• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    BBC2's The Bible's Buried Secrets

    I'd somehow not really caught on that there was about to be a new Bible related documentary being broadcast on BBC2, despite reading Doug Chaplin's two posts and even commenting on one of them. I should also point out that this is not simply a re-hashed version of 2008's PBS documentary of the same name. Here's my review

    The Bible's Buried Secrets is the latest in a long line of modern BBC documentaries about the Bible going back to Son of God a decade ago. Like the 2001 series The Bible's Buried Secrets has been produced by Jean-Claude Bragard who also worked on The Miracles of Jesus, Moses and Mary.

    This series starts with David and Solomon and presenter Francesca Stavrakopoulou starts off by asking "Can we even talk about a historical David at all?" There are a few introductory preview clips before Stavrakopoulou sums up what the programme will be about. "Is the biblical account of King David true, and what are the consequences if it isn't?"

    As usual with this type of documentary the presenter tours round the relevant locations switching between speaking to experts and monologuing into the camera. Thankfully though Stavrakopoulou avoids the all too typical manner of presenting the programme as if she hadn't a clue about what she's just been told. Just as well given Charlie Brooker scathing dismantling of the modern day documentary in last Tuesday's final instalment of "How TV Ruined Your Life". Instead she played it smart, allowing the archaeologists to speak for themselves and then discretely offering her disagreements once they were off camera.

    Such an approach typifies the technical quality of the programme. It was nicely shot, clearly argued and well structured, working through the different historical layers of archaeologists before Stavrakopoulou delivered her own conclusion.

    Stavrakopoulou's journey starts in Gath in conversation with Aren Maeir. The Philistines he tells us weren't barbarians they were actually very cultured and we have found remains of their cities. If the Bible's history is correct then we would expect similar finds in Israel.

    This is followed by a summary of the work of Yigael Yadin whose work in the middle of the last century concluded that biblical archaeology confirms the narratives found in the Hebrew Bible. Yet whilst Yadin's view were dominant going into the 1970s, his work was eventually re-evaluated, and shown to be rather limited. Israel Finkelstein takes up the story from there. Yadin's finds were significantly later than he calculated. The film rather skims over things here, and it leaves me with more questions than answers, which I suspect might pass many other viewers by.

    Stavrakopoulou alternates between experts in and out of agreement with a simple reading of the texts. After Finklestein comes Yosef Garfinkel at Khirbet Qeiyafa which he describes as "biblical Pompeii". The large city gates are an indicator of some form of semi-complex statehood. But there are questions about the dating and so Stavrakopoulou investigates the evidence that it was Omri, not David, who was responsible for much of the building in the region from that time. This section includes discussion of the Tel Dan Stele which refers to the "house of David" but she remains rather sceptical.

    After that diversion it's back to Jerusalem where Doron Spielman claims to have found David's fortress after taking a closer look at 2 Samuel 5:17. Finkelstein dismisses Spielman's whole approach but doesn't offer a great deal of evidence to explain why the site definitely isn't related to David.

    Stavrakopoulou's penultimate interview is with Baruch Halpern. Halpern is clearly of great importance. Not only does he get to have a nice meal at the King David Hotel (geddit?) rather than having to explain his theories in a dusty archaeological site, but we also see Stavrakopoulou getting dolled up beforehand. It's the most disappointing moment in the whole programme and undermining her credibility as a scholar. We never saw Robert Beckford doing his hair or Jeremy Bowen trimming his moustache, so why this? We get that Stavrakopoulou is far better looking than the average Biblical Scholar; there's really no need to show us her doing her make-up. Doing so just gives further support to what many will have suspected: that she was chosen to front the series primarily because she's good looking. It's a shame to undermine her academic intelligence and skills as a presenter in such a, well, pre-historic fashion.

    That said, interviewing Halpern inside does make a modicum of sense, as he discusses how to read the texts rather than simply deal with the archaeological evidence in a black and white fashion. Halpern's argument is that the type of warts-and-all material we have on David seems unlikely to be entirely fabricated. It's unlikely that someone would make a mythical character quite so flawed.

    Ultimately things conclude rather disappointingly. Stavrakopoulou dismisses Halpern's theories, preferring to advance her own. The Mesha Stele tells us about the exploits of the Israelite king Omri, almost entirely ignored by the biblical authors. It was he, not David, that expanded the kingdom and built many of the structures we find in Northern Israel (though the identity of builder of the Jerusalem structures is not explained). It was the southern nation (Judah) that wrote the history and they largely expunged the prowess of Omri and invented a series of myths about their own great, expansionist king - David. As a theory it's not entirely satisfying to me. Why was the builder of Jerusalem's fort not named in the Bible and elevated to mythical status? Isn't it likely that the now carbon dated seeds found at one of the structures simply show that the site was still in use a century or so later?

    This being the BBC things have to end on an ambiguous note, and as usual there are comments (this time from Yonathan Mizrachi) about how the archaeological evidence or lack thereof shouldn't be used to stake a political claim for the land and Stavrakopoulou concludes rather weakly that what's important is that its the "meaning of the story that has proved so resilient" and so on. It feels very token, somewhat like the unconvincing endings to various production code era Hitchcock films.

    Whilst, based on the evidence I've seen here, I disagree with the film's conclusions, it's nevertheless one of the better made and better presented religious documentaries I've seen in recent years, and, aside from that one particular disappointing moment it respects its audience and doesn't talk down to them, covering a good deal of ground in just under an hour. Next week Stavrakopoulou will explore the possibility the God may have been assigned a wife.

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    • At 10:23 pm, March 16, 2011, Anonymous Doug Chaplin said…

      Thanks, Matt. I think that covers it very fairly. Mind you, I have to say that fundamentally, despite the technical proficiency, I found it really rather boring

    • At 10:23 am, March 18, 2011, OpenID willcookson said…

      Good review Matt. I also thought it was rather disappointing. It did however get me reading an article by Israel Finkelstein whio is portrayed as a biblical minimalist (as is Stavrakopoulou) but refers to himself as a centralist! It was interesting and obviously better than the programme.
      Still, like yourself, likely to review the next two episodes (maybe I'll read your review first!!)

    • At 10:52 am, March 18, 2011, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks Will - I've added your review to the Bible Films facebook site.

      Doug had't really found it boring, but then I was trying to part write my review as I was watching it!


    • At 10:02 pm, March 31, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      The Garden of Eden has been found in the Rachaiya Basin, Southern Lebanon by exploration geologist and multi disciplined researcher Christian O'Brien CBE, who recorded the facts on this discovery in his book, co-authored with his wife Barbara Joy, the Genius of the Few in 1984.

      Up to date translations of Genesis, the Books of Enoch and the crucial Kharsag cuneiform records from the Nippur library, re-write our secular history without religious bias.

      A raft of supporting evidence is available, which features this site as the source of the domestication of animals and crops (plus technology) from 9,400 BC, at the start of the Holocene warming, following the Great Younger Dryas cataclysm generated ice age. Together with site survey records, photographs, and a video presentation, much more is available on the Golden Age Project website.

      An, the leader of the small advanced group who re-started agriculture and civilised living following this global catastrophe, was later deified as the earliest monotheistic God. Yahweh in fact translates as leader of this group, in Hebrew described as the Elohim. The Qur'an translates as the readings and recitations of An, although the contents were recorded some 9,800 years later.

      An's daughter Ninkharsag was the governor of the research establishment based on irrigation agriculture, and later described as the Goddess of Irrigation (or Ceres). Her statue was the central feature in the 200 acre administrative centre of Mari (another name for Ninkharsag) on the Euphrates. On the documentary Dr Francesca came close to this important information and should have done her homework on this crucial subject, which identifies Ninkharsag, wife of Enlil, as the origin of the Mother Goddess, upon whom Ashera was much later based. Male and female leaders of communities were described as Yahweh and Ashera. Ashera could be wife or consort, and this formed the basis of the equal male and female administrative roles of Mayor and Mayoress, which still survives, but carrying the religious bias or dogma against the role of women.

      Our first Laws were the Edicts of An and Enlil (El Shaddai or El Elyon) and our first Encyclopaedia of Astronomy was Enuma An and Enlil, factors which would have been well known and understood by Abraham of Ur.

    • At 12:13 pm, April 05, 2011, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks for that extra information.



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