Thursday, March 14, 2013

TV Bible Series Perpetuates Mythology

Scene from The Bible
A lot of people have been watching the new miniseries on the Bible.  The first episode of the 10-part series drew 13.1 million viewers.  That was the most people to watch a telecast this year, but hardly a record.  More people saw Roots, the last episode of MASH and a host of other programs over the years, but it’s still a good result.

They got to see Noah’s Ark, Abraham and Moses.  Reviewers said the depictions were very realistic.

How could anyone know that?

Historians don’t.  They agree there’s nothing historically accurate in the Bible until the time of David.  He doesn’t show up until Episode 2 in this series.

Artist's view of the famous writing
No one dismisses biblical history lightly.  After all, billions of people throughout history have accepted the stories as accurate re-tellings of the distant past.  However, starting in the 1700s, the Bible has been thoroughly studied from an historical perspective and -- as the handwriting on the wall noted in another context -- “found wanting.”

The first studies looked at the texts.  Jean Astruc, a physician in 1700s France, figured out that the Old Testament had at least four different books that had been tied together by later editors.  He identified them as J, E, P and D.  J stood for Jehovah (the misspelling of Yahweh), the god cited in that portion; E for Elohim, the god of a second unit; P for priestly codes; and D for Deuteronomy.  

The JEPD theory has stood up to all studies and has helped explain duplicate stories of creation, Noah’s flood, Jacob’s dual names and David’s ascendancy etc..  Multiple ideas were simply combined.  
In addition, the research into word choice showed how these various tales were merged over time to create, for example, the account of Joseph being sold into slavery and then rising to power in Egypt. 

Early documents were uncovered that contained stories used as biblical sources, such as an Egyptian novel, prayers to other gods converted to use for Yahweh, sagas like the Babylonian Gilgamesh that provided the account of Noah, Sumerian legends that became the Garden of Eden and so on.

These once-familiar tales were edited by the Yahwists to match up with their beliefs.

These studies were augmented by archaeology, which became fashionable after Heinrich Schliemann excavated the ancient city of Troy in the late 1860s.  That inspired true believers to think that the spade could turn up proof of biblical accounts.

It did just the opposite.  Intensive research for more than 100 years did locate the Jericho of Joshua’s day and other ancient sites, but provided only contradictory evidence.  For example, there never were walls at Jericho to “come tumbling down,” a tale in episode 3 of the TV series.

No group of people lived in the Sinai Desert for 40 years or for any length of time.  Jerusalem was very tiny in David’s day, not the impressive capital of any nation.  In depth investigations into the Gospel accounts of Jesus found that they contradict each other and contain virtually no factual information.  

The findings have been devastating to claims of biblical inerrancy that in the 1970s, archaeologists abandoned the idea of uncovering any supporting facts.  The whole field of Biblical Archaeology simply disappeared.

The end result has been television shows designed to perpetuate myths in the guise of history, which is apropos considering the topic.  It’s exactly what the biblical authors were doing: writing history to conform to their beliefs. The Roman Catholic Church has conceded that point, agreeing that the Gospels only contain the “author’s beliefs,” not history. 

Naturally, the folks behind the television show have let us know that something beyond their ken has taken notice of their actions.  Producer Mark Burnett (left) insists that “the hand of God was on this: the edit came together perfectly, the actors came together perfectly, it just comes to life.” 

Need more proof of divine involvement? “Weird things happened during filming,” he said. “Everybody would look at each other like, ‘Whoa.’”

For example, on a still night when Jesus and Nicodemus meet, Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit is like the wind.” Burnett said, “At that moment, a wind, like as if a 747 was taking off, blew his hair, almost blew the set over and sustained for 20 seconds across the desert.”

Or a costume disappeared.  “Four days later,” Burnett said, “a kid showed up from many, many, many miles away, who had been seeking us through the desert to return (it) to us. He didn’t know what it was why he should seek us, but he felt he had to return it.”

Then, the fellow collecting snakes found 42 of them, rather than the usual one or two, on the set where the cross was set up.  


Funny, but Burnett ignored what would have been a true miracle – if anything slightly historically accurate had actually been depicted on the screen.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

No comments:

Post a Comment