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The Bible's Buried Secrets

Program Overview


NOVA distills more than a hundred years of archeological excavations and centuries of biblical scholarship to explore the history of the Israelites and the beginnings of modern religion.

Hour 1 of the program:

  • notes that the earliest known intersection between science and scripture occurred in 1208 B.C., when an Egyptian victory monument and the Bible both place the Israelites in Canaan.

  • relates how the Bible depicts the origins of Israel.

  • reports how the absence of archeological or historical evidence to corroborate the first five books of the Bible has led scholars to look instead at what motivated the writing of the Bible.

  • reveals that, though it was long believed that Moses wrote the first five books, historians now think they were written over several hundred years by at least four different groups of scribes.

  • shows how scholars examine the Bible for the most archaic, and therefore the oldest, forms of Hebrew to ascertain which passages were written first.

  • reviews the story of Exodus and looks at whether there is any archeological evidence to support it.

  • speculates how the Israelites came to arrive in Canaan, the Promised Land.

  • explores where the Israelites may have found their ancient God, which they called YHWH (pronounced yah-weh).

Hour 2 of the program:

  • relates the narratives of David and Solomon.

  • reports on evidence suggesting that David and Solomon existed and lived in the 10th century B.C., making David the earliest biblical figure to be confirmed by archeological evidence.

  • conveys how scholars identified two biblical sources who each referred to God by a different name—YHWH, penned by a source known as "J," and Elohim, penned by a source known as "E."

  • reports on the excavation of a monumental building in Jerusalem that has generated debate about whether it could be King David's palace.

  • identifies three buildings, in different cities, having similar six-chambered gates, suggesting a regional central governing authority.

  • recreates what the architectural layout of Solomon's temple may have been like.

  • describes how the Israelites were dominated by the Assyrians, then conquered by the Babylonians and brought to Babylon.

  • details how Israelite priests and scribes—sources described as "P" (for "priestly" source)—were thought to have used scrolls and oral traditions to produce much of the Bible as it is known today.

  • examines the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the most celebrated surviving biblical texts.

  • reports on the discovery of small silver scrolls dated to the 7th century B.C. that contain a familiar prayer still spoken in synagogues and churches today and that are the earliest existing references to written biblical narratives.

  • describes the return of the Israelites to Jerusalem after the Babylonian empire toppled, and the reestablishment of the covenant with their god in the newly written Torah.

  • points out how the new text moved the Israelites from an ancient cult to a modern religion, and how the Israelite deity Yahweh transformed into the God of the three great monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after program is recorded off the air.

Teacher's Guide
The Bible's Buried Secrets
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