Liberals often insist on the separation of church and state, but they’d really like to go further to separating the church from everything. That principle oozes into PBS, where a forthcoming Nova documentary insists the Bible is full of fables, not history. Orlando Sentinel TV critic Hal Boedeker reported from a PBS publicity session for TV critics:
Abraham didn't exist? The Exodus didn't happen?
The Bible's Buried Secrets, a new PBS documentary, is likely to cause a furor.
"It challenges the Bible's stories if you want to read them literally, and that will disturb many people," says archaeologist William Dever, who specializes in Israel's history. "But it explains how and why these stories ever came to be told in the first place, and how and why they were written down."
The Nova program will premiere Nov. 18. PBS presented a clip and a panel discussion at the summer tour of the Television Critics Association.
The program says the Bible was written in the sixth century BC and that hundreds of authors contributed.
"At least the first five books of the Bible come together during the Babylonian exile," says producer Gary Glassman.
The program challenges long-held beliefs. Abraham, Sarah and their offspring probably didn't exist, says Carol Meyers, a religion professor at Duke University.
"These stories are unlikely to represent real historical events, but rather there's some kernel of ancient experience in there which has survived and which helps give identity to the people at the time the Bible finally took shape centuries and centuries later," Meyers says.
There's no archaeological evidence of the Exodus, either, she says, but "it doesn't mean that there's no kernel of truth to it."
Nova is a production of Boston PBS superstation WGBH, and the Nova people were fascinated by their misconceptions:
Nova series producer Paula Apsell says she found it "extremely shocking" to learn that monotheism was a process that took hundreds of years.
"I was always brought up to believe that the minute Abraham and the patriarchs came on the scene, the Israelites accepted one God and there was just always one God and that was it," Apsell says. "I think people are going to really be stunned by that."
Another shocker: The program contradicts the biblical view that the Israelites came from somewhere else into the land of Canaan. "The film shows that they were Canaanites," Apsell says.
America's political culture may have Judeo-Christian origins, but the producers of government-funded broadcasting are avidly interested in demonstrating that Judaism and Christianity are based on mythology, not history. What not to expect from PBS? The debunking of Islamic history.