Remembered History?

One evening several years ago, my wife and I were invited to a function at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation’s Taliesin West. As part of the event we were given an extensive tour of the property by a very eager and knowledgeable young docent. Our experience was enhanced by the fact that several of the people in our party were members of the Taliesin Fellowship and had actually studied on that property under Mr. Wright in the 1950’s. As we entered the drafting room the tour guide informed us that this was Mr. Wright’s favorite part of the facility and noted parenthetically that Mr. Wright never sat down when he was in this room. I noticed a strange reaction to that observation by several of the older members of the group and later I asked them about it.

It seems that not only did none of them remember Mr. Wright’s aversion to sitting down while in the drafting room, several of them said as they recalled it he would sit for hours at a workstation and sketch. One of these people mentioned to me a few days later that he had puzzled over the tour guide’s comments and finally had figured it out. It seems in the early days of the Fellowship, when they first began giving tours, they had crafted a script that each tour guide had to memorize. At just about the place in our tour when the guide made the statement about Mr. Wright never sitting down the original script contained a line that said something to the effect that ‘Mr. Wright could always be found wandering around the drafting room looking at the work that his apprentices were doing.’ Somehow his tendency to observe the work of his associates had morphed into a total aversion to sitting! The story highlights for me the reliability of oral traditions (or the lack thereof). My father has been dead now for almost thirty years. At this point I can no longer remember the sound of his voice nor can I remember with any confidence anything he actually said to me. The best I can do is to determine if something attributed to him is something he would have been likely to say.

The gospels that comprise our bible are written versions of the oral traditions used in first century synagogues by followers of Jesus. They were first written between thirty and sixty years after he died. They were not written by first hand observers. No one was standing with the multitudes during the Sermon on the Mount or at the base of the cross on which Jesus was crucified with a stenographer’s pad and pencil to capture the dialog. While this does not diminish the importance of the bible and the gospels it is important to take them for what they are and not to assume for a moment that they are historical documents.

Jesus may have said, “Our Father who art in heaven…” but I think it is more likely that the writer of the book of Matthew thought “this is what he would have been likely to say.”

The Progressive Christian