This is the second installment of my new blog series which responds to each new episode of the History Channel series, Bible Secrets Revealed (the previous installment can be found here). The latest episode is entitled, “The Promised Land.”
On a positive note, let me say from the beginning that the accuracy and balance of this latest episode is a substantive improvement over the debut episode. There are even interviews with scholars who disagreed with one another, rather than all sharing the same view.
That said, there are still a number of places where the documentary makes some claims that are problematic. Let me just mention a view.
1. God-ordained Genocide? Not surprisingly, the documentary observes the violence in the modern day “holy land” and looks for something to blame. The answer is not surprising: the Bible is to blame. The Bible records God’s command that Israel destroy all the peoples living in the land. Thus, God himself creates a culture of violence in the holy land.
Of course, this sort of objection against the Bible is not a new one. But, no attempt is made to provide a more balanced perspective. It should be observed that there is no universal command in the Bible for Jews/Christians to go around killing people. Rather, in the conquest of Canaan, God used the Israelite army as agents of his holy judgment. God judges people throughout all the Bible and uses a variety of means (plague, famine, fire from heaven, etc.). Human armies are just another one of those means.
One might object that the people of Canaan were peaceful and innocent and did not deserve God’s judgment. But, at least according to the biblical rationale itself, all people are deserving God’s judgment (cf. Rom 3:1-20). Moreover, there are good reasons to think that the Canaanite religions were quite wicked, even committed to child sacrifice (cf., Lev 18:21).
2. Israelite Exodus Made-Up? Secondly, the documentary goes out of its way to cast doubt on the historical authenticity of the Exodus, arguing that we should be able to find physical/archaeological remains of this event and we do not. It then concludes, “The problem is that our faith tells us one thing and that the facts and evidence tell us something else.”
But, this whole conclusion is built entirely on an argument from silence. The mere fact that we haven’t found physical evidence of Israel’s desert wanderings is meaningless given how many hundreds of miles of desert we are talking about and the corollary likelihood that such artifacts would be deeply buried.
Moreover, it should also be observed that we have no physical evidence for the vast majority of historical events. We are aware of most events simply through written historical records. If we affirmed only historical events corroborated by positive physical evidence, we would have very little history left.
Thankfully, the documentary does interview some evangelical scholars that raise some of these same concerns.
3. Crusading Christians as the Aggressors? No documentary on the holy land would be complete without trotting out the standard laundry list of Christian atrocities during the Crusades. Now, let it be said that many aspects of these Christian holy wars were downright wrong. No argument there. But, to portray Christians as the militant aggressors against innocent, peaceful Muslims is only a half-truth. For more on this point, see Rodney Stark’s book, God’s Battalions.
These three misrepresentations combine to serve a larger narrative, namely that Jews/Christians have no real claim on the Holy Land because the Exodus is a myth, and, more than that, the violence in the modern day Holy Land is due to the violent and aggressive teachings of the Bible. And glaringly absent in all of these discussions is any reference to (or condemnation of) Muslim violence in the Holy Land, historically or in the present, or any discussion of similar themed passages in the Koran.
The payoff of this narrative is clear. If we are to have real peace in the holy land, we need to move away from and beyond our religious commitments (particularly Christian ones). Religious commitments are the problem, not the solution.
Or, so we are told.