Part 2 of BBC2's The Bible's Buried Secrets - Did God Have a Wife? didn't just resort to such melodramatic terminology in its opening abstract, but seasoned its entire run-time with such overblown metaphors. Time and again presenter Dr. Francesca Stavrakopoulou told us that what she was telling us "rocks [monotheism] to its core", is "the biggest secret of all" one that "shakes the very heart of monotheism" and "rocks the foundation of modern monotheism".
The source of all this rocking and shaking is Stavrakopoulou's revelation that Israel was not always monotheistic. Whilst this may shake some fundamentalists and those who have only paid passing attention to their Hebrew Bible, such a conclusion is the only reasonable reading of the books of 1 and 2 Kings, not to mention Judges, Samuel, Chronicles and the prophets. Israel and Judah were frequently being chastised for worshipping other Gods. There's less unity behind Stavrakopoulou's claim that monotheism didn't emerge until the Jewish exile in Babylon, but the evidence to support such a claim is relatively thin. The odd archaeological find showing "God's wife" only proves that some of the Israelites worshipped a female deity. It hardly proves that this was the belief of the entire nation, nor even a significant percentage.
Part of the problems here seem to come from a implied theory that the various parts of the Hebrew Bible present a united front. There are of course many who would hold to such a theory overall, but few who really knew the subject would insist that "the story the Bible tells us" is of a nation who were monotheistic from God's very first words to Abraham, apart from "occasional lapses".
In reality, the Bible accuses the northern kingdom (Israel) of being almost entirely idolatrous from the moment Solomon's Empire divided. What's strange about this presentation is that despite Stavrakopoulou explaining in the previous programme about the split between Judah in the South and Israel in the north, and about how Jewish writers may have attempted to smear their rivals in the north, none of this gets a look in. Israel is presented in the documentary as if it were a united nation from the time of Abraham to the exile. Yet Israel no longer even existed by the time of the latter event.
The experts were also a little disappointing this time around. In the traditional corner was Rabbi Ken Spiro, who is heard saying that his message is "not PC" before he has even been introduced. He pops up again and again to presumably to provide a bit of balance, but the excerpts included don't really present him as having credible reasons for his disagreement. There's also a couple of brief clips of Walter Moberly, who doesn't say a great deal, and of Islamic scholar Muhsin Yusuf in the programme's brief, and seemingly token, mention of Islamic monotheism. And there are also brief words from Judith Hadley and Ze'er Meshel. But the main scholarly contribution is from Herbert Niehr who is agrees with Stavrakopoulou to such an extent that at times they seem almost like an unlikely double act.
That's not to say that the programme was not interesting. I picked up several things that I had not known before from the nature of the archaeological artefacts at Ugarit to the pottery finds linking Yahweh and Asherah, though the latter didn't really strike me as "the most important artefact in the history of God". And it was good to see that the programme had made a late correction to incorporate the news that this once lost piece of pottery looks to have re-emerged.
As with the first instalment the technical quality of the documentary was very good: nice images, reasonably good pacing and catching an archaeological dig as they uncovered something must have been particularly pleasing. But the arguments here are just far too overblown so that rather than developing the understanding of a wide range of people, both believers and sceptics, the film is so couched in melodramatic language that only DanBrown-o-phile conspiracists will take its information seriously.
Labels: Bible's Buried Secrets