NOVA: "The Bible's Buried Secrets"

Despite a few quibbles, NOVA's documentary is one of the best in recent memory.

The best part is that it outlined the modern critical view well. I am sure, however, that fundamentalists will be fuming about it, and saying that they were not given equal time. The program was heavily laden with Harvard professors and alumni (that is bad for Yale,I suppose). I do have some quibbles, and I will briefly outline a few of them here.

1. The program left the impression that Dever thinks that the gates at Gezer, Hazor, and Megiddo were ALL from the Solomonic period. The program did show Dever clearly adhering to a Solomonic date for the Gezer gate, but he has retreated in print from a Solomonic date for the gates at Hazor and Megiddo. For example, Dever stated as follows:

“Thus, I believe that while the Hazor and Megiddo gates might turn out to be early 9th century, the Gezer gate will likely remain well fixed in the 10th century BCE.”

SOURCE: William G. Dever, “Some Methodological Reflections on Chronology and History-Writing.” In The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating: Archaeology, Text and Science, edited by Thomas E. Levy and Thomas Higham, 413–21. London: Equinox, 2006) p. 419.

So, unless Dever has retreated from this retreat, I think the impression left by NOVA was misleading.

2. The problems of interpreting the Tel Dan inscription were not sufficiently discussed. It would take only a sentence to say that not all scholars agree on the reading of “the house of David” in that inscription. Even if that reading were correct, it would prove no more about the existence of David than inscriptions (e.g., the Modena inscription) mentioning “King Arthur” would prove about the existence of Arthur. The Tel Dan Inscription does not date to the time of David, in any case.

3. The Stele of Merneptah (ca. 1208 BCE) which contains the earliest known reference to an entity called “Israel,” is portrayed as favoring a location for Israel in the Central Highlands. However, Anson Rainey, a very respected biblical geographer, believes that the location should be placed east of the Jordan River.

4. Too much was made about the innovations in “justice” brought by the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments do not care more about “justice” than many other ancient law codes. As it is, the Ten Commandments can be seen as endorsing the destruction of religious pluralism (“no other gods before me”), which we would not necessarily regard as being “just" to those who worship gods other than Yahweh. In general, the program still shows a religionist bias insofar as we are supposed to view the Bible as a great gift to civilization.

The program will be discussed at the upcoming Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston this weekend. I may have more comments on the program after that.


John W. Loftus said...

I recorded that program while watching it. At first I was frustrated, especially when they talked about Yahweh being a monotheistic God, but at the end they denied it. It WAS a good program. It'll be interesting to see the discussions afterward. Here is a link to the PBS page.

John W. Loftus said...

To read a review of this documentary by a biblical scholar friend of Hector's read this.

Blake Stacey said...

I remember seeing a preview of this broadcast when it was first announced and thinking to myself, "Hey, is that the Gezer gate? I wonder what implications the show'll be drawing from that."

(Oh, and Dr. Avalos, welcome to Boston! I'm sure the SBL meeting will keep you too busy to deal with random Pharyngula readers and Boston Skeptics who'd like their copies of The End of Biblical Studies autographed, but I hope the meeting will be enjoyable, nonetheless.)

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

Mr. Stacey and other Boston Pharyngulites,

Its a sort of homecoming for me because I
lived in Cambridge from 1983 to 1991.

And do try to come by for a chat. I will be in Boston from Thursday through Tuesday morning. My freest days are Saturday, and the early afternoons of Sunday and Monday. My contact info. is:

Sheraton Boston Hotel
39 Dalton Street
Boston, MA 02199
Phone: 617-236-2000

openlyatheist said...

Dr. A,

I also recorded the program, and I think documentaries like these bring up a very important issue; that of truly unbiased Biblical education-where do we get it? So far, PBS and the History Channel are the only sources I trust. But who vouches for their quality?

The average Christian still believes that the 4 Gospels came straight from the pens of the apostles.

It does not occur to them that their religion is founded upon a mass of documents deeply obscured by time and anonymity. It is just far easier to believe it all true than to become a scholar. And those scholars who would devote time to such a task without a profound religious bias are in the minority.

That is the question that plagues me as I read through Loftus' book right now. I tried reading Helms' 'Who Wrote the Gospels?', but was bored to tears. I'm looking into Friedman's 'Who Wrote the Bible?' next.

Gadfly said...

Dr. Avalos, and John, I think you're too charitable.

It was bad journalism, at least, to let minimalists get bashed off and on throughout the program and not give a single minimalist a second of airtime, especially re the Tel Dan stele.

I say that as an atheist with a div degree, like I believe some of the members of this blog team, who's also a journalist these days.

The comment thread at Pharyngula, such as the glib pronouncement that the silver mini-scrolls showed how old manuscripts of the bible must be, in contrast with not even commenting on how some DSS manuscripts of biblical books (most notably Jeremiah) vary greatly from the accepted Masoretic text.

Stephanie said...

@openlyatheist: I am currently reading "Who Wrote The Bible" by Prof. Friedman and it is an great book so far. Prof. Bart Ehrman recommended it to me when I emailed him asking for the best unbiased book written about the Old Testament.

Kel said...

thanks for the review Dr. Avalos. I finally got around to watching the documentary last night so it was good to see how much credence one should put into the presentation.