I stress my personal enjoyment of the programme because for someone a little bored of the conventional takes on these characters, and comfortable with the possibility of bias in the biblical text, it was nice to have something a bit more interesting to think on. The attempted redemption of Jezebel for example is something I'm still thinking about and weighing even a few days later. And it was interesting to hear that some parts of Jewish tradition, and I stress the some, consider the woman of Genesis 1 not to be Eve but a different woman entirely, Lilith.
The potential problem with all this is, I think, that this wasn't just a programme made for me and my ilk, but a broadcast programme on a national TV channel. Biblical literacy is low enough amongst the church, let alone the general populace, and I guess I'm a little uncomfortable with the weight given to some of these more obscure theories. And, as Doug Chaplin points out, it's strange that Ruth and Esther didn't get talked about, though sparing us another alternative take on Mary Magdalene was definitely a smart move.
Having said all that, perhaps this isn't really too much of a problem; after all how many people are really going to turn to Channel 4 expecting a traditional take on anything? In fact, Channel 4 has done so many religious history programmes in this demythologising style that the majority of those tuning in are perhaps likely to be those open to alternative takes on these stories.
What I did appreciate about the programme was the way it stuck to being about biblical history. Whereas the previous three programmes had used the Bible as a springboard for exploring their own agendas, this one (whilst undoubtedly still driven by Hughes's agenda) felt like it stuck closely to its core subject matter. Perhaps this is because Hughes is a historian, hence her agenda is a re-reading of the history advertised in the programme's title. There's seemingly no change of gears when her agenda comes to the fore. In contrast, Widdecombe is a law maker, once she gets onto her own agenda it is far more obvious.
The other key strength of the programme was that Hughes came at it with a conviction that the Bible does, actually, indicate the strength of some of its heroines. Augustine may have obscured Eve, but the same church elevated Mary. Jezebel may be castigated for her show of female strength, but Deborah is praised for it. Bathsheba's reputation may only be slightly mitigated once we understand her context, but Lydia's is clearly strengthened once we understand hers.
So all in all, whilst I have a few qualms about the programme's balance, it was certainly the strongest entry so far, and one which I'd like to watch again to pick up some of the subtleties of what was said. Next week Gerry Adams will launch the series' New Testament section with a look at Jesus. I'll be reviewing that one fairly soon afterwards at rejesus.co.uk where I currently have a piece previewing the Adams episode.