune.

But invention remains one of the prerogatives of art and it is, after all, the job of writers, directors and actors to invent counterfeit realities. It is unfair to blame filmmakers if we sometimes confuse the real world with its representations. The truth is that we love movies partly because of their lies, beautiful and not. It’s journalists and politicians who owe us the truth.

 

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