Well I have watched the much trailed Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s first programme on the Bible’s buried secrets. The first episode was looking at the evidence for whether King David and his kingdom actually existed.
It was in part a fascinating watch. There were some things, as in all these things, that were great about it. I liked the idea of looking properly at the archaeological record without always trying to match it to a verse of the Bible. It was fascinating watching a bit of the debate going on between the Biblical minimalists (of whom I don’t think it unfair to say that Francesca Stavrakopoulou is one) and the Biblical maximalists.
Some of the questions she raised were great questions to ask. If David existed and ruled a great empire surely it would be reasonable to see signs of that empire in the archaeological digs? If Solomon re-built the fortress cities of Meggido, Hazor and Gezer then surely there should signs of that in the archaeological digs there?
Her main argument seems to be that Israel and Judah never had a united monarchy and that Judah had only a few villages and no big cities. In fact she believes that the power house was in the Kingdom of Israel in the north and not in the Kingdom of Judah in the South. David, if he existed, ruled raiding bands rather than armies.
One of the main focus of her programme was looking at the evidence and being sceptical of anything the Bible might say. In fact she was sceptical of anything that might even support the Biblical evidence – such as the Tel Dan or the excavation at Khirbet Qeiyafa.
Now the thing with all of this is that we all of us bring prejudices and presumptions to the discussion. I do, Francesca Stavrakopoulou does and (dear reader) you do. There is no such thing as a neutral view. This is very evident in Dr Stavrakopoulou’s programme. One of the main critiques she seems to have in view is the use of the Bible to authorise the existence of the State of Israel (now I have some sympathy with her) but this is another dangerous step in the mix that she is brewing.
But some of her biases are just plainly absurd. She talks about the Biblical picture of the Philistines (for instance) as that of being barbarians. This is hokum and hogwash. The bible describes them as being more advanced and more powerful and as being a series of city states – all of which is true. It describes how their chariots and metal weapons were so much better than those of the Israelites – for example Saul is the only one described with sword and armour and it describes how implements had to be sharpened by the Philistines.
Other areas that I would genuinely like answers to are ones such as if there were only a few villages in the 10th century BC why were there flourishing cities less than a century later? They didn’t have great medical advances or technological advances so what caused the growth under this theory that Dr Stavrakopoulou puts forward?
Also if David and Solomon are later myths to create and bind a mythology for a return from exile people why are they described with so many faults? You find far fewer faults ascribed to monarchs such as Josiah and Hezekiah so why so many faults laid at the doors of David (especially) and Solomon? If this was a heroic history being created you wouldn’t expect so many faults! This is essentially Baruch Halpern’s argument (the meeting for which Francesca Stavrakopoulou is shown getting dolled up – can’t imagine that being done if it had been a male presenter) which Stavrakopoulou dismisses without really arguing a case against.
She glancingly points out that the Bible is written as a religious text but it sometimes seems that she doesn’t unpack some of the implications. The writers of it are not interested in giving a blow by blow account of each king and what they did from a purely historians point of view. They are interested in what the story of God in their history was. This means that sometime they used parable or imagery (such as Genesis 1-3) to describe the workings of God.
She is on firmer ground in pointing out the dangers of the political use of archaeology but her rather fatuous statement at the end that you should keep politics and religion separate is puerile. The statement is in itself both a religious and a political statement in itself.
I’m pleased I watched it and it raises some interesting questions but not much of it is new and some it is just plain wrong.
Another review here
Have just reviewed the lastest programme Did God have a wife?
Final review up – The Real garden of Eden