The Bible: A History: A Skewed Look At The Good Book

February 7, 2010 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews

1.5AW300THE BIBLE: A HISTORY: Sunday 7th February, Channel 4, 7pm ALERT ME

Let’s get this out of the way first; I’m a card carrying atheist. With that in mind, my eyebrows were already raised before I started watching The Bible: A History.

Ann Widdecombe unfortunately offers me no reason to change my mind as she invites us to take a look at what she calls the cornerstone of Christianity – The Ten Commandments.

In the show’s favour, it does look at the historical significance of these so-called divine rules – whatever you feel about them; you have to concede that they have had a profound effect on our society. And it is interesting to see Widdecombe visit St. Catherine’s church in Egypt where there are stored Bibles from the 4th century – any written work that is that old is, by default, fascinating.

Unfortunately, that’s the only positive thing about the show as it’s so skewed towards Widdecombe’s viewpoint that it stifles any objection to her narrow-minded analysis of the Good Book.

I’d be perfectly happy with a programme that gave both points of view equal acknowledgment but Widdecombe steamrolls over anyone who has a contrary viewpoint.

Having been wowed by the idea that the first five books of the Bible were written by Moses himself, Widdecombe attempts to backtrack on that significance when a historical scholar reveals that the texts were most likely written by several authors and that there’s no archaeological evidence for the march out of Egypt chronicled in Exodus.

“The truth is, you don’t know? she says when doubt is cast upon her beliefs. The scholar, like any good scientist, is forced to agree that it isn’t a certainty but extremely unlikely. But extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, and she has none – if anything Widdecombe is the one being blind here – her argument of “you can’t prove it didn’t happen therefore it’s true? is stunningly illogical.

This attitude pervades the rest of the programme as well. Even when confronted by Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens (to whom she resoundingly lost the Intelligence Squared debate last year by a staggering margin of 1876 to 268 – a margin which isn’t even mentioned), she insists on sticking to her guns.

Hitchens is literally on camera for about a minute– shown blustering his way out of the room in frustration – an edit clearly designed to make him look unreasonable. Fry is shown in a more favourable light but Widdecombe can only defend his accusations to camera when he’s not there – the resort of every debater who’s been outgunned and won’t admit it.

There’s nothing wrong with a programme about the historical and cultural context to the Bible – whatever you think of it, it’s an important part of history. But to portray such a one-sided and narrow-minded viewpoint which chokes any argument to the contrary is just unfair and Widdecombe’s constant insistence that she’s right in the face of any opposition is maddening.

Natalija Harbinson says:

I watched this programme despite Widdecombe’s irritating high pitched squeal of a voice. As someone with a Jewish (aetheist) mother, I knew the origins of the 10 commandments already (let’s not forget Christianity is seen as a Jewish sect that spread to gentiles via Paul in the Jewish community). But Widdecombe never really explained in any depth why following the commandments in the modern world would be beneficial in a mostly secular society (apart from the “Thou shall not kill” commandment). She also forgets that when the commandments were written, stoning was rather popular as a punishment for convicts and is still used today in countries such as Nigeria. Biblical law, would have to adapt to modern times, if it were to be followed and in British society, which is mostly aetheist, why would people want to follow these ancient rules? “Honour thy mother and father”? Kids can’t wait to leave home and only see their parents at Christmas. “Thou shall not worship engraven images”….but sculptures and art are everywhere and the cult of the celebrity is part of daily life. I’m afraid this programme was a smug “oh look at me, I follow the commandments” programme rather than something more informative. She never even mentions that God gave Moses the commandments because he was fed up with his rebellious people…..and as Fry said, the commandents were to enslave and rule over the people….

speakeasy says:

This programme was watchable, but only because you watched on in hope that Widdecombe might suddenly splutter out some words of interest, or actually, intelligence. It seemed like she simply spent the entire hour reminding us what the ten commandments actually were, whilst babbling on about how society would undoubtedly benefit if we returned to following biblical laws. She seemed to totally overlook the concept that under those laws there was never peace. If I were editing that programme I certainly wouldn’t have included her dismal attempt at debating with Stephen Fry – the woman looked like a total imbecile, whilst at you point out in this article Fry came across in a great light. And if you weren’t irritated by all of this, lets not forget her irritating, discordant voice!