Manning Clark and Luke.


Manning Clark and Luke.


Manning Clark, the legendary chronicler of Australian history, is well known for his left-leaning interpretations, including sympathetic comments about Communist Russia.  Clark, in his 1960 book Meeting Soviet Man, described Lenin as ‘Christ-like in his compassion’ and in a speech in Russia in 1970 called him ‘teacher of humanity’.  Even after Brezhnev’s brutal repression of Czechoslavakia in 1968 and other revelations of Soviet brutality Clark could only say that his earlier views on Russia were merely an ‘error of judgment’ and that he had ‘not made clear what was really in his mind’.

Being blinded by ideology is not unique to Clark as a historian.  What has now been evident for some years, however, is that Clark also lied.

‘As An old man looking back on his life, Manning Clark claimed to have seen with his own eyes the horrors of Kristallnacht. Witnessing this notorious Nazi pogrom changed his life, said Clark, and made him the historian he was. It became the most famous story of a great storyteller (David Marr, au/news/  national/manning-clarks-fraud/2007/03/04/1172943275676.html).

According to Clark, ‘I happened to arrive at the railway station at Bonn am Rhein on the morning of Kristallnacht,’ he told the poet John Tranter in 1987. ‘That was the morning after the storm troopers had destroyed Jewish shops, Jewish businesses and the synagogues. Burned them and so on…I saw the fruits of evil, of human evil, before me there on the streets of Bonn.’

But Clark was not there that day. The historian’s biographer, Mark McKenna, reveals this week in The Monthly that Clark did not reach Nazi Germany for another fortnight. The person who saw the broken glass and smoking synagogues on that morning in November 1938 was the woman Clark was to marry. ‘It was Dymphna Lodewyckx, not Manning Clark, who witnessed the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht’ (; M. McKenna, An Eye for Eternity, MUP, 2011).

So Australia’s most famous historian is now exposed as someone who lied, and did so repeatedly about the unspeakable Kristallnacht pogrom.  It is probably the case that once we have given a version of something a few times it becomes part of us and we really believe what we are saying.  Our truth becomes the truth.

Luke, the author of the two volume Luke-Acts provides an interesting point of contrast with Clark.  In his opening words Luke makes it clear that he did not know Jesus but was dependent on written sources that the followers of Jesus had handed over to him.  Unlike Manning Clark, he does not claim to have been there.

In his second part, the book of Acts, he quietly inserts himself into the narrative.  This he does by subtly changing the narrative about Paul from ‘they’, ‘them’ to ‘we’ and ‘us’, to indicate that he was now Paul’s companion who traveled with him from Greece to Jerusalem, and later from Jerusalem to Rome.  These travels occurred over a five year period.  He does not make any fuss about this quiet change of pronouns but any casual reader of the ‘we’ passages can’t help noticing how much more detailed are these passages.  A classic example is Luke’s description of the sea voyage to Rome and the shipwreck on the rocks of Malta (Acts 27).

Luke makes it clear, as noted above, that he depends on the writings of others for his narrative about Jesus.  One such narrative is the Gospel of Mark.  Luke reproduces about half of Mark so it is easy to see what Luke does with Mark’s text.  Does Luke embellish or ‘beef’ up the Jesus that Mark writes about?  Does he change a prophet into a divine figure, for example?  In fact, Luke generally shortens Mark’s narrative and in no way does he make Jesus into something or someone else.  Mark’s Gospel is the earliest written of the four and Mark’s Jesus is already an exalted figure.  In Mark, Jesus is the Son of God, and the Son of Man, the one destined to rule the world but who, paradoxically, will be crucified by the Jewish and Roman authorities.  Luke’s version of Jesus is similar.

The example following is interesting.  In Mark Jesus reveals himself to be the ‘Son’ God finally sent to Israel.  Luke shortens Mark’s account but does not in any way exalt the figure of Jesus.

Mark 12:5-6 Luke 20:12-13
And he sent another,and him they killed;

and so with many others,

some they beat

and some they killed.


He still had one other,

A beloved son;

finally he sent him to them saying,

‘They will respect my son.’

And he sent yet a third; 

this one they wounded and cast out.





Then the owner of the vineyard said,

‘What shall I do?

I will send my beloved son;

It may be they will respect him.


Manning Clark was quite open about writing history out of a particular world-view.

Indeed, anybody writing history does so out his or her temperament, personality and values.  This would have been true also of Luke.  Clearly Luke is passionate about the mission that Jesus unleashed on the world and he writes his great Luke-Acts from that barely concealed intention.  That does not mean his narrative is untrue.  In fact, given the across the board evidence from other sources it is evident that Jesus inspired a mission to the nations of the world.  Luke is doing no more or less than the rest of the documents of early Christianity.

In any case, practical objectivity is attainable, even if that objectivity cannot ever be perfect.  Manning Clark is a great historian and anybody can quickly work out his biases and prejudices and observe, ‘Well he would say that, wouldn’t he?’

But lying, falsifying evidence is different.  It calls every page into question.  That’s the problem with lying, isn’t it?  We don’t trust liars.

The thing is, that Luke can be crosschecked.  Anybody can put a Luke passage alongside a Mark passage and come to decision about his care – or otherwise – as a scribe.  Likewise, one can check Luke’s version of his record Paul’s autobiographical speeches in the Acts against Paul’s own autobiographical references in his letters.  The vocabulary (Greek) is different but the content is the same.

Paul himself (Philippians 3:5-6) Paul according to Luke (Acts 26:5; 22:3-4
As to the law, a Pharisee

As to zeal, a persecutor of the church

I have lived as a Pharisee

Being zealous for God…I persecuted this Way unto death


This is quite remarkable.  By the time Manning Clark wrote his many books historiography had become highly sophisticated, based on careful analysis of statistics, records and archives.  None of this expertise or resources was available to Luke.  There was not even a universally recognised calendar; Romans, Greeks and Jews observed different calendars.  Yet for all these disadvantages Luke has tried hard to be truthful and careful within the parameters of his passion for the message and mission of the one he called ‘Lord’.

2nd May, 2011.