Robert Cargill responds to viewers’ questions on the History Channel series
The History Channel’s new series Bible Secrets Revealed tackles the mysteries of the Bible over the course of six weeks. As consulting producer Dr. Robert Cargill told the Huffington Post, “A lot of Biblical scholarship is controversial from simply making unsubstantiated claims or by saying things like ‘we found the Arc of the Covenant and the nails of the cross.’ We wanted the scholarship itself to be controversial, based upon the facts of what we have found in our studies.”
Dr. Cargill, who is an archaeologist and assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa, has responded to viewers’ questions on the series below.
Click on the following links for Dr. Cargill’s summaries of Bible Secrets Revealed episodes: Ep. 1, “Lost in Translation”; Ep. 2, “The Promised Land”; Ep. 3, “The Forbidden Scriptures”; Ep. 4, “The Real Jesus.”
The free eBook The Holy Bible: A Buyer’s Guide guides you through 33 different Bible versions and addresses their content, text, style and religious orientation. Updated Fall 2013 with brand-new reviews on six new Bible versions by Leonard J. Greenspoon.
After seeing the preview, I believe it will be “Bible Truths Debunked” mostly. Someone is always trying to explain away the divinity of the Bible.
Hi, Carole. Actually, the show isn’t attempting to “debunk” anything. The show is attempting to show how scholars read some of the more significant texts in the Bible. The divinity of the Bible is up to the reader to conclude or not. What we’re trying to show is that the text isn’t always as simple as it appears, especially in multiple translations. Thank you again for your comment.
All the times the Hebrew word saraph is used in the Tanakh/Old Testament, except in Isaiah 6, it is related to snakes or serpents. Based on this, is it reasonable to conclude that the seraphs of Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6 probably had serpent/snake-like qualities? If so, could the nachash of Genesis 3 be related to such beings? And is almah ever translated as “virgin” in the Tanakh/Old Testament?
Joseph, great suggestion. You are correct that the seraphs in Isaiah are mythological winged figures, likely fiery winged snakes, as שרף (saraf) generally means “to burn.” Interestingly, the root נחש (nahash) can also mean “to curse, give omens, foretell.” That the root for the word snake can also means “give omens” may hint at why the snake in Genesis 3 is a talking snake, attempting to convince Adam and Eve of something that is contrary to what they’ve been told. But I’m not sure that saraf and nahash are related, unless you argued that the “burning” comes from the poisonous bite from the snake.
The problem with the almah/virgin (עלמה) text in Isaiah 7:14 is that in the Septuagint (LXX), it gets translated as παρθένος (parthenos), which means “young woman,” or “maiden,” or “virgin.” However, in other occasions in the LXX, the word almah/virgin gets translated with synonyms of “young woman” like νεανις in Exodus 2:8, or νεοτητι in Proverbs 30:9, both from feminine of the root νεος (neos), or “young woman.” Interestingly, in Genesis 24:43, almah/virgin gets translated as “whomever of the θυγατερες των ανθρωπων,” or “daughters of men.” (Note my explanation with Bart Ehrman of “Bar Enosh” in Aramaic as a simple way to say “man.”) In Genesis 24:43, almah/virgin gets translated again as “young woman” (“daughter of man”) in the LXX. So in Isaiah 7:14 the LXX uses the word parthenos, which is another synonym for “young woman.” However, since parthenos can also mean “virgin” in the sense of not having had sex, the New Testament translators interpreted the text in that fashion, understanding and implying a miracle. So in Matthew and Luke, they used the verse to describe Mary, who they believed was giving birth to “Emmanuel,” or “God with us.” Interestingly, there is some debate over (especially) Luke 1:35 and whether the idea of the Holy Spirit “coming upon” and “overshadowing” Mary is not an example of “sexless” conception, but rather divine conception, as the idea is that the Holy Spirit, which represents the power of God, will come upon Mary and cause her to become pregnant. The same root (ἐπισκιάζω) is used in Acts 5:15 regarding Peter’s shadow, which the text says has the power of God to heal. But as for the text of Isaiah 7:14, the choice of the word parthenos allowed the New Testament writers to interpret the passage as a virginal conception, and not just the conception of a young woman, and the result is the virgin birth. Great question!
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I found that there was a lack of balance in the show in terms of the scholars who were featured. Most of the scholars were on the “liberal” end of the spectrum—at least three of them are self-identified atheists or agnostics. Others are known for their revisionist interpretations. Where were the more conservative scholars? Surely they could have found a few reputable conservative scholars to give some balance to the show?
Certainly, most of the facts given in the show are indisputable, but some of them are interpretations. For example, certainly John 7:53–8:11 is not original to John. Does that mean, as Candida Moss claims, that the story did not happen? Could this story not have been an independent oral tradition about Jesus that eventually found its way into the Gospel of John? We know the existence of other independent oral traditions about Jesus—known as agrapha—that are not preserved in the gospels.
Finally, the appearance of Reza Aslan in the show was a joke. He made two glaring errors in the show, which makes me question his scholarly credentials. He first said that 8 verses were added to the Gospel of Mark. Actually, it is 12. Then toward the end of the show, he said something to the effect that we are still reading the Bible 5,000 years after it was written. 5,000 years? Wow.
Brian, you raise a good point. In fact, this was just episode one of six. Throughout the series, you’ll note more scholars from conservative Christian schools, as well as state schools, private Christian colleges, and private secular colleges. But note that many of the scholars who were interviewed teach at Christian universities. Bob Mullins teaches at Azusa Pacific, a private Christian college in southern California. Jeffrey C. Geoghegan teaches at Boston College, a Catholic school. Bryan Givens teaches at Pepperdine, a private Christian school in Malibu, CA. Chris Keith teaches at St. Mary’s University College. Candida Moss teaches at Notre Dame. And so on. We also have Muslim and Jewish scholars. And yes, we also have agnostic and atheist scholars. The idea is to provide a broad spectrum of how scholars of different viewpoints read the texts.
As for the story of the woman caught in adultery, we don’t know whether the story happened or not. We only know that it is not present in all of the earliest copies of the Gospel of John and was added at a later date.
As for Dr. Aslan, I believe the “8 verses” comment was a simple misstatement, in which he probably meant “the verses after verse 8,” as verse 8 was likely the last verse of Mark originally. As for the “5,000 years” comment, I believe that Dr. Aslan is referring to the stories that gave rise to the stories we find in the Bible, which have, in fact, been around for approximately this long. Matthews and Benjamin’s Old Testament Parallels or Pritchard’s Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament detail the stories that gave rise to the biblical stories, like the story of Gilgamesh, which gave rise to the Biblical flood story. In this regard, the “stories” have, in fact, been around for 5,000 years, but the later Biblical/canonical stories are obviously more recent than those. But I believe he was referring to the ancient stories, not the biblical stories, that humans continue to read and retell.
Thanks for this series. When the Book of Revelation is covered on the show, will it be exposing the inherent astrology of the Book of Revelation?
In the present series, there is not a discussion of possible astrological constellations in the Book of Revelation. Perhaps if there is a season two of Bible Secrets Revealed…
Can you please add just one scholar at least who seriously believes in the inerrancy of the Bible, if you expect viewers to believe this series seeks to present a wide spectrum of theologians and experts on its panel?
Thank you for your question. If I may be so bold, the reason you don’t see many credible scholars advocating for the “inerrancy” of the Bible is because, with all due respect, it is not a tenable claim. The Bible is full of contradictions and, yes, errors. Many of them are discrepancies regarding the numbers of things in the Books of Samuel and Kings and the retelling of these in the Books of Chronicles. All credible Bible scholars acknowledge that there are problems with the Biblical text as it has been received over the centuries. The question is whether or not that means the Bible still has value. I believe it does and that we should not dismiss those positive teachings of the Bible simply because the Bible makes different claims about who killed Goliath (1 Sam. 17:50–51 vs. 2 Sam. 21:19 vs. 1 Chron. 20:5); or how many animals were on the ark (Gen 6:19 vs. Gen 7:2); or whether man was created before or after the plants and animals (Gen 1:12,25–27 vs. Gen 2:5–7); or whether or not Paul’s traveling companions heard the voice the spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:9 vs. Acts 9:7); etc.
The question is not whether or not there are discrepancies and, yes, errors in the Bible, but whether or not these errors fundamentally undermine the credibility of the text. Even the most conservative, believing, faithful Biblical scholars acknowledge these problems with the text. This is why we don’t find any scholars that subscribe to “Biblical inerrancy” (to my knowledge) on the show. Thanks again for your question.
How many 1712 bibles have the Apocrypha, especially if it was banned in 1642?
It’s not that the Apocrypha was “banned,” but rather it was excluded from the canon officially by the Westminster Confession of 1647. From this point on, the opinion of whether the Apocrypha was canonical or not was simply another way to distinguish between Catholics (who regard them as canonical, or, specifically, deuterocanonical, and the Church of England and other Reformed traditions, who do not. Good question!
**Original publication “Watch the History Channel’s ‘Bible Secrets Revealed’ and Submit Your Questions to Dr. Robert R. Cargill,” posted November 13, 2013**
Tonight, the History Channel premieres the first episode of “Bible Secrets Revealed,” a new series that will address the following questions over the course of six weeks: “Who wrote the Bible? How old is it? Is it accurate?” Dozens of Biblical studies and archaeology scholars and religious leaders appear on “Bible Secrets Revealed” to help illuminate the mysteries of the world’s best-selling book.
Tune into “Bible Secrets Revealed” tonight at 10/9 central on the History Channel. Live tweet the show with hashtag #BibleSecretsRevealed.
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