Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Bible: A History First Reviews

I am delighted to see several positive reviews of The Bible: A History, the new seven part series on Channel 4 (UK), the first episode of which aired on Sunday (see my posts on The Bible: A History). The Independent writes:

The Weekend's Television: The Bible: A History, Sun, Channel 4
Reviewed by Tom Sutcliffe
. . . . The principal punchbag in this programme was Richard Dawkins, criticised by Jacobson for intemperately attacking certitude with a mirror-image certainty. I guess Dawkins's prose style riles Jacobson – its impatience and asperity with certain kinds of human folly. And one might point out (from a safe distance) that if you want to excoriate irascibility and fierceness of language, it might help to be a bit less tetchy and short fuse than Howard Jacobson. But then this was a writer's appreciation of the Creation story, from a man who understands that the Authorized Version reverberates through English prose and poetry, and isn't too worried that some people choose to take it literally . . .
There are similarly appreciative comments from Fraser Nelson in The Spectator, Atheism as Extremism, and Sholto Byrnes in The Staggers blog on the New Statesman, The Importance of Myth. There are briefer comments in The Times, but still fairly positive.

Doug Chaplin offers his thoughts on the first episode on Clayboy, Nutritious Religion? Creation and C4's Bible: a History and Matt Page has his thoughts on the first episode over on Bible Films Blog.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I disagree with your positive sentiments here, and very much hope that the programme to which you have contributed will be significantly better than this dismal episode.

Jacobson’s programme started off reasonably positively, pointing out that modern biblical critics are unanimous (outside fundamentalism) that Moses did not write the Pentateuch, which instead dates from a period considerably later than the events it purports to recount. I guess really here my sense of depression on this point comes not from the programme itself, but the woeful lack of communication from the realm of biblical criticism to “the faithful” of what have been standard ideas for well over a century (or 3), and the continued ignorance of religious adherents of all varieties which necessitates this ladybird-book-level introduction of this programme.

But from then on the programme went downhill.

It cited Richard Dawkins in his well known summary of the negative characteristics of Yahweh. Was there any attempt to examine why there are so many anthropomorphic and warlike attributes accorded to Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible? Was there any discussion of the sources of these ideas or a study of the development of biblical theology? No! Instead here the programme left biblical criticism well behind and went on an attack of Dawkins, who seems rather more familiar with the biblical portrayal of Yahweh than Jacobson.

And was this attack on Dawkins fair? Despite Howard Jacobson at one point having a copy of The God Delusion in front of him with the carefully titled “Why there almost certainly is no god” chapter open and visible on screen, Jacobson lambasted Dawkins for his arrogant certainty! This bearing-of-false-witness is unbecoming to anything which tries to present itself as a serious documentary. The Natural History Museum in London was then falsely/crudely caricatured as a temple of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and Dawkins as high-priest of atheism in order to create a false dichotomy. Atheism was equated to “fundamentalism” without any attempt to clarify which sense of the oft-misused word was being evoked, and no attempt to justify it (still no atheists flying aeroplanes into skyscrapers or insisting on a literal interpretation of The Life of Brian.)

Jacobson then went on to lament that Dawkins criticises a form of religion that is uncommon and not his, and doesn’t see the irony when he interviews religious members of his own family (Rev Polkinghorne's very present "straw men") who spout views much more legitimately described as “fundamentalist” – a defence of six-day creationism with a justification of “belief transcends rationale and understanding”! As if that wasn’t enough, he goes on for good measure to interview a Christian pastor who spouts amazingly ignorant creationism in the heart of Westminster. Good grief – he couldn’t have done a better job of proving Dawkins right and shooting himself in the foot at the same time! Jacobson is “furious” with Dawkins, but fawning towards the creationists in his own family and other religious traditions.

All in all, the programme constituted a rant against a caricature of atheism (of a type that not even Dawkins believes), whilst presenting some of the worst examples of hard-line, creationist, biblical fundamentalism, and trying to present the latter as more reasonable! And what did we learn about biblical criticism? Simply that the Pentateuch didn’t come from Moses, but much of it was composed after the Babylonian exile. Well gee!

Replete with fallacies, simplistic and uninformative, you should have no difficulty in rising above this pitiful level.