With tongue firmly in cheek, Tom Sutcliffe of The Independent remarks:
It would be improper to mention Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s looks. Clearly whoever commissioned a three-part series on Biblical scholarship for BBC2 was entirely indifferent to the fact that it would be presented by someone who looks as if she’s shimmied out of one of the hotter passages of the Song of Solomon.
I imagine they didn’t even ask to see what she looked like, only a list of her academic publications and, perhaps, a confirmation that she had a good writing style and a reasonably clear speaking voice. Anyway, whatever the process the result is distinctively interesting, essential watching for anyone interested in the finer points of ancient Hebrew theology and pretty intriguing even for those of us who aren’t.
She does overegg things a little. She started last night’s episode by saying that she was going to explore an idea that “rocks the foundation of monotheism to its core”, by which she meant the buried evidence that the Israelites had only gradually moved from polytheism to monotheism. To a non-believer this seems so self-evident that it barely needs stating. How else would it happen, after all, short of blazing revelation from the God we don’t believe in?
And while it’s true that devout Jews and Christians would have more difficulty, the more sophisticated of them find it child’s play to reinterpret awkward phrases so that they tally with what they now believe. I don’t think her film will have knocked even a grain of sand off the foundations of the faith.
It was interesting, though, to see how the evidence had been buried by tactful translation, and how much of it still pokes above the surface. Interesting too to hear her talk throughout of the Bible, as though it was a single book rather than many bound together. That’s literary monotheism, I think, when polytheism makes more sense.