The History Channel’s new series Bible Secrets Revealed tackles the mysteries of the Bible over the course of six weeks. Bible Secrets Revealed airs on Wednesdays at 10 pm EST on the History Channel. Live tweet the show at #BibleSecretsRevealed.
Consulting producer Dr. Robert Cargill, who is an archaeologist and assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa, has responded to Bible Secrets Revealed viewers’ questions throughout the series. Read the questions and answers here.
Episode 3, “The Forbidden Scriptures,” aired on November 27, 2013.
Summary of Episode 3 by Dr. Robert Cargill
This episode explores many ancient Jewish and Christian documents that didn’t make it into the Bible. Scholars refer to these documents as the “Pseudepigrapha” (books written under a false name) and the “Apocrypha” (which came to be understood as the “hidden books”). The episode asks why these books were excluded from the Bible.
“The Forbidden Scriptures” Act 1: The Biblical Canon
The episode begins by noting that both Judaism at the time of Christianity and early Christianity were incredibly diverse. In fact, when it came to “Scripture,” different Jewish and Christian groups revered different books as authoritative and canonical. We first explore the concept of canonization, asking how and why certain books made it into, or were banished from, the Bible.
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Particular attention was paid to the figure of Enoch and the books attributed to him.
Enoch was an incredibly popular figure in the late Second Temple period, and yet the books attributed to Enoch were left out of what became most Jewish and Christian canons. Of course, those responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls loved Enoch and the literature associated with the Enochic tradition (like the Book of Jubilees). But many Christians do not realize that a part of 1 Enoch actually did make it into the Christian canon. Scholars recognize that verses 14-15 of the canonical Epistle of Jude actually quote from 1 Enoch 1:9. We can compare them below:
Jude 15: to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
The passage from which Jude claims that Enoch is quoting is actually a rough translation from the Book of Enoch:
So despite the fact that the Book of Enoch was excluded from the biblical canon, it was so popular in the first century CE, that a part of it was retained in a quote from the Epistle of Jude.
Because the Book of Enoch is so closely tied to events of canonical Book of Genesis 6:1-4, the episode suggests that 1 Enoch exists, in part, as an apology for God. There seems to have been some ethical questions raised about why an all-knowing God would come to “regret” (cf. Genesis 6:6-7) creating humans and ultimately murder them all (except for Noah and his family, of course) with a flood. It raised questions about God’s omniscience and moral judgment. Thus, some scholars argue that the beginning of the Book of Enoch was attempting to make God look better by explaining the account of the Great Flood as a means by which to save humanity from the unstoppable Giants that were wreaking havoc all over the earth and devouring all of its resources (cf. Jubilees 7:21–25). Thus, rather than understanding the Great Flood as a murderous divine punishment of humans, the Book of Enoch seeks to make God look a little better by suggesting it was the only way to save humanity from the evil of the Giants brought about by the divine-mortal intercourse.
“The Forbidden Scriptures” Act 2: Gnostic Christianity
In Act 2, the show introduces the Gnostics and some of their beliefs. The corpus of texts discovered at Nag Hammadi leads to a discussion of Gnosticism and Gnostic Christianity and how this belief system differed from what would become mainstream Christianity. The Gospel of Thomas is highlighted, and there is a discussion about how the Gospel of Thomas differs from the canonical gospels. For instance, Thomas is a collection of sayings of Jesus, but contains no miracles or narratives about Jesus. These differences, coupled with its Gnostic teachings that would later be deemed heretical, are likely the reason it was excluded from the Christian canon.
Read about how the Nag Hammadi texts discovered in Egypt reintroduced the world to Gnostic Christianity in the Bible History Daily article “The Nag Hammadi Codices and Gnostic Christianity.”
“The Forbidden Scriptures” Act 3: The Figure of Mary Magdalene
In Act 3, the documentary examined the person and the Gospel attributed to Mary Magdalene. The show examined the Biblical and popular claims made about Mary—including that she was an important disciple (perhaps most important of the disciples) and that she was married to Jesus. The documentary also suggests that the later attempts to conflate Mary Magdalene with the unnamed “sinful” woman mentioned in Luke 7 were possibly designed to suppress the influence of Mary (and of women in general), while elevating the male disciples (the Apostles) to levels of greater importance within the early church tradition.
The act also discusses the Testimony of Truth and asks why Adam and Eve are prohibited from and then punished for pursuing knowledge by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
“The Forbidden Scriptures” Act 4: Did God Have a Wife?
Act 4 begins with the Life of Adam and Eve, which offers a number of additional details about the first biblical family not included in the Biblical accounts, like the origin of disease and death.
This act also explores the concept that God may have had a wife. Inscriptions from Kuntillet Ajrud speak about Asherah as a consort of God in blessings made by those authoring the inscriptions. We have similar inscribed blessings invoking YHWH and Asherah from Khirbet el-Qom. This is a difficult concept for many because the Bible is very clear that God is a singular God (as one would expect in a monotheistic or monolatrous faith). Yet because the prophets were so adamant and repetitious about the fact that idols—including Asherah—were not be worshipped, it is seen as evidence that she was, in fact, being worshipped in ancient Israel and Judah and being invoked in blessings alongside YHWH.
I often use the example of the “NO SKATEBOARDING” signs one might see in public plazas when explaining this to my classes. If you see ubiquitous “NO SKATEBOARDING” signs all over a public place, it is likely that much skateboarding is, in fact, taking place there. (At least enough skateboarding to require a number of signs to discourage the activity.) The same is true for the worship of Asherah: given the fact that the prophetic texts offer so many repeated warnings about worshipping her, it is likely that she was being worshipped in ancient Israel.
“The Forbidden Scriptures” Act 5: The Apocalypse and the Book of Revelations
The final act introduces the concept of “apocalypse” and spends a moment discussing the Book of Revelation (aka The Apocalypse of John). Act 5 also highlights a trio of pseudepigraphical texts attributed to the Apostle Peter: The Apocalypse of Peter, the Gospel of Peter (which features a giant, resurrected Jesus and a floating, talking cross), and the Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter. It is worth noting that many scholars see the Apocalypse of Peter as a likely inspiration behind Dante’s Inferno, as it was not only as popular as the ultimately canonical Book of Revelation, but also describes a hell where each punishment fits the crime.