Monday, November 1, 2010

The Bible's Buried Secrets

image source and NOVA info site about the film

In this landmark special, NOVA takes viewers on a fascinating scientific journey that began 3,000 years ago and continues today. The film presents the latest archeological scholarship from the Holy Land to explore the beginnings of modern religion and the origins of the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament.

This archeological detective story tackles some of the biggest questions in biblical studies: Where did the ancient Israelites come from? Who wrote the Bible, when, and why? How did the worship of one God—the foundation of modern Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—emerge?

"'The Bible's Buried Secrets' is both a scientific detective story and dramatic adventure that digs deeply into the Bible and the history of the ancient Israelites through the archeological artifacts they left behind," said Paula S. Apsell, NOVA Senior Executive Producer.

NOVA travels to several excavations of ancient cities in the Near East, filming newly discovered remains and interviewing leading archeologists and biblical scholars. These in-depth interviews—along with historic works of art, ancient artifacts, animations of biblical passages and scenes, and dramatic recreations—provide the latest account of the ancient Israelites and how they found their one God, the God not only of modern Judaism, but also of Christianity and Islam. [Read related expert interviews online, including Writers of the Bible, Moses and the Exodus, The Foundation of Judaism, and Archeology of the Hebrew Bible.]

"To this day, the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, is a sacred text for more than three billion people throughout the world," said Gary Glassman, the program's writer, producer, and director. "The film's international team of archeologists and scholars researches biblical texts and examines artifacts and ancient manuscripts to illuminate how the concept of one God emerged to later form the foundation of the three great monotheistic religions."

The film's investigation of biblical archeology reveals provocative new insights. One vital clue to the past is an inscription discovered at Tel Dan in Israel that refers to the "House of David"—the first text outside the Bible to confirm that King David actually existed. Another important find is a carved Hebrew alphabet—in fact, the earliest complete Hebrew alphabet—at Tel Zayit, an excavation site southwest of Jerusalem. This alphabet suggests the existence of a literate royal court at the time of David and Solomon, the 10th century B.C., raising the possibility that scribes could have written portions of the Hebrew Bible at that time. [Explore a time line of Archeological Evidence, including these and other finds.]

Perhaps most extraordinary, the discovery of pagan idols at dozens of archeological sites throughout biblical Israel challenges old assumptions about the rise of monotheism. The idols prove that some ancient Israelites continued to practice polytheism until the time of the Babylonian Exile around 586 B.C., centuries later than previously thought.

Filmed on location throughout the Middle East, the film transports viewers into the world of the Old Testament through guided explorations of ancient ruins and advanced digital animation techniques, which bring sacred places, including the long-lost Temple of Solomon, to life. As part of the project, NOVA commissioned a hand-crafted, illustrated Bible—a bound collection of artwork featuring images of ancient frescoes, illuminated medieval manuscripts, and paintings by European masters. These striking visuals evoke memorable scenes from biblical literature, such as God speaking to Moses from the burning bush and David as he slays the giant Philistine warrior, Goliath.

According to Apsell, "In addition to exploring the historical authenticity of the biblical narrative, this powerful intersection of science, scholarship, and scripture also provides a unique insight into the deeper meaning of biblical texts and their continuing resonance through the centuries."

1/13 The Bible's Buried Secrets (NOVA PBS) "Merneptah Stele"
Near the banks of the Nile in southern Egypt, in 1896, archeologist Flinders Petrie unearths an Egyptian stone monument containing the first mention of a people named Israel.

2/13 The Bible's Buried Secrets "Who Wrote the Bible?"
Traditional beliefs hold that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, but scholars today identify the hand of at least four different groups of scribes writing over several hundred years.

3/13 The Bible's Buried Secrets "The Exodus"
Archeologists have not yet found evidence of the mass migration described in the book of Exodus, but its message, an inspiring theme of freedom, remains powerful to this day.

4/13 The Bible's Buried Secrets "The Canaanite Cities"
Following the Exodus, the Bible says that a great warrior, Joshua, leads the Israelites into the Promised Land with a blitzkrieg military campaign. Does archeology back up this claim?

5/13 The Bible's Buried Secrets "Israelite Origins"
A radical new theory suggests that tribes of serfs, slaves, and commoners abandon the old Canaanite city-states and eventually emerge in a new place as a new people—the Israelites.

6/13 The Bible's Buried Secrets "The Search for YHWH"
The Israelites, a mixed multitude of disenfranchised people, are bound together by a vision of freedom. However, artifacts suggest that their monotheistic embrace of a single God is not immediate.

7/13 The Bible's Buried Secrets "House of David"
Of all the names in the Hebrew Bible, none appears more frequently than David. The earliest biblical figure confirmed by archeology to be historical, he likely lived around 1000 B.C.

8/13 The Bible's Buried Secrets "Archeological Methods"
In the past, biblical archeologists dated ruins based on the pottery they found associated with those ruins. Today, there is a scientific method to anchor pottery to firm dates—radiocarbon dating.

9/13 The Bible's Buried Secrets "Architectural Evidence"
The remains of what may be King Solomon's gates, mentioned in the Bible, offer evidence of a united Israelite kingdom.

10/13 The Bible's Buried Secrets "Ideas About Worship"
Solomon builds a great Temple where the Israelites practice animal sacrifice and pay tribute to their God, but many people continue to worship pagan idols.

11/13 The Bible's Buried Secrets "Birth of Judaism"
In 586 B.C. the Babylonians invade Israel, destroying Jerusalem and the Temple and creating a theological crisis. In exile, the ancient Israelite cult is transformed into the modern religion of Judaism.

12/13 The Bible's Buried Secrets "Sacred Scrolls"
A team led by Gabriel Barkay discovers the Silver Scrolls, which predate the earliest Dead Sea Scrolls by 400 years. The find confirms that at least some verses of the Hebrew Bible were written down by the 7th century B.C.

13/13 The Bible's Buried Secrets "The Bible Today"
At the intersection of science and scripture is a story that began over 3,000 years ago and continues to this day.


  1. I haven't had time to watch the vids yet, but I will certainly find the time. Scrolling through the intros to each segment, it seems to me that the title is misleading. The film appears to be contradicting the Bible, or at least conventional interpretations of it. It could almost be called "Secrets the Bible Doesn't Tell Us".

    A small point: I don't think that radiocarbon dating would be much use with pottery. The modern technique for dating pottery is to measure its thermoluminescence, which will give a date for when the pot was fired. However, a caveat: Who's Fooling Who? suggests a weakness in this technique.