Rabbi Wesley Gardenswartz
"Conservative Judaism is fully accepting of the type of scholarship featured in this documentary."
"The Bible's Buried Secrets" explores how biblical accounts square with the findings of archeology. The program's fundamental approach—comparing biblical evidence to extra-biblical evidence—is not only kosher from the point of view of Conservative Judaism, it is encouraged. At the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), the academic center for Conservative Jews, rabbinical students are taught this approach, and entire classes are devoted to it.
Conservative Judaism is fully accepting of the type of scholarship featured in this documentary. While we believe that the teachings and laws of the Hebrew Bible are of divine origin, the idea that people wrote the Bible, a core theme in NOVA's program, is not at all heretical. It is a tenet of Conservative Judaism. God's voice emerges from these sacred words, penned by our ancestors.
The film points out that there is no extra-biblical evidence of the Exodus or of the Wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. That is true. There is no denying it. It is also true that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and NOVA's program respectfully conveys this. What's more, the show speaks about the message of freedom in Exodus, and how important it is to our faith.
The program's treatment of the Canaanite "conquest" is also fascinating and perfectly in keeping with what is taught at JTS. That is, the texts themselves are utterly ambiguous as to whether there was a conquest. One Seminary class I recall looked at the biblical and extra-biblical evidence and suggested several possibilities, including the hypothesis discussed in the show—that the Israelites were in fact Canaanites who moved to the hill country as part of a social and economic revolution.
"The Bible's Buried Secrets" raises provocative questions in a thoughtful and respectful way. In short, it is a thoroughly absorbing program.
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