Bible’s Buried Secrets Review: Did King David’s Empire Exist?

BIBLE’S BURIED SECRETS: Tuesday 15th March, BBC2, 9pm

This new series, presented by the lovely Fransesca Stavrakopoulou, an academic from the University of Exeter, spends its first episode looking at King David – he of Goliath battering fame. “I want to show how, buried in the pages of The Bible, are secrets which challenge the beliefs of millionsâ€? says Francesca, sounding a remarkable amount like a publicist for Dan Brown. But don’t worry, this is no Da Vinci code – for starters, that book had an ending.

Unfortunately, Francesca sets herself up for a fall early in the programme by telling us that she’s taking an objective look at the subject, and then spends the next hour telling us why she thinks that David wasn’t real. Which is a bit confusing really, because it’s almost as if she’s come into the programme with preconceived ideas. An academic wanting to promote their own ideas and work? Surely not.

On the plus side, the episode is filmed in Israel, so we get lots of great shots of the biblical landscape and Jerusalem itself. There are also an awful lot of footage which includes Francesca looking suitably pensive in various situations – so many, in fact, that the programme would probably be about 15 minutes shorter without them. Even though she might be the world’s most aesthetically pleasing Bible Studies academic, there has to be a limit to everything. Having said that, and as Charlie Brooker pointed out in reference to Andrew Marr, the more shots in a programme of you looking all deep and thoughtful, the more gravitas your programme will command.

We get taken to a lot of historical sites, looking at the Philistines, and lot of sites that are 10th century BC but are actually 9th century – or maybe not – and then the fun really begins. We meet an academic who has proven (and the term proven is used loosely here, as nobody seems to be totally sure of anything) that what an archaeologist found in the past might be wrong. Then we meet another who thinks that the first guy is wrong. So then we go back to the first chap again for confirmation that the second chap is right and, surprise surprise, the first guy says no, he’s still pretty sure he’s right. Ultimately, the only way to solve the problem would be to have them fight it out, but we never quite make it that far.

By this point, and despite the best interests of Francesca who seems to have thrown her objectivity out of the window, you can’t help but feel that this programme isn’t going to end up anywhere but on the fence. Unfortunately, although Bible’s Buried Secrets does well to establish that there is an absence of evidence to support to Biblical account of King David; it forgets to mention that an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and so the fact that nothing has been found doesn’t actually prove that there wasn’t anything there. Very confusing.

The programme moves on to King Omri, a man for whom there’s a lot of evidence but not much of a mention in the Bible. One line in fact. Francesca seems very annoyed by this, and tells us that a lot of her work has been about Omri then gets very excited when going to see some of the sites from his kingdom. Eventually, Francesca says that “the historical David may or may not have existed – the jury’s still out on that,â€? a statement which could have been used to sum up the end of the argument at the beginning, and saved us all the process of actually watching. Even at this early stage, the phrase “may or may not haveâ€? would look like a decent bet to sum up the conclusions of the whole series, rather like this: Bible’s Buried Secrets is very interesting but you may or may not feel sure about anything by the end.