Richard Ingrams A few weeks ago I watched part of a rather d
boring programme on BBC 2 which showe
down Arthur's Round Table' being taken 'own from the wall in Winchester Castle Where it hangs to be examined by a group of experts and given a proper date. What was objectionable about the filming of this operation was the impression given beforehand that the table was widely believed to be, and that it might indeed actually be, the Round Table as used at Camelot. How wise then were the experts who were able to prove that in fact it dated from the twelfth centurY ; how foolish by implication, all the Silly people who had believed the legend heretofore.
Television is breeding a generation of
credulous believers in 'experts' of one kind or another who represent the source of true knowledge as opposed to unreliable romancers and story-tellers. This was the effect of the recent Magnus Magnusson programmes On the archaeology of the Bible which sought to contrast the supposedly hard `facts' of archaeology with the colourful tales of the Old Testament. There was another dose of the same medicine in a programme on 7C 2 last week called The Historical Jesus, the work of a young rugged-looking Cambridge theologian who was called Don Cupitt.
'Don Cupitt looks at the legend and the facts', the announcer proclaimed. I still get a:slight feeling of excitement at the beginning of these excursions, as with the many wild life -e programmes that seem to promise 1,
outset some new insight into the
"attire of the animal kingdom. But always What follows is an anti-climax. Like wtagnus before him, Don Cupitt drew a blank in his search for 'facts', which were fl)niftillY few. Armed with an assurance ,r,°M a bearded don in Manchester that on `1-'e basis of one or two references by Is.nnlan historians Jesus was indeed a wstorical figure—many of us had perhaps entertained doubts about the matter until t Lhen—and a number of very tentative HOY_Potheses put forward by an assortment .1 scholars, Cupitt embarked on a highly explained version of the Gospel which explained the story in the sort of terms applicable to the life of Mrs Thatcher. ccording to Cupitt Jesus did not believe In another world. Like many of his contemporaries he preached that the good life did just around the corner. Cupitt wisely ad not seek to explain how such awkward Sayings as 'My kingdom is not of his world' squared with the version of events which he Put forward.
The objection to this kind of exercise is
really an educational one, in that it pro,ITIotes, in addition to a blind belief in !allible dons and experts, a contempt for ;nen like the Evangelists, who are made to !oOk like credulous fools. Does a don on television in 1977 know better what hapPjrl,ed than a man writing an account in Al) ' The absolutely obvious answer to that is 17)), but I'm afraid it will not be apparent to a _ t of People who will never examine the Written version. So much for St John, and nOW a look at tomorrow's weather.