Watch “The Bible’s Buried Secrets” on YouTube

Program Description

In this landmark two-hour special, NOVA takes viewers on a scientific journey that began 3,000 years ago and continues today. The film presents the latest archeological scholarship from the Holy Land to explore the beginnings of modern religion and the origins of the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament. This archeological detective story tackles some of the biggest questions in biblical studies: Where did the ancient Israelites come from? Who wrote the Bible, when, and why? How did the worship of one God—the foundation of modern Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—emerge?

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“The Bible’s Buried Secrets” is the title of a NOVA program that stirred controversy even before its first airing on PBS, on November 18, 2008.[1]


The producers surveyed the evidence and take positions that are mainstream among archaeologists and historians, although they continue to raise objections among both Christians who believe in the bible as either literal or historical truth and minimalists who assert that the Bible has no historical validation.

The program airs archaeologists’ assertions that:[2]

On the Origins of Israel

On the development of the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh

  • The Bible‘s first books have been traced back to multiple authors writing over a span of centuries. (See Documentary hypothesis.)
  • The early books of the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Samuel and Kings, reached almost their present form during the Babylonian exile of the 6th century BCE.

On the development of monotheism in Israel

  • The Israelite religion was not exclusively monotheistic from the beginning as suggested in the Hebrew Bible, rather, the archaeological evidence indicates that, before the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE, the early Israelites were polytheistic and worshipped the local god Yahweh alongside his “wife,” a fertility goddess named Asherah.
  • The emergence of monotheism and the belief in the universality of Yahweh was a response to the tragic experience of the Babylonian exile of the Israelites in the 6th century BCE. According to Dever, “It’s out of this that comes the reflection that polytheism was our [the Israelites’] downfall.”

Featured archaeologists and historians

Reviews and reception

The Biblical Archaeology Review wrote: “The producers have done a magnificent job summarizing over a century of biblical archaeology and biblical scholarship in two hours. The film strikes a balance between the old-fashioned biblical archaeology approach, which tried to prove the Bible’s historicity, and the extreme skepticism of some minimalists, for whom the Bible contains little factual history.[3]

According to Rabbi Wesley Gardenswartz: “Conservative Judaism is fully accepting of the type of scholarship featured in this documentary.”[4]

Reverend Kenneth Himes says: “For some, the ideas presented may seem novel or surprising, but this is material that is being discussed in the theology courses found at many Catholic universities.[5]

The conservative American Family Association has issued an online petition urging Congress to cut off federal funding for PBS.[6] “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.[7]

Apologetics Press, a publishing organization affiliated with the Churches of Christ, has written a response to this program that is summarised with the concluding paragraph: “… if Christians are to change their minds about the historicity of the events recorded in the Hebrew Bible, a better case, supported by adequate evidence, would have to be made than the one presented in The Bible’s Buried Secrets.”[8]


1. Boedeker, Hal, “‘Bible’s Buried Secrets’ from PBS’s ‘Nova’ Likely to Stir Controversy with its Look at Good Book’s Authorship”, Orlando Sentinel, July 14, 2008

2. Bible gets a reality check, Cosmic Blog: MSNBC, Alan Boyle

3. The Biblical Archaeology Review

4. Rabbi Wesley Gardenswartz. “NOVA | The Bible’s Buried Secrets | Rabbi Wesley Gardenswartz”. PBS. Retrieved 2012-09-06.

5. Reverend Kenneth Himes. “NOVA | The Bible’s Buried Secrets | Reverend Kenneth Himes”. PBS. Retrieved 2012-09-06.

6. New PBS program says Bible isn’t true, stories made up, AFA Action Alert, American Family Association

7. Josh Kimball. ‘Bible’s Buried Secrets’ Trailer Hits YouTube, Christian post

8. Dewayne Bryant. The Bible’s Buried Secrets Apologetics Press

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