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The Bible's Buried Secrets

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Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou | 12:42 UK time, Tuesday, 22 March 2011

I was approached by the BBC's Religion and Ethics department back in 2009. They explained they were looking to work with a specialist on Bible's Buried Secrets, a documentary series about the Bible and archaeology, and that I'd been recommended to them.

Now, I know I'm a bit of a geek, but I'm always amazed at how many of my students say at the end of a lecture they had no idea the Bible was so cool and exciting.

But it really is. And I was so pleased that the BBC thought so too.

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I was also delighted at the prospect of joining the BBC's team of religion presenters.

Over the next few months, we discussed possible topics for each episode.

One of the things we all agreed on was the importance of showing that biblical scholarship often asks very different questions of the Bible than people might expect.

It's not motivated by confessional concerns, but it deals with the Bible as a collection of ancient writings from ancient cultures - much like the Odyssey or the Iliad.

So scholars approach the Bible in ways similar to those they'd use in dealing with any ancient literature: who wrote this and why?

Is it a reliable source of history? If not, why not? How can archaeology be used to piece together a more reliable view of the past?

This is what's so exciting about studying the Bible, and this was one of the things I was keen to show with the topics we selected: David's empire, God's wife, and the Garden of Eden.

I've published work on all three topics, and I regularly lecture on them, so it was then a question of figuring out how to make the scholarship accessible, exciting and visually engaging.

I was brought up in a secular household and I'm not a believer, but I've always been fascinated by ancient religion.

My passion for the Bible springs directly from the fact that it's such a fantastic and diverse collection of texts that can tell us something about the beliefs, concerns and cultures of the people who wrote them.

But that doesn't mean that these people's views are representative of an entire society.

Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou in Tel Es Safi, Israel

In fact, many scholars agree that the Bible was written by small groups of elites, whose views were likely to be very different from the other people in their own societies.

It's this diversity that I enjoy exploring in my research, and this is what I wanted to focus on in the series.

The other thing I wanted each programme to do was highlight the cultural richness of the worlds from which the biblical literature came.

The Bible itself contains many different versions of the past it seeks to describe, and some of these are often the stories that are more commonly overlooked.

So the legitimate nature of the worship of the goddess Asherah was an obvious story to tell in the documentary series, as was the alternative view of the Garden of Eden presented in biblical books beyond Genesis.

Obviously, I know that not everyone will like the series. Some people might find it challenging to their faith or their own understanding of the Bible's cultural legacy.

But I hope that the series will be of interest, especially to those people who might think the Bible is boring or irrelevant. I hope they will watch the series and be intrigued.

Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou is a senior lecturer in the Hebrew Bible and the presenter of Bible's Buried Secrets.

Bible's Buried Secrets is on BBC Two and BBC HD on Tuesdays at 9pm. The series is available in iPlayer until Tuesday, 5 April.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

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