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  • NARRATOR: God is dead...

  • or so it must have seemed

  • to the ancestors of the Jews in 586 B.C.

  • Jerusalem and the temple to their god are in flames

  • The nation of Israel founded by King David is wiped out

  • WILLIAM DEVER: It would have seemed to have been the end,

  • but it was rather the beginning

  • NARRATOR: For out of the crucible of destruction

  • emerges a sacred book: the Bible...

  • and an idea that will change the world:

  • the belief in one God

  • ¶ ¶

  • THOMAS CAHILL: This is a new idea

  • It was an idea that nobody had ever had before

  • LEE LEVINE: Monotheism is well-ensconced,

  • so something major happened which is very hard to trace

  • NARRATOR: Now a provocative new story

  • from discoveries deep within the Earth and the Bible

  • EILAT MAZAR: We wanted to examine the possibility

  • that the remains of King David's palace are here

  • DEVER: We can actually see vivid evidence here of a destruction

  • AMNON BEN-TOR: Question number one: Who did it?

  • NARRATOR: An archaeological detective story puzzles together clues

  • to the mystery of who wrote the Bible, when and why

  • And it was very clear

  • it was some kind of a tiny scroll

  • I immediately saw very clear, very distinct letters

  • This is the ancestor of the Hebrew script

  • NARRATOR: And from out of the Earth

  • emerge thousands of idols that suggest God had a wife

  • We just found this exceptional clay figurine

  • showing a fertility goddess

  • NARRATOR: Powerful evidence sheds new light on how one people,

  • alone among ancient cultures,

  • finally turn their back on idol worship

  • to find their one God

  • This makes the god of ancient Israel

  • the universal god of the world that resonates with people,

  • at least in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim tradition

  • to this very day.

  • (thunder crashes)

  • NARRATOR: Now science and scripture converge to create

  • a powerful new story of an ancient people,

  • God and the Bible

  • Up next on NOVA "The Bible's Buried Secrets"

  • Captioning sponsored by EXXONMOBIL

  • DAVID H. KOCH

  • the HOWARD HUGHES MEDICAL INSTITUTE

  • the CORPORATION FOR PUBLIC BROADCASTING

  • and VIEWERS LIKE YOU

  • Major funding for NOVA is provided by the following: NARRATOR: Near the banks of the Nile in southern Egypt in 1896,

  • British archaeologist Flinders Petrie leads an excavation

  • in Thebes, the ancient city of the dead

  • Here, he unearths one of the most important discoveries

  • in biblical archaeology

  • (worker yelling)

  • From beneath the sand appears

  • the corner of a royal monument, carved in stone

  • Dedicated in honor of Pharaoh Merneptah,

  • son of Ramesses the Great,

  • it became known as the Merneptah Stele

  • Today it is in the Cairo Museum

  • DONALD REDFORD: This stele is

  • what the Egyptians would have called a "triumph stele,"

  • a victory stele commemorating victory over foreign peoples

  • NARRATOR: Most of the hieroglyphic inscription celebrates

  • Merneptah's triumph over Libya, his enemy to the West

  • But almost as an afterthought, he mentions his conquest

  • of people to the East in just two lines

  • REDFORD: The text reads,

  • "Ashkelon has been brought captive

  • "Gezer has been taken captive

  • "Yanoam in the North Jordan Valley has been seized

  • Israel has been shorn, its seed no longer exists"

  • NARRATOR: History proves the pharaoh's confident boast to be wrong

  • Rather than marking their annihilation,

  • Merneptah's Stele announces the entrance

  • onto the world stage of a people named Israel

  • REDFORD: This is priceless evidence

  • for the presence of an ethnical group called Israel

  • in the central highlands of southern Canaan

  • NARRATOR: The well-established Egyptian chronology

  • gives the date as 1208 B.C.

  • Merneptah's Stele is powerful evidence

  • that a people called the Israelites are living in Canaan,

  • in what today includes Israel and Palestine

  • over 3,000 years ago

  • The ancient Israelites are best known through familiar stories

  • that chronicle their history

  • Abraham and Isaac...

  • (thunder crashes)

  • Moses and the Ten Commandments...

  • David and Goliath

  • It is the ancient Israelites who write the Bible

  • (reading aloud)

  • Through writing the Hebrew Bible,

  • the beliefs of the ancient Israelites survive

  • to become Judaism, one of the world's oldest

  • continuously practiced religions

  • And it is the Jews who give the world an astounding legacy:

  • the belief in one God

  • ¶ ¶

  • This belief will become the foundation

  • of two other great monotheistic religions:

  • Christianity...

  • and Islam

  • Often called the Old Testament,

  • to distinguish it from the New Testament,

  • which described the events of early Christianity,

  • today the Hebrew Bible and a belief in one God

  • are woven into the very fabric of world culture

  • But in ancient times, all people from the Egyptians

  • to the Greeks to the Babylonians,

  • worshipped many gods, usually in the form of idols

  • How did the Israelites, alone among ancient peoples,

  • discover the concept of one god?

  • (man chanting)

  • How did they come up with an idea

  • that so profoundly changed the world?

  • Now archaeologists and biblical scholars are arriving

  • at a new synthesis that promises to reveal

  • not only fresh historical insights,

  • but a deeper meaning

  • of what the authors of the Bible wanted to convey

  • They start by digging into the earth...

  • and the Bible

  • DEVER: You cannot afford to ignore biblical text,

  • especially if you can isolate a kind of kernel of truth

  • behind these stories,

  • and then you have the archaeological data

  • Now, what happens when text and artifact seem to point

  • in the same direction?

  • Then I think we are on a very sound ground historically

  • NARRATOR: Scholars search for intersections

  • between science and scripture

  • The earliest is the victory stele

  • of the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah from 1208 B.C.

  • Both the stele and the Bible place a people

  • called the Israelites in the hill country of Canaan,

  • which includes modern-day Israel and Palestine

  • It is here, between two of history's greatest empires,

  • that Israel's story will unfold

  • PETER MACHINIST: The way to understand Israel's relationship

  • to the superpowers Egypt and Mesopotamia on either side

  • is to understand its own sense of its fragility as a people

  • The primary way in which the Bible looks at the origins

  • of Israel is as a people coming to settle in the land of Israel

  • It's not indigenous

  • It's not a native state

  • NARRATOR: The Hebrew Bible is full of stories of Israel's origins

  • The first is Abraham,

  • who leaves Mesopotamia with his family

  • and journeys to the Promised Land, Canaan

  • READER: "The Lord said to Abraham,

  • 'Go forth from your native land, and from your father's house,

  • 'to the land that I will show you

  • 'I will make of you a great nation

  • 'And I will bless you

  • I will make your name great"

  • "Genesis 12:1 and 2"

  • NARRATOR: According to the Bible,

  • this promise establishes the covenant,

  • a sacred contract between God and Abraham

  • To mark the covenant, Abraham and all males are circumcised

  • His descendants will be God's chosen people

  • They will be fruitful, multiply, and inhabit all the land

  • between Egypt and Mesopotamia

  • In return, Abraham and his people,

  • who will become the Israelites, must worship a single God

  • This is a new idea

  • NARRATOR: It is hard to appreciate today

  • how radical an idea this must have been

  • in a world dominated by polytheism--

  • the worship of many gods and idols

  • The Abraham narrative is part

  • of the first book of the Bible, Genesis,

  • along with Noah and the Flood, and Adam and Eve

  • Though they convey a powerful message,

  • to date, there is no archaeology or text

  • outside of the Bible to corroborate them

  • DAVID ILAN: The farther back you go in the biblical text,

  • the more difficult it is to find historical material in it

  • The patriarchs go back to Genesis

  • Genesis is, for the most part,

  • a compilation of myths, creation stories, things like that

  • And to find a historical core there is very difficult

  • NARRATOR: This absence of historical evidence leads scholars

  • to take a different approach to reading the biblical narrative

  • They look beyond our modern notion of fact or fiction

  • to ask why the Bible was written in the first place

  • DEVER: There is no word for "history" in the Hebrew Bible

  • The biblical writers were telling stories

  • They were good historians, and they could tell it

  • the way it was when they wanted to,

  • but their objective was always something far beyond that

  • NARRATOR: So what was their objective?

  • To find out, scholars must uncover

  • who wrote the Bible and when

  • READER: "And the Lord said to Moses, 'Write down these words,

  • 'for, in accordance with these words,

  • I make a covenant with you and with Israel"

  • "Exodus 34:27"

  • NARRATOR: The traditional belief

  • is that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible--

  • Genesis: The story of creation

  • Exodus: Deliverance from slavery to the Promised Land

  • Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy:

  • Laws of morality and observance

  • Still read to this day, together they form the Torah,

  • often called the Five Books of Moses

  • MICHAEL COOGAN: The view that Moses had personally written down

  • the first five books of the Bible

  • was virtually unchallenged until the 17th century

  • There were a few questions raised about this

  • For example, the very end of the last book of the Torah,

  • the Book of Deuteronomy,

  • describes the death and burial of Moses

  • And so some rabbi said,

  • "Well, Moses couldn't have written those words himself

  • because he was dead and was being buried"

  • NARRATOR: And, digging deeper into the text,

  • there are even more discrepancies

  • COOGAN: For example, how many of each species of animal

  • is Noah supposed to bring into the ark?

  • One text says two-- a pair of every kind of animal

  • Another text says seven pair of the clean animals,

  • and only two of the unclean animals

  • NARRATOR: In one chapter, the Bible says

  • the flood lasts for 40 days and 40 nights

  • But, in the next, it says 150 days

  • To see if the floodwaters have subsided,

  • Noah sends out a dove

  • But, in the previous sentence, he sends a raven

  • There are two complete versions of the flood story

  • interwoven on the same page

  • Many similar discrepancies throughout its pages suggest

  • that the Bible has more than one writer

  • In fact, within the first five books of the Bible,

  • scholars have identified the hand

  • of at least four different groups of scribes writing

  • over several hundred years

  • This theory is called the Documentary Hypothesis

  • COOGAN: One way of thinking about it is, as a kind of anthology

  • that was made over the course of many centuries

  • by different people adding to it,

  • subtracting from it, and so forth

  • NARRATOR: But when did the process of writing the Bible begin?

  • Tel Zayit is a small site

  • on the southwestern border of ancient Israel

  • that dates back to biblical times

  • Since 1999, Ron Tappy has been excavating here

  • It was the last day of what had been a typical dig season

  • TAPPY: As I was taking aerial photographs

  • from the cherry picker,

  • a volunteer notified his square supervisor

  • that he thought he had seen some interesting marks--

  • scratches, possibly letters-- incised in a stone

  • Which? Right here? Yeah

  • NARRATOR: Letters would be a rare find.

  • So, when he kneeled to look at the marks,

  • Tappy got the surprise of a lifetime

  • TAPPY: As I bent down over the stone,