“The Bible’s Buried Secrets” – the BBC’s latest venture into controversies surrounding the Bible, Christianity and truth. Three programmes exploring the bible, archaeology and the “truth” about them. They are presented by Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou – a young archaeologist from Exeter University, and by her own admission, an atheist. In both programmes so far, she is setting out to question the historicity of the bible. In the first, the prgramme was calling into question the story of King David found in the Old Testament. In the second Dr Stavrakopoulou was asking (i.e. asserting) if the Israelites were really monotheists, and weren’t really polytheists.
THere are a number of problems with “The Bible’s Buried Secrets”. One of them is not that someone is asking historical questions about the Bible – this really should be done. It is rather the manner in which it is done.
So, what is my critique of the programme?
The Bible’s Buried Secrets is far from unique in this. Controversy sells. This is true in every area of journalism. So a programme about the government that said “most MPs are decent people trying to do a good job” might be truthful, but would be considered dull, so instead we get a TV show about how all MPs are on the take and are scoundrels. Similarly, a piece about the bible that said “the evidence for this bit of the bible is fairly good – looks like the Vatican didn’t form a conspiracy with the Templars and the Illumninati after all” just wouldn’t get made. Even something that said “we are not sure about this – the evidence is unclear” would be boring. So almost every show or book is searching for eveidnce to destroy orthodox ideas, or to find conspiracy. This show follows exactly this path.
2. The Authorative Voice
I don’t know if you have noticed with TV & radio, the difference level of authority we give to discussion shows compared to a voice-over. Think of David Attenborough talking about lions in the Serengeti – we believe him because he is a voice-over in the background sounding informed, intelligent and authoratative. A group of people in a studio discussing lions sounds far less convincing. Generally speaking, religious programming allows those with orthodox Christian (or other religion’s) beliefs to have discussions – it is the shows with the controversial secret that get the authoratative voice-over. It’s not that orthodox views don’t get airtime – they just normally do so in a different way. This is nothing new. Roger Forster and Paul Marston wrote very perceptively about this back in 1986 in their excellent book “Reason and Faith”– it’s still the same today.
3. Arguing from Silence
My biggest challenge to the good doctor from Exeter is that of arguing from silence. What do I mean? In her first programme about King David, she gave a lot of time to the fact that the archaelogical record that we have found around David’s life and kingdom doesn’t amount to much. This is true. Even the fount of all wisdom, Wikipedia, confirms this. BUt I would suggest (and shen may have an answer to this), that she is simply arguing from silence. The absence of evidence, is just that, an absence of evidence. You struggle to draw much from it. Christians down the centuries have been very good at doing just this. When there was nothing to explain something in nature, or in the world (lightning, fossils etc.) – then God was used to provide an explanation for the unknown – “The God of the Gaps”. As our knowledge of the world has grown – these gaps have often been filled in by other explanations. “The Bible’s Buried secrets” does the same thing – not much evidnce for David in the archaelogical record – so let’s reject the historical record (which is rather good) and cast doubt on the whole story.
This also ignores the fact that the archaeology of the Old Testament generally is excellent. If you visit the British Museum any Saturday, youy will find groups going around on “Bible Tours”, being shown the vast amount of material that confirms that the biblical historical record is confirmed hundreds of times over by archaeological finds.
4. The Jews Weren’t Good Monotheists
The latest programme in the series has sad that the Israelites worshipped many gods, not just YHWH/Jehovah. Even suggesting that God had a wife (the Queen of Heaven – a favourite topic of Dr Frances). We do not need a TV show to point this out. The bible is abundantly clear that the Jews were very good at worshipping every god in the area – Baal, Asherah, Rahab, Tiamat, Moloch……. Jehovah was constantly calling them back to the worship of the one who created them, and everyone on earth. He is still doing the same today.
Whatever we might want to say about objectivity, Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou has an agenda – we all do. She is an atheist and an academic who has an interest in undermining biblical orthodoxy. If I was making that same show (a highly unlikely proposition) – then my agenda (that the bible is a historically trustworthy document) would come to the fore – I couldn’t help it and nor can she in her show.
Go ahead and watch the show – she presents very well. Just keep an open and questioning mind.