Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thoughts on "The Bible's Buried Secrets'

The NOVA documentary "The Bible's Buried Secrets" aired tonight on PBS. If you missed it, Jim West has "live blogged" the program and has a full summary here.  Overall, I found it to be more even-handed with the evidence for Israel's origins and the formation of the Hebrew Bible than most "Secrets of the Bible" type TV programs usually are. I was a bit disappointed with the way some things were grossly oversimplified, but I guess that's understandable. There's only so much time to devote to each piece of evidence.

Contrary to Jim's contention that they tended to be more maximalist in interpretation, I felt that they waffled somewhat back and forth. The last segment on the writing of the Bible during the Exile in Babylon had more minimalist tendencies and was perhaps the most oversimplified. The claim of P being written and edited during the exile as extensively as they depicted is problematic in my view because of the affinities between P and Ezekiel. I think the problem was that they were trying to tell a story about who wrote the Bible and why, but the evidence is too complex to boil it down to a simple chain of events. Some of their segues were rather humorous, too, if you're familiar with the evidence.  For example, the voiceover asks when did they start writing the Bible and then cuts to Ron Tappy and the Tell Zayit inscription that has absolutely nothing to do with the question of when the Bible was written.

In short, the program is worthwhile as long as it is viewed with the understanding that it presents only one version of the story. Remember that all of this evidence doesn't automatically tell us anything. Everything must be interpreted, and there is often more than one viable option for interpretation. This is perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the program - presenting too much speculation as agreed-upon fact.


  1. I was amazed to see the depth of eisegesis they were able to extrapolate from their artifacts. I did miss the first 15 min. but I can't believe that they would have shown much then?
    In any case, the dates and the stories would have seemed to have matched up better had the 'BC' been changed to 'AD'.

  2. You didn't miss much in the first 15 min. It was mostly intro stuff that was repeated at the end.

    Unfortunately, a certain amount of eisegesis is present in all interpretations. Some parts were worse than others for the level of speculation they were trying to pass off as fact.

    I have to confess that I have no idea what you're trying to say with "the dates and stories would have seemed to have matched up better had the 'BC' been changed to 'AD'." The evidence they were dealing with in the program was virtually all BC.