Back in the 90s The History Channel had a semi-regular series of shows on called “Mysteries of the Bible.” The focus of the show was to either talk about sensational topics from the Bible and Christianity or to create them. The theology was largely liberal (denying the authenticity of the Bible, the divinity of Christ, etc…) and even when it did represent what the Bible said, often it was done in a way so over dramatized, so over the top, that it seemed to be mocking what it was saying. So it was that when I found out the History Channel was doing it again, this time calling the show “Bible Secrets Revealed”, I couldn’t help but be more than a little apprehensive.
Originally, my plan was to post a response to the information contained in the show that I disagreed with. However, since the first half hour alone left me with four pages of notes that when after I wrote my reactions would probably be 20 pages plus, I chose to avoid the TLDR tag and address the show itself. All of the issues of the show will be saved for future blogs and podcasts though you are welcome to send me questions about them at any time using the form to the right.
My first reaction to the show concerns the panel of experts they chose to provide commentary and explanation. Almost all of them were professors of religion or history at a major university in the US or England while few were listed as authors with no current teaching position, though I believe all of them had doctorates (including Jeffrey Geoghegan, author of The Bible for Dummies). Sounds like an impressive pool, right? Definitely. The problem I had with them is this: To a one, the experts were what is often called theologically liberal (one even offhandedly referred to himself in that manner). Why is that a problem? Those people considered liberal theologians,as I said above, are very often known by their stances on the divinity of Jesus (some deny he was God), sin and morality (They be “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules”), the exclusivity of Christianity (plurality is also a common teaching), relevancy of the Bible (they see it as a 2,000 year old book with little to no relevant teachings for us today) authorship (the Bible was probably/certainly not written when we think it was and by whom) and authenticity of the Bible (the premise of the whole show – to undermine that very thing).
Some of the names that jump out at me include Raza Aslan (an author and self-described New Testament historian who inexplicably claims there are no verifiable dates or events in the Bible and, he claims, a former Christian who converted to Islam and the subject of a viral video of his interview on Fox News), Candida Moss (recently in the spotlight for her assertions that Christianity did not exist before 73AD and all accounts otherwise including the persecution of Christians were lies), Elaine Pagels (an expert on the Gnostic gospels and “lost books” of the Bible which are starkly opposed to the teachings of the Bible), and Bart Ehrman (author and professor of religious studies at UNC-Chapel Hill and a former Christian, now agnostic or atheist and outspoken critic of the Bible). Not what you would call an impartial jury. I was surprised to not see Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crosson, or John Shelby Spong, all liberal theologians and regulars on the series in the 90s. Maybe they will be on future episodes.
People such as William Lane Craig, JP Moreland, Alex McFarland, Ken Samples, or the McDowells were absent as was the fundamentalist or evangelical view. Absolutely no contrary argument was given to any of the accusations. No efforts were made to provide even the appearance of an impartial academic review of the “evidence”.
Which brings me to my second point. There was no evidence given! A claim would be made by the narrator like “For centuries it was believed that the author of the first five books of the Bible was the prophet, Moses. But, in recent years, that belief has been questioned by most Biblical scholars.” Then they would cut to Robert G. Cargill (who, along with Ehrman says none of the Bible was written by whom we think it was) or some other “expert” who would make further statements allegedly designed to support the previous one, but would not give any evidence to support their claim, either. This same pattern was true throughout the show.
Third, the writers of the show sought to manipulate viewers using language such as the above mentioned “most Biblical scholars.” Do most Biblical scholars question if Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible? If the statement was meant as “I wonder if Moses wrote these,” then, yes. Nearly everyone is going to ask a question like that at some time. But if “question” was meant as doubt or disbelieve, then I would have to say no, most don’t. Not to mention the fact that who wrote it has nothing to do with the message contained therein and is not doctrinal in any way. But, by calling in to doubt what we have been told about who wrote the Bible (or how many wise men there were and when they visited Jesus – also in the Bible), it then becomes easier to manipulate further and bring to doubt the Bible in its entirety. By the way, the word “most” was used in this way only until the first commercial break. After that, it was not mentioned again (once the hook was set and doubt taking root in some of the viewers) and the word “many” was used instead to describe the amount of people who believe various theories.
Fourth, I thought this was supposed to be a show about the secrets of the Bible. That’s what the title claims. Yet, less than 1/3 of the show really dealt with the Bible and most of that was in the first 15 minutes. Outside of the translation of the word in Isaiah used to say Jesus was born of a virgin, the rest of the show dealt with non-Biblical teachings and church history.
And finally, nothing mentioned in this show was new. All of the arguments were in their show 20 years ago. Most of them have been around for decades (in the case of the Dead Sea Scrolls) if not centuries and millennia. If you have read more than one apologetics book, you have seen these arguments dealt with.
In short (too late?), the History Channel did a very poor job putting this show together. It was intellectually shallow with little or no evidence or argument being given in support of claims. The language was sensationalistic. I know they want to drive ratings, but if a show is being presented as an examination of the Bible, steering opinion through manipulative speech is uncalled for. And I can’t even call the show unbalanced. There was only one side. No counter argument was offered at all. And there was nothing new. Just old arguments re-hyped and digitally enhanced.
I would ask you to note, my review does not touch on if I agree or disagree with the claims. There were actually a few I agreed with, I just didn’t think they had any weight or value in the topic. This review was solely about the show and how their claims were presented. Since the “Mysteries of the Bible” show aired in the 90′s and through numerous other shows of a similar vein the History Channel has put on in the last two decades, I knew their treatment of the Bible and Christianity was liberal at best and antagonistic at worst. So, in a sense, the show met my every expectation. Unfortunately.