This past week, the History Channel premiered a new series on the Bible entitled, Bible Secrets Revealed. The first full episode was called Lost in Translation, and can be viewed here.
Now, let me say that I really do enjoy documentaries on the Bible. They are usually done with very high quality, contain interviews of some of the world’s top scholars, and often raising intriguing and important questions. But, there are also dangers. Such documentaries run the risk of being overly sensationalistic, one-sided, and ultimately misleading.
Unfortunately, this new documentary from the History Channel tends to falter at precisely these points. While there are many positives–great production quality and intriguing content–this documentary quickly spins itself into some problem areas.
Thus, I am starting a new series here on my blog where I will review each new episode of Bible Secrets Revealed as it comes out. In regard to the first episode, Lost in Transmission, it is marked by the following characteristics.
1. Sensationalistic. Everybody loves a good conspiracy. It is built-in to the human (and particularly American) psyche. We love the idea that the truth has been suppressed for generations only to now be uncovered.
Unfortunately, the title of this new series feeds this conspiracy craving in all of us, and gives a sensationalistic feel to the whole enterprise. Bible Secrets Revealed. Really? This title implies that secrets have been kept from an unsuspecting public for two millennia (presumably by the church or other Christian leaders), only now to be graciously exposed by these noble scholars. Conclusion: you can trust secular scholars but not the church (or the Bible).
The sensationalism continues with overstated claims about the issues being “revealed” in this documentary. The narrator claims (with dramatic music in the background):
Now for the first time, an extraordinary series will challenge everything we think, everything we know, and everything we believe about the Bible.
To be sure, this documentary is decidedly not doing anything “for the first time,” but I suppose such claims are part of how such documentaries are promoted and sold. Moreover, it should be noted that when it says it will challenge what “we” believe about the Bible, what it really means it will challenge what evangelicals believe about the Bible. No liberal views are being challenged in this series (at least so far). Which leads to the next observation…
2. One-sided. This sensationalistic impulse naturally leads a documentary to want to prove that the traditional view is mistaken (after all, the traditional view is rather boring and unexciting). Thus, we are not surprised when we quickly realize that this documentary will not even be trying to present a balanced perspective. It is decidedly geared to disprove the Bible.
This direction is clear from the opening description of the series. The narrator states:
For centuries, men and women have argued over [the Bible’s] meanings, its lessons, and its historical accuracy. But, has the Bible been translated, edited, and even censored so many times, that its original stories have been compromised by time?
This is followed by a litany of scholarly quotes (again, with dramatic music in the background) that say the Bible cannot be trusted. Bart Ehrman states, “There are human fingerprints all over [the Bible].” Another scholar says, “It is very dangerous to use the Bible as a proof text for anything.” Elaine Pagels says, “We really don’t know who the people are who put the New Testament together.”
Does this sound like a video that is trying to present both sides?
Of course, a video series is not obligated to present both sides, one might argue. Why are they not free to argue for their position? Fair enough. The problem is that the video expressly states to be presenting multiple views! The caveat offered at the very start of the video is:
This program explores the mysteries of the Bible from a variety of historical and theological perspectives.
A variety of historical and theological perspectives? One finds this difficult to believe. Almost every view represented in this first video (with a couple of exceptions) is clearly designed to undercut the Bible’s credibility.
3. Over-stated Historical Claims. Time and time again, this opening installment in this new video series makes historical claims that are partially true, but also a bit misleading. I cannot mention all of these, but here are a few:
- As it pertains to the authorship of the four gospels, the video quotes scholars as absolutely certain that none of these were eyewitnesses. For instance, Candida Moss declares, “We have four gospels written by four different authors, written decades, maybe as long as a century after [Jesus] died, and none of these authors actually met Jesus.” But, this is a level of certainty that is not warranted by the evidence. She offers no indication that there is any scholarly debate about this (and there is), nor does she suggest there is any positive evidence for the traditional authorship of the gospels (and there is).
- As another example, Elaine Pagels declares, “We had Christianity for three-hundred years before we had a New Testament.” But, this is only partially true at best, and downright misleading at worst. Sure, the edges of the canon were not solidified until probably the fourth century, but the core of the canon (around 22 out of 27 books) was fairly well-established by the mid/late second century. Irenaeus, for example, was keen to use these books and to use them as Scripture. On a functional level, he did in fact have a New Testament.
- Incredibly, this documentary then trots out the Constantine-made-the-Bible argument, implying that he used his political power to makes sure the right stories were chosen. However, this absolutely zero evidence that Constantine had any influence/control over the canon of Scripture. This is more of a Dan Brown-Da Vinci Code style argument, than a historical one.
- Mention is made of the long ending of Mark (16:9-20) as evidence that Christians made up the resurrection because of Mark’s shorter ending. But, the documentary shows no awareness that there is good evidence that the long ending of Mark is actually drawing upon resurrection accounts in the other three gospels (see Kelhoffer’s works), thus showing that the idea of Jesus’ resurrection was not made up due to Mark’s truncated ending.
There are more examples that could be added, but this is sufficient to show that this video over-reaches at a number of points when it comes to the historical facts. Unfortunately, the average viewer, whom videos like this are targeted to reach, would have no basis for knowing this.
We shall offer more reflections on future installments of this series as they come out.
I enjoyed watching Bible Secrets revealed, but I too found it a bit one sided with the “expert scholars, historians and theologians” all saying that the bible is not true. I question their interpretations of the bible and why are they correct when no one else is? I look forward to watching more of this series and seeking answers to my own questions.
Sky Daddy says
This information has been known and available to anyone who has cared to ask the questions on their own accord. It is not necessarily new info just because the vast majority of you are hearing about it for the first time.
At the end of the day if Christians and the Bible are wrong then no harm; dust to dust. If non- believers are wrong…. Certainly not with all those perspectives.
Sky Daddy says
How can you possibly say no harm? You’re obviously unaware of the moral and ethical atrocities that have occurred on this planet, to your fellow human beings as the direct result of belief in these myths.
Sky Daddy…it seems you have deemed something morally and ethically atrocious? By what standard do you draw such evil?
Sky Daddy says
The standard that manifests itself in the pit of my gut when I see the suffering of children, sadness of women, and emptiness of men who have been subjected to persecution, rape, and torture from those who claim that their deity sets the limits on immortality.
By what do you gauge your ethics?
Fred Pickles says
You say “their diety”. We are talking about Jesus Christ here. Not Allah or Buddha or others that people believe in. Jesus whole message was to love your neighbor and even love your enemy and do good unto them. When you see things like children being killed and raped it is not usually someone doing it in Jesus name. In fact Jesus said “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea”. Jesus gave us free will and the human race is corrupt and evil because we are all selfiah. Everyone of us. Jesus promises that one day he will judge the whole earth and all will see that what he did or didn’t do during the World’s history was perfect. He will also make sure that all the suffering of this world throughout history will be judged in perfection.
I sure know I can’t trust the pit of my gut to judge all things as right or wrong.
I pray you read the Bible and not just go with your gut or by TV shows on History Channel that won’t even allow Christians to reply to their claims about the Bible.
God bless you SkyDaddy.
My wife has banned me from watching these kinds of shows. I yell at the television, citing my own competing sources to their so-called “facts,” and generally annoy everyone in the house, so I suppose it’s for the best.
Harvey Sietsema says
Like History Channel presentations – one must always take them with a grain of salt and a critical mind
@peter I always think like that ♡
James Snapp, Jr. says
I don’t have time to review every episode. But I managed to make a video-review of the first episode. It’s at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vwXpawpgYE . Enjoy.
Bill Jones says
Watched it last night, and was appalled at it’s blunderbuss “scattershot” approach. No wonder the average public becomes very skeptical at any claims of veracity for the Bible.
If Christians are wrong than we are of all men most miserable! Thanks be to God that Christ is risen from the dead and become the first fruits of those that sleep so that as He rose so we will also rise at the last day. (I Cor. 15)
The very title “Bible Secrets Revealed” reeks of gnosticism. Secular sensationalists, motivational speakers and junk websites are always making use of “secrets” to weight-loss, health revolutions and other less-than-credible phenomena.
Rush Limbaugh has for months been talking about “low information voters.” Regardless of one’s opinion about Rush, he has made a salient point. Perhaps the History Channel and particularly “Bible Secrets Revealed” has made use of low information scholars (oxymoron?).
After I watched and I found one sided and anuccurate several times, I dont think that I will watch again, big dissapoinment with this History Channel’s series.
diana clifford says
There is no shortage of Christians that can defeat the arguments these ‘experts’ make. The History channel is a joke anyway, but why dumb down the most important book in the history of the Western world at Christmas? I think I’ll sign up for the Smithsonian channel and put the kybosh on the History channel.
To play devil’s advocate, no pun intended, there are some points to consider about the assertions pointed out here. Certainly, I would have to agree the title and narration suggests a differing opinion of the bible. You’re right, it is catchy, its nearly scandalous, and it succeeding in getting you to hear their message. In that regard, it marketed itself which is what the network (as with all networks) demands of every program. Most intellectual people, religious or not, won’t be swayed by a title or tagline. Besides, they say “challenge” not “change.” We have to be careful digging too deep into what one’s intentions might be…does that not put us on a path to create conspiracies ourselves?
Secondly, we must be careful about our assessment of ONE-SIDEDNESS because it is so easy to fall into this category. I do believe the arguments in this review are one-sided as well. Am I missing the part where the author or commenters give credit or counterpoint on behalf of anything mentioned in the documentary? Does it makes us any better in our criticism to follow suit? Maybe we completely disagree with anything in the documentary….If this is the case, we shouldn’t condemn them from doing the same.
Third, there is a lot of harsh comments of the “experts” as we call them. Ironically, most us to counter them are NOT experts in biblical studies. Hence, it seems a bit odd that we know so much more than they. Perhaps our counterclaims completely overrule their years of study and research. If this is the case, our aptitude should grant of easy access to doctorate degrees in their fields of study. We can argue about what they say, but there is much work that goes into their accreditation. They are subject to defend their assertions and research as part of their degree, and in any peer review journal to follow. They put their names, faces, and accreditation behind their claims, and on public television. You can bet they have done their homework. So fortunate are we that writing a blog or leaving a reply doesn’t require any of this. We simply say what we think and need nothing more. Perhaps we are entitled to counter these silly “experts” simply because we “know” or “believe.” Maybe we can use the bible for our defense, but then again, there are historical and translational issues that hinder this book as evidence. If it is so clearly stated in the bible, then we should clearly form into one united religious sect. Unfortunately, I am embarrassed to say we do not agree with each other about these biblical issues. My, it seems those crafty experts are on to something with their translation claim.
More to think on, but I shouldn’t take up all the space. To clarify, I do believe in God, but not in man. We are only human after all and history points to many occasions where we have been duped by our fellow man. Indeed, imagine how things would be if we never “challenged” what we once believed to be true. I look forward to keeping track of this blog. Best to all.
I couldn’t have said it better, particularly about the expertise of the documentary scholars vs. the blogger and commenters. I didn’t read any evidence to back up their claims that what the “experts” said was false. Also, we know the text had to edited by man just because of translation needs, just between Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek. Forget all the English iterations, especially the Henry VIII and King James versions. By the time we arrive at the current, modern translations, we have no idea how close or how far apart we are from the original text. Perhaps if the blogger/commenters could show the same degree of evidence the “experts” gave, there would be something reasonable to discuss.
Full of Grace says
I have to agree with my fellow bloggers “TXSCHOLAR” and “Julie” …what was shown in the series was meant to make us think and question, and not fear the “what if?”. I’m bilingual and things do get lost in translation. Take an easy modern example: foreign movies translated with English subtitles. The translation in the subtitles are not perfect or the interpretation are slightly off from what the actors in the foreign movie are saying. Now lets go back in time…imagine a language from the middle east translated to Greek, then Latin and afterwards old English to modern English. Now if you really want this broken record really scratched up or shattered, modern English translated back to multiple languages (the vicious cycle begins again). Best thing of all its done by us humans who are known, throughout history, to make spectacular mistakes at the best of times. We haven’t factor in the environment, status and political situation these translators were going through. If you want another example of how stories may be lost in translation…how about fairy tale stories from the brothers Grimm and Disney. I don’t think you would like children to watch the more gruesome or confusing parts the Grimm stories provide, but the Disney version are more “gentle” and appealing to all audiences. Do you see a pattern here???
There are so many points that I could discuss and philosophize, but I don’t want to turn this blog into a future thesis.The message I would like to convey is…keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to question. The bible does provide good messages and teachings to benefit the well-being of human-kind and nature. Some, not so much…perhaps they could mean something else. Who knows?!
(If I made grammatical or spelling errors, or my sentences are too weird, I apologise in this note).
Fred Pickles says
They could have mentioned that one of the most important things about the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is that Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek translators say that the current Bibles we have now are incredibly close to what the Sea Scrolls say. So that would really hurt the argument you and other sceptics bring about the accuracy of the original texts being corrupted through multiple translations. You can read about it if you want here…. http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4223603/k.B3EE/The_Dead_Sea_Scrolls_Shed_Light_on_the_Accuracy_of_our_Bible.htm
Sky Daddy says
This is from a Christian source. In a court of law it would be inadmissible.
Chris LeDuc says
Sky Daddy, what a gracious screen name you have chosen. It’s nice to see your humble attitude. Since you mention “a court of law” I can’t help but wonder what your expertise is in law? Have you read Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice, written by Simon Greenleaf? Yes, the same Simon Greenleaf who was a founder of Harvard Law School and wrote the treatise on examining material witness that is still the standard in US courts today? It’s interesting that the man who wrote the book on examining evidence in a court of law would examine the testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Surely you, being one to quote matter of law and court, have read this work? What are your thoughts on it?
*most of us who counter them.
(forgive my fast fingers for any typos)
R. Blackman says
I believe this series is excellent……………When questioning the bibles contents or lack off does not mean we as people are being disloyal to whichever God we believe in.
R. Blackman says
Very well put and I am interested to see what comes up and how the series plays out. I take on episode at a time and try to engage in conversation. There are some very bright people on here. Many have already commented on the second episode covered here. The author, Michael J Kruger plans to continue with the blog which should lead to more discussion, though it has been a while and I have not seen anything for episode three.
The research of biblical scholars is frequently called biblical criticism. It does not presuppose, but also does not deny, belief in the supernatural origins of the scriptures.
Chris Miranda says
I watched BSR last night. It is THE MOST biased, one-sided, totally inaccurate portrayal of the Bible I’ve ever watched.
They basically say the entire Resurrection “rumors” were because a couple of disciples thought they saw a shadow on a wall. And that the body was most likely taken away for a final burial.
And that Jesus born to a virgin is a misinterpretation of Scripture.
Does anyone know who produced and wrote this series?
Ray Mack says
I suggest we take these comments and direct them also to The History Channel. Backlash will make them think about their actions in the future!
Fred Pickles says
I am not too sure of that. I used to enjoy the History Channel but now you can see they have an agenda to prove there is no God. I have seen a myriad of shows on there lately that are definitely skewed towards atheism, being everything from shows about the history of Jesus to evolution. They definitely have a dislike for anything that supports a Christian view of the world. Unless the programmers have a change in the hearts nothing will change. But who knows. Maybe they will see the light.
We have to be cautious. The program definitely challenges the Bible, offers different points of view, and varying ideas about God, but I don’t think they ever said there was no God.