Review – Bible’s Buried Secrets – The Real garden of Eden

Francesca Stavrakopoulou presents the BBC's Bible's Buried Secrets

Well this was the last in the series by Francesca Stavrakopoulou on the Bible’s Buried Secrets. I have already reviewed the previous two episodes Did King David’s Empire Exist? and Did God have a Wife?

So, what did I make of this episode? Well funnily enough I thought that this one had more of substance and interest than the the previous two. I certainly didn’t agree with everything that she said. Certainly some of her stock phrases start to jar a little:

It’s a revolutionary theory which challenges some of the most cherished preconceptions about Eden in both Christianity and western culture.


It’s a view that turns upside down the views of the Bible

But lets get to the positives first.

Assyrian Cherub from the British Museum

Assyrian Cherub

She points out that many of the details that we have read into the story of the Garden of Eden aren’t actually in the text. This can only be a good reminder. Just as we need to remind ourselves that we don’t know how many Wise Men in the Nativity story there are (there are three gifts) or what colour dress Mary wore (most certainly not blue as it was VERY expensive). So she reminds us that we don’t know the fruit that was eaten and that the apple often used in greek can also mean breast and therefore the linking of women and the fall is dangerous. She points out that ancient Cherubim guarding the Garden of Eden weren’t the cuddly Christian types but looked far more ferocious (such as the Assyrian winged creatures).

These are great reminders for us.

She also comes up with some theories about the significance of gardens in Ancient Near East societies. Now I don’t have the expertise to comment too much on this but it sounded reasonable. That gardens were symbols and signs of power and the king was normally the person who mediated between the gods and humanity. The garden was the place that god dwelt and the king was able to build it and maintain it because of wisdom given him by the gods.

She also makes the point that she sees the story and the exile from the garden as the exile from Jerusalem and the king failed in wisdom by rebelling against Babylon (the state to which Judah paid tribute at the time) and actually its a story about a particular king at a particular time.

Now scholars have, for years, seen the story of Eden as a mix of different bits and pieces from different times. Many have thought that it is a critique of Solomon style royal rule. Some have seen it as a story of the exile. In this story of exile Dr Stavrakopoulou really is not saying anything new although some bits were interesting.

She tries to link this with a debunking of original sin and the idea the humanity has fallen and is in need of a saviour. Now this where I am really not sure that she comes out with integrity. None of the people that she directly tackles are professionals in the field. They are a lay person in Snowdonia (presumably because he was the only one that didn’t realise that it was going to be a hatchet job), a Salford Catholic priest and a Manchester Rabbi.

The Priest is quoted as saying

If you don’t have original sin then you don’t need a saviour, you don’t need Christ

We then hear Dr Stavrakopoulou intoning

The very foundations of Christianity is built on the story of Eden

Of course what she is really tilting at is the

bleak view of human nature

as she says that is envisaged in Christianity.

Really the heart of her argument is that the story of Eden is the story of a particular king about 2,500 years ago who’s foolishness led to Judah’s exile and downfall and the destruction of the Temple. It therefore has nothing to do with human nature and with how we should see humanity and that in essence we are not in need of a saviour.

Of course the trouble with her argument is that it is so limited. This isn’t the way that the bible works. The bible takes a story and re-tells it with greater detail and with new insight. So the story of creation gets re-told through the bible in various ways – Creation in Genesis 1, the Exodus, John 1 etc. each time the story is enriched with new meaning and understanding.

So for a Christian it is quite ok to say that the story of Genesis is both a story of creation and exile on several levels. It matters not one jot that Adam is both a king who leads Judah into exile AND the archetypal man who leads humanity into exile. In both cases many people are affected. It is a story of pride and fall. Out of this story the people of God reflect on the God that they worship and tell the stories that inform them of this God. So, it bothers me not one whit as to whether she is right to identify Eden with the Temple and Adam with the last King of an independent Judah.

The point still remains. Adam means man. There is still the point not only from the bible that humanity is in need. People such as the agnostic Terry Eagleton makes the point that the problem with atheists is that they believe in some great path of human progress and don’t take seriously enough the problem of humanity. The World Wars, the Holocaust, the problem of continued war and struggle and inequality. In Christian theology, some believe in original sin (the idea came from St Augustine in the 4th Century) and some don’t – but either way Christians do believe in sin – structural, societal and personal. These things that break relationship between us and each other and with God. The essence of Christian belief is in no way affected by Dr Stavrakopoulou’s theory – and it very much is just that a theory.

In terms of the role of Eve in the story she is right to point out (as many many have) that the role of Eve is not the main role in the story – Adam has the main role and he fails and has the main part. It has, shamefully, been used to subjugate women. But the bible is also a source of liberation for women. As I said in my last review women did not have a better place in other polytheistic cultures of the time. Indeed we see with Jesus his welcome and inclusion of women in a quite radical and new way.

Where I think that she is naive is to assume that Christianity holds humanity back and that somehow we would be liberated into some Eden type future if we could only rid ourselves of the old prejudices. Or even that the old gods were so much better than monotheism. Still when she was least polemical she was most interesting. When she was most polemical she was least interesting and had the least insight.

Update 30th March

Just an overall view of the series. I think that overall it wasn’t a great series. Not because it tackled issues of faith or might have been uncomfortable for some but because it was so polemical and just plain wrong on various issues. It was being used to tilt at several areas that Dr Stavrakopoulou wanted a go at – the political legitimacy of Israel (or the separation of politics and religion), the dis-empowering of women in monotheism and how dreadful that was and in the final one how there is nothing wrong with humanity and it isn’t in need of saving.

This is the series weakness. It isn’t trying to just get to the archaeological truth. These episodes were chosen with a view in mind – to undermine Christianity and Judaism. They don’t do that – but they try. There is no real balance. Most of the time when she wants to be most polemical she has tended to bring in the non-experts (with them not realising that they are being set up).

Another review of the programme on Bible Film Blogs worth reading.

A good review from Psephizo that is well worth reading


39 comments on “Review – Bible’s Buried Secrets – The Real garden of Eden

  1. Howard
    March 30, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

    The only real weakness of the series is that so many of it’s viewers are religious and really don’t care about evidence or argument.
    No matter her deductions, evidence, argument. They will always feel free to reject what they find inconvenient, and continue believing what they choose to believe.
    The magic of this excellent series is that it communicates to those who are not actually locked into a world of ‘faith’ and irrational thinking. It reaches out to those, atheist or rational theists, with the ability to follow and accept what evidence, argument and rational thinking produces, irrespective of it being inconvenient or not.

    • Will Cookson
      March 30, 2011 at 7:44 pm #


      How can the weakness of a series be its viewers???

      I don’t think that I have been unfair to her in my reviews but you must remember that she is one academic on one edge of the archaeological and biblical scholarship. She also has major agendas that she is pushing – I imagine the controversy is what the BBC liked about it.

      I’m happy for you that you have enjoyed the series but that doesn’t stop it having flaws and failures. I think that it is reasonable to debate them. I certainly don’t object her discussing these things or that she is an atheist. As I hope I have pointed out in this one there were some things I found really interesting. But did she really make a good case for everything then I have to say that she didn’t.

    • Alex
      March 30, 2011 at 11:23 pm #

      Hi Howard,

      I wonder if you could help me a poor Christian as I ‘struggle’ with this evidence and arguments you mention. Could you explain to me her arguments for dating Genesis 2-3, as being 2500 years ago?
      I don’t seem to recall any, indeed at many times, the most important parts of her theory were stated and not backed up.

      Or maybe you could explain to a ‘fundamentalist’ why it is wrong to read Genesis 2-3 in even a vaguely true and literal sense, but when we come to Ezekiel it is to be read woodenly and literally?

      I am sure it is all perfectly consistent and true, after all she even mentioned science in one of the shows, but I just can’t shift my ignorant religious blinkers.

      Thanks in advance


    • Ian Paul
      April 1, 2011 at 7:46 pm #

      Howard, I have also reviewed this from an academic point of view, and her arguments really do not stack up. I raised questions about assumptions and methodology which I think anyone could agree with.

      I agree with you that often people of faith don’t look for evidence. But lots do, and FS does not engage with those of faith who have thought long, hard and very carefully about these issues. From the programme you would not even think such people existed.

      See my comments here

      • Howard
        April 2, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

        Firstly – I agree that it is not a ‘weakness of the program’ as such. I worded by comment badly.

        It is not possible for a person who believes in Faith to discard that Faith, temporarily, to examine and analyse a subject that is so intrinsically intertwined with that Faith. That statement may irritate, but it is ultimately true.

        Faith is the practice of absolute belief and acceptance without evidence. It is a way of life and a way of thinking. It is a basic mindset. As such it prevents the believer from any kind of true, independent, analysis. This is simply a fact of life. It may be inconvenient for some to accept, but it is true nevertheless.

        Francesca Stavrakopoulou knows this. It is clear from the series that she knows how many people of Faith will respond and knows full well that she can never really deal with them. Her audience are those who are open to evidence, analysis and acceptance of conclusions that are arrived at from those processes. This will stand to her, and will ultimately give her a huge advantage against those who do not. Her study is based on truth, not on Faith.

        • Melanda Guenther
          December 5, 2012 at 9:28 pm #

          The problem is that she doesn’t present solid evidence, just her own theory based on the template of two similar temples, from which she decides that the temple in Jerusalem was the Garden of Eden. Its just not viable. There is no doubt that there were many Near Eastern, Middle Eastern Gardens in ancient times and that they emulated the Garden of Eden, but that doesn’t make them the Garden of Eden, which was a half mythical place, probably a symbol for eternal paradise. Eve is not to blame for the loss of paradise, she is tempted in the story, and gives into temptation, this displeases God. It is both their fault in the story, its not a story of blame. She’s not interested in the real story, otherwise she would get the details right. She twists things around, and assigns meaning to the changed stories that she creates.

          Women were definitely wrongly treated badly because of this story, but that is no longer the popular view. Most liberal Biblical scholars now believe that this was a story that became misguided from the original story, which was that both man and woman gave in to temptation. I am not a literal believer in the Garden of Eden, I believe it was a myth told in the Bible to help us understand that human beings chose to do many things that hurt humans, which displeased God.

          I would say that those with faith have a greater responsibility to present solid evidence and are more invested in doing so, so I don’t agree with you there. You also show a bias that somehow those who believe don’t care about evidence. Many Christians aren’t fanatics, but rational scientists, doctors and archeologists.

          She has a feminist agenda, and I’m saying this as a feminist. She wants to prove that Christians believe that human nature is bad due to original sin. This isn’t what Christians believe at all. They believe that humans are good, but can have bad impulses, I doubt that anyone can argue with that!

    • Steve
      April 4, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

      I agree, the whole anti-religion notion in this review is, I’m sorry to say this, pretty laughable. I was looking for more information on the validity of her claims and found this review by accident. I didn’t get any anti-religion vibe from this, like, at all. Liberation into an Eden like future? I mean, really? Where in this documentary was there even a slight hint at something like this? Just because she states what most Christians believe and than has the audacity to disagree? And she has “major agendas” to undermine Christianity and Judaism? This borders heavily on paranoia, just wow.

      Or the point that atheists don’t take problems of humanity serious? Err, what, really?

      And yes, what she offered here is just a theory, probably even just a hypothesis. She never claimed absolute, infallible truth but offered interesting and compelling evidence. The review on the other hand makes blatant, unsupported statements like “This isn’t the way that the bible works.”. I am really curious as to how the reviewer knows this? I mean, she is a biblical scholar, I would have thought if anyone knows how the bible works, it would be someone who studied it, I guess I was wrong. It must be a conspiracy.

      • Ian Paul
        April 4, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

        Steve, it is not a question of ‘religious’ readings v academic. One of the main problems with the show was that FS hid the fact that her views are only one of many, academically–and in fact her position commands little support. You can see she is secretary of the Society for Old Testament Study, which is a group for professional academics. The Chairman of the Society issued a rebuttal of her main arguments to the whole group since he believed that the programmes have undermined the credibility of the discipline.

        I have offered some analysis of her method, and why I think it is flawed (not simply because I disagree with her) on my comments referenced above.

        • Steve
          April 4, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

          Fair point, she didn’t inlcude any critic of her views, a clear shortcoming of this documentary. But I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest she “hid” them knowingly in an evil plot to undermine religion, or at least I didn’t see any evidence for that in your review and find it to be very unlikely. I mean, what could she possibly achieve here?

          I just sort of assumed there isn’t much to say about it outside of religion and her attempt to base Eden in reality is a fringe idea not many people care about, so the point of the episode was simply just to present this theory, not to give a comprehensible account of “the Eden story in accademia”.

          Just because her organisation distanced itself from her views isn’t proof of anything other than that she is maybe a bit to convinced in this theory or at worst unscientific, but I didn’t criticise you review in that regard.

          So what did she hide? Which facts were blatantly wrong or misrepresented? How did you subsequently conclude she did this willingly rather than because of ignorance? I’m not saying you’re wrong, but if you accuse her of malpractice you should back it up by evidence.

          • Howard
            April 4, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

            Steve I have to challenge your claim that “Just because her organisation distanced itself from her views isn’t proof of anything other than that she is maybe a bit to convinced in this theory or at worst unscientific,”

            I suggest this is both unfair and misleading. Your assumption being that anyone disagreeing with this organisation is “unscientific” or “too convinced” ? Really ?

            So this organisation is the Oracle of truth and cannot be challenged by anyone because theirs is the scientifically certified Truth ?

            PS: Can you suggest a link to where this organisation distanced themselves ? or was it just verbal in the media ?

      • Howard
        April 4, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

        Steve – I essentially agree with your post. Despite my pleasant exchange with Will below, where I believe he expressed a more constructive and less aggressive view of the series, I agree that some of his statements in his review, such as the ones you mention, are not fair and not accurate.
        Will’s view of atheists is clearly one dimensional, and his accusation that Ms Stavrakopoulou aim was to “undermine Christianity and Judaism” are clearly knee jerk reactions caused most likely from a sense of being under attack. It is unfortunate that this is so common, but understandable I guess.

        • Steve
          April 4, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

          The thing is that I thought she was very tactful with the “touchy” subject, she never really drifted into antitheism or something alike, which one might have expected. Everything in there had it’s point in regard to the theory. Of course this topic was bound to be polemical, but it never was a sharp criticism with flat out attacks or something. You could accuse any non-apologetic documentary on religion as polemic.

          • Howard
            April 4, 2011 at 5:12 pm #

            Steve – Yes I agree.

            We have to be more careful about the use of the world ‘Polemic’. If it is to be used simply to refer to ‘controversial discussion’ then that has to be a good thing. If it is used to infer an ‘attack’ then I agree that she never came even close to taking part in any attack on anything. She simply suggests that previous interpretations of sections of the Bible are wrong, based on an academic study of the document itself alone.

            I thought one of her triumphs was that she did actually manage to demonstrate that her analysis was totally separate from any discussion of Religion per se. And she mentions a number of times in the series how much she loves the document and how wonderful it is.

          • Will Cookson
            April 4, 2011 at 5:51 pm #


            Thanks for the comments. I can see this one running and running!!
            I want to re-emphasise that it is certainly her right to both have the views that she holds and to express them. I certainly am not saying that there is any conspiracy. By the same token I believe that it is OK to disagree with someone – and certainly for you to do so with me (along with Howard)! I certainly don’t believe that I am infallible in any way!!
            When we get to the review of this third part of the series it is worth remembering that she has already had broadcast the two previous in the series.
            So for instance, in the second one on God’s Wife. She says towards the end:
            “Monotheism brought a terrible consequence – God is male and to be like God is to be male…..Monotheism dis-empowered women. The evidence I have presented rocks the foundations of modern monotheism and for some that may have a severe impact but the loss of God’s wife had an even greater impact on the history of humanity and that’s the painful truth of this story.”
            Now I talked about this here:
            But basically that isn’t evidence based. If anything the evidence is far more the other way round. So we see in early Christianity that women saw it as liberating and not constricting – with the important proviso that when it became the state religion under Constantine it fell in with the social mores to its shame.
            Then in this one she uses the literary of an “inclusio” which is where you set up the subject then do your main work referencing it and then come back to it. So she sets up a fundamentalist who says “To doubt about Eden is to doubt God himself” and then gets a Catholic priest who says “If you don’t have sin then you don’t need a saviour, you don’t need Christ”.
            She then spends the bulk on her theory and then says towards the end that this has a “huge bearing on faith and culture today”. In other words since I have debunked the traditional view of Eden then God is out and since there is no original sin so Christ is out.
            Now you may well agree with her and her conclusions. But please understand what she is up to. She has a stated an obvious agenda.
            Now in terms of my view of atheists I don’t believe that I am one dimensional. My use of Terry Eagleton (an agnostic marxist) was used far more specifically of Dr Stavrakopoulou in what she was trying to do.

            • Steve
              April 4, 2011 at 7:40 pm #

              I can’t speak for the other two, I have yet to watch them. I don’t expect them to be any different in tone though.

              You should watch more carefully. The “huge bearing on faith” line refered to the loss of the temple and how the people of Jerusalem lost everything, THAT had a “huge bearing on [their] faith”, not her theory in today’s culture. She only thinks that this is what the story of Eden was originally about and clearly precedes this with “This is what I think”. Why you would spin that as “I have debunked the traditional view of Eden then God is out” is beyond me. You are either a troll or just completely dishonest.

              • Howard
                April 4, 2011 at 7:48 pm #

                Steve – as “Will” is the owner and author of this Blog I don”t believe he is likely to be a troll.

                I also disassociate myself from your accusation of him being dishonest.

                I myself have questioned his comments on this very assertion, but believe that there is a better and more constructive way of tackling it, with more chance of a constructive reply.

                • Steve
                  April 4, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

                  Maybe I should have kept the last line to myself, oh well. I guess he didn’t intentionally lie about it, but I think it somewhat show’s how he see’s attacks on religion where there a none.

              • Will Cookson
                April 4, 2011 at 8:14 pm #

                Please see the comment policy on the About page.

                • Steve
                  April 4, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

                  Sorry, I really regret that.

                  • Will Cookson
                    April 4, 2011 at 8:26 pm #


                    Thank you I really appreciate that. Please feel free to attack my ideas and how I express things – that is still up for grabs!

                    • Howard
                      April 4, 2011 at 11:36 pm #

                      Will I can’t find that Comment Policy …

        • Steve
          April 4, 2011 at 5:07 pm #

          Ugh, I can’t reply to your post above. Of course you’re a correct, maybe she is right and this organisation is wrong. I just replied to his claim without looking into it, the important point is that this fact doesn’t substantiate in any way the claim that she is hiding facts willingly to attack religion.

          • Ian Paul
            April 4, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

            OK, guys, here’s how it is.

            Suppose she was a forensic scientist, and suppose she has a theory that your wife was being unfaithful to you (assuming one of you is married). Suppose she makes a tv programme about it. She starts the programme with an interview with you, where it is clear that you are not a forensic scientist, but you sincerely believe that your wife is faithful. Suppose she then cuts away with ‘But I have a different theory, that there is hidden evidence in the relationship which shows his wife is unfaithful.’

            Suppose she then offers a minority theory based on the forensic evidence, one that very few other forensic scientists would sign up to on the evidence–but she never makes it clear to the audience that this is the case. Suppose she brings on a couple of others forensic scientists who agree with her, making it look as though this has widespread agreement. But then she brings on a forensic scientist that does not agree with her but represents the mainstream view, but also happens to know the two of you personally. This person comments ‘I would read the evidence in a different way’ but is given no opportunity to show why most forensic scientists would *not* conclude that your wife has been unfaithful.

            I think you would feel that you had not been treated fairly, and rightly so. I think I would also feel, as a fellow forensic scientist [I help to organise the New Testament equivalent of her OT society] not only that this approach risked bringing forensic scientists into disrepute, but that making a point about your relationship by deploying forensic science in this way was illegitimate.

          • Steve
            April 4, 2011 at 7:05 pm #

            Can’t reply directly.

            I certainly get your point, I just don’t agree that she represents this theory as the consensus, where does she say this? She constantly says “I think”, “I want to argue” and “but I disagree” etc. She never says things like “but science has now discovered” or “we now know for a fact”. The whole topic itself is in my opinion also easily identifiable as an unorthodox idea, even if she never would’ve mentioned that it is her believe. She never (or please point me to it) comes even close to trying to present this as fact.

            Yes, maybe she could’ve made it more clear that most scholars disagree (if they do), but your hard criticism and your wild theories still don’t match the facts.

  2. Squiddly Diddly
    March 31, 2011 at 7:45 am #

    The main problem with this series is the she continually emphasises her privileged status as a scholar, and trumpets her views as groundbreaking, without saying anything new or original.

  3. Ian Paul
    April 2, 2011 at 8:50 pm #

    Howard, you comment ‘Faith is the practice of absolute belief and acceptance without evidence.’ I don’t agree. That might be true of some people you know (though I would question in that case whether what they have is ‘faith’ at all). But it is not true for me; I would encourage it in the church I preach at or the college I teach at; and it is certainly not true of how the Bible portrays faith.

    I am constantly questioning my faith, and I encourage other to do the same, because only this way does faith and understanding grow and become mature.

    I am not sure (ironically I suppose) how you would substantiate your view on this.

  4. Will Cookson
    April 3, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    Thanks for posting.
    Interestingly Israel Finkelstein who is the dominant archaeological person in Biblical archaeology whom Dr Stavrakopoulou depends on (especially in her first episode) is a practising Jew. It didn’t stop him asking questions. Faith doesn’t stop us asking questions (unless its very weak), it enables us to ask more and more questions.
    As I have said I really don’t object to her raising the questions and exploring them. I just think that the programmes are flawed. They were too tabloid in approach. There is a much better article, for instance, in the National Geographic magazine in December 2010 about the question of David that is much more nuanced and gives far more information.

    Still if you want to have faith in her then feel free to. Personally I would want a better argued, more thought through case. But is this a case where you agree with her because she is an atheist (this last is not intended as a dig but a question)?

  5. Howard
    April 3, 2011 at 9:00 pm #

    Ian and Will – I appreciate your reply and temperate responses.

    I regret to say that I do not accept your statement about the nature of Faith. But that’s ok. You are entitled to your own interpretation.

    I never asserted that Faith prevents people from asking questions. Asking questions is easy. Being able or willing to accept the answers is hard for those will ingrained biases and ingrained beliefs, such as Faith. Imho.

    Of course, as you and Ian infer, there are many kinds of believers. Many believe literally in all of the Christian Story – including a literal belief in the Bible. Other Christians believe in the big things, God and Christ, but see the rest as an accompanying mythology. I guess there are a rainbow of views.
    However there is a large core of believers who do see the Bible as being, if not literally in every sense true, more or less true AS THEY HAVE BEEN TAUGHT IT.

    It is my contention therefore that a major chunk of believers have a Faith in their God and in their Bible that is not open to being ‘disproven’ or ‘-interpreted’. Their Faith is not borne out of evidence. It is pure Faith – as the practice of absolute belief and acceptance without evidence. This is the basis of my first comment above and I still believe it is a fair comment to make.

    As regards the series being flawed – of course it is flawed. Everything is flawed. It is always easy to pick holes, find flaws, biases. A TV program cannot be a comprehensive academic treatise and include every reference as a support to every argument. That is just silly. A TV program such as this is made to reach out to ordinary people’ to try to draw them in to generate an interest in the topic, while offering them well supported arguments as to why accepted interpretations are wrong.

    I believe she did an excellent job of this.

    PS: asking if I agree with her because she is an atheist is a silly question and a red herring. Her atheism is not a barrier to her study of the Bible as a historical Document and her devotion of her career to delving into it’s origins, influences, factual accuracies and interpretations is something that is perfectly possible without a belief in a deity. My openness to her research and presentation of the results of her work is similarly unaffected by my non belief in a deity.

    As it happens I am probably far more open to an accusation of agreeing with her because I find her gushingly gorgeous ! LOL

  6. Will Cookson
    April 3, 2011 at 9:23 pm #


    I really do want to thank you for posting. I always envisaged this blog as a civilised place of debate. I never envisaged everyone would agree with me (how boring would that be)!!
    Disagreement done well will often find places and areas where common ground can be found and where the real differences are.

    Starting last and working backward (well other than you found her gorgeous!). I asked, genuinely, about the atheism because I have found some people will only follow a party line (theist or non-theist). As you point out that would just be silly.

    I agree with you that all TV series are by their very nature flawed. Maybe because I know a very little in the area I realised that the series was deliberately provocative and over stating her case. As you say that can be positive in drawing people into a deeper interest in the subject. I think that is great if it does that. My fear is that people (and you do find them out there) just see it as a tribal theist vs atheist thing.

    I would agree that some of faith can be very literal. Less so in the UK. Interestingly I think that much of this came about as a reaction to the Enlightenment (but that’s a much bigger discussion). Although I think things are changing generally. More and more people of faith want to ask questions that are less doctrinal and more about the difference that it makes to the world and the benefit of humanity.

    I think anyone finds it hard to overturn their own world-view. Whatever your background. Everyone has ingrained views and opinions that they find hard to change. But also some come about through experience and deduction. I would find it hard to accept my wife or children don’t love me. It’s not something that I would hold readily as a theorem. I might for a very short specific time. But to constantly doubt would (as many authors such as Trollope have written) can cause the relationship to be toxic. The same is true with God. I imagine you wish to look at it as a scientific theorem – but for people like myself its far more that of a relationship and therefore care needs to be taken – not because I am afraid – but because it changes the relationship fundamentally if I do that all the time.

  7. Howard
    April 4, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    Nice try Ian – very entertaining, but I don’t buy into your analogy for way too many reasons to post about.
    Establishment Societies, especially in an area like this, are rigid and traditional. They are notoriously difficult to move in any direction. Their response, if they did respond as such, is entirely predictable. Indeed I see it as a badge of honour that she can break from such orthodoxy so successfully. These are the kinds of people we need in academia, not those who stick with the ‘consensus’.

  8. Howard
    April 4, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    Hi Will – I cannot reply to your post as your blog software seems to limit the number of replies to each comment. If you want to develop a busier blog I would like to suggest changing your template or layout or settings .. and also allow original posters to register with wordpress ?

    Now Will, you are losing it with this post 🙂 You were doing so well, but now you are being reactionary and misleading.

    “Monotheism brought a terrible consequence – God is male and to be like God is to be male…..Monotheism dis-empowered women.”
    I believe this is a perfectly fair statement. It is indeed evidence based. Your claim that it was different ‘at the time’ is not a contradiction to her statement which is made in reference to the history of women’s dis-empowerment over 2,000 years, not in the following 100 years.

    It is self evident to me that ‘if’ her claim is correct and what was previously a pair of Gods (M+F) was reduced to one God, Male, then this inevitably disenfranchises half the population in perpetuity.
    The Catholic Church has taken this a step further, to block women priests and block priests marrying. The CofE less so, but the very FACT that there is claimed to be only one God, and he is male is de facto disenfranchising to women. Imho of course.
    Look at the effect of Obama becoming President of the USA, on black children. For centuries they NEVER conceived it possible. The same with women in politics, women in corporate business. Black men in US Football coaching. etc etc.

    Your claim about the ‘setting up’ of the fundamentalist who said “To doubt about Eden is to doubt God himself” is also flawed. She did not make the statement or put it in his mouth. He said it. He takes responsibility for it. Not her. She makes no such claim.
    What she does demonstrate with this clip is the fundamentalist view of some about the dependence of their faith on the literal truth of the Bible. This is fair comment.

    “She then spends the bulk on her theory and then says towards the end that this has a “huge bearing on faith and culture today”. In other words since I have debunked the traditional view of Eden then God is out and since there is no original sin so Christ is out.”

    This again is simply not the case and is an inference you yourself draw and is influenced far more by your Faith than what she actually said.

    She said “this has a “huge bearing on faith and culture today”. Well of course it does ! The Bible is at the heart of all Christian Faiths. Therefore it has a huge ‘bearing’ on those faiths. ‘Bearing’ does not equate to trashing.

    But she DID NOT SAY OR INFER with those word that God is out or Christ is out. These are your conclusions. I most certainly do not see this in her words.

    I watched all three programs. I saw no ‘agenda’ other than her intent to explore evidence for certain passages in the Bible, presenting the evidence she finds and telling us her view of what it means. It was clearly and evidently a personal project and representative of one academic’s study.

    Your response, with respect, reads as one from someone who feels that her work is threatening your ‘world view’. You draw inferences on what she says, not what she actually said. You are showing some conspiratorial tendencies that I quite honestly do not see a justification for.

    As an Atheist who was a Catholic of sorts until I went to Uni, I am perfectly comfortable arguing about God’s existence from all kinds of angles. So I have no problem accepting any ‘agenda’ she might have if I see it. But I simply don’t see it.

  9. Will Cookson
    April 4, 2011 at 6:43 pm #

    Hi Howard,
    Always great to chat!!
    I had already increased the number of levels of replies that you can make. I will see about increasing it.
    In terms of people the software ensures that once I have authorised the first comment then you’re in! The minor hassle is if you use multiple computers then it seems to be computer specific. The authorisation keeps out spam. Any other ideas and I would be happy to take them on board.

    Got to cook the supper will, hopefully, answer the rest this evening. Best wishes. Will

  10. Will Cookson
    April 4, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

    Right, back to the discussion!

    What this really needs is a discussion down the pub with a few beers – however, with a glass of wine at hand:

    The point about monotheism is that God is neither male nor female. No Christian theologian sees him anthropomorphically as such. Therefore to be in the image of God is not to be male per se but to be human. Fascinating to see in Luke’s gospel that stories about men and women are interspersed one after the other. Who does Jesus appear to in a garden – a woman – reversing the whole male dominated theology. Sorry, can’t answer for the Roman Catholics – I have many Catholic friends but I am an Anglican for a reason!
    Remember the role of editing in creating a programme. Hours and hours of film is taken and bits are chosen for a reason – just as in the bible certain bits are put in or left out – for a reason – to make a point – as a biblical scholar she was well aware of that. She chose that fundamentalist because he made a point she wanted to use – surely.

    Now because we are discussing this, at length, you appear to think that I feel my worldview is under threat. This doesn’t do it I can promise you – my daughter being ill for years, or when we lost a child – that has an effect. This? no.

    • Howard
      April 4, 2011 at 11:52 pm #

      Will … I am no theologian .. I am an Atheist and a former Catholic as I said somewhere else.

      In all honesty I cannot let you away with the claim that God is neither male nor female. You may present evidence and proof that this may be the case with senior clergy or senior theologians…and I somehow suspect you can 🙂

      Despite that you cannot tell me that EVERY religious statement. prayer, sermon etc etc etc in churches up and down the UK, Ireland, Europe etc etc refer to God as HIM !!! Come on now … I am an atheist in a sea of religion in my country, Ireland, and I know what ordinary people think God is. It is a MAN. End of … a MAN.

      My comment re being under threat is always likely to be a little prickly. I apologise if it comes across badly, it wasn’t intented to. But we are all the same Will. We all develop our own internal ‘world view’ that explains our existence to our inner self. We all build our identity on that and we all need to build confidence in that world view identity. Whenever that is threatened we all tend to over react.

      I am certain I am the same, on different topics than this.
      So .. after reading this review and your review on the 2nd program in this series and seeing an even more reactionary response to her presentation there, I have to say that this is the only explanation I can think of for a decent and reasonable person, which I perceive you to be, to read so much into her work that is simply not there. By the way I also suspect that some of what you have written may be an effort to make the Blog a little spicier … and that’s ok too ! LOL. But again from reading that review and the supporting comments following it, it disappoints me how easily it snowballs into a siege and conspiracy mentality.

      Lastly. I am not a fan of pub discussions on religion 🙂 I have to admit. Religion, again, is built on Faith and is very personal. Most people do not discuss their religion well. In my personal experience.

  11. ian Paul
    April 4, 2011 at 10:08 pm #

    Will said: ‘What this really needs is a discussion down the pub with a few beers’

    I’m on for that! Let you know when you are passing Nottingham!

  12. Will Cookson
    April 5, 2011 at 8:44 am #

    Thank you for making my point so clearly. Clearly many many people think of God as male. I quite agree with you that many do. However, as a biblical scholar, Dr Stavrakopoulou KNOWS that theologians and even the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church don’t believe this. – e.g. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Gregory of Naziansus (an early church father), Julian of Norwish (14th century) etc.
    So, in her 2nd episode she could have said this! She could have said that theologians (or the church) don’t believe God is male however many laypeople do etc. But she doesn’t and leaves the impression that ALL monotheists do believe in the maleness of God. So you could see how I might interpret her language. If I used such slight of hand wouldn’t you pick me up on it?!?
    Funnily enough, I really don’t feel threatened by her. I am sorry that I have presented as “under siege”. You are right to say that we all create an identity – or as its often called a worldview. A view in which we put our experiences and ideas into and use to judge them. Of course, we can all feel threatened and react defensively if that worldview is under attack.

    However, in this case, as I have said repeatedly I do not object to her doing the programme. I do not object to her views being expressed. I merely think that it was a bit tabloid and that I disagree with her.

    But I would also have to say I am not one of those Christians bewailing the loss of influence and feeling that Christianity is being persecuted (well certainly not in this country!). We are having our views and ideas being questioned robustly – and that can be a good thing. It can mean that we need to look at what we do believe and how we express them. Even more importantly for many of us it is making us look at how we live our lives.

    Anyway, out for the day. Have a great day. It’s good to discuss

    PS My blog moderation policy is very simple:
    “If you want to disagree feel free to but remember to play nicely”. I don’t intend it to be a long list of do’s and don’ts, it’s not my style.

    • Howard
      April 5, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

      Hi Will ..

      “Thank you for making my point so clearly.”

      Whenever I see that at the start of a reply I know I may be in trouble 🙂

      “as a biblical scholar, Dr Stavrakopoulou KNOWS that theologians and even the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church don’t believe this.”

      That may be the case, and I don’t doubt you. But her audience is not made of theologians or church people. Her audience is the public.

      “But she doesn’t and leaves the impression that ALL monotheists do believe in the maleness of God. So you could see how I might interpret her language.”

      As I see it the reason she did not say it is that it didn’t need to be said. It didn’t need to be said because it was not relevant to her point. Her point was about the impact that the maleness of God, the remaining God after the female one was removed, on the people of Christianity from there on was negative and disenfranchising. And she is right … because whatever you may say about it God is presented all across christianity, by priests and clergy and the Pope as a MAN. They ALWAYS says “He”. (apols for the CAPS.. just looking for a slight bit of emphasis)

      So her point was dealing with the impact. And the impact is as she says it is. I believe she is essentially correct. However you, as a member of the clergy, probably contemplate God on a different level. I have no doubt you do. But keep in mind that you are not her target audience and you are not a member of the ordinary street christians who have been bombarded for millennia with the Male image of God. There is no slight of hand when you start to look at it from the position of such a street Christian imho.

      Again I see no conspiracy, no agenda, no slight of hand. I see someone challenging accepted views, facing the ire of those who disagree.

  13. Agnostic Mike
    April 5, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    Good review Will. I’ve enjoyed all of this series, having said that though, I’ve equally enjoyed your thoughtful analysis of them. You have reviewed the series as a commited Christian – but on the whole I believe you have praised where it is deserved and logically questioned other elements of the views presented. As an agnostic, who generally likes the teachings (what survives) of Epicurus, I really don’t know where I metaphorically sit (the curse of agnostics) but it certainly makes for an interesting debate!
    I will follow your reviews on similar programmes, and maybe ‘chip in’ the odd thought!
    Take good care.

  14. Will Cookson
    April 6, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    Thanks for the comment. Always happy to see you.

    Great to see you defending a pretty difficult line ; )
    Not only do you actually need to address the fact that she knows she is attacking a straw horse (and she is an academic at a top university) and she is also making the assumption that a) polytheism was better (and the evidence runs very much the other way historically) and b) that her “what-if” is correct – ie that polytheism would have ended up with a better result.
    “Again I see no conspiracy, no agenda, no slight of hand. I see someone challenging accepted views, facing the ire of those who disagree”
    I see no conspiracy. I care not two hoots if she challenges accepted views. I certainly don’t feel ire towards her. I just think that she has a) an agenda – which is her right to have and b) I think that some of her argument is wrong. You disagree – fine.


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