NOVA’s “Must See” Documentary on Contemporary Biblical Archeology


At the PBS website, the NOVA documentary, The Bible’s Buried Secrets, has become available on DVD.

The program, through interviews with some of the most well-known biblical archeologists in the world, surveys the grand scope of the biblical narrative, from Abraham to the return of the Jews to Israel after their Babylonian exile.

The documentary raises questions such as these (and attempts to answer them):


  • Is there any archeological evidence that the stories of the patriarchs, the Exodus, and the conquest narratives in the book of Joshua, actually happened?
  • Did King David and King Solomon exist, and if they did, were their 10th century kingdoms of as wide an extent as the biblical narratives suggest?
  • Were the ancient Israelites related to the Caananites—and if so, in what way?
  • Where did the name “Yahweh” come from?
  • Did the ancient Israelites, prior to their Babylonian exile, assign a wife to sit alongside their male god Yahweh?

Needless to say, contemporary archeology offers rather surprising answers to these questions. The short answers are:

  • The patriarchs, the Exodus, and the stories in the book of Joshua have no archeological support to speak of—and what we do know archeologically seems to contradict aspects of the biblical narratives.
  • David and Solomon almost certainly existed. The evidence for Solomon’s reign is actually pretty strong, and unusually well supported. But scholars are divided about the extent of David’s reign—and whether Jerusalem had much development at the time David is purported to have ruled there.
  • The ancient Israelites did not come out of Egypt in mass, but were, in fact, natives of the Levant, and were originally inhabitants of Caananite cities. In other words, they were, early on, Canaanites.
  • The god “Yahweh” was probably worshiped by a tribe of people just south-east of Israel—and the Israelites adopted their god’s name from this tribe.
  • Yes, there is abundant archeological evidence that—at least in terms of folk religion—the earliest Israelites worshiped Yahweh—and also his wife. Yahweh’s wife appears in the archeological record in the form of household fertility and lactation idols called “Ashera”—and there has been at least one inscription discovered to “Yahweh and his Ashera.”

Needless to say, a lot has changed in biblical archeology since the days of William Albright, and this documentary sets forth the broad outlines of our contemporary understanding admirably.

The film is thus excellent for college-level Hebrew Bible survey courses—or “Bible as literature” courses.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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