A new television series includes the research expertise of Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou, a biblical scholar at Exeter University.
Channel 4’s series The Bible: A History intends to show how the Bible has played a major role in shaping people’s ideas about the world. In the second episode Dr Stavrakopoulou is interviewed by presenter Rageh Omaar about Abraham and his role in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).
The interview focuses on the biblical claim that God promised Abraham the land of Canaan, the land now claimed by Israelis and Palestinians today. Dr Stavrakopoulou’s research focuses on the worship of the dead as divine ancestors, illustrating how the graves of ancestors marked the territorial claims of their living relatives.
Her research suggests that the tomb in Hebron where Abraham is supposed to have been buried represents an ancient attempt to exploit this territoriality in favour of ancient land claims asserted by biblical writers. It goes on to suggest that these claims continue to be asserted and contested by some Israelis and Palestinians today who claim direct descent from Abraham.
Dr Stavrakopoulou told the Devon Week: “Programmes like this are crucial in showing that the Bible isn’t just a religious book, but a collection of ancient texts written by many different people with competing ideas over a period of hundreds of years. Its presentation of the religious past is heavily shaped by the religious and ideological concerns specific to ancient social and political contexts.”
She added: “The extent to which these texts can or should be interpreted and re-interpreted to address present day concerns is up for debate – as this Channel 4 series tries to show.”
In the third episode Dr Stavrakopoulou is interviewed about Moses and the theological and social significance of the Ten Commandments in their ancient context. Her interview and research suggests that there is little evidence to suggest that Moses ever existed. She adds that the Ten Commandments represent a biblical attempt to prioritise the value and authority of written religious laws and beliefs in only one god over the older indigenous religion of ancient Israel which focused on the worship of more than one deity.
Dr Stavrakopoulou added: “As an academic working with ancient texts and contexts, it’s all too easy to suppose that people beyond the guild wouldn’t necessarily be interested in the sort of research I do, but making the programmes reminded me just how much intellectual curiosity there is about the Bible.”
The next episode featuring Dr Stavrakopoulou is on Sunday, February 7 at 7pm on Channel 4.
(from a press release)