Historians face a challenging future. Anyone trying to make sense tomorrow of what went on today will need high-level search skills and a healthy dose of discernment to sift their way through the haystack of information available in our digital world, to find the needle of the matter.
While some might argue that the deluge of stuff that’s out there diminishes the significance and value of journalism (“After all, we can get the information ourselves now, without any middleman”), I’d argue the opposite. Have you ever stopped to really read some of the stuff that masquerades as meaningful news? Rumor, speculation, innuendo, personal opinion laced with the occasional factoid, wishful thinking, and sheer invention, to name a few.
While the face and form of journalism may change as technology provides more opportunities (and challenges), we still need its true practitioners, the gatekeepers who can help us make some sense of all the data and details available. Given that’s a profoundly influential role in society, we should be careful to whom we give the responsibility. Who are some of your gatekeepers on a national, local, political, or religious level?
For me, they are people who handle the world with care. Reports may get replaced quickly in a 24/7 news cycle, but they don’t just disappear. In addition to informing today, however briefly, they can be part of shaping and changing tomorrow. Because “truth” can get twisted over time.
Consider the Israelites returning from exile to rebuild God’s house in Jerusalem. They’d been given permission to go back, even helped in their endeavor, by King Cyrus. But after a time, the locals in Israel became fearful of the returnees, and objected to the project. With some manipulation, they persuaded the current monarch, King Artaxerxes, that the Jews were up to no good, and he ordered the work be stopped.
The book of Ezra tells how the leaders in Jerusalem disputed the distorted version of events that had been given to Artaxerxes—the “truth” that everyone else just accepted. They appealed to his successor, pointing to the historical record. The Old Testament account goes on to detail how King Darius ordered a search of the archives.
He discovered a scroll, a report, of what had actually happened. The work of a scribe. King Cyrus had, indeed, given the Jews permission to go home and rebuild the Temple—and so the effort resumed, with Darius’ blessing and support. Where was this telling document found, overturning the “known” facts? “In the province of Media” (Ezra 6:1).
There’s always a place for a true record, and who knows what it might mean—not just today, but for tomorrow’s digital Darius. He’s just going to have to search a lot harder.