There has been something of a storm in France over Ridley Scott’s new film Napoleon.
There is no question over the lavish splendour of the cinematography, the quality of the cast list or the great set pieces. The issue is with its historical accuracy or, more to the point, its historical inaccuracy.
There is always someone who finds fault with historical films. Perhaps it is a military historian who points out errors in the uniforms, military hardware or some other faux pas.
In the case of this film the objections are more substantive. The film director is accused of taking massive liberties with history, manipulating facts and dates and even inventing a few events. “Events” like Napoleon firing a canon at a pyramid in Egypt!
I was interested to read what Charles Moore wrote in last week’s Spectator Magazine.
“When I was a boy, I was fascinated by old people, and felt sad that my grandparents were all dead. I believed the old were repositories of wisdom. In adulthood, exposure to elderly anecdotage made me realise this was not always the case, but the fascination has remained. I like best the old who cherish memories enough to remember accurately, but also live vividly in the present.”
That is of course what Luke claims when he begins his Gospel.
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye witnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1: 1–4)
Luke, who had the scientific methodology of a medical doctor, is forensic in his attention to detail, carefully investigating the story of Jesus from the beginning, and doing so by consulting the eyewitnesses.
I am sure that he found in these eyewitnesses (Mary and the disciples among them) those who cherished memories enough to remember them accurately. We tend to forget in the digital age, when we can Google anything, that memory like a muscle grows stronger with use.
In an oral culture memory is something that is highly developed and sophisticated.
Preachers, how will you do on the accuracy front in your Christmas preaching?
We will hear about the donkey, the inn and the stable. None of these are in the Gospels. If you don’t believe me, take a look at Ian Paul’s article, Jesus wasn’t born in a stable — and that makes all the difference.
If preachers smuggle inaccuracies into their preaching at Christmas or at other times, it can undermine people’s confidence about everything else that is said.
This Christmas, cherish the memories enough to remember them accurately.
It will make your sermons more credible and your hearers will thank you for it.
Perhaps like Theophilus they will become certain of what they believe?