NOVA: "The Bible's Buried Secrets"

Despite a few quibbles, NOVA's documentary is one of the best in recent memory.

The best part is that it outlined the modern critical view well. I am sure, however, that fundamentalists will be fuming about it, and saying that they were not given equal time. The program was heavily laden with Harvard professors and alumni (that is bad for Yale,I suppose). I do have some quibbles, and I will briefly outline a few of them here.

1. The program left the impression that Dever thinks that the gates at Gezer, Hazor, and Megiddo were ALL from the Solomonic period. The program did show Dever clearly adhering to a Solomonic date for the Gezer gate, but he has retreated in print from a Solomonic date for the gates at Hazor and Megiddo. For example, Dever stated as follows:

“Thus, I believe that while the Hazor and Megiddo gates might turn out to be early 9th century, the Gezer gate will likely remain well fixed in the 10th century BCE.”

SOURCE: William G. Dever, “Some Methodological Reflections on Chronology and History-Writing.” In The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating: Archaeology, Text and Science, edited by Thomas E. Levy and Thomas Higham, 413–21. London: Equinox, 2006) p. 419.

So, unless Dever has retreated from this retreat, I think the impression left by NOVA was misleading.

2. The problems of interpreting the Tel Dan inscription were not sufficiently discussed. It would take only a sentence to say that not all scholars agree on the reading of “the house of David” in that inscription. Even if that reading were correct, it would prove no more about the existence of David than inscriptions (e.g., the Modena inscription) mentioning “King Arthur” would prove about the existence of Arthur. The Tel Dan Inscription does not date to the time of David, in any case.

3. The Stele of Merneptah (ca. 1208 BCE) which contains the earliest known reference to an entity called “Israel,” is portrayed as favoring a location for Israel in the Central Highlands. However, Anson Rainey, a very respected biblical geographer, believes that the location should be placed east of the Jordan River.

4. Too much was made about the innovations in “justice” brought by the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments do not care more about “justice” than many other ancient law codes. As it is, the Ten Commandments can be seen as endorsing the destruction of religious pluralism (“no other gods before me”), which we would not necessarily regard as being “just" to those who worship gods other than Yahweh. In general, the program still shows a religionist bias insofar as we are supposed to view the Bible as a great gift to civilization.

The program will be discussed at the upcoming Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston this weekend. I may have more comments on the program after that.