I just watched the Nova program on the Bible’s Buried Secrets. It had on a few scholars whom I saw or met in Israel.
In terms of its perspective, it pretty much followed William Dever’s ideology: minimalist on the Exodus and the Conquest, maximalist on the existence of David and Solomon. I’ve learned a lot of what was on it in the course of my education, but I had forgotten much of it, since I’m not a walking encyclopedia.
You know, I hate to say this, but my reaction right now is, “Who cares?” Or, rather, “Why should I care?” Look, even if the maximalists are right, what have they established that is helpful to the faith? That Solomon built a six-chambered gate? Whoopee! That doesn’t have anything to do with the Hebrew Bible’s religious interpretations of history. But, for whatever reason, there are conservative Christians who use maximalism to defend their religion.
There are many aspects of biblical scholarship that don’t inspire me that much. I’ve had professors who could touch on the scholarly angle while maintaining a sensitivity to the religious dimensions of the text. But there’s a lot of academia that doesn’t do this. And this Nova program didn’t do it either. At least Mysteries of the Bible tried. Plus, it had a better soundtrack. But, overall, I get more inspiration from watching my television shows (e.g., Waltons, Joan of Arcadia, Eli Stone, etc.) than I do from certain elements of biblical scholarship.
I think the Nova program was trying to be inspiring when it described the shift of the Jewish religion to a universalistic direction. When the exile came, it argued, the Jews found ways to relate to God outside of the Temple, such as prayer and the Sabbath. Plus they began to see their God as the creator of heaven and earth.
I’m sure they hung onto those things rather fiercely during the exile, but I’m not convinced that those things didn’t exist before. Why would the Israelites have to be in exile to believe their God was the creator? The Egyptians believed an Egyptian god was the creator. The Babylonians believed that about one of their gods, Marduk. It was an ancient Near Eastern idea: my god is the one who made everything we see around us. Why couldn’t the Israelites have had it before the exile?
I thought the show was a good refresher course on the Bible and archaeology. I just find that much of what it was saying doesn’t matter to me anymore.