Joan Sutherland died on Sunday. I read a couple of fairly detailed, overnight obituaries. And this is typical. When a celebrity dies, we are treated to instant obituaries which detail the childhood, career, and retirement years of the celebrity (unless they died young). Cradle to grave, along with the intervening high points and low points.
How do we account for such rapid turnaround time between the death of a celebrity and the publication of a detailed obituary?
Well, I don’t write for a newspaper, so I can’t say for sure, but I think the explanation is fairly obvious: these obituaries were written years before the celebrity died. They may have been updated from time to time, but they’ve been sitting on ice until the celebrity dies. At that point the only thing to add are the immediate circumstances surrounding the death of the celebrity.
And I say that to say this: liberals and outright unbelievers usually dismiss the reliability of the gospels on the grounds that these were allegedly written decades after the fact. Now, even if that were true, that wouldn’t make them unreliable. Lots of us remember many things perfectly well that happened when we were young.
But I want to make a different point: when a biography was published doesn’t really tell you much about when it was written.
Back to my illustration. A music critic may be assigned to write an obituary for a diva. He’s given that task because he’s been writing about her for years. He’s written reviews of her performances. Written about her childhood. Her rise to fame. Maybe he’s interviewed her. He’s also kept tabs on her retirement.
In writing her obituary, he doesn’t start from scratch. Rather, he draws on many preexisting sources of information, including his own research.
And I expect he writes an obituary years before the diva dies. He keeps his draft obituary on file so that he can send it in as soon as she dies, at his editor’s request. He may update it now and then. And when she dies, he will update one more time, by adding a little something about the circumstances of her death. That new material will be tacked on to older, preexisting material. Just a little ad-on to bring it up to the present. He doesn’t revise the whole thing.
So even though the final edition of the obituary was written years after many of the events it relays, much of it was written long before she died. Or else it incorporates sources which were written long before she died.
And that’s something to consider when we consider gospel criticism.