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NOVA - Nov. 18/08 - Bible Historically Unreliable

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« on: October 06, 2008, 10:31:01 am »

                                       PBS program claims Bible is historically unreliable

By Jesse C. Long Jr.
| for The Christian Chronicle
Oct. 6, 2008
Archaeology News

An upcoming “NOVA” documentary entitled “The Bible’s Buried Secrets,” to be broadcast
Nov. 18 on PBS, will challenge the integrity of the Bible and infuriate most Christians.

According to an early report, the existence of Abraham, the lack of evidence for the Exodus claim
that the Israelites believed that God had a wife and the assertion that the Israelites were actually Canaanites are a few of the issues raised by the program.

Paula Aspell, “NOVA’s” senior executive producer, describes the broadcast “as a comprehensive archaeological and literary investigation” that will feature “in-depth discussions with leading biblical scholars and archaeologists.”

While many will be taken aback by the challenge, opposition to the Bible — even under the guise of “science” — is nothing new.

What is somewhat new is the presentation of these ideas in such a prestigious program.

As a professor of archaeology and biblical studies, I would like to offer some direction to viewers who are unfamiliar with these issues and counter, at least in part, the claim that the Bible is historically unreliable.

The problem with “The Bible’s Buried Secrets” is that with its apparent emphasis on archaeology, its conclusions are presented as science. Archaeology is not an exact science. While scientific methodologies are used in survey and excavation, the data must be interpreted, from the pottery and soil layers to the synthesis of massive amounts of information.

Interpretation in archaeology opens the door for an interpreter’s attitude toward the Bible to influence conclusions. What sometimes masquerades as “science” in biblical studies may be a reflection of an interpreter’s own worldview and assumptions.

An earlier generation of archaeologists believed that archaeology proves the Bible to be true. Today,
a majority of archaeologists working in Palestine believes that archaeology proves that the Bible is historically unreliable. This change corresponds with a major archaeological discovery of the 20th century — the ambiguity in the archaeological record. How does one know, for example, if a Late
Bronze Age destruction layer was the result of Israelite conquest or some other cause?

Because of the ambiguity in the archaeological record, proving the Bible is not a legitimate enterprise. This is reinforced by the more general character of most archaeological finds, the soil layers, walls, etc., in contrast with the biblical record of specific people and events. Archaeological discoveries rarely relate directly to Bible events. If the subjective nature of the archaeological data means that one cannot prove the Bible (as many scholars espouse), however, the view promoted in the PBS program that archaeology “scientifically” disproves the Bible is unfounded.

Fundamental to the “scientific” picture of Israel presented in the PBS program is the view that Israelite identity and religion evolved over time. In contrast with the biblical account of God revealing himself to the descendants of Abraham, Israelite self-understanding and a belief in one God developed from a polytheistic world view into the religion that is reflected in the Old Testament. Most recently, this has been articulated in the argument that the Israelites were originally Canaanites, a pastoral-nomadic population and/or those on the periphery of Canaanite society who settled in the hill country of Palestine and over time become Israelites.

More than 300 small settlements that suddenly appear in the hill country during the period archaeologists refer to as Iron I (1200-1000 B.C.) represent this Canaanite population, or early Israel. While the remains from the hill country settlements are no different from Canaanite material culture elsewhere, there is one important difference. In the hill country settlements, there are no pig bones.

The almost complete absence of pig bones in the Iron I hill country settlements conjures up the food restrictions of the Mosaic Covenant (Lev. 11:1-47; Deut. 14:3-20) and indicates that these settlements represent early Israel. In contrast with the “scientific” view that the Israelites were originally Canaanites, the archaeological record corresponds with the biblical story. Early Israel kept covenant with Yahweh and observed the food restrictions of the Law of Moses — food restrictions that were designed to keep them distinct from the Canaanites!

While legitimate issues exist, the viewer of “The Bible’s Buried Secrets,” recognizing the limitations of archaeology, can be confident that there is more to the discussion than appears in the program and have confidence in the biblical story of Yahweh working in Israel’s history.

JESSE C. LONG JR. is co-director of the archaeological expedition to Khirbet Iskander, Jordan. He is dean of the College of Biblical Studies and Behavioral Sciences at Lubbock Christian University in Texas.

From the October 2008 print edition of the Christian Chronicle.
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« Reply #1 on: November 17, 2008, 09:14:35 am »

                                                  Supposes there's no Moses

Nov. 17,2008
A new, two-hour edition of "Nova" begins with the pro vocative words, "God is dead," but the documentary is anything but an obituary for the Almighty.

Nor does it seek to kill off the Old Testament, although those who believe deeply in the literal truth of this ancient text might conclude that the film's producers are attempting to do just that in exposing just how little evidence exists to support the viability of some of the Bible's best-known events and heroic figures.

Four years in the making, this sprawling, dense documentary - filmed in Israel, Egypt, Syria and the US - compares what is actually known by archaeologists about the ancient world to some of the Bible's most dramatic stories.

Perhaps not surprisingly to some, the archaeological facts outlined in "The Bible's Buried Secrets" fly in the face of some of the strongest assertions of the Bible.

Among the findings that are likely to produce angry reactions from literal believers in the Bible:

* Though the story of the Hebrew nation's exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moses is the most oft-mentioned incident in the Old Testament (according to the film), no real evidence of the event has ever been found.

* Archaeological evidence overwhelmingly supports a scenario in direct opposition to the biblical account of Joshua, the story in which the forerunners of the Jews - the Israelites - became established in Canaan only after they waged a triumphant campaign of conquest over key cities in the region (most famously Jericho) under Joshua's leadership.

Instead, says one of the archaeologists interviewed in the film, Israel Finkelstein, "In the text you have the story of the Israelites coming from outside, and then besieging the Canaanite cities, destroying them and then becoming a nation in the land of Canaan. Whereas archaeology tells us something which is the opposite. According to archaeology, the rise of early Israel is an outcome of the collapse of Canaanite society, not the reason for that collapse."

* The principle of monotheism (the worship of a single deity), established first by the Jews and later to form the foundation for both Christianity and Islam, took much longer to take root than most people assume. In fact, the archaeological discovery of troves of household idols in ancient Canaanite towns and cities proves that the Israelites practiced polytheism long after they had been thought to have discarded the practice.

But the news isn't all bad for Bible devotees. Sometimes, archaeology confirms aspects of the Old Testament, including discoveries reported in the film that support biblical descriptions of the extent of Solomon's Canaanite kingdom - one of the documentary's most fascinating portions.

The film also demonstrates how the existence of Solomon's father, King David - the most prominent figure of the Old Testament whose very existence has been doubted by some - has been proven by archaeology. The movie notes dramatically that David - legendary slayer of Goliath, creator of the kingdom of Israel, and composer of "lyric psalms still recited today" - "is the earliest biblical figure confirmed by archaeology to be historical," in the words of the film's narrator, actor Liev Schreiber.

But the aim of "The Bible's Buried Secrets" - produced, written and directed by Gary Glassman - was not to debunk the Bible. Instead, the film is an exploration of the ancient, real-life roots of monotheism, a concept that changed the world. The telling of this story, with its implications for the future of all mankind, is one of the most dramatic tales you'll see on television this season.

"Nova: The Bible's

Buried Secrets"

Tomorrow night at 8 on WNET/13
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« Reply #2 on: November 18, 2008, 08:49:45 am »

                                                    Discover Bible's secrets

Today on TV
David Zurawik | Z on TV
November 18, 2008

The ratings success of the venerable CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes in recent weeks brings to mind another storied TV franchise, Nova, the science series now in its 35th season on PBS and still going strong.

To see how strong, spend a couple of hours tonight with The Bible's Buried Secrets, a compelling documentary that combines literary criticism, archaeological discovery, scientific testing and historiography to get at the origins of the Hebrew Bible and the roots of religion as we know it today.

This film is an epic undertaking. Passage after passage in the Bible is tested against the latest archaeological findings, scientific analysis of artifacts and analysis by the leading scholars in the field. (Included in that group is P. Kyle McCarter, professor of biblical and Near Eastern studies at the Johns Hopkins University.)

Don't let any preconceptions you might have about science programs or studies of the Bible keep you from watching. The Bible's Buried Secrets is a detective story driven by a narrative of discovery as powerful as anything you'll find across the prime-time landscape tonight.

(8 p.m., MPT-Channels 22 and 67) *** 1/2
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« Reply #3 on: November 18, 2008, 08:53:29 am »

                                Jonathan Storm: 'Nova' digs into the Old Testament

By Jonathan Storm
Television Critic
Nov. 18, 2008

Now that politics has died down, tonight's two-hour Nova goes into that other dinner-party no-no: religion. "The Bible's Buried Secrets" (WHYY TV12, 8 p.m.) merges science with scripture in an attempt to find the roots of Judaism, and hence, Christianity and Islam.
Filled with impressive graphics, including a virtual Bible stuffed with classic religious paintings, the show attempts to explain how the Old Testament came about and how the Israelites pioneered the concept of a single god.

"The Bible's Buried Secrets" meticulously - sometimes drily, despite its elaborate reenactments - correlates real, historical events, as recorded by age-old structures and inscriptions unearthed in the Middle East, with people and events mentioned in the Bible.

Millions who believe that the Bible is the word of God (even if it does have plenty of internal contradictions) won't care for the show at all.

"This is not about faith," William G. Dever, Arizona University professor emeritus of Near Eastern archaeology and anthropology, said at last summer's meeting of the nation's TV critics in Los Angeles. "It's about history or the lack of history in the Bible. It's a shocking film in many ways, but it's truth."

Well - even the scientists in the show disagree about some things.

Using a standard measurement system, archaeologist Eilat Mazar figures she's found David's mighty palace on a hill in Jerusalem.

But using carbon-14 dating on olive pits found at the site, nuclear physicist Elisabetta Boaretto says
the dug-up structures were actually built 75 years after David died. That indicates David himself was not a king of kings, but merely some minor chieftain in charge of a Jerusalem that was little more than
a backwater cow town. Like Wyatt Earp or George Armstrong Custer, he might have gotten really good press at a later date.

"He or she who decides to ignore these results," says another archaeologist, "I treat them as if arguing that the Earth is flat, and I cannot argue anymore."

Nova has spent 35 years trying to teach people more about science and scientists, and this little set-to confirms one widely held conception - that scientists can be crusty and often socially inappropriate, even if most of them here seem as friendly as anybody else.

"The Bible's Buried Secrets" has many revelations about the book's creation. A couple of the major ones:

The Israelites were not one people, but folks from many backgrounds who came together from many backgrounds, seeking freedom and telling fables (Adam and Eve, the Red Sea parting, Noah's ark) to help form a collective identity.

As they started to include factual history in their sacred texts, they continued to worship many gods
for hundreds of years, before a cataclysm forced them to reconsider their religious practices and hew
to the dictum that there is only one god.

Interspersed is the usual insider Nova material showing scientists at work. It never ceases to amaze how punctilious they are, how they can see beyond the obvious.

And just because you don't believe that God wrote the Bible doesn't mean you have to give up altogether on the prospect of the divine.

Is it just coincidence that so many significant discoveries about the origins of the Bible came at the very end of a long day's digging, or on the last day of a season spent investigating some seemingly unimportant site, or, in the case of the oldest known biblical writings, when a bored, 13-year-old assistant was idly tapping a hammer on the floor of an empty cave?
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