Live Blog: Bible Secrets Revealed

I’m very interested in how the presentation will proceed and looking forward to seeing various friends ply their skills and inform the wider public about issues of critical importance.  It is, in my view, exceedingly important for scholars to engage the public.  Exceptionally important- so as to debunk the deluge of misinformation planted in the minds of many by bible specials on tv, pseudo-archaeologists posing as biblical scholars, and popular books.

But I do have a viewing caveat which I think is important:  my first query and the thing I will be observing is whether or not anyone from the Evangelical Theological Society served as a consultant or ‘talking head’ on #BibleSecretsRevealed.    I already know that the Society of Biblical Literature is represented because I know a number of the persons slated to appear are members but based on the list of scholars floating around the interweb none from ETS.  Why is that?

If a program is to present balance it needs to present multiple perspectives.  If it doesn’t, it’s skewed and that’s not how scholarship works best.  ETS is a conservative association of Biblical scholars whilst SBL embraces persons of the widest points of view including atheists and agnostics (several of whom, it seems, will appear tonight).  If the program’s producers disregard different widely held viewpoints what does that suggest?

To put it another way- how would people in SBL feel if a program purporting to be a look into biblical scholarship as presently practiced interviewed and only had contributors from ETS?  Bias in either direction is unfortunate because half the story and little more.

That said, the show is about to start.  See you at the next commercial break.

Segment One–  The Dead Sea Scrolls and the text of the Bible, with Bart Ehrman, Robert Cargill, Reza Aslan (why?), Robert Mullins, Wolpe (who is on every bible program on Discovery and History), Candida Moss, and Elaine Pagels (who like Wolpe, is on all of these shows), and Francesca S.

Cargill did a good job summarizing the scholarly perspective.  A very good job.  Cogently stating the facts as known by scholars for generations. As did, unsurprisingly, Bart Ehrman.   Too little of Moss and Francesca to say anything about their participation other than that they participated.

Constantine isn’t believed, however, to have authored the Bible, by any academic.  Or anyone.  Even though our narrator seems to imply as much as the segment drew to a close.

Segment Two–  Jesus’ Birth, featuring discussion by  Dale Martin, Jeff Geoghan,  Reza Aslan (why??), Francesca (who did the work on Isaiah 7:14 with Pagels and Ehrman) and which leads to discussions by Ehrman and Cargill on Aramaic and Francesca on translation issues from Greek and Hebrew.

Astonishingly, the narrator says that Christians wrote their documents on the Codex!  That’s absurd.  The codex wasn’t invented until well after the second century.  How could the Gospels have been written at the beginning on codices???  Goodacre and Keith appear and are made to appear to say that the Gospel of Mark was composed on a codex and the last page fell out so that the longer ending of Mark comes about because that missing page needed to be replaced…

Segment two is very much a disappointment.  I cannot believe that Chris Keith (along, the program intimated, with Goodacre) thinks that Mark was composed on a Codex and a page fell off so it had to be replaced.

Segment Three– Wycliff with Mr Voice of Doom narrator telling us of him and Ferrell adding the details.  Mullins is back as well.  Peter Lanfer joins the fun and all of them talking about the translation of the Bible into languages other than Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

Cargill gets right the fact that the Reformation had a political aspect.  Bradley Hale adds to the discussion of Henry VIII.   The Bibles produced in English from thence take center stage (and nary a mention of the better and more famous translations of Luther or Zwingli) as though only England experienced biblical translations.

Candida Moss finely discussed the problem of texts absent from the oldest Greek manuscripts which nonetheless showed up in English versions.

Segment three was far better than two, although Mr Voice of Doom Narrator is overselling the conspiracy theory stuff.

Segment Four–   The Influence of the Language of the Bible on English.  Ferrell is back.  More than that, the rise of denominations is attributed to the availability of a bible in the language of the people.  Similarly, the founding of America can be connected to the Bible and the Bible of Jefferson is highlighted.  From Jefferson to Joseph Smith?  A rewriting of the Bible?  That’s an odd leap, Mr Voice of Doom and Scary Guy.  The Book of Mormon takes the stage too.

From those we turn to slavery and the Bible’s use in justifying that injustice.  Bart Ehrman describes the ‘application’ of Genesis 9 to justify slavery.  So then we come to the Civil War.  The Bible was used by both sides for their own political purposes.  Francesca calls that a ‘pick and mix’ use of the text and points out the danger of prooftexting.

A fairly enough presented segment though I have to say the historical leaps of hundreds of years at a time is a bit jarring.

Conclusion– The Bible was a collection of stories which were tampered with by editors and tradents, says Mr Doom.  The biggest secret of the Bible is that its impact is larger than its authors could ever have imagined- says Chris Keith.  The Dead Sea Scrolls and mysterious texts and fragments which cast new light on the Bible or even call into question what the Bible says may yet be found. But the real question- Why is Reza Aslan on this series?  He is among the last of the talking heads.  And that’s a shame.  Cargill’s remarks conclude the episode (except for final words by Mr Doom).

Assessment–  The program was fast paced and engaging throughout.  Bits and pieces were tragically wrong (such as the suggestion that Constantine wrote the Bible and that the Gospels were written on Codex leaves (that’s so absurd)) but Candida and Francesca and Chris Keith and Robert Cargill and Bart Ehrman and even Mark Goodacre (though he barely appeared) all did a good job in describing the scholarly perspective.

I’ll be watching the entire series.

6 thoughts on “Live Blog: Bible Secrets Revealed

  1. Milton Almeida - The Grace Ambassador

    (I am not a scholar) The shrugging of the the “virgin” (almah) careless. The text says that a “damsel” or “young girl” would give birth and that would be for a sign! Pshaw, what sign could it have been if any young girl would turn out pregnant? A “sign” is something extraordinary or else is not a sign. It is perfectly okay to believe the translation of almah as a virgin; my point: a regular young girl being pregnant was not much of a sign.


  2. garetrobinson

    I’m fine with the other scholars but am unsure as to what Reza Aslan can offer other than a) a creative writing perspective and b) previously discredited theories from the late 19th century.


  3. Milton Almeida - The Grace Ambassador

    Thanks for doing this Jim! I mentioned this guy before, but I remember a Japanese descendant, a scholar, whose name I believe is (was?) Dr. Takia, who presented all these issues in 1974 when I first joined a Bible College in Brazil (that I don’t even know if still exists as it was before). Your comments, my memories of Dr. Takia and his challenging us to think as a scholar, made me feel bad for having stopped going deep into making a scholar of myself to take up a pastoral ministry… it made me want to go back somehow to studying these things as deep as my mind can take me!
    Thanks again! I’ve recommended your comments as “intellectual ammunition” (and I don’t use this term lightly 😉 ) to a good number of people; I hope they take my recommendation instead of being lazy and attacking the whole thing fiercely from their pulpits on Sunday (…including me personally, by the way).


  4. Bob Schilaci

    Well, Jim, I rarely see it your way on this bible stuff but I have to agree about the narration. Overly dramatic and in some cases nearly pointless. I’d have preferred more of the opinions of the various scholars and less of that hyped nonsense.


  5. James Snapp, Jr.

    A few highlights from the first half of the episode:

    Francesca Stavrakopoulou offered this explanation of why the Gospel-writers wrote in Greek: “They’re gonna get more money to support their missionary activities by writing Greek, and spreading the word in Greek. They’re not interested particularly in how many Jewish people they have in their movement. They want Romans with money.” That’s just stupid (and you know it).

    The claim is made that “In 313 A.D., Emperor Constantine the first ended the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, and declared Christianity the official religion.” Eh? Where in the Edict of Milan is the part about declaring Christianity the official religion?

    The narrator asks, “An Emperor authoring the Bible?” Eh? “A narrator asking questions with no basis in the real world?”

    The narrator asks, “Is the Holy Bible really the inspired Word of an almighty God?” Eh? “Is the narrator’s script one-sided?”

    Dale Martin, in the course of lamenting the traditional elements of the Christmas story that are not actually mentioned in the Bible, states that Luke mentions a stable.

    Reza Aslan states, “The childhood nativity stories that we find in Matthew and Luke are full fictions” was refreshingly honest.” So there you have it, viewers: this expert thinks that the events recorded by Matthew and Luke about Jesus’ birth never happened. I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that the “Bible Secrets Revealed” is series is pure, concentrated secularist propaganda, and that the scholars who get the most scree-time have one thing in common: they don’t believe the Bible.


    1. Jim Post author

      the money bit is wrong- that’s clear. i commented in my live blog about the idiocy of the constantine bit. and i pointed out what i could as i went along.

      fact is, the special moved at such a fast pace it was impossible to note everything. but i attribute the egregious errors to editing and the decisions of producers, not the people presenting (except aslan, who shouldnt have been on in the first place, and the absurd narrator).


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