Bible’s buried secrets?

This isn’t a proper post, but as there’s been a lot of interest around the recent TV series ‘Bible’s Buried Secrets’ presented by Francesca Stavrakopoulou I thought I’d put you in the way of a good page from someone else’s blog.

I didn’t watch the series and from all the write-ups I don’t feel like I missed much – mainly the usual false dichotomy between ‘unthinking Christians with their blind faith in non-evidence-based nonsense’ versus ‘sceptical academics with their incisive reason destroying long-cherished religious notions’. Stifles yawn.

Anyway, ‘thinking’ Anglican minister Ian Paul has written some very interesting and considered responses to the series in his blog Psephizo and here’s his discussion of the third programme, ‘Bible’s Buried Secrets’ iii: planting ideas in Eden?. Enjoy.


Okay, persuaded by Terry I’ve now watched the whole of the third programme (see comment here) and part of the first. To be honest I’m a bit underwhelmed thus far, and I don’t really have much to add to Ian Paul’s fairly comprehensive response. I don’t take major issue with Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s research – she clearly knows her stuff – it’s just that I think she draws somewhat unwarranted and off-beam conclusions from fairly equivocal pieces of evidence.


About TheEvangelicalLiberal

Aka Harvey Edser. I'm a web editor, worship leader, wannabe writer, very amateur composer and highly unqualified armchair theologian. My heroes include C.S. Lewis and Homer Simpson.
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9 Responses to Bible’s buried secrets?

  1. Terry says:

    I had a skim through Ian’s posts – a skim, I emphasise, as I don’t have time to read them too attentively. At least, not today!

    I didn’t think the series was too bad. I think the main problem was that Francesca appeared to suppose that she was coming up with ideas nobody had ever thought of before. But that’s clearly not true.

    As you’ll know from my own research, I’m a big advocate of temple connections in Eden, and so nothing that she said in the final programme was particularly revolutionary. In fact, Francesca didn’t go far enough – she only looked at the inspiration for the story (which I found very interesting and plausible) but offered nothing about its eventual canonical placement. If it was about the fall of Jerusalem, why did the account’s editors position it at the beginning of a book about origins? Why did they take an account of something that happened in history and place it in an account of primal history (so to speak)? There was a lot Francesca could have said but chose not to.

    But I’m also wondering how much she was tied by BBC policies in the making of her programme. Ever since the news story about the lead codices (which I fell for), I’m wondering how much of an agenda the Beeb has in producing these programmes.


    • Okay, might try and catch it on iPlayer if it’s still available. I’m just a bit bored with religious programmes that claim to reveal fascinating new insights that most people with a passing interest in the subject knew before, and that fail to present their findings in any kind of nuanced or balanced way.


  2. Terry says:

    Given her teaching position, I think it’s very unlikely that Francesca doesn’t know her stuff; you don’t get a post somewhere like Exeter unless you’re extremely competent. I dare say you can trust the quality of her scholarship, even if you disagree with her polemic or are irritated by her tone.


    • Oh, I’ve no doubt she knows her stuff – it’s just that I’m not convinced she had anything hugely new to offer in this series, and I’d rather get my information from a more nuanced/balanced source than some intentionally controversial TV programmes. And to be honest, I’m considerably more interested in anything Tom Wright has to say, even if he’s not so pulchritudinous.


  3. Terry says:

    Thing is, I think the documentaries were nuanced; certainly, they encouraged the viewer to think through the issues perhaps more than a less intentionally provocative programme would – or could – have done. And I dare say that the average Christian in the pew wouldn’t even know that the garden of Eden story could have been prompted by the fall of Jerusalem. So I do think these three documentaries are well worth watching, even if they are flawed in a number of ways.


    • Okay, that’s interesting – so far you seem to be one of the few Christian commentators who thinks the programmes were nuanced. Looks like I’ll have to watch one for myself and make my own mind up – how very inconvenient! 😉

      I’m still not sure what substantial difference it makes to anything if the Eden Story was inspired by the Fall of Jerusalem, but I guess it’s interesting at least.


  4. Terry says:

    Eden/fall of Jerusalem parallels aside, I think the idea that Eden is somehow connected with the temple (or vice versa) has important implications for how we understand the world. Francesca didn’t bring this out, focussing as she did on Adam being a kingly figure (she never stated which king, incidentally), but if Eden is somehow a temple or a sacred space, then Adam – or humanity – is more a priest than a king, which means that the world has a necessarily religious (or better, cultic) dimension.

    Interestingly, I was surprised that Francesca said she thought that Eden really did exist, because I don’t!


  5. johnm55 says:

    The programmes are still available on iPlayer, I’ve just finished watching the last of them. I found them reasonably interesting. But basically all they are saying is:

    that the archaeology doesn’t necessarily agree with the bible.
    David may be as mythical as King Arthur.
    The early Jews were probably polytheists.
    The Hebrew bible was almost definitely written or at least heavily edited to support the rulers of Judah in the 6th c BCE eg 2 Kings 22 – King Josiah Finds the Book of the Law.
    The Eden myth is probably linked to the fall of Judah and the Babylonian exile and that Eden may have been the Temple

    I didn’t find anything too controversial, but the I don’t have a vested interest in a particular interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. I wasn’t totally convinced by some of her arguments especially on Eden actually being the Temple. I personally think that it was just a ‘golden age’ myth.
    I personally found the first of the series on the historicity or otherwise of David to be the most interesting.


  6. Sadly the programmes have vanished from iPlayer now, but until the BBC finds them and removes them you can still get them in chunks on YouTube, e.g. Ep. 1: Did King David’s empire exist?. I’ve now watched the Eden programme and found it mildly interesting, and not totally unnuanced – but I can’t say much more for it than that.

    As with all such programmes, I felt she could have made all her genuinely interesting points in about 10 minutes and on 1/50th of the budget without any real loss in value (that’s not a criticism of Francesca, just the format).

    It did feel to me a bit like she was setting up some obvious straw men (creationists and biblical literalists), and also that she was drawing some pretty debatable conclusions from her more interesting findings – e.g. that human nature isn’t fundamentally flawed because Adam and Eve weren’t the progenitors of mankind. So while there were definitely some good points buried in the programme, the overall effect was a bit uneven for me. I certainly didn’t come away from it feeling like she’d taught me anything profoundly new that would have a deep impact on my understanding of God or the Bible.


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