A Response to the History Channel’s “Bible Secrets Revealed”

bible_secrets_revealedOn the evening of November 13, 2013, the History Channel debuted a new series entitled “Bible Secrets Revealed” co-produced by noted scholar of Second Temple Judaism Robert Cargill of the University of Iowa. The episode may be viewed here.

Anticipation ran high. The program was supposed to be a hard and honest look at the Bible from some of the most notable (and notorious) figures in Biblical scholarship such as Bart Ehrman, Mark Goodacre, Candida Moss, and Reza Aslan. The disclaimer at the beginning of the program promised a fair presentation of multiple view points, stating, “This program explores the mysteries of the Bible from a variety of historical and theological perspectives which have been debated for centuries.” Such a disclaimer, usually alerting viewers to graphic violence and sexual content not suitable for children, should have warned the unsuspecting public that the content to be presented was anything but “a variety of historical and theological perspectives.” In fact, the program revealed a heavily anti-religious and specifically an anti-Christian bias, where a multiplicity of view points was exchanged for a singular ideology aimed at discrediting religious faith in the Bible. It soon became apparent that what was supposed to be a presentation of the best of objective, secular biblical scholarship was anything but objective. Leading questions suggested the most absurd conclusions, and half-truths masked the real objectivity found in secular scholarship, which is capable of being fair and respectful of religious faith.

In what follows, I will examine many of the claims made by the first episode of “Bible Secrets Revealed” and then discuss a particular Orthodox Christian response.

The program begins with a leading question, “Has the Bible been translated, edited, and even censored so many times that its original stories have been compromised by time?” At the outset, we find the ideological stance of the program, a notion that pervades secular views of religion as well as many of the religious themselves, namely that the only truly legitimate and valuable stories of the Bible are “original,” untouched by redactor or cleric. It is assumed that any “story” which has lost its supposed “original” historical accuracy is not valuable to the person of faith. In other words, the only value the Bible could possibly offer is what is original and untouched by later religious ideology. Furthermore, the narrator asks the leading question, “Is the Holy Bible the inspired word of an almighty God, or a collection of stories authored by a number of largely anonymous men?” Such a statement unfairly assumes that divine inspiration must involve verifiable authorship. While a segment of religious persons may indeed believe this, it is by no means shared by others who have no problem with divinely inspired, anonymous authors.

The program continues by offering the discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls in eleven caves near Khirbet Qumran as proof that such “original” content of the Bible has been lost, edited away, and covered up. A leading question by the narrator suggests that the Dead Sea Scrolls contained information “of great religious consequence” and contained “contradictions, discrepancies of detail, and language that have left theologians and Bible scholars scratching their heads.” This sort of hysteria, common to contemporary media treatments at the time of the scrolls’ discovery, has shown to be empty hype. In fact, the biblical manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls largely confirm the readings of the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible, and many of them confirm readings of the the Hebrew text behind the Septuagint. Nothing in the non-biblical manuscripts found among the Scrolls has drastically changed the way we view the history of early Christianity or its claims. The Scrolls merely give us a fuller, more nuanced understanding of the Jewish world immediately preceding the coming of Christ.

In this first episode, entitled “Lost in Translation,” several examples of supposed mistranslations are offered in order to show that what the Bible really says has been altered by later revision and mistranslation. Some of the examples they give, however, are presented as half-truths and distortions of reality. For example, it is noted that the Hebrew word adam, usually translated as “man” is actually a word encompassing all of humanity, a general word for “human person.” This is true to a certain extent, except for the fact that adam is used in the narrative to refer to a specific male person; the Hebrew ‘ish (“man”) is juxtaposed with his wife (‘ishah). So, contrary to the statement of Robert Mullins of Azusa Pacific University, the Hebrew word adam carries with it both a general sense of human kind as well as a specific male person who has the name Adam. Such practice is in keeping with ancient Near Eastern mythology, which typically names mythological figures after the natural elements they represent such as the Canaanite gods yam (“Sea”) and mot (“Death”). Adam, the person, represents and embodies adam “human kind” in himself, a point that St. Paul takes up in Romans 5.

Similarly, Cargill explains that the Aramaic term bar enash (“son of man“) used by Jesus in Mark 2:23 is simply a term for “a dude” or anyone. In other words, as Jesus explains that the Sabbath was made for the service of people, people are lords of the Sabbath. While it is true that the term bar enash is used in Aramaic as a general word for “man” or “person,” it is also generally recognized by scholars that the term is elevated to a messianic term in the portions of 1 Enoch known as the Similitudes and is used by Jesus to refer to himself in numerous places.

A well-known case of supposed mistranslation is taken from Isaiah 7:14, the famous quotation in the Gospel of St. Matthew that “Behold, a virgin will give birth…” (1:23). This verse in the Septuagint uses the word parthenos (“virgin”) which translates the Hebrew word almah, meaning “a woman of marriageable age.” It is often said that the Greek parthenos is a mistranslation of almah, but this is not technically a “mistranslation” but a sharper translation, a term of more specific meaning for a term with more general meaning. A young woman of marriageable age would have been a virgin until her marriage, at which point she would then be called ishah (“woman” or “wife”). The Septuagint translators were applying a keen understanding of Hebrew social terminology, which were not easily translated into Greek. They chose to preserve in their Greek translation what was to them the most striking feature of the Hebrew text, “A young woman (understood to be unmarried or newly married and a virgin) will give birth.” If there is any “mistranslation,” it is the failure of scholars such as Francesca Stavrakopoulou of Exeter University to account for the full import of the Hebrew term almah.

Another rather glaring error becomes apparent if one has access to a Hebrew Bible. During a “who dunnit?” discussion of the real killer of Goliath, the program draws attention to the fact that 2 Samuel 2:19 claims that Elhanan killed Goliath the Gittite rather than David as presented in 1 Kings 17:49-51. The program then shows that 1 Chronicles claims that Elhanan slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite. However, we are led to believe through the graphical presentation that this change is deliberately made in the English translations, not in the original Hebrew text of 1 Chronicles. The program routinely uses Hebrew text dissolving into English to indicate the actual text of the Hebrew Bible, even in the segment about David and Goliath, yet in this instance, only English is used. So we find in these cases, what is presented as mistranslations are not mistranslations at all, but twisted half-truths serving an anti-religious ideology. Moving from translation issues to more general statements about the Bible and some individual books, we find similar, absurd leading questions and half-truths. During a discussion of Constantine, the narrator even asks, “An emperor authoring the Bible?” Elaine Pagels of Princeton University states, “We had Christianity for 300 years before we had a New Testament,” leading one to believe that the New Testament books did not exist for the first three centuries of Christianity. Yet, we know that the epistles of Paul and the four gospels circulated in the early church, were read during liturgical services, and were extensively quoted by the second and third century fathers. While the New Testament may not have been canonized until the Synod of Hippo in 393 CE, the New Testament books themselves did exist and were heavily utilized.

The program draws attention to the widely-known fact that the Gospel of Mark is missing its original ending and that two alternate endings were composed at later times. It is insinuated that, because the Gospel of Mark is missing its original ending, the resurrection of Jesus was made up centuries later. Mark Goodacre states rather curiously, “The story of the resurrection actually emerges as an interesting literary story partially because people are so dissatisfied with Mark’s story.” The narrator then asks, “Is it possible that the resurrection was the consequence of a missing page?” This is the most ridiculous claim made by the program, for the verse immediately preceding the supposed broken off ending of Mark says, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him” (16:6). The program focuses upon the ending of Mark, a red herring, while ignoring the actual text of Mark itself. Furthermore, the undisputed letters of Paul, written decades before the Gospels, contain our earliest witness to the fact that Christians believed in the resurrection. First Thessalonians and Galatians, the two earliest epistles of Paul, demonstrate such belief about a decade after the resurrection would have occurred.

Other questions regarding the text of the New Testament are explored as well, such as the story of the “Woman Caught in Adultery,” also known as the pericope adulterae, found in the King James Bible in John 7:53-8:11. Candida Moss of the University of Notre Dame suggests that, because the story is not found in the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of John, it “probably never happened.” Such a sweeping statement skirts questions of orality, i.e., how authentic Jesus traditions may have been transmitted orally without being written down in any particular place. In fact, this story is known as a “floating tradition” because it appears in Luke’s Gospel in some manuscripts. It is also known from the third century Syriac text Didascalia Apostolorum. Such a story may have been authentic, though its place in the written accounts of Jesus’ life was less sure.

Secular scholarship is a valuable enterprise when the bare facts of its findings are presented objectively and without bias. If we believe, as I was taught as an undergraduate at Oklahoma Baptist University, that “all truth is God’s truth,” then Christians need not be afraid of secular Biblical scholarship. Yet such ideologically charged programs as “Bible Secrets Revealed” present secular scholarship in a very negative light that excludes religious faith before the facts may be considered from “multiple perspectives” as the program itself claims. What is not admitted in the program, at least not until the very last line spoken by Cargill, is that religion and faith go far beyond the Bible. Just because the Bible may or may not have said something, or just because someone wrote a biblical text in another’s name, or just because a text was written late, does not a priori invalidate claims of faith. I am horrified, though not surprised, that a sort of sola scriptura hermeneutic has invaded the realm of secular biblical scholarship, whereby religion is invalidated solely because of the findings of biblical scholarship. It is a failure to understand the true complexities of religious faith. Instead, religious faith is presented as a sola scriptura and fundamentalist straw man, easily destroyed by facts about the Bible. (These are not “secrets” as the program claims, but are widely known and accepted even among conservative Christian scholars.) The program tries to clean up its mess in the end with a few bouquets thrown at religion, but it fails to convince after so thoroughly tarnishing the claims of traditional faiths with its odd sola scriptura hermeneutic. Certainly there is room for honest examination of biblical scholarship, but it should be done in a manner that is respectful of religious faith, otherwise such scholarship leaves its own academic boundaries and transgresses in the inter-religious dialogue itself.

As Orthodox Christians, we believe in the divine inspiration of Scripture, but we need not put artificial strictures on what this means or how it occurs. In fact, we may recognize the divine energy of inspiration in a more comprehensive manner, from the composition of Scriptural texts, to their redaction, collection, transmission, even through their translation, liturgical reading, and public exposition in preaching. Even private, devotional reading of Scripture brings the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the heart attentive in faith. Yet in all of these instances, inspiration is never mechanical, automatic, or without human interference. The limitations of scribal technology, human culture, and the imperfections the individuals who interpret the text serve to mark the Scriptural texts’ essential, mysterious nature. The divine Spirit is found in the Bible as a mystery; that is a hidden reality, revealed in the hearts of men and women who attend to it in faith. Biblical scholarship may be able to uncover many “secrets” about the history of Ancient Israel and the Graeco-Roman world that contradict certain aspects of the Biblical text, most of which the church fathers have interpreted typologically. It may uncover many aspects of the transmission of the Bible that surprise us and topple our simplistic assumptions of divine inspiration. But, if all truth is God’s truth, nothing can topple or contradict the essential truth of Jesus Christ witnessed to by the Law and the Prophets and proclaimed by the Apostles throughout the world.

Comments

  1. Nick Katich says

    Good article. I gave up on watching the History Channel years ago because the history that I knew and the history it presented were quite different. Regarding the pericope adulterae, I just wanted to comment that Augustine advanced the position that it was in the original but that it was removed by early copyists; hence the existence of early manuscripts with the story missing and that subsequent copyists eventually restored it. His explanation of why early copyists deleted it to begin with was a fear that it would encourage adultery by women because she was forgiven in the pericope after committing adultery.

  2. says

    I would also add this regarding “almah”: if you look at the uses of the word in the Hebrew text, it refers to a virgin (such as Rebekah). It’s been a while since I traced each use of “almah” but as I recall, I don’t believe there is ever an instance that “almah” doesn’t refer to a virgin in the Hebrew text (which is my awkward way of saying that every use is referencing a virgin). If I’m correct, this is an example of the History channel using a definitional fallacy.

    • Eric JobeEric Jobe says

      Benedict Seraphim, you are correct. It is used four times in the Hebrew Bible, of Rebekah in Gen 24:43, of the maidservant of Pharaoh’s daughter in Ex 2:8, and in Prov 30:19 of what seems to be a bride and groom on their wedding night.

      • david laughlin says

        Although “almah” may strongly and even definitionally refer to a virgin, it seems one implies sexual relations where the other does not necessarily. Correct me if I am wrong but a “virgin” giving birth sounds much different than a “woman of marriageable age” giving birth. Can’t a “woman of marriageable age” still give birth through sexual relations although not married while a “virgin” intrinsically implies no sex. I’m just confused in this sense, that’s all.

        • Eric JobeEric Jobe says

          It could be argued that an /almah/ who gives birth would be reckoned as being an unmarried girl who was raped. C.f. Deut 22:23-4 (though the word used here is /na`arah/. The word /almah/ is actually rather rare, but seems to connote virginity. The evidence compiled in David Cline’s Dictionary of Classical Hebrew strongly lean in that direction. My contention is that if it were a married woman giving birth, the word that would be used would be /ishah/. Origin makes the point that, a married woman giving birth would not be much of a “sign”: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf04.vi.ix.i.xxxvi.html

    • Eric JobeEric Jobe says

      I also want to say regarding this verse, that while many Christians throughout history have charged the Jews with deliberately changing the word in this verse (e.g. from batulah to almah), such accusations are libelous and without basis. There is no evidence to suggest such a thing, and parthenos is a perfectly acceptable translation of almah. We should be careful about making libelous claims that have no basis in the actual evidence available.

    • says

      Dr. Stavrakopoulou on the History Channel got this one wrong, as I explain here (“Q&A: Is the Virgin Birth a Mistranslation?“)

      But alma most certainly does not mean “virgin,” as I explain in detail in my And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible’s Original Meaning.

      The connection between alma and “virgin” in antiquity was similar to the connection between “high schooler” and “teenager” in modern America. Most high schoolers are teenagers, and most teenagers are high schoolers, but there are nonetheless places where only one is accurate. Similarly, most young women were virgins, and most virgins were young women, but translating alma (“young woman”) as parthenos (“virgin”) is still a mistake.

      In the end, though, it is a mistake of little theological importance. First of all, Isaiah 7:14 doesn’t say that the young woman wasn’t a virgin; she could have been.

      More importantly, Matthew certainly knew that his citation of Isaiah 7:14 only worked in Greek. He didn’t care. When we fail to recognize this we fail to understand how the authors of the NT quoted the OT. (More: “What Happens to Prophecies in the New Testament?“)

      And for that matter, even if Isaiah 7:14 is completely mistranslated, that doesn’t mean that the virgin birth is a result of a translation mistake. The virgin birth as clearly described in the Gospels doesn’t depend on Isaiah 7:14.

      -Joel

      • Eric JobeEric Jobe says

        Good points. There is certainly a shift from the original Isaiah prophecy to its usage in Matthew and Luke. In fact, I usually try to point out this very fact in all Christian biblical interpretation. As I pointed out in the article above, it’s not about trying to get at what is “original.” Christian biblical interpretation is just that, interpretation. From an Orthodox point of view, we would say that it is iconological, that we interpret the prophecies as images of the greater reality revealed in Jesus Christ, that Jesus becomes a sort of cypher by which we interpret the OT.

      • says

        Dr. Hoffman: I agree with you on the semantic range of “almah.” And, as you note in one of your posts linked in our reply, one doesn’t want to use theology to distort linguistic facts for theological accuracy. That said, however, even with all the linguistic facts at our disposal, the semantic range delineates the possibilities of translation, it does not settle the question of how one actually translates the word. And here, inescapably, we come to the theological suppositions behind the act of translation.

        I agree with your approach on the Matthean appropriation of Isaiah 7:14. And as an Orthodox Christian, I do not need to satisfy an Enlightenment understanding of fulfilled prophecy, nor need to adhere to a fundamentalist understanding of the transmission of the Scriptural texts, such that I require that the Isaiah text must mean “virgin.” It’s enough to note, as you rightly do, the semantic range of the word and its appropriation by the Matthean text, and, as I would add, its actual use in the Old Testament Scriptures, and, at least for me as Orthodox, the coherence of all that within Orthodox Christology.

        In any case, I’ve added your book to my reading list. I look forward to reading it.

      • James says

        I’m surprised no one has mentioned Tarazi’s take on this “mistranslation,” which seems to me an interesting one. Essentially he is saying that, by the time the LXX translation occurred, the nature of the 7th century B.C. threat that had precipitated the sign in the original text had become obscured, leading the translator to heighten the sense of miraculousness in his choice of words to render the passage. Thus, to readers of that era, parthenos would have been the right choice for translating the word almah in this context.

      • Eric JobeEric Jobe says

        We know now after the discovery and decipherment of Ugaritic as well as from our knowledge of Arabic (both of which St. Jerome did not have), that there were two Semitic roots that become conflated in Hebrew due to historical sound changes. The first is ayin (ع)-lammed-mem, which connotes “darkness,” hence the “concealed” of St. Jerome. The other is ghayin(غ)-lammed-mem, which connotes “youth.” The word ġlm in Ugaritic is used in the Kirta epic to refer to a “lad.” So the actual root of Hebrew /almah/ is the Semitic term for “youth” not “darkness.”

  3. says

    It does not surprise me that the History channel would go on the attack of Christianty, because I have witnessed how the History channel has devolved into sensationalizing history, turning it into a for profit business that plays to the bell curve. There are those in business that fear the true message of Christ, with good reason, because Christ was not about making money but obeying God, and being in obedience to God might lead to not continuing to play the “game” by the adversary’s rules and that would be very detrimental to their bottom line.

    • Eric JobeEric Jobe says

      This program was billed as being from some of the most well-respected scholars in the field, so there is a certain amount of professional integrity that I suspect from such scholars, the same integrity that I expect from a scholar whose paper I read in an academic journal. As a scholar myself, I hold myself to that academic integrity, and I expect my fellow scholars to hold me to that integrity. I felt that this program, regardless of the History Channel’s pedigree or reputation, fell very much below the standards of academic integrity that we expect.

      • says

        That is too true, and one of the reasons I gave up on the History Channel, integrity is something the entertainment industry will play at, yet rarely achieve. I know that there will be people that quote what they learned from this show to continue the adversary’s “spin” and support their belief against Christ and His Church, and say that it came from scholars of the Scripture and thus further confuse those that seek after the truth. It is indeed a very insidious attack.

  4. Ed Cole says

    I began watching the program thinking I would get a laugh or two. I was then insulted and appalled. I turned it off.

    Even as a still very new to Orthodoxy convert I could see right through the crud these people were promoting.

    I don’t understand why people would spend their time and money on an education in theology, then do nothing but tear theology apart. I think these scholars will be quite shocked when they find out Jesus really is smarter than they are.

    • Charlie says

      same reason, I suspect that T thought i’d get a thrill from the Dan Brown books – until I converted to Orthodoxy – then out they went!

  5. says

    The intellectual dementia of the so called “scholars” is apparent. If any study had been done at all, they would have found of the 5 oldest unicals, the long ending to Mark 16 appears in 3 of the 5. Of course the other 2, Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, disagree with each other over 3000 times in the gospels alone so they could not be expected to be anything less. Of the 600 minuscule containing Mk. 16, the last 12 verses are found, are you ready for this, 600 times! But since “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God”, the God haters will do everything in their power to discredit and destroy His Word.

    • Eric JobeEric Jobe says

      External evidence is not the only means by which the longer ending is thought to be later, but internal as well, i.e. style, vocabulary, and the like. I’m not ready to call the longer ending legitimately Marcan, but I’m also not ready to call it “not Scripture.” I believe Scripture is more about the tradition, not hypothetical originals. So, even if there are later interpolations into the NT, it does not a priori exclude them from being Scripture, in my opinion.

    • says

      Another interesting fact is that Vaticanus left a blank spot at the end of Mark, which just happens to be large enough to copy the missing ending — and this is the only such blank spot in the codex. Sinaiticus letters become twice as large at the end of Mark, and if you shrank them to the size of the rest of the manuscript, you would have the same blank… and so clearly the copyist of these manuscripts knew of the longer ending, and the blank may have been designed to give the purchaser the option of having it added. But the fact is, prior to the 4th century, there is no evidence of the ending being missing.. and only in Egypt was this ending apparently controversial, for a brief period of time. Tatian’s Diatesseron has it, and it far predates Vaticanus or Sinaiticus.

      • Eric JobeEric Jobe says

        The blank spot in Vaticanus is curious, but there is not enough room for the longer ending to fit in that space, so I don’t think it was intended to hold the longer ending. I don’t see what you’re talking about in Siniaticus. The letters are exactly the same size. (And yes, I am looking at digital images of the mss.).

        • says

          Eric Jobe,
          Yes there is. See the pertinent graphics at http://www.curtisvillechristianchurch.org/AuthSuppl.html .

          Regarding Sinaiticus: John Whiteford didn’t describe the unusual features there accurately, but it, too, has an anomalous feature that involves the end of Mark. All four pages in Sinaiticus containing Mk. 14:54-Lk. 1:56a are replacement-pages, on which the proofreader of the MS used some very different rates of letters-per-column, and stretched out his lettering in column 9 so that he would have some text to place in column 10. For an explanation of why he did this, and what it implies, see my paper “A Textual Repair in Sinaiticus,” which is among the free files available at the NT Textual Criticism Facebook group.

          (I’ve also written an e-book about Mark 16:9-20, which you can get cheap at Amazon.)

      • Eric JobeEric Jobe says

        Regarding the Diatesseron, it is important to remember, that we don’t know exactly when the longer ending, if it were secondary, came about, and it could have itself been prior to Tatian. Also, that portion in Tatian (if I’m reading it right) comes from an Arabic manuscript, not the Latin, so there is some text-critical work that needs to be done there (I say this as a caution, not as an opinion, because I haven’t looked into the different mss. of the Diatesseron, nor do I have time to right now.)

        Also, just a side note that Mark Goodacre (I think) had an interesting idea that the material from the original ending of Mark ended up in John 21, since John shows some evidence of having two endings, 20 and 21. Just a shot in the dark hypothesis, but interesting nonetheless.

  6. says

    Eric, I was taught (by Jeannie Constantinou that 1 Corinthians was the first written account of the crucifixion. How sure are you on the books that you mention, how much difference would it be, and is the difference even significant?

    • Eric JobeEric Jobe says

      To the extent that Paul was quoting from a pre-Pauline confessional statement, yes, that is possible (I’m assuming you are referring to 1 Cor 15:3ff). Paul often says things that many scholars take to be traditional modes of expressions that pre-date Paul’s epistles. Phil 2:5ff would be another example.

  7. says

    Thank you for writing this, Eric.

    I am currently studying for my MA in history, focusing on the hierarchical structure in early Christian churches and I am often appalled by how ridiculous and/ or one-sided the arguments of sensationalist, secular scholars can be. It seems that history has become less concerned with discovering and presenting the truth and more concerned with writing what will sell books.

    • Eric JobeEric Jobe says

      I do believe that it is possible for secular scholars to be fair and respectful to persons of religious faith. I believe that, because I have witnessed such highly respectful attitudes at the University of Chicago. I think it is always expedient to remember who is paying your bills: religious persons often make up a large portion of academics programs in Bible, classics, and ancient Near Eastern studies.

  8. Torch says

    Don’t worry about these liberal theologians in Bible Secrets Revealed, they are all sellouts. Their arguments are not new or even valid (these are the same arguments that have been going on since the Enlightenment period of the 18th c.) They are just regurgitating the same old trash and their liberal ideas have already been disproved by other prominent Biblical and religious scholars such as Dr. Wallace, Dr Licona, Dr. Blombert, NT Wright…etc. A quick read of even Case for Christ and Case for Real Jesus will show that these liberal theologians are way off, telling half truths, or are just simply lying. Even Dr. Bart Ehrman stated this in his book Misquoting Jesus, “Essential Christian beliefs are not effected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.” In other words according to Ehrman, all the copies of the New Testament from the original manuscripts all essential christian doctrines have stayed intact to today since the 1st Century! However, he wont state this in the History Channel documentary. why not? Wouldn’t that have been good scholarship, to present both sides? but nope, no mention of this quote at all from his own book! It’s pretty sad! These liberal scholars are not trying to discrediting the bible because of scholarship (which is poor), they are trying to discrediting the bible because it sells. ” The love of money is the root of all evil”~ 1 Timothy 6:10. One day they will have to stand before God and give an account of their deceptive lies, just glad I wont have to answer for this!

    • SF says

      That was actually Ehrman quoting Metzger. And FWIW, he qualified that, saying “What [Metzger] means (I think) is that even if one or two passages that are used to argue for a belief have a different textual reading, there are still other passages that could be used to argue for the same belief. For the most part, I think that’s true.”

      One of the problems here is the ambiguous nature of what an “essential Christian belief” is: what qualifies as as “essential Christian belief” is going to vary from person to person. Sure, the idea of the resurrection doesn’t hinge on some manuscript variants; nor the virgin birth.

      But don’t think it’s all so cut-and-dry. Even if – since the birth of modern textual criticism – we’re basically no longer fooled by theologically-motivated textual corruptions, the same can’t be said about ancient readers, who certainly didn’t have all the different text types at their disposal.

  9. says

    Eric Jobe: That was a solid review. I hope to make a video-response to the same episode soon.
    In related news: have you read my book, “Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20″? It clears up a lot of false claims that are circulating in various commentaries. If you haven’t read it, I’d be glad to send a free digital copy. — james (dot) snapp [at} gmail (dot] com.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  10. Matthew Mengeling says

    What I would love to see, but probably will never happen, is a show that explains the truths of the Bible…but that doesn’t sell, does it? We know Jesus existed at the time, because non-Christian Roman documentation describes Him and His manner of death. There are over hundreds of Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus, written before His life, that describe His life and death…prophecies that could not be self-fulfilled by any ordinary man. Regardless of the New Testament, the proof of Jesus as the Messiah can be verified in the Old Testament alone. In fact, what Paul and the Gospel writers mostly use to confirm Jesus as God comes from Old Testament quotes. I would like to see a show that demonstrates the deity of Christ through the evidence in the Bible. In addition, as time goes on, archeological studies are proving Biblical accounts…further discounting them as simply being stories or allegories. Why don’t we have a show that discusses these things?

    • Eric JobeEric Jobe says

      I think Indiana Jones said it best, “Archaeology is the search for fact … not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.” As both a secular scholar and an Orthodox Christian, I have to keep this distinction in mind. As a scholar, I dig up facts, but the facts may or may not point to a greater truth. Jesus Christ will always remain true, and we use the Bible as scripture as a witness to that truth. But, the Bible understood as an arti*fact* may not point to that truth universally, and that’s okay. Truth is revealed in a mystery to the heart searching for it in faith. My contention is that “Bible Secrets Revealed” does not present the facts, rather it presents what the program’s producers and many of its participants believe to be truth, a truth that we as Orthodox Christians disagree with. What we need then, are History Channel programs that deal only with the facts, not “truths.” Leave “truth” to clerics, not scholars.

  11. Q says

    All religion is man made don’t be mad because a book of stolen stories from Mesopotamia and Africa is getting exposed. Believing and knowing are two different things.

    • Gaetano says

      “Believing and knowing are two different things”…Which you demonstrate quite clearly by the ignorant assertions of your post. Thank you.

    • Eric JobeEric Jobe says

      Even if I were an atheist, I would write essentially the same review. The scholarship presented in that program was very poor. Generally, I don’t have a problem with secular scholarship when it is done honestly and objectively. BSR Ep 1 was not, unfortunately.

    • says

      Q, your comment is in error, because they are not doing anything new, this exposure of the Bible has been done many times and the same lies and half-truths have been knocked around before, and yet the Church is still here, and will be for eternity.

  12. fairmark says

    Thanks for clarifying the HC’s many misleading proposals. This type of deception is the most dangerous. Why? Because 99.9% of us aren’t dedicated enough to learn these complicated facts, as you are. You are a good servant. God bless you.

  13. PDH says

    I am not theologian, but as a layperson I do have a thirst and hunger to increase my depth of knowledge of the Bible. I also want to continue to cultivate my relationship with Christ and be able to articulate and substantiate the reasons for my faith. I have read a number of books and articles on apologetics and feel comfortable in defending my faith. With my knowledge and understanding of theology being limited and my pursuits more practical than academic, I know that I have much more to learn. Shows like this one on the History Channel bring evidence and arguments with which I don’t agree, nor believe. However, what is presented by these Biblical scholars creates a desire in me to seek out why their arguments are not compatible with what I believe to be true about the authenticity of the Bible. Hence, I ended up on your website and have found some useful information to clear up the misrepresentations provided in this documentary. But what I find to be disturbing and a little scary is that many unconvinced and skeptical people, as well as Christians, will accept at face value what was presented in the documentary. That will either further substantiate their unbelief or create confusion and disillusionment in what they already believe. I’m of the opinion that many Christians have subscribed to a watered-down version of the Gospel for too long now. The shallowness of their faith and their lack of knowledge of the Truth wrecks their discernment and kills there ability to shake off the ill effects that the untruths of programs like these can cause. I appreciate so much your commitment to the pursuit of Biblical scholarship and the article that you have provided here. I also appreciate the posts of others here as well. The information provided has helped to further solidify my faith and to encourage me to continue to grow in my understanding of theology.

    • says

      I share the concern that many viewers will accept at face value the veracity of this program, in fact I find it frightening rather than a little scary. The History Channel has somehow gained a level of respectability in many peoples opinion that I believe to be undeserved and this program reinforces my belief. I am relieved that others have noticed the blatant bias and outright mistruths represented. As I write this the first episode is just airing in my area and while watching I had to “Google” to see if anyone else was concerned. Thank you.

  14. Ryan Artz says

    Thank you. I appreciate that some one with insight was able to respond to what the show was saying. I was deeply shocked about the content of the show since the title was very misleading. Your testimony here was of great help. I appreciate your knowledge and you sharing it. Gives me a better understanding. This webpage has been favored.

  15. David P. says

    I just saw it for the first time last night. It made me want to vomit. That’s all that needs to be said. What a gross misrepresentation of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Shame on you history channel…

  16. Mike A. says

    Eric Jobe: As I read your treatise on the ‘takes’ of the History Channel’s ‘Bible Secrets Revealed’, I am puzzled by the argument altogether! How can matters of ‘faith’ EVER REQUIRE temporal, physical ‘proof’ of biblical history? Do you maintain that the ‘accuracy’ of ancient mitigated statements is essential to the ‘faith’? That would be a serious mistake! Etimology; be it in 1800 B.C or 2013 is affected by the social values of the era! Who cares? Belief does not NEED ‘proof’! It stands alone… Non-belief is also as much of a ‘belief’ as belief! Do you recognize the paradox? If god were as omnipotent and all-knowing, do you not think ‘he’ would ensure human frailty could not ‘alter-the-facts’? Thus; ANY ‘translation’ of ancient writings is inevitably rendered ‘moot’ by its eral significance!

    • Eric Jobe says

      Mike, I don’t believe I stated anywhere that faith requires physical proof. However, I also hold that faith encompasses more than “blind faith.” Faith is ultimately trust and confidence in the person of Jesus Christ. It is not mere cognitive acquiescence to certain propositions. Faith does not need proof, to be sure, but it certainly can operate within the framework of reason and knowledge. I do not believe that faith and reason are mutually exclusive, for such an epistemology would bring unbearable contradictions to our everyday experiences.

      The persons behind “Bible Secrets Revealed” have altered and skewed the historical facts surrounding the Bible, and they have failed to consider other means of biblical interpretation other than literal and fundamentalist. The result is that people may begin to doubt, because they have been told lies. The proof that faith does intertwine with reason and knowledge lies therein – when presented with contrary information, we begin to doubt. My aim in this post was to unravel their skewed propositions in order that people may not be deceived thereby.

  17. Wayne G. says

    With Mary and Elizabeth being cousins that would mean they were both ‘daughters of Aaron and if Elizabeth was quite old when she conceived John the Baptist then there is no reason to assume that Mary was just entering the age where she could wed, the odds are more in favor of her being ‘about 30′ when the conception took place. That would make her about 60 when Jesus told the Beloved Disciple (Mary of Bethany and the unnamed Disciple of John the Baptist.
    Joh:1:40:
    One of the two which heard John speak,
    and followed him,
    was Andrew,
    Simon Peter’s brother.:

    • says

      Why should cousins be of similar age? Even if they are precisely first cousins, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be a whole generation apart in age. Large families easily permit first cousins to be significantly different in age. Imagine a family with ten children, spread across 20 years of childbirth. The oldest child (John) marries and has a child (John, Jr.), who could easily be the same age as that oldest’s own youngest sibling. Then that youngest sibling (Jack) grows up and has a child (Jack, Jr.). Jack, Jr., could be 18 years younger than John, Jr. And what if Jack’s wife has 10 kids, too, spread across 20 years? Jack’s wife gives birth to Julia after 20 years of marriage. Julia is 38 years younger than John, Jr., who is her first cousin.

      So there’s really no particular reason to believe that Mary and Elizabeth were of similar age, even assuming that they are first cousins.

      • Wayne G. says

        All that is true but it doesn’t remove the possibility that Mary was ‘older’ and still a virgin rather than the typical version of some old guy marrying an almost child bride when there is no indication that was the case other than men’s imaginations. The text clearly says ‘also conceived a son in her old age ‘ and that is pertaining to the age of the women mentioned.

        Lu:1:36:
        And,
        behold,
        thy cousin Elisabeth,
        she hath also conceived a son in her old age:
        and this is the sixth month with her,
        who was called barren.

      • says

        The first thing that came to my mind was, “God, what totally unoriginal naming this family is doing! Can’t they at least give names starting with something other than a “J”?”

        Since you never gave Jack’s wife name, I’ll say it’s “Julia”.

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