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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