Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Paul writing in TV Documentaries

Over on the Dunedin School, Deane Galbraith comments on a complaint by Jack Kilmon about the way television documentaries depict Paul writing his letters, with close-ups of Paul "writing gibberish". A new documentary called "After Jesus" is the occasion for the remarks (and Deane has an enjoyable comment, "at least they are getting something right!").

One of the issues that has always bothered me on this topic is the depiction of Paul actually doing the writing when we know full well that Paul dictates his epistles (Romans 16.22; Galatians 6.11;cf. NT Pod 2: Paul the letter speaker). When I was consultant on the BBC / Discovery Channel documentary Saint Paul (2003), I suggested that it would be fantastic if we could actually depict this one correctly, and have Paul dictating. Sometimes, though, historical accuracy alone is not incentive enough so I pointed out that by having Paul dictating his letters, we make it easier to depict dramatically. If Paul dictates, we are able to listen to him speaking the words of his letters.

I am happy to say that they took my advice, and even had the scribe writing on his lap rather than on an anachronistic desk. All was not completely plain sailing, though, and they disliked the idea of actually making the scribe Tertius (Romans 16.22) and so he was merged instead with Timothy, in part because they had a limited cast. And when it came to Paul in prison, they couldn't resist having Paul doing his own scribing work. Still, it shows that academic consultants can make a slight difference to perceptions of these things. All too often, the documentary makers don't actually ask them.

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