Mark Twain once said in his “Advice to Youth”:
Think what tedious years of study, thought, practice, experience, went to the equipment of that peerless old master who was able to impose upon the whole world the lofty and sounding maxim that “Truth is mighty and will prevail”—the most majestic compound fracture of fact which any of woman born has yet achieved. For the history of our race, and each individual’s experience, are sewn thick with evidences that a truth is not hard to kill, and that a lie well told is immortal.
The lies just keep on coming, and they don’t let up. In yesterday’s Washington Examiner I learned that cable documentaries aren’t just lying about things like aliens, mermaid, prehistoric sharks, and the Knights Templar—they’re also lying about even the smallest details of their supposedly “true” documentaries. Even in a high-profile documentary like 2010’s King Tut Unwrapped, producers staged a fake scene of scientists congratulating one another on their discovery. As revealed by Jo Marchant in The Shadow King: The Bizarre Afterlife of King Tut’s Mummy, it was all a lie. The scientists agreed to “recreate” the moment for the cameras weeks after the event, and the film failed to acknowledge the deception.
But that was small potatoes compared to the falsehoods that spread thanks to people who seem to genuinely believe things that aren’t true. On a web program called Creation Today, young earth creationist author Darek Isaacs asserted that dragons are real because the Bible tells us so.
The Bible speaks about dragons. […] So we have to go to the Bible, and the Bible speaks about dragons. […] If dragons in fact were entirely mythological, if they were a figment of the imagination, and if they never ever did exist, then God just compared our adversary to a make-believe creature that never existed.
Isaacs specifically cited the dragon mentioned in Revelation 12 and 13, as God gave the Word to King James. Isaacs seems unaware that the English term “dragon” did not carry with it the image of the winged, four-footed fire-breathing creature of medieval myth. Revelation, surprisingly enough, was composed not in English but in Greek, and the original Greek text uses the word drakon, which meant at the time “a great serpent” or “a large snake.” The word gave us the Latin draco and thus (via French) the English dragon. However, dragon was still being used—even in English—to refer to a large serpent as late as the 1700s.
To the Greeks, a drakon was a really big snake. In Greek art, the “dragons” fought by Apollo, Heracles, Jason, and other are almost universally depicted as snakes. In early medieval art, so too is the “dragon” fought by St. Theodore, later assigned to St. George, by which point it had grown feet. The idea of a winged, fire-breathing creature comes in all likelihood from the application of “dragon” to the fire-breathing creature called a wyrm, or worm, in Old English. This was due to the old Indo-European analogy whereby worms were thought to be miniature snakes. In time, though, the distinction between a Classical and a medieval dragon was lost.
At any rate, the modern idea of a “dragon” is far more recent than Revelation, and it speaks ill of those who seek to rewrite history that they fail even to recognize points in their own favor—giant snakes are a bit easier to believe in than winged, fire-breathing lizards.
8/16/2013 07:45:58 am
[Sigh...] As an old-earth creationist, I'm wishing that more young-earth creationist would actually interact with the text of Scripture, in context, rather than haul in their own baggage. There are serpents/snakes present in the Bible, as part of the created order. Most, as far as we know, are pretty ordinary, and are not capable of speech. The one cited in St. John's Revelation, is likely imaginary, since it's used as a metaphor within the story (unless somebody wants to argue that all the critters in that book are *real*)...St. John was using word pictures to tell a story, and let's face it, a dragon (be it a giant snake, serpent, worm or whatever) tells a heckuva story.
8/16/2013 12:06:46 pm
About the recreation scenes in docs. Having worked as an editor on many a Discovery and Nat Geo doc those recreations are fairly common, mostly they are small recreations such as mentioned, sometimes they are larger ones recreating the finding of an object, happening of an event, ect... It is up to the producer whether or not it is mentioned as a recreation (often it is) the networks themselves have no policy in place stating that all recreations have to be credited as such. In fact most of the time the network itself has nothing to do with the content of the program, that is left up to the production house whom is contract to deliver x amount a shows over given period of time. Seldom does the network exec's even look at what is given them once a greenlight and contract has been made.
8/16/2013 12:53:24 pm
When I studied broadcast journalism, it was rather depressing to learn how much was staged. Almost all of the shots of interviewees walking, writing, and typing--b-roll--were staged for the camera. Filming large government documents often involved a cover page placed atop a stack of blank paper.
8/16/2013 01:40:15 pm
It is sad Jason, I agree. Staging however predates Television by a long shot however. Photographic staging started in the Civil War and the torch was just passed on from there.
8/16/2013 01:49:33 pm
Matthew Brady's Civil War photos were "enhanced" truth, if you will, and of course William Randolph Hearst's coverage of the lead up to the Spanish-American War was, to put it nicely, "enhanced" truth.
The Other J.
8/19/2013 09:01:39 pm
I don't know if we could get something like cinéma vérité with anything involving archaeology or history. Someone should get Albert Maysles on that. But it does raise the curious question of network policies regarding re-created, staged authenticity. I'm actually surprised networks wouldn't have any such policy in place. BBC Radio and RTE Radio in Ireland do an interesting thing where they re-create scenes from governmental or court proceedings with actors reading the dialog. It's clearly a re-creation, no disclaimer really necessary, but manages to convey more than a dry description ever could.
8/16/2013 08:15:23 am
Well, you can still get your fire-breathing monsters from Job 40-41...
8/16/2013 12:27:37 pm
I do have to say, I feel that there is a difference between a recreation and a lie, even if the recreation is unacknowledged. A lie is something that never happened at all, while a recreation has truth as its essence--even if not every detail of the recreation was precisely the same, there was surely a time when the archeologists shared their glee at the discovery. It's not the same as "this is an event that never happened at all and we're dramatizing a scene that implies it did."
8/16/2013 12:46:00 pm
No, it's not as bad. But it's dubiously ethical when it's presented as though it was actual footage of what happened. In better documentaries, this kind of recreation is signaled by showing the footage with a filter or a blur. The author's criticism of this specific recreation is that it was presented as the actual moment when the discovery was made when it was not.
8/16/2013 01:59:52 pm
8/16/2013 02:03:21 pm
I would add: real life always looks different than dramatic footage; it takes longer, people are more casual, and since most non-actors can't "act", it's more clear what's "real" and what's "staged."
8/16/2013 04:29:51 pm
In a documentary about King Tut (I don't remember if it's the same that Jason talks about) Zahi Hawass is talking about how the previous name of Tutankhamen (Tutankhaten) was "hidden at the back of King Tut's seat", so that no one could see it... but the damn name is right at the side of the chair, and they even show it!. I almost kicked the hell out of my TV.
8/16/2013 06:12:01 pm
Jason,This is off topic but I am glad you are not part of the "official Skeptics community" (Aka the Cult of Self proclaimed Über Rational Thinkers).
8/16/2013 06:21:20 pm
8/16/2013 06:51:36 pm
Thanks.It is probably a menial issue for most, but since we spend a considerable amount of time & energy "destroying" the "other side", I consider we have to be intellectually honest & criticize the skeptics as well,when they behave like a bunch of organized idiots.
8/16/2013 10:09:00 pm
Where are you getting that idea about Sharon Hill from I've never read any of that into what she's posted on her blog
8/16/2013 11:39:43 pm
Her Facebook page.
8/17/2013 10:33:37 am
Since I have no knowledge of the facts behind the sexual harassment allegations, I can't comment on them. I can say, though, that organized skepticism and/or secularism is an organization like any other. On a couple of occasions, well-known names in the skeptical movement (and lesser names in organized secularism) have been happy to ask me for material or to use my work when it forwards their own work, but when I asked for assistance in return with publishing contacts, jobs, etc., suddenly they have clammed up and stopped speaking to me. (Note: If you've spoken to me in the past three years, it wasn't you.)
8/17/2013 06:54:55 pm
"but when I asked for assistance in return with publishing contacts, jobs, etc., suddenly they have clammed up and stopped speaking to me".
The Other J.
8/19/2013 09:12:15 pm
Nombrilism! Damn I love words. That one actually made me stop navel-gazing for a minute and take more notice of what I was reading.
8/17/2013 12:34:06 pm
As a biblical scholar whose specialty is the Old Testament (and Israelite religion to boot), let me say that this sort of either-or fallacy (dragons vs. God lying) is disturbingly flawed. But many YECs say stuff like this precisely because their own understanding of what's going on in the OT is so infantile and primitive, giving no thought to what the ancient writer was trying to communicate. And the same can be said of biblical critics (the internet ragers) who use this sort of awful interpretive method to criticize the Bible. It's really a shame.
The Other J.
8/19/2013 09:22:36 pm
Since your analysis gets into the history of the words (draco, wyrm), do you (or anyone else here) know how the mythological history of the salamander might have been an influence on the medieval conception of a dragon? Since the mythological salamander was a kind of fire demon, might it have influenced the shift from "draco" being a serpent to "dragon" being a snake with feet that breathed fire?
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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