Weeks after news broke of the upcoming PBS program “The Bible’s Buried Secrets,” the trailer for the two-hour television special made its YouTube debut Sunday, adding more fuel to a controversy that has already generated a flurry of intense and sometimes heated debates.
“In 1896, near the banks of the Nile in southern Egypt, one of the most important discoveries in biblical archaeology is unearthed,” begins the three-and-a-half-minute trailer.
The program claims to converge science and history “to create an extraordinary new story of an ancient people – a new story of the Bible.”
“An archaeological detective story pieces together clues that paint an extraordinary picture of who wrote the Bible, when, and why,” the trailer’s narrator says.
The trailer is notably tamer than the presentation for the program last month during the Summer 2008 Television Critics Association Tour (TCA), which brought dozens of reporters and critics to Beverly Hills to get a taste of a broad array of upcoming TV programs.
During the session for “The Bible’s Buried Secretes,” panelist and Bible scholar William G. Dever characterized the Bible as a "minority report" that "[i]f we insist on reading ... literally, in 25 years, nobody will read it any longer."
The PBS program, on the other hand, is "a shocking film in many ways, but it’s truth, revolutionary, and it’s as fresh as yesterday,” said Dever, who specializes in the history of Israel, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Producers of PBS's science series Nova say the film has “new discoveries that shake the foundation of biblical archaeology,” echoing claims by other contested documentaries such as “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” which aired last year on The Discovery Channel.
The two-hour PBS special attempts to delve into the origins of the Israelites to explore their gradual transformation into a monotheistic people. It attempts to uncover who wrote the Hebrew Bible and whether it’s history or parable.
Furthermore, the show poses provocative ideas – including the “revelation,” as the trailer’s narrator calls it, that many Israelites believed that God had a wife – and disputes literal readings of the text.
News of the upcoming program, which broke out after the July 13 preview, was quickly disseminated across the world-wide web, prompting the conservative American Family Association to pass around a petition urging Congress to stop using tax dollars to fund PBS.
“PBS is knowingly choosing to insult and attack Christianity by airing a program that declares the Bible ‘isn't true and a bunch of stories that never happened,’” signers of the petition are encouraged to declare to members of Congress.
Archeologist Dever – who said he has participated in two dozen films about the Bible, most of which, he said, were “dreadful” – predicted that there would be those who “are not going to like this film.”
“It’s a waste of time to argue with fundamentalists,” Dever said, according to the Orlando Sentinel. “And this film doesn’t do it. It’s designed for intelligent people who are willing to change their mind.”
Among highlights of "The Bible's Buried Secrets," as noted by the AFA:
• The Old Testament was written in the sixth century BC and hundreds of authors contributed.
• Abraham, Sarah and their offspring didn't exist.
• There is no archaeological evidence of the Exodus.
• Monotheism was a process that took hundreds of years.
• The Israelites were actually Canaanites.
“The Bible’s Buried Secrets,” is set to air Nov. 18 on the PBS.