The Bible's Buried Secrets

Tuesday 22 March 2011, 12:42

Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou Presenter

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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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    Comment number 1.

    Hello everyone - just to say that while there's been a tech upgrade behind the scenes, commenting on the blog was unavailable for a couple of hours this afternoon. The maintenance work is now finished so please go ahead with posting your comments.
    Thanks

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    Comment number 2.

    I think Francesca's series on the "Bible's Buried Secrets" is truly excellent. Reasoned, beautifully-presented and thought-provoking - what a good introduction to scientific and historical method! Only one "gripe" - When, Francesca, will you do a similar series on the New Testament, such as examining the quest for the historical Jesus? Now that would be riveting material for television ....! bring it on, please

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    Comment number 3.

    I am sure that this is studied well but I think that if you look at the History of the area and study in deepth you will find that Scripture never tried to hide the fact that many of the Jews brought forgien god's into Jeruselm from place where they where held captive such as Egypt and Babylon so it it natural that there would be other gods and godesses in the city limits, many many times the prophets begged the jews to leave thier gods and follow the true and living God.
    If indeed this is meant to be a scrientific and historical quest to find the truth, then the truth should be sought with out predjuice and baise but by using hard facts and presented by none biblical writters as well.

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    Comment number 4.

    Congratulations on this series, simply on the evidence of the first episode. Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou and the BBC should sign her up immediately for more programmes. There has been a marked improvement in the quality of science documentaries on the BBC in the past year two, mostly due to great presenters like Brian Cox and Jim Al-Khalili. Hopefully this series suggests a similar improvement in History broadcasting. Please keep it up.

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    Comment number 5.

    where does it say in the bible that david had an empire?it does not.
    why would jewish archaeologists have a bible in their hand-they only accept the first 5 books.
    why would you be able to find any significant evidence of the 10th c bce by sending loads of students wandering round picking up debris on the surface ?nothing could be deduced from that at all.
    if you are going to make a serious attempt at this ,please lets have sound data and not assumptions.
    as soon as the lady proudly announced she was an "academic" my heart sank

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    Comment number 6.

    You said "The Bible is an unreliable source". Not a problem. BUT can you say that of the Koran?

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    Comment number 7.

    I was looking forward to this series but, sadly, I have been very disappointed. The presenter makes controversial statements to which no one is given the right of reply.

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    Comment number 8.

    Really interesting show. There's a lot of documentaries on 'the real bible' stories these days but the first episode (watched on iplayer) was different and enlightening. Glad to hear the mention King Arthurian figure - the point being that it is the mythology which surrounds these figures which is captivating for people, not the empirical truth.

    Will Francesca do for archaeology what Nigella did for cooking? I await the series, follow-up book and associated merchandise with interest...

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    Comment number 9.

    I find this programme very disturbing and she would not rip the Koran to pieces as she pissibly is a Muslim and if she is not then she is very afraid to do so , because of our ethnic laws. I regard this BBC programme as incitement to racial hatred and the BBC in Contempt. Consider this the British Tax Payer has paid for the making of this.

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    Comment number 10.

    The statement that :-"I was brought up in a secular household and I'm not a believer, but I've always been fascinated by ancient religion." is perhaps the point that makes the series so compelling. For years we have had bible study by committed Christians, or Jews, with the expected lack of real depth of enquiry. Dr Stavrakopoulou can put herself one step away from the material to, where appropriate, dispute long held beliefs.
    Such evidence is much the stronger, wherever it leads.

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    Comment number 11.

    Talk about presuppositions this woman has the lot. She criticizes believers for having their presuppositions based on their understanding of God. Then she is so bold as to say "but I say" constantly without evidence to back up what she says. This is a deliberate attempt to undermine the Bible and its teaching. I had hoped that following last week`s programme we might have got more sense this week. Alas it is more of the same. Shame on you BBC for such dodgy theology. Please can we have another "scholar" to refute her arguments. There are many of them out there. They come from a conservative evangelical background but then perhaps you would not like their presuppositions?

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    Comment number 12.

    Well you have insulted the uk as a christian nation (You may not be ) obviously ? But be sure if you made a programme about Islam - well you would not - you have no guts to do so. I am not a practicing christian , but all I see is the BBC rubbishing the Christians, what about rubbishing Islam. Obviously the CEO is making alot of money out of our sweat. Oligarchy.

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    Comment number 13.

    I am amazed this has been allowed to air, truly I am. This program compares two seperate religions and expects them to coincide and to expects them to compliment each other when contrasted. In fact, the Did God Have a Wife? episode is based solely on the fact that God in the bible refers to himself at one point as El (which is clearly pointed out by the presenter that El can be a generic term for God) and then examining an entirely different religion. The presenter quotes the bible saying "Who is like Yahweh among the gods?" and not only misinterprets the quote but presents it as fact. Another point the program makes is that all Isrealites were monotheistic, which is clearly not true because the Bible clearly shows Israelites turning away from God to polytheism.
    Throughout this program i have heard, "Scholars suspect," and, "Recent evidence suggests.." but I am still waiting to hear these scholars or see this evidence. A poor attempt to slur the Bible and its message, at best.

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    Comment number 14.

    I too believe that God/Jesus protected women and were more important than what many have percieved including the Vatican. Importance of women and you should maybe put your findings to the Roman Catholic Church. Its is also not to say that God does not have priests and priestess's but they are only to be admired and not worshiped. You do not worship Jesus you respect him for example as the son of God as you do respect the Holy Spirit. But God amongst all religions is the creator.

    However with regards to Monotheism and the belief of one God this is prevalent in all religions, that is not to say that people did not believe in idol Gods which would still be frowned upon as evil today.

    All religions are trying to make what they can to interpret what they think is good or bad from the Bible, but not one religion has it right completely and everyone makes their own interpretation.

    However it is apparent that man and woman are important as the creation of God being prevalent but I think what you are missing is that no human actually knows or has the right to presume they have all the answers, it is all possible. It's not I, me, you or us or about evidence. Basic facts, women and men exist and we live on a planet in space.

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    Comment number 15.

    Just watching the programme on BBC2... Hmm funny isn't it how people choose research topics and try to prove what they think by referencing what's available rather than presenting actual proof.

    In the programme Dr. Stavrakapoulou's uses the terms "i think", " It would suggest" , " It would appear" quite a lot. This suggests that there is no clear evidence and she is just presenting an ideology rather than any scientific research.

    As a researcher in science with a doctorate. The constant use of " I think", "It seems" , "someone else's research says."... in the programme does not convince me that she actually has anything new to say. Sure available evidence can always prove what you want it to!

    Statements like the "Bible is not telling us the truth" etc with many inferences lacks the depth required in research.

    I would take all of this with a pinch of salt. All we need is someone that can infer the opposite from the same arctifacts Dr. Stavrakapoulou's has used!

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    Comment number 16.

    I have devoted sometime to study the bible and its claims and that has led me to do some more studies in school. The main problem I have with your program is that you have titled is "secrets" meanwhile the bible have never tried to cover up the fact that the Israelites were polytheistic and the ambition of Moses and the priests that followed were to promote Monotheism. Quite clearly they failed and that is given as the reason why the monotheistic God who lay claim over them sent them into slavery out of anger. This will therefore mean that the Jews would have imported various doctrines from their polytheistic neighbours including the idea of a God who has a wife and supra God with demi gods under him. In other words it does not take extensive travels and research to establish the "facts" of your work.

    THE BIBLE HAVE NEVER COVERED UP ON THE POLYTHEISTIC TENDENCIES OF THE JEWS.

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    Comment number 17.

    I also agree with Anton.

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    Comment number 18.

    Watching this programme today, what's really disappointing is not the content so much as the presentation. None of the so-called secrets presented are the earth-shattering revelation that they are presented to be. On a number of occasions, Stavrakopoulou talks about these discoveries 'shaking the basis of monotheism to its core'. This is bizarre. No intelligent religious believer understands their faith as having simply appeared out of the ether, complete and uninformed by other systems of belief. Of course, the scripture is obscure, and there are certainly suggestions of the struggle to bring tradition round to a monotheistic theology. Faith is a process, a journey, and it follows a winding and often circuitous root. This no more undermines the concept of monotheistic religion than saying that considered investigation undermines evolutionary theory because earlier academics understood something different.

    The real sadness is that this IS presented as revelation, and not only that but, of course, as cover-up. It's a cheap attack on religious belief without appealing to anything that actually undermines that. I would have been more than happy to see every aspect of this programme's research presented as intelligent, evidential archeology. Instead, it is presented as 'myth-busting' revelation and conspiracy theory. What a shame.

    She just said it again!! No, it doesn't undermine modern monotheism to its core! Get a grip.

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    Comment number 19.

    There has always been Good and Evil how people of different beliefs perceive this is dependant on different religions but no one knows the actual truth. Still remains that both men and women should have the same rights.

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    Comment number 20.

    I have watched this programme for the first time tonight. I have checked out some of the translation using an easily accessible interlinear bible website. I find the translations relating to El to be faulty as depicted by the presenter. I also find Asherah to be clearly translated as "a grove". God refers to "us" when referring to Himself, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. John 1 explains this (Jesus is "the Word"). We are also told in the Bible that we shall not be given in marriage when we are in heaven so why would God need to be married? I find this programme to be a very sad attempt to once again undermine the fact that this is still a Christian country, our laws being constructed from Christian truth, our Queen being Defender of the Faith (Christian) and the Church of England being Christian. I feel compelled to stand against the untruths, purported to be truth, contained in this programme.

 

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