The Bible Unearthed: The Making of a Religion
The Bible Unearthed is a French documentary based on the 2001 bestselling book by the same name authored by Professor of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, Director of the Ename Centre for Public Archaeology and Heritage Presentation. Finkelstein’s archaeological investigation seeks to challenge the historical accuracy of the Bible by placing it in political, geographical, historical, and cultural contexts. We are toured through excavations in Egypt, Jordan, and Israel, including Megiddo, a site of twenty-five scrutinized strata worth 7,000 years of history.
This main investigation is fed by interviews with biblical scholars from France, Canada, Switzerland, Israel, Belgium, and the U.S., and museums such as the Louvre, the Museum of Cairo, the Museum of Jerusalem, and the British Museum, as well as archaeological specialists from the Levant. Archival footage of previous excavations, aerial photography, maps, computer animations, cuneiform tablets, extensive ruins, and various artifacts all supplement the interviews.
Copious questions are constantly posed by the narrator in an effort to evoke mystery—an effort that fails and evokes annoyance instead. This method also helps rob the film of dynamism, causing it to progress at an excruciatingly slow pace. The narrator uses florid language to say nothing. His are metaphors, general facts, and reiterations doled out sluggishly.
Accompanied by silence or music, shots of landscapes, old books, and close-ups of excavated finds are ubiquitous. Several of the questions posed are eventually answered by the various biblical scholars and archaeologists toward the end of each episode, which is when the episodes finally become engaging.
First is “The Patriarchs,” which begins with Genesis and evaluates where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ostensibly lived: Canaan. This episode is mostly vague and filled with questions. Next, “The Exodus” presents us with less speculation and more solid information, this time on Egypt and the story of Moses.
The third episode, “The Kings,” spans the story of God asking Joshua to conquer Israel, a feat that was then purportedly accomplished in two weeks. “The Kings” is the most compelling and dynamic episode thus far, in part because it puts the 1950s Israel excavation findings into a contemporary context. The archaeologists’ conclusions established just after the country’s independence, we learn, managed to fuel the notion that force and violence are necessary to give birth to a nation. This notion was allegedly what led to the conquest of Galilee by the Israelites.
The final episode, “The Books,” hunts for the writers of the Bible and the original Israelites, coming up with fascinating conclusions. This film is an engrossing adventure for religious enthusiasts, although not for the faint of heart. Let’s just say that much of the Bible is historically disproven and stories attributed to the political will of their writers. But if you want to skip the fluff and get more depth, go for the book.