Balancing Poetic License and Historical Accuracy: “Quid Est Veritas?”

Historical accuracy is something most historians battle with when attempting to portray reality and truth. Reality, in a biblical sense, is something my generation clings to with too much skepticism. Did Jonah live in the belly of a whale for three days and three nights, and did Noah really rally two of each animal onto his ark? No. The point of these stories, which we often miss, is to confer meaning to the readers. Many of us dwell too much on the literal meaning of the bible.

Ben Affleck does a good job in explaining an understanding of the difference between “poet” and “bookkeeper,” or imagination vs. literal. Google defines a poet as “someone who possesses special powers of imagination or expression.” Affleck explains that there is a “push and pull” between the bookkeeper’s reality and the poet’s reality, but all that truly matters is the deeper, essential truth and understanding, regardless of the way it is told.

I don’t believe Affleck to be a poet, nor do I believe him to be a bookkeeper, but instead somewhere in between the two. He didn’t direct the movie through his imagination as a poet, and neither did he create the movie based completely on literal understanding. However, he does settle in the middle of the two by relaying to us the deeper and essential truth, while still adding the touches that Hollywood demands.

In some ways using “poetic license” provides a more accurate way to capture the truth—especially in spiritual matters. If the subject is math, the bookkeeper’s reality is most reliable. If the subject is the human heart and soul, we must look to the poet. Because we are fallen creatures, our skepticism demands the accuracy of the bookkeeper and the power of the poet. The bible strikes the balance Ben Affleck describes.


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